I honestly think this is the fastest I've ever updated...like, ever. I should feel proud of myself! Anyway, after receiving so many reviews for the previous chapter (most ranting about Akemi), I just felt as though I couldn't leave it there. So, as a present to you all, I have updated after 5 days-my personal record. Enjoy! And also, review! My goal is to reach 300 reviews by the end, so every review counts! Thanks all!
Day 9, 7:00 am
Bou-san dropped by in the morning with a message from Naru—he ordered me to wear my turtleneck sweater that covered my neck and arms. I asked Bou-san why, but he had no clue as to why Naru wanted me to wear the sweater either. So I mumbled and grumbled and begrudgingly complied.
"That jerk," Ayako muttered after the two of us had been left alone once more. "He didn't even come by to grab his stuff, much less apologize or even say goodnight and then he goes and orders you to wear a specific outfit?" she huffed angrily, running the brush that she had borrowed from me through long thick strands of bright red hair that had clumped and knotted in places as she had slept.
I eyed the luscious hair with envy before inwardly scolding myself. Really, I needed to stop with the whole jealousy thing as it wasn't very becoming.
"Don't you have to go to see Susukihotaru Koizumi with him today?" she asked, fluffing her hair.
"Yeah," I replied sourly with a grimace.
I was already dreading the fact that I would have to spend at least half the day with Naru. Alone. Well, alone for the most part—Koizumi would be with us during some point in the day, but other than that, Naru and I would be relatively solo. The thought didn't sit well with me as I hadn't spoken to him since the day before, and it hadn't ended on a very good note at that.
I sighed, twirling a lock of short, mousy brown hair around my finger. The day wasn't going to go very well, I knew that much.
A knock on the door made the both of us—Ayako and I—turn our heads.
It was Naru. I wrung my hands nervously.
"It's time to go, quit being childish."
His flat, emotionless voice caused me to glower at the sliding door, wishing that I could magically burn holes through it and into his flesh. The evil thought almost made me grin.
"Good luck," Ayako sighed, dismissing me with a simple wave of her hand that said 'shoo'. Gulping, I steadied my gaze and smoothed my expression over before gripping the side of the door and sliding it open easily.
Naru stood behind it, standing up tall and looking flawless in his black trousers, black waist length jacket and neatly brushed hair. He didn't look worried, curious or even angry—he was completely blank, blue eyes void of any and all emotion. And somehow, it only enraged me further.
I spared him one more glance before silently turning on my heel and making a beeline for the hallway—in the wrong direction.
"Mai," Naru started, "this way." He pointed in the direction opposite of where I was heading.
I spun on my heel again and trudged past him, face red and scowl fully in place. Totally not cool, I thought bitterly. My plan was to be calm and collected—yet still angry so he would notice—and I, being the stupid klutz that I was, just had to go and ruin that plan with another embarrassing blunder. I would do that.
The walk, which was more like a march, to the car was completely silent as I kept about a full two meters ahead of Naru. Neither of us spoke, neither of us even dared to attempt it. Naru could tell that I was angry—I knew because when I had passed him, he had that calculating look in his eye which meant that he was analyzing my each and every move to decipher exactly what I was thinking.
Really, he could be scarily smart sometimes.
And he seemed to want to leave well enough alone; he wasn't going to push me, and I wasn't going to force him to. If and when he finally snapped under my aloof persona, then he would ask about what was bothering me. Until then, I wouldn't blow up. I would wait for him to come to me in curiosity before I stamped him down with a proverbial spiked cleat.
Maybe I was the scary one.
I brought a finger to my chin at the thought, but quickly dismissed it with a 'pfft' sound and climbed into the car. Straightening my skirt and crossing my legs, I stared out my window, refusing to watch as Naru also entered the vehicle and started the engine. He cast me a quick look—from what I could tell by watching his reflection in the window glass—before directing his attention back to the car as he pulled out of the parking lot. After five minutes of silence—no radio, no conversation, nothing—Naru began to periodically flex his hand on the steering wheel. He was thinking about something.
"Mai," he finally started as he pulled onto the freeway. "You're angry with me." It wasn't a question, or even a speculation, it was a full-blown statement.
I let out a sarcastic sort of snort and finally looked at him. "Now why do you think that?"
Naru glowered—I wasn't sure if the look was meant for me or for the car that had suddenly cut him off. "Right now isn't the time to be petty," he snapped.
"I'm not being petty," I defended with a glower of my own.
"You are." His eyes narrowed.
He braked suddenly as we hit oncoming traffic, causing me to jerk in my seat with a wince. Part of me was wondering if he actually did it on purpose. "Arguing with you would only prove my point."
I pulled on my seatbelt, trying to loosen its grip on my neck, before sinking into the passenger seat. Gene, I wish you were here to smack some sense into this idiot scientist… I found myself thinking, casting a glance towards Naru who paid no attention to me. Of course, thinking of Gene, made me think of that question. The one that I really didn't care to think about at the time.
Suddenly, Naru's eyes flashed to mine. "You're thinking about Gene."
I didn't miss the cold, detached way he said it—even after finding his brother's body and supposedly putting his own mind at ease two years prior, Naru still didn't find Gene a very pleasant topic. He usually avoided any and all conversation that had to do with his brother.
"Am not," I denied with a huff.
"You are," Naru insisted, voice monotone and eyes glaring. "You have that far-off look whenever you think about him."
"Even if I am—which I'm not," I quickly added for good measure, "why do you care? Are you mad that I think about Gene?"
His silence urged me to continue.
"Or maybe it's just that you don't like me talking to him?"
"You may speak with whomever you wish," he dragged out forcefully; his jaw was tightened, his lips thinly pressed together, eyes glaring a hole into the SUV in front of us.
"That's not what you're expression says," I quipped smugly with an upturned nose.
The car rolled to a stop and he snapped his head to the side to glare down at me. "And just when have you gotten to know me well enough to know what I feel by my expressions?" He would have kept staring me down if the sudden on and off traffic didn't require his immediate attention.
Quietly, I mumbled, "I know you better than you think."
Of course, Naru heard it anyway and let out an unbelieving snort of a sound. "Favorite tea," he demanded, switching lanes.
"Favorite time of year."
"None—winter is too cold, summer is too hot, fall reminds you of cinnamon and in the spring you have allergies."
At this he paused and looked at me out of the corner of his eye, I could already hear his unspoken question of, 'And how did you know that?'
"You think I'm deaf?" I asked superiorly. "My desk is right next to your office, I hear a lot of your conversations with Madoka and your mother."
Which was partly true—the only part that I had left out was that I would purposely nudge his door just a miniscule, unnoticeable crack to hear said conversations. It wasn't spying, or creeping—I was simply a curious person who needed entertainment on days that seemed to just barely drag by.
"Birthday," he continued, completely unfrazzled.
"One-hundred-eighty-two centimeters and a half."
Naru paused again and I smirked—finally, I had bested him at something. After years of losing in our stupid fights, I had one-upped him. I could feel my almost invisible ego inflating like a balloon.
"See?" I crossed my arms with my smirk still in place. "I happen to know you very well, Noll."
With the emphasis on the name, I saw him tense and nearly choke on air—his eyes had widened in just the tiniest fraction. He most certainly hadn't seen the old nickname coming.
And then I decided to leave him alone, I had pushed enough of his buttons to last me a lifetime.
Day 9, 8:45 am
Koizumi's house was out of the way—way out of the way—and not the type of house I was expecting at all. I was expecting another Japanese styled house considering that she grew up in one and lived in one most of her life. Oh how wrong I was.
Her house had been the opposite of what I had been anticipating. It was a western Victorian styled house. And while I took my time to stare and gawk in an unseemly manner, Naru just headed straight for the front door and rang the doorbell. He didn't even wait for me.
I think, but I wasn't quite sure, that we were back to being angry with one another.
"Jerk," I said as I trotted up the cobblestone steps that divided the most beautiful garden I had seen: countless flowers of all different colors, various trees and other shrubs and even a few hummingbirds.
"Quit dawdling," I heard Naru command from his post at the front porch.
I scowled at his back before jogging hurriedly up the rest of the steps as fast as I could. Just as I did, the door front door opened, revealing a tiny, elderly woman with white hair pulled into a neat bun on her head and a polite smile. She had to be at least seventy, maybe even seventy-five.
"What can I do for you two?" she asked in a surprisingly strong voice that didn't match her timid, grandmother-like appearance.
"We're looking for Susukihotaru Koizumi-san," Naru replied coolly.
"Ah," the little woman said, stepping out onto the porch with a slight hobble, "that would be me." She stood at about one hundred-fifty centimeters, really, very small; smaller than myself. "Are you the planters that I phoned for?" Koizumi asked, looking us over with a smile. "You're a bit early, but that's okay, would you like to come inside? I've just made a batch of cookies."
I was half tempted to say yes—cookies sounded like the best way to cheer me out of my awful mood.
"Actually," Naru interrupted, blinking slowly, "we're here to ask you a few questions about your first husband."
Neither of us missed the way that the already pale woman seemed to grow paler, her smile faded and was replaced by a hollow look of distress. She wrung her hands. "Oh, this is certainly unexpected." Koizumi stared at Naru with wide, dark, fearful eyes. "Is something wrong?"
"We'll explain the situation to you." He motioned to the door. "May we come in?"
I almost wanted to smack him for his rude sense of abruptness. Really, he could have been nicer—she was just a little old woman who probably had no idea what was going on.
But, Koizumi just replied with a small, delayed nod and a, "Yes, please." She scrabbled back to the front door and pushed it open, entering first before holding the door for Naru and I. Naru walked ahead of me and passed Koizumi without another word.
"Thank you," I said with a smile, but not before glaring a hole in my rude boss' back.
"You're welcome, deary. Now, there's two sofas in the main room, go ahead and have a seat, I'll bring out some tea and cookies." She closed the door behind me and hastily made her way in the direction that I assumed the kitchen was in.
Angry once again, I chased after Naru, and when I found him comfortably lounging in the main room, I only gawked at him, wondering how one person could be so…pompous. He sat on one of the black sofas, elbows propped on his knees, hands folded in front of his face—it was his thinking pose. He didn't show any sign of response. Sighing with defeat, I sat down next to him with my hands folded politely in my lap.
A few minutes later, Koizumi returned with a large tray that looked to big for her petite frame to carry. "I apologize for the wait," she said, balancing the tray perfectly as she set it down on the glass coffee table in between the two sofas. After fixing herself a cup of sweet, sugary brown looking tea, she sat back into the opposite sofa. "Don't be shy," she took a sip, "have a cup, dear."
"Ah." I jumped up and grabbed a teacup. "China…" I murmured, running my fingers over the smooth edges and creases in the design.
"Hm?" Koizumi peered over her own cup. "Oh, yes," the elderly woman let out a pleased sound, "you seem to know your teacups." She fixed me with a smile.
"Well, we happen to drink tea quite often where we work," I supplied with a grin of my own as I steadily poured a stream on steaming tea into the small cup. After taking the little jar next to the teapot and pouring just a small amount of white cream into the drink, I went back to my seat and placed the cup in front of Naru—even when I was technically mad with him, I still went and made him tea. How wonderfully mature was I? Very.
"Oh?" she mused. "That sounds lovely, but you know, to get the best taste out of your tea, always pour into china cups, or clay."
I nodded in understanding.. "We always use clay cups at our office, China's a bit expensive," I sheepishly said.
She only laughed before taking a sip. "So," Koizumi began, teacup in her lap, "is there something that you need from me? I have none of Noaki's possessions if that's what you're looking for. Everything of his should be back at Jinsei no Haru, I never touched any of his belongings."
I leaned forward and grabbed a cookie.
"No," Naru said, causing me to start and nearly drop my crumbling treat on the pristine carpet. "We are here to discuss what your great niece described as a haunting in Jinsei no Haru."
"A…haunting?" Koizumi repeated, frozen in her seat. "As in supernatural beings?"
"Yes," my boss affirmed.
"That's…" she paused to take a nervous sip from her cup. "That's just preposterous."
"I assure you that it's anything but preposterous. My team and I have been staying at the site for just over a week and we have a considerable amount of evidence that there are restless spirits present." At this, Naru finally turned to me, his gaze sharp and calculating again like it had been earlier in the day. "My assistant," he motioned to me with the hand that wasn't holding his cup, "has been injured by a particularly malicious spirit on more than one account and knocked unconscious for four days."
Koizumi's wrinkled eyes widened to an impossible huge amount as she stared directly at me. She opened her mouth to say something, but quickly thought better of it and snapped her jaw shut tightly.
"Mai," Naru stated calmly. "Show Koizumi-san your neck please."
"Huh?" I stuttered, utterly confused and shocked that he had actually said 'please'.
"Show her your neck please," he repeated.
Numbly, I pulled the collar of my turtleneck sweater down—Naru never repeated anything, ever, and what was even more rare was the fact that he had said the word 'please' twice. The world was ending. I was sure of it.
"Oh my…" Koizumi's voice a wheezing gasp and her teacup landed on the floor with a soft thud, the contents spilling out and staining the white carpet with a red-ish brown color. Her face was whiter than a sheet as she stared at the blue and black handprint around my throat.
"As you can see," Naru grabbed my hand and forced me to pull my collar back up, "this is no laughing matter. She was nearly choked to death and this is not the only wound; she has multiple bruises, burns and gashes—we need to know anything you know so something like this can be prevented from happening again. Before we can rid the site of the spirit, we have to know who it is and what it wants."
It was one of those times where the silence was deafening, as the oxymoron went. No one spoke, no one moved—except for me as I as munched away on my cookie, carefully trying not to drop any of the crumbs on the sofa or carpet.
Eventually, Naru said, "Koizumi-san," his tone was sharp, demanding even, and yet, the old woman didn't even flinch.
She sighed, and with a deflated voice said, "I suppose I should tell you everything from the very beginning. Starting with the fact that my name is not Susukihotaru Koizumi."
Cliffhanger! If she's not Koizumi, then who is this woman, exactly? Have any guesses? Put them in your review! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
LivelyLadyBlackThorn: Don't worry, every thing will turn out just fine in the end! Or will it...?
bunnyrabbitgirl123: Yeah, Naru's a buttmunch, but isn't every guy? They sometimes don't realize it! Hopefully, as Naru gets older, he also gets better at expressing his feelings and maybe he won't be such a stubborn butt.
shrinemaiden05: Your wish has been granted!
thearistocrat: Good guesses, good guesses. Maybe you'll be right! ;)
Lady Violet Fire: Yeah, it was kind of a shocker! Even to me as I was writing it!
willoffire2014: I think that if Mai got hurt AGAIN it would be a new record, don't you? lol!
kikifan21: Well, hopefully Naru will open up about what happened it future chapters! Glad to hear that you love where this is going, thank you!
CrimsonHeart77: I have updated! I'll be looking forward to your thoughts :)
Naruisawesome: What Naru did in that situation remains a mystery! Maybe he'll reveal it later ;)
lovenarumai: Yeah, they should definitely talk things over. That's what adults would do, right? But, somehow, when these two are put together, they become some of the most childish people on the planet!
Lyfa: Glad that I took you by surprise! I'm always looking for that unexpected twist.
SioPao-chan: I love your input! It makes for a very interesting 'what-if' scenario :) Looking forward to your thoughts about this chapter!
Joushou-Sensei: Thank you!
Midnight moon: Thanks, I will, I hope you like this new chapter!
Amthyst: Thank you very much, I really love long reviews! Hopefully all of your questions-or theories-will be answered within the next upcoming few chapters or so! So please stay tuned!
HavenCraze: A lot of people are saying that they knew something was up with her. I'm starting to wonder if I made it too obvious O.O
PheonixNimbus.292: Thank you! I look forward to your next review! Hopefully this next chapter won't disappoint!
Ariana Taniyama: Maybe, maybe not! The world shall never know! And perhaps your prediction is correct...perhaps it's not. Guess you'll just have to wait and see!
Damaged Forest Spirit: I was hoping it would be a bit of a shock! Glad to know I succeeded!
NoCoolNameHere: Viola! Here is the next chapter! I also commend you for being the very first person to review for the previous chapter! Thanks for the support, and I;m looking forward to your review for this new chapter!
Thank you all for reviewing!