Hello my loves!

Sorry for my lateness but there is good news to go around!

I changed my major to focus on my love of writing and I graduate this summer! Yay!

I outlined the next chapter and it should be up soon. We're sooooo close to the end can't wait for you guys to read it!

RxExR


Chapter 22: Resurrection

"You're all grown up now. I hardly recognize your voice." He says.

Another throaty laugh…

I don't know whether to cry or laugh at this new cosmic turn. I focus on breathing and trying to form words. Hotaru carries on eating as if I hadn't said anything which signs her confession that she is the one behind this telecommunication reunion.

"H-How are you?" I ask.

"Fit as a fiddle. Imagine my surprise when I get a call from a young woman claiming to know you. I thought I might keel over right there. After all these years I prayed that you would be safe and when your mother turned up here I didn't know what to think."

"Wait, Yuka's there?"

"Oh yes. A nurse at the hospital she was at grew rather fond of her and when your mother was released she found me and brought Yuka here."

"Oh."

"She's doing okay. Detoxification has been hard on her, but she's fighting hard right back."

Yuka? Fighting?

"She'd really like to see you. So would I for that matter. Imai-san said you didn't live far. Maybe you can come by for some tea."

"I don't know. I have work and other stuff going on right now."

"I know how busy you are, but maybe sometime soon."

"Yeah. Maybe. I have to go now."

"I'll call again soon."

I end the call and put my phone face down on the table, my appetite is gone. Hotaru just stares at me. I don't know whether to be grateful or furious. It means the world to me to know that my Jii-chan is okay and to even know that Yuka is okay and they're together, but to ambush me like that? My brain is already on overload from Persona. I do not need this new information adding to the pile.

Before I can even speak she says, "Like I said, you need to start at the beginning."

She hands her credit card to the passing waitress and just gives me a look of contempt.

Not a good sign.

"I'm not doing it." I protest again.

Hotaru sighs in annoyance, "Don't be a brat."

"Call me whatever you want, I'm not doing it."

Sitting in Hotaru's Mercedes parked outside my grandfather's house in the country. It's about a half an hour drive from the café I was unceremoniously dragged from.

I fold my arms tightly across my chest and clench my jaw. If she thinks that a half an hour drive is enough time to sort through my feelings about a phone call from my grandfather, she is the one on drugs. But of course Hotaru has been planning this little field trip for a while now. Tracking down my grandfather, assessing the type of person he is, telling him minimal information about me while simultaneously gaining his trust, and setting up this little meeting took some time. She seems to have exhausted the last of her patience with me and brought me here to "get it over with".

Like it will really be that easy.

"Just go." Says Hotaru.

"She's in there."

"Yes and so is your grandfather who has been worried sick about you. Now go before I drag you in there."

"Come with me."

She sighs in frustration, but turns off the engine and exits the car. I jump out right behind her afraid for a moment that she just might drag me from the car.

The stone path to the front gate of my grandfather's traditional Japanese style home is freshly swept. When I was little I remember my grandfather getting up early every day to start his chores. He's a diligent old man that way. He rises with the sun, sweeps the front path and the porch that surrounds the house, makes breakfast, spends a little prayer time with my grandmother, feeds the koi fish in the backyard pond, and tends to his garden.

Suddenly I feel very much underdressed like I should be wearing a kimono and sandals as opposed to my sundress and wedges. I pull my cardigan tighter around me and follow Hotaru's determined footsteps.

The gate looks more daunting than I remember. I pull the rope connected to a series of wind chimes placed around the house to alert grandfather of visitors. He's always prepared for company in his traditional kimono garb, but he likes to make his way to the front door to welcome guests inside. I open the gate and allow Hotaru to pass before me so I can secure the latch behind me.

No sign of my grandpa just yet so I take in the scenery. Nothing has changed really. The two story wood paneled housed looks as magnificent as ever with the green grass surrounding it giving it a vibrancy that makes me smile. My grandfather's house seems untouched by time and even though it has been ten years since I have set foot near this place, I have never felt more at home.

"Come on in! I'm just getting the tea ready." Comes my grandfather's voice from inside.

The sliding doors are pushed open to allow the fresh breeze to dance through. I find myself taking the lead stepping up the front steps, removing my shoes, and entering the house.

Old habits really do die hard.

I follow my feet through the entryway towards where I remember the kitchen and dining room being. My grandfather's large kotatsu is fully set with a place setting for three and his special dishes on the table. He shuffles out of the kitchen with a tray of tea and cookies and stops when he sees me. He takes a moment to collect himself and regain his smile before setting down the tray.

"You startled me there for a moment. I thought Yuka might have stumbled through a time machine or some such nonsense."

I want to talk or maybe even laugh a little at his small joke, but a lump is stuck in my throat.

"Please sit down both of you. I sort of over did it, but I had to keep busy somehow."

Hotaru steps forward and bows deeply, "I am Imai Hotaru it's is very nice to meet you officially."

"Imai-san it is an honor to have someone so distinguished in my home please make yourself comfortable."

Hotaru wastes no time sitting down at the table and distributing tea. Jii-chan turns his eyes back to me and just continues to smile. My favorite thing about my Jii-chan is his comforting silence. It's never awkward or forceful. It doesn't beckon you to fill the gap. He just smiles and sometimes he even hums, making you feel like nothing is ever wrong. So why do I have so much guilt rising inside of me. I was so afraid to come here, so afraid that he might be furious with me, but I was also afraid that he might be dead or dying and it could've have been prevented if I would have come with him when he asked me too. I couldn't handle another life being ruined because of my father's death.

There's so much I want to tell him, so much I want to apologize for, but I only stand there like some foreign creature with a melon stuck in my throat.

I can't bear to look at his smiling face any more so I bow, all the way to my waist and just stay there.

"I…I'm…"

"Ah Mi-chan still my little cry baby."

I actually manage to laugh through the newly forming tears. He places his hand on my head like he has done time and again when I was small.

"You don't have to apologize."

I look up at him, "But I am so sorry Jii-chan. I should've have gone with you when you said."

"And leave that little boy to fend for himself?"

"But when I left I should have called-,"

"But you were afraid of what might have become of me or that I would be angry with you."

I could just nod pathetically.

"Mikan I know your heart it is just like your father's pure and responsible. Your sense of duty and unwavering strength have always been your sword and shield. I knew that if I waited patiently you would find your way here just like your mother did."

He takes my shoulders and guides me upright, "When a soul becomes lost, Kami-sama helps to guide it back home. I was hardly surprised when your mother showed up here. Just like you, she was full of remorse and regret, but I just made her some soup and put her to bed just like when she was a young girl. The familiar can often help us redeem little pieces of ourselves we thought were gone. Underneath the shell of a broken woman that was your mother when she arrived is still that little girl I raised so full of love and laughter. Yuka never learned how to deal with loss and took to blaming herself. I never thought it would get so out of hand so really it is I who should apologize to you. Come."

I follow my grandfather into the prayer room which used to be my grandmother's sewing room. I never met my grandmother she died before I was born, but my grandfather put together a shrine with photographs of her and several of her favorite things so in a way I felt like I knew her.

"After her mother died, Yuka was never quite the same. She blamed herself for it."

"How did she die, if I may ask?" Hotaru asks from outside the door.

"She got sick." I answer.

"Pneumonia. She kept telling me she was fine just more tea and rest. She passed comfortably in her sleep. I was right beside her. She released a sort of gentle sigh and I knew she was gone."

"I'm so sorry." Hotaru says.

"It's alright. My Rena was quite sheltered as a child; her immune system just couldn't handle it. She passed quietly in the night."

"Why did Yuka think it was her fault?" I ask.

My grandfather smiles, takes my hand and pats it lightly, "I think every child who has to deal with a premature death of a parent blames themselves initially. She just never let go of that thought. It wasn't until she met your father that she even began to smile again. I thought she had finally moved on, but she just buried herself in love and never dealt with it. Then your father died and I…"

There's a long pause and Jii-chan's expression is somber.

"Well I guess I didn't prepare her for so much pain." He sighs.

The picture of my grandmother's half-smiling face and dark brown hair riddled with cherry blossom petals. I wonder if I had lost my mother instead of my father how my life would have turned out. Would we have moved here to be with Jii-chan? Would he have been able to look at me? The similarity between my mother, grandmother, and I is quite daunting. It's almost as if we are the same woman at different stages of her life.

I take Hotaru's hand, "Come on, there's someone I want you to meet."

My father was originally buried in a cemetery near our old house, but my Jii-chan had him exhumed after my mother and I had to move out. Jii-chan had him buried next to my grandmother on the other side of the cherry blossom tree. I never came to visit. It was disturbing to me that my father or his remains anyway were taken out of one hole in the ground to be put into another.

It was hard for me to think of him rotting in a box.

Even as Hotaru and I make our way over to the head stone, I can hardly swallow. I know it's not him. It's just a body that he left behind, just like me.

We were both left to rot.

We stand there not speaking. I can't find anything to say. Repressed emotions over the past few years are hitting me all at once and I don't know which one is screaming the loudest.

"Hi," Hotaru says suddenly, "I'm Imai Hotaru. I'm Mikan's best friend so I'm kind of taking care of her in your place, but no one could ever take your place. I'm sorry. Death must suck. You get to sit on the sidelines and watch as your loved ones grieve and make bad decisions, but we're going to fix it. I promise."

She rests her hand on my shoulder and I listen to her walk away.

"Hi dad," I say with trembling lips, "I'm sorry I haven't come to see you, I guess I'm still sad."

My voice begins to shake as the tears begin to sting my eyes, "I'm sad and angry at you. I know that's so stupid. You didn't ask to die, to be taken from your family, but that doesn't make me any less angry. I tried so hard to keep everything together, but it was like trying to keep a shattered vase together by squeezing the pieces. All I managed to do in the end is cut myself so deeply that I thought I'd never be happy again, but I was and now everything is so screwed up again and I don't know how to fix it. Hotaru is so sure about everything, but I can't…I can't go in there and see her because I think I hate her. She's my mother and I hate her so much and it's unbearable. She's weak and pathetic and a disgrace and I hate her, but…but she's my mother.

"How can I possibly carry on this way? I'm happy she's okay and I'm happy that she's here, but I can't face her. I just can't. You told me I could do anything, be anything, but you never actually taught me how. You never got the chance. I have to figure it out on my own now. I have to figure out how to become someone you're proud of."

"He's already proud of you Mikan as am I." Even though Jii-chan's voice comes from behind me, it doesn't startle me.

I turn to look at him, "How can you be? How can he be? I failed to keep my family intact. I failed to keep my friends safe."

He just smiles at me, "You're too focused on what you lost and not what you've gained. You would not be the person you are today if adversity hadn't befallen you and the person you are today can make the best of it."

"Jii-chan this is hardly a situation you make the best of."

He takes a few steps toward the koi pond and stops, "Do you remember a long time ago on your first trip to the sea all the other kids could catch a fish and you couldn't?"

He chuckles, "You were so upset because your little hands would go down into the sand and you only caught seashells. You cried and cried with your bucket of sea shells. Then it was time to go home and all the children released their fish, but you still had you shells and what beautiful shells they were! You couldn't stop smiling because even though you hadn't caught a fish, you wound up with something even better."

"I've lost so much Jii-chan…How can I move forward?"

He starts heading back towards the house, "By rising with your spirit. You always have."

I hate that my Jii-chan can say something deep and helpful, but I don't know what the heck he means. Rising with my spirit. The last thing I can think of doing is dissecting a metaphor especially with Yuka lurking around.

Even with Yuka on the premises I can't bring myself to leave just yet. My grandfather kept the area surrounding his home like an oasis. The grass is so vibrantly green and soft. I lie down next to my father's plot and pretend he's lying in the grass beside me watching the clouds pass in front of the sun.

I take a stroll around the koi pond watching the fish swim around in an elegant fashion. My bare feet in the grass sends a familiar sensation through my body reminding me of days long past. I had hoped at this point in my life I would be wiser than the eight year old girl who came to live here after her father's passing, but with ten years added to the timeline I have somehow found myself back where I was.

Life can be tricky and complicated. The paths that we follow can be confusing. Some of the roads even start to look alike and we've sworn we've taken this same road a million times just to wind up back where we started.

I sit by the edge of the pond swirling my finger tips on the surface causing the koi fish to stop their serene dance to come inspect the disturbance.

"Hello Klaus." I say to the orange and red fish swimming up nip at my fingertips.

I always name the fish in Jii-chan's pond. He says it helps them live longer. More old person nonsense I'm sure, but I can't help but entertain the childhood notion. The fish just looked like a Klaus to me as he nipped my fingers and swam around excitedly.

I'm not that little eight year old girl anymore, but she is part of who I am. Just because you turn one age doesn't make your prior years insignificant. Every year adds on becoming the collective whole you are as a person. I am as much eighteen as I was eight or eleven or fourteen. I am a combination of everything that has happened to me, but I am not defined by it. Maybe that's what Jii-chan is trying to tell me. A little girl being happy about a bucket of seashells is a lifted spirit even though she hadn't caught a fish. Maybe rising with my spirit can be broken down to something as simple as "be happy".

I take that thought with me back into the house and have lunch with Jii-chan and Hotaru. Despite eating at the café, I find myself ravenous. I guess emotional discovery depletes your stomach. Everything tasted of spring and home and a life I felt could be mine again.

My grandfather doesn't bring up Yuka again and tells us stories of what's happened over the years. I tell him about Youichi and Alice Academy and my friends. I even tell him about sleeping in the abandoned building and he laughs so heartily it becomes an endearing memory.

Hotaru and I clear the table and wash the dishes. The sight of Hotaru Imai with her hands in dishwater makes it almost impossible to focus on the task of drying plates. I just want to take a picture so badly. The candid would definitely make amends between Ruka and I. I restrain myself not wanting to taint the perfection of this moment.

I find myself not wanting to leave as Hotaru and I fashion back on our shoes. I hug Jii-chan for a long time. He seemed so much bigger when I was a child, much more solid and permanent, but right now in my arms he was an old man fragile, but still my Jii-chan.

He even ruffles my hair and sends me down the front walk with a gentle nudge.

"This isn't goodbye." He says as he waves to us.

He doesn't stop waving even after we reach the gate. I settle back into Hotaru's car and take a deep breath. Neither of us speaks the whole drive back to her house.

I never thought I'd ever have another perfect day…

"Ready? One, two, three!"

Each twin planted a kiss on Ruka's cheeks in time for me to capture a sweet picture of the moment. Hotaru wasn't too amused, but she had had enough picture-taking for the day.

The sun was setting on graduation day. All my friends had adorned their black and red caps and gowns and walked the stage at Alice Academy's grand theater. I sat in the audience with the Imai's and hundreds of distinguished families and associated pressed and witnessed the whole event. I didn't feel jealous at all. I always thought seeing my friends graduate would be another reminder of something I'll never have, but with my equivalency exam passed and Youichi's adoption finalized, how can I envy anything?

I'm not saying that life is perfect, but regular tea time with my grandpa and Persona still in the wind; I can afford to smile more these days. And what's not to smile about? Grandpa and Youichi get along famously, my friends are about start their adult lives, Yuka is getting better according to Jii-chan, and Natsume is no longer gang affiliated. I'm still keeping my distance in my own pathetic effort to protect him, but seeing him stalk across the stage with no cap, gown wide open, casual clothes exposed, I felt a familiar flutter. He doesn't seek me out anymore. He doesn't hang out at the restaurant or the bar. According to Hotaru, Ruka says that Natsume's mom has been really pressuring him about the future which has led to a lot of fighting. After his mole operation with the police she thought Natsume might finally have an interest in something like maybe police work, but he's even more detached than usual which apparently is my fault.

Being in love with me is the worst thing for Natsume. That is a direct quote from Ruka who still hates my guts. Hotaru tries to assure me that Ruka can't really hate anything, but I'm pretty convinced putting people you love in danger and stabbing your best friend may have pushed Ruka into a realm he's never been before and in that realm is his ability to hate.

Even so we're all standing on the dock taking even more pictures before getting on the yatch for the graduation party. Since the party isn't technically a school function there is no restriction as to who can attend. The twins wouldn't let me say no and Hotaru already had a dress picked out for me.

One last night adorn a beautiful gown and say farewell to high school? I couldn't resist.

"One more! One more!" Anna yells taking the camera and shoving it into the hands of an unsuspecting passerby.

"Please take our picture." She demands rather than asks.

The passerby was so caught off guard by the sudden assault he just compiles and snaps several shots of our odd little group. Anna, Nonoko, and I making silly faces and subjecting Ruka to weird poses while Natsume and Hotaru stand on either side of the frame balancing out the image with their stoicism.

"Can we just go?" Hotaru asks.

Anna reluctantly retrieves her camera, but brazenly leads the group to the boat. Nonoko follows at her heels, Hotaru floats a few steps behind ignoring Ruka's offered arm as he tries to keep in step with her, and I trail behind watching my friends exude their personalities without words listening for Natsume's faint footsteps behind me.

It isn't until we arrive on deck that I lose his presence in the thumping bass. I turn my head ever so slightly to maybe catch a glimpse of him staring at me in my strapless ruby red gown by some famous designer whose name I didn't make an effort to remember, but as expected Natsume is gone and my heart takes a slight dip.

"Well, gatecrashing an elite high school prom? That's not a terrible surprise. Still following Natsume around like a lost puppy?"

Sumire iron clad in her trademark emerald green garb with too much make up on smirks at me.

"You know you could just confess your undying love for him tonight in a breathless cliché and then throw yourself overboard." Gretchen adds.

I can only smile at the two of them. I know that if they had any clue what Natsume and I have been through, they wouldn't even approach me. I can't be mad. They're just preppy little rich girls with nothing more important weighing on their minds than which credit card they're going to max out next.

Even if they were Natsume's girlfriends at one point or another they don't know him. They know the rebel, the bad boy, the heart throb, but they don't know the tortured spirit or the loving nature that lies behind his womanizing and the snide remarks. They've never watched him sleep or been kissed by him without lust being motive. They've never sat beside him cramming for a test while he throws objects at them playfully.

It's comical that they think just because I haven't slept with him and openly bragged about it, I am lesser then them. How can that be when I've felt his arms wrap around me gently, his fingers desperately running through my hair searching for answers rather than sex?

I laugh at the idiocy that has taken the physical form of the two girls in front of me.

"Sumire I hardly recognize you without a bar under your ass or you Gretchen without a stick up yours."

I waltzed away from them before they can combine their half-wits to produce a response. Anna is twirling in the center of the dance floor more interested in her lavender ruffled skirts than the music. Hotaru and Nonoko have absorbed themselves into the buffet table while poor Ruka holds the purses.

The night went by in blurs and not in an alcohol induced way, but in a good way. Dancing with the twins, eating with Hotaru, reenacting scenes from the Titanic with Nobara and Hoshio, and even being asked to dance by a guy who didn't spend the whole song staring at my chest. I danced under the stars and the sparkling lights and laughed till my cheeks hurt, but I couldn't help but have these moments of silence where the urge to search the crowd for Natsume was smothering me.

I excused myself for water and headed in the direction of the buffet table, but found myself wondering to the back of the ship where people were making out and smoking cigarettes. I distanced myself from them and leaned over the rail to watch the foam from the back of the skip fade into the sea.

"Going somewhere?" a voice asks.

I smile and reply, "Yeah about to catch a taxi."

"Hope you can afford the fare." He says.

I finally turn to deliver my mocking grin, "Oh shoot I left my purse with Hotaru."

He scoffs, "Typical."

He rests his forearms on the mental bars and cast his ruby gaze across the sea. I want to wrap my arms around his broad shoulders and bury my face in the nape of his neck, but I resist. I wish we could just forget everything and have this perfect moment, but I know that's asking too much. To wash our slate clean, snipping out all the bad pieces would just be a lie. The only way to any possible future is through the pain and destruction. Even this magical night that lay between the beautiful sea and star-filled sky isn't enough.

"Are you going to stop running?" he asks.

I sigh, "That's a funny question coming from you. He who runs from feelings."

"I tried."

"Tried to do what exactly? Bare your soul? You know I can't trust you. How can you ask me to?"

"That's not what this is about. You do trust me. You know you can trust me. You know I did everything I did to protect you. You're just running away as usual."

He walks away from the railing back towards the party. In a moment of rage I grab his arm and jerk him back in my direction.

"You think I like things this way? I wish I could make it all go away, but I can't and it sucks. I'm through crying and being scared, but there are only a few things that I can do for myself right now. I need to feel like I'm trying."

"Locking it all away and lashing out at me isn't going to change anything. Persona could be wasting away in a ditch somewhere and instead of being with me and making the most of it, you are chasing your own tail with the false notion of protecting me."

"I'm pathetic and stupid this isn't exactly new information to me. I am best friends with Hotaru 'always stating the painfully obvious' Imai."

"Well as long as you know." He says.

"Yes. I do know, but I will do whatever I need to do. I'll do something just to keep from feeling like I'm doing nothing."

He walks up to me, close enough to tower over me with his breath on my lips, "If you're going to do something, then do something. You're the same girl you always were, but somehow it's worse."

Watching him walk away from me makes me feel torn between chasing after him and locking myself in the bathroom, both of which are fancy party clichés. So I just watch him go. I just do nothing. I continue twirling my skirts and laughing with my friends. Is this living? I'm no better or worse off than I have been. Persona still haunts me, my mother is the last person I ever want to see and now that I have the two documents that I set out to get months ago I've hit a stand still. Do I want to be a single waitress for the rest of my life? Working to put Youichi through college which he probably won't even need me to do since he is a genius. What will I have to show for my life in a year or five?

"Mikan?"

"Hotaru."

In her pearl lavender gown she looks even more regal than normal.

"Where have you been?"

"Just wandering like always." I answer.

"Well let's go back to the party." She says.

"Okay."

I start to walk towards the music, but her pale hand stops me.

"But first…"

She placed an Alice Academy graduation cap on my head.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"Giving you a proper graduation send off."

"What are you talking about?"

"Look I don't do mushy girl feelings, but I do know that today was hard on you even though you won't admit it. Being here with all of these elite brats going on to bright futures must make you feel pathetic and awful."

"Just when I couldn't put my feeling into words, Hotaru Imai shows up to save the day."

"Mikan you're just as good as anyone here with an equally bright future. You can do whatever you want and be whoever you want. Most of these people will be alcoholics on their third failing marriage before the ten year reunion."

"Don't forget their fifth plastic surgery."

"Well that goes without saying."

We share one of our rare laughs. She takes me to the railing and we look out at the sea.

"Congratulations Sakura Mikan on all your achievements and endeavors. May you carry the pride of this moment into your future."

She moves the black tassel from one side to the other with a swooping grace.

"Thank you Hotaru."

"It's just the stupid generic speech they tell all the graduates as the cross the stage. I can't imagine doing this a thousand times."

I laugh again and watch the water kiss the side of the ship and retreat again and again. How I envy the simplicity of nature.

"Well?"

I look up into her piercing eyes, "What? I said thank you."

"No stupid you're supposed to throw it. You know? The celebratory whoop and casting off of the cap? Don't you watch movies?"

I laugh, "Oh yeah."

I remove the cap and toss it straight up into the air. It catches the breeze and sails over the current for a awhile before resting on the ocean surface. We stand there in silence that's full of a weird content the Hotaru and I have together. She's an odd comfort to me when she wants to be.

"Come on. Let's go drink some champagne. You need it."

I link my arm with hers and follow her back through the loud music and twisting bodies and get a drink. The bubbly glasses are more appealing to me now. I don't remember how many glasses I allowed myself to indulge in, but there came a moment when the music was so good and everyone was so happy and I was laughing so hard.

But Natsume's words kept finding me, coaxing me to do something. Do what? What is something? How do I get past all of this? How can I figure out my future and deal with Natsume?

Start at the beginning.

I don't know if it's the booze talking, but suddenly my first step seems clear.


*Line thingy goes here*

ffn needs to work on their editing page -_-

ANYWAYS

Hope you liked it and are excited for the next one. It should be posted soon as I will be starting on it asap. Any predictions for the ending?

I'm pretty stoked to see this one through :)

Lots of Love,

Chi-chan