The Escort

Chapter 35: Homecoming

As he neared his childhood home, Hiroki felt the knots in his abdomen tighten. To distract himself he focused on the changes in the neighborhood since he'd left. He noted how much taller the trees were, the bushes thicker. He found himself wondering what his and Akihiko's secret base looked like now.

Here and there Umari drove past new fences. Hiroki saw too that more than one house had been taken down and rebuilt. He knew that his father had done this with their own when he'd left home;* he imagined that was the man's way of exorcising his corrupt spirit from the house.

As the car neared his old residence Hiroki felt his gaze pulled by their opulent neighbor: the westernized Usami mansion, set back on its rambling grounds. His father had long felt the structure an architectural abomination amidst the more traditional homes occupied by the elite of this district. He wondered how the president would feel if he knew of the greater abominations that had taken place within the walls of the white-washed structure.

His vision of the manse faded from view as his breath clouded the car window. Hiroki drew back in surprise; unaware of how close he'd leaned to the glass. A chill shivered up his spine as he realized that, even now, the Usami home still pulled him like some dark magnet.

Pressing back into the lush, leather seat, Hiroki redirected his gaze.

Ahead, he saw the false bramble above low stone walls that served as the barrier for his family's estate. He could feel the shift in surfaces as Umari turned the car off the pavement. Hiroki heard the raked gravel drive grumble beneath slowing tires. Once past the overgrown facade, the space within the Kamijou estate opened up.

Lush, shaded gardens grew beneath canopies of carefully spaced trees. Here and there, trails of crushed basalt met ribbons of meticulously-set, flat river stones. These narrow paths wound organically, creating gray and brown maze-ways through the greenery.

Hiroki saw that his father had added a few new columnar boulders, bases buried deep in black soil; their shoulders draped with manicured moss. There were a few new sculptures as well. Dark eyes widened as he noted an abstract piece that could be nothing but a Noguchi Isamu.* Though Noguchi was also claimed by Americans, he could imagine his father's pleasure at having secured such a treasure.

When the car at last pulled up before the house, Hiroki's eyes strained to see something familiar. His chest ached, perhaps hoping for a sense of nostalgia and then counting the loss, as an unfamiliar dwelling came into view.

"Things have changed a bit since you left, Kamijou-sama."

Hiroki looked up and met Umari's wrinkle-lined eyes winking back at him in the rearview mirror. The man had felt his troubled spirit. "But perhaps even more still remains the same, if one takes time to look."

The old man had always spoken in riddles. It had immensely engaged Hiroki when he was younger; now however, he just found it irritating. Even so, Hiroki held Umari's reflected gaze and offered a short nod.

He was relieved when Umari glanced away to bring the car to its stop. The vehicle halted smoothly at the foot of the path leading up to the covered porch at the front of the house. Grabbing his satchel, Hiroki slipped back into his station as Kamijou heir, allowing Umari to come around and open his door. As he waited, he remembered his first evening with Nowaki and the fuss he'd made about entering the car on his own.

As Hiroki exited the car he saw the housekeeper, lady Umari, stationed on the porch to greet him. He fought the furrow that crept into his brow, noting his mother's absence.

Had the circumstances of his visit been different, he knew that she would have been there to welcome him too. Hiroki had experienced no small concern, wondering how his mother would react to the meeting set to occur in her household.

She has known and accepted me. Will she still accept me now?

As much as he articulated annoyance at her doting, Hiroki felt an unexpected tightness in his chest at the potential loss of this. Unconscious fingers ran through his brown bangs.

Umari, the driver, bowed and Hiroki dropped his nervous hand and nodded again. Having been so long in the city now, the uneven graveled path felt strange under his feet. As he neared the house, the lady Umari bowed. When she dipped, Hiroki used this opportunity to make a quick sweep of the new home's construction. This house was larger but, in keeping with his father's sensibilities, it still maintained a traditional appearance.

Hiroki saw that the materials used were of an even higher quality than the house's last incarnation, attesting to the senior Kamijou's ever-increasing means. Underground cables hid unsightly wires so that, from the outside, the structure appeared self-contained. Latticed cedar planking masked a re-enforced concrete foundation, gauged to withstand all but the fiercest of tremors. The rich, red-tiled roof was made of a ceramic-composite designed to endure. It struck Hiroki that, since his departure, in this new architecture, his father had done his best to ensure no other unexpected disaster befell his household.

As he climbed the steps to the landing, Hiroki recognized the wood beneath his best shoes as teak. His eyes made one last sweep and got caught on the ornate support posts, obviously hand-carved. His reverie broke when the lady Umari spoke, her voice light and crinkly with age.

"Welcome home, Kamijou-sama."

Hiroki brought his gaze back to the housekeeper and dipped his head. "Umari-san."

The lady offered another light bow. "May I say how wonderful it is to have our young master back with us… And please excuse my insolence for being the first to congratulate you on this momentous day, Kamijou-sama."

Hiroki tipped his head in acknowledgement but said nothing. While he'd been touched by the happy shine in the old woman's eyes and the glow on her cheeks, he had also heard the hesitation in her congratulations, the barest trace of tension in the housekeeper's cheerful voice.

As he followed the lady Umari into the house, Hiroki was struck by how odd it felt, entering through the front door as if he was a guest. His mind flashed back to his youth when the backdoor to the Kamijou home was flung open a dozen times a day as he dashed in and out.

Stepping into the entry, Hiroki stopped to shed his shoes. Bending to slip them into the artfully designed storage cubby, he felt something catch in his throat. Aware Umari was watching, Hiroki fought to keep his fingers from trembling as he reached out and ran a finger over a pair of the waiting slippers laid out.

Hiroki's eye recognized the small tear on the toe of one and he knew exactly how it had come to be there.

These were mine. Mother bought them for me two weeks before I left. Unable to help himself, Hiroki glanced at Umari. The shine in the old house keeper's eyes grew as she nodded.

"They are always here, Kamijou-sama." Umari's normally light voice was weighted. "They always have been."

Hiroki was furious at the tears that had suddenly welled in his eyes. His heart pounded as he considered the implications. He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze back to the slippers. He felt a powerful urge to avoid them and don a pair of the brand-new guest slippers that had also been set out, awaiting the Kimiyamas.

Instead, however, he stepped into his.

Umari bent and picked up Hiroki's satchel; she extended her hand to receive his coat. Hiroki noted a slight palsy in the housekeeper's weathered, brown fingers and wondered if this was from age or emotion.

"The Lady, your mother, is in the library, Kamijou-sama. The President is out in his studio."

Hiroki nodded at this information and his nervousness grew. While his father's sanctuary was his studio, his mother's retreat was the library. That they had not appeared to greet him together and were each ensconced their private domains, meant that they were un-unified and uneasy.

"Thank you, Umari-san."

Though he was gripped with a sudden chill, Hiroki shrugged his coat off of his shoulders. After taking his coat, Umari bowed and silently stepped aside as Hiroki moved forward into guest room. A quiet sigh slipped from him as his feet welcomed the old-familiar sensation of the tatami mats through his slippers. His eyes swept the space and he saw it set for the impending meeting, the low table artfully arranged, awaiting its guests.

Having stowed Hiroki's belongings, the lady Umari stepped in silently behind him. Hiroki tipped his head in the table's direction.

"I imagine you have much to do to prepare, so don't let me keep you, Umari-san. I'll find my own way around."

Not knowing what information his father might have given the Kimiyama family, he thought it would be best to quickly familiarize himself with the house, so that he did not appear as estranged as he felt.

After another bow, Umari slipped through the shoji and into the next room.

Hiroki moved over to the tokonoma.*The seasonal scroll that hung there had been one of his grandfather's. His gaze dropped down to the flower arrangement at the base of the alcove; the vessel was not one he knew, but he recognized the blooms it held as coming from his mother's greenhouse.

Drifting from here to the shoji Umari had disappeared through, Hiroki slid the panel back, revealing the house's main room. Here, a different wood had been used, deep red in contrast to the golden tones of the guest room. The tatami were different as well, a pale green that went beautifully with the dark wood. After years of living above and below others in the claustrophobic urban environment of apartments, the large main room with its high rafters and open space struck Hiroki as particularly grand.

Dark eyes flitted over the room, landing briefly on familiar objects before darting off again. Hiroki noted the closed family altar set against the far wall. He stepped over and reverently opened the doors, silently greeting his ancestors.

He bowed his head and his stomach clenched as the photos of his predecessors reminded him of his father's charge for an heir. Hiroki pinched the bridge of his nose as a sudden dizziness gripped him.

I've never been with a woman, never even dated one.

From the day Akihiko had stumbled into his "secret base" he'd rejected every confession, his heart already committed.

Hiroki lifted his head and closed the altar. He passed through the rest of the house as if in a dream. Behind the two front rooms lay a long wide hallway that revealed the true breadth of the Kamijou home.

At one end of the hallway was a large and very modern kitchen. Hiroki had peeked in just long enough to see Umari busy with the dishes she'd soon be serving. He imagined at the other end would be a spacious formal bath. In between these were numerous smaller spaces: his parents sleeping quarters, his father's office, guest bedrooms, a safe room for his father's collections, and the library.

Skylights in the hall ceiling allowed natural light to illuminate the corridor. Hiroki moved quietly through the shadows of passing clouds, until he located the library. He stopped at the doorway, seeing his mother.

His feet refused to go further.

Hiroki had always been awed by the many faces of the lady Kamijou. Amidst her lady friends, she was so bright, her manner vigorous and often teasing. With him, growing up, she had vacillated between doting and scolding, the latter most often still being another manner of the former.

His mother kept her household running with a machinist's precision. At corporate functions, she quietly shone by the President's side, glowing brighter or respectfully fading as her husband's interactions called for. When guests visited there was no more gracious a hostess.

As far as Hiroki knew, his mother had never been anything but the perfect wife. In fact, he had only seen her openly oppose his father once and she'd lost that battle. Remembering this instance Hiroki's cheeks burned: her fleshless wounds had been profound.

Looking in on his mother now, her pale face focused on the embroidery held in her lap, unconscious of anyone watching, he saw that same devastating expression of defeat. Quickly, Hiroki backed away before his presence was noted. He steeled himself and made sure his next approach was loud enough to rouse her before he appeared in the door.

As he returned to the library's threshold, two pairs of dark eyes met. Though Hiroki could still see the unhappiness in his mother's gaze, her face had re-arranged itself into a pleasant facade.


The word caught in Hiroki's throat and he was embarrassed by the unevenness of his voice. He bowed. As he straightened, his eyes were drawn to his mother's face.

Kamijou-san did not rise, nor did she hold her son's gaze. She nodded and her attention drifted back down to the embroidery in her lap.

"I see Umari found you. I thought you might be early."

Hiroki's ears strained to hear either the tease or the chide in his mother's tone, but there was none. His chest was gripped with a fierce ache, hearing her voice so flat. He had fantasized about his homecoming at moments, but this response was nothing he'd ever envisioned.

Stepping into the room, he crossed over to stand before his mother. Hiroki drew his trousers up, just slightly at the knees to minimize creasing. Then he knelt before her and sat there silently.

When Kamijou-san refused to meet his gaze he cautiously extended a hand and placed it over hers. Beneath his hand he could feel his mother's tremble slightly, the only clear clue to the extent of the turmoil roiling inside her.

At a loss for what to say, Hiroki awkwardly offered, "The new house is beautiful, Mother. You've done an amazing job with it."

Hiroki was startled when these simple words sparked his mother into a blaze. He felt her hand take his, her grip so tight as to be crushing. Her large dark eyes held him just as tightly and where, before, there had been still pools of sorrow, a fire now raged.

"For years I have waited for my son's return, I have measured my words, laid foundations, planned and prayed… But never in my wildest dreams did I think that you'd re-enter this home under such circumstances…"

Hiroki felt his throat close when he saw the increased shine in his mother's eyes. A tear rolled down his mother's pale cheek, staining her perfectly made up face.

"Hiroki… Hiro-chan… My boy, what are you doing?"

Hiroki dropped his gaze from the searching dark eyes before him. He all but winced when his mother relinquished his hand and fine-boned fingers lifted up to stroke his brow.

"This isn't you…

"I have known you, fought for you, been proud of who you are and what you have done.

"Why? Why would you do such a thing? How could this happen? What did your father… "

Hearing these words, Hiroki felt one more fragile thing within him break.

He had not blamed his father for his actions: he understood the world the man lived in, what his father had witnessed. And Hiroki had preferred his banishment than to have the man know of his shame. He knew since that time, his mother had done her best to keep him and his father both in her heart. He knew too that, despite what had happened, she cared deeply for her husband.

Hiroki could not have his mother holding the President responsible for what was about to transpire: he did not want to compromise the love she held for his father any more than he already had.

"I sought father out."

Raising his head, Hiroki was met with a stunned gaze.

"We had a talk and came upon this arrangement. It's for the best."

At these words the Lady Kamijou's eyes only grew wider.

"What sort of trouble have you fallen into, Hiroki?"

It was all Hiroki could do not to look away again. He held his mother's stare.

"It's for the best," He repeated dumbly; the words tripped lamely off his tongue.

"But why, Hiroki? As often as I might have wished otherwise, this is not your nature."

Kamijou-san's hand had lingered at her son's brow, but now it dropped away. Her eye's narrowed slightly. "Is this about money?"

Hiroki damned his mother's sharpness. He remained silent, but she had seen enough to discern the answer in his expression, despite how he'd fought to keep his face still.

"Why didn't you come to me?"

Now it was Hiroki's turn to look shocked. "What?"

Kamijou-san's countenance fiercened. "Do you think that your mother is without any resources? I, who oversee the running of this whole household? Do not forget too, Kamijou Hiroki, that I had means of my own, well before I met your father."

"Is the world that you live in so completely void of female occupation that you never even gave pause to the fact that a woman, your mother, might help you?"

"And what of the young woman today, Kimiyama-san? What will the cost of this arrangement be for her in the end, if you go through with this farce? Or did you not think about her 'assistance' in this matter either?"

"I know it is in a man's nature to be selfish, but why must you Kamijou men wield this sword of yours so heedlessly?"

Hiroki did drop his eyes now, embarrassed both by his mother's words and his thoughtlessness.

Seeing the pain in her son's furrowed brow, the bright bloom of color on Hiroki's cheeks, Kamijou-san's voice became tempered.

"And what of Kusama-san? I thought… I'd hoped … That perhaps at last you might know happiness, my son.

Hiroki felt tears obscure his vision. His gaze had been following the intricate threads on the embroidery that still sat in his mother's lap; the pattern was a pheasant hidden amongst ferns. Mentally Hiroki wished that he too could vanish amongst these silken leaves, but his mother's words flushed him out. His mind fluttered wildly seeking another refuge.

"Nowaki and I... I have… I will… " Hiroki shook his head trying to clear it.

Kamijou-san's fine brow furrowed, sensing the depths of her son's distress. "Hiroki… call this off! Allow me to help you."

The pleading in his mother's tone pierced Hiroki to his very soul.

Despite how enticing his mother's offer might be, however, he had already made a deal with his father. Were he to back out now, or worse yet, if he was to accept his mother's help and his father somehow found out, he would become even less of a man in the President's eyes than he already was.

Hiroki shook his head again, but this time it was in answer. "No, Mother, I'm sorry; I can't."

Lifting his gaze, he stared into her solemn face. He reached his hand out and covered hers once more, offering it a light squeeze.

"This arrangement is for the best."

He watched a swarm of emotions crowd the dark skies of his mother's eyes: sorrow, disappointment, anger, disgust.

Kamijou-san pulled her hand back harshly. "You and your father! You rival one another in your foolishness! And soon I will not be the only woman sacrificed to the altar of your Kamijou pride.

"Fine! You make your deals with the devil but don't expect others to revel in your hell with you!"

Hiroki rocked back at her words as if he'd been slapped. Never had his mother spoken to him with such open anger.

No sooner had Kamijou-san's true face been revealed, than she pulled a new mask over it. Her voice dropped down and suddenly became calm again… Resigned.

"Go find your father. He's out in his studio. Tell him your guests will be arriving soon and he needs to get ready."

Hiroki reached out to set his hand on one of his mother's trembling shoulders but she pulled away from his touch.

"Hurry and find him…

"With all this useless talk," Kamijou-san's voice choked, "I've allowed myself to foolishly ruin my makeup. Now I have to go put myself together again."

Mutely Hiroki rose from his knees. He stood, his own body felt shaken. At the door he turned back. His mother had picked up her needlework once more but held it unmoving. Her head was hung low.

Hiroki bowed to his mother again, though she couldn't see it. His chest swelled with words he longed to pour out to her, but all he managed to offer was: "Mother…"

I'm sorry. I have not even been back in my old home for an hour and already I have caused such upheaval.

Without looking up, Kamijou-san waved her son away. Hiroki cast one last sorrowful glance at his mother before disappearing in to the cloud-dimmed hallway.

Eyes filled with tears, Kamijou-san picked up her needle with tremoring fingers. She ran her needle through the silk, driving it deep into her finger in the process. As if in a daze she raised her pierced finger up. Even through her blurred eyes, she could see the fat, crimson drop, welling where her flesh had been breached.

My blood has fled me again.

Kamijou-san pressed her bloody digit to her lips, but it wasn't enough to stifle the quiet sobs that escaped her.

Okay all so here is my first new chapter since I finished reposting. Hope I still have it.

My deep thanks to all who have stayed with me faithfully and those new readers who were so diligent in my reposting.

Next chapter will feature a special fountain, a bad flash back, and some Hiroki/Papa Kamijou ... it's a game the whole family can play. After that is Hiroki's meeting with Kimiyama Shiori and after that, more Nowaki and Dr. Carter antics...

Notes on terms and customs...

* An unusual feature of Japanese housing is that houses are presumed to have a limited lifespan, and are generally torn down and rebuilt after a few decades, generally twenty years for wooden buildings and thirty years for concrete buildings- en . wikipedia wiki / Housing_in_Japan (Take out spaces)

* Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was one of the twentieth century's most important and critically acclaimed sculptors. Through a lifetime of artistic experimentation, he created sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture, and set designs. His work, at once subtle and bold, traditional and modern, set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts.

Noguchi, an internationalist, traveled extensively throughout his life. (In his later years he maintained studios both in Japan and New York.) He discovered the impact of large-scale public works in Mexico, earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens in Japan, subtle ink-brush techniques in China, and the purity of marble in Italy. He incorporated all of these impressions into his work, which utilized a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, marble, cast iron, balsawood, bronze, sheet aluminum, basalt, granite, and water.

Born in Los Angeles, California, to an American mother and a Japanese father, Noguchi lived in Japan until the age of thirteen, when he moved to Indiana. While studying pre-medicine at Columbia University, he took evening sculpture classes on New York's Lower East Side, mentoring with the sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. He soon left the University to become an academic sculptor.

In 1926 Noguchi saw an exhibition in New York of the work of Constantin Brancusi's that profoundly changed his artistic direction. With a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi went to Paris, and from 1927 to 1929 worked in Brancusi's studio. Inspired by the older artist's reductive forms, Noguchi turned to modernism and a kind of abstraction, infusing his highly finished pieces with a lyrical and emotional expressiveness, and with an aura of mystery. - www . noguchi noguchi / biography (Take out spaces)

*Tokonoma (床の間 toko-no-ma), is a Japanese term generally referring to a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, tokonoma is usually called alcove. The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are calligraphic and/or pictorial scrolls and an arrangement of flowers. Bonsai and okimono are also sometimes displayed there, although traditionally, bonsai were considered to be too dirty for such a highly respected place. The tokonoma and its contents are essential elements of traditional Japanese interior decoration. The word 'toko' literally means "floor" or "bed"; 'ma' means "space" or "room."

When seating guests in a Japanese-style room, the correct etiquette is to seat the most important guest with his or her back facing the tokonoma. This is because of modesty; the host should not be seen to show off the contents of the tokonoma to the guest, and thus it is necessary not to point the guest towards the tokonoma.

Stepping within it is strictly forbidden, except to change the display when a strict etiquette must be followed.

The pillar on one side of the tokonoma is usually made of wood, specially prepared for the purpose. It can range from a seemingly raw trunk with bark still attached, to a square piece of heart wood with very straight grain. The choice of toko-bashira determines the level of formality for the tokonoma.- en . wikipedia wiki /Tokonoma (Take out spaces)