It's amazing what my mind decides to remember. The way my sock kept dipping below my left ankle. The smell of a rotten egg that I almost used for breakfast. The exact verse of the song on the radio that was playing when the phone rang.

It was early on a Saturday morning so I was quick to answer it before the rest of the household woke up. It seemed strange to get a call so early so I thought it would be a wrong number.

"Hello, Tendou residence," I said.

"Kasumi?"

It didn't matter that I hadn't heard that voice for almost ten years. "Aiko-chan! It's been so long!"

"Kasumi-chan, I'm sorry to call you so early," Aiko said on the phone. "But…"

It wasn't necessary to say anything more. I could hear it in her voice. I sat down on the ground with the phone in my ear. "Matsushita-san…"

"It happened this morning," Aiko continued softly. "Is there any way you can come? We can take the ferry together in Niigata."

"Yes," I replied, feeling the volume of my own voice slowly disappearing. "Yes, I'll take the next train there."

"Thank you Kasumi-chan. I know my uncle would want you there."

I hung up the phone softly and sat there for a moment, gathering my thoughts. I tried to think of all the things I would need to do before I went away but I couldn't think that far ahead. My mind was stuck in the past.

* * *

It was the first day of autumn. The semester was already in progress but our teacher had been absent for almost a week. It seemed odd but most of us were enjoying the break from her usual lectures. Aiko-chan had gotten a new haircut and she was showing it to all of us. All the girls were cutting their hair short then but I just couldn't do it. It had taken so long to get my own long and I couldn't imagine myself without it.

A few minutes after the bell, the principal walked into our room. He cleared his throat to get our attention.

"I am sure you have all noticed the absence of Sato-san," he said. "And it is my unfortunate duty to report to you that she will not be returning this semester to teach you."

There was a murmur in the class at the news. I suddenly felt very guilty that I had ever rejoiced in not hearing her lecture.

"Because of this," he continued, "we have asked one of our retired teachers to fill in until Sato-san can be better."

The door opened again and an elderly man walked in. He had wisps of gray hair around his ears, the only hair he had left. He wore a jacket that looked as if the moths had already gotten to it. His pants were in a similar shape but his shoes were immaculate.

"Uncle!" Aiko cried as soon as she saw him. She quickly sat back in her seat with a blush on her face as several of our classmates giggled.

"Yes," the man said. "I am Aiko-chan's great uncle. My name is Matsushita- san."

* * *

"Tendo-san? Tendo-san??"

I blinked and looked at the voice calling me. The ticket collector was holding out my stub. He bowed apologetically for having interrupted me. "Niigata is the last stop on this train."

"Thank you," I said taking the ticket back from him. I melted back into the seat, turning my head to the side to look out the window. A misshapen bag was at my feet, the result of a failed attempt to get organized before I left. I wondered if father even understood what I was saying to him as I climbed into the taxicab. But he seemed to understand that I had to leave right away.

The train pulled into a station, slowing down as it did. I watched the blurs of color slowly stilled and become shapes once more. Families, businessmen, and travelers with large bags watched the train as it approached. The moment it stopped, they broke away from their stares and headed quickly inside.

I turned away for the moment and listened as their voices filled the car. I watched the empty seat next to me, waiting to see if anyone would take it. But the train began to roll away from the station and the seat stayed unoccupied.

I watched the countryside as the train started to speed up. The trees began to lose their shape and became a blur of green against the blue sky filled with white clouds.

* * *

"That's beautiful."

I almost dropped the paintbrush at the sound. Turning around, I saw Matsushita-san looking over my shoulder.

"That is a truly beautiful painting, Tendo-san."

"Tha..thank you," I stammered, blushing a bit at the praise.

Aiko leaned over from her own easel to take a look. "What is it?" she asked.

"Come here," Matsushita-san said, bringing Aiko infront of him. "Look carefully."

"It's a sky but it's got a green smudge through half of it," Aiko complained, as she looked closely.

"Look closer," he said, pointing to one brush stroke. "Do you see that?"

The rest of the class started to gather around to look at my painting. A few of them walked forward to get a better look.

Aiko squinted her eyes and started at the painting. "Oh!" she said. "I see it! Look, it's a tree! And that's a bird."

The rest of the class began to point to it as well. I felt the rush of color rising in my cheeks.

"Very good, Tendo-san," Matsushita said again. "What do you call it?"

I struggled to find my voice but finally managed to answer his question. "The view from the window of a train."

* * *

"…train. Please disembark. Niigata station, the last stop on this train. Please disembark."

I grabbed the bag from my feet, quickly standing up and shaking off the last bit of my revelry. I headed for the exit and barely made it out of the door when I heard my name being called. Looking over, I saw a young woman with short hair waving furiously at me. I waved back and walked over to her.

"Aiko-chan," I said, bowing when I reached her. "It's very good to see you."

"Kasumi-chan," she replied, returning the bow. "It's been too long. We have an hour before the boat leaves. You must be hungry from your trip."

I nodded as I fell into step behind her. "I didn't have the chance to get something on the train so a sandwich would be nice."

"There's a café near here," Aiko said. "I go there often after work." Aiko smiled a bit. "It's strange to hear me saying that to you. The last time we spoke it was mainly of homework and boys."

Kasumi smiled. "I guess we grew up while we were apart."

Aiko sighed. "Yes, though I would give anything for those days again. Here's the café," she said leaning forward and opening the door causing a tiny bell to ring as announcement of our entrance.

* * *

The wind chime on our back porch rang lightly as the wind passed by it. It was cold already, the months of autumn having almost given way to winter. But I was trying to enjoy the last few days outside.

I had a small canvas on my lap, some paints next to me on the step. The brush in my hand reached over and dipped in the red paint. Carefully, I placed it on the canvas and carefully made the upward stroke.

"Onee-chan?"

I turned around and found Akane coming out onto the porch with a sleepy expression on her face. I put the canvas down and stretched out my arms to grab her. I carefully drew her forward until she sat on my lap.

"Did you wake up from your nap?" I asked, watching as she produced a large yawn. "I guess so."

"Onee-chan," Akane said. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," I said with a smile.

Akane looked over and saw the canvas. "Koi," she said, pointing to the red stripe. I smiled. Akane yawned and moved around in my lap. "Onee-chan," she said again. "I'm hungry."

I got a good grip on her and stood up. "Let's go find mom and dad," I said carrying her inside. She almost took up my entire body. "Oof, you're starting to get heavy!"

"I'm almost six!" Akane said proudly.

I brought her into the family room and had to put her down. She really was getting bigger. I took her hand and led her towards the kitchen where I could hear voices.

"It would be a waste not to think about it."

Matsushita-san? I thought to myself, recognizing the voice. I didn't hear him come in and he hadn't said anything to me in school. Was I in trouble?

"I understand," father's voice said. "It's just a little overwhelming. She's only nine years old!"

"And I have taught Art in universities my entire life and seen maybe two dozen students that showed as much promise as your daughter. She has this innate ability to understand art. She's not copying things or painting a photograph like a lot of students do. She's seeing more to the world."

"So you really think she's a prodigy?" mother's voice asked.

"I think she's a genius. I want to borrow some of her paintings and show it to some fellow professors. But I know what they'll say."

* * *

"They said it will happen soon," Aiko said as we watched the ferry pull in from her car. "It's a bit unexpected but…"

I nodded. He was old, it was no secret that his body had started to wear down.

"Does he still write to you?" she asked.

"Every so often," I smiled. "I got a letter from him a few weeks ago. He seemed very happy up north. Said it was quiet so that he could concentrate on his own work. I didn't think anything was wrong with him."

"I think he was fooling us all for the past few years. But when he didn't come home during the summer, it seemed a bit odd."

The ferry's horn blew once as it approached. Several cars near us revved their engines in preparations. Aiko leaned forward and turned on the engine herself. The radio suddenly flipped on and music filled the card.

Aiko jumped and reached forward to turn it off. "Sorry, I was listening on the way over here."

I smiled and shook my head. "I understand. Nabiki likes to play her music loud sometimes."

Aiko nodded. "How is Nabiki? Still trying to weasel everyone out of their lunch money."

I smiled. "Yeah, she hasn't changed much."

"Whoops," Aiko said as the car in front of her pulled away. "Time to get moving."

* * *

"You're always moving," Matsushita-san said as he watched me paint.

"What?" I asked, taking the brush away from the canvas.

"Your paintings, they're always moving."

I looked puzzled. "But, the world doesn't stand still," I argued.

Matsushita-san shook his head. "And something tells me, neither will you."

"Of course not," I replied. "I'm going to go everywhere. See everything!"

He smiled. "I don't doubt that," he said. He turned and walked away. I went back to painting. It was a flower, sitting on the side of a stone wall. The Great Wall, actually.

"Mom?" I said, turning to face her. She stopped talking to Matsushita and his friends.

"What is it Kasumi-chan?"

"Can we go to China and see the Great Wall?"

She smiled. "We'll see, Kasumi-chan." She turned back to the old men and continued to talk with them. Matsushita-san had said invited us to the university to meet some of his friends. But they only wanted to talk with mom. They left me to paint.

"Come on Kasumi-chan," mom said, reaching her hand down.

I put the paintbrush down and looked at her. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she smiled. "Everything is just fine."

"Kasumi-chan?" Matsushita-san said leaning next to me. "Can I borrow your painting for a while?"

I looked at it. "It's not really done yet."

"That's okay. I'll give it back to you at school on Monday." I nodded and stood up, taking my mother's hand. "Kasumi-chan?" Matsushita-san said. "How would you like to go away on an exciting trip?"

"To where?" I asked.

"Kyoto," he said.

"Can mommy come?"

He looked at my mother and shook his head. "Not this time but I'll be there and so will Aiko."

I thought about it for a moment. "I've never been to Kyoto."

"Then it'll be your first time."

I looked up at my mother. "Can I?"

"We'll see," she said with a smile. "Come on, let's get your coat. It's gotten cold outside again."

* * *

"It so cold," Aiko said, wrapping the coat around her. "I'm sorry Kasumi- chan, to drag you out here but I really needed the fresh air."

"It's okay," I said, drawing my own jacket close to me. The sea spray landed lightly on my face and almost froze as the cold air blew across it. The ferry was moving quickly against the waves but the insistent rocking had upset Aiko's stomach.

"We'll go inside in a few minutes," she said. "I promise. And then I'll buy you some nice tea."

"You don't have to do that," I said.

"But I will," Aiko said with a smile. She put her hands up to her mouth and blew on them. "Boy it's cold. I haven't been this cold since we were in Kyoto. Do you remember that?"

I smiled sadly. "Yeah, that was a fun time. Your uncle must have shown us every temple there!"

Aiko smiled. "But it was so much fun. Remember how we rented bikes and drove around the university campus pretending we were race cars drivers."

I smiled. "Yes. And I remember almost running Matsushita-san's friend over when they came to look for us. I thought he would be so upset."

Aiko rolled her eye. "Please, everyone there loved you! They wanted you to stay with them." She paused. "Oh, Kasumi, I'm sorry…'

"It's all right," I said. "It's nothing to worry about."

Aiko looked at me with a look that said she was not convinced. "I'm going to buy you a great big tea and cookies," she said. I tried to tell her not to but the chill caught in my throat and I coughed instead.

* * *

Mom was coughing as she tried to make dinner. I watched her try to cut the vegetables as her body shook. "Kasumi-chan?" she said softly.

"Yes mommy?"

"Can you cut these for me?"

I nodded and brought a stool over. I climbed on top of it and took over chopping. Looking over, I saw mom take a seat on another stool and try to catch her breath as she coughed.

The knife came down, making even cuts in the vegetables. I tried to concentrate on the cooking but I couldn't keep my mind clear. I dropped the knife down and looked at mom. She looked like she was asleep on the chair.

I ran out of the kitchen to get daddy. He was sitting in the living room, reading the newspaper. The moment he saw my face, he jumped up. He ran towards the kitchen and I tried to keep up.

He was by her side, gently trying to shake her.

"Is mommy all right?" I asked watching him.

"Go call the doctor," he said, pointing to the phone and the numbers listed there. I ran towards the phone, almost tripping over Nabiki and Akane who had come to see what was wrong. As I dialed the number all I could hear was my father telling her to wake up.

* * *

"Wake-up. Wake up Kasumi-chan." I opened my eyes and looked over at Aiko. "We're in Otaru," she said.

I nodded and rose out of bed, trying to get the last bit of sleep out of my eyes. I quickly changed and followed Aiko down to where the cars were parked. We climbed inside and waited for them to open the door.

Sunlight burst through as it did and my eyes shut against it. The cars slowly started to move out of the belly of the ferry and on to the dry land of Hokkaido.

"It's a nice day," Aiko said as the car hit the road. "We should make it there in less than an hour."

I nodded and looked of the window. "This area is very pretty," I said.

"Have you been here?" Aiko asked.

I shook my head. "No. I don't travel too much. Just the rare family trip and that's usually to the beach or skiing nearby Tokyo."

Aiko's brow furrowed. "It's funny but I remember a time when I thought you would see every part of this world."

"Things change," I said softly.

"I know," Aiko said. "Kasumi-chan, can I ask you something?"

I looked over at her a bit confused. "Of course."

"Do you ever regret not going with my uncle to Kyoto?"

I paused and tried to find the right words. Did I regret it? No but at the same time, there were times I couldn't help but wonder what if.

* * *

"I'm so sorry, Tendo-san," Matsushita-san kneeling on the ground. "She was a wonderful woman."

Father nodded but he looked far away. Matsushita-san looked over at me with a sad look in his eyes. "Kasumi-chan, I'm so sorry."

I nodded briefly, unsure of what else to do. I knew if I tried to speak a word the tears would come again and it was so hard to make them stop.

"I know you wanted to take her to Kyoto," father was saying.

"It can wait," Matsushita-san said quickly.

"My wife wanted her to go. We had spoken and she said… she said Kasumi should go."

Matsushita-san's face looked strained, as if he wanted to be happy but knew he couldn't. He turned to me and took my little hand in his own.

"Kasumi-chan," he said gravely. "You must decide for yourself now."

I looked at him for a moment. Kyoto was so beautiful. And Matsushita- san's friends were so nice. They said I was going to study at a special school, one that would let me paint most of the day. They were going to take me to Europe in the summer. And they said I might even go to the United States to study for a few years when I was older.

I remember mom, how happy she was when they told her. How proud she had been. "My little Picasso," she had said.

The words echoed in my heart and I felt the tears start to come again. I looked over at my father who looked back at me with wordless eyes. I looked back at Matsushita-san and saw the same.

Then Akane started to cry and Nabiki couldn't make her stop. I looked at Matsushita-san and tried to find my voice beneath the sadness. "I can't," I said standing up and walking over to Akane.

I sat down next to her and let her sit in my lap. "I'm sorry," I said, the tears already coming. "I can't."

"Next year," Matsushita-san said. "We'll talk again next year."

* * *

Next year, I thought. It was always next year. Next year I would go away. Next year I would see Matsushita-san. But next year always came and left and I was still in Nermia. And after awhile, I realized that that's where I would always be.

Aiko pulled the car into the driveway and turned off the engine. The little house seemed too small to hold Matsushita-san. I followed her to the door and waited after she knocked at it.

Someone answered and I could only assume it was Aiko's mother. I was ushered inside and someone helped relieve me of my coat. I was being led somewhere and they were trying to say something to me but it came out all jumbled.

"…back from hospital… wanted to be home… doctors said nothing…"

I walked into the room and felt my breath leave me. Aiko wrapped her arm mine. She smiled and nodded, trying to give me the support I needed. I walked forward, leaving her at the door and headed towards the bed.

He was there, Matsushita-san, this man in my memory. But he was not the strong man I remembered. The one who promised me the world, who said I would change it. He was a small man, in a small bed whose eyes were closed and whose chest barely moved.

"Matsushita-san," I said softly. But his eyes did not move. "Matsushita- san," I said again.

I leaned forward and took his hand in mine. "I got your letter last week," I said softly. "But you haven't given me the chance to reply yet." I squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry," I said. "I wanted to say that in my letter. I'm sorry I never got the chance to go. But thank you… for giving me those few weeks when I actually believed I could."

I let his hand go and stood up. Looking over at Aiko, I saw that she was already crying. I let her go inside, realizing that this was a moment more for family. As I stepped outside, Aiko's mother caught my arm.

"Kasumi-chan," she said. "My uncle was working on something before this happened. I wanted you to see it." I followed her, through the house and out into the back where a little shed stood nestled in the trees. "This was his workshop," she said. She opened the door and motioned me inside.

I gasped as I looked around. There were dozens of paintings, they covered the walls. Each one was of a different place. I saw the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, even the Great Wall of China. They were magnificent paintings, not like a photograph at all but like he saw the world as I did.

"Look closer," Aiko's mother said.

I walked forward and looked down at the Great Wall. There were tiny blurs, people moving. The clouds moved, the trees moved in the breeze only the wall stood the same.

Then I saw her, in the corner. Long brown hair, holding a small paintbrush and painting on an easel. I looked over to the Eiffel Tower and found her there too. At Big Ben, at the Taj Mahal, she was always there.

"He used to say, 'I couldn't give it to her in this world. But maybe I can give it to her in my own world.'"

I reached my hand out to touch my other self and smiled, feeling the tears start to roll down my cheek.

* * *

"ONEE-CHAN!!"

I looked up from the taxi and tried to brace myself as Akane hit me head on with a hug. I stumble backwards, barely managing to maintain my balance. Nabiki walked over and looked at me with her normal expression.

"Good to have you back," she said. "Ordering sushi was getting too expensive." Her own way of saying she missed me.

"Hey!" Akane said, letting me go she turned to face Nabiki. "I cooked!"

"Exactly," Ranma said from behind his father. Akane's face turned red and she took off after him. In his attempt to escape, Ranma managed to push his father right into a puddle on the grass and it was instant panda. Nabiki sighed and headed back into the house.

My father leaned forward and took my bag from my hands. "How was your trip?" he asked.

I looked at him, with a sad smile. "It was good to see him one last time."

We were silent as we walked towards the house. As soon as we were inside, I took off my coat and grabbed the apron.

"Kasumi," my father started to say.

"Never," I replied, anticipating his question. "I never regretted it."

He nodded and walked away. I went into the kitchen, surprised that it was still intact. The dishes would need to be done first and then dinner would have to be prepared. Then I'd probably have to spend much of tomorrow catching up on the cleaning.

I remember the smell of burnt rice as I started to clean the dishes. The way the apron strap kept falling off my right shoulder. But most of all, I remember this feeling of peace, as if something that had weighed on my heart had been lifted.