L-chan's notes: Thanks, as always, for reading and reviewing.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1.
Chapter 21—The Little Things
Tomoyo made it back into her room with a few minutes to spare. Sakura's Fly card had made good time, giving her a chance to change out of her wrinkled school uniform before heading downstairs to dinner. She quickly brushed her long hair, still slightly damp from the shower she'd taken at Touya's, and twisted it back into the braid she'd been wearing earlier. The reflection in the mirror showed a proper young woman who had behaved herself all afternoon, though she was still afraid the truth about her extracurricular activities would be written all over her face. Consciously drawing her mouth into a noncommittal line, she hoped a guiltily pleased expression wouldn't crack her innocent façade.
"There you are," Sonomi said when they met in the dining room doorway. "I was about to send the police."
"Excuse me?" Tomoyo answered, doing her best to keep all traces of panic out of her voice. Did her mother know where she'd been? How did she find out?
Sonomi held up her watch and tapped the dial lightly. "Five after seven. You're normally sitting at the table by now. Get caught up in your homework?"
Tomoyo held back a sigh of relief. "Yes, something like that," she replied, absently using a phrase she'd picked up from Touya. They took their places at the table, and within seconds, the housekeeper set their plates in front of them. "Thank you. It looks wonderful." She tried to focus on these mundanities instead of remembering what she'd promised Touya. She had to speak to her mother, and she had to do it soon if anything was going to change. She couldn't wait another year and a half before she finished high school and got sucked into the business program without a spare moment to breathe.
Maybe the business program isn't so bad, she'd said to him as they lay curled up together. If I do what she wants, maybe she'll give in on something I want. Maybe she'll let us see each other again.
I don't want you doing that, he'd answered. If you want to study music, you shouldn't give that up.
But compared to being with you, it doesn't matter. If I give in on the little things, then I can have the big things.
But that's just it, he'd countered. Sooner or later, the little things tend to become big things.
He was right. If she gave up something so important to her for the sake of compromise, that sacrifice would eventually become a source of resentment.
Dinner passed in silence for the most part. After a polite inquiry about her mother's day, which was met with a complicated answer about a new line of electronic games being held up by a miscommunication about packaging design, Tomoyo let the conversation drop. She knew she had to be an adult, and she knew for her mother to respect her as one, she had to give respect in return. The trick was finding the balance between respecting what her mother wanted without letting go of her own dreams. It sounded so easy, and in theory, it would work. In actuality, she had no assurance that Sonomi would see it that way. The parent was always right, and what the parent said was always the final word on the subject. That was the traditional Amamiya way of handling things.
Only Nadeshiko had broken that pattern. She'd followed her own happiness. There had to be a way for Tomoyo to do the same without losing her dear mother in the process.
A quick glance down showed that her plate was empty. She didn't even remember tasting anything. It had simply been a mechanical response to the food in front of her. While her thoughts had been otherwise occupied, her hand had continued lifting the food to her mouth, and the reflexes of chewing and swallowing had taken over from there. It had kept her from speaking.
"You must have been hungry," her mother continued with a raised eyebrow.
"I guess so," Tomoyo replied. Oddly, she was still hungry.
Sonomi gave her a curious frown as she stood up from the table. "Well, I have to make some calls about that damn package design, so—"
"Wait, Okaa-sama, please," Tomoyo interrupted, getting to her feet as well. "I need to talk to you. It's important."
Sonomi nodded and gestured for her daughter to follow her into her office. All important discussions took place here. It was the most secure and quiet room in the entire house. That made it ideal for business, because Sonomi wasn't disturbed by the other goings-on in the house, and it afforded much needed privacy for family-only conversations.
As Sonomi sat in the large leather chair behind her desk, Tomoyo felt herself begin to tremble. She shouldn't be so intimidated by her own mother. Her mother loved her and wanted the best for her. It wasn't always easy to remember that, but it was true. Just because Sonomi was overprotective.... But that protectiveness had steadily increased even as Tomoyo grew older, instead of relaxing when she didn't need to be watched as closely anymore.
Perhaps Tomoyo was just being selfish and immature to disregard all of the things her mother had done for her, all of the opportunities afforded her as both an Amamiya and a Daidouji. She had chances most people never had. She'd been lucky to be born into a good family, a respected family, and she had no right to throw all of that away.
And those thoughts were the ones that had been ingrained in her since she was born. Now she knew the truth of it. She knew that as important as her family was to her, it was more important to be true to herself. She could not be happy living someone else's dream. And it would be disrespectful to try when she didn't believe in any of it. If there was one thing her mother disapproved of more than disrespect, it was dishonesty.
"Okaa-sama, I've been giving this a lot of thought," Tomoyo began shakily. She forced the nervousness from her mind, picturing it as a pulsating ball of purple energy, a ball she mentally willed across the room and into one of the heavy oak cabinets, locking it inside. "I know you want me to apply to the business program next year, but I can't. I can't do that for you. It's not what I want."
"Tomoyo, we've discussed this."
"Yes, Okaa-sama, I know. But do you understand how important this is to me? I don't want to work in an office. I want to teach children about music, about how beautiful it is and how it can become a special part of their lives. It's something they need, and it's something I need. I can't silence that part of myself."
Sonomi started to shake her head but seemed to catch herself before completing the gesture. "When have I ever said that you had to give up music? It's a perfectly fine hobby, and—"
"But it's not just a hobby," Tomoyo answered. "It's who I am. It's where I find truth and meaning. I can't find that in selling toys."
"Are you saying that what I do is somehow unimportant?"
"No, Okaa-sama. I admire you. I don't think you could ever possibly know how much. And what you do is important. I know you give happiness to so many children. I know your company is involved with many children's organizations, and that's wonderful. I'm glad you can do that. But that's not something I can give. I have other things to offer.
"You have to understand, Okaa-sama," she continued, "that I do love you and respect you. And I never want to disappoint you. But I can't live my life regretting the choices I make to satisfy your goals for me. I have to be able to live my own life, just as you've been able to. Just like Nadeshiko-san was able to."
Her mother's expression changed slightly, her calm yet imposing mask giving way to a flash of anger. "You don't know anything about Nadeshiko" she said. "Or maybe you think you do. Maybe you've been talking to Touya-kun about how his mother was able to escape her tyrannical family and do whatever the hell she pleased, no matter what anyone else thought of it."
Tomoyo shook her head fiercely, but her mother took no notice. "Don't you see now, Tomoyo? This is why I want you to stay away from him."
Was her mother listening to her own words? That didn't even make sense, and it had nothing to do with what Tomoyo was saying. "No, I just... I just want to be happy," she said. If they'd had this conversation a month ago, she probably would have been fighting back tears. But she'd grown up a lot since then. The nervousness stayed locked in the cabinet where she forgot all about it. Her voice remained strong and steady, and she met her mother's disapproving gaze with confidence and directness. "I was hoping you'd want that for me."
"That's what I'm trying to do," Sonomi replied. "I don't want you making any mistakes. I want you to have a secure job and a secure life."
"I'll always have that. With Touya."
"I can't be away from him," she continued, again interrupting her mother, something she never would have done just a few short moths ago. How her life had changed. "I want to marry him." Now her mother really looked upset. "No, he hasn't asked, but that doesn't matter. I love him, and he loves me, and that's what's important." Tomoyo wanted to turn away from her mother before her bravado disappeared, but she couldn't leave without one last plea. "I know you love me, Mama, and I love you, too, more than anything. That's why I have to do this. You've raised me to follow my own dreams, whether you realize it or not. Now that it's time for me to do so, I hope you can be happy for me."
Her mother didn't answer, which was the only answer Tomoyo was going to get tonight. She left the office and went back upstairs to her room, feeling... feeling lighter than she had in a long time. She'd said everything she wanted to say. It didn't matter what happened next. She knew that she had the strength to face anything.
She just hoped her mother could see it that way, too.
At school the next day, Sakura and Meiling both commented on Tomoyo's new disposition. Gone was the disheartened girl of the past few weeks, the one who'd been passively living under her mother's unchallenged rule. Her smile came easily again, even though nothing had been settled the night before. Her mother didn't follow her upstairs and apologize for not realizing what her only child needed, but neither did she furiously reject everything Tomoyo had said and reinstate her unfair punishments.
Maybe Tomoyo should have been upset that her mother was avoiding her, but instead, she took it as a small victory in her battle for independence. If anything she'd said had made her mother think, then that was what counted.
Sakura and Meiling weren't the only ones to notice Tomoyo's improved attitude. Touya had been the recipient of many of her unguarded smiles. They appeared on her lovely face readily and were given freely, much like when she was younger. She was positively glowing with her satisfied expression, so much that Touya was slightly confused. She couldn't still be glowing from yesterday afternoon. He wasn't that good.
It was almost disconcerting, enough that he tried to avoid looking at her during class. Fortunately, the moments ticked away quickly, and time ran out just as he finished writing the last formula on the blackboard. "And so as some bonds form, other bonds are broken," he concluded. "Which means you're free to go. See you Monday." He set the piece of chalk on the tray and rubbed a bit of white dust from his fingers as the class began to file out of the lab. "Daidouji, may I see you for a minute, please?"
"Yes, sensei." Tomoyo approached the front of the classroom almost giddily, and now Touya was concerned. She was acting too happy. And this wasn't the brave show she'd put on for him before. It was genuine joy.
"What's with you today?" he asked quietly as he reorganized his notes for his afternoon classes.
"Nothing," she answered, still smiling.
"Did you talk to your mother?" She must not have, because she wouldn't be acting like this if she had. Plus, he knew Sonomi, and since no call had come into the school demanding his termination, she couldn't know that they'd been together yesterday.
But Tomoyo was nodding. "It went very well."
It wasn't that Touya was skeptical, but he checked the calendar to make sure it wasn't Opposite Day. "It did?"
"I think so."
Now they were getting somewhere. "You think so. What happened?"
She gave a little shrug and hugged her books closer to her chest. "Well, I told her how I felt. I told her I had to do what I wanted, whether that meant studying music or being with you, and that I still respected her and everything she does."
"And what did she say?" he asked. He doubted Sonomi threw a party after hearing that.
"She didn't really say anything," Tomoyo answered. "But at least I did. And if felt pretty good."
Something wasn't right about this. "And that's it? Your punishments have been lifted, and we—" His eyes flew to the door to make sure no one was eavesdropping. "—we can start seeing each other again?"
"Well," she said, shifting a little on her feet. "I don't know." Her smile faltered, and some of the rosy glow left her cheeks. Whatever emotional high she'd been on, it was wearing off. He hated bringing reality back into their situation, but it had to be done. "She certainly wasn't thrilled with what I said," she continued, her voice near a whisper. "Do you think she was too angry?"
Sonomi would never be too angry to speak. She seemed to work best in such a state. "Maybe you just gave her something to think about," he said, trying to be supportive. "And once she's thought it over, maybe everything will be—"
"Kinomoto-sensei?" One of his first hour students poked his head in the door, and they both flinched at being caught.
"Yes, what can I do for you, Matsuya?" Touya asked calmly.
"Sato-sensei says there's a call for you in the office."
He knew Tomoyo was looking at him, but he avoided her panicked eyes and concentrated on shuffling his papers again instead. "Thank you. I hope I answered your question, Daidouji."
"Yes. Thank you, sensei," she answered politely. Her face was pale, but she covered her distress well and left the room to head for history class.
This was it. This was the call he'd known was coming for weeks. The white light was flashing on his phone, and he watched it blink as he gripped the receiver in his hand. He quickly jabbed the button and prepared to clean out his desk. "This is Kinomoto."
When the call was over, he sank into his chair in relief. The parents of one of his students wanted to know if he could recommend a tutor for their son. It was a simple, typical call, the kind that should not set him on edge every time his phone rang. That didn't mean the other call wouldn't be next. I can't do this anymore, he thought with a sigh, closing his eyes and resting his head in his hands.
He looked up to see Eiko Yamura, the choir director and head of the music department, standing by his desk, a cup of coffee in each hand. "Yeah, something like that," he answered as she set one of the cups in front of him. "Thanks."
"Well, it's almost over," she replied cheerily. "And not a moment too soon, if you ask me." He nodded and took a sip of the coffee. "By the way, I never asked how you enjoyed the symphony. The seats were good?"
"Actually, I didn't go," he said sheepishly. "I... was sick that weekend." In truth, he'd ended up giving the other concert ticket back to Tomoyo so she could ask Sonomi to take her. He figured that Sonomi's practical nature wouldn't allow her to let such expensive tickets go to waste. He'd been right.
"That's too bad," she said with a sympathetic shake of her head. "If you ever want to try again, let me know, and I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks." After Eiko wished him a good weekend, Touya pulled out his lunch and made a pathetic attempt at eating it while flipping through a sports magazine someone had left in the office. His thoughts were still on Tomoyo and Sonomi, and he gave up pretending to read and picked up the phone instead. He stared at the receiver, then replaced it before picking it up again. This time, he managed to dial the first three numbers before setting the handset down with a frustrated groan. Chances were she wouldn't talk to him unless he forced her to.
All afternoon, he thought about what he had to do. This situation wasn't just affecting his employment status; it was affecting his performance, too. The afternoon lectures were delivered robotically, and any questions were answered distractedly. Until something was settled with absolute finality, he wasn't going to be able to concentrate properly.
After school, Touya took the express train into the city. The imposing high-rise building dared him to enter, but he glared back at the name over the double-doors and made his way to the elevator. After checking the listing, he rode to the top floor, where he easily found the prominent office of the company's president.
The secretary looked up at him with a polite smile. "Yes, may I help you?"
"I'm here to see Daidouji-san," he said clearly, though it felt like a wad of cotton was wedged in his throat.
The young woman glanced at her calendar with a confused furrow. "Do you have an appointment?"
"No, but she'll see me. I'm her...." Her what? Her cousin? Her daughter's teacher? Her daughter's lover? "I'm Touya Kinomoto. If you'd please tell her I need to speak with her. Please," he repeated.
The secretary nodded and pressed a button on the telephone to relay the information. She put a hand over her earpiece as she listened to Sonomi's instructions, nodding blankly and casting a curious glance at Touya. "You'll have to wait a few minutes, please, Kinomoto-san," she finally told him. "Can I get you some coffee?"
"Maybe some water, please." His mouth was completely dry, and he cursed himself silently for acting like a scared little boy. He and Sonomi had gotten along fine in the past. They certainly weren't the closest of friends, but she was always cordial, if a bit distant. She'd never exhibited any hostility toward him until this whole thing with Tomoyo started. If he had to guess, he'd say that on some level, Sonomi did like him, or at least had no problem with him, and his being Nadeshiko's son should have meant something to her. It was the matter of his also being Fujitaka's son that sat at the core of her resentment.
But that was all cleared up years ago, he thought as he sipped the water, trying not to chug it down like a man lost in the desert. Sonomi and his father spent time together occasionally, discussing business and investments and family matters. It was his own fault for disrupting that peace. But there was nothing that could be done about it now. He wasn't going to let Tomoyo go. Not if he had anything to say about it.
He paced the floor restlessly, only stopping when he realized that the secretary was doing her best not to stare at him, clearly aware of his agitated state. The bottom line was he had to say his piece and let Sonomi know where he stood. The last time he'd spoken to her, he'd been too busy defending himself to do anything other than respond to her attacks. This time, it would be different. No matter what she said to him, he would keep a level head and answer her calmly and honestly.
The intercom buzzed again, and the secretary answered immediately. "You may go in now," she told him, but the cheerful tone she'd initially greeted him with had changed to one of apprehension. If it was an indication of Sonomi's mood, that didn't bode well for him at all.
As the young woman opened the door for him, Touya was still surprised Sonomi had agreed to see him. That was a point in his favor. Keeping score, that made one for and one against. This could go either way.
Sonomi didn't even glance up from her desk when he entered the room, and he stood before her awkwardly, waiting to be acknowledged. He understood now why Tomoyo was often intimidated by her mother. She had a very authoritative bearing, one that commanded respect and obedience.
When she finally looked up at him, it was with a completely neutral expression. No anger, no disgust, no interest of any kind. "Well?" she said, icicles forming on the word as it met the air.
"Thank you for seeing me," he said stupidly, inwardly cringing at his obsequiousness. This was not the kind of person he was, but being in Sonomi's presence drained all of his confidence. It was an admirable advantage she had.
"And... I want to apologize." Now she looked somewhat surprised, though she remained impassive. Only the slight widening of her violet eyes gave her away. "I didn't mean to lie to you, or betray your trust," he continued. "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." Every word was sincere, and he hoped she would understand that.
"Is that all?" She wasn't going to give him a single inch.
"No, it isn't. I don't think you realize just how much I care about Tomoyo. Maybe I haven't explained myself very well, but she means the world to me, and I want the best for her, just like you do. I'm not trying to come between the two of you, or force her to go against you. I just... I just want her to be happy."
Sonomi's eyes flickered toward her computer screen, and she idly tapped a couple of keys before meeting his gaze again. "Do you?" she asked skeptically.
"Yes. I know what she wants, and I support her one hundred percent. I don't know what you have against her studying music, but that's where her true talents lie. Music comes from her soul, and it's amazing. It's beautiful. Why do you want to silence that?"
"Her place is here," she answered, gesturing vaguely at the office.
"I know you helped build this company, and you have no idea how much I respect that. But Tomoyo is different. This isn't something she wants to do."
"She doesn't know what she wants. She's a child."
"She's not a little girl anymore, Sonomi-san. She's the most mature and sensible seventeen-year-old I've ever met. And that includes me. She knows exactly what she wants, and has for a long time. She's just been so afraid of disappointing you," he said quietly, unknowingly echoing Tomoyo's words.
"And yet," Sonomi huffed.
"We're not doing any of this to hurt you. We both want your approval, and your respect. You have mine." The words were only met with silence. "You probably don't believe me. I wish I knew what to say to make you trust me." His hands balled into fists at his sides when she still didn't reply. It was like talking to a wall, only more frustrating, because the wall didn't shoot sharp daggers at him. "All I can say is... I won't let you keep us apart."
"Even if it means your job?"
"I don't care about my job," he said forcefully. "If it comes down to that, I'll leave voluntarily." As much as he enjoyed teaching, as much as he thought it was his calling, he'd find something else if he had to. "But I hope you'll consider how Tomoyo would be affected by any accusations of impropriety."
"Yes, that's what she said," Sonomi mused, more to herself than to him.
"This is about Tomoyo," Touya said. "And whatever you decide, whatever you may think about me, just remember her in all of this. If what she wants means so little to you, you can hold that over her. She may decide it's not worth it and do whatever you say to please you. You can lock her away forever if you think that's best, and she might even let you, because she loves you that much.
"But she loves me, too," he continued before Sonomi could answer him. He was on a roll and needed to get all of this out, even if the words were jumbled and clumsy. "And that shouldn't be the end of the world. She doesn't have to choose between us. But if you make her choose, you may lose her. And if you do, it won't be because of me. It will be because of you."
It had to be said, whether she hated him for it or not, because that was the root of the matter. His eyes conveyed this to her, letting her know that this was exactly why she'd lost his mother, and pleading with her not to make the same mistake again. To say anything more would be superfluous, so he bowed his head quickly in a sign of respect that almost contradicted the way he'd spoken to her. Then he turned around and left without another word.
As the elevator took Touya back to the ground floor, he leaned against the wall and let out a shaky breath. He couldn't remember a thing he'd just said. But it was up to Sonomi now. He had faith that Tomoyo would choose to follow her heart, no matter what the consequences were.
It was just a question of whether Sonomi could accept that.
We're close to the end. Maybe I'll be inspired to get the story done by the end of the year, so cross your fingers and toes!