Jyou sat on the edge of the cot - one of those uncomfortable, fake-leather covered cots that adorn all doctor's offices - and waited. His feet didn't reach the floor, and he swung them back and forth like a pair of nervous metronomes. It was a dull wait in an uninteresting room, nothing but a small box of a place with white walls and a white floor and a white ceiling with white lights on it. A few framed color pictures of pastoral scenes served only to emphasize the starkness around him. Innocuous music played from a speaker above his head, too quiet to be a real distraction. Jyou sighed. He didn't like being here, didn't like the whole situation. He was a doctor, and being on the receiving end of treatment irked him. Nevertheless, he knew what he felt like when he was healthy, and this wasn't it. He also knew that he wasn't likely to be able to properly diagnose and treat himself, so after waiting a few weeks to see if the symptoms would subside by themselves, he'd finally given up and gone to seek another of his profession for some advice.
After a few interminable minutes, the door finally opened and the doctor himself arrived, looking grandly authoritative in his long white cloak and his stethoscope around his neck. Jyou felt another twinge of mental discomfort, feeling very silly in his nondescript not-at-work clothes.
"How is it?" he asked. "Did you find anything wrong?"
"Nothing physical," the doctor replied. "Not yet, anyway."
"You mean you're still testing?" asked Jyou.
"I mean there's nothing wrong with you yet," said the doctor, "but there might be soon. We do still have a few tests we can run, and we're going to, just to be safe, but I think I can make a fairly accurate guess right now."
"Well, don't keep me in suspense! What is it?"
The doctor made a cursory review of the chart. "Well, considering all the symptoms you've complained of, and noting that as of yet, we haven't found any signs of disease or other physical ailments, I'm pretty sure we can chalk it up to our good old friend stress."
"Stress?" Jyou repeated.
"Of course! You and I both know the medical profession isn't the most relaxing thing in the world. It gets to all of us eventually. Face it, we never get enough sleep, we have to deal with traumas of one sort and another all day long, we don't get enough exercise, don't eat right half the time... does any of this sound familiar?"
"Um... now that you mention it... maybe these past few weeks have been a little rough. I mean, that diabetes case I've been treating had a major attack the other day and I had to deal with her, and then we had this emergency with a kid with a gunshot wound, and-"
"All right, I get the picture. I do that too, you know," the doctor reminded him. "Sounds like what you really need is some time off. When was the last time you had a vacation?"
Jyou considered. "A while... probably not since I got out of school, actually."
"And you've been practicing - how long now? Two years?"
"Three," Jyou corrected.
"Three years, no vacation. No wonder you're having trouble with stress. Me, I take two weeks off once a year just to keep from going out of my mind. I'm surprised you haven't had a breakdown by now. You will, if you keep this up."
"Are you sure?" asked Jyou. "I don't like that idea. What if something goes wrong while I'm away?"
"They can go to someone else. You're not the only doctor in Tokyo, you know," his colleague replied. "Listen, we all know responsibility is supposed to be your strong point, but you don't have to be looking out for the whole world's best interests every minute of every day. Nobody can do that. If you try, you're just going to burn yourself out. Take my advice: reassign what you can, clear off what you can't, get all your cases taken care of, and take some time off. You'll thank me for it."
"Well, maybe..." said Jyou doubtfully.
"Trust me," the doctor replied. "As a matter of fact, consider that a prescription. Doctor's orders. If you don't feel better after you've rested a few days, call me back and we'll look into this some more. Okay?"
"I guess," said Jyou.
"Good," the doctor replied. "Now, you go on home, and try to relax a little."
Jyou nodded and left the little room, heading back towards the front desk. Gomamon was hanging around in the waiting room, socializing with a few other Digimon. As soon as he caught sight of his partner, he bounded over to his side.
"What did he say? Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Mostly," Jyou replied. "He says it's just stress. You know what he prescribed me? A vacation. I've never heard of anything like that, have you?"
"I think it'll be good for you," said Gomamon. "You never have any fun anymore. If we have to spend much more time in that doctor's office of yours, even I'm going to start turning cynical."
Jyou managed to smile a little. "Well, we can't have that. Can you hang in there for a few more days? No matter what anybody says, I can't go anywhere until I can unload a few of these appointments."
"I guess I can wait," said Gomamon. "Just don't take too long! I'm not going to let you forget, you promised me a vacation!"
Jyou paused at the front desk just long enough to arrange for the paying of his bill, and then went to catch the subway train for home. He spent a lot of the ride thinking. A vacation? The very idea seemed alien to him. He had never been the kind who dreamed of going abroad and seeing the world - he left that to his brothers. The last he'd heard, his oldest brother had been doing work in Africa, administering vaccinations and curing diseases, while the middle brother was currently traveling in Russia doing research on their local folklore. As for Jyou, he'd always been content to be a homebody, scarcely venturing outside the comfortable zones of his apartment, school, and later, work. The journey to the Digital World had been an aberration that, as much as he valued the experience, he wasn't eager to repeat. He might as well have been told to go to Mars as on a vacation.
"I don't even have a clue where I want to go," he said. "Big cities are crowded. Forests are full of bugs and bears and things. Most anywhere is going to be full of tourists. Where can I go that's away from it all but not so away that I'd have to live like Robinson Crusoe?"
"That does kinda limit your options, doesn't it?" Gomamon mused. "Hey, I know, let's go to the ocean!"
"Because I like oceans."
"Oceans are full of things," Jyou muttered. "Nasty stuff, like jellyfishes and seaweed and dead fish. And I've never been able to get near one without getting sunburned and sand in my shorts."
Gomamon pouted. "You're no fun."
"Thanks for reminding me."
"Okay, how about this? Why don't you talk to one of the others?" asked Gomamon. "They go places. Maybe they know somewhere good."
"Maybe," said Jyou. "I haven't talked to them in a while, anyway. I guess it couldn't hurt."
They got off the subway train and walked the rest of the way to his apartment. Possibly because of the doctor's reminder that he hadn't been exercising enough, he took the stairs instead of the elevator, and was dismayed that he found himself short of breath by the time he reached his floor. He was a medical expert, for crying out loud - he should be in good health! Instead, it was always headaches, backaches, stomach cramps, allergies, nothing but trouble. What had happened to the boy who had scaled Infinity Mountain? He was irked still further that Gomamon, unequipped for stair-climbing as he was, bounced along happily as if this was all good fun.
*I guess I do need to get out,* Jyou mused. *But out where? Maybe a good mountain lodge somewhere? But even there, I'd still have to put up with a bunch of tourists and things. I want some breathing space.*
Dumping all his things on the nearest chair, he went to find his address book and flipped through it. Who to call? Yamato? Iori? Koushiro? He closed his eyes, flipped to a random page, and pointed. By luck or by some subconscious design, he'd flipped almost to the back of the book, to the "Y" section. The name at the top of the page was Yagami Taichi.
"Fair enough," he decided. He dialed the number and listened to the distant phone ringing. It was picked up almost at once.
"Yagami residence, Taichi speaking."
"Hey, it's me, Jyou."
"Oh, hey, Jyou! It's been a long time," Taichi greeted. "What's up? Heard you haven't been feeling well. Everything okay?"
"I'm okay," said Jyou. "The doctor told me it's mostly just stress. He's ordered me to take a couple of weeks off and go relax somewhere."
"Sounds like fun! I want to do that soon myself. Where are you going?"
"That's the problem. I have no idea. You know I'm not the great outdoorsy type. I don't like shopping and sightseeing. What I think I want is a nice, private spot somewhere without a lot of people and activity. Do you know where I could find one of those?"
"Not off the top of my head," said Taichi. "I'll tell you what, though. I'll think about it, ask around, and call you back. How's that?"
"That's fine," he said. "Just try not to call me at work, okay?"
"Can do," said Taichi amiably. "So, anything else new with you?"
"Just the same old routine. You?"
"Training hard. Nobody told me playing soccer for a living was going to be so much work. I'm looking forward to the championship, of course, but the off-season's fun, too. You should have gotten a job with an off-season."
"I'm doing just fine," said Jyou, a bit stiffly. "I just need a little break, that's all, and then I'll be ready to go again."
"Whatever you say," Taichi replied. "Anyway... if there's nothing else going on, I guess I'll get back to you later."
"Thanks. Nice talking to you, Taichi."
"Same here, Jyou. Bye!"
Jyou said goodbye and hung up the phone. He felt a little better. Strange as it sounded, he disliked having to make decisions. He appeared to make them every day at work, but after years of schooling, every procedure was so drilled into him that he seldom had to think about anything anymore, just react to whatever was going on around him by grabbing the right tool or injecting the right drug. He knew how to deal with a patient with internal hemorrhaging, but not how to plan a vacation. It was a relief to know that Taichi was going to take care of some of the thinking for him.
Now, though, he had a little time for himself. With the memory of the earlier consultation ringing in his mind, he went through his fridge looking for something that might qualify as real food - something fresh cooked, not just a package he could throw in the microwave. He prepared himself the recommended assortment of meat and vegetables and so forth, and was just about to take the first bite, when his phone rang again. He jumped to answer it.
"Hello?" he said, wondering if Taichi had found a lead already.
"Dr. Kido?" said a voice on the other end. "There's been an emergency over here; we need an extra pair of hands in a hurry. How soon can you get here?"
"I'm on my way," he said.
He set down the phone with hardly a goodbye, grabbed his things, and rushed away, thinking that a vacation was already starting to sound like a good idea.
Jyou came home well past midnight that night, thinking of nothing more than a hot shower and some sleep. The emergency had been a sizeable one involving a multi-person car accident, and he'd spent hours cutting and stitching and piecing the victims back together. Now he ached with exhaustion, and once he'd gotten himself fairly clean, he stumbled into his room, turned out the lights, and was asleep before he could even get settled under his blankets properly.
He stayed there until sometime in the early hours of the morning, before the sun had rolled close enough to the horizon to shed the beginnings of light on the city. In those still, dark hours, the phone rang. Jyou came out of his dreams with a moan and reached for the telephone.
"What is it now?" he mumbled. He hoped desperately that none of his earlier patients had taken a turn for the worse. He didn't think he could handle any more complications right now.
"Oh, hi, Jyou!" said a sunshiny voice on the other end. "Am I interrupting something? You sound bothered."
"I sound tired," he mumbled. "It's the middle of the night!"
"It is?" said Mimi. "Oh, silly me! I've been traveling so much, I've got my time zones all mixed up. I'm so sorry! I really didn't mean to wake you. Should I call back some other time?"
"No, it's okay," said Jyou. She sounded so genuinely distressed at upsetting him that he couldn't help but forgive her. "As long as I'm awake, I might as well talk. It's not like I haven't been woken in the middle of the night before."
"Oh, that's good," she said. "Well, not that you get woken up, but... Oh, never mind. I'm all confused now. Anyway, Taichi told me you were going to be taking a vacation soon."
"Yeah, that's right. Have you got any suggestions?"
"That's why I called! I have just the perfect place in mind."
"Hawaii?" Jyou repeated. "I don't know, Mimi. Hawaii's full of tourists and sand and bugs and things."
"Oh, this is different," said Mimi. "I've been doing a lot of traveling lately, and all the jet lag is getting to me, so as soon as I finish up all my business, I'm going to be going to my vacation home in Hawaii for a nice, long rest. It's a private beach - no tourists allowed, so it will be all nice and quiet. I have a little guest cottage in back, and I'd just love it if you'd come spend some time with me."
"Um," said Jyou. He was trying to deal with the idea of a "guest cottage". What did that look like? He had images of a three-room cabin with a screen door.
"It's exactly what you need," said Mimi encouragingly. "Some time alone with the sunshine and fresh air will do wonders for you. Oh, and I'm having a party, too! You'll have to come. I know some of the best people. You'll have a wonderful time."
"Are you sure?" he said. "I'm not much of a party person. You know that."
"Well, you wouldn't have to come if you don't want to," she said. "It's just been so long since I've seen you, I thought it would be fun to get together for a while. This will be the first time in ages I won't be at work; it's the best chance I'll have to see any of you all for months."
"Hm," said Jyou, trying to think. Was this a bad idea or not? It was more or less settled in his mind that he had to go somewhere, and Mimi really seemed to want him to visit. Letting Mimi down was hard - not so much because nobody wanted to hurt her feelings, but because she was very good at getting people to give in to her wishes. He didn't suppose this guest cottage of hers could be as bad as all that, not as much as she loved creature comforts and beautiful things. It might just be all right. It was the best offer he had, anyway.
"All right," he said. "I may regret this in the morning, but I'll come with you."
"Yay!" she squealed exuberantly. "I just knew you would! This is going to be so much fun! Don't you worry about a thing, Jyou. I'll start making plans right away. Do you want me to get you some plane tickets? Is there anything you think you'll want while you're here?"
"Um..." said Jyou. "I think I can handle it. Thanks, though."
"Always glad to help a friend," Mimi answered. "Oh, this is so exciting! I can't wait to see you again. I'm going to start planning this right now. I'll see you soon, Jyou! Bye-bye!"
"Bye," he mumbled.
The connection cut off with the sound of Mimi humming cheerfully until the phone was hung up. Jyou fumbled the receiver back onto the phone, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
Some two or three hours later, he woke up again, this time to the sound of his alarm clock. He turned it off, got up, and got dressed. He ate breakfast mechanically, and was halfway through brushing his teeth before his memory began catching up to him and telling him that he might have just done something he might regret later. What had he done? He must have done something; he was sure he had. He'd made an agreement he wasn't entirely sure about...
"Oh, yeah. Mimi," he muttered.
Well. There was something to think about. He considered the idea a bit, but what with him being short on sleep rations, he didn't get very far, so he decided to seek some outside advice, in the form of waking Gomamon up.
"Hey, Goma," he said. "Were you listening to my phone conversation last night?"
"I didn't do it, you can't prove I did it," he mumbled sleepily.
"Come on, wake up," said Jyou, pulling the covers away. "I want to talk to you."
"Yow, that's cold!" Gomamon complained, opening his green eyes wide as the morning air hit him. "You want to give me pneumonia or something?"
"Are you awake now?" Jyou asked.
"I guess," said Gomamon. "So, what's this about a phone call?"
"Mimi called in the middle of the night last night," said Jyou. "She wants us to come visit her in Hawaii."
Gomamon's face lit up. "She did? And we're going to go, right? Can we? Please? Please? I'll be your best friend!"
"You're already that," said Jyou.
Gomamon assumed a pout. "Well, I won't be anymore unless we go to Hawaii."
"Glad I know what your priorities are," said Jyou. "But I already told her yes, so you don't have to worry."
"Yahoo!" Gomamon squealed, bouncing around in excitement. "Can't wait! When are we going?"
"Not for a couple of weeks. I'll have to wait and see when she's ready to go," answered Jyou. He sighed. "Guess I'd better tell the folks at work I'm taking time off. Hope they don't object too much."
"I'll make 'em not object," said Gomamon.
"I'll bet," Jyou replied.
He went to work dreading the confrontation he was sure would come from abruptly asking for time off. After all, he'd never done it before, and as Taichi said, there really wasn't an off-season for doctors. No matter when he went, there would always be some emergency that needed dealing with. There would never be a good time. He felt guilty for asking, and if Gomamon hadn't still been prancing at his heels talking happily to himself about going to Hawaii, he might have turned around and given up on the idea. Therefore, he was stunned when he actually went to make his request and was told that, yes, that wouldn't be inconvenient at all, they could find someone to take his place for a while, and why hadn't he asked about this sooner? He went to his rounds feeling dazed.
*I'm leaving,* he thought, looking around as if he'd never seen his workplace before. *I'm actually getting out of this place.* He wasn't sure whether the thought was hopeful or terrifying.
Two weeks later, for better or for worse, Jyou found himself staring out the window of an airplane, on his way across the ocean. Despite his telling her he didn't need it, Mimi had paid for tickets for him and Gomamon in the first class section. He intended to thank her for that. This part of the vacation, at least, he could appreciate. It was nice and cool and quiet in the airplane, just what he'd wanted in the first place, though it would have been nicer if his Digimon companion hadn't insisted on racking up a bill ordering food. Still, it was nice. He thought he could have happily spent the rest of his vacation on the plane.
It was a cloudless day, and outside of Jyou's window was nothing but an infinite expanse of blue water and blue sky. He stared out the window without really seeing anything. Instead, he went over in his mind what he was about to get into.
It had been some years since he'd had any contact with Mimi that was closer than an e- mail or phone call. Most of what he knew about her life since they'd last seen each other was brought to him second and third hand - sometimes by friends, sometimes by newspapers. She'd graduated from a prestigious New York school of fashion, and had gone out right away trying to make a name for herself, a pastime at which she'd been remarkably successful. People tended to underestimate Mimi; they would get a first impression of someone completely sweet and completely empty-headed. What usually happened in subsequent meetings was that while they were busy feeling superior to her, she'd guilelessly convince them to do whatever it was she wanted them to do without them ever really understanding how it happened. Maybe it was because she was just used to getting what she wanted and never once considered that someone might stop her. Maybe it was some hidden genius, or just incredible luck. Maybe it was the help of her investors or her clever advertising campaign. Jyou didn't know. He only knew that his friend had made a business for herself in the world of fashion and had done better than anyone had imagined she would.
*This is so utterly bizarre,* Jyou mused. *Here I am, on my way to spend two weeks in Hawaii with a beautiful multi-millionaire. Talk about your weird luck! I'm not the kind of guy who dreams about things like this. Why am I here?*
The question kept him occupied until he arrived at the airport. Once there, he had enough to do just getting himself off the plane and through the mob of other passengers and trying to gather his luggage. He was just trying to collect his things and start dragging them towards the exit, when he heard a squeal.
"Jyou!" shouted a familiar voice.
He was nearly thrown off his feet as he was tackled from the side with an enthusiastic hug. Mimi had just run up and flung her arms around him, and it seemed like she didn't intend to let him go free again anytime soon. He looked around, trying to find some way of untangling himself without hurting her feelings.
"Um, Mimi?" he said. "It's not that I'm not glad to see you or anything, but I'd kind of like to breathe a little, if that's all right with you."
Mimi laughed. "Oh, Jyou, you're funny. I'm just so glad to see you! Let me look at you." She mercifully freed him from her grip and stood back to examine him, her expression turning in an instant from jubilant to speculative, sizing him up as if he were a new product some young hopeful wanted her company to start selling.
Jyou took the free moment to get a good look at Mimi. It had been a long time since they had been face to face, and now he took in the little changes to her appearance. She looked like a fashion model herself, slender and well-proportioned, with those long-lashed, heart-melting eyes. She was looking festive today in a polkadot sundress, yellow with pink spots that highlighted the rosy flush in her cheeks. Her long brown hair flowed over her bare shoulders and was crowned with a few pink flowers that looked very similar to Palmon's bloom. He decided it was good to see her; it was refreshing to see someone who looked so vibrant and full of life, even if she was giving him a rather pitying look just now.
"You poor thing," she said. "You do look like you need a vacation. That's okay! A few days rest here, and you'll be good as new. Some fresh air and sunshine are exactly what you need."
"Sunshine gives you skin cancer," he said.
Mimi raised her eyebrows, and then shook her head sadly, as if she pitied his ignorance.
"Maybe you need a little more work than I thought," she said. "Well, there's time. Come on! I want you to see my beach house."
She led her houseguests out of the airport, pausing just long enough to make sure that Jyou's bags were collected - not by Jyou himself, but by a young man in a uniform who seemed to be under Mimi's employment. He loaded the luggage into the back of a shiny silver sports car and held the doors for the passengers.
"Can I ride shotgun?" asked Gomamon eagerly, bouncing on his hind flippers in excitement. Jyou didn't even own a car, much less something like this, and Gomamon disliked the subway.
"Go ahead," Mimi told him. "Jyou and I can ride in back and get reacquainted."
"Oh, boy!" Gomamon cheered, and he bounced around to the front seat, where he enjoyed the privilege of having someone to open the door for him. "I feel just like a movie star."
"Do you always live like this?" asked Jyou, somewhat bemused, as Mimi told the man that she really didn't need help opening a car door.
"Only when I'm on vacation," she told him. "I've learned my lesson. I usually live in an apartment in New York, and I mostly take care of myself - well, Palmon and me. It is nice to have people wait on you, though, don't you think?"
"I don't know. It's not something that happens often."
Mimi laughed. "We'll fix that."
Jyou kept quiet through most of the drive, letting Mimi indicate points of interest and dutifully looking at what she showed him. At first they passed through cityscapes, then quiet neighborhoods, and then just trees. From time to time, he caught glimpses of white sand or blue water.
"How private is this private beach of yours?" he asked.
"Private enough that no one gets in if I don't want them to," she answered. "I wanted it to look exactly unlike New York. It's really pretty small. I didn't want to spend too much on just a vacation home."
Just then, the car took a turn down a smooth gray driveway, and within a few easy turns, the beach house came into view. It was located on a carefully cultivated stretch of lawn sprinkled liberally with flower beds, and a stretch of pristine sand at its feet. The house itself was a graceful three stories high, with a large front porch - perhaps not huge by American standards, but it was practically a mansion to someone used to a Tokyo apartment. Tucked into the trees at the edge of the property was another, smaller building, equally pleasant.
"How do you like it?" she asked.
"I like it," he said, and he found that he meant it.
*It looks peaceful here,* he thought. *Maybe Mimi is right - this could be just what I needed.*
The driver dropped them off at the back door of the house before driving the car off to a garage tucked away where it wouldn't disrupt the beautiful scenery, and Mimi ushered her guests inside.
"Do you mind coming in through the back door?" she asked. "I couldn't bear to put the driveway in front. It would have just ruined the view."
"I don't mind," said Jyou, thinking, *I don't even have a back door.*
The inside of the house was, as he had suspected, predominantly pink, with much floral decoration in everything from the patterns on the furniture to the fresh-cut blooms resting on tables and windowsills. It took him a moment to realize that one of the flowers was something more than just another potted plant.
"Mimi! You're home!" said Palmon jubilantly. "Hi, Jyou! Hi, Gomamon! You're just in time! Are you hungry? Dinner's ready."
"We'll be there in a minute," said Jyou. "Um... where's my stuff?"
"The houseman will get it," said Mimi. "Don't worry about a thing, Jyou - everything's being taken care of. Your hands are clean enough - come on!"
Feeling somewhat put-upon, Jyou let himself be led into a dining room, decked out with place settings for four and yet another crystal vase of flowers. True, the food did look delicious, making him think of all the meals - if you could call them meals - that he'd been forced to skip or cut short lately. Still, he'd been in Hawaii barely an hour and he'd spent most of it having people tell him where to go and what to do.
*That's funny, Jyou, I thought that's what you liked. Since when did I start to mind being pushed around? Maybe because I'm supposed to be on vacation? I thought people were supposed to make up their own minds what to do on their vacations.*
Nevertheless, he wasn't about to turn down a good meal when one was offered to him. He and Gomamon both tucked in voraciously. Mimi looked rather flattered.
"Do you like it?" she said. "I tried to think of something you would like."
"It's the best," he assured her. "Who made it?"
"Her name is Kiele. She's a nice lady - her husband has some kind of job in the city, but she comes and cooks for me when I need her to. She's very talented. Do you cook?"
"I'll let her know. Let me know what you like, so we can stock up."
"Oh, most anything's good. He likes seafood best," said Jyou, indicating Gomamon, who was busy stuffing himself with fried shrimp. "He'll keep your poor cook hopping, I'll bet."
"She won't mind. I think she gets a little bored, just taking care of me," said Mimi. "Oh, it's going to be so nice having a neighbor! We're going to have a good time."
"I don't know..." said Jyou. "Mostly I was thinking I was just going to relax a while, take some down time."
"If you mean you think you're going to sit in that house and do nothing all day, you can forget it," said Mimi. The smile on her face told him she was teasing, but the glint in her eyes told him she was also serious.
The rest of the meal was pleasant and companionable, as Mimi chattered on about the work she'd been doing lately and the new ideas she wanted her company to try. Jyou listened sincerely and said all the right things, but he didn't draw things out any, declining dessert and saying he was tired. Mimi pointed him back out the back door, allowing him to wind his own way through the gardens to the guest cottage, with Gomamon draped sleepily over his shoulders.
The cottage itself was better than he'd expected. It was designed along the same lines as the main house, though with only two floors and fewer rooms. The decor was also similar, but the color scheme was in shades of green, not pink, and he was relieved to note that the only flowers were a bowl of orchids on a small coffee table. Jyou wandered around investigating the furnishings, and was pleased with what he found - color television, nice stereo system, waterbed, whirlpool bath. It was definitely better than the rustic shack he'd been dreading. He didn't think he'd have too much of a problem spending two weeks here.
Nevertheless, settling in wasn't as easy as he thought it would be. Gomamon, carefree as ever, immediately settled down in the center of the waterbed and fell instantly asleep. Jyou was also tired, but he still felt restless and couldn't bring himself to sleep. He unpacked his belongings (which had been left next to his bed by the houseman) and put everything away, but he still didn't feel right.
When Mimi came to check on him a few minutes later, she found him prowling aimlessly around the cottage, straightening pictures and rugs that were already perfectly positioned, peering inside cupboards and cabinets with no real purpose.
"Did you need something?" she asked.
Jyou jumped. "Mimi! I didn't hear you come in."
"I just came to make sure everything was all right," she said. "I would have thought you'd have been asleep by now. You said you were tired. When your lights didn't go off, I came to make sure everything was okay."
"Oh," said Jyou, looking guilty. "Sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. I really am tired; I just can't settle down. Maybe it's just because this is the first time in so long that I know nothing's going to jump up and demand to be done. I guess I just don't feel right not having anything to do."
She gave him that look, the same half-pitying, half-challenging look she'd given him at the airport. He had the sudden weird feeling that Mimi knew something he didn't - that somehow, out in this island paradise, she'd tapped into some higher knowledge that he didn't have access to. It was a strange thing to feel about Mimi.
Then her whole expression lit up, and she was the same effusive ray of sunshine he'd always known. She clapped her hands together and beamed.
"You need some help relaxing," she said, "and I know just the thing. Hold on - I'll be right back!"
Jyou stared after her as she darted out of the cottage and up the garden path, hair and dress streaming out behind her.
"What's she up to?" he asked the empty room. His only reply was the faint sound of Gomamon snoring.
A few minutes passed by, and then a few more. Jyou was just beginning to wonder if Mimi had gotten distracted and forgotten about him when she returned, flushed with triumph, carrying a bottle of purple stuff.
"Sorry!" she said as she breezed into the room, bringing with her a night wind scented with flowers. "I forgot where I put it."
"What is it?" asked Jyou, eyeing the bottle distrustfully. He had every reason to distrust the stuff in the bottle - it was labeled with more pictures of flowers, it was unfamiliar, and it was purple.
"Massage oil!" said Mimi proudly. "My company just started to carry it; I've got about a million samples and nobody to use it on."
"Oh," said Jyou. He'd trusted the stuff more when he hadn't known what it was. Mimi giggled.
"Come on, Jyou, don't be an old spoil sport," she said. "It won't hurt you. I'm good at this. I took a class. Go on, now - take off your shirt."
Jyou hesitated a bit. He had studied a few alternative treatments, massage therapy included, and he knew intellectually that it wouldn't hurt and probably would even do some good, but that did not make him any more eager to obey. It wasn't so much the idea of a massage - though that in itself was a bit embarrassing. He didn't want to take his shirt off, not in front of Mimi. He worked too hard and ate too little to ever be overweight, but that only meant that he always looked a little thin and underfed. He wasn't skeletal, but there was really nothing under that shirt to excite a girl's interest.
*As if I needed or wanted to impress her,* he thought sternly. *Mimi's just a friend, and she doesn't care what you look like. She's also not going to give up, I don't think.* Reluctantly, he sat down on the sofa and began unbuttoning his shirt. Mimi confiscated it, as if she suspected him of changing his mind.
"There," she said. "Now lie down - no, the other way, face down. That's it! Good. Now, just relax."
Jyou took off his glasses and set them on the coffee table, closing his eyes. He wondered what he was letting himself get into, and whether this had been a mistake. The last thing he needed or wanted was to spend his vacation letting Mimi try out her products on him! And yet... There was a faint pop as she flipped the cap off the bottle, and he caught a faint whiff of the oil. It smelled nice, like vanilla, mixed with something floral. Lavender, maybe. He was sure he'd read somewhere that lavender was supposed to be soothing... or maybe it was lilac. It could have been either. He wouldn't know a lilac or a lavender plant if he saw one, anyway. Whatever this stuff was, it still smelled good, and he felt himself relax a tiny bit.
He almost missed it when Mimi's fingers first came in contact with him, so gentle was her touch. All he felt at first was the lightest brush and a sense of warmth; not only did the purple stuff smell good, it felt good, and it tingled where it touched him. He relaxed a bit more as he felt her hands gently undoing the knots of tension around his neck, the stiffness in his shoulders, the aches in his back. He'd barely even realized they were there, they had been such constant companions to him lately, but it was wonderful to feel them disappearing and being replaced by that tingling warmth. She was murmuring something in her soft, sweet voice, words he didn't quite understand. They didn't sound like Japanese, or like English either. Maybe they were Hawaiian. Polynesian. Whatever people from Hawaii spoke. Didn't matter anyway. His thoughts kept wandering as the tension continued to ebb away and he began to feel how tired he really was. It had been a long, long time since he had done anything just because he wanted to, just because it felt good, and this felt so very good, it could go on forever and he wouldn't mind. As she continued to rub in all the right ways, it occurred to him dreamily to wonder how it would feel if he... if she... Too late. He was asleep before he could finish the thought.
Mimi smiled as she saw her friend drop off. She went and found a light blanket to put over him, and gently brushed a lock of hair out of his face. It was amazing the difference it made, seeing so calm and peaceful. She brushed her fingers across his face again for no reason at all.
"You have a lot to learn," she told him softly, "but don't worry. I'll teach you. I'll teach you how to be happy again."
She lingered a moment longer, as if making up her mind about something. Then she shrugged resignedly and got up, collected her things, and turned out all the lights. She walked slowly and thoughtfully back through the moonlit garden.
Jyou had a strange dream that night. He dreamed he was following Mimi through a field of purple flowers that were lavender or lilacs. She kept laughing as he tried to catch up to her, her hair and dress streaming out in the flower-scented wind. There was something she wanted to show him or tell him, something wonderful that would make all his troubles disappear, but he couldn't understand what she was saying, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to get any nearer to her. He raised his hand and tried to shout at her-
-and he woke up to find sheets of sunlight slanting into his eyes. It was a beautiful morning, and according to the clock on the wall, it had been going on for a few hours without him. Jyou felt a little ashamed of himself - he was usually an early riser - but he reassured himself that he needed the rest. Besides, he was on vacation; he could sleep all day if he wanted to.
He sat up and stretched his sleep-stiff muscles, listening to the morning noises going on outside. Now that he was awake, he couldn't imagine how he'd missed the sounds the birds outside were making. He wasn't used to birds, except for city birds like pigeons and seagulls, and these things didn't sound like either. A brightly colored avian landed on his windowsill, gave a few cheery chirps, and fluttered off again before Jyou could do more than scramble for his glasses so he could get a good look at it. He put his glasses on anyway.
There were minor changes since last night. The first thing that caught his attention was the blanket Mimi had tossed over him, and he correctly guessed that she had brought it to him rather than try to wake him up. He also noticed that someone had changed the flowers in the bowl on the coffee table; yesterday they had been purple, but today they were orange and yellow. There was a note next to the bowl. He picked it up and read it.
Dear Jyou - if you wake up any time before noon, come over and join me for breakfast. If you wake up after noon, come join me for lunch instead. I'll be waiting for you - Mimi
"That's friendly," he said.
He looked at the clock. It said that it was now a few minutes after ten - a little late for breakfast, he thought, but definitely too early for lunch. He decided to go visit Mimi anyway. He showered and dressed quickly, and then went to wake up Gomamon. The little seal was still snoozing peacefully in the middle of the waterbed, with his flippers and tail pointing in all directions.
"Hey, you, wake up," said Jyou, poking him in the ribs.
"I am awake," Gomamon answered, not even opening his eyes. "I don't wanna get up. I like it here."
"Okay, then," said Jyou, "I guess I'll just go to breakfast without you."
"I don't like it here that much!"
The two of them walked up the path to Mimi's manor. The garden that had been lovely in the moonlight was fantastic by day, with all the flowers blooming in the brilliant sunshine, spilling out a hundred different perfumes. It reminded Jyou of the Digital World at its very best, and he wondered if perhaps that was just the effect Mimi had been going for. He lingered to look at them until his growling stomach urged him onward.
Inside the house, he found Mimi hanging around her living room, sprawled on a sofa and reading a magazine. As he entered the room, she looked up and beamed.
"Oh, there you are!" she said.
"Hi," he answered. "Sorry I'm so late..."
Mimi looked blank a moment, then laughed. "Late? I just got up myself! You looked so tired last night, I wasn't expecting you for a few more hours."
Jyou found himself laughing. "I wasn't that tired."
"All right," she answered, smiling. "Did you sleep well? I didn't mean to make you sleep on the couch."
"I slept fine. I haven't slept that well in years," he replied. "Thank you."
"No trouble at all. It was fun," she said. "You look a lot better today. It's amazing the good a night's sleep does."
"You sound like I was sick," said Jyou.
"There's more than one way to be sick," Mimi replied seriously. "You don't know it, but you are. But that's okay, because I'm going to fix you up.... Are you going to wear that today?"
"What?" said Jyou, startled both by her statement and the change of subject.
"Those clothes. Are you going to wear them?"
"Yeah, I guess so. What's wrong with my clothes?"
"They're boring," she said. "You can't have any fun dressed like that. Did you bring anything better?"
"I don't have anything better," said Jyou, beginning to feel slightly annoyed. "These are the only kind of clothes I've got. They're just fine."
"Maybe for being a doctor, but not for here. You're in the tropics now, Jyou - you need something with some color in it. Besides," she added, as he still didn't look convinced, "you can't wear that to my party. Nobody else will be dressed like that; you'll stick out like a sore thumb."
"Um," said Jyou. He didn't particularly want to go to a party, but it would be rude to turn down the invitation, and he wasn't good at being rude. If he had to go to one, he didn't want everyone staring at him and whispering about him all night. "I didn't exactly bring money for extra clothes."
"That's okay. I'll get you some."
"I couldn't ask you to do that. I mean, you already got me a place to stay and food and plane tickets..."
"It's nothing. What's the good of having money to spend if I can't do somebody some good with it?"
It was on his mind to ask her why she didn't spend her money helping someone who really needed help instead of wasting it buying an unnecessary new wardrobe to someone who was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but the words never made it out of his mouth. For one thing, he was afraid he'd hurt her feelings. For another, he didn't think she'd agree with him. Anyway, at that moment, Palmon came into the room.
"Did you all know breakfast is ready?" she asked.
"We'll be there in a minute," said Mimi, setting aside her magazine.
"Oh, boy! Food!" Gomamon cheered, bouncing out of the room.
Jyou laughed a little. "Come on, Mimi. We'd better get in there before he eats it all."
Breakfast put him in a better mood. A good night's sleep really did make a big difference in the way he felt, and he felt relaxed enough to laugh and even make jokes as they all enjoyed their meal. By the time they were ready to clear the dishes away, he was willing to look on the shopping expedition as a sort of adventure... or at least an interesting change of pace.
As he'd expected, the downtown area was full of tourists, all bent on having a good time. He saw tourists carrying cameras, families leading small children, surfers taking a break from the waves, and honeymooners strolling hand in hand. Mimi waved to a few people at stoplights.
"Who are they?" asked Jyou.
"I don't know," Mimi replied. "I'm just being friendly."
"Are you sure that's safe?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
He decided not to argue. He was beginning to get the feeling that the word "worry" was not in Mimi's vocabulary. Maybe that was why she always looked like she was having such a good time.
Shopping didn't turn out to be so bad. It had been one thing when he was alone in the cottage with only Gomamon for company, but being out here with the brightly dressed vacationers made him feel out of place, so he capitulated to Mimi's whims and let her pick out some new garments for him. He found himself admiring how professional she was about it; she took a critical look at him, assessing the color of his hair and eyes and skin, asked his sizes for this and that, and immediately went out and found a selection of colorful and comfortable clothes that not only fit perfectly but looked good on him.
"What do you think?" she asked him, as he studied his reflection in a panel of mirrors.
"It's different," he said.
"That was the idea. Do you like it? If you don't, we'll try something else, but I thought this would suit you. I couldn't really see you in a flowered shirt, could you?"
"Not hardly," said Jyou. She'd outfitted him in khaki shorts and a light silk shirt - comfortable in the sultry weather and nice enough to keep his dignity intact. "Really, I like this. I think you got it exactly right."
She beamed. "That's my job."
"What, to help people pick out clothes?"
"Sort of," she said, laughing. "It's a lot more than that. Don't you feel better knowing you look better?"
"I'll try to explain it better... later. I'm not very good at explanations. First let's pay for these things."
A salesgirl helped Mimi bundle up all the clothes and carry them to a counter, where she was greeted by name and given deferential service. They even helped carry the bags out to her car.
*I suppose it's good for business, saying she shops there,* Jyou mused. *Not to mention her company probably sold them a lot of their merchandise anyway.*
"You really didn't have to do this," he said. "I feel kind of weird, letting you spend all this money on me. I wish I could do something for you."
"You can buy me an ice cream cone," she said playfully.
"I like ice cream."
He laughed a little. "All right. I think I can manage that."
They stopped at an ice cream shop, and Jyou bought them both pineapple sundaes. They opted to eat at a little table outside, watching all the people go by. Mimi seemed unusually quiet and thoughtful.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"No, I was just thinking," she answered. "Oh, look at them, Jyou! Aren't they beautiful?"
He looked in the direction she was pointing. There was a couple strolling down the other side of the street, their arms around each other. They weren't exactly young - the man showed the faintest signs of a paunch, and the woman was rather broad around the hips - but they were acting like a pair of young teenagers on a date. Second honeymooners, Jyou guessed. The man was saying something to the woman, and she was laughing. They were paying no attention to the tropical scenery, but looking only at each other.
"Don't you think they're beautiful?" asked Mimi. "Look how happy they are. They just glow from the inside."
"I... guess," said Jyou uncertainly. Privately he thought they both looked rather plain and a bit overweight, but he wasn't going to say that. Even so, the look Mimi gave him was hurt.
"You don't see it," she said.
He sighed. "I guess I don't. What is it?"
"I can't explain it. You have to see it to understand it... or understand it to see it. When you find it, you'll know it."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Not to you. You're a doctor; you see things the way a doctor does. I see things differently," Mimi said.
"I know that," said Jyou.
She looked at him, her eyes staring deeply into his. They looked sad, and a little uncertain.
"Taichi told me," she said hesitantly, "that you were having trouble with your work."
"Not exactly," Jyou said. "Work goes fine. There's just too much of it."
"Are you happy?"
"Sure I'm happy."
"Are you?" she asked.
"Well..." he said uncomfortably. "I guess... I'm as happy as I can be. I mean, it isn't easy work. I have to put in some long hours, and I have to go through some ugly stuff... but it's all for a good cause. I'm helping people."
"Hm," she said. She looked away, watching the ocean flicker in the sunlight. "I love my job, you know? I have so much fun there. It makes me happy to be there. Even when I'm on vacation like I am now, I still can't help just doing my thing... like taking you shopping. Sometimes I feel like I need to rest and relax a little while, but I never feel like I just want to run away from it all."
"Like I did."
"What are you trying to get at?"
"I don't know," she said. "I guess when I heard you weren't happy, I just wanted to do something for you so you wouldn't be unhappy anymore. That's what friends are for, right?"
"Well, don't worry about me, Mimi! I'm just fine. I just needed some time out to rest a while."
"That's good," she said, smiling. "I want all my friends to be as happy as I am."
She got up to dispose of her empty ice cream dish, and he watched her thoughtfully. It struck him again how alive she looked, as if she'd never come near sickness or pain. She almost sparkled. Seeing her carefree smile woke up a strange kind of ache inside, and he wondered if he'd ever been that happy in his life.
The next few days fell into a pattern, and he found himself growing comfortable in it. He liked being able to sleep as late as he liked and to fall asleep at night knowing nothing was going to come to wake him up. He liked to spend his mornings outside, looking around the gardens and getting to know the things that grew there. Palmon herself tended to them, and she taught him the names of every plant and shrub, and showed him how to make them happy once they were planted. He learned how to tell a weed from a more welcome plant, and how to prune a shrub so it would grow better and how to plant seeds so that they'd grow. He finally found out what a lavender plant looked like. Sometimes he would help her with her work, listening to her talk about every flower as if it was an old friend, which it probably was.
In the afternoons, he would usually meet Mimi for lunch and spend a few hours in her company. He'd always regarded her as a nice girl and a good friend but not incredibly high up the intelligence scale, and he was humbled to discover that she was as well-educated in some areas as he was. She was interested various forms of natural medicine and things like yoga and acupuncture, and they spent a lot of time involved in shoptalk. Sometimes they would go into town and sightsee, and once he took her to a movie. She never brought up her worries about his job again, and her eternal cheerfulness made him feel far more relaxed than he had with his associates back in Tokyo.
*I could get used to this kind of life,* he thought, as he floated in the tub at the end of a long day. He'd finished off his evening the way he usually did, having dinner with Mimi and the 'mons before returning to the cottage to read a while and then have a bath. *It makes me sorry I have to go home.*
Home? Where was that? He could barely remember what his apartment looked like, and he'd been gone less than a week. When he further prodded his memory, he realized he had only vague images of what his building looked like, or the hospital, or the faces of his fellow doctors. It was as if they were all something he'd dreamed of, a long time ago. What was fresh in his memory was here - the cottage, the garden, the manor house, the way the birds sounded when he woke up in the morning, the tropical-flower scent of Mimi's perfume.
One evening, Mimi walked out on her back porch and found her houseguest sitting there, staring out into the ocean. The sun was setting, filling the air with a spectacular blaze of color that made rainbows look pale in comparison. Gomamon was out on the water, getting acquainted with the local sealife, but Jyou simply sat on a deck chair and stared.
"Are you okay?" asked Mimi.
He looked up and smiled. "Sorry. I didn't mean to show up uninvited. Your porch is just the best place to watch the sunset. Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. Is that what you're doing, watching the sunset?"
"Kind of." He laughed. "I just had this weird urge to see some colors. Doesn't that sound stupid?"
"I don't think it sounds stupid at all. Colors are good for you. Didn't you know?"
"I don't know. I was just sitting there looking at that crazy bowl of flowers, and my mind was wandering, and I was thinking about how it changes colors every day. You know, one day it's purple flowers, and another day it's orange, or yellow, or red. And I was thinking... there aren't that many colors where I came from. Half the time, I get up before the sun does and go back home after it's dark again, and the only daylight I see is a glance out a window sometimes. Even then, I don't see much. Black sky, or gray buildings, or white hallways, or doctors in green scrubs. And red. Too much red. And that's all I see, day in and day out. Then I came here, and it's like going from a black-and-white TV set to a color one. More than that. I don't really know how to describe it."
"It's all right. I think I know what you mean," said Mimi. She was quiet a while, watching as the sun continued to sink lower into the ocean, slowly shifting the kaleidoscope of colors. Then she said, "Do you want to go swimming?"
"Um," he said. He looked at her, and then at the ocean, glittering purple and orange and gold. Swimming there would be a bit like swimming in a swirl of paints.
"Sure," he said. "I'd like to go swimming."
A few minutes later, he'd changed into swimming trunks and was heading for the water's edge. Mimi was already there, attired in a pink bikini, her long hair bound into a youthful braid. She stood knee-deep in the ocean, waving for him to come join her. He wasted no time in doing so. He might have been a bit awkward on land, but thanks to much patient training from Gomamon, he was an adept swimmer. He splashed out into the ocean until the water was nearly up to his waist, then dove smoothly into the ocean, swam a few yards, and came up spluttering, shaking water out of his hair.
"You're pretty good at that," said Mimi in admiration. She was hanging closer to shore, where she could keep her feet planted on sand. "I don't usually go that far out."
"It's not bad. There's hardly any undertow here," said Jyou. He felt confident out here, with the water supporting him. This water was better than the water at the swimming pool where he practiced. That water had always been just a little too cold for comfort, smelling strongly of chlorine that left him with a sticky feeling no amount of showering could completely wash out. This water was still warm from the Hawaiian sun and swirled pleasantly around him as if it had a life of its own.
"I know," she said. "It's just... I never did learn to swim very well."
"Really? It's not hard. People naturally float anyway. It's just a matter of learning how to get where you want to go. Come on - see if you can get out here where I am."
"Are you sure? What if I sink?"
"You won't sink. I won't let you. It's not far. Look, it's just a few feet."
Mimi took a deep breath and began paddling forward. For a short distance, she was fine, but then a wave came gliding along and dunked her under water. Immediately she panicked, thrashing around pointlessly. In a few sure strokes, Jyou was at her side, holding her up.
"Don't worry; I've got you," he said. "Just calm down. I've got you. I won't let you sink."
"I didn't like that," she said, blinking salt water out of her eyes.
"You were doing fine until you got scared," he told her. "Next time that happens, just relax. You'll float, I promise. Look. I'm going to let you go now, and I want you to hold your hands out and kick your feet, like you're riding a bicycle. That's not hard, is it?"
She shook her head a little. Very slowly, he let her go again, and she floated where she was. She looked around, as if surprised she wasn't sinking like a stone.
"See?" said Jyou, grinning. "I told you it wasn't hard."
"When did you become a swimming instructor, Jyou?" she asked, laughing a bit.
"As many times as Gomamon dragged me to the pool, I had to learn how to swim well," Jyou replied. "When I was in college, I picked up some extra spending money as a lifeguard at the local pool. Don't worry; I've seen people learn to swim who didn't catch on nearly as fast as you. Half of them were scared to do more than get their feet wet."
"I might be scared, if you weren't here. It's easy to trust you," she said. "I know you'd never let anything happen to me."
"Well, let's see if I can teach you not to be scared," he said. "If you're going to live next to the ocean, you ought to know how to swim."
"I don't live here. I just go on vacation here," she protested.
He grinned teasingly. "No excuses! Cooperate, or I'll teach you the way Gomamon taught me - by ducking my head under water."
"You wouldn't," she said.
"You want to bet?"
Before she could reply, he'd taken a gulp of air and dropped under the water. She looked around, but he seemed to have disappeared.
"Jyou?" she called. "Where'd you go? This isn't funny."
Gomamon, paddling some distance off, shouted, "You'd better look out behind you!"
Before she could even turn around, she heard something surface behind her, and a pair of hands picked her up and tossed her into the air. She gave a squeal as she fell back to the water with a great splash. She came up spluttering, wiping water out of her eyes.
"Jyou, I'm going to get you for that!"
"See? I told you you wouldn't sink!" he said, laughing.
She splashed a wave of water in his direction, and was gratified to hear his laughter turn to chokes and splutters as he got a mouthful of seawater. However, his discomfiture didn't last long, and he quickly recovered enough to retaliate. Mimi squealed again, and the two of them got into a splashing match as they vied to stir up the largest waves, laughing and shouting. The war went on until a fresh wave came along, catching Mimi unawares, and she found herself getting dunked underwater again. Jyou came to her rescue.
"Tide's coming in," he remarked. "The currents are going to start getting stronger. Maybe we should think about heading for shore."
"You're right," Mimi agreed. "I hadn't realized how dark it was."
Surprised, Jyou looked up. The sun had set while they hadn't been looking, but a gibbous moon provided enough of its silvery light that he'd hardly noticed the change. The thought, *A moonlight swim, how romantic,* wandered through his brain and vanished before he could get a good look at it.
"I guess it is time to go in," he said. "Do you want me to help you?"
"No, I think I can manage. Thank you, though."
They paddled to shore, followed closely by Gomamon. As soon as he reached land, he shook himself off like a dog, spraying both humans with salty water. The two of them had to content themselves with huddling close together against the chill night air. Palmon met them at the porch staircase, carrying fluffy towels for the both of them. Jyou reluctantly removed his arm from around Mimi so he could accept one.
"Thanks," he said, draping it around his shoulders. "Well, that was fun."
"It was," said Mimi. "I'd like to do it again some time. Do you want to come in and wash up a bit before you go home?"
"No, I'll be all right, but thanks anyway."
"Oh," she said. "Well... thank you for teaching me."
"Any time. I was glad to do it. I really enjoyed it."
"So did I. Goodnight, Jyou."
Then, to his surprise, she stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. He had a brief sensation of being brushed by flower petals, and then she was gone again, following Palmon into her house and leaving him standing stunned. He walked home hardly hearing Gomamon's laughter and jibes. He felt he must not have left the ocean, after all, because he was almost positive he was floating.
After that, an evening swim became part of his daily agenda. Just before sunset, he would meet Mimi on the back porch, and they would swim in the warm ocean until well after dark. She didn't kiss him again, though, and he began to convince himself that it had only been a dream. It had to have been - and even if it wasn't, it might as well have been. It was one thing when it was just the two of them by the side of the ocean with the moonlight silvering over everything, but it was quite another when they were out in public in the real world. Beautiful, self-confident Mimi certainly would never feel anything for such an awkward, ordinary person but friendship.
One afternoon, he showed up at the main house for their usual lunch and conversation session and heard a minor commotion going on. He followed the noise into one of the larger rooms, the one closest to the back porch, and found Mimi and Palmon shoving furniture around.
"Oh, hi, Jyou!" Mimi greeted. "You're just in time. Can you give us a hand here?"
"I guess so," he said. "What's going on here?"
"The party, of course! We've got to get ready."
"Oh, yeah, the party! I'd forgotten," he said.
Mimi nodded. "We have to clear the floor and get the refreshment tables and things set out. I've already sent the houseman out to pick up some things, so we're stuck moving furniture."
"What about lunch?" asked Jyou.
"Oops. I guess I forgot about lunch," Mimi said. She laughed. "That's what I like about you, Jyou - you've always got your priorities straight."
"I could go get us some sandwiches or something," Palmon offered. "Unless you need me here."
"I think Jyou and I can handle it. Besides, you look tired," Mimi said. "You take a break and find something to eat. We'll catch up with you. We're almost done here, anyway."
"Okay!" said Palmon cheerfully. She walked off, with Gomamon trundling along after her.
Mimi turned her eyes back to her work, and Jyou followed her gaze. Most of the furniture in the room had already been shoved across the carpet and lined neatly along the walls. All that was left now was a single armchair, a small table, and a large sofa. Mimi sized the sofa up and gave it a shove.
"Ooh, this is heavy," she said. "Could you give me a hand, please?"
"Sure," said Jyou.
So instead of the relaxing afternoon Jyou had been anticipating, he spent the rest of his afternoon moving furniture, setting up the refreshment table, and helping to wire up the music equipment, while one-handedly eating sandwiches and sipping on sodas provided by the helpful Digimon. They seemed to be looking forward to the celebration as much as Mimi was, but Jyou himself was beginning to feel the first pangs of apprehension. He hadn't really wanted to go to this party, and had managed to forget about it over the last few days. Now it was time to face up to it. When the last of the wires in the speaker system had been put in place, and the machine had proved it worked by spilling forth party music, he excused himself to go get ready, leaving Mimi cheerfully humming as she put up decorations.
Back at his little cottage, he took a long shower, trying to boost his morale a bit. Then he got dressed, with a degree of care that would have surprised his associates back in Tokyo who had always known him to be a casual dresser when he wasn't on the job. Now he felt he was about to be put to the test - he had to go out among Mimi's high fashion minded friends and try to convince them he belonged there, and that would take every resource he had.
Still, as he brushed his hair out and looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he had to admit that it might not be as hard as he'd thought. After all, Mimi herself had assisted in choosing his new wardrobe, and her taste was always flawless. He'd chosen for tonight a pair of black slacks and a silk shirt of deep blue that accented his hair and - he had to look twice to convince himself it wasn't a trick of the light - a suntan. Where had that come from? He hadn't had one when he'd gotten here. Perhaps it just came with living in this sunshine-soaked place. He had to admit, it suited him well, certainly better than his ordinary pale pallor. This vacation had agreed with him - a few days of uninterrupted sleep, good food, and regular exercise had done wonders for him. He hardly recognized himself as the underfed, overstressed creature who had first arrived here.
*I think I'm going to do all right,* he thought.
"Come on, Gomamon," he said. "Time to join the party."
There were already people gathering at Mimi's house when he arrived there, just enough that he didn't draw too much attention with his entrance, and he mingled easily with the crowd even if he didn't really feel like part of it. He wished Mimi would notice him and talk to him a while so he wouldn't feel so isolated, but she was busy playing hostess, welcoming guests and inviting them to help themselves to the refreshments. She was looking particularly radiant tonight, and he had to forcefully remind himself not to stare at her. Gomamon had evaporated almost immediately, wandering off to make the acquaintance of the other Digimon at the party, leaving his partner to sink or swim on his own.
Finding himself surrounded by people he didn't know who didn't seem to show any inclination to talk to him, Jyou did what he usually did in that situation: eavesdropped. He perhaps should have felt guilty about that, but any guilt he might have had evaporated when he realized how many people seemed to be talking about him. These people knew each other already; they were part of Mimi's Inner Circle, and Jyou felt he'd been foolish to ever think they'd mistake him for one of them. They knew him for the outsider he was, but their reaction seemed to be less hostile than curious.
"Who's that guy?" asked a well-dressed young lady to a man in an expensive suit.
"Who, him? The one in the glasses and the blue shirt?"
"Yes, him. I don't think I've seen him before."
"Maybe he's from sales or something. They move around so much, I can't keep track of them all," said the man.
"No, he's not from the company, at least not where I work," said the woman. "I know everybody there, and I've never seen him before, I don't think."
"Perhaps he's new?" another woman said, entering the conversation. "I've heard a rumor that Mimi was thinking of adopting a line of men's clothes; he could be a model."
"I'll bet that's what he is," said the first woman, giving Jyou an appraising glance from the corner of her eye. "He's just the kind Mimi likes for jobs like that. He's not stunning, but he's got a certain appeal."
"True," the other woman said. "He does have good lines in his face. He probably is a model."
"I know who he is," said a young man, stepping into the conversation. "The buzz from the bees is that he's moved into the guest cottage up the lane, and he comes over to Mimi's house every evening. They go swimming." He raised his eyebrow suggestively.
"Ooh, lucky girl!" the woman said.
Jyou turned his head to keep anyone from seeing he was blushing; he was finding the whole conversation terribly embarrassing. He was relieved when Mimi swooped down on him and pulled him away.
"There you are," she was saying. "I've been looking all over for you, so of course you went and hid. Come here - there's someone I want you to meet."
Jyou allowed himself to be tugged along through the crowd. When they stopped again, Jyou found himself facing a remarkably handsome young man with wavy blonde hair, sea-blue eyes, and a row of perfect white teeth that showed in an easy smile as he approached.
"Jyou, this is Micheal," Mimi said. "You remember him - you never really got to meet him, but he was one of the American Digidestined. Michael, this is Jyou, a very good friend of mine from Japan."
"Nice to meet you," said Micheal, holding out his hand to shake. "Mimi's told me a lot about you."
"Micheal has been helping back my company financially," Mimi explained. "We work together a lot."
"I see. It's nice to meet you," said Jyou. He accepted the proffered hand and shook it. The palm and fingers felt soft and damp, and gripped his hand just a little too hard.
"I'm vacationing out here as well," Michael was saying. "The house has been in the family for years, and when I heard Mimi was going to be hosting one of her famous parties, I just had to come out and join the fun."
"I see," said Jyou evenly.
He was saved from having to continue this discussion by the arrival of a young woman.
"Hey, Mimi!" she called. "Is that thing over there a karaoke machine?"
"That's right," Mimi replied. "Consider it a remnant of home. Where I come from, a party's not complete without karaoke. I've got a few tracks, if anyone's brave enough to try singing."
"You ought to sing, Mimi," said Micheal. "Have any of you ever heard Mimi sing? She's very talented."
"I've heard her," Jyou said. "It's been a long time, though..."
"Ooh, can you sing something for us, Mimi?" asked the young woman.
"Oh, I don't know. I'd be embarrassed..."
"No, you won't," said Michael. "Go on. Sing that one you wrote."
"Should I? It's in Japanese; nobody here will understand it."
"I'll understand it," said Jyou.
She looked at him for a moment, then smiled.
"All right," she said. "That's good enough for me."
She stepped up to the microphone, and a few people stopped what they were doing to look at her. As she turned down the music, the party stopped, and everyone listened to see what she would say.
"Good evening to all of you," she said. "I hope you're all having a wonderful time! I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I've just gotten a request for a special performance. At this time, I'd like to sing a song... for a special friend of mine."
Jyou thought her gaze strayed in his direction for a moment. Then again, he was standing next to Michael, and from that distance, it was hard to be sure who she was really looking at, if anyone. He turned his mind away from that depressing thought and listened as the music began, mentally translating.
When the song was finished and last notes had faded away, the audience clapped politely. Mimi smiled and thanked them, and quickly darted back to the place she'd come from
"Well, how did I do?" she asked.
"That was great," said Jyou. "I never realized you were that talented."
"I told you so," said Micheal.
A new song started on the stereo, and Micheal turned his attention back to Mimi.
"Would you care to dance?" he asked, bowing gallantly.
"I'd love to," she answered.
"Excuse me," said Micheal to Jyou, and he led Mimi out onto the dance floor.
Jyou went back to his corner and sulked, watching the handsome blonde lead Mimi around the room. The sight set off an unfamiliar and uncomfortable sensation inside, and Jyou found himself thinking resentful thoughts about the handsome blonde. He didn't deserve to put those hot sweaty hands all over anyone as sweet and beautiful as Mimi. Look at him, laughing and showing off those fake-looking bleached teeth. Mimi deserved better than him, even if he was handsome and rich and... The strange sensation increased until Jyou was gritting his teeth.
*As if you could do any better?* he scolded himself. At the same time, he could hear in his mind the chattering partygoers: "He's just the kind Mimi likes..." "Ooh, lucky girl!"* Maybe, just maybe, he had a chance. As the song drew to an end, he walked out onto the dance floor and tapped Michael on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," he said, in a surprisingly calm voice, "do you mind if I cut in?"
"Of course not," Michael replied. "Far be it from me to monopolize the prettiest girl at the party." He smiled one last time at Mimi and kissed her hand before scooting off to the refreshment table. Jyou was too amazed at his good fortune to watch him go.
"You don't mind me cutting in either, do you?" he asked Mimi.
"Oh, no, of course not," she said. "Thank you for rescuing me. I didn't want to just tell him to go away."
Jyou was surprised. "You mean you don't like him?"
She laughed. "For the record, Michael is a dear, sweet, intelligent, bore. Not to mention a terrible dancer."
"I'm not that much better."
"You're doing just fine. You haven't stepped on my feet yet."
"Did he?" Jyou asked.
"Only two or three times," answered Mimi with a playful grin. "Why? Don't tell me you were jealous of him!"
"No!" he protested. He blushed. "Well, maybe a little. I mean, I guess I was, but..."
She laughed. "I didn't know you cared, Jyou."
"Well, I do," he said, still blushing. "I guess it's stupid, because I mean I know we're just friends and he's just your friend, but I just-"
She raised a hand and touched her fingers to his lips, cutting him off in midsentence.
"Did you come over here to apologize, or to ask me to dance?'
She was smiling at him, and he smiled back, suddenly feeling a million times better. "Let's dance," he said.
They finished out the song, moving through a nameless, formless dance that he seemed to be composing on the spot, as he'd never been much of a dancer before now. It must have been good enough, because Mimi opted to stay with him when the next song started, earning him a few envious stares from men who were not so favored. It was amazing how little their stares bothered him when he had Mimi next to him.
The party was beginning to grow more boisterous as the level of the punch bowls dropped, and after the third or fourth dance, Mimi suggested to Jyou that they both step out onto the porch where it would be less crowded. The suggestion gave him a tremor of uncertainty, but he did think he would prefer the cool outdoors to the loud, crowded, and slightly overwarm party. He followed. The fresh sea air revived him a bit, and Mimi ran her hands through her hair, letting it cool the back of her neck.
"That's so much better," she said. "I've never seen a party that didn't manage to get out of hand somehow, have you?"
"You aren't worried or anything, are you?" asked Jyou.
"No, not really. I've got people watching to make sure nothing goes too wrong. If they get too wild, somebody will clear them out. Why? Are you worried?"
"Not really," he replied. "Weird, isn't it? I was always the grand champion worrier, but since I came out here... I don't know. It seems like it's harder to be worried out here with the ocean and the flowers and the sunshine..."
"I thought you said sunshine was bad for you," she teased.
"It's got vitamin D in it. That's good for you."
She laughed. "Now you're teasing me."
"A little... but it is true, you know. And I do feel better here than I did at home. You were absolutely right - this vacation was exactly what I needed."
"That's what I wanted for you," she said. "For you to come here, and relax, and be happy."
"I am happy," he said, sounding faintly surprised. "I never felt this happy, back there in the city... I never really knew what was wrong, though. I still don't. I wish I did. There was always something wrong, and I didn't understand why, and then I'd feel guilty because I was doing so much good for people - I was saving lives, sometimes, and I could still never feel like I was doing what I should. Now I'm here and doing nothing and I feel great. It's ridiculous."
"No, it's not. Everyone needs time out once in a while to rest and re-energize and reflect. There's nothing selfish about that." She said it with certainty, as if this was something she'd been thinking about for years. "And you aren't doing nothing. You're keeping me company. Palmon is my best friend in the world, but I like people around. This would have been a lonely vacation without you here with me."
"Am I really all that good company?"
"Better than you think. Since you came here, I've been watching you. You're opening up, like a flower. It's been wonderful to see. I got to watch you grow up all over again, turn back into the person you were when you were young and we were all having adventures together. It's good to hear you laugh again."
"I couldn't have done it without you," he said.
She smiled a little. "That's what I do - find the potential in people and bring it out. It's my life's work."
"You're doing a good job. You'd have to be a genius to work with someone like me," said Jyou.
"That's not true. You're a very good person, Jyou. I like you very much. I think I'm actually going to be a little sorry to go back to work. It's been fun, being here with you."
"You won't be half as sorry as I am. I can't believe I have to go back in a few more days."
"I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too. A lot." He sighed heavily. "I shouldn't be saying things like this. I mean, it won't be long before I have to turn around and leave again, and who knows when I can come back... if I can come back. There's just no time for... for anything."
She gave him a quizzical look. "What do you mean?"
He blushed. "Sorry. Maybe I'm just going crazy. It's just that we're out here alone and you were saying you liked me and I really like you too and I heard the people inside talking and they were... talking. About us, I mean. For one crazy minute I was starting to think that maybe... maybe..."
"Maybe we could give them something to talk about?" she suggested.
He was startled into looking back at her, looking into her eyes. They were more beautiful than ever in the moonlight, sparkling with warmth and affection.
*There isn't time,* said his voice of reason. *You can't fall in love now; you'll just have to leave in a few days.*
*Then let me enjoy the time I have,* he retorted, and armed with that burst of determination, he brought her close and kissed her. At first she seemed surprise, but she quickly warmed to his touch, clinging to him as she had in the ocean, and once again he felt himself surrounded and buoyed upby that same warm, living force. They stayed there like that for many long moments, while the party noises went on unnoticed.
It would have been safe to say that more than one person overslept in the wake of Mimi's party. The evidence was still visible in the form of scattered cups and plates and assorted other trash. Mimi herself slept later than she normally did, but not Jyou. He was up and about at sunrise. The reason was simple: he'd not slept all night, but simply lay awake, listening to his partner's peaceful snores and letting his mind run where it would. It occurred to him at one point that he perhaps would have slept better if he'd agreed when Mimi had shyly suggested that maybe, if he didn't want to walk all the way home, he could... but he couldn't. He knew that. It would just be too much on top of everything else. What he needed now was time alone to think, and she seemed to understand. Maybe she needed a little time to think, too.
So instead of sleeping that night, he stayed awake and turned everything over in his mind. There were suddenly so many issues to be decided, problems so subtle that he still couldn't quite put his finger on what they were, and it was becoming increasingly clear to him that he had only a few days left to decide. The end of his vacation had seemed a lot further away before the night of the party. Now it was certain - as long as he was here, he still had time to decide, but as soon as he went back, he'd have missed his chance, and life would have to go back to what it was whether he wanted it or not.
*And I don't want it. Mimi was right - something was wrong there. I was sick inside, and I can't risk going back to what I was then.*
Going back... every time that phrase crossed his mind, he felt an inner wrench. When he'd first gotten into this vacation business, it had been like going to the dentist or paying insurance premiums, just one of those annoying things you had to do if you didn't want something worse to happen. Now that he was here...
*Now that I'm here, I never want to leave. I'd give anything I own just to have a few more days.*
At last, the sun rose, so he showered and dressed quietly, and he went out. He spent some time watching the sun coming up over the ocean, watching the flowers bloom in the gardens, listening to the sounds of the birds as they greeted the day, as if saving it all up against future hardship. The sights, sounds, and smells lifted his spirits a bit but gave him no clear ideas. On a whim, he wandered into Mimi's house and began prowling around. He didn't know what he expected to find... but he did know it when he found it.
When Mimi got up, it was with a sense that something was out of place or changed. Still clad in a nightgown and a pink robe, she walked sleepily out of her room and found Jyou in a parlor, sprawled across one of her sofas and reading what proved on closer inspection to be one of her catalogs. It was an old one that had been lying around for weeks because she hadn't gotten around to throwing it out yet, but he was reading it as if it were the most engrossing thing he'd ever read.
It was true that when he'd first picked up the catalog, he hadn't been expecting much. He'd only been looking for a distraction, and had felt a vague sense that looking at the catalog that Mimi's company put out, and that she herself helped write, might give him some insight - into what, he was not exactly sure, except that he still had the creeping sense that she knew something he didn't. At first, he'd been only mildly interested. The publication was as much a magazine as a catalog, full of chatty little articles about beauty and hygiene and personal health, and every selection of clothing or makeup or whatever was being sold was accompanied by a guide stating what kind of person the item would look best on, and how one might go about achieving the best results. Jyou had heard that Mimi had based her success not by designing beautiful clothes for beautiful people, but on designing clothes that made the people who wore them feel beautiful - indeed, her corporation's slogan was something to that effect. He turned his attention to the models in the pictures. They ran the gamut between young and old, tall and short, thin or round. All of them looked healthy and happy; all showed some glimmer of beauty that made him think, yes, I can see why she was chosen. Or maybe it had just been there all along, drawn to the surface by someone's expertise...
"I didn't know you were interested in fashion, Jyou," said Mimi, bringing him out of his thoughts.
"I'm interested in you," he answered evenly. "I wanted to know what it is you think about all day long. I thought I might find it here. You said this was your mission in life, right? To bring out people's potential."
"Well... yes..." she said, trying to drag her sleepy mind into a conversational gear.
Jyou smiled. "Don't worry about making too much sense right now; you're not on trial. I'm just curious, that's all."
"Curious about what?"
"About a lot of things. Like, why does someone who saved the world a few times over dedicate her life to selling clothes?"
"Hm..." she said thoughtfully. She sank into a chair across from him, setting her chin on her hand and staring out into space. "I guess it started back when I was in school. I went to an art school, you know, for people who wanted to study how to be designers and sculptors and dancers and all that. I was taking design classes then, but my roommate was studying commercial art. She wasn't... very popular... but she was very sweet and very talented. One day she saw me working on a project for class. I remember it so well - it was the most beautiful dress, like for a prom or something, all shimmer and frills. My roommate - Jenny was her name - she saw me working and said she always wanted to be able to wear a dress like that. I asked her why she couldn't, and she said she wasn't pretty enough, and she'd feel stupid all decked out like a Christmas tree.
"That surprised me. I mean, I'd never thought she wasn't pretty. She was one of those people who always had ideas, and when she had an idea, she'd get so excited, she just kind of lit up from the inside, but she thought she wasn't good enough to wear that dress. I looked at it for a while, and then I looked at her for a while, and I started thinking. I wanted to do something to make her know how great she really was, so I said, 'Let me take your measurements. I'll make you a dress you can wear.' And I did. It wasn't anything flashy, but it looked nice, and it made her look nice, you know? I fixed her hair and makeup for her, and I put her in front of a mirror and said, 'Look! See? You are pretty.' You should have seen the expression on her face - she looked so happy. I felt like I'd done something really good, so I brought the dress in to show the class.
"Wouldn't you know, the teacher hated it. She said it was - what was the word? - derivative. She said it wasn't anything original and gave me a really low grade. The best grade in the crowd went to someone who'd made this crazy purple dress with feathers on it. Feathers! I remember sitting there staring at it and thinking, But who's going to wear that thing? That's when I made up my mind. For class I came up with things that made the teacher happy, but in my spare time, I made things that made my friends happy. I made dresses and shirts and things for my friends, and I found a few more people who thought like I did, and sometimes we'd have these little shows where we'd make a whole bunch of outfits and sell them. Well, you know how good I am at organizing people. After a while, I started thinking that maybe, if I could get enough people working together, I could start a company and do some really good things.
"Well, you know the rest, I guess. I got together a few of my designer friends and we put our resources together started a little outlet place. Then I ran into Michael again, and he found out what I was doing and offered to back me financially, and... things took off. The details are boring. The most important thing being in business taught me is that so many people work so hard just trying to make money and keep a job. So many people are unhappy. I'm trying to help them the best way I can, trying to teach people how to relax, how to feel good about themselves, how to feel alive."
"Yes," said Jyou softly. "That's it. That's what I was trying to figure out."
"What you just said. Helping people feel alive," he replied. "I used to know about that, a long time ago... It was what I had in mind when I went to medical school. I had all these high ideals. I was going to help people, heal them, teach them how to be healthy and happy and all that. That lasted through college and about a half a semester of med school. Have you ever been inside a med school? It's hell, that's what it is. You'd die in there."
Mimi maintained a stunned silence.
"You don't believe me?" he asked. "Let me tell you, then. I'd get up maybe six, five, four in the morning, sometimes, trying to wolf down a quick breakfast and get some studying in. Then I'd have classes all morning. Then maybe I'd bolt down lunch and have some more classes - maybe with pop quizzes in every class. You'd have to study all the time to remember everything - pages and pages of notes about chemicals and cellular biology and I forget what else. Stuff you might never even use, but you had to know it all, and you had to know it all the time. Then when the classes were done, I'd work in the labs, maybe until two in the morning. Then I drop into bed to sleep a couple hours before I'd get up and do it again the next day. By the time you're done with med school, you don't know how to think anymore. All you've got left is a bunch of procedures - if this thing goes wrong, you do that. Like a machine. I would have gone crazy except I was always too tired to think about it.
"Then I got out of school and into the field. I thought it would get better then, you know? I was finally going to do this great thing, work all these miracles, save people's lives. Only by then, I'd almost forgotten they were people. I'd been trained and trained to think of people as machines, these things that are always getting damaged and breaking down, and I'd have to fix them so they'd run a little longer before the next breakdown. That's all I'd see, day in and day out - sick people, hurt people, dying people, or just people who weren't sick yet but might be soon. Some of them did die, right there in my hands. Do you have any idea what it's like, having someone there you know is depending on you to save them, and you can't? I tried to be strong, I really did, but after a while, it just... it was just easier to go around being a machine, and thinking everyone else was a machine. You don't have to feel for a machine. Or when you're a machine. I'd heard of it happening. Shuu - my brother, you know - he warned me. He said knew he couldn't take it, and that I couldn't take it, either. I was so sure I was going to prove him wrong... but I couldn't. I felt so weak. Why couldn't I do this? Other people managed just fine? Why was I the one who was cracking under the pressure?"
"It's not your fault, Jyou," said Mimi quietly. "It's just... the way you are. You're a sensitive, caring person, and you were never meant to put up with all that."
"Yeah, well, nobody told me that," Jyou replied. "Anyway, that's where I was when you picked me up at that airport, and you told me I was sick inside, and I didn't have any idea what you meant."
"You're a lot better now," she said.
"I know," he said, giving her a small smile. "You wouldn't believe what a wake-up call it was, coming here. Remember when I was out on the porch watching the sun go down, and I told you I was looking at the colors? I'd been doing a lot of thinking that day, too. I'd woke up listening to the birds outside. It was a beautiful day then, don't you remember? You found me out in the garden, looking at those flowers of yours, and you said you and me and the 'mons ought to go downtown and enjoy the weather. And I did. We were out there with all those tourists I said I didn't want to see, and you were pointing at the palm trees and the clouds and the ocean and the people and everything and telling me how beautiful it all was, and for the first time I woke up and started thinking, hey, you know, maybe she's right. It was like, I'd been walking around without my glasses all that time, and suddenly found them and put them on, and everything snapped into focus. I spent the whole day just looking at things."
"What did you see?"
He shrugged. "Birds. Trees. Flowers. Water. People. A while ago, I started thinking there was something about them I had missed, and then I just recently started thinking how alive everything here is. The wind blowing, the ocean moving, the plants growing, all the people laughing and having a good time. Nobody's dying or hurt or sick or even going to get sick. They're alive..." He turned to look at her. "And that's what you do, isn't it? It's not about how they look, is it? It's about how they feel. It's making them feel good and happy to be alive... and it really is beautiful."
Much to his surprise, she suddenly flung herself at him and hugged him.
"Oh, I just knew you'd understand!" she said joyfully. "That's exactly what it is. You said it better than I could."
"Mimi - hey, Mimi, take it easy, would you?" he said, a bit embarrassed. "Not that I really mind, but I don't have a lot of time to waste right now."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, I've got four days left before I have to get on that plane and go back where I came from. I want to learn while I still have time."
"Everything! Anything you know that you think I can use," he said.
She looked puzzled. "You mean, to keep you from slipping again?"
"Not just for me. For everyone. I only know how to patch people up from the outside. You can teach me how to heal them from the inside. I want to know."
Her expression cleared. "Oh, I get it now! You mean like the massage and aromatherapy and all that?"
He laughed a little. "Whatever you've got that you think will do some good. I just want something I can take with me... to remind me, I guess."
"Well, then, we'd better get started!" she said brightly. "Oh, this is going to be fun! I don't know where to begin..."
She got up and began to hurry off, but he stopped her.
"You know when I was saying how beautiful everything is?"
"I meant you especially."
She blushed a little. "So are you... Come on. We have a lot of work to do before you leave."
The next few days were busy ones. That in itself was nothing remarkable, since Jyou was used to being busy. The difference was that for once, he was having the time of his life. Gone were any thoughts of sleeping in; he got up with the sun every morning to enjoy a quick breakfast before hitting the books. He was surprised and pleased to find that Mimi had collected a variety of health-related books, and it was usual for Mimi to come downstairs to find him engrossed in a book on meditation or exercise. However, once she was awake, he would set his reading aside so he could pay attention to his teacher. She was the one who instructed him in the rudiments of yoga and taught him how to ease a person's pains and soothe their nerves with nothing more than his bare hands. Once she even took him into town, where she staged a small demonstration outside a store, letting him watch as she gave out free makeovers for passing tourists. He absorbed everything she taught him, and she claimed he was the best student she'd ever had.
In the evenings, though, they agreed that the best way to learn something was to put it into practice. As the days drew to a close, they set aside their lessons to relax, take a stroll along the beach, take their evening swim, and simply enjoy each other's company. The only part of the day they didn't look forward to was saying goodnight and admitting the day had come to a close, because time was running short...
No matter how they tried to forestall the inevitable, they both knew the end was drawing near. Three days later, Jyou was packing up his bags and getting ready to go. The drive to the airport was a quiet one; even the normally irrepressible Gomamon knew this would be a good time to keep his mouth shut. He sat on his partner's lap and tried to be as comforting as he could, while Palmon kept close to Mimi and watched with anxiety in her wide green eyes. It was a glum little group that finally ended up in the airport terminal.
"Well," said Jyou awkwardly. "I guess... this is goodbye."
Mimi looked downcast. "There wasn't enough time. I wish you didn't have to go so soon."
"I know. Me too," Jyou replied. "This was paradise. I'll be sorry to leave it... and you. I don't know how I'm going to get through the day without you."
"Call me every chance you get," she said. "Day or night, I won't care. When I'm at work, I'll stay up half the night anyway."
"Don't knock yourself out. I'm the one who does that, remember?"
"Oh, no you don't! If you break yourself down again, I'll personally come out there and-!"
Jyou laughed a little. "Don't say it; you might encourage me. I'll miss you that much."
"Well, maybe I'll be able to come out and visit soon," she said. "Take care of yourself. And remember those breathing exercises I taught you; they'll help you stay relaxed."
"I will. Send me a subscription to your magazine. I want to know what you're up to when I'm not around."
"I will," she said. "Why are we talking like this, anyway? It's not like you're going away forever - we'll still be able to call and e-mail and visit..."
"...but it won't be the same as being together."
She hung her head. "No, it won't."
"Oh, well," he said, sighing. "You're lucky, you know that? You still have a few more days here, isn't that what you said? I'm dreading going back to work."
"We're leaving early," she said. "Palmon and I will pick up our tickets while we're here and go back to New York tomorrow. I won't be able to stay here alone."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to ruin your vacation."
"You didn't. It was the best vacation ever. It's just... I'm going to need some work to do, to take my mind off..."
"You know," he said, "I had a dream, the first night I came here. I dreamed you'd make my life wonderful if I could just catch up with you."
She hugged him. "You've caught me."
"Attention," said a voice over the intercom. "We are now boarding for flight 157. All passengers riding on flight 157, please report to gate twelve."
"That's your plane," said Mimi. "You'd better get going."
"I don't want to leave yet... There are still things I want to say..."
"It's too late, now. Go on."
"Well... I guess you're right," he sighed. "Goodbye, Mimi. I won't forget anything."
"Neither will I. Goodbye, Jyou."
They hesitated a moment, looking into each other's eyes, and nothing they saw made them any more eager to leave each other. Finally, Jyou dropped his gaze and walked off, dragging his bags and followed by a rather despondent-looking seal. Mimi watched him. He walked a few yards, then stopped and looked back.
"Wait," he said. "There's something else I've got to say."
"Say it later. You're wasting time."
"No, I'm not. This is the only time I can say it," he replied.
"Jyou, just get out of here. You're going to miss your plane." She looked like she was getting ready to cry.
"I'm not leaving," he said. "Not until I've told you I love you... Now I have. I love you, Mimi. Goodbye."
Then he turned and vanished into the crowd.
Mimi stood and stared as what she'd heard sunk in. A single tear trickled down her face.
"I love you too, Jyou," she whispered.
She stood there in the middle of the airport terminal, blind to the crowds that were milling around her, hardly noticing Palmon putting a comforting leaf around her. She was trying to get her thoughts in order. She would have to go buy her tickets now, so she could go home and pack her things. She had to get out of here, away from all the happy memories that would turn to loneliness the next time they were touched. Rallying her resources, she shook herself out of her daze and began heading in the direction of the ticket counter. Overhead, she heard the rush of a plane taking off.
*There he goes,* she thought. She closed her eyes tightly before she could cry again. He was really gone now, and she wouldn't see him again for a while, so she might as well get used to the idea.
Suddenly, she became aware of a commotion. Something had gotten Palmon excited; she was jumping around and shouting, trying to get her partner's attention.
"Mimi! Mimi!" she shouted. "Hey, Mimi, look!"
Mimi looked. An awkward figure was trying to wrestle his way through the pressing crowds of people trying to get to the next plane. A white seal was bouncing joyfully at his feet.
"Jyou?" said Mimi incredulously. "What are you doing?"
He gave her a sheepish grin. "Guess I talked too long. I missed my plane," he said. "And you know, I'd already put my bags on and everything. I don't even have a toothbrush with me now."
"Oh, Jyou, you... you're such an idiot!" said Mimi.
But as she flung her arms around him and buried her face against his shoulder, he felt he'd just made the smartest move of his life. Epilogue - Two Years Later
Several representatives of the New York media were gathered around, their cameras trained on the young man who sat in a chair before them. Most of them were society writers, but some of them weren't - after all, the union of a nationally renowned model with an internationally famous designer was something that didn't happen every day. The news was good for a headline. People liked Mimi Tachikawa was admired and well-liked, both for her engaging personality and her generous donations to various charities. Likewise, her intended spouse enjoyed moderate fame as a model for her new line of menswear, as well as the author for a syndicated column on emotional wellness. Now he was proving a good interview subject.
"So, Mr. Kido, can you tell us when the wedding is going to be?" asked a reporter.
"Soon," he said. "We haven't worked out all the details yet, but it won't be more than a few weeks. We just have to wait long enough for her to get her wedding dress finished and make sure all the guests can make it. It's going to be a very small wedding, just family and a few friends. And Digimon too, naturally!"
"The rumor is you intend to honeymoon in Hawaii."
"Right," he said. "I know, we could have come up with something more original, but we've got... a special attachment to the place."
"Mr. Kido," said another reporter, "we're all aware of your fame as one of the Chosen Children. I am also given to understand that you were a successful doctor in Japan. What made you decide to come here?"
"Well, it's like this," Jyou replied. "I just realized I wasn't a good fit as a doctor. I belong where I am. It may not save lives... but sometimes I think it does."
"You think what you're doing now is as important as being a doctor?"
"Sure, why not?" he answered. "Now, don't get me wrong - I respect doctors a lot. The best advice I ever got came from a doctor."
"Really?" asked the reporter. "And what was that?"
Jyou grinned. "He told me to take a vacation!"