Hello! New chapter at last! I hope you enjoy it! You know the drill, review if you can! (:
"So Takeru, you ready to try out?" Mimi said, tapping her pen on her notebook. Takeru took a deep breath, and tried to forget that the entire Frost Theatre company currently had their curious eyes trained on him. Let's get this over with, he thought. He lifted his head and managed a nervous smile.
"Ready," he said. Mimi nodded. "What would you like to perform for us today?"
Takeru shuffled his feet, before mumbling something under his breath. Yamato spoke up from where he sat in the audience, near the front. "You'll have to speak up, Takeru."
Takeru looked up, startled. He hadn't realised that he was mumbling. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'd like to recite a poem." He saw the surprise on the faces in front of him, and hurriedly amended his statement. "If that's okay?" he asked hesitantly.
Mimi nodded, interest twinkling in her eyes.
"Um… in light of our current residence, I'd like to recite one of most famous pieces by Robert Frost himself. A Road Not Taken."
Takeru closed his eyes for a brief moment to recall the words of the poem. When he reopened them, it was like his audience had vanished. Reality seemed to shift and for a second, he saw himself standing in a clearing, two pale paths stretching before him into the shaded depths of the forest.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Takeru hadn't moved from his single spot on the stage. Yet, the awed silence left behind by his recital was resounding. His voice was heavy with emotion, letting the audience know plainly that he wasn't just talking about a simple fork in the road, but rather the intensity of a troubled mind mulling over an important decision.
Under that expressive tone, Hikari had caught the reverence in his voice as he recited, an almost silent note of respect for the poet. If Takeru hadn't been standing right there in front of him, she would not have believed that the resulting bevy of emotion had come from a seventeen-year-old boy, who was now standing on stage a little awkwardly now that the performance had ended. It was like the spirit of the poem took over him as he performed. Now that it had left him, he stood once again as a simple teenage boy with rumpled blond hair, a shy smile on his lips, awaiting his appraisal.
Mimi smiled, and exchanged a knowing glance with Sora. Sora nodded, then stood up and turned to address the rest. Hikari saw the smile on her face and knew instantly that Takeru had been accepted into their ranks. She was glad. She liked the blond boy with his easy smile and silly cap.
"So I believe the decision here is unanimous? I'm sure we all agree that that was a splendid performance, and quite frankly it's the best rendition of that poem I've ever heard," Sora said. "and I've heard it to pieces."
Taichi, lounging back with his knees pressed against the seat in front of him, said lazily, "Oh I don't know. I think the kid could use some practice. He sounds like his voice still could use some breaking too." Like a faithful follower, Daisuke snapped up at his words and nodded. He added, hastily, "Bet he can't carry a tune, either."
Silently, Hikari saw Mimi pass the notebook she'd been holding into Sora's discreetly waiting hand, which then launched the book in motion straight in Taichi's direction. Hikari laughed as Taichi's reflexes managed to register the flying notebook but Sora's skills were deathly quick such that he had no time to avoid it. It was a common thing between the two.
The theatre might belong to Mimi, but Sora was definitely its manager. She was much more composed and rational than the sometimes-absentminded Mimi. More than that, she was a trustworthy friend. The Frost Theatre company burst into laughter as the missile found its mark at the side of Taichi's head.
"Owwwwwwwww! What was that for?" Taichi exclaimed, indignant.
"For being an annoying idiot," retorted Sora.
"And Daisuke," Mimi added, a scarily sweet smile on her face, "you can't sing either." Daisuke sat up in his seat and said indignantly, "I totally can. Hey Taichi, I think it's time we showed them our rendition of that song we've been working on –"
He was cut off by a voice that had, up until that point, been silent. "Please spare us. Taichi can't sing either." Having even the normally quiet Koushiro protest against their (lack of) talent in the musical department finally silenced Daisuke.
Taichi looked dumbfounded, and sent a look in Yamato's direction. When his supposed best friend only shook his head in amusement and kicked the back of Taichi's chair (Takeru was his brother after all), Taichi turned his gaze to Hikari. But she only laughed.
"Sorry Taichi, I can't help you out of this one. You asked for it. It was a stunning performance."
She saw Taichi swivel to look around at the faces around him. She knew as well as he did that no one would come to his aid. Finally, Taichi threw up his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright. Sheesh, none of you can take a joke."
Taichi launched himself off his seat and took a brisk walk up to the stage where Takeru still stood, quietly awaiting a decision to be made. As he rose, the rest of the company began to as well. By the time Taichi reached the top of the stage, and stood face to face with Takeru, Yamato was at his flank, and the rest followed closely behind.
Taichi held out his hand. Takeru took it quickly and smiled at the tall boy in front of him. A wide grin appeared on Taichi's face as well, and it dawned upon Takeru that Taichi was a potential joker in the group.
"You've got potential, kid. Where better to train it than here? Welcome to the Frost family, Takeru."
The theatre erupted in a burst of excited screams and friendly shouts.
The day had gone on in a flurry of getting Takeru acquainted with everyone. It was a good thing that Takeru was fairly good with names and faces, since they just about bombarded him with them.
Aside from himself, there were nine in the company of the theatre.
Izumi Koushiro, the red-headed boy who was quiet for the most part, preferring instead to bury himself in books. Takeru thought he had at least seen Koushiro with half a dozen different books so far. As far as Takeru could tell, they were all non-fiction. Koushiro smiled a little, and said, "I read for information."
His preferences were in stark contrast to Tachikawa Mimi's. She had made no secret of her distain of non-fiction, preferring instead to throw herself wholeheartedly into some romantic paperback or romantic play. In other words, romance was the central theme. "You can't find love in non-fiction!" She argued.
There and then, Koushiro debated his case in history, and when it did not interest Mimi in the least, he brought out his scintillating (and winning) argument about how "ultimately, the romantic notions were invariably brought out by the skills of the poet, writer or playwright". When Takeru left them, they were huddled in Koushiro's book-fort, their noses tucked comfortably into a thick volume titled "Literary Devices: Uses in Theatre".
"They would make the cutest pair, don't you think?" whispered Miyako, nudging his arm excitedly. Takeru was inclined to agree, even through his short observation. The pair was completely comfortable with each other, ignoring the rest of the room while engrossed in each other's presence.
"Inoue Miyako" was a girl with long lilac hair and wide glasses. She was easily excitable and easy to talk to. She adored Mimi and regarded her as an older sister.
Being the eldest of the troupe, Kido Jyou, was already on the cusp of adulthood. Hikari jokingly whispered to Takeru that he was easily flustered and didn't actually seem like the eldest most of the time, but he was gifted with medicine, being from a family that was heavily steeped in the profession. Indeed, already he had the appearance of one: blue-black hair on the long side, but years of impatiently pushing it back from his face had already tamed it into a workable mess. Rather ironic, but it suited him.
Takeru had already established Takenouchi Sora as ringleader of the company, which in its own disorganised manner, was faintly circus-like as well. From her light orangey-brown shaded hair to her warm smile that instantly placed him at ease, everything about her reminded Takeru of the gentle warmth of the morning sun. Watching her in action fascinated Takeru. As soon as she'd set him back in a comfy chair with some tea, she was off someplace else yelling at Taichi or deciding programme lists or debating about staging. It looked like a tough job, but with her clipboard tucked in her arms, she managed. In fact, she looked like she rather enjoyed helping to resolve everyone's problems.
Motomiya Daisuke, as he quickly reinforced, was impulsive and rash. While such traits would normally make for an unpleasant person, Daisuke had the added advantage of a rather forceful brand of friendliness. So, even while he thumped Takeru so hard on his back he choked, and shouted his welcomes straight into his ears, Takeru could feel the waves of benign friendship emanating from him.
Yagami Taichi seemed to share similar personality traits with Daisuke, at least from the initial impression. Even their exteriors seemed to correspond. Both wore headband goggles around their spiky dark brown hair, and their shared brown eyes sparked with energy. After a few minutes of conversation though, even a newcomer like Takeru could tell them apart. Taichi was an ounce more mature, though that could be a feature of his three-year seniority. Takeru doubted it, though. It was a kind of maturity that came with responsibility, and in Taichi's case, probably born from his overprotectiveness of his little sister Hikari.
Takeru's own elder brother, of course, needed no introduction. Apart from the change in hairstyle, Ishida Yamato had grown a little taller, and his jawline had matured into a strong, set edge. His blue eyes and smile still had the look of boyish charm, mirroring Takeru's. Their different surnames were often a source of gossip and debacle, but it in itself was a simple enough matter.
Their mother's family was an old one, steeped in incontestable tradition. So when their mother was born the only heir to the family lineage, the family beseeched their father's family to a compromise: while the eldest son of the union would, by custom, take on the paternal family name, the second-born son would take on the maternal family name.
Given the difference in social status between the two families, and seeing the importance of the compromise to the Takaishis', the Ishidas' didn't protest. Indeed, they were relieved that the Takaishis' hadn't rejected the marriage of their only daughter to their son, as it would have resulted in many broken hearts all around, rather reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.
And so the brothers grew up under different names, and their familial ties were such that they were neither better nor worse for it.
In his letters, Yamato often mentioned a hot-headed boy his age, and how they often clashed. There was always a mention of this boy, and Takeru had always wanted to meet the boy who drove his normally calm brother to anger. Scanning the company, he found that the only who exactly matched his brother's descriptions was Taichi.
Remembering how he'd protested his induction into the troupe, and how he'd later personally welcomed him in, Takeru couldn't help but understand his brother's troubles with Taichi's turbulent emotions.
At night, Takeru became lost again. He didn't know how or even where they slept in Frost Theatre. The girl named Hikari had stayed at his side throughout the day, helping him get familiarised with the company. It seemed that she'd been given the role of his impromptu guide. When he forgot a name, she'd mouth it to him. When he needed something, she taught him where to get it.
Takeru liked her. She was easy to like. She was warm and sweet, and she was easy to talk to since she was the same age as he was. So when night time came, he was considerably baffled by her question.
"So would you like to room with me?"
Her words had had their desired effect. And she knew it. Hikari laughed at the absolute bewilderment on the newcomer's face. She took his hand lightly and gave it a small tug. "Come," she said, trying to hold in her laughter. "Let me show you where I sleep. You can decide then."
She pulled him backstage, which was surprisingly large, and at the very end, opened an inconspicuous door. It opened to what Takeru could tell instantly as a handkerchief-sized sitting room.
She closed the door behind them, and took a step back to allow Takeru to appreciate the house. It was small, that much was immediately obvious. The very centre of the sitting room had a staircase that wound its way up to the next floor, rather like a hole in the ceiling of the sitting room. A small kitchen took up one corner of the room, and other assorted furniture was strewn about the rest of it.
Hikari gestured up the stairs, her smile unwavering, and followed him as he threaded on the creaking steps. When he reached the next floor, there was simply a small round area, with a door on either side. Behind him, Hikari smiled and said, "Go on."
The top of the stairs ended in an attic room. An area in the corner had been cordoned off by a few near-threadbare screens, while the rest of the room was cluttered with various knick-knacks. Takeru was too confused to formulate his thoughts. He was perplexed by this girl who seemed so sweet and innocent, but was capable of such a blaspheme suggestion with such a casual tone. Takeru wouldn't dream of doing anything to her, but they lived in a time where her reputation would be at stake.
She seemed oblivious. When they stopped in front of the screens, she let go of his hand, and took a short run to the side where a few spare screens, slightly threadbare, leaned wearily against the wall. She pulled one upright, and Takeru hurried to help her. She beamed, and directed him to move the screens such that the small room-like corner now widened slightly, and created a copy of itself.
She pulled aside of the first set of screens to reveal a bedroll and a small chest of drawers. A small lamp stood on top.
"It's a little small, but it beats sleeping outside."
It definitely did. The space looked cosy, if a little small. "Where do the others sleep?" Takeru asked.
Hikari smiled, and tapped her finger to her chin in a thoughtful gesture. "You noticed the two doors in the floor just below? Well, most of the guys took one of them, and Mimi, Miyako and Sora share Mimi's old room. The door on the opposite side," she said, grinning as a memory crossed her mind. Takeru looked at her quizzically, and she explained, "The guys' room used to be Mimi's parents' old room, so there was just one huge bed, and five of them. Not one of them was willing to share, so as you can probably imagine, there was a huge fight for the bed.
"It lasted almost a week, and none of them would talk to each other. In the end, Mimi made them take the bed over to the theatre house to use as a prop, so no one got to use it. I still remember their faces when Mimi yelled at them. It was priceless."
Takeru laughed. He could imagine. It was probably somewhere along the lines of shock, outrage, and eventual defeat. Nobody could refuse the ringleader, he thought, smiling.
"So Jyou takes the couch downstairs; Taichi, Yamato, Koushiro and Daisuke took the boys' room," she said thoughtfully, counting people off on her fingers. "That leaves the Miyako, Mimi and Sora in the girls' room, and us up here.
"Yup that's it. There's not much room left, so this is our best option. You seem decent enough, so I think I trust you enough to share," she paused, checking his face for any strong dissent. When he looked about to protest, she added, "and it isn't as though I'm pretty enough for anyone would jump at me, anyway."
Takeru shook his head quickly, then said hastily, "I'm sure that's not true. You're definitely pretty enough!"
She arched her brow and gave a wry smile. "Pretty enough to be jumped?"
"Uh… I didn't mean it that way… Um…" Takeru was starting to even annoy himself. His words just couldn't come out right.
She laughed. "Sorry, I'm just messing with you. Here, let's get you sorted out." She knelt on the floor and began to clear some space by pushing little knick-knacks aside. She beckoned to him to do the same.
At the hint of her smile, he finally got the words he wanted. The moment it clicked into place, his unreasonable jitters subsided and he regained his usual confidence.
"Hey I think I've got your word right, now," he said, smiling as he joined her on the surprisingly clean floor.
"My word?" she said, the question obvious in her voice. Her red-brown eyes sparkled with good-humoured amusement. "Yeah," he said, "your word is 'sweet'."
"Yeah, that's the word that best describes you. At least to me," Takeru said. He knew that he was being strange but he wanted to lessen the earlier unintentional insult. He was being absolutely sincere, and he willed her to feel it.
Hikari pondered for a moment, her unusually amber eyes wide and thoughtful. A shadow of something passed, and Takeru wondered if it was doubt. Why would a girl like Hikari be doubtful of her own merits?
Takeru held his breath.
"I accept that. Thank you," she gave him a dazzling smile, which he almost subconsciously returned.
"How did you sleep last night, Takeru?" Mimi asked, smiling. The entire company was gathered for breakfast. Some were at the little table, others were milling around the sitting room, and Daisuke was sprawled across the couch, his eyes closed sleepily, his hand stopped at his chest, halfway to his mouth with a slice of bread.
Takeru tried to keep his face blank while formulating a response. There was something about that smile...
He was painfully aware of her every movement and felt that it was only natural for him to have been uncomfortable. After all, he had never shared a room with a girl before.
"Um..." He started, trying to stall for time while his mind raced for a proper way to phrase it.
"In my room," Hikari said, the words slipping out easily. Her eyes searched the breakfast table before casually reaching for the butter knife.
And of course, that's when all hell broke loose.