Chapter 1 Future Complications and a Meet n' Greet
Does true love endure, truly? Can one really know another, as they know themselves? Or is it from another that they learn of themselves? Or does it take the mind of one who is comfortable with themselves to endure through true love? Is it a bond? A weight? Or a blessing? Is it reserved for those who only have a mature heart? Or does it make the heart more mature? More aware of what it seeks? Can love truly endure, or does it require the efforts, the obligations of the one's in love?
The sun in a cloudless sky shone its white spears directed at the earth, casting dim shadows from trees and structures to the chilled ground. Bits of snow lay in crusty, frosted over clumps beneath the most shaded portions. A crisp breeze greeted the face and bare hands of every pedestrian with the promise of spring.
At the cold structure of Sakakino Academy, a bell could be heard from within its broad walls. Minutes later, students left the school, some still wearing heavy coats, others braving the still chilly weather with their uniforms and a couple layers underneath.
In the groups to follow, Eiichi Kuzoka and Kotonoha Katsura could be seen walking together. Eiichi talked lively, making fighting posses with both fists raised at moments to an invisible opponent, mimicking punching movements and dancing about on his toes. Kotonoha observed with a polite smile and calm stature.
"…and then Roy Lyoto was all over him! Frankie tried to swing wide and get around his guard, but he reached too far, and Roy just laid in to 'em! He had 'em up against the ropes, pah-pah-pah!" Eiichi threw more punches at the wind. He could tell his cohort only derived her excitement from his own, and not the subject matter, but she did not mind. "But Frank managed to get an upper cut in and Roy backed off. It was a good fight. Roy won, but not by knock out."
"Roy sounds like he's aiming for the title," she added.
"Yeah, he's been moving up fast, but only two knockouts before stepping in with Frankie."
Two girls were walking past while glancing at the couple.
"The only time he gets excited is when he's around her…" one chattered.
"A match made in heaven…" said the other.
Eiichi put his hands in his pockets and filed back in with Kotonoha.
"You're not thinking of actually becoming a fighter, are you?" she asked, delicate concern on her voice.
"Well, I don't know. I'd place myself at amateur status, but I've been thinking of joining a gym. Who knows, I just might," he teased.
"You're being mean again."
"Ya never know what's on the horizon, I just might get a sponsor."
"You may be off having fun, but I don't think I could handle the strain."
"Once 'Eiichi Kuzoka' becomes a big name," he blared his name in a deep, perfunctory voice, "and I'm stepping into a ring surrounded by thousands of people, you won't have to worry about me anymore."
"I'd have to worry about the blood and bruising…"
"But you've always been my naughty nurse."
"Sh!" her eyes widened, excited and panicked, and she peered about to make sure no one heard.
"And wouldn't you enjoy the experience of having your name shouted on national television?" Eiichi stepped out. "Koto-chan!" he let his jaw go slack, slurring his words, "I did it!" and raised his fists high.
She shook her head, "You're such a ham," and extended a lazy hand.
Eiichi met her and curved an arm around her shoulders, "Nah, I wouldn't do that to you. I know coming home in a wreck every night would be too much."
"Your concern is duly noted."
"I'm at least going to join the gym."
"I'm not going to stop you."
Another group of students passed, eyeing them, and then continued on.
"I just hope you have a more realistic idea for what you're going to do once you graduate," she craned her head to look at him.
"Ahmm, I suppose I've had a few ideas. At least until I get my feet off the ground and really decide on something. What do you want to do?"
"I've been thinking about political sciences."
"Ugh, you know I don't like to hear the 'p-word'."
"I don't think I'll do anything really extravagant though."
"That's what they all say, before their lust for money and power consumes them, as they begin controlling everything they can! Tax the middle class! Regulate the masses! Pulling the strings!" he spread his hands out, trying to look as malevolent as possible.
"Aren't you overdoing it a little?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah, maybe… Still, that's a world I could not see you getting mixed up in."
They passed a grove of trees outside the gate before crossing the road.
"Hm…maybe your abilities could benefit you in some ways," she placed a finger near the corner of her mouth.
"Yeah? Like how?"
"I thought for the longest time you were studying psychology as a hobby. Maybe reading emotions could benefit you there."
"Me? You can honestly see me sitting in a chair, listening to people talk about their problems all day?" This conjured an odd image in Eiichi's head of him seated impatiently in a leather upholstered chair, his eye twitching while listening to a prattling patient, "I'd probably end up losing my mind."
"Oh no, I think you'd be fantastic!"
"Well that's great that you think so…"
"Let's put that on the maybe list. What about a detective?"
Eiichi did have a lot of fun messing with the girls from Kotonoha's committee club, and the idea of making criminals sweat seemed very rewarding and entertaining, "So you'd rather I give up boxing and be a detective instead? What kind of priorities of yours are these anyways?"
"Less blood, and you like action movies, don't you?"
"Among others…" he admitted.
"Maybe criminal justice could be your route, maybe a lawyer."
At first he didn't like the idea, but it would provide better, so she wouldn't be the only one with all the money.
Before them lay a quiet park, spread out with a floor of yellowish grass, still regaining life from the frost. By a row of trees were two benches, spaced a few trees apart. They set their bags down and sat next to each other.
Eiichi spoke up, "I just had a thought. Maybe you could go into business."
She looked at him, curious, "Like how?"
"Well, it should not be too difficult for you to get something started. You could start a florist shop, or maybe a knitting place! I could help out, we could both work there!"
"And you'd be okay with that?" eyeing him oddly.
"I'm not so prideful that I couldn't handle a modest job, gimme' a break. Besides, it might look good on me, I get the feeling your mom thinks I'm a leech…"
"Why? She likes you."
"Yeah…but she knows I'm not employed and I don't come from wealthy roots. Honestly, your house makes mine look like I'm living in 'South Central' Tokyo."
"But I like your house, it's cozy. I think you've been reading into too many emotions."
"Yeah, maybe…" he reached in to his coat pocket and pulled out a slender, white cylinder in the shape of a cigarette.
A few weeks back, before leaving on a date, Kotonoha called him in before they were supposed to leave. She sat him down at her coffee table and presented a wrapped package to him. Upon opening it, there were two similar cylinders inside, complete with chargers and flavor cartridges.
'Oh, I've heard about these!' he had said.
'Mhm!' Kotonoha beamed.
'Um, thank you very much, but you really shouldn't have…'
'Oh, just give it a try.'
'But I've heard they require a lot of maintenance.'
'That's true, but you'll save money. The tobacco companies are really trying to make these look bad, but my father is looking at investing in these.'
'How did you even get it? You're not eighteen yet.'
'Torio and I were out shopping and I thought this would be a great gift. C'mon, I know you've been trying to quit, and this is a better alternative. Try it, they have hundreds of different flavors, I didn't really know what to pick. And you can smoke it inside…' she had tipped her head in a convincing smirk.
Eiichi opened his mouth to say something and shut it. Then he said, 'I…can't argue with that…'
Kotonoha giggled and helped him put together one of the devises. She watched, excited, as Eiichi puffed on it and gentle white vapors floated from between his lips.
He coughed, 'Wow, that's intense.'
'Yeah, the clerk said it would provide a…'throatier hit'?'
'But I like it. It's sweet…' he had continued dragging on it.
At present, he puffed on the same cylinder, not holding it like a cigarette, but with his fingers curled around it like a handle, while seated next to his generous gift giver, watching the traffic beyond the park limits. "Man, all these ideas you keep suggesting only involve more school. Years of it. I could probably memorize what I need in less time and just take the final. 'Here's your degree Kuzoka-san, you're now a licensed nuclear physicist.'"
"There you go again…"
"But I've got to pick something soon," he stressed, leaning forward on his knees. "If you were to start a business, it would be a whole two years before I'd have anything to do with it. Unless your dad can set something up and get me started early, you think he could do that?" He looked at her desperately.
"He could hire you on somewhere."
"Maybe I could get an office job like Torio, or maybe work in a burger place…"
He felt a surge of hysterical emotion coming from her all of a sudden. He turned to look and just as he was turning, she had turned away, her shoulders bouncing, a single hand raised out of his view to cover her mouth. Her sudden flood of humor gently massaged to his grey matter, but he was none the less curious as to what sparked it.
"What? I said burger place…"
Her tremors became more intense, a squeak escaped her. Then a barrage of cackles leapt from her throat from a pressure she could no longer contain.
"Are you seriously laughing at me? You're laughing at me!"
She faced forward again, revealing a curled hand held over grinning elegant lips and a beading of tears in the corners of her eyes.
"I'm in a predicament here, and you're laughing at me!"
Her intense amusement sent Eiichi messages of a vigorously annoyed, stress marked copy of himself, standing at the counter of a fast food restaurant, an apron covering his front and visor seated in his flecked hair, complete with a blaring customer.
"Oh ha-ha, very funny…"
Kotonoha roared on, "Haha!…That's cheating!…I can't…I can't…Pfff! Ah-Haha!" trying to talk between her bouts of hilarity.
Eiichi, deciding to play along, leaned in close, "Would you like fries with that?"
"Hahaha! Stop it! Stay back!" unable to defend against his table turning abilities.
Chest heaving, she wiped the corners of her eyes, letting out a few remaining chuckles, "Oh, I'm sorry about that."
"Nah, you actually did me a favor, I'm not as stressed anymore."
"But I don't really think I could see you working a job like that, you might turn the place upside down."
"Well, at least you think of me in that respect," he slouched against the bench and took another drag.
This time, she leaned in close, right next to his face, "I think of you in a lot of respects…" and pecked him on the cheek.
She giggled, pressing up against him, laying her head on his shoulder, his arm wove its way over her upper back, the hand curled over her shoulder. He squeezed her tight and kissed her on the crown of her shimmering black hair.
"It'll all turn out fine, don't worry so much," she muttered.
It still felt a little odd coming from her, this confidence, but she was right.
They watched a group of kids playing about on a jungle gym off to the left. A man passed through minutes later with a dog, after followed an older couple going the opposite direction.
"It's going to feel weird having to meet you at school after graduating."
"It's only going to be a year. Look at it as, you'll get to see the place a few more times before really leaving."
"Haha, just when I thought I'd finally be rid of it. At least I get to see you in the stockings and short skirt a bit longer."
"I don't have to get rid of them."
"You – are – awesome…"
The traffic droned and another cool wind blew gently across their faces.
"There are plenty of people that'll be sad to see you go, even if you've been avoidant all this time. Maybe you should take the time to get to know some of them. Maybe, what you need is a friend."
"But I've got you," he gave her a gentle squeeze.
"Yes, yes you do, but good friends are necessary as well."
There was a reason why Eiichi was just as avoidant as she had once been. What made them different were her attempts at making possible friends, while Eiichi had wanted to be left alone with proceeding about his attempt at a boring high school life. All this time he'd thought it was just her and him, against the world, plus Torio, but he wasn't about to start splitting hairs.
"I'll take it under consideration."
They sat a little longer, enjoying the stillness in each other's company before setting off. They had passed through the park and were headed up a winding backroad.
"So, where do you want to go? My place or yours?" he turned his head as they walked.
"Hm…my mom might be home today."
"My place it is then," he answered abruptly.
"I wonder if it's not that my mom doesn't like you, but you don't like her."
"No, no, but there's another that I know doesn't take a liking to me."
When Eiichi first visited Kotonoha's house, while not in a premonition, he had been greeted with an intense glare and a stinging pain in his cranium coming from the tiny pair of eyes that was Kotonoha's little sister, Kokoro, who had an obvious grudge with this random stranger her older sister had started bringing home with her. Kotonoha had been barraged with questions from her as to what had happened to Makoto, who was very much alive at the time. Because Kokoro had already certified Makoto as Kotonoha's future husband and older brother material, seeing Eiichi around her and how close they were getting did not sit right with her in the least. It seemed no matter where Eiichi went, he needed to prove his worth, while things seemed to just happen for Makoto.
"Kokoro…is just taking some time getting to know you," she passed him a contemplative look.
"Yeah, well last time I checked, getting to know someone did not entail locking yourself in your room until they're gone, or even wishing an untimely death upon them."
"Kokoro wouldn't wish that…"
"You don't know kids," he tapped his temple.
"Well, even so, the more you're around her, eventually she'll start to calm down and she may even warm up to you. Which is why you should come home with me today."
Eiichi was beginning to feel wisps of a saddened heart up ahead. Standing by a back gate, up against the wall, stood a girl from their school. Her tote bag was on the ground by her feet and she had her face rigidly clasped in her hands, her short pony tail danced while she sobbed with little sign of trying to hide it.
Far being it from Eiichi and Kotonoha to avoid a person in need, as well as being used to it now, they approached without a word between the two of them. Eiichi already knew the story, but went about things as if he didn't. She'd come here to release the strain so no one would see. He edged up to the weeping damsel.
"Hello…" Kotonoha tried to be cheery.
"Excuse me, are you—Ah!"
Eiichi had leaned in too close and was suddenly attacked by a pair of grabby arms that swung about his throat and shoulders in a death grip. The girl buried her face in the knitted sweater under his school coat and proceeded to sob uncontrollable. Before he could say anything, Eiichi sensed another negative aura from right behind him.
"This isn't good…" muttering to himself.
He turned, with the girl still clinging to him, to find Kotonoha glaring at him from beneath the shade of her tilted bangs. Jealousy wafted from her person, inside he could hear her cold and distant voice muttering to him in tones of displaced anger.
'Eiichi…why are you touching her…'
Eiichi could not respond out loud, so as to worsen the girl's already broken confidence, so he attempted desperately to mouth his plight beneath her cries.
"I'm innocent! Innocent!"
'She crying into your chest, Eiichi…'
"I'm not touching her! My hands are up! See?"
'Remember when I cried into your chest, Eiichi…'
"If you don't want her touching me, then you get over here and take her! I'm about to pass out!"
Kotonoha surprisingly understood and approached the girl to gently take her into her arms, "There, there, here—Wah!"
The girl attacked her as well, nearly burying her face in Kotonoha's larger than life mammaries. Wow, she really did just need someone to cry on.
Eiichi eyed the two with a smirk at Kotonoha, 'Is it my turn to act crazy now?'
A corner of Kotonoha's mouth scrunched up a little, as if she understood, 'Sh-shut up…'
Kotonoha took her time consoling the poor girl, who seemed to be settling down a little, now that she was surrounded by people with concern.
"Hey…hey…what's the matter?"
"H-He…just left me…just like that! No warning…nothing!" the girl mumbled through threatening bouts of despair.
"Oh my, why are you all alone?"
"I couldn't stand…to be around anyone…I couldn't let them see me like this…" she sniffled and a few bursts of air escaped her teeth in empty sobs.
"What about home? Why didn't you go home?"
"I just couldn't hold it in any longer…"
What a considerate girl. Eiichi had his impression of students in general, but was always thankful for souls like this one.
"I loved him so much…he was the first guy I was actually getting somewhere with…"
Eiichi had let Kotonoha take care of things, waiting to chime in, "If he was willing to be so unpredictable with the whole thing, it doesn't sound like he has much character. Doesn't sound like he deserved you."
The girl loosed her grip on Kotonoha, revealing her face. Underneath the tears and redness, she had a very smooth, youthful complexion, "My friends, if they heard about this, they would never leave me alone. I couldn't show this side of me to them…"
Eiichi got a read that she was typically the lively, energetic type. She felt this would be too unbecoming of her and would bring everyone down.
"It's alright," Kotonoha said, "Give it time. It will pass."
"No…" she shook her head. "He's the only one for me…"
At another time, Eiichi would have thought this was a load of bull, but he had learned different. He looked to Kotonoha, who he found, was already looking to him in apt admiration over the shoulder of the sobbing girl. He could not imagine losing her, the thought made his heart sink so far down into a black pit of what would seem to be lifelong despair. It would send him down that same dark path of self-destruction that he had once pulled her from.
"We had been together for a year, or…I don't know, it was all going so well, I don't think I even bothered keeping track…"
Kotonoha raised both hands and pressed them on the sticky cheeks of the girl, aligning the girl's red, puffy eyes with hers. This girl's small mouth gaped between the squished outline of her face as Kotonoha looked upon her with resolute concern.
"What you're going through, I went through a lot of the same, but you know what my mistake was? I held it in. I had the same concern for others and very little for myself. It may sound selfish, but it's times like this when you need to take care of yourself more than anything. That's what I learned from this goof over her."
"Give yourself time. It may seem like you won't be able to let go, but you will. If he ever came back, ask yourself, deep down, would you really want to remain with him? Because things will never be the same if you did. And when you think about it, a new beginning is much better than going back, knowing that this may happen with him again. You remained faithful, you did your part, and that's all that matters."
"Yeah, good on you!" Eiichi assured. "Now do something else for a change. Something constructive you enjoy will take your mind off him in a heartbeat, if only for a while."
The girl broke her frightened gaze, holding back more crying. "Th-Thank you…" she croaked and embraced Kotonoha again.
"Tell your friends, there's no shame in it. They need you."
"O-Okay…I will…" she sniffled more and loosed herself from Kotonoha's figure. Wiping her eyes, she took another look at her two Samaritans. "I-I know you…you're Kotonoha…and you're Eiichi…" she turned her head from one to the other.
"Yeah, that's us," Eiichi smiled, not really expecting any random outbursts of fandom.
"I hear everyone talking about you…but I never thought…Wow…Kotonoha and Eiichi helped me…and I never thought I'd even be able to talk to you. You two really are heroes…"
"Yup, we're even thinking about starting a tee-shirt company," Eiichi smirked.
The girl giggled, "Is he always like that?"
"On both good and bad days," Kotonoha schmoozed.
"I'm right here…" Eiichi droned.
With now grateful, shimmering eyes, the girl looked at both of them, "Thank you, thank you so much…and if it's not too much to ask, could I contact you if I'm in trouble? I-I'm so sorry, if it's a problem."
"No-no! It's no trouble at all," Kotonoha fished for her cell phone.
"Thank you so much again!" the girl bowed. "And don't worry, I'll keep it between us. No one will know about this."
"We'd prefer that you did," Kotonoha smiled.
"I'll see you around! Bye!" and with that, she was off and around the corner.
The couple continued their passive walk up the curve.
"I'm mad at you…" Kotonoha's voice met Eiichi's ears.
"Oh come on, you forgave me before we even walked away from that," Eiichi poked his head again.
Kotonoha kept her calm reserve, "…I'm still mad at you…"
Eiichi snickered, "Okay…"