The Heroes of Sakakino

Chapter 2 Trust

Like usual, as of late, there was no hyperactive Kokoro to greet them as Kotonoha's front gate slid open in its slow, electronic method of monotonous presentation. This troubled Kotonoha most as Eiichi noticed, since he'd only witnessed Kokoro's tenacious excitement for a few minutes before her bright face turned to a grimace at the sight of him. Kotonoha and Eiichi padded up the drive path to her door and she withdrew her keys.

Inside, Kotonoha resounded perfunctorily, "We're home!" expecting the voice of her mother to call from around the modestly well-designed walls of her estate's interior. There was no immediate response as they kicked their shoes off and set them by the step. Eiichi took Kotonoha's coat and proceeded to remove his blazer when a man stepped into their view from the doorway.

It was Kotonoha's father, a rather tall, broad shouldered man with a staunch face of stress lines and appeal of pertinence. His somewhat tired eyes peered at the two blithely from behind a pair of box framed spectacles.

"Dad!" Kotonoha skidded forward to him.

"There's my Kotonoha," a gentle smile broke out on his creased mouth.

He had to kneel down a little, just in time to greet his eldest daughter, her arms flung up and around his shoulders.

"I thought you weren't back for another week!"

"Well, we had to close things out early, I have some extra time before I fly out again."

As Kotonoha stepped lightly from him, Mister Katsura's eyes greeted the sight of the young man stepping from the doorway.

Eiichi bowed, feeling like he was in one of those Navy maritime films. All consideration for immediate response to any topics that may ensue in conversation were neatly packed away in the quietest confines of his mind. Even if he picked up tells from Mister Katsura's output, which he would, he would politely keep them to himself.

"Katsura-san, it's good to see you again, sir," feeling very much like in a maritime film.

Eiichi had met Kotonoha's father only once before, a day before his own parents had been able to make it all the way from Okinawa. He figured it was not at one of the most ideal times, considering he had been laid out on yet another hospital bed, with twenty-seven stitches in his gut, still hazy from morphine injections.

"Kuzoka-san, it's good to see you as well."

Even though he only gave Eiichi a slow, informal nod, Eiichi was surprised by the amount of respect he could feel emanating from this man of business. He'd felt the same from him in the hospital, and it was just as bizarre then. He supposed it was being used to people looking on him in such a negative light, or maybe to do with their extreme differences in social standing. His and Kotonoha's situation must have caused the man to drop everything he was doing to come home and figure out just what was happening to his family, which Eiichi felt wouldn't make things look good for him either, and yet, this man seemed to hold him in such high regard.

"I trust your wound has healed."

"Y-Yes sir. It's pretty much scarred over," Eiichi spoke timidly as he straitened out.

"Well that's good to know. I've never been a man of combat, but I had a friend that told me long ago that it's our scars that tell the best about who we are."

"That's very kind of you to say, sir."

"Eiichi, you don't have to keep calling him that," Kotonoha assured.

Eiichi's eyes looked from Kotonoha to her father, "W-Well…"

"I believe she's right Kuzoka-san. Maybe it's time we start working our way up to a more comfortable fashion of addressing each other."

"Yes sir–I mean…"

"We'll work on it," waving an easy hand.

"Where's mom?" Kotonoha asked.

"Oh, she went out to get some things. I've just been watching the house and your sister," it had been hard to tell if Kokoro was around or not.

They stepped into the living room.

"Dad, have you had anything to eat yet?"

"Is it passed lunch time already? I only just made it home," a feeble excuse on his part.

Kotonoha chuckled, "I'll make some tea."

With loving thanks from her father, Kotonoha disappeared between the doors to the kitchen and Eiichi and Mister Katsura were left.

Mister Katsura turned to Eiichi and gestured idly to the lavish couch in the broad living room, "Please Kuzoka-san, have a seat, there's something I've been meaning to talk with you about."

Eiichi, with unnecessary caution, took his seat. Mister Katsura sat in the adjoining sofa and leaned back, likely tired from his trip home, smoothing the surfaces of the arm rests.

He spoke slowly, his calm voice dashed with notes of concern, "I want to speak with you on the matters of what occurred a few months ago. And of your relationship with my daughter."

Eiichi was getting nothing but respect and kind attention from this man, and still his hands tensed a little and he felt a cold rush through his body. Mister Katsura slowly rubbed his hand over the ridge of his jawline and up over the back of his neck.

"I have always been opposed to the idea of Kotonoha dating at her age, but I understand that things are not as they were in my day. Maybe I seem a bit too traditional, but I had originally hoped that she would reach that point in her life after her graduation. But of course, I'm expecting too much of myself, for a man who's only home so many times out of the year."

Eiichi kept silent and his eyes on the man, breaking contact only to remind himself the conversation was casual and not an interrogation.

"I want nothing more than for her to be happy and content. My hope was that she would find someone, a man, who could meet the needed criteria that would make him suitable for her endeavor," he couldn't help but speak like a businessman. "I sadly never got to meet the one she had been with beforehand. Kokoro has told me, in her own way mind you, that he was quite the gentleman. It was a shame that he met such a cruel fate, and at the hands of such a deranged person."

Eiichi had to keep quiet. If only this man knew he was only seeing the tip of the iceberg, but 'you only get out of things what you put in to them', and he had obviously been removed of the opportunity to put more time into his family. Of all the career paths Eiichi could choose, he had just placed businessman at the bottom of the list.

"However, the things that you have done for my daughter, despite the circumstances, reveal you to me as a man that is highly deserving of her favor, and from what I can tell, you have already received it."

Eiichi did not believe in the least that Mister Katsura knew exactly how close Kotonoha and he had become. At the least, Kotonoha might've told her mother some things, things her mother in turn kept to herself, probably more so to save Eiichi's skin. But given the situation, he imagined that if Mister Katsura heard them later on, his response may not be as vehement as Eiichi imagined. Still, no way in hell was he going to be the one to tell him.

"I am willing to overlook my prior desires for her future, as long as you can remain with her."

As somewhat liberating as this was, Eiichi couldn't help feeling like his freedoms were being limited.

"I will sir. I'd bet my life on it," forgetting the awkward comforts of their new name basis.

Mister Katsura only smiled, "It seems you already have."

Kotonoha reappeared from the kitchen, toting a platter that might as well have been some kind of fine china that probably cost more than half what Torio paid on the monthly rent. This was Mister Katsura's cue to immediately change the subject matter.

"So Eiichi-san, you have me at a bit of a loss," was his dry jest, "What line of business is your father in?"

Kotonoha placed the platter on the surface of the coffee table before them and proceeded to pour them each a cup. There were pastries and rice balls on the platter as well.

"Um, my dad? He uh, does government work."

Kotonoha handed him his cup and his eyes met hers in a smile with thankful reply.

"Oh, nasty business to be in. It has been my fear that the economy and political workings of Japan have been in dire need of change and restoration for quite some time."

After serving, Kotonoha sat quietly next to Eiichi with her cup and saucer in hand.

"Actually s—Oji-san, it's the American government," it feeling strange for him to be correcting the man.

"Oh, is he in communications?"

"Uh, actually…he's military," Eiichi shifted in his seat.

"A military man, is he a native of Japan? Your Japanese is so fluent, I would've never taken you for a foreigner."

He could feel Kotonoha's hand stroking the side of his arm, urging him forward, "Actually, he is. He moved to the states and later enlisted when he was about my age. It's been his career ever since. The US Government had him stationed at a base here in Japan when I was very little. I'm not a native, but I've lived here most of my life."

"Well that is very interesting. Would you mind if I asked what his background in the military has been?"

Eiichi had actually hoped he wouldn't ask this, "Um, he served in the Gulf War as a Marine combat mechanic. Then he became a reservist so he could go to college. After graduating, he was put through an officer's training program, and now they have him working on base in Okinawa."

Mister Katsura widened his gaze a little, something Eiichi thought was nigh improbable, "Oh, he's that kind of military man," with a subtle nod over his cup of tea.

"Um, yes sir."

"That could explain your methods of addressing me. It seems more and more there are youths with not nearly your amount of respectability."

"It's only out of habit," was really the least he could say.

"Well I certainly hope I get to meet your father one day. He sounds like a very interesting man with some interesting stories, and I've heard many in my travels. Forgive me, I actually have a few associates of mine I meet up with and we always compete to see who has the wildest situation to present to one another."

Eiichi assumed this must have been over drinks as well, something military, travelers, writers and business were all connected to in their own special ways.

There was a small voice that resonated from the hall, "Papa, is Onee-chan home?"

Everyone had looked to see the little figure walking into the light from the hall that was Kokoro. Her little eyes scanned the room and found Kotonoha, seated on the couch next to Eiichi. Instead of a glare, she mainly gazed at him a moment and then made her way to Kotonoha to give her a hug. Then she wandered around, over to Mister Katsura's side of the table.

Eiichi picked up heavy messages of concern from both Kotonoha and Mister Katsura for the child, whom it seemed had been the witness of only her sister's tragedy. To them, it was so quiet when she was around now, all the bright and colorful tones had been seized away. In her mind, Eiichi found, there was only a dull void of contemplation that surpassed any typical strain that a child in her years could surmount. Someone she thought she knew had gone missing from her life, and her sister had suffered the horrors of taking a life. All of these things, were all she knew.

Kokoro approached her father and he hugged her, even though he'd been with her most of the day, she still needed to be surrounded by the affections of the one's she loved.

Eiichi tilted his head up, blinking, and Kotonoha rested a hand on his arm.

Kokoro trotted away into the hall and came back with some fixtures of paper in her arms and began working with them in a portion of the room furthest from their meeting space.

Mister Katsura continued the conversation with a twinge of exhaustion, "So, how have matters been in your part of the world Eiichi? Kotonoha tells me you'll be graduating soon."

"Um, yes…" Eiichi croaked, his throat felt dry and he took a sip from his cup. "I'm still thinking of what career field I want to aim for. Kotonoha has been a big help in giving me some ideas, but for now I want to see some low level employment before making any major decisions."

"It's good for a man like yourself to start out getting his hands dirty. If you ever decide on management, you'll know what to expect from your subordinates."

"That's what my dad always tells me…"

"I guess great minds do think alike. Have you considered any recent opportunities?"

Eiichi knew immediately what he was hinting to, "Actually, that is something I have been thinking of. I understand a corporation you are in league with has shares in a number of the auto manufacturing companies in Japan."

"That is true…" he said with a glance at Kotonoha, that she returned with a look of cordial admittance that Mister Katsura was not at all use to, "I suppose I could talk with a few friends of mine to have you put in as a line worker."

"Oji-san, that would be enough. I would be in your debt."

"There is no need for formality. You are a young man, just starting out, and employment is becoming more difficult in these trying times. While our economists speak that a coming crisis will likely not meet our market, I still see many grabbing for positions like beggars, seeking work in any field that will accept them. A man in my position should do whatever is necessary, especially if it is for a man in yours. Make no mistake, I have done the same for a few others like yourself."

"Sir, I am grateful."

"As you should be, but I do not need you to tell me that. I will only do what I can. However, I could not see a man of your resolve simply working in auto manufacturing the remainder of your life. You should certainly give a higher education some serious thought."

"It has crossed my mind…" Eiichi breathed, feeling a nudge from Kotonoha to signify an 'I told you so.' He looked at her as she sipped from her cup, her eyes turned up at the ceiling.

They heard the front door click open and the rustling of plastic grocery bags.

"I'm home!" a kindly woman's voice sounded from the door path.

In a few moments, Miss Katsura appeared with her catch of the day in both hands.

"Mom, is there any more you need help with?" Kotonoha said as both she and Eiichi stood.

"Oh no, this is merely for tonight since your father is back. Hello Eiichi," she nodded with a smile while making her way to the kitchen. "Dinner will be ready in an hour, so please continue what you were discussing until then."

Dinner with the Katsura's was a bit more formal than what Eiichi was used to, but the conversation was still lively. The idle exchanges began with Miss Katsura talking of some interests she had in the small business bakeries in the area, how the bread was surprisingly good quality and that she'd been going out of her routine to visit a few. There was extensive mention of Kotonoha and Eiichi's status at their school and inquiry as to how they were handling all the attention, in which they modestly replied, while taking turns, that they knew little of how to handle such a broad social life and were just doing their best with remaining courteous. Mister Katsura occasionally inserted here and there with a prolonged story from one of his travels that strangely had relevance to nearly any topic the group could come up with. Kokoro sat calmly next to her mother, eating slowly and only responding when asked the usual questions about friends and school.

Desert ended with the general complements to Miss Katsura on the food. After more talking with Kotonoha's long winded family, and saying goodnight with more thank yous from Eiichi to Miss Katsura for the elegant meal, he was guided to the front door by Kotonoha and Mister Katsura.

"I'll have my driver take you back home and Kotonoha can accompany you if she wishes."

"Thank you again for your talk," Eiichi bowed.

"And you will let me know when your father decides to visit from Okinawa?"

"Yes, and if you'd like, I'll tell him about our conversation and that you would like to meet with him."

"I would be most pleased. I had a friend of mine who was in the Army a long time ago, but many of the stories he had to tell sounded more like national espionage than service and travel."

"Well I promise, my dad has somewhat different stories to tell, and I'm sure he'll look forward to your meeting."

"Until then, have a safe trip."

Mister Katsura stepped away as Kotonoha and Eiichi had turned to get their shoes.

"Excuse me…"

Kokoro had walked over to their place out of the light of the living room, and stood in front of Eiichi.

Eiichi had been leaning over, tying one of his shoes, propped against the raise when he looked up at the quiet face. Her placid eyes fixed on him, her arms hung loosely behind her back, standing still. Slowly, without a word, he knelt down before her.

She stretched out one hand and in it was a bracelet. She had taken three long strands of coarse thread that gave off the appeal of wheat or burlap in their faded and rugged beige hues, and had woven them together, tying the ends off in knots. Then she had tied the ends off in a large, loose bow. Attached to the unconstrained oval were cuttings of paper with green leaves, yellow peddles, and dark brown centers, fashioned into sunflowers and woven into the threads with fine, green wire, accompanied by two tiny ladybug ornaments.

"Is this for me?" he looked.

Her hand remained in the space between them. The output of this child was one of caution, only making a decision she wanted to be sure of. Trust was all she wanted, for someone to not fade away. He took the bracelet gently and worked it on to his wrist. It was a little top heavy and the bow hung down if he raised his hand.

"Thank you…I promise, I'll take good care of it."

And then Kokoro did something he was not expecting. She stepped forward and wrapped her little arms around his neck. For a moment, Eiichi didn't know how to respond. He inhaled, trembling in her grasp, and then raised his hands, one with the bracelet on, and rested them on her back. He had nothing to be sorry for, and yet he found himself longing for her forgiveness.

The little girl released him, stepped back and bowed to him, "Thank you…for taking care of Onee-chan…" Then she padded off into the hallway.

Eiichi stayed down on one knee as Kotonoha watched him.

"I think we're seeing some progress."

"Yeah…" he got up. "Let's go…" the browns, greens and yellows of the bracelet merged together in his blurring vision.

Kotonoha placed a hand on his back, gently leading him out the door, "I know…"

On the ride back, Kotonoha had managed to change the subject to something that would take Eiichi's mind off things. Within minutes, he was talking at her pace. The street lamps floated past, outside the heavily tinted windows. Eiichi began seeing more recognizable structures as the limo pulled into his neighborhood. When it rolled up to the curve, Eiichi looked through the sliding passenger panel and thanked the driver, and they got out.

"I hope you don't start feeling on edge like that around my dad all the time, I thought you might be able to tell if he was kidding with you," Kotonoha said as they walked up to his door.

"In a way. The pressure of getting to talk with your dad is still enough to do that though, but that's alright, you get to meet my mom when she and dad come back from base," Eiichi brightened up.

"I imagine she might be nice."

"Where do you think I get my violent side?"

"B-But your dad."

"Oh, he's a teddy bear!" he let out, but he could feel Kotonoha getting anxious, "It's okay, she's more generous if anything."

"I hope so…" Kotonoha clasped her hands.

He smoothed up to her, his face close, "If she makes you coffee or tea with alcohol in it, don't ask, just drink it."

He gave her a lengthy goodnight kiss, figuring if the limo driver saw it, it would likely be mums the word. Their lips parted gently.

"I'll remember that," she said.

Eiichi opened the door, but waited for Kotonoha to get back to the limo. She gave him a little wave before climbing in, that he returned. The limo drove away and Eiichi shut the door behind him.

"There he is! I trust your being out late means you were over at Kotonoha's place," Torio greeted him as Eiichi stepped into the living room.

"Yeah, the whole family was under the roof this time," Eiichi, a little tired, set his tote bag on the couch and sat down. He took his ecig out and began puffing on it.

"Oh, Mister Katsura was home."

"Yeah, something about a contract he needed to look over before continuing with things."

Torio grabbed a bottle of water he'd left on the coffee table, "That man's desperate to be with his family I imagine. Is he anything like dad?"

"He really wants to talk to him actually. He's interested in dad's background, at least what he's willing to tell."

"Sounds like he had some rowdy times at our age, anything like dad in that sense?"

"Oh no, no one's as rowdy as dad was."

They both laughed at this.

"Well it looks like they kept you long enough."

Eiichi chuckled, "Yeah, dinner was…different."

"All that posh and silverware appeal? 'Kuzoka-san, I dare say, you have a smidgeon of what seems to be powdered cheddar on your lapel, hmm, indubitably.'"

Eiichi smiled and took another drag, "A little, but they're not the pompous type. I suppose, it's tradition."

"Something I can get behind. I never thought you'd be in to Home and Garden though, what's that?" Torio gestured at Eiichi's hand.

Eiichi lifted it and turned it about, staring. The bracelet, he'd forgotten he was still wearing it.

"A promise…"

Torio eyed the young man sprawled out on the couch as he gazed, lost in thought, but said nothing after the fact.

Eiichi calmly rested the arm on his leg, "So what's your day been like?"

"Oh…" Torio shook his head, amused, "Yoko-chan will not leave me alone."

"Her again?"

"Yeah, yeah…we dated a little and it was…fun…"

"Maybe you should talk with her more. What's wrong with it becoming a regular thing?"

Torio laughed somewhat nervously, "I don't know if regular is what I had been aiming for."

"Oh really, I never would've guessed. C'mon, it would be a nice change of pace for you."

"Thanks for the advice little brother, but I'm kinda' set in my ways."

"Oh give it a rest man."

"Alright, let's hear it from the relationship guru."

"All I'm sayin' is…"

With some minor bickering between the two, Torio sticking to his guns and Eiichi being too worn out to continue trying to console his brother's flighty mind, they settled on a truce of sorts to continue their discussion at a later date and called it a night.

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