The Cutting Edge
Tokiya: The Cutting Edge
Subject: What's going on
So you ran into Fuuko there, haven't you? Please tell me you're getting along. You know what, man? You left so suddenly after your graduation that we didn't get a chance to say goodbye properly. Since I'm the leader of the Hokage, I'm gonna give you both a throwback and an update of the stuff you missed since you took off.
On the onset, everyone in the gang was looking for you and asking for you. It would have stirred your icy heart, dude. At one point, Ganko kept nagging us about finding her Tokiya-niisan. And Kaoru? That kid really looks up to you. He was everything but happy by your sudden absence, though he covered it up pretty well.
So, how's it going? Still treading the path of revenge? Is the ensui back in business? Things are alright here, but then every once in a while some creep just materializes out of thin air with a challenge. Nothing to worry about, though. I'd use Saiha and the enemy meets his downfall. Piece of cake.
In case you're wondering, which you probably aren't, I'm taking up Sociology in the local university. I don't know, but anything related to culture has proven to be my strong suit. Domon is the local wrestling champ and milks money out of trampling amateurs. Hime is planning to major in education, since she's so good with kids. Don't pop an artery, I'm still keeping her safe. In fact, I'm keeping everyone safe.
And since I've been fulfilling this task with 100% efficiency, in view of fairness, you better do your share of work. Just as you have threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't take proper care of Hime, you had better keep an eye on Fuuko. She's tough stuff, I know, but I just want all bases covered.
Ganko and Kaoru are asking for a favor. They want you to consider visiting, even for a short while. We'd all be looking forward to seeing you, man.
Just think about it. And take good care of yourself, ok?
Subject: All's well
I won't even ask how the heck you acquired my e-mail address as certain ideas are starting to form in my mind. Nevertheless, it's good to hear from you.
The reason why you heard scarcely from me is because time was a force to be reckoned with since I joined this institution. But even before, on the last moments of my stay there it had obliterated all possibilities of bidding everyone farewell. Frankly, goodbyes are just awkward. And no, I am not, as you put it, "still treading the path of revenge". I'm over it. I've fallen into a steady rhythm of life. There's peace now.
You mentioned that I ought to look after Fuuko's welfare. You don't even have to ask.
Tell Ganko and Kaoru I will probably visit after this semester.
She was late.
I glanced at my watch for the what felt like nth time, though my mind had already calculated the difference in time. I decided fifteen minutes was enough test of patience and started walking across the grassy lawn. Fuuko was almost never late. I tried to predict her alibi. She'd better have a good reason for keeping me waiting.
That sole thought brought me to a grinding halt. If it were another person, I would not have consented to waiting for fifteen minutes. Irked, I dismissed the realization that I trusted Fuuko enough to give her the benefit of the doubt. Of course that was supposed to be completely impossible. It goes without saying that I don't trust anyone… at least not that easily.
I squinted my eyes. At the end of the quad, someone was flailing her arms wildly. At that point I realized the object of my annoyance running toward me, panting and gasping for air.
"I'm sorry." She said.
I smirked, glad that she could make it. "I'm sparing you a lecture on punctuality." A mark on her flesh and I quickly noticed a big gash on her left hand that cut across her palm and dark red spots on the grass.
Frowning, I took her hand. "What happened?"
Pressing my fingers beside the site of the wound to stop the dark liquid from trickling, I pulled out my handkerchief from the back pocket of my jeans and carefully wrapped it around her hand.
I sighed as I watched the light hue of the cloth-turned-bandage soaked up blood.
"Umm…. Thanks." Fuuko croaked out, recoiling.
That's when it finally dawned on me that I was still holding on to her hand for no apparent reason. I dropped it promptly and averted my eyes. "Answer my question, Kirisawa. What insane product of your negligence led to this?" I asked in default frosty tone.
She just stood there gawking at me. "Call it negligence if you must. I was just trying to cook."
I rolled my eyes. "Kirisawa, spare yourself the torment. There are such things as microwaves and instant noodles."
"Wow, Mi-chan. Don't break your supportive streak." she replied, her voice coated with sarcasm.
I signaled for her to follow me to the bleachers.
"Well, you know, I thought I'd help the cook out at the dorm since I was already running late." Kirisawa continued.
"That was kind of you." It slipped.
She gave me a funny look before a smile took over.
I was momentarily distracted. "But humor me. What on earth were you trying to cook?"
"Sukiyaki." she supplied. "I sliced my palm as I was cutting the tofu."
I almost snorted. "It's alright. You won't die."
We reached the bleachers and she took a seat.
"So what's next on Yakiba-sama's list of unforeseeable tasks?" I asked.
Fuuko unzipped her backpack and brought out a binder. She opened it to a certain page. "We interview three successful people in Japan."
"Sometimes, I can't figure out what's going on in that old man's brain. What does that have to do with literature?"
"Don't insult Yakiba-sama. In case you missed it, he's my favorite prof." she paused. "Observe that there's wisdom in his every move." Her eyes danced visibly as she spoke. And I suddenly felt warmth and just wanted to freeze the moment.
But Fuuko went on, speaking very scholarly. "After the interviews, we have to find three characters from the literary canon who either mirror or are the opposite of the interviewees. Then we juxtapose them and present a discussion of their parallelisms in a paper. That, my friend, is our final requirement."
I turned the assignment over in my thoughts. "Is it because he wants us to study the connection between fiction and reality?" The assignment was becoming less foggy.
"Yes, Mi-chan. That's what I thought, too. But more than study, he wants us to experience it. See? That's his way of making literature more relevant to his students."
"It's a brilliant move, in that case." I conceded.
She clapped her hands giddily and then stuffed her binder into her bag. In one swift motion, she was up on her heels and hooking an arm around mine. The scent of jasmine filled my senses. "I'm excited. Come on. We have to choose the lucky three."
Then she dragged me out of the soccer field before I could protest.
"Konbanwa, Mikagami!" A deep baritone voice called after three short raps were heard on the door of my room.
I did not look up from my latest read, Ovid. "I'm kind of busy right now, if you don't mind." I stalled, even though I was merely reading for recreation.
Footsteps reverberated through the walls as my unanticipated visitor came into view.
"What else is new?" There was a mop of pale blue hair and deep-set eyes. The company was Seita Kagaki, one of the residents of this dormitory and a vague acquaintance. He leaned on the door frame, arms crossed.
"I doubt you came all the way here to challenge me to a verbal match. What do you want?" I finally slammed the thick book shut and turned to him.
He wore that impish grin on his face again. He held out a bulging plastic bag to me. "You've got presents again, Mikagami. From your secret admirers."
I snatched the bag from him in exasperation. I dug into the bag and came up with a Hallmark card. I cringed and looked inside suspiciously. There was a package labeled, "Sweets for my Sweet". Quickly, before even considering the possibilities of contracting whatsoever disease the package contained, I handed the plastic bag back to Kagaki, who readily accepted it with a knowing smile. "Dude, everything goes straight to the trash bin, but the chocolates are mine."
Clicking his tongue, he mentioned casually, "Heard you recited Shakespeare in lit."
I looked at him blankly. "That was about a week ago. Why are you bringing it up?"
He rolled his eyes. "Well, Mr. Clueless, I failed to tell you that your magnificent performance triggered some serious female hormone pandemic. Thanks to you, half of the school's population were walking around like dazed zombies, gushing out your name and all. The effects linger to this day."
"You exaggerate." I said in an I-don't-care tone.
Then he said something that I did not expect. "How could Fuuko Kirisawa not fall for you?"
I suddenly felt uneasy. It never bothered me before.
"Go bore someone else with your senseless questions, Kagaki." I opened my book to signal an end to the conversation.
He grinned knowingly. "Well, if you'd rather keep it private, Mikagami." He took his bag of loot and disappeared.
The university boasted a panoramic view, at least as soon as the late afternoon chimes greeted the fading sun. Streaks of gold and combined hues of varying red stained the sky, and quiescence took the pedestal over the usual hubbubs of dialogue. It was exquisite, the way the pale rays of the sun mixed with the green of the leaves, bringing forth a gold outline.
At this time, there was only a small amount students milling about. And I was grateful for the moment of solitude I encountered nearly next to never.
I sat inside one of the kiosks. She always had a good reason when she was late.
I spun around to greet her with an exasperated scowl, but found my actions suspended in mid-air. She stood in front of me now, that familiar friendly grin stretched across her lips. Yet, everything about her was entirely out of place. I couldn't stop staring.
Purple locks curled at the ends cascaded down her face lithely, crowning her face. She was wearing a dark purple dress that accentuated her eyes and... stilettos or whatever.
I swallowed. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. John Keat's poetry flowed into my mind.
She looked at me nervously. "Say something, ice berg. Do I look that horrible?"
No. You're just making it hard for me to breathe.
"You look elegant."
She broke into a smile. "And you look dashing."
"So I've been told." I was referring to a group of ladies in the hallway who were checking me out in my Calvin Klein suit. I didn't really care, but Fuuko approving of my suit made me feel somehow satisfied.
"Let's go, Kirisawa." I fought the urge to wrap an arm around her shoulder and stir her towards the direction of my car.
As I drove, she opened the interview paraphernalia and scanned its content. After ten minutes of driving in silence, we reached the venue of the interview and I killed the car's ignition.
She turned towards me."I didn't exactly have time to finish reading the bio you shared about this guy. Basically, what's the 411, Mi-chan?"
I shrugged. "He's one of the most respected dignitaries in his league, owning five prestigious establishments all over Japan."
"Three restaurants and two resorts. He generates an income of half a million yen each month."
Her eyes widened. "That's amazing. I hope he's not snooty, arrogant-ish." Then, frowning, she turned her attention to the glass doors of the café a few meters away from us. "You know, I kinda envy him. Cooking is my frustration."
"You can't be that bad. Well, the next time you fail, just look at it as an opportunity to factor out general errors." I left the driver's seat and walked around the car to her side to help her out. "He's probably wondering why we're late. Let's go."
This time, I gave in and put an arm around her shoulder, quickening the pace. I stole a look at her for any signs of discomfort but didn't find any.
When we entered the cafe, the aroma of brewed coffee filled the air.
"This is such a cozy place." Fuuko sighed dreamily as she looked around.
I had to agree. What made this place so unique was the setting itself, there were hardly any chairs around, except for the row of bar stools situated at the counter, where you ordered your drinks. At the center, three sofas facing each other and a round table in the middle allowed the guests to recline. A bookshelf which collections included "The Prince", "The Death of Arthur", "The Green Mile" and other best sellers was situated at one corner. Dim light provided illumination. All around the room low tables were scattered, and pillows served what used to be the chair's purpose.
"Good evening. I'm Fuuko Kirisawa and this is Tokiya Mikagami. We're from Tokyo University. We have an appointment with Mr. Taketa." Fuuko told the lady at the counter.
The lady, I learned from reading her ID pinned below her right shoulder, was Iwa. She seemed to be in her late twenties. Miss Iwa typed something on her computer and then looked up at us with a smile. "We have a different section for special occasions. Follow me." she led us into another room with floor length velvet drapes. It was also dimly lit and more classy than the last room. There were only six square tables in the area, all unoccupied.
She stopped at the center table. "Mr. Taketa will be with you shortly. Would you care for some tea or coffee?"
"I would like to try your signature coffee bestseller." Fuuko said.
"I'll have the same." I said with a smirk.
"That will be the Marika Brew, named after Mr. Taketa's wife. It will be served soon." Miss Iwa bowed and left the room.
We took our seats. Soft music was playing in the background.
"All my life was a paper
Once plain, pure and white
Till you moved with your pen
Changing moods now and then
Till the balance was right..."
I stole a look at the girl beside me.
"This song sounds really familiar." she shut her eyes and tried to concentrate on the lyrics.
"Then you added some music
Every note was in place
And anybody could see
All the changes in me
By the look on my face..."
"Oh, I got it!" she practically yelled and then fell in tune with the singer.
"And you decorated my life
Created a world where dreams are a part
And you decorated my life
By painting your love all over my heart
You decorated my life..."
There was an unbearable lightness in my chest as I listened to her sing. Fuuko Kirisawa was full of surprises. Who would've thought she could sound melodic? What the heck is it about this girl that just melts the doom and gloom out of everything?
"What's the title?" I asked.
"You decorated my life. It's by Kenny Rogers."
"I like it."
It said exactly what I was starting to feel for her.
Her eyes widened in horror. "Don't tell me you're in love, Mi-chan!"
Another voice broke into the conversation, reducing the awkwardness. "I am very sorry if I kept you waiting. There were urgent details I had to attend to in the kitchen. I presume you are Mr. Mikagami?"
I nodded politely.
His attention focused on Fuuko. "And this beautiful lady is… wait. I've seen you before." He adjusted his glasses and peered at her. "Aren't you that pretty girl who was begging for loose change a week ago?"
Fuuko groaned softly and looked ready to pounce on the guy.
"I'll explain later," she whispered to me.
"This is your boyfriend, young lady?" Taketa-sama looked at me. "You have good taste. This man does not conform to my image of a typical college boyfriend, though. He seems to exude the aura of maturity, of intelligence and respect along with his good looks."
"I'm afraid there's a mistake, sir -" she started but he cut in.
"You know, you can always tell the fine ones apart from the way they tie their necktie. It is a mark of intelligence. You know when I was a young boy…"
"Um, sir, just to set the record straight, Mikagami and I are not a couple." Fuuko droned, blushing slightly.
He snorted. "That's what they all say."
We were reduced to listen to a ten-minute tirade on the yesteryears.
"Sir, we gather that you are one of the most sought-after cooks in the country. When did this interest in culinary arts surface?" Fuuko asked when he finally ended his speech.
He scratched his head uncertainly. "Well, I can't really say it was innate. When I was courting my wife, I didn't really stand a chance. Then I heard that the way to a woman's heart was through her stomach, so I worked day and night to concoct gastronomical delights. She was my inspiration."
"Interesting." Fuuko smiled as she took down notes. "That's just one of the magics of culinary arts."
"So, Tokiya, when you finally confess your feelings to Miss Kirisawa, you would do well to bring a tray of the latest culinary craze as an accomplice. She might only hear your words and not your heart, but food has its own language."
"I'm sure you're right, sir. She'd be unable to refuse." I said, playing along. "Especially sukiyaki."
The look she threw me had "You're dead." written all over it.
"Patience my boy. It's only a matter of time. You see, I have this gift." he said conspiratorially. "I recognize the vibe of true love. And I have a very good feeling about the two of you."
Fuuko blushed. "You are so dead." she whispered and then pinched my side.
I felt the slightest trace of electricity at her touch.
Miss Iwa appeared with a tray and three mugs of coffee. She set the mugs down carefully in front of us.
"Any more questions?" Taketa-sama asked. "I had my chef prepare a great meal for you two. Iwa, please check on dinner."
Miss Iwa nodded and left the room.
"We have several. Mr. Taketa, would you tell us about the genius behind the structuring of your cafe?" I inquired.
"Technically, it was my mother's design. She was attached to the memory of my father. In their early marriage, they used to spend a healthy amount of time eating on the floor, in low tables and in pillows. So she constructed this setting in memory of him." He looked at me as if he knew my story. "Losing someone is painful."
I know all about pain.
"But when you love someone, you never lose. Love will always leave you with a stronger heart. I just felt I ought to tell you that, Mr. Mikagami."
"Well that was fun." Fuuko said as we stood beside my car. "I don't know if I liked him or not. But I think you liked him."
"He seemed fine." Kind of like a father figure.
"I could have left the cafe and you two wouldn't have noticed, deeply engrossed in your talk about matters of the heart."
She was wrong. I would mind.
"You didn't use your icy shield tonight."
I frowned. "Is that an issue?"
She laughed. "Of course not. I think I like this new side of you."
I had this new found urge to take her in my arms.
"Well which literary character could represent Mr. Taketa?" she asked.
Somewhere in the middle of the interview, I had already made the association. "Jay Gatsby."
She looked like she was considering this. "Wealthy, successful, ambitious, a hopeless romantic...."
"There's the strongest link." I said.
"Does Gatsby love food?"
"He threw extravagant parties. I suppose he invested in good food." I said.
"I think he had a different sort of hunger or thirst. For Daisy Buchanan's love."
"You got that right, Kirisawa. Sounds like a good way to start our paper."