Sea of Snowscapes
Ushio rushed through the snowed-over streets, prompting a few people clearing the snow to stare at her. Her mind was in total static. Only her running body and a wild, raging torment in her heart were functioning, and they were functioning to only one end: to get away from it all. She slipped and fell a few times, but in each instance she got up quickly again and continued.
Eventually, her strength was used up and she was panting heavily, leaning against a tree. She puffed out clouds of ragged breath as though she was boiling inside. It all subsided quickly and when she opened her eyes again, a single destination presented itself to her.
She struggled to walk back down the street. She reached the apartment and went up to the door that was locked. In everything else her mind was clouded but single-mindedness in reaching a place amidst the chaos of the rest of the world made her sharp in one detail. Her father hid the keys in an unused mailbox. She pried it open, took the keys, and entered the house.
She locked the door behind her. Before her in the half-darkness, the furniture, the wall clock, the appliances, all stood where they were the day they left it to take care of her mother at the clinic, silently awaiting the return of people, dreaming that on them sat a couple talking about the day, their children playing or arguing amongst themselves, dreaming that the day when the house was full of chatter will come again. Ushio also saw it, envisioned it, briefly hoped for it. But then the darkness returned and she realized the things, though they belonged to her also, did not offer her any comfort at all, still waiting. Things will never be the same from here on.
She could never face her family anymore. All of this was happening because of her. Even now, her mother was still suffering because of her. Perhaps, if they killed her off long ago, her mother would be well.
She slumped down against the door and fell asleep on the floor.
When she woke up, surprisingly, beams of sunshine streamed through the slats of wood that shuttered the windows, forming bright, glowing lines on the floor and on the side of the sofa. Isn't it winter? Is it a freak sunshine? What did it matter? Even if she had somehow slept for months into next year's summer, it meant nothing to her. She only stared into the room. There were many objects blocking her view, but to her it was as empty as a board house with nothing but a table in it, and a light-suffused window beyond which there is nothing worth seeing.
After about an hour, she decided she can't stay here. She must move. To where, she did not know, but what mattered was that she pack up.
She got up and went to her own room and started to take out her dresses. She took an old rucksack from camp in middle school—not her schoolbag, she was never going back to school anymore—and forcibly stuffed all of them into it. The rest of her things, regardless if they were toothpaste, soap, or whatever might spill and ruin the clothes, went in into the same place as the others. It did not matter. Nothing mattered.
She went out the door and turned to take one last look at that place where she lived in since birth. It pained her that fifteen years had to pass away just like that, but it was more painful to stay there where there were memories she shouldn't even have made in the first place. It was not as if she will never see the place ever again, but that she should never have seen it from the start.
That same day, Tomoya Okazaki was riding home in a train. Beside him sat a brooding Akio Furukawa, the father of his severely ill wife.
He only stared out the window at the winter cityscape of Tokyo. It wasn't the view; he could not look at his father-in-law, and he had a patched bruise to hide on his cheek, it was obvious who inflicted it on him. He did not resist. With the old man came the news that made the physical blow pale.
Akio have had a hard time looking for his son-in-law in Iwaki. Each day that passed where he did not find the man fueled his anger even more. When he did find him, there was an outrage that frightened even the overseers at the job site. It was very easy for them to let Tomoya go despite the contract.
The whole time on the trip they never spoke to each other even in the most trivial of matters, except when Akio, in a fury, would demand Tomoya to follow him close enough as he led the way back home. Even if Tomoya took time to relieve himself at the station as they changed lines, he would take it as an affront and berate him in public. He just felt so justified in doing so. The last time he did it was at a Tokyo station where Tomoya just shrunk in shame as sophisticated Tokyo folk looked on at the commotion. It only deepened the silence between them. Tomoya just wanted to put the city behind very quickly.
But before that happens, there was still one stop. A stream of passengers traversed the platform, most were going into the train. One figure was only standing, seemingly wanting to let the crowd pass so she could board a less crowded train. Her face now turned to the train itself, as if now trying to see if there might actually be some space left. It turned out to be a familiar face. Tomoya did not want to call out to her with Akio around, but the woman herself caught him in sight.
She dashed into the train before could turn to see who it was, and in a moment Tomoyo Sakagami has found them. "Okazaki, what are doing here?" she said happily. But she was stopped seeing Akio, and in a pensive mood, and the patch on Tomoya's cheek.
"What happened to you?" she said. "Did you have an accident?"
As the train progressed through the deathly-white countryside, for hours, the three only sat there in silence, only looking at each other from time to time. Tomoyo had to deduce from what she is seeing. Akio would never be out of Hikarizaka, much less to Tokyo, if not for something extremely important. Since the major concern back home was Nagisa, so it had to be about Nagisa. But why go all the way there? And why is Tomoya also out here? Things became more bizarre to her as each minute passed. Why go this far if Nagisa needed to be watched back home to prevent her from slipping back into illness? It was all so random. Or rather, whatever explanation that puts sense into all this would point to circumstances so extreme she would cringe to even contemplate it.
She suffered herself to cringe. She must confirm. "Did... Did something happen to Nagisa?" she asked worriedly.
Akio visibly stiffened and Tomoyo now regretted having mentioned it. But as she was about to apologize, Tomoya cut in.
"I must go back quickly for Nagisa."
"Hmph," puffed Akio disdainfully.
"Back?" continued Tomoyo. "Why? Where did you go?"
"This pest here," said Akio, "left his own wife behind and made her sick she almost died."
It sounded so ridiculous. Could Tomoya leaving his wife cause such a drastic change in Nagisa's health? Then again, her health has always been unusually, abnormally precarious. Anything could be possible, after all.
But if he left, then...
"Tomoya," she blurted, "how is my son? Did you watch over him? Is he alright?"
Tomoya crouched down. It was now too much to take. He had now two weights of guilt strung around his neck. Tomoyo would have none of this. She stood up and shook him by the shoulders. "Tomoya, answer me! How is Tenshi? How is my son? Did you look after him? Tomoya, I want to know if you did what I asked you."
Akio spoke up in anger. "How can you expect a man to look after your kid when he can't even take care of his own family?"
"Tomoya! Tomoya! I asked you to! How could you forget Tenshi?" Just then, hushing arose from adjacent seats and Tomoyo, fearful of making a scene and being found out in public, immediately sat down and calmed. She instantly realized she had unreasonably asked Tomoya about someone else's son when his own wife was in danger. She attempted to appease them before more heated words arose. "The station would not let me off, but I got to see Tenshi. The station would find out that I left if I brought the car, so I commuted."
Not that they really cared, but they seem to have calmed down, too, and even Akio's face relaxed just a bit. Perhaps, she gathered, it would be best to her mouth shut for the rest of the trip.
Sanae received a worried phone call from Tomoe stating that Ushio has not showed up in school today. She told the girl that Ushio wasn't with her, either. After the call, she immediately contacted everybody whose numbers she knew: Takafumi, the Yoshinos, Dr. Kirishima, the Isogais; all of which affirmed the same, that they have never seen even a shadow of the girl.
She was making a final call to the police station to place a lost notice, but she hesitated for a while, thinking that her granddaughter could not be so far and would return early tomorrow; there was no other place for the girl to come back to as their apartment was locked. Perhaps if she just asked if they also saw her?
She couldn't have followed Akio, perhaps?
"Sanae-san," grumbled Mizuumi, "are we having dinner yet?"
She smiled at the little child. "Just wait in your room for a while, OK? Grandma's making supper in a short while."
"Is Shio-chan here already? I want a story again."
It would not help to tell the child. "Onee-chan will be back shortly and we'll all get down to dinner soon."
At that point someone called from the shop, "Sanae-san!" It was Yukine.
She turned to Mizuumi and gently led her to the room. "Wait here, Mimi-chan. Grandma must go to the bakery for a while. Come."
After she has put the child in, she went out with a not a little apprehension in her bosom. This was the only time she came back here. It must be very important.
Yukine did not mince any words. "Is Ushio here?"
Sanae gaped. "Goodness. I was about to ask you if—"
"Sanae-san. I have told her."
"Told what?" she replied in bewilderment. She could not remember.
Yukine's lips stiffened. "You should be the one who would know first."
"I really have no idea what you're talking about."
"You told me that you and Tomoya talked of aborting the girl."
And she told Ushio. Now, Sanae understood everything as her gaze hardened at the woman. "Why, Yukine?" she whispered.
"You should be looking at yourselves, Sanae-san," she said bitterly. "If you really wanted to keep all this from happening to Nagisa, why didn't you do what you wanted to, Sanae-san? Letting the baby be born only to see all this suffering. Perhaps, it's just better if I take Ushio away so Nagisa would have one less burden on her. I will give Ushio everything Nagisa never could."
"You happen to have misread us, Yukine."
In the room, Mizuumi was tiring of her PSP pretty fast. She wanted a storytelling Onee-chan and not pixels. She turned off the device and put it back on the cabinet. Even dinner didn't seem to be forthcoming. Sanae-san seemed to be way absorbed in talking to the customer. Perhaps it was time she just slept early as usual. She turned off the light and pulled the blanket over her.
In the darkness, with only the streetlamp outside giving off a hazy light, Mizuumi tried to put herself to sleep. She usually slept right after dinner, but with no dinner to speak of, it seemed her body could not sign off just yet. Little growls ensued from her stomach, but she tried not to mind them, closing her eyes tightly in a effort to fall asleep quickly.
After a while, she felt an icy draft pass over her.
It was so cold, and her sleep so shallow, it snapped he awake in a blink. Snowflakes were blown into the room by a raw winter draft from outside! The flakes flitted about all over the place slowly like unearthly visions.
When she turned to the window, however, a far stranger sight sent fresh chills all over her.
It couldn't be Shio-chan, could it?
But it was her.
The little girl slowly got up, as if dreaming, and hesitantly got off the bed. She was still nervous about this singular person coming all of sudden from the window, of all places. Shio-chan would never do that. She stared at the mysterious yet familiar face that looked back at her in silence. Then, the face smiled warmly. It was her! It was the Shio-chan who hummed to her and read her stories. There was no mistaking. Why she came through the window was moot.
"Shio-chan," she smiled. "Will you read me a story again?"
The face only kept smiling down at her.
"Shio-chan, tell me a story, please! One of long ago, of princes and castles and such! Please!"
Ushio came down from her windowledge perch and knelt down to her sister's level. "Mizuumi, I have something far better than a story from a book." She took her sisters hands. Mimi was startled. What cold hands! And the face, with it's warm smile, had eyes that were sad and beseeching. She didn't get it, it didn't fit. But Onee-chan promised something better than a storybook tale. "We will make our very own story, Mimi," continued Ushio. "Come with me. We will go to a place where we will live happily ever after."
"Really?" she said excitedly. "To where?"
Ushio did not bother to answer. She herself was already becoming excited, and the brighter expression on her face encouraged Mizuumi. "We will go far away to a palace where there is no sadness. Come with me, Mimi! I will make you a princess in my kingdom! I will give you jewels, and, and douse you with the best perfume, and, you will always be happy. We will be forever happy, the two of us. Come with me!"
Mizuumi squealed with delight. "I want to take Papa and Mama with us."
Suddenly the kind face hardened. It was so unfriendly and abrupt that Mimi paled in fright.
"You have no Papa, and you have no Mama!" hissed Ushio.
"But... I want Mama and Papa with me," she said in a fearful voice. "I don't want to go anywhere without Mama and Papa. Don't you want them anymore, Shio-chan?"
Ushio is not taking any more of this. She grabbed Mimi's arm and forcibly pulled her to the window with her. The little girl struggled mightily to break free, but Ushio was too strong. When she started to scream, however, Ushio locked arms around her and gagged her as she now successfully took her to the window, like a snake that triumphed over struggling with the frog in its mouth.
Suddenly, in a burst of spirit Mizuumi bit down hard on Ushio's arm. Startled, Ushio let go of her sister at once. The little girl immediately turned and slapped Ushio forcefully. She was stunned at the force of the blow. She could hardly believe her little sister, her clinging little sister, could muster such power.
The two stared at each other for a long while, the younger in defiance, and the elder in bewilderment and disbelief. How could the sweet little girl, who Akio said looked up to her, who her father charged her to care for and support, who she thought will meekly, indeed wholeheartedly follow her anywhere, hurt her so openly? How could the only one who, having been also a burden to their mother's frail body, could have sympathized with her, the only one who can truly live with, reject her so completely?
She spoke up, and the utter pain of disappointment surfaced on her voice.
"You don't know how much I need you, Mizuumi."
Mizuumi gaze's turned from defensive, to confused, then finally stunned and regretful.
Onee-chan closed her eyes and jumped back out into the wintry dark of night.
The little girl gazed earnestly after her for a long time after that, as if she was still there, as though doing so will bring her back. But nothing proceeded from the window except the biting cold and drifting snowflakes.
"Shio-chan!" she shouted through the tears.
The commotion caused hurrying steps from outside the door. Sanae and Yukine found the girl kneeling in front of the open window. 'Mimi!" exclaimed her grandmother rushing to her, doffing her apron and wrapping it around the girl to protect from the cold. "What's wrong?"
"Shio-chan," she blubbered. "Shio-chan."
"Did you see her?" Sanae reacted in alarm.
Mizuumi only bawled. There was no need to press the girl further. Sanae made one last look at the window, and she instantly understood.
Ushio has always been strong. Even now, being pushed into the depths of despair, her mind badly shaken and crackling, she still managed to set herself a direction to which she resolutely pushed herself. But that strength was ebbing away fast, and her destination may be her final one.
There was a place far away which she and her parents visited every summer when she small, smaller than Mizuumi even. Though it was long ago when she last arrived there, her young, pliant mind, and excited eyes that loved the view outside the train window, easily bore a fresh impression of the place, and the way there as well. She knew every road and landmark by heart.
She had just enough money ransacked from their cabinet back home for the one-way journey by train. The trip lasted the whole of the rest of the night. By daybreak she alighted the train and looked over the vast, bleak landscape outside the station. The country road led to her grandfather, Naoyuki.
From across the desolate white of the countryside, a thin column of smoke rose forlornly. It indicated the presence of a lone house isolated in the snow. The thatched roof was covered in dirty greyish-white and seemed ready to give, but the house itself was dry and the inside was aglow from a fireplace.
Ushio plowed thorugh the shin-deep snow and stopped in front of the house. This was not the same house she visited for the first time as a child. The Okazakis had a separate place in the nearby town; that one was abandoned after Shino passed away some years back at a great age. This was the country retreat. The family much preferred to stay here, where the air was more open and where little Ushio can play at a flower field close by.
The girl planted her feet on the wooden steps; they only creaked softly, but it made her hold back, as if she had offended the planks that built this place or somehow disturbed its wintry sleep. Soon enough, steps echoed from inside. The door timidly slid open, and Naoyuki Okazaki looked upon his granddaughter curiously.
She was somewhat surprised, as she was still reluctant to knock in her concern over he would say seeing her like this, but it seemed he already knew she was coming on this particular day that even her steps communicated itself to him throught the house. It was as if, in loing familiarity, the house has already become part of Naoyuki himself.
He only smiled at her timidly as if she was just a neighbor. "Oh, it's you. Come in."
She was still uneasy and could not reply.
"Well, if you don't want to come in right away, I'll be leaving you now. But I must tell you this year's winter is severe and you don't want to get caught outside, now, do you?"
He opened the door a little more and that finally convinced the girl.
That night a blizzard raged outside. At dinner, they huddled by the fire and partook of a simple meal of dry loaves and potatoes in soup. The girl ate mindlessly, absently shoving spoonful after spoonful into her mouth as with an unpleasant chore, eating not only because she was hungry, but because it gave her something to do, just like walking, providing her with some semblance of a sense of direction. Suddenly, she choked and coughed up, prompting her grandfather to assist her.
"There, there. Don't be in such a hurry, or you won't enjoy your food."
When they have finished, Ushio only stared blankly at her empty bowl, and she kept staring even after Naoyuki had put away the dishes. The old man then settled beside the girl.
"Well, now, school's over too soon? Or perhaps you were stressed out from your studies?"
"I want to rest here, grandpa," she whispered.
"I have thought as much," he said, satisfying himself. He stood up and took out a futon. Rolling it out, he asked her, "Why are you alone? Where are your parents?"
As he surmised, the girl did not reply. From there, it was easy for him to conclude: her parents banished her, or she banished herself. He knew how much Tomoya and Nagisa loved their children, so the latter was more likely. But why? Was there some misunderstanding? What was it that could make the girl feel so much guilt about?
A few hours later, Naoyuki was already in a deep sleep, but Ushio was still sitting up, very much awake.
At that hour, Tomoya was also awake, burying his face in his hands sitting beside his unconscious wife as the howling wind blew a blinding mist of snow outside. Earlier that evening he has also received word of Ushio's disappearance. Mizuumi would not eat and was growing weak.
Everything was a failure.
To have imposed himself on someone as ill as Nagisa... To have brought Ushio and Mizuumi into the world...
To have been so confident he could pull it all off, that he could give them a happy life.
Everything came back to him full circle. Fifteen years were all for nothing. In the end, he was once again what he always was: a worthless bum, all over again. But now it was just worse. It would have been enough if he just ran the aimless course of his existence alone, ending up as hopeless as his father was. But to have involved Nagisa in his own life, and two innocent children as well... it was unpardonable. He should have just went on alone.
The wind momentarily stopped, and so did the noise, producing a calm that lulled him.
He should have just went on alone.
Or perhaps... if he just married Kotomi?
Kotomi was his childhood friend. He knew what special place he might have won in her heart if only he cultivated his ties with her even further. Today Kotomi Ichinose is an imposing figure, an accomplished professional. She would have been a mighty support for somebody as weak and incompetent as him. He wouldn't have to carry her only to flop in the end.
Or Kyou for that matter. She was strong. They messed with each other and had fun in high school and even today she is still friendly to him. They would have worked well together. A woman like her can bear four children in ten years and have no problems at all. Her assertiveness and willpower will more than cover for his deficiencies.
Or Tomoyo. She has more than enough prestige to put him in the shade as he deserved, and power to rival Kyou's. He wouldn't mind being her lackey, at least he cannot possibly harm her like he did Nagisa.
Tomoya, you fool! Why did you let go of the best choices?
About half an hour later, Dr. Kirishima came in. "Hmmm. So you must be Mr. Okazaki, the patient's husband."
Tomoya looked up and turned to her dejectedly, but he tried to bring himself to talk. "I am... deeply indebted to you for the care you have given my wife."
"Indebted indeed," she remarked drily. "Shall I recite now all the bills and expenses you have racked up so far? Or do you want to wait until morning?"
Tomoya pursed his lips to brace himself. He can't run away now. "Yes, Madam, please do."
She smirked at what she saw as a bluff. "First off, let me tell you that even if your friends pool their resources together, the total payment may still be beyond your capacity. You won't mind if I burst your bubble of pride a little bit now, would you?"
"You are responsible for her, after all. I'm only telling you straight facts so don't even think of badmouthing or even backbiting me for the bill. I have told you in advance.
"Your wife have had herself subjected multiple times to life support, in particular, the EKG. Perhaps, you have no idea how expensive it is to maintain the device. And there's the IV fluid. The capsules, also. The heater. The beddings, all changed evry two days. Her bed rate."
Tomoya only listened in tense silence.
"And I must add that she was the only patient, ever, that I personally return to even in the wee hours. This establishment is only meant as an emergency facility at most, but you have just forced us here to take on the responsibilities of a regular hospital ward."
Tomoya stifled a little smile of his own. He knew doctors were highly expert in siphoning off money. He would give her exactly what she wanted. "I'm afraid I have no property to sell so I could pay you off. But I can enslave myself for a lifetime so I can answer all my debts to you. I'd rather have it that way, instead of working for this... failure."
Dr. Kirishima was slightly taken aback. What is this man up to?
"I will look for another project and move out of this place. I will send you my salary every month to cover for her bed rate here or anywhere else you would put her, even if she is comatose for the rest of her life." He rubbed his open palm across his face as if to relieve himself of the tension. I will put Mizuumi at my in-laws and they can take over the care of her. And Ushio..." He trailed off. He had no idea.
Dr. Kirishima now stared hard at him, but he only chuckled it off. Maybe he has out-toughed her. "I shouldn't have married her. If only I just left her alone with her parents. This time, he could see the doctor bristling. So you thought you could lord it over me with your bills, huh? You have never seen Nagisa give birth to Ushio. You have never seen how Nagisa's illness plagued her whole life. He tried to barely hold down a full-blown laugh. If not for his brooding grief, he would have been hysteric with laughter. "I should never have met her," he chuckled bitterly. This wouldn't have happened to her. I would have stayed a free man from the start, but from now on, I will be free again." His laughing voice started to break. "If only I stayed free from the beginning, I wouldn't have done all this. Why, I could have even chosen a woman as strong as you, doctor!"
Tomoya's head was thrown back by a mighty slap from the back of Kirishima's meaty hand. He doubled over in pain. It was like being hit with the butt of a rifle. He squirmed there on the floor beside his unconscious wife. The doctor's hand was trembling violently and she herself was quivering as if she has a horrendous convulsion. Despite that, she was able spit out her tirade through choking breaths.
"They... they told... they told me. They told me... that you were a delinquent. I wouldn't have believed that. I always thought... anyone who worked hard enough for his family deserved respect. But I... I just discovered that you are not a mere delinquent. You are dirt.
"I never became a doctor just to write bills. I have dedicated my life to medicine. I had hoped that, if only my sister was alive today, she would proud of me.
"My sister was ill from birth. She suffered so much she always told me she wanted to be a doctor so she can cure herself. I knew she won't make it, so I told her I will do it for her, but she insisted even if it meant we w ill have her home-schooled all the way through college, if that was possible."
"She died before she could even send her application for a university exam. I was in my first year of internship in Kyoto, and I would have dropped my studies then and there. But I wanted to keep fulfilling my promise, to achieve her dream, to represent her. I have dedicated myself to the memory of my sister. I hold her dear even when she is dead.
"But you... You want to commit your family out of your memory even while they are still living.
"I have never known anyone as shameful as you."
"A woman like me will never consent to marry the likes of you. Still, yes, weaklings will always depend on the strong. You are right. You should have married a strong woman. But you chose her. You just had to take her away from Mr. and Mrs. Furukawa even if she would be better-off staying with them. Why? Tell me, Okazaki! Why did you choose Nagisa Furukawa?"
Tomoya opened his mouth as if to answer, but said nothing. He stayed like this for abouit five minutes, and then slumped back down on the floor. When Kirishima saw that no answer was forthcoming, she turned to the door, and, with a last glance at him, left the room.
Ushio watched silently as Naoyuki shoveled away at the mound of snow that overlaid Shino's grave. If he didn't do this, it will be much harder to clear the area at the onset of spring.
When he had finished, he lay flowers by the stone marker, which he had been keeping inside the house in a vase. The two stood there in silence as the soft wind blew fine powders of snow, and flakes fell only sparsely. They will have to leave within the hour before the snowfall gets any thicker.
"Ushio," said Naoyuki, "did you know your mother cried when your great-grandmother Shino was buried here? I was amazed. She was not directly related, but she felt how important she was to the family. I'm sure you remember her now, dear, don't you?"
The girl did not reply. She never was in any mood to speak to anyone.
Naoyuki would have wanted to tell the girl more about his own mother, how Shino was kind enough to take him in with her again even after he messed with the police. But he didn't want her to think ill of him. The girl, in her silence, may not ask him anything, but he did not want questions to form in her mind, questions that would only pry into his own remorse over having been such a deadweight to his own son.
That evening, Ushio kept up her mechanical routine at the meal. She did not appear to relish his cooking, but at least he was glad he could feed and take care of his own granddaughter, if not his own son. For all he knew, whatever his shortfalls were with Tomoya, he could make up for them all with Ushio. Now, he felt that he wanted to do everything he could for the girl.
After dinner, Naoyuki took something from the cabinet. He handed it to Ushio, who was surprised at the uncalled-for gift, and fascinated at the workings of a simple toy robot.
"Well, now, Ushio," he smiled, "did you like it? It's a bit rusty now, but I can polish it if you want."
She only took it in both hands and looked it over as with a little child who found a sparkling object.
"Well then, I guess that means you accept my present. Tomorrow, I will show you your own room."
And indeed, in the morning, she woke up to the sound of boxes and stuff being moved inside the house. She got up and saw the things stacked all over. Naoyuki appeared from a door, wiping off his sweat with a towel. "Oh, good morning, Ushio. Let's have breakfast."
After the meal, Naoyuki led her into her new room. Everything has been cleared; there was only a single large table and a large glass window white with snow. Aside from that, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, all were bare wood.
"It isn't furnished yet, but I hope I can get a few things from town when spring comes, and you may still sleep here with me for the time being. I can't move the table out for now, it's too heavy, but I hope this place is spacious enough for you."
Tomoyo had stayed at a small Hikarizaka hotel to tide out the snowfall before finally preparing to go home. When she arrived, she found a house in the dark and steeped in a deafening silence.
"Takafumi," she called. Nobody answered her. She turned on the lights and put her things on the sofa. She decided to wait there on the sofa next to her stuff, and at length, she dozed off.
When she came to again, Takafumi hasn't returned yet.
She got up and took her things upstairs. Takafumi might have gone to the hotel to pick her up. She might as well apologize to him for the inconvenience. Yet an iron dread gripped her. What if Tenshi left home, and Takafumi actually went away to look for him? Tenshi would not, she kept insisting to herself. Not in this weather. The last time she heard the news train lines were being closed due to the snow. Tenshi could never get any further than the city boundaries; he must have enough sense in him not to do such a reckless thing at a time like this—she fervently hoped.
In any case, if she finds him in the hospital, it might be easier to convince him to realize his defiance and she could finally bend him to what she wants.
As she stepped on the landing, she heard something coming from Tenshi's room. Music. It was music from his i-pod, wired to a loudspeaker and blaring, muffled only by the tight-shut door. She immediately dropped her bags and knocked frantically. "Tenshi! Tenshi! It's me! Open up, now!" But the music only played louder, such that the lyrics clearly and audibly conversed with her through the door. She shuddered to think how it actually sounded in there.
"Open up! Tenshi! Please! Listen to me, for once!"
After about ten minutes of urgent and continuous knocking, Tomoyo decided she won't take any more of this. She went straight to what she wanted to say. "Tenshi, if you don't shape up, you will never be able to prove anything to your father! You must prove to him you are not the garbage he considered you to be." There was still no response and she was already on the brink of desperation. "Tenshi, why are you hurting me like this? I never did you any harm! It was your father who abandoned us both. I have no idea why I should deserve this treatment!"
The music abruptly ceased. The door opened and before her finally stood her estranged son. It was almost unbelievable how heartbreaking and at the same time overwhelming to see him face-to-face, as though they have never seen each other for ages. It might as well be the case. This was perhaps the first time in their livesthat they saw each other eye-to-eye, meaning to say what they always wanted to from deep within.
"If you care so much about Dad, I don't! You always keep selling me that law racket day in and out and then all of a sudden I find out it was for him? You said he doesn't care about us anymore, so why are you? And why me too? Can't I be my own man?"
"Tenshi, I will never forget how father had degraded you. He wished you were never born. He might as well considered you dead!"
"Then dead I am! You think that will shock me? Everyday for ten years I was dead to him. I lived without him! And now you want me to live for him? Just to get back at him?"
Just then, Takafumi arrived at the scene. "What is happening here?" he exclaimed standing between them. Tomoyo closed her eyes in frustration as Tenshi eyed him menacingly. "Tenshi," he reprimanded, "can't you spare some respect for your mother?" He escorted Tomoyo to her room, and went back to a still seething Tenshi.
"Tenshi," he said trying to gain his attention. His nephew only looked away from him disdainfully. He better put it bluntly to the boy before the door gets closed on him. "Ushio's lost. I helped the Furukawas look for her, but the police have no lead and it's getting harder with all this snow. Do you know where she might have gone?"
He was appalled. He gazed at his uncle searching his face as if trying to see if he was joking, but the expression he found there was dead serious. It couldn't be happening! He felt earnest hands grip his shoulders.
"Tenshi, you got to shape up. If you can't do it for your mother, at the very least, think of Ushio."
Further complicating things for the Furukawas was the fact that Mizuumi was very sick.
Sanae lay stricken in Akio's arms. The man himself could not believe this was all happening. Mizuumi's temperature was unusually high, higher perhaps than even struck Nagisa. He was at a loss at what to do next, having called the general hospital and found out that they were, as usual, crowded.
At length, after a while of despair, he suddenly remembered the woman who assisted in healing the girl once. Although Sanae told him the woman had something to do with Ushio's disappearance, he was taking no chances, reckoning that they have a life to save first.
Yukine hurried to Furukawa Bread within an hour of being called. She came in with powders of snow still clinging to her hair, and into the room where the little girl's grandfather waited, immediately kneeling down to check on her.
She was completely caught off guard.
"Her fever's too high!" she gasped. "We must get her to the hospital right away!"
Akio only looked away in resentment. "I have thought you would be the one to cure her."
"Akio-san, I can only do so much," she said apologetically.
"Then perhaps we will just leave her here to die while the hospital keeps saying they have no room? Besides, who can possibly drive her there in this weather?"
"I have a friend in the hospital," she replied calmly. She stood and turned to the phone.
At nightfall Yukine stayed over to keep watch over the girl. Akio wanted to smoke, but she kept reminding him the fumes were out of question with the girl's condition, not to mention having future candidate for hospitalization.
At long last, people appeared at the bakery door. Yukine went and opened it to group from the hospital: two nurses, a medical assistant, and, towing a sled piled high with boxes and supplies, a janitor—Asahi, ex-gangster and Yukine's friend. She excitedly hugged him and asked him how he was able to get so much.
"I got a little thick with everybody in the hospital," he said with not a little pride, "including the doctor. Heh, he always asks me to do him a massage."
"How is Sunohara-san?" she asked with concern.
"Sunohara Youhei? He 's already fine now, but they could not discharge him in this," he said gesturing disdainfully outside.
The team got down to work at once. In no time, the Furukawa bedroom transformed into a Hikarizaka ward. Akio was visibly relieved. "If only I thought of doing this to Nagisa in the first place." He went to fetch Sanae and tell her of the good news.
When Sanae got out, she thought that she should thank Yukine for the effort, but mixed feelings about the woman prompted her to say something else. "Yukine-san," she began, "do you think you can bring back Ushio as well? Can you?"
Yukine plaintively gestured a "no". "I think we must bring back Nagisa first. But it will surely take more than just me to fix all of this. It will take more than all of us here combined."
At past midnight, the snowfall has ceased. The highway crew was finally able to immediately throw themselves into clearing the main roads for ambulances and other emergency vehicles, as well as the occassional private cars. They could only do so much. If the snow returns, the lanes will be effectively blocked once more, but at least travelers could, if they really wanted to get through, endure days of on-and-off trickling into their destination with plenty of stopovers at inns and such. Such had been the case with Kyou, who, having brought her motorcycle to Yokohama, came back driving it at a deliberate and careful pace, wary of the slippery road.
She arrived at her house in Hikarizaka at about four in the morning utterly exhausted from the trip. She fell onto bed with her jacket and mittens on.
At around noon, she woke up, blinded by the sunlight filtering through the curtains. She immediately got up in surprise and drew them back, amazed that the snow has finally let up. She doffed her jacket at once, showered hot, and got a fresh change of winter clothes. She must see Nagisa right away.