A Breeze Blows in the Garden
The bar was in an uproar of activity: the usual arm wrestling matches, billiards, tattoo sessions, karaoke TV, drinking. This was not unusual as the patrons were the two gangs of Hikarizaka. In fact, from time to time a short brawl would ensue that were but narrowly averted by the barista and the more level-headed of them.
The neighbors would just wish the bar would close. A petition even went up before. Instead, it was they who moved out to avoid the noise. Not even the huge curtains set up at every window could help.
However, the arrival of one particular person instantly hushes the din in one fell swoop.
Yukine stepped into the bar as everybody gazed in wonder. Ever since the lady took up the librarian post she visited the bar only occasionally, but it only made her gangster children savor her presence even more. After all, she was still the team mom. This in spite of Yukine deciding that they should move out of the bar after a spate of drinking led to another fight.
"Yukine!" cried several gang members as they went to her, but they were halted in their tracks by the unpleasant expression that shadowed her face. This was an ominous foreboding indeed, for Yukine never showed any displeasure or pain, only in the serious points in life that all of them knew, one being the old fight long ago over Kazuto.
"Yukine!" said one as he met her, but the lady turned away from him disdainfully and went to the counter where everybody gave way.
For a while they stared at her apprehensively, her back turned on them, and the tension was such that the air suddenly felt humid and heavy. Clearly the mother was sorely displeased with her brood.
"Yukine, what's bugging you?" someone shouted in concern.
She faced them, and great was the change that fell on them all, for the lady stared them down bitterly, shaking only a bit, and if not for the cold steel in her eyes they would have been sure she will break down then and there right in front of them. It took them a moment to realize she was already focusing her eyes on a particular man, still bandaged from a recent fight.
The unfortunate guy instantly knew, and he fell on his fours before her, clinging to her skirt. "It was that Hikarizaka runt's fault!" Kenichi bawled. "We're always taking the blame for everything he pulls off at school!"
"Get off my skirt!" she thundered.
Kenichi backed off as one stung by a high-voltage fence. All the rest started to wail and weep.
"Yukine, forgive us!"
"If you even so much lift another finger," growled Yukine, "I myself will escort you to the police. Every last bit of you!
"Why must you always seek trouble for yourselves? What's the point? Can't you just stop? Huh? Just… stop! Stop!"
Everybody was reduced to silence.
Staying herself, she went over to the backdoor, but before she could get there, her tears broke out like a leak in a dam that suddenly burst. A handful of gang members instinctively rushed to her to assist her while the others just wept.
All this time Ushio watched, dumbstruck, through a slit in the window curtains. So gangsters do have hearts. A while back she thought it odd that the lady did not so much mention about Nichi again, but now she reckoned it best to let the woman fix things her way.
"Mommy, are you fetching me tomorrow after school?" asked Mizuumi, sitting on her mother's lap.
"Yes," smiled Nagisa. "Do you want me to bring you some goodies when I get there?"
"Really?" the girl beamed. "I want a princess crepe!"
Nagisa chuckled, stroking her daughter's bluish hair. "Ask something cheaper, Mimi. We only got enough money here for my trip to the clinic."
Mizuumi's face fell a bit. "But you're not sick anymore, right, Mommy?"
"No, but Daddy said I must go to Aunt Ryou to make sure I don't get sick again. Don't you want that, dear?"
"Umm! I wish Mommy will never get sick, ever again!"
Tomoya came in and interrupted them with a soft laugh. "That's my girl," he said carrying his daughter. "Mommy will be able to play baseball with all of us next month!"
"Tomoya-kun…" she chided. "Will Otou-san let me?"
"Nagisa, wasn't it you who challenged him to a game when you were staying there? He told me."
"Oh," she mumbled, embarrassed. "Did I?" Her eyes became sad as she spoke. "Otou-san must have waited for me all along. I just know he wanted so much to play with me." She squinted her eyes shut from the guilt she felt. "Oh, how could I have forgotten?"
Mizuumi squealed with delight. "Papa, Mommy looks so cute when she does that! Can I kiss her?"
Tomoya was only too glad to have his wife kissed by proxy. In an instant, her expression softened as she returned her daughter's affection.
At that junction, Ushio arrived, going straight ahead as usual with an "Evening, mom, evening dad" and flinging her bag on the sofa.
"Ushio," said Tomoya. "You didn't kiss your mother again."
She halted. She whimpered and hesitantly gave Nagisa a peck. "Gaoooo, this is so sappy," she murmured.
"Ushio," reminded Nagisa, "your Daddy too."
She just as reluctantly complied. Tomoya fingered her dishevelled bangs and hair back in place. "What happened to your hair band? Didn't I tell you to wear it? You look like a bird's nest."
Ushio gulped. She already knew what her kid sister will say next. And indeed: "Shio-chan, can you kiss me, too?" The freshman felt more sappiness rush from inside her as Mimi yet again launched a mush assault on her. She looked as if she wanted to vomit, but both her parents have those expectant eyes trained on her.
O Mimi, have mercy on this poor soul.
Tomoya frowned on her reaction. "Ushio, I just noticed you don't want to spend time with your own family anymore. What's so wrong with being with the ones who love you? You disdain even your very own house."
"Papa," she said exasperated, "this house is just too small for me now."
"Small? Well then, I'd rather you have stayed small enough to fit in so your mother and I could keep you and Mimi here."
"Dad, that's impossible."
"Well, what did Yukine-san say, dear?" interrupted Nagisa.
Ushio welcomed this fresh relief from the argument. "Um, she said she would drop by this week, and, oh, she got this for you." She handed her the bag of coffee.
Tomoya took it. "Ah, so she still makes her own blend." He sniffed. "It's hers alright. You dress now, Ushio, and be quick so you can join us shortly for dinner."
Kotomi was at the trunk of her car putting in a few light baggage and a projector. The upcoming week promises to be another hectic round for her, what with three lectures in a row in three different universities in the Kansai. These were the times she yearned for a vacation.
The sun was rather hot this early in the morning. It hasn't let up for some months now. Heat waves danced over the roof of her car and insects buzzed in the shade. She remembered her own forum on global warming back in the States.
She paused to wipe off the sweat that threatened to ruin her foundation.
Kotomi was jolted by the atrocious French. Way to troll an academician. Either the speaker was psychotic, or very familiar.
"Ohayo, Kotomi-chan," greeted Kyou flashing her brightest smile.
A smile of her own suddenly escaped from her by instinct without her even allowing it first. Guess this is what always happens whenever she meets any of the same high school circle she had known and loved.
"Oh, hi…" was all she could reply.
"Eh? Still shy as ever? Is that all you could say?" She clapped Kotomi on the shoulder hard enough for her to grope for something to hold on. "Come on, haven't you even grown up? Just because you're a genius… Oh… I forgot! So you're Doctor Ichinose now, huh? Hey, aren't you going to react, professor? You're not even getting mad an ordinary grade school teacher's calling you with a –chan?"
She only smiled weakly. "Why should I? You guys got me round your little finger."
Kyou produced a specially-wrapped bento for her. "Here. I figured you might like pork cutlet. Just this once, though. I don't want to ruin your figure."
"No, it's fine. I just ate some the other day, too."
"Better watch that diet of yours, hon, or you'll end up a dumpling before you know it."
The professor smiled amusingly. "It is clinically proven that thinking alone can burn a significant amount of calories, and I got more than enough to pore over."
Kyou only laughed as Kotomi chuckled softly with her. The professor went back to her baggage. Kyou let her pack in some more stuff and close the trunk before she ventured her purpose.
"By the way, how's Shio-chan doing?"
"I hope you're not being too hard on her."
"Ushio? Oh, well, only as much as necessary. Besides, I got a new helper so things should be much easier on her now."
(So true. At that exact moment Ushio was lounging in her chair as Nichi toiled at her two piles of paperwork. She even had him fetch coffee for her.)
"I'm glad to hear that," said Kyou. "I was worried you might have been too strict on her. She's a good girl, actually."
"If you're really here to persuade me to let her off," said Kotomi with a little smirk, "I must tell you I'm quite distressing to argue with."
Kyou laughed again. She was relieved that she didn't have talk it over anymore. "So you have changed after all! Anyway, I never really want to wrangle with you and ruin what we had."
Kotomi smiled warmly. "Neither do I. Oh… I forgot; perhaps you could tell Tomoya to come next month so we can arrange for Ushio's new block schedule?"
"You got it. But, still, not that I'm challenging your pride, why don't you come over to him instead? Like you had been good chums, anyway."
The professor looked away for a while as she weighed some thoughts. "Actually, I was looking for time to slip in a visit."
"So, umm... you're dropping by?"
Kotomi fell silent again. "I said I was looking for time, but I really can't promise. As you see, I'm frequently travelling."
"You're so hard on yourself, ma'am. I don't suppose you even have a beau. I believe it's high time you got one! We're not going to be young forever, you know."
"I should like to challenge that," she said, remembering Nagisa's mother, whose name she couldn't recall but whose face one can hardly forget. Kyou enlightened her on that.
"Sanae-san? Come on, not even her got infinity for an age. Anyway, I don't think it should be hard for you to hook a boy with those looks of yours."
Kotomi ventured a giggle. "Oh silly you. It may not be hard to find someone, but to find someone you like is another matter." Suddenly she caught herself. What did I say? She could see Kyou eyeing her mischievously.
"Hmmm?" she teased. "Pretending to be busy, eh? I didn't know you liked someone." She flashed a knowing, victorious smile. "But whoever it is," she said scratching her chin, "I just hope it isn't Tomoya. You know your limits now."
"Why of course not!" she suddenly flashed, anxious to put her off. "Why could I be interested in him? Actually someone's courting me over the phone and I don't even know how he got my number at all!"
Oof! Another slip!
"Whah?" blurted Kyou at this new, earthshaking information. "Er… uh… Who is it?"
The professor instantly knew she blew her cover, and turned away agitated from Kyou. "Uh, I," she stammered, fixing up the car and getting inside, "how could I know?" She started the engine, and eased onto the driveway. "I'm sorry," she finally called out, "but Kyoto is over an hour away at full speed and I must go now. OK, I'll drop by! Sometime!" She closed her windows and sped away.
Taking advantage of her spell of good health, Nagisa took the time to walk unassisted to a small private clinic which isn't far at all, actually. Her wide-brimmed straw hat turned the unbearably hot day into a picnic stroll. To her it was indeed an excursion to visit the proverbial old friendly neighbor over the white picket fence. To be sure, a picket fence did stand in front of the clinic, but it was overgrown with ivy and other flowering whatnot that delighted Nagisa's eyes as she ambled onto the front door of Kirishima Clinic where she knew Ryou Fujibayashi-Hiiragi stayed.
Inside, a young lady attendant, fresh out of high school, greeted her. "Anything we can do for you, ma'am?"
"Is Hiiragi-san in?"
"She went out for almost an hour now. Not very far. She will be back, ma'am, just sit back and make yourself comfortable." She led the woman to a sofa right next to a large window that showed the garden.
The fresh green shade lent a soft tone to the bright sunshine that filtered through the trees and cloaked the flower path. It was such a marvel to behold. Nagisa remembered a beautiful flute-and-guitar instrumental she heard that sounded like a lullaby and reminded her of white clovers. It also reminded her of Kotomi's garden that they renovated long ago, she, her husband, and the twins who were close friends of theirs, even now. Oh, if she could only have any of her loved ones with her this instant! It would be bliss if they would see this garden together.
Well, at least one finally came in.
"Nagisa-chan!" cried an excited voice.
"Ryou-chan!" she replied standing up.
They were about to grasp each other in a hug, but something stopped Nagisa from doing so. It was also something that amazed and delighted her.
"Oh, Ryou-chan, your belly's so big now!"
"Eight months," she said, smiling shyly.
"It's a girl, for a change," said a voice behind her. Her husband Kappei. "Taro's just a little wild at times, and I was hoping for some gentle feminine influence at home."
"Isn't Ryou-chan having difficulty with her pregnancy, Hiiragi-san?"
"Nope. Truth be told she's already ravenous at dinner. Some monster it must be in there."
"Kappei!" she rebuked yanking a lock of his hair. "To talk of your own child like that in front of others!"
"So what, dear? I must say it is a ravishingly beautiful beast you're carrying."
"Oh, you…" she whined.
Nagisa just laughed this off. "Some lovers' quarrel you got there."
"Really?" giggled Ryou embarrassingly. "All part of the set. Guess you and Tomoya had your episodes, too."
"Well, yes… But we make sure we finish it quickly before we sleep. Doesn't pay to let the children know."
"Oh, so the couple's in a fight again," muttered someone. They turned to see Dr. Hanabi Kirishima coming in from the consultation room. "Don't make that racket here or I won't mind your husband ever again."
"Oh no," Kappei quickly interrupted. "You'll never get cheaper prices for your pharma from anyone else but me."
"Blatant lie," she dismissed with closed eyes. "I know at least eight other dealers who give fatter discounts than you." She trained one open eye on him. "It's only because of your wife that I'm even talking to you right now. Blah, at least that guy with the puppet doll gives some entertainment around here."
"Oh," said Nagisa to Ryou, "so you're running a drugstore?"
"No," replied Ryou. "My husband is an agent for a local medicine importer. Of course he knew I'm with Dr. Kirishima so he reckoned it was an opportunity for him."
"I don't even plan on taking any more stocks for three months! Unless some plague strikes, perhaps; then he will have to talk to a big hospital 'cause I can't bother with too many patients at once."
"That's why she set up her own practice here," seconded Ryou. "She worked for a large city facility in, Nagasaki I think, and worked in Tokyo for a while before finally settling at our general hospital here. After a year, she quit."
"And then," said Hanabi, "I found this bright, young nurse taking up medicine. I felt she got great potential but won't make it 'cause of the expense in med school and all, and a family, too, so I agreed to help her out on her studies if she will help me run my clinic."
"We've got a number of high-end out-patients these days. We're currently in a boom," smiled Ryou.
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," said Nagisa, "but wouldn't it be expensive if I had a consultation here?"
"Don't worry Okazaki-san," smiled the doctor brightly. "My faithful assistant just got too much of me to convince me to let you have a free consultation." She then turned a severe look on Ryou. "But only this once! If she needs any medication I'll charge her."
"I'll be checking all your vital signs and performing all the tests," said Ryou, "and then make a preliminary diagnosis, after which I'll submit my findings to Dr. Kirishima for her verdict. It will take a while, though, so make yourself at home."
"I'm rough and ready," declared Nagisa with her signature two fists up. "I won't mind even if the clinic closes on me."
"Oh no," facepalmed the doctor, "not the whole day! I must watch my soap this afternoon." Everybody laughed at this quirk of hers.
Soon afterwards Ryou performed the complete checkup package she promised, manual and electronic, while the doctor entertained other patients inside. It was such a relaxing time for Nagisa, talking with her old beloved friend as the procedures progressed (Ryou's exceptional skill shows in her being able to do an accurate examination while chatting with her patients, which make them feel relaxed and prefer their clinic over others). Not even the needles frightened her as the erstwhile nurse had fingers so deft and hands so light that the prick was no more felt than a small itch.
As the doctor had hinted, the entire process did not actually last so long, only about two and a half hours, and by then Hanabi had finished with her last patients and was ready to turn her attention to Nagisa. She received the test results from Ryou and perused everything.
It was this segment that really made the visit long.
In the meantime the two friends sat out on the garden with Kappei, chatting about mostly their children. Ryou now let herself prepare snacks for Nagisa after having taken her blood samples. Their laughter filled the breezy afternoon air as the day started to cool and fade into the first wisps of sunset.
"Oh, Ryou-chan," said Nagisa happily, "I should hope I could finally get back to work when I get well. I really plan to put Ushio in a fine enough university even if it means we'll have to spend extra."
"You can do it, Nagisa," she encouraged. "After I weaned my girl Taro might still be in senior high and I could spare some financial help for you. In fact, if my acquaintances still remember me at Kyoto, I could get her a scholarship there to ease the burden. That is, if you don't mind Shio-chan being some distance from you."
At last, the doctor entered the garden and everybody turned to her smiling, eyes gleaming with hope that she could at least give them a prescription. Nagisa stood up. "Well, doctor," she said amiably, "how's my condition?"
"Oh dear," she grumbled. "Now I missed my favorite drama. I never take so long that I lose out on it. Never!"
"Doctor," Ryou said, concern starting to creep into her voice. "What did the findings say?"
At this, everybody held their breaths as the doctor's forehead creased. She made a small face as she reviewed the papers some more.
"Well?" Ryou said.
She earnestly gestured a "no." "Queer. I… I don't have a hint! Are you sure you did everything properly, Hiiragi?"
Just then, it seemed as if an icy wind passed through the trees, lifting the hems of their skirts.
"Y-Yes!" she protested, her voice breaking. "I did everything right. Everything!"
"Hiiragi, I checked the blood sugar, the X-ray, the ketones… You even got the EKG reading right?"
"Doctor, I detected a slight vitamin deficiency, and perhaps some missing enzymes related to nerve functions in the brain stem, and some possible anemia as well. P-Probably," she continued looking apprehensively sideways at Nagisa, "we can't immediately identify the source of weakness because there's no single cause, but a convergence of many different factors…"
"It is none of these," the doctor hissed.
Everybody was stunned. Nagisa's mouth hung ever so slightly, and Ryou felt as if she wanted to slap the doctor for once.
"Maybe it's just a matter of finding the right drug for her," ventured Kappei. "I don't suppose even doctors have already known the full range of pharmaceutical compounds in existence."
"It's not a matter of treatment anymore," finished Hanabi. To Ryou, "You should have known from the EKG that Okazaki-san's wave patterns show small irregularities. Small, yes, but they occur too frequently. I've never seen anything like this. It looks like HHS but if your description of her symptoms are accurate… fevers and all… I… I can't relate them. Except that it seems to have something to do with stress.
"This is a syndrome we have in our hands. A syndrome Science has never discovered yet." She smirked. "Maybe we should call it Fujibayashi disease in your honor as soon as it is recognized by the medical community."
This was the last thread. Ryou grabbed Hanabi by the collar with accusing stares. "This is my friend we're talking about, Hanabi! You should have known how dangerous it was for her when she gave birth! And even now!" Tears started to form. "She's not getting any younger, Hanabi. Please. Find a way!"
Through all this Hanabi only smiled lamely. "What are you so worked up about, Ryou? It's not as if she's suffering anything. Look at her!"
She motioned a hand in Nagisa's direction. The woman was healthy, standing erect and there was that color in her cheeks. Her brown eyes even looked brighter as they bristled with alarm over the news. "If I were Okazaki-san I wouldn't mind bearing a little something in my body as long as it does not disrupt my daily life. After all, that's the point of getting cured, right? To live a normal life?"
"No," sobbed Ryou. "You don't understand. You've never known us. You've never been with us." And she let go, going over to her husband so she could cry in his arms.
Hanabi sighed in exasperation. "Mrs. Okazaki. I'm sorry if I sounded blunt, but it's part of our duty as doctors to reveal the exact true condition of any of our patients to the parties concerned. I hope you understand. It's just that, I think, if you could still have the chance to live your life as you would have it, you could accept any condition you have."
She tried to cheer Nagisa up, all right, but that last sentence sounded dreadfully like an advice to someone afflicted with a terminal illness.
"Doctor," said Kappei, groping for every last bit of hope. "I once had osteosarcoma. Perhaps you would not imagine how awful it is to experience it firsthand. But now I have a beautiful family and a wonderful life. There's got to be a way."
The doctor closed her eyes in deep thought... When she opened them again, she regarded everyone else with a sweeping view that took everything in. Ryou, not daring to look up from her husband's bosom, Kappei, expecting a favourable answer, and finally Nagisa, looking straight at her, hurt, but with hope still aflame in her eyes. Hanabi's sight was so keen she did not miss the rustling of leaves on the ground, or a pair of squirrels chasing each other in the undergrowth.
"Yes," she replied at length. "Of course. There must be a way."