That was Then, This is Now
Jaycee followed Aiko into her friend’s lavish home. Never before had Jaycee been in such an extravagant house. For the full duration of her life, Jaycee had lived in apartments, as did all of her childhood friends and extended family. This made for never having the opportunity to see how the upper-class lived.
As the two were removing their shoes, Aiko’s father entered. “Oh, Aiko, you should have rung the bell,” he said. “I would have opened the door for you.”
“I’m quite capable of opening the door myself, father,” said Aiko, not even bothering to make eye contact with him.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” asked Aiko’s father.
After letting out a sigh, Aiko honored her father’s request. “Father, this is Jaycee, Jaycee, this is my father,” said Aiko.
“It’s nice to meet you,” said Jaycee.
“Likewise,” said Aiko’s father. “If you girls are hungry, I could order you something. I was just about to get myself something for dinner.”
“No, thank you,” said Aiko, once again avoiding eye contact. “We’re not hungry.” And with that, Aiko made her way to the stairs, prompting Jaycee to follow. “We’ll be in my room, so don’t bother us. Understand?”
Aiko led Jaycee to her room, once again leaving her guest in adoration of her host. There was everything in Aiko’s room a teenager could want. A king sized bed, a television complete with satellite hook up, a VCR, two DVD players, various video game systems, a personal computer, a stereo, and designer clothing that Jaycee could only dream of owning were some of the items that Aiko owned.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Aiko, kicking a pile of clothes into the closet. She then made her way to her bureau. “This one always sticks,” she said, attempting to open one of the drawers. When the drawer finally gave way, out burst a plethora of snacks. Aiko immediately began rummaging. “Go ahead, Jaycee, pick whatever you want.”
Jaycee began inspecting the goods available. “How come you have so much food in your room?” she asked.
“If I leave this stuff in the kitchen, then I might run into my father when I go get it,” explained Aiko. “He’s always trying to talk to me. And God only knows what he wants to talk to me about. I tell you, it’s not easy living with that man.”
Jaycee settled on a bag of potato chips, while Aiko made short work of numerous bags of chocolate treats. Aiko had made no hesitation to show the way she ate or the speed at which she did it while in the company of Jaycee.
“Let’s see what Mr. TV has for us today,” said Aiko, flipping on the set with the remote. Aiko flipped through the channels at an astonishing rate, making comments about each show she passed. “Boring . . . stupid . . . lame . . . sappy . . . only interesting to old people . . . only interesting to dumb people.”
“You have a lot of channels to choose from,” said Jaycee.
“I used to have even more channels than this,” said Aiko. “That is, until my father caught me watching the Rainbow Network. Talk about your awkward father-daughter moment.”
“What’s the Rainbow Network?” asked Jaycee.
“Let’s just say it has absolutely nothing to do with rainbows,” replied Aiko.
After skipping past more channels, Aiko came up with another form of entertainment. “Let’s play ‘Reign, Reign, Conqueror, Reign,’,” she suggested.
“That’s new, isn’t it?” asked Jaycee.
“Yeah,” said Aiko, turning on her gaming console and taking her seat on the floor. “I just got it last week. It’s really cool.”
Jaycee took her place beside Aiko and was handed a controller. “Does your father buy these games for you?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Aiko. “I don’t even have to ask anymore. All I have to do is drop a hint and it’s as good as mine. A folded page in a catalogue, a raised eyebrow during a commercial, or just an interested sound while looking through a store window. That’s all it takes.”
“Your father must be very generous,” said Jaycee.
“Hmph, yeah right,” said Aiko. “He only buys me these things to make up for the stupid things he did in the past. He probably thinks he can just buy my love back. It’s been like this for years. At first, I wouldn’t even look at him, so he started buying me things. I started warming up to him a little, so it just clicked in his head that material possessions make me happy. That’s not necessarily true, but if it makes him feel good, then so be it.”
“Oh,” said Jaycee.
“Alright, let’s get it on,” said Aiko. The fighters were chosen and the game began. Though she was quite the strategist, Jaycee had no desire to give an all-out effort and was soundly defeated by Aiko in a game Aiko had yet to even master.
“What happened?” asked Aiko. “I thought you were good at these kinds of games.”
“I’ve never played this game before,” said Jaycee, wearing a false smile. “You couldn’t expect me to beat someone who’s already good at it.”
“That’s true,” said Aiko. “You wanna go again? I’ll try to go easy on you.”
“Okay,” replied Jaycee.
The next day at school went smoothly and without incident. Not that anyone expected anything out of the ordinary to ever happen at an average high school.
After school Jaycee waited for Aiko by the front door. Several minutes had already passed, prompting Jaycee to take a quick peek at her watch and wonder if Aiko had forgotten about meeting up with her.
It was shortly thereafter when Aiko arrived. “Sorry about keeping you waiting,” she said. “People are always asking me to join their clubs. I tell them that I don’t have the time, but they never believe me. They’re so persistent.”
“That’s okay,” said Jaycee.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No, I just got here,” replied Jaycee. “So, what do you wanna do?”
Aiko looked to the sky and began rocking back and forth on the tips and heels of her feet. “Well, I was thinking that since we went to my house yesterday,” she said. “I thought maybe today we could go to yours.”
“You want to see where I live?” asked Jaycee.
“Please,” said Aiko, who was unaccustomed to begging, though she sounded quite the expert as she did so. “I promise I won’t stay for very long, if that’s what you want. You can give me a quick tour, then throw me out on the street. I won’t inconvenience you.”
“It’s really not much to look at,” said Jaycee.
“Please,” said Aiko. “Is it really that wrong for someone to want to see where their very best friend lives?”
“Uh, okay,” said Jaycee. “If you really want to.”
Aiko immediately clung to Jaycee’s arm and began rubbing her cheek against her friend’s sleeve. “I wonder if this is how a couple in love acts on the first night the guy gets lucky,” she said. “I guess that would make me the guy in this relationship.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Jaycee.
Aiko responded to the question with laughter.
As the girls were exiting from the premises, Vice Principal Takagi was watching them from her office. “I can’t even begin to express how much I hate those two,” she said, clenching her hands into fists. “Oh, I can’t wait to make your lives a living hell.”
On their journey to Jaycee’s home, Aiko couldn’t help but take in the unfamiliar surroundings. Rarely had she spent much time on the side of town that her father would refer to as ‘the home of the worker bees’.
Instead of being filled with houses, the streets were lined with apartment buildings. And the further the two traveled, the less desirable the buildings became.
“Here we are,” said Jaycee, the two arriving at a building in dire need of a makeover. Paint was peeling in places and non-existent in others. Tiles were missing from the roof and much of the wood looked about ready to crumble.
Jaycee unlocked the door to her apartment and attempted to open it but the door was putting up a fight. “It always does this,” said Jaycee, placing her shoulder against the door. She then used her full might to force her way inside.
Making sure to keep any negative comments to herself, Aiko chose not to announce how closely the inside resembled the outside. “It’s nice,” she said.
When Jaycee turned on the light the bulb began to flicker. She tapped it a few times to make the flickering stop.
“Well, let me give you the tour,” said Jaycee.
The living room was first on the tour. “This is my living room,” said Jaycee. “That’s my sofa and over there is my TV.” The sofa was in good shape considering its age, and the television was small and clearly less advanced than modern models. Had the past four decades never taken place, the living room would have been ideal.
“Let me show you my bedroom next,” said Jaycee, taking Aiko by the hand and leading her from the living room. It was becoming clear that though the apartment wasn’t much to look at, Jaycee still took pride in it.
Jaycee’s bedroom was small but there was a bed in it. “That bed used to belong to my aunt when she was a girl,” said Jaycee. “My feet stick over the end when I sleep, but that’s alright. It’s better than sleeping on the floor. Go ahead, see how comfortable it is.”
“Okay,” said Aiko, taking a seat on Jaycee’s bed. “It feels nice.” She then picked up Jaycee’s pillow. “Is this goose-down?”
Jaycee nodded. “You have to treat yourself every now and then,” she said. “Hey, are you thirsty? I can get you something to drink.”
“No, I’m fine,” replied Aiko. “Don’t trouble yourself.”
“It’s no trouble,” said Jaycee.
Upon entering the kitchen, Jaycee began opening cupboards and rummaging. “I can never remember where anything is in here,” she said to herself. “I know there are some crackers around here somewhere. Now, where did I put them?”
Aiko got a peek at the contents of Jaycee’s cupboard. Packed tightly from one end to the other were packets of instant coffee and instant noodles. “You must really like instant coffee and noodles,” she said.
“Not at first,” said Jaycee. “But I’ve gotten used to them. Go ahead and check the fridge. There should be something to drink in there.”
Aiko opened the refrigerator and found it nearly empty. “You don’t have much in here,” she said. Immediately Aiko slapped her hand over her mouth to keep herself from saying anything else that might be considered hurtful.
“Yeah, it’s been a pretty lean month around here,” replied Jaycee. “So no meat for me. But there should be some juice in there.”
Like the proverbial diamond in the rough, a bottle of strawberry juice grabbed Aiko’s attention. It was one of her favorite drinks, but it was only a child size bottle and was the last one remaining from a pack of six, which would leave nothing for Jaycee. “Can I just have a glass of water?” asked Aiko.
“Sure,” said Jaycee. She took a glass from the cupboard and filled it up in the sink. “Here you go,” she said, giving the glass to Aiko.
“Uh, thanks,” said Aiko, who had never before tasted water from the tap.
“Don’t worry. The water’s clean. I guess that makes us pretty lucky. Some of the buildings around here have brown water. You wouldn’t want to drink that.”
Aiko took a sip. “It’s good,” she said. After a few more drinks, Aiko asked a question that had been pressing on her mind since entering her friend’s home. “So, do you ever have any problem paying the rent?”
“Not really,” said Jaycee. “The rent is pretty low. And I get help from my relatives when I need it. Since my expenses are low, I get to keep most of what I earn.”
“You have a job?” asked Aiko.
“Only a part time one,” said Jaycee. “If I’m lucky, I can get a little work here and there. And since my grandfather is good friends with the owner of the convenience store down the street, I usually don’t have to go far for work.”
“Is that where you get all your food?”
“Yeah, I get a really big discount,” said Jaycee. “And if I want a discount on something special, then . . .” Jaycee lowered her head and turned away from Aiko. “I just have to spend the night with the manager.”
“Jaycee,” gasped Aiko. “You can’t!”
When Jaycee turned back toward Aiko, a smile was covering her face. “I really had you going, didn’t I?” she asked.
Aiko was clutching her chest. “You nearly gave me a heart attack. I can never tell when people are joking with me.”
“Sorry, but I couldn’t resist,” said Jaycee.
“You shouldn’t have to pay for anything,” said Aiko. “Can’t you just tell everyone about your . . . situation? I’m sure they would make an exception for you.”
“If people with special situations got things for free, then everyone would claim to have one,” said Jaycee. “But it would be nice.”
“So, do any cute guys live around here?”
“Yeah, there are lots of cute guys around here,” said Jaycee. “Especially if you like them in their fifties.” Both girls then began laughing.
The girls became so engrossed in their conversation that neither noticed how late it was until the sun had already begun to set.
“Well, I should get going now,” said Aiko. Not wanting to make a target out of herself for the unsavory, Aiko decided to leave before it got too dark. “Thanks for having me over. I had a really good time.”
Jaycee forced open the stubborn front door for Aiko. But before Aiko could take her first step on her journey home, Jaycee had one last thing to say to her. “Uh, Aiko,” she said.
“Hmm, what is it?” asked Aiko.
“I’m really glad you came over.”
“Me too,” said Aiko. With a wave, she then departed.
It was immediately after Jaycee closed the front door when the light bulb expired. “Well, there’s one more thing I have to put on this week’s shopping list,” she said.
Aiko had sprinted all the way, getting herself home well before trouble could find her. She went directly to her room and sat quietly on her bed. Aiko usually had the television or her stereo playing loudly, but tonight she sat in silence as she stared at her possessions.
There was a knock on her door. “Aiko,” said her father. “I just wanted to make sure everything was alright. It’s not usually this quiet up here.”
When her father foolishly opened the door, Aiko hurled a stuffed animal at him, prompting the door to be shut again. “Leave me alone!” she shouted. Aiko’s father heeded the warning and let his daughter be.
The following school day went without incident, as was still to be expected at such an average high school. For none of the faculty had ever given their students cause to believe they were something other than what they appeared to be.
Jaycee, who was beginning to notice a trend, once again waited for Aiko by the front door. She had been standing in the same spot for nearly five minutes, making her wonder if Aiko had forgotten about her.
Aiko exited from the building and met up with Jaycee. “Sorry I kept you waiting again,” she said. “You weren’t waiting long, were you?”
“No,” replied Jaycee. “I just got here.”
As the girls made their way to the front gate, Aiko pulled out a can of lemon soda from her bag. “It sure got hot today,” she said, opening her drink. She then took a drink and made a sound that showed her drink was less than satisfactory. “And so did my drink.”
“So, what do you want to do today?” asked Jaycee.
“Since it’s so warm, we can go swimming,” said Aiko. “Well, you can go swimming. I’ll watch and encourage you to do your best.”
“A thousand years have passed and you still can’t swim?”
“I keep forgetting to learn,” replied Aiko.
As the girls approached the front gate, something ahead captured Aiko’s attention. She immediately came to a halt, prompting Jaycee to do the same.
“What is it?” asked Jaycee.
Not more than a few yards ahead was Sage, a raven-haired classmate who happened to have the same shade of dark green eyes as Aiko. The strange vision that had sent Jaycee and Aiko into an unconscious state before came back to both girls. It especially hit Aiko, who had been holding the wounded young man in the memory.
“Sage,” gasped Jaycee.
Wasting not another moment, Aiko rushed to him.
“Aiko, wait,” said Jaycee.
Aiko hurried to Sage’s side and began walking arm in arm with him. She then nestled her cheek against his sleeve despite the fact that the fabric was less than delicate to the touch of her smooth skin.
Sage flinched when Aiko took hold of him.
Aiko’s eyes almost seemed to be sparkling as she gazed longingly at Sage. “Here,” she said, offering her drink. There was a slight tremble in Aiko’s voice and a child-like exuberance to the way she was acting. “I thought you might be thirsty.”
Sage’s mouth was open but he remained silent.
“What’s wrong?” asked Aiko. “Don’t you know me?”
Calm quickly returned to Sage. “I know exactly who you are,” he said. He then wasted no time in pulling his arm free from Aiko’s grasp. “But don’t think that just because of who you are you have the right to go around grabbing onto people.”
“Sage,” said Aiko. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, I have no interest in wasting any more of my time talking to a spoiled little brat who thinks she can have whatever she wants just because her name is Aiko Nakamura,” replied a clearly upset Sage.
It felt to Aiko as if someone had just struck her in the stomach. “You don’t remember me?” she asked, doing her best to hold back tears.
“Remember what?” asked Sage. “We don’t have any history together. We don’t even know each other. So why don’t you leave me alone?”
Aiko was left at a rare loss for words.
“Now, if you don’t mind,” said Sage, turning his back on Aiko. “I’d like to go home now. If that’s alright with you.” And with that, Sage departed.
The can of lemon soda slipped out of Aiko’s trembling hand and crashed to the ground, spilling its contents into the soil. The hissing sound the drink made as it soaked into the ground was the only thing Aiko could hear.
“Aiko,” said Jaycee, making her way to her friend.
Vice Principal Takagi was once again watching the girls from her office. “So, their tender little hearts are that easily broken,” she said. “It almost doesn’t seem fair that I would use that information against them.” The vice principal then took her seat. “Why do I take pleasure in such horrible things? Oh, that’s right . . . because I can.”
Unbeknownst to the vice principal, Daisuke was standing outside her door and listening to every word she spoke.
Aiko had since begun to openly weep, where everyone could see. “He hates me,” she said. “Sage hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” said Jaycee, who began rubbing her friend’s back. “He just doesn’t remember who you are. With a little time, his memories will come back to him, just like they did for us. And when that happens, things will be just like they were before. I’m sure of it. So don’t lose hope. Things will work out.”
“What if his memories don’t come back?” asked Aiko. “What if he never remembers me? I’ve never learned how to love anybody else.”
Leaning against a nearby tree was Hikaru, who was intently watching the girls.
“There will be better days,” thought Jaycee. “For both of us.”
When Sage made it downtown, he stepped off the street and into an alley. As he rested against a wall he slammed his fist into it. “Damn it,” he said through clenched teeth. “Why did she have to remember?”