“Nik san! Hi!” Sunny greeted me outside the dining hall.
“Hey, what’s up, Sunny? Did you come here for dinner? You should hurry, they’ll be soon closing--”
“Oh, no, no…” She waved her hand dismissively. “I already ate. Would you care to join me for a tea?” Revealing her other hand from behind her back, she dangled two bottles of iced green tea in front of me.
A gust of wind fluttered the folds of her loose, flowery dress just above her knees. Her body all of a sudden went from chubby to curvy. The black ankle boots and the short leather jacket, which reminded me of K, added an edge to her outfit. I had to admit, Sunny looked cute in that dress, and even though I wasn’t in the best of moods, I couldn’t possibly say no to those smiling eyes.
“Sure, I’d love to. Come, I know a great place.” It was easy being with Sunny.
We sat on a wooden deck at the back of the small temple, with a view of the pond. The wood felt still humid from the rainy day but had dried enough over the past hours to sit on it. The sun that came out only in the late afternoon was already setting. In the discrete illumination of the twilight cicadas and other insects saturated the air with their sounds.
“I’ve never been here. I mean, I know about the temple, I’ve just never sat here and enjoyed the view. It’s pretty.”
“It is.” I opened both bottles and passed one to Sunny.
“K will be back this evening.”
“Well…” I shrugged with indifference. “Good to know.”
“Is everything okay, Nik san?” She turned toward me, her eyes seeking me out.
I glanced at her sideways. “Do you know, I’m her first fighter?”
Intertwining her fingers, she shifted her gaze at the pond. “Yes.”
“So all that talk about being a fan of K, the first female proxy…what was that all about?”
“Well, it’s true, she is. With you as a fighter, she’s become the first female proxy. You have no idea what an achievement this is. To obtain such a prestigious position within Yamato, it was unheard of before K.”
“But you two go way back before I came into the picture?”
“So, am I … some sort of a test subject?”
“No, not at all.”
Holding the bottle with both of my hands I gave a complacent smile.
“Nik san…” She paused, casting her stare downwards. “Some things I cannot tell you. It’s not my place. But you can be certain that K is doing her best for you. She’s the best proxy you could ever get, she’s very experienced--”
“Huh, you’re the second person telling me this today. But how could she be experienced if I’m her first fighter?”
“Umm….” She shifted her body, adjusting slightly her sitting position. “She… well…if anyone can make you a champ that’s K, you can be sure about that.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes up. “Do you even know what’s going on? She can’t even guarantee my trainings…and there’s some shit between her and that Kentaro guy…It’s like a fucking rollercoaster with her…”
“I know. But K knew there’d be troubles to overcome, and she’ll deal with them. Just don’t give up on her, Nik.”
I shook my head, chuckling. “As if I had a choice.”
“Oh…” Sunny pulled back, straightening her neck. “I see now, this is all quite hard for you, isn’t it?”
“It’s just chaotic….and frustrating. I feel like I’m stuck with K… and I’m afraid this beautiful opportunity I got at Yamato will fall through, just because of her, because of her inexperience, and, well, the way she is…her drinking…You see, this is my last chance. If I don’t prove myself…“ My feelings channelled into a bitter smile.
Sunny stroked my arm gently a few times, her face reflecting pity. It made me feel uncomfortable. I pulled away and drank from the bottle. Forcing a smile, I faced her again. “What is anyway, that you admire so much about K that you even dye your hair the same and dress like her?”
“Uh, you clearly don’t understand the concept of a fan,” she muttered under her breath. Her shoulders rose and dropped with a sigh. Once again she gazed out at the pond. “I’ll tell you this, even though K would have probably objected. You have to know, it was only because of K that you got this opportunity in the first place. Out of all the proxies only she could have convinced Fujiwara sama into something like that. You should be grateful.”
“Did you know she pays for your current expenses out of her own pocket?”
“What?” I frowned.
“You had no fights yet, neither you have any previous fighting record that would guarantee you a stipend. You think Yamato Damashi would ever consider seriously somebody like you and even pay you?”
“But, I signed the contract…it says they cover--”
“It’s a standard contract they give to the fighters that went through a proper selection process. They will give you money, but only after you prove yourself at the tournaments. Until then K is paying for you.”
I was lost for words for a moment. “W-why?” I wondered aloud, unable to comprehend K’s doing.
“She wanted to be a proxy and for that, she needed a fighter. You were desperate enough to accept her offer, without asking too many questions. Despite her position in the Fujiwara clan, Japanese fighters would never agree to a female proxy, and scouting for foreigners would take time.”
“So that’s what it was – I was convenient?”
“No… well, not only that. After that night, when you got beat up in Tenko club, she told me she saw potential in you and she decided that if you were persistent enough, she might consider giving you an opportunity. You were, persistent, and things turned out as they did. It’s a win for both of you, and I know you still don’t see it that way, but mostly, it’s a win for you.”
I was once again left speechless. Images and conversations from Tenko flooded my mind, replaying one after another.
“Must be a bit confusing, I know. But for the time being, just trust her….and don’t worry, she’ll make things right. I know her that much.” Sunny grinned and gave a little nudge at my shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I think she made the right decision. I also think you’ll be the champ, Nik san.”
I chuckled. “If I will be able to train, maybe…”
A big koi fish suddenly jumped from the pond, making a loud splashing sound as it fell back into the water. Sunny shuddered and uttered a cry. “Did you see that!” she shouted, pointing her finger at the pond.
Leaning my back against the wooden wall of the temple I nodded and could not help but smile at her sheer enthusiasm.
“Nik san, please don’t tell K about what I told you,” she pleaded after her excitement waned.
“Why not? Are you afraid of her?”
“No, no… I just think it wasn’t my place to tell you. She won’t like it.”
“Then tell me what does K stand for? What’s her full name?” I asked, tilting my head to the side.
Her eyes flashed naughtily. “Ask her.”
“Huh…” I finished the remaining tea and flipped the empty bottle a few times in my hand until it fell on the deck and rolled towards Sunny.
“Is she even Japanese? Her face is not…typical…”
“She’s a hafu.”
“Half Japanese…which is also another reason why she’s having a hard time being recognized as a proxy.”
“Oh… So, what’s the other half?”
“Ask her,” she repeated, her dimples appearing as her lips widened into a grin.
“Sunny, Sunny…” I leaned forward and ruffled up her perfectly straight fringe on her forehead. “You’re a tricky one…”
“Stop it!” she protested, putting on a fake angry face while her cheeks turned red. She reached towards my hair, but I caught both her arms.
“What do you want to do?” I asked in-between laughing. “You can’t grab my hair…they’re too short…”
She kept giggling and wrestling with me until her phone buzzed and ended our playful scuffle. She took it out of her pocket and slid her finger over the screen. After a thoughtful pause, she typed a message and put the phone back in her pocket. “We should head back, it’s getting late. I’m sleeping over at K’s tonight.”
I accompanied her and just as we were about to part our ways in front of the mansion, we saw K arriving.
“Hi, K. You’re back already. How did the meeting go?” asked Sunny.
Standing with both hands in her pockets, K responded with a thin smile. Her eyes went from Sunny to me and persisted quietly. I noticed her face was a bit sore and bruised around the bridge of her nose. Red marks were visible on the white skin of her neck too.
“I guess you have things to discuss, so I’ll leave you two alone and go to the room,” Sunny excused herself.
An uncomfortable silence followed. I glanced sideways, upwards, downwards, while K kept her stare on me without wavering.
“So, you went for a meeting?”
I took a big breath. “I’m sorry…for yesterday. Does it hurt much…your face?”
Oh God, could this be any more awkward?
“I was out of line…I should have held back. I mean, you are a woman after all. I never fought any women—“
Her loud sigh stopped my blathering. “Tomorrow you have boxing at 10:30 in the first gym building and ju-jitsu at 15:00 in the second gym,” she said, her voice flat and emotionless.
At first, I simply felt relieved that she finally spoke, and only after that, I processed the actual content. My eyes bulged out. “I do?”
“Don’t forget the jogging in the morning, and you’ll still go to the mind and body coach in the evening. This will be more or less your schedule for the rest of this week. With the next week, we start adding other types of training.”
I kept staring at her.
“Good. Ja ne,” she said, her stare shifting over my shoulder towards the mansion.
“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” I replied distantly, my mind still dwelling on the news.
She was already at the entrance when I called after her: “Hey, K!”
“Yes?” She turned only her head, showing me her profile.
She acknowledged my words with a barely perceivable nod and disappeared inside.