Miwako Tezugawa awoke to the lively bustle of the Sunday morning crowd outside her window, the happy noise like an unspoiled white feather floating through a thin film of slumberous grey mist. She blinked slowly as she focused on the familiar sight of the ceiling of her room. Glancing at the red clock on the wall, she uttered a soft gasp of surprise at having woken up unusually late today, “My word, it’s already past 9 o’clock.” She guessed that Ryu would already be up and would have obligingly prepared breakfast, even though she was the one who usually did so.
Walking out of her room after washing up and a change of clothes, she did indeed smell the strong aroma of steaming non-sugared coffee mixed with the faint scent of breakfast tea. “Good morning,” she greeted smilingly, She deliberately ignored the stifling tension hovering in her tastefully furnished dining room, where she and Ryu usually shared some quality time in the break of day. Now, she felt the antagonism radiating from her young tenant, as he glared distrustfully at the other man seated at the other end of the table over his blue coffee cup. “Good morning, Tezugawa-san,” replied Ryu tersely, after some hesitation, “I’m afraid I only just got up too … the shop …”
“Oh, never mind about it. Let’s just close shop for the day! I don’t particularly recall us having to fulfill any special orders of our flowers urgently. Moreover, it’s a lovely Sunday, isn’t it? You ought to take some time off too.” Tezugawa-san dismissed, smiling warmly. “… Thank you.” Ryu muttered as he turned his attention back to his coffee.
Tezugawa-san regarded her nephew next, in slight amusement, observing his feigned composure, the way that he was staring unseeingly at the financial section of the newspapers in his hands, and the way his eyes kept darting to Ryu surreptitiously. “Keiin-kun, I must apologize for not informing you earlier that Masaya-kun might be staying for the night. We had a lot to catch up on, and so I insisted that he spend more time with me before retuning back to Tokyo later today. I understand this would cause you some … discomfort. I’m really sorry, dear.”
Ryu tried to force a nonchalant smile, as he shrugged, “No harm done. He’s your nephew, not some stranger. I doubt he’d have dared to do anything else to me anyway.” Tezugawa-san sighed lightly while Kuroda winced, abashed, as he resumed staring at the papers unblinkingly before they were snatched deftly out of his hands by his aunt who just sat down. “Toast, Keiin-kun?” Tezugawa-san beamed, as she reached for the pot of clementine-flavored tea that Ryu had brewed for her.
Putting down his empty coffee cup, Ryu stood up, “No, thanks. I – I think I’ll head out for the day. I wouldn’t be back for dinner, Tezugawa-san.” He was clearly trying to avoid Kuroda, who seemed to have every intention of hanging around until he left. Tezugawa-san looked quite flummoxed as she stirred her tea, glancing at Kuroda whose eyes were fixated stubbornly on the sunny yellow tablecloth with an air of apathy, despite feeling rather crushed inside.
Ryu strode stormily along on the streets animated with a flurry of weekend activity, paying no amount of attention to his surroundings whatsoever. Occasionally, he would cast an unseeing glance to his right, at the window displays of the shops that lined the streets. He was clad in a black t-shirt, indigo denim jeans, a h.Naoto jacket and his boots. He had not bothered removing the studs in his right ear, or the safety-pin and cross in his left, since they had been there ever since he had first pierced his ears when he was 16, and then again when he was 17. He had recently pierced his left ear a third time, for reasons he refused to acknowledge – partly because he wanted to inflict some punishment on himself for being manipulated, and partly because it was something to remind himself of Masaya Kuroda. “For what godforsaken reason would I want to remember that spherical bastard anyway (1)? Right, I forget. I’m some bloody sadomasochist who is - was in love with his rapist. God, what the fuck is wrong with me?” He muttered rebelliously under his breath, cursing his inner voice viciously in seven languages.
He stumbled a little as he crashed into someone walking towards him suddenly. The apology died in the back of his throat as he stared, partially in stunned horror, into the forbidding eyes of his father.
“… O – Otou-san! (2)” Ryu stammered, feeling dread chilling his heart. Momentarily, he could not remember how many years has it been since he last saw his father, and all that he could feel was hot guilty blood pulsating in his veins, thawing rapidly after that split second of blue iciness. He imagined that he could hear malicious and reproving whispers around him, for abandoning his family for his own selfish dreams.
“Keiin,” Kouji Iwarou responded calmly, the unreadable expression on his face not altering the slightest. It was the second time in a span of a couple of days that Ryu felt disheveled, as he coughed self-consciously, noticing how distinguished his father looked in his dark grey suit.
Ryu scanned his father’s face quickly, as they stood face-to-face motionlessly, while struggling between running away madly before he starts to hyperventilate; and attempting to have a normal civil conversation with this intimate stranger. “Uh. I – I … ” he tried, before lapsing into silence as his father’s eyes lit up with what looked suspiciously like amusement tinged with a seeming uncharacteristic gentle fondness. Great, coherent as usual, Ryu congratulated himself half-heartedly.
“It’s been awhile,” Ryu commented quietly in the end. He felt people pushing past him and his father impatiently, realizing a little late that they were standing right in the middle of the bustling street and evidently blocking everyone else’s way. As he saw a hurricane of a man jabbering on the cell phone hastening through the crowds, heading towards them, he automatically shifted aside and reached out to tug his father out of the way. He faltered, and then leaned against a glass shop window while Iwarou-san resumed the close scrutiny of his son. “Uh, would you have time for a coffee … perhaps?” Ryu said with forced politeness, hating the stillness and even more, the fact that his father might just turn his back on him anytime soon, secretly pleading for more time.
It was goddamned surreal. His father was now sitting, looking oddly comfortable, opposite him in a peaceful coffee house that Ryu liked because of its warm décor and Old World charm (3). Two steaming cups of aromatic coffee sat cheerfully on the polished tabletop. “How’ve you been? ” Ryu asked carefully; painfully aware that his father might not have forgiven him for his willfulness.
Sighing softly, his father rubbed the bridge of his nose briefly, looking rather stressed. His reply was awkward. “Fine, I guess.” Ryu avoided his father’s gaze guiltily, as a sudden pang of homesickness hit him, and he felt utterly exhausted of the world. Wanting to crawl back to somewhere safe – an asylum where he could hide from the ugly scars that marked his youth.
Quietly, memories from the past that he did not even know existed or he had probably denied, surfaced abruptly. In those memories, he saw a boy, a younger shadow of himself, with a man whose rare smiles were reserved for him and his mother. He felt mortified as he slowly recalled a happier childhood than what he had fabricated in his mind when he ran away. Had he been deluding himself so badly all along?
Moreover, he was vaguely aware of a certain amount of surprise that he was feeling about something else. Strangely enough, his father did not seem as frightening as he had remembered him to be. True, he still looked imposing and was obviously of high social standing and from a prestigious family, but the stern, steely and calculating coldness he had always associated with his father was absent. He felt thrown, to say the least. It has been a few years, and perhaps he had grown, both physically and emotionally while out alone. Or not, Ryu thought, as he recalled bitterly his lack of defense around Masaya Kuroda. He was overwhelmed with a sudden urge to snort derisively.
“Otou-san … “ Ryu swallowed, searching for words. His father regarded him patiently. Ryu gave up, finally, though a semi-formed non-committal smile betrayed his hope. Kouji Iwarou chuckled as he reached across the table to ruffle his son’s hair affectionately.
“No matter what has happened, Keiin, you’re always welcome to come home.”
(1) Phrase introduced to me by Mint.
(2) ‘Father’ in Japanese.
(3) The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, Agatha Christie.