“What’s it say again?” the police receptionist asked dully.
“Just ‘Goodbye and sorry’. It’s not even signed,” Kento Rei Fuan anxiously stated into the telephone. As was common with his anxiety, a tinge of anger entered his words.
“So how can you be sure your friend wrote it?”
“It’s his handwriting. Besides, he’s been acting weird for the past two weeks. He’s been having a hard time, and I’m just afraid he’ll try something stupid. Please, try and find him.”
“We’ll see what we can do. Now, when did you last see him?”
“This morning! I told you!”
“Sir, calm down. We won’t be able to file a report for another twenty-four hours unless there’s particular urgency t--”
“This IS urgent! He’s....not well, and he could hurt himself!”
“Sir, please stay calm and understand that we’re doing the best we can under the circu--”
Kento slammed the phone down and sighed. How could they be so damn heartless? Someone’s life could be at stake, and they were obsessing over paperwork and procedure. His stomach practically turned with anger. Things had been bad; still, it couldn’t be as bad as his friend had come to believe. There was really only one outlet that could help him, the last one he knew he should contact.
She hated special flights. They never seemed safe, and they attracted oddballs, odder than her. Still, special flights were the easiest and fastest way for her to get home. To get to her starting point would be a better term, as she never really felt at home once she reached her destination. Even if she was in an unfamiliar place speaking an unfamiliar language, it would still have that welcome feeling that she defined as an element of home. She couldn’t feel deprived, however; not everyone was allowed to travel as much as she was, experience so much the world has to offer so early in her life. She pondered this dully as she sat in the airport lobby, trying desperately to concentrate on the standard airport travelogue magazine. Her cyan eyes simply let the print melt into a blur of glossy gray framing the identical landscapes of orchards and dandelions. She considered untying her long white gauzy scarf and freeing her wavy amethyst ponytail, but that would do little to shut out the annoying crowds that swallowed the lobby. She crossed her legs, the powder blue denim of her jeans making a rubbing noise audible only to her as she began to tap her tennis shoes in the air; out of boredom and anxiety, she rolled up the sleeves of her loosely worn button-down sea green blouse. She truly would snap if she had to just sit there any longer. Oh, what she wouldn’t give for a distraction, any distraction...
“How much more do I need?” a young man asked at the desk, his words softly lilting under a British accent.
“Twenty dollars, sir,” the agent said, reading off of a computer screen.
“Here. Can I have a seat now?” There was a bizarre urgency in his words that caught her attention. She glanced up from her magazine and tossed the useless collection of pages aside. The young man had to be no older than her mere sixteen years, and his face glowed with an aura of both innocent hope and profound sorrow. His dark, oceanic blue eyes were distant in their gaze and appeared ready to burst with saline tears at a moment’s notice; his honey brown hair was well-combed except for a longer part in the back, which was slightly matted. His simple clothes--a red striped T-shirt under a blue and white hooded sport jacket, a pale blue pair of jeans, and tennis shoes with flopping soles--were exceptionally well-worn, indicating more than a day of wear on his slender body. He reached into his back pocket and handed the attendant a twenty-dollar bill. As he stood waiting for his ticket, he slowly let a sigh escape his lips. All in all, not a bad distraction. The young man took the ticket and started towards the waiting area with a meek utterance of, “Thank you, ma’am.”
The young man sat down in the last vacant seat--the one next to her. He stared intently at the ticket, hardly noticing as she peered over at his seat number; upon checking hers, she learned that they were to be beside each other on the plane as well. Suddenly, he looked up at her with a look of surprise, yet the woe in his stare remained. She smiled nervously, a little taken aback by his demeanor.
“Can I help you?” the young man asked.
She smiled nervously. “I just curious where your seat was,” she meekly explained. “Sorry.”
“No, I..I’m sorry. I was just startled. I didn’t mean to snap.” His words dripped with a pathetic tone of pleading and repentance.
“You didn’t snap. It’s my fault for eavesdropping.” The two sat in silence for a while until she simply couldn’t stand it anymore. A nagging feeling grew in the back of her mind: in all likelihood, this one would be the next one; she had best watch him carefully. “Uhm...I’ll be sitting next to you, y’know. I’m Ayame Sudoh.” He didn’t respond. “And you are....?”
“Cye Mouri,” he responded, saying his name as though it were the definition of ugliness. “I’m sorry, Miss Sudoh.”
“For what? You didn’t do anything. And you can call me Ayame.” Cye nodded without a word, still seeming deep in penance. “Is it okay if I call you Cye? Or don’t you like that?”
“You can call me Cye if you want. I don’t care.” Cye fidgeted with his ticket. “When does the flight leave?”
“It should’ve left twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh. And where is it going?”
“You don’t know?” Ayame asked, clearly surprised. Cye just shook his head. “Somewhere in the mountains, I think. I know about as much as you do. I just wanna get outta here.”
Cye laughed and cracked a slight smile. “Yeah, same here.”
In the distance of the crowd, a voice cried out, “There he is!” Cye looked straight at Ayame with concern, his meager smile vanishing. A small group was fighting their way through the crowd rapidly. Cye almost seemed ready to cry and started to shake physically, his entire body trembling. “Don’t you eve--Hey! Outta my way!....No, I gotta get--”
“Who’s that, your brother?” Ayame asked.
Cye shook his head. “It’s my friend. He--he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I was leaving for his sake, for all their sake. I don’t know what I’m gonna do....” A few stray tears traced the contours of his face, and the aura of hope that had once eased his sadness died, leaving only the misery.
Ayame touched his shoulder, trying to get his attention. “You wanna run? I’ll try to buy you some time.” He started to sob bitterly, as the frustrated cries from the crowd grew closer. His hand reached up to hers, holding it shakily.
“No, I’ll stay, I’ll stay...” Cye stared straight into Ayame’s eyes, tears cascading down his face. “Thank you.”
“Don’t move!” the voice from the crowd cried, now nearly on top of them. Cye closed his eyes and let his head fall, still quietly weeping. A young man around their age stood in front of them, not quite menacing but still causing noticeable unease. He was dressed as if he had just left a farm, clad in an old white T-shirt under a pair of mahogany overalls and a set of brown leather boots. He was larger than Cye, although about the same height. His bluish black hair poked out in front of his cobalt blue eyes and over a loose yellow headband; his rotund face held a look of both relief and restrained rage. He knelt down slightly and placed a hand on Cye’s free shoulder. “Cye, I called everyone, and Mia’s expecting us.....” He turned to Ayame, noticing her hand on Cye’s shoulder. “Miss, could you please leave us for a minute?”
“Kento, it’s okay. Let her stay. She shouldn’t miss her flight because of me,” Cye responded, wiping away tears. “And I’m not leaving.” He handed his friend the plane ticket. “Could you do me a favor and get the refund?” Ayame just watched silently, noticing the total absence of hope in Cye’s demeanor.
“Cye, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you leaving?” Ayame whispered, lest the explosive figure at the agent’s desk hear her.
“I can’t leave. I’ll never get a chance to.” Ayame stood up and went towards the desk. “What are you doing?”
“You’ll see.” Ayame slammed her ticket down on the desk, catching the attention of both people. “Can I have a refund, please?” The agent glared at her, then snatched the ticket away. Her instincts were too strong to ignore; now she had to stay.
The young man glared at her. “What, were you going to elope with him?” he asked accusingly.
“No, I just changed my mind,” Ayame responded, searching to cover up her story.
“Yeah, right,” he mumbled as he took the refund from the agent. “Who are you, anyway?”
“I’m just a friend, I guess. And if that’s your attitude, who are you to question me?”
“I’m his roommate. I know what’s wrong with him, and I know he needs help--” Ayame took her refund and stuffed it in her pocket, turning back towards the waiting area. “Hey! Get back here!”
“Nooooo..” Ayame responded in a mocking sing-song. She approached her seat and found it occupied. Another young man, probably another friend of Cye’s, sat in it, his arm assuringly around Cye’s shoulders. He was dressed hastily in a baggy, stretched-out green sweatshirt and a dark blue pair of jeans with a set of worn athletic shoes; he was slightly pale, a whiteness offset by his shock of electric blue hair. He talked quietly and never took his deep blue eyes off his trembling friend. Everything about him seemed to speak of sympathy and concern; Ayame simply couldn’t shoo him away, even if he was sitting on her brown leather bag. A heavy hand came down on her shoulder. Ayame yelped and was spun around by the young man in overalls, whose face had become beet red around his clenched teeth. “Calm down, okay?” Ayame calmly pleaded. “I just wanna get my bag and go.”
“Not till you tell me what you’re doing,” he almost snarled. Ayame searched her mind, trying to find just the right excuse. “Well?”
“I DON’T KNOW. Okay?”
“Flying Dutchman Flight 273 to Sri Lanka is now departing from terminal 7,” the intercom said, and the waiting area emptied out. Only the four were there now, along with the agent at the desk.
“Sri Lanka?” Ayame said aloud to herself. “I was going to Sri Lanka?” She looked at the young man, who was still beet red. “Where is Sri Lanka?” He shrugged, then returned to his two seated friends. The blue-haired young man stood up and handed him Ayame’s bag.
“Here,” the red-faced young man said, tossing the bag at Ayame. “See ya around.”
Ayame just stared for a moment. She had to keep an eye on that pathetic figure in the middle seat; it was almost time, and the last thing she wanted was to see was that kind of suffering befall such a fragile spirit. But how? There was obviously a formidable wall of protection around him, especially that big guy in the overalls. They could only do so much for him, however; once they were gone, he’d be alone, defenseless, and doomed. She had to stay close now. Close but unseen, lest that one in the overalls come back.
Tuesdays were always slow at the restaurant. It was somewhat expected; no one really had spare cash to spend on a fancy dinner so soon after the weekend. Only the first few booths were occupied, each holding only about two people. It was still early in his shift, and he knew it would only get slower. He sighed and yawned, his pressed white shirt pulling a little out of its tight tuck in his khakis; he unbuttoned his dark brown blazer, suddenly feeling flushed. His feet tapped, the toe of his polished brown shoes rhythmically beating against the linoleum. He picked up the register pencil and started to twirl it in his fingers.
“Cye,” Kento called from the kitchen door, dressed in his waiter’s uniform and holding an empty tray. Cye looked up and dropped the pencil. “You’d better fix your jacket. If Mama sees you, she’ll flip.”
“Sorry,” Cye responded, his tone a mix of apathy and guilt. As he finished slipping the last of the blazer buttons into the buttonholes, a couple walked in--a small doughy man and a woman who, at best, was rented arm candy. Cye tried to retain his courteous manner; this was the last place to bring arm candy. The man had a half-burnt cigarette in his hand, the smoke wafting past Cye’s wincing face. “I’m sorry, sir, but this is a smoke-free restaurant.” From the kitchen, Kento poked his head out of the door; he had seen the no-smoking ordinance turn ugly and knew he’d be needed if it did.
“What?” the man grunted.
“Smoking isn’t allowed here.”
The man grabbed the collar of Cye’s blazer and put the cigarette out on his lapel, the fabric hissing under the hot ash. Once finished, he tossed the butt in Cye’s face and stormed out, dragging his arm candy along with a grumble of, “Damn Limey.”
Cye dusted off his blazer and closed his eyes, trying to ward off a flood of tears. Kento rushed out to him and shook him a little, catching his attention. “Don’t let that jerk get to you, man,” he said, failing to bestow any sense of relief on his friend.
“Can I leave early? I don’t really feel up to working tonight,” Cye barely squeaked out, his eyes still closed.
Kento paused; anymore, it was never good when Cye was this quiet. “I’ll hafta ask Mama. Just hang out here, okay?” He returned to the kitchen with a cautious glance back at the pitiful figure at the door before vanishing.
The bell at the door rang, and Cye opened his eyes, dreading another customer. He met a slightly familiar gaze--the girl from the airport. She was wearing nicer attire than a few days before--a longish khaki skirt and a lavender hooded blouse with brown flats--but still sported the same ponytail held with a gauzy white scarf as a week ago. She smiled slightly, and he returned it as best he could, an aura of despair still clinging to him.
“Hi,” the girl said, displaying a meekness he didn’t recall from the airport. “Do you, uhm, remember me?”
“Somewhat,” Cye said, mustering a smile. “Ayame, right?” Ayame nodded and giggled slightly. “Would you like a seat?”
“Sure.” Cye led her to the closest seat in the middle of the aisle, as opposed to a cramped little booth, and handed her a menu. “This is where you work?”
“Yeah. I don’t really want to work, though. It’s been a rough night.” Cye sat down at the table, watching as Ayame read the menu. “Can I ask you something?”
Ayame looked up. “Shoot.”
“Why did you change your mind about the flight? I thought you wanted to leave.”
She paused in a moment of anxious thought, desperately seeking just the right excuse for her actions; if she had to be honest, he’d never believe her. “I just changed my mind. Besides, you were the only not-crazy person on that flight. There was one guy--I was sitting next to him before you came--he was letting a snake lick him! Then he lets this snake--a copperhead--crawl around on me, which is never a good idea ‘cuz animals just don’t like me. He said something like, ‘Suzie likes you’ and was just really scary. If he was any indication of the passenger list, I really didn’t wanna brave it alone. And I don’t even know where Sri Lanka is.”
“That’s where we were gonna go.”
Kento reemerged from the kitchen, first heading for the host’s stand. As he passed the first table, he stopped, looked back, and spun around. “Mama says you can leave if you want. Just let us know where you’re going first.” He then caught sight of Ayame, who edged back a little. Even in his black trousers and long black apron, she still found him intimidating. “You again.”
“What?” Ayame asked, surprised at his disgusted tone. “We were talking.”
“Kento, meet Ayame,” Cye said, hoping to break the air of displeasure that engulfed the table. “Ayame, this is my best friend, Kento. You remember him?”
“Yeah. He accused me of seducing you.”
“I never did that!” Kento shouted, attracting the attention of a few patrons.
“Yes, you did! You accused me of eloping with him!”
“Well, that’s different than seduction!”
“It was the way you said it! ‘Are you ELOPING with him?’, if I’m correct.”
“Guys, stop! Please,” Cye interrupted. “You’re making a scene.”
“No, SHE’S making a scene!”
From the kitchen, a woman’s slightly peeved voice shouted, “Kento!”
“Coming, Mama!” Kento gave one last glare at Ayame. “See what you did?” Then he stormed off into the kitchen.
“He just doesn’t like certain people,” Cye explained. “Would you like to get together for lunch or something some time? I don’t really have anything to do, and all my friends are busy during the day.”
“You’re asking me out? That’s a little forward.”
“I.....it’s just....I haven’t had anyone around I could just talk to for a while. All my friends are worried about me, so I can’t really hold a normal conversation with them anymore.”
“Well, if there’s something wrong, you shouldn’t just blow it off or blow off your friends. And I hate to say anything since I don’t really know you, Cye, but there IS something wrong.”
“I know. They can’t really help me anymore, though. They just make it worse. I don’t know how to tell them without hurting their feelings. I’d just like to spend a day with someone who won’t baby me or keep me under constant guard.” Cye stood up, pushing his chair away from the table. “Here.” He grabbed a napkin and jotted something down on it with his register pencil. “Call me sometime tomorrow. I’ll probably be home all day. Right now I’d better catch up with Kento.” He started for the kitchen but abruptly stopped and turned to Ayame. “Did you come in here just to talk?”
“Yeah,” Ayame confessed, blushing slightly.
Cye meekly returned her timid glow. “Thanks.”
“Are you sure you don’t wanna go to school today?” Kento asked as he tried to finish the knot in his red necktie. Cye sat up in his bed, still in his cotton pajamas. “Everyone wants to see you again.”
Cye stared forward in an unfocused gaze, doing his best to block out the memories of that wretched building. “I can’t go back,” he said, the only phrase he ever used in relation to school.
“It won’t happen again. Is that what you’re so afraid of?” Kento struggled his way into the dark tweed blazer and turned away from the hall mirror to face his friend. “You can’t hide here forever.”
“I know.” Cye fell into his layers of blankets and comforters and seized a plush blue dolphin the size of his torso. Kento half-sneered at the sight and stormed into the bedroom; his arrival prompted further burrowing into the folds of the blankets.
“Look at you, man. All you ever do is hide in here and cry like a baby! Is that all you wanna do with your life? You’re only giving them reasons to shun you now. You gotta get out and do something!” He waited for a response but received only more crying. Deep, low, bitter, wounded sobbing. “Things aren’t as bad as you think, Cye. You’ve got us, Sayoko....You don’t need to do this.” The crying continued, growing louder and more wounded. Cye curled up into a tight ball, only his hair peeking out of the blankets. Kento sighed and gave up. “I’ll see you later.”
Cye waited until the apartment was silent. He pushed aside the blankets and peered around; he was alone. He sat up slightly, still keeping the blankets wrapped around his body. A huge sigh heaved through his suddenly frail figure, and he hugged the plush dolphin with a last, shaky sob. “At least you don’t yell at me, Sparkle...” he whispered to himself, as stuffed toys usually can’t hear. He stood up and walked over to the dresser, on top of which was a leather-bound scrapbook. Carefully, he picked up the scrapbook and returned to the bed, flopping all of his weight down onto the mattress. As he leafed through the heavy pages, his sobs turned into faint smiles.
Each page held a piece of his life, a tangible reminder of an intangible memory. the earliest photo was when he was two, right before he first swam underwater. The sensations always stayed with him, even if the details were long lost. The sting of the salt water’s first kiss on his eyes, the delight at the sight of something bright and fast swimming by, and the strain in his lungs as he swam in vain towards the surface, a strain relieved as his mother pulled him through the surface and into her warm embrace. It may well have been the best single moment of his life. As he turned the pages, more memories came back: his first successful cooking attempt; his first pet, a goldfish named Sunny; his first bicycle; and others. As he reached the last few pages, the smiles began to melt, and the urge to cry returned.
The memory of the morning a few short months before was still fresh in his mind and ate away like an infected, festering gash on his soul. The night before, he had to work, and he wouldn’t be home until late. They had eaten dinner together, when he first noticed how sickly she looked. Still, he couldn’t afford to miss any more days at the restaurant, and she wanted him to go. He gave her a good-bye hug, which she returned with a kiss on the cheek; calls of affection echoed from the doorway: I love you, sweetie; I love you, too, Mum. Then he left, and upon his return, he simply crept into bed. When he woke up, she wasn’t waiting at the table drinking her coffee. She was still in bed--and wasn’t breathing. Despite his every attempt to get help and get her to breathe, she was gone. He sat there long after the ambulance arrived, still shaking. She was the only parent he had ever known, having lost his father too early to remember, and now she was gone. His sister refused to speak to him, his peers treated him like garbage, and now his friends had turned against him. He knew this was his punishment. He should’ve stayed home that night and stayed with her; instead, he went off as he always did, and this was how he had to pay for his neglect.
“Mummy, I’m sorry...” Cye wept as he ran a palsied, unsteady hand over her funeral card. “I’m sorry.....” The sobs returned stronger than ever, and he curled up into a ball again, letting the scrapbook fall to the floor. Slowly, the sobs exhausted him, and he closed his eyes, still sniffling as he dozed off.
The ringing phone revived him, and he wearily shoved the blankets off his body, still not quite sure if he had heard anything. Cye rubbed his eyes, the cooling paths of his tears still apparent to the touch. He staggered to the phone and roughly picked up the receiver. Every bit of him hoped that this wasn’t the school calling again.
“Hello?” Cye groaned into the phone.
“Hello, Cye?” a familiar female voice asked. “It’s Ayame. Are you okay?”
“No. Could you come by, please? I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“Are you sure she’s here, Domus?” the silver-haired young woman in skintight black leather asked what was apparently nothing.
“She’s here, Eshe,” a dull man’s voice responded. “If she robs me of another adequate meal, so help her......”
“I won’t let her take another away from you, Domus Nen. If all else fails, we’ll compensate. This situation does lend itself to compensation rather well.”
“See to it that it never comes to that.”
“Yes, Domus Nen.”
Back to Ronin Warriors fic page