It was the first of May. Flowers were in bloom and the birds were singing, but for most of the Yamada clan this was not a day of joy. Many were dazed because of the sudden and rather unexpected death of the most powerful woman of the great nation of Aslann, Miso Yamada.
Tationy Tylo’s feelings were somewhat different from those milling about the cemetery. Emotionally she was void of the human complexities that hindered those of her clan. The Yamada called it the apathy of her Tylo blood. That was why many of them avoided the granddaughter of Miso Yamada. It was easy to pretend she did not belong; that she was not Yamada nor even Tylo. Despite her blood, there was nothing binding her. The life of the young Tylo girl felt empty.
“Tationy,” A man spoke as he came to a stop near her. She did not bother to look at him because she knew the voice to belong to that of Anjou Yamada. In some ways he was family, though there was great distance between their shared blood. Close enough to be called kin, but far enough away that they could marry if the Yamada wished it. “If you are finished placing flowers on your fathers grave, I would like to get you back to the matriarch’s estate.”
“Is that alright?” Tationy questioned.
She made note how he sighed and paused before responding, “The new matriarch wishes to speak with me regarding you. I am sure other arrangements will be made, but for now it is still your home.”
“I would rather go to the airport. Tsubaki is leaving today and I would like to see her off.”
“Tationy,” His tone caught her attention.
“The new matriarch has already forced you to tighten my shackles.” She conceded, “It is a wise decision. The Yamada have always felt that my grandmother offered me too much freedom attending school and having friends outside the clan. This outcome is not unexpected.”
“It irritates me when you resign yourself like this,” He responded.
“Am I to fight? Struggle against the inevitable? What purpose does it serve to go against the mighty waves of the vast ocean? I do not understand why it bothers you so much when I do as is wished of me,” She stated as she turned to face him. “Isn’t obedience a good quality?”
He sighed as he offered his arm to her. Anjou did that a lot, especially when she asked him questions he did not really want to answer. As the two walked he responded, “I could give you many examples where it can be both good and bad. Obedience is about following the instructions of another and not your own freewill. Don’t you want to go and see Tsubaki off?”
“I would like to, yes.”
“Then why are you not fighting harder?”
“It is not a battle I can win. You will follow the orders given to you by the matriarch regardless of my wishes. I understand that. Your position, as the Voice of the Yamada, dictates that you are to serve the matriarch. Standing against one of her orders is treasonous even one as insignificant as taking me to the airport to see my friend off.”
There was a telling silence that followed.
In her reality, Tationy had to let it all seem as though it meant nothing and up until the moment she stepped into her bedroom at the estate of the matriarch she kept up that pretense.
Staring into the drawer of her dresser she was overcome with a sigh. The Yamada clan were all about appearances and doing as was demanded of you by the great matriarch. Rebelling of any sort was met swiftly with judgment. There were no choices only acceptance of the matriarch’s decisions. It was the only life she knew and she hated every moment of it.
There were times she wanted to voice what was in her mind, but Tationy’s thoughts were random. Sometimes they made no sense at all. Not to her, nor if she voiced them aloud to anyone around. At the funeral of her grandmother she thought about how weird a bird sounded off in the distance and she spent a good hour trying to identify what type it was just from its squeak.
When the new matriarch told her that she was sorry for the loss Tationy was suffering. She admired the woman’s hat and wondered where she got it. Certainly not appropriate thinking when you just lost someone you loved. Had Anjou not grabbed her hand and given it a squeeze, without any hesitation she would have asked the woman about the hat.
Tationy had thought herself normal when she was little, but as she got older she realized she was different. Her grandmother told her that it was her uniqueness that made her special, but she hated it. She just wanted to be able to say, “I am just a girl and there is nothing special about me.”
Truth was she could not even say that because the only reason she called herself a girl was because that is what people told her she was. She didn’t feel female or male and if someone asked her if she was a girl or a boy she would say, “I am Tationy.”
The hours of milling about her room and pretending that everything was sunshine and rainbows eventually took a toll on her. Squeezing the oversized plushie she brooded. Tationy wanted a different life than the one being offered her by the Yamada. Her grandmother made so many preparations for her to marry Aoba of the Waichia. It was a big deal, but no one ever asked her what she wanted.
Now there was a new matriarch. At least with her grandmother there was some consideration of her feelings, but that ended when she died. If she was capable of crying she might have. Not once in her life had she ever shed a tear for herself or another. Sometimes she found herself wondering if that made her a strong or a weak person. She really did not know the answer.
Sometimes she wished for a distraction from her wandering thoughts. Most days she did not get one, but today Tationy’s attention was drawn swiftly to her phone. Within the last few hours she was far more introspective than she normally was and it brought down her mood considerably. Though seeing the text from her friend Tsubaki offered only a minor reprieve.
The days before her grandmother’s death, her friend had floundered. Tsubaki’s dream was to be a famous model, but she did not want to leave Tationy all alone. Before she was allowed to attend school, the only company she had was Anjou and her grandmother. Never had she ever hoped or dreamed she would make a friend, but there was Tsubaki the first day she attended classes. Without her, Tationy probably would never have grown as much as she did.
Still, the friendship came with unexpected desires. A longing for freedom and to be a part of the outside world. She received glimpses of it here and there through her friend Tsubaki as she would talk and tell her stories, but Tationy herself was only allowed to go to school and then come straight home. The world seemed so big and she felt a longing to experience all it had to offer. It was the only time she considered that marrying Aoba of the Waichia might not be such a bad thing.
It was with a great heaviness that she set her phone aside. She knew she should respond to Tsubaki, but part of her felt that maybe it was better to just cut ties. Her friend was going off to live her dream and Tationy was stuck in the same place she had been in her entire life. There was no chance of escape that did not involve her marrying some man she most likely would hate. She did not want to hold Tsubaki back. It was why she told her not to come to the funeral and why she insisted that she not visit before she got on her flight.
All Tationy wanted was to just fade into darkness and bring about a new day, but her sleep was not restful. Nor was the telling knock that came steadily to her door. She knew before even telling the person to enter that it was Anjou. He had what could only be described as a ‘waking the dead’ knock. It suited him or at least Tationy always thought it did.
Generally he waited for her to tell him to come in, but today was different. He entered right after his bold knocking and spoke rather hurriedly, “Tationy, I need you to get up and pack some things.”
“Why?” She managed to ask as she stood on wobbly legs. The expression on his face told her there was some urgency as she rubbed the sleep from her eye and waited for some response, but Anjou was not really the type to be forthcoming with information. “What should I pack?”
“Clothes, your medicine, toothbrush, anything you will need for a couple of weeks.”
“Are we going someplace?” Tationy asked as she grabbed up her backpack.
“Ahh,” He responded in a rather telling Yamada fashion. It was quirk almost all of them had for saying ‘yes’. Though, with some training they could break themselves of it which Anjou had. The fact that he used it told her he was quite troubled and falling back into old speech patterns like a stutterer who stammers when stressed.
This told Tationy that it was best to just do as he asked of her. Anjou was not the type of guy that was easily stressed. He had a job that was very difficult and required him to do a lot of things that sometimes went against his moral compass. That was probably why it was slightly askew those days, but the position of Voice of the Yamada was demanding. He had to relay and enforce the words of the matriarch to all of the clan and sometimes that was met with very unwelcome responses.
There was no hesitation. It was not uncommon in Tationy’s life for Anjou to drive her too and from school. So, really going someplace with him was not entirely out of the norm unless you considered the fact that they were literally sneaking out of the matriarch estate in the middle of the night. She thought it odd; different from the behavior she had come to know of Anjou.
Even the car ride to their intended destination was met with an unusual and slightly eerie silence. Her attempts to ask him about it were met with ‘I will explain later’ and ‘you will know when we get there’. She didn’t understand and was given little opportunity to consider what it might all mean as they maneuvered through Thacian City and eventually arrive at their destination.
She tried to soak it all in. This was the closest she had ever gotten to the inner city of Thacian. Certainly she had seen the massive skyscrapers and the sea from afar, but never had she been able to reach out and touch them. It brought a bit of excitement to the nervousness that surrounded her. Though, Anjou did not give her a moment to enjoy it as they rode an elevator to the top floor and were allowed into an apartment after Anjou ‘woke the dead’.
At first Tationy did not dare to look at the man that invited them in, but eventually she peeked around Anjou as the two men talked. What they were discussing she could not really say as she allowed her eyes to wash over his finely toned body. It was a completely different experience seeing a man without a shirt on that she was not closely related to.
When the two men stared at her quickly, she realized that the gasp she thought was in her head had been audible and she was nipping her lip. ‘How embarrassing,’ She mused to herself. Thankfully, they had gone back to their conversation and had forgotten all about her. Which gave her an opportunity to look at the man standing before them once again.
He had a stern and unforgiving face. His nose had obviously been broken once or twice, his lip snarled, and his gaze was cold. Tationy recognized him instantly as the man known as Hiko Kari. He appeared on the cover of just about every newspaper in Aslann so there was not a soul in the whole nation that would not know him by appearance alone.
Tationy tried to recall if Anjou had ever mentioned him. Most of what he said she filed away for later consideration, but he was not really the type to discuss his personal life. She had no idea if he even had any friends or did anything outside of taking care of her and being the Voice of the Yamada. Considering all of that, she thought herself slightly foolish for not taking in what they were saying from the start of their arrival.
The two men moved further into the apartment and she awkwardly followed behind. Keeping her distance as she admired the view. He had a garden in the sky. It sounded silly, but high above the city there it was. Trees and plants, a picnic area, and it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Never had Tationy imagined that among the tallest buildings of Aslann there was such beauty.
The rain that trickled down from the sky smelled different. Maybe it was the smog or the way it clung to steel, Tationy really could not say. She wanted to ask Anjou if it always smelled so alive in the center of Thacian, but the conversation they were having seemed rather serious so she did not dare distract them.
That was about the point that she remembered that she did not know why they came all this way. Forcing herself to tune into the conversation they were having was not without its difficulties. She got distracted easily with billions of wandering thoughts. Biting the inside of her cheek she listened, “I need a favor. A very big favor,” Anjou stated.
“Does it have something to do with the girl?”
Anjou noticeably sighed, “Her name is Tationy and yes it has everything to do with her.” He paused, “Look I am just going to come right out and say it. The new matriarch’s intentions where Tationy is concerned go against the promise I made to the previous matriarch.”
“The Ishi came to see Miso a week before her death. Wanted her to relinquish Tationy to their care. Not all that surprising considering she is the last of the Tylo clan, but Miso refused them. Told them where to stick it. Before her death, she asked me if I would ensure that Tationy is not handed over to them. Unfortunately, our new matriarch believes that is the best course of action.”
“I have a feeling I am going to regret asking, but what is this really big favor?”
“Just let her stay with you for a couple of weeks. Keep her safe. Miso had been working to get her a marital union with the Waichia. If I can ensure that still happens she will be protected from the new matriarch and the Ishi. I just need the time and it is not safe for her to remain among the Yamada.”
“My father is not going to approve.”
“Since when have you cared what he thinks?”
She could hear a telling groan that told her Hiko Kari was not entirely happy with the favor being asked of him. Nor was she for that matter. The prospect of staying with a man she did not know was only one of a billion things crossing her already overworked mind. This was the first she was hearing about the Ishi and once again there was talk of a martial union with the Waichia. That alone could make her groan just as deeply as Hiko Kari’s reaction to the favor.
Hiko finally responded, “You know I don’t give a fuck about the old man. I had a feeling something was coming. My father and I have not crossed swords in weeks and in you come with something that is going to piss him off for the next twenty years.”
“Look Hiko…” Anjou started, but was quickly interrupted.
“I am not a fan of the practices of the Yamada and the last thing Aslann needs is for the Ishi to get their hands upon another Tylo. She can stay until you get this all figured out.”
Tationy suspected Anjou’s tone was mixed with some relief by the way he responded, “Thanks. I owe you one.”
Hiko dismissed the unnecessary pleasantries rather quickly, “You knew I would say yes. No point in saying thanks, but you do owe me.” Tationy could hear a sharp slap as though a hand hit a back or a shoulder, “Might want to start with telling her.”
There was a long silence that followed, though she could clearly hear both men moving around. It would not be until Anjou stepped to her side that any words were spoken, “I know you were listening.”
She managed to turn enough to face him, though she did not know how one should respond. So, she simply said nothing. “Miso wanted to give you a life. I know it does not seem like that, but she did all she could to protect you. They were few and far between, but those freedoms she offered you were for your future. Now, I know this is probably really scary for you. Hiko is my friend and I would not ask him to allow you to stay if I was not certain I could trust you in his care.”
“What if I do not want to stay?”
“Going back to the estate of the matriarch means you will be handed over to the Ishi. You will never have a choice and some Ishi man will take you as his wife. There will be no courting, no period of knowing this man. You will bear him children and your blood will make the Ishi stronger. That is all they desire and it is not what Miso wanted for you. I would think, it is not what you want for yourself.”
“So, I stay here for a couple of weeks? What if they come looking for me? What if …”
He cut her off, “Hiko is bold and dangerous. As the head of the Kari Foundation he has a lot of power. Most of the clans of Aslann would not dare try to stand against him. For at least a couple of weeks, this will make them all cautious. It will give me time to speak with the Waichia regarding Miso’s wishes.”
“This seems dangerous for you,” She responded.
His hand rested to her arm, “Don’t worry about me. Just take care of yourself and listen to Hiko. Alright?”
She hesitantly nodded her head before he quickly pulled away. Tationy understood that soon he would have to depart. His position was one where he could not be out of contact for long because someone would notice.
As he stepped toward the door he turned back to look at her. Offering only a very brief glance before directing his attention upon Hiko. “Thank you. Keep her safe for me,” Anjou responded.
“Ahh,” Hiko had said and Tationy made note that he used the Yamada way of responding in the affirmative. It made her curious if he had picked it up from Anjou or if he came about the telling habit another way, “Is there anything you need to tell me about her?”
“I would not even know where to begin, just … ” Anjou paused a moment, “Know that she is a weird chick. You might have to have patience and a lot of restraint. Mostly just watch out for the questions they sometimes get inappropriate. She does not know any better.”
The silence that followed made Tationy curious enough that she wished she could see the face of Hiko Kari. She noticed quickly that he rubbed his neck and deduced it might be some sort of nervous or uncomfortable habit after all Anjou really had not sugarcoated her quirkiness. Deep down she wished he had. “Why do I get the impression I am going to regret this favor?” Anjou simply responded with a shrug of his shoulders as he quickly moved to depart, “Anjou, don’t you walk away….ugh.”
Tationy wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him, but it was clear when he turned to face her that he was already frustrated. There was no hesitation though as he reached out his hand for her backpack and carried it to the other room when she gave it to him.
Hiko’s place was minimally decorated and she tried to not look around too much because she was not certain if that was considered rude. This was after all her first time visiting the home of another person.
His every motion she took in. Even as he placed her bag upon a table she thought that he had no wasted movement. This was a man trained, perhaps in combat, she really could not say. One thing she was certain of was that he was not a man that you trifled with. His arms crossing over his chest, his hardened gaze. He liked no one and most likely she was simply going to be an annoyance to him. At least she felt pretty confident that would be the case.
“I don’t have a lot of room, but the couch pulls out into a bed. Blankets are in the closet near the kitchen, and the bathroom is the door at the top of the stairs. Feel free to make yourself at home and help yourself to anything you need.”
“Alright,” She responded.
“Anjou said your name is Tationy. I am Hiko.” He paused a moment though not long enough for her to acknowledge what he said, “Is there anything you want to say?” Tationy stared awkwardly at him. Did he expect something? Her lips pursed as she tried to identify what the atmosphere was telling her. After a moment of her silence Hiko sighed, “People usually say thank you for allowing them to stay.”
Biting the inside of her cheek she pouted slightly, “Anjou never mentioned me before?”
The way his eyebrow quirked told her that he had expected another response, but he seemed to let it slide with a shake of his head. “Nah, he likes to put work and family out of mind when he can. So, what are you exactly? Cousin?”
She nodded her head, “He is more like a brother really or what a brother might be like, I think. I have no siblings to really know.” With a pause she shuffled her foot, “Anjou really never talked about me?”
“Nope.” She must have had some sort of outward response because Hiko added, “That makes you happy.”
At first she attempted to deny it, “No…well a little. It is nice being around people that do not have any preconceived notions about me.”
Hiko hmm’d which Tationy considered as being thoughtful, It was as though he was contemplating her words, but a moment later he began to move. “I spend most of my night working in my office. Make yourself at home and if you need anything, you can find me upstairs.”
“Alright,” She stammered as she watched him depart while wondering if she had said something wrong.
It was a different feeling. Surrounded by the Yamada, she felt so lonely and now she was without them and that feeling was still there. Hiko seemed nice though he had an awfully stern looking face and when he spoke it was in a rather gruff and precise tone. She suspected that he was restraining himself. Tationy really could not explain why she thought that, but it seemed to her that Hiko was the type that was always rough and direct.
She looked around at the minimally decorated apartment. It was not homey or at least not what she thought a home might look like. There was no feeling of warmth or sounds of music. No scents of fresh baked goods and the little things that comforted. It smelled a little like smoky honey and cleaning solution. It was cold and distant. Like him, like her maybe.
As she took several steps toward the open balcony door she felt some calm because in all of that waste there was a garden in the sky. It made her happy and she really could not explain why. Skyscrapers all around them and the sea off in the distance. The smell and sounds of the rain beckoning her to set foot in the garden and soak it all in. It was foolish, but even if she only stayed a day she would always remember this beautiful little garden in the sky.