Tationy had awoken early the next morning to the sound of Hiko talking on the phone. As the CEO of the Kari Foundation, he was a very important and busy man. So, the call was not unusual from what she had observed during her stay with him. At least not initially.
There was a moment when his attention fell upon her and he stated rather clearly, “She is fine.”
Reality was such an unwelcome thing. On one hand she was well aware that she could not stay with Hiko forever and that Anjou would eventually come to retrieve her. While on the other it was extremely nice to be lost in fantasy. She could pretend to her heart’s content that she was not acutely aware of her predicament and that there was no unfortunate future waiting for her.
Still, that heaviness was always lingering and no amount of futile attempts at blocking out the world or the conversation she was dwelling on would change that. With a deep breath, the warmth of the sun and cool breeze calmed her.
At least it did initially, but then Hiko found his way to her. Desperately, she tried to keep the expectant words from dampening her mood. Anjou was coming, she was certain the man known as Hiko Kari would say as much. Still, he initially offered nothing in the way of conversation.
No news was good news or so the saying went, but then he spoke and what little hope she could muster was shattered. “Anjou believes he will be able to speak with the Waichia today.”
“That’s great,” She weakly responded.
Every now and again she could hear him drinking from his mug as the two stood silently. She suspected he knew her words to be lies and was thankful that he did not question her feelings on the matter. Though, she was certainly foolish to think the quiet would last forever, “My father sent a text. He wants me to stop by and see him today. If you want to go, I suggest you get ready.”
There was a small part of her that was always surprised by the way he consistently changed the course of their conversations. Some people would probably find it annoying, but it brought her a great deal of relief. Truth be told she really did not understand Hiko Kari, but she felt at ease around him compared to other people. That was probably weird considering they had only known each other for a week.
Only a sharp reminder of reality could bring her out of her reverie and that came in the form of Hiko’s gruff voice, “Are you going to stand there and daydream all day or get ready?”
Truly, the thought of seeing Tadayoshi Kari again was both exciting and frightening. He did after all seem to dislike her. Still, the adventure was far too tempting for someone as curious as Tationy to refuse. So, she readied herself to make the trip with Hiko.
The journey itself started off with questions. Much to Tationy’s surprise they did not take Hiko’s fancy car which they had used on every other adventure they had taken around Aslann through the course of the week. She did brave asking why that was and he only managed a short response about a lot of back roads on the two hour trip to Meratoia.
The travel time alone made her sigh and gave her plenty of opportunity to dwell again on those unwanted thoughts and her conversation with Hiko earlier that morning. At least initially. Eventually Tationy became aware that Hiko was continually glancing toward her.
“Is something wrong?”
“No,” He responded.
“Are you certain because I cannot help noticing that you keep looking in my direction.”
“Ahh,” He responded in the affirmative, “I was just wondering if all of your clothing came from a secondhand store.” Tationy blinked several times as Hiko added, “Did your grandmother buy this one for you as well?”
It felt as though she had taken a critical hit. With an annoyed sigh she responded, “If you have such an issue with what I wear, why don’t you just pick out my clothing from now on.”
“Alright,” He responded.
Tationy quickly tried to backpedaled as she stammered, “I wasn’t serious.”
“Then you shouldn’t have said it.”
For a while she grumbled under her breath. She wished she could say it was the first outfit that Hiko Kari did not like, but he actually seemed to dislike every piece of clothing she had worn the entire week. They were too pink, too frumpy, too boring; it was a very long list from the clearly picky Kari. “I am sure I am going to regret asking, but what the hell is wrong with this outfit?”
“It makes you look really young.”
She groaned, “Next you are going to tell me you do not like my hair.”
“Well seeing we are on the topic….Your forehead appears excessively large with that style.”
“Way to take the killing shot, Hiko Kari,” She responded dryly. Tationy did not hide that she was slightly irritated at how easily he picked apart details about her. So much so that she lost her cool and asked, “How would you like it if I was brutally honest with you?”
“I would like it a lot,” He stated casually.
“Well….” She paused as she bit the inside of her cheek, “You’re an asshole.”
“That the best you got?”
Tationy pursed her lips as she stared at the side of Hiko Kari’s face. He was insufferable, but not in any conceited sort of way. The man seemed to know his weaknesses and without any hesitation embraced them. It was different from being around the Yamada who hid any ugly part of themselves.
Trying to unwrap the riddle that was Hiko Kari could probably take her a lifetime. He had no future; nothing, not even a flicker of hope. Tationy could not see any hint of what history he would write.
“Why do you have that look on your face?”
Tationy cleared her thoughts by shaking her head and looking out the window. Staring at farmland was a lot better than answering his question. Still, she was rather curious why it was she could not see his future.
The past came easily, occasionally even moments of the present, but the future was much harder for her to see. Other Tylo probably went through millions and billions of moments, but Tationy sometimes got stuck on one path and never seen another. That was what it was like for her own future. All she saw was her and Aoba at the end of it. How she envied Hiko Kari for not having a path forward that her eyes could see.
“Well, you going to answer me?”
With a wrinkle of her nose she stated, “If you must know, I was initially trying to decide how much effort you put into being a dickhead. Then, I was reminded of something Tsubaki told me once about some guys just having a natural talent for it. So, now I am contemplating whether or not I should throw you some sort of celebratory party to honor your high standard in dickery.”
Tationy expected him to get upset, but Hiko simply snorted and continued driving.
Overall the journey to Meratoia was rather quiet. Hiko did not say much after that, idle chit chat or questions about whether or not she was hungry. They stopped a couple of times for food and bathroom breaks.
When they finally arrived, Tationy was beside herself. She was looking at everything as she followed behind Hiko who was keeping a pretty good pace. He knew exactly where he was going and seemed in rather a rush to get there.
Tationy though, she wanted to soak it all in. She smiled and waved, especially to the Kari children playing. The curious expressions just made her smile brighter and of course when her teeth became noticeable the Kari children would take off running.
She hated her teeth. Everything about them was just a sharp reminder that she was disfigured. Those kinds of dark feelings overtook her now and again. Tsubaki told her once that a dentist could reform the teeth at a rather costly amount; there were many days she thought that whatever price she had to pay was well worth it to no longer be seen as a monster.
With a sigh she mustered the strength to adorn a soft smile as she continued along behind Hiko only to abruptly come to a halt.
Tationy could feel the tension in the air as a Kari man blocked the path. Certainly, they could go around him, but something told her he would simply put himself between them and their destination if they tried to advance further.
His eyes were securely fixed upon her. It was the same look she had been given at the Kari Foundation by its employees and the father of Hiko. As much as she wished she could say it was a look she did not recognize that was certainly not the case. Long had the eyes of the Yamada fell upon her the exact same way. She was blight.
It took so much more strength than she had to keep her expression as light as she could as the Kari man directed his attention upon Hiko. Initially though he did not speak. There was a silent battle or at least that was how it seemed. Tationy assumed that Hiko had lost because his head shifted slightly downward and he shoved his hands in his pockets.
Only then did the Kari man speak, “You should hurry a long. All things considering, it would be wise not to keep your father waiting.”
Tationy nipped at her lip, but did not venture to speak until the two of them were alone again. “All things considering…” She repeated the words, “He means me, right?” Hiko did not offer a response as he began moving which made Tationy sigh as she dawdled along behind him, “It is just like being among the Yamada. They all hate me.”
As much as she tried to hide the pain in her tone she realized she failed when Hiko grabbed her hand. Tationy didn’t need him to make her feel better nor did she want him to. Initially, she thought about telling him as much, but when the words left her mouth they sounded vastly different.
“You are becoming awfully familiar lately with my hand, Hiko Kari.”
“It is the only way I can get you to keep up,” He stated.
Deep down there was a part of her that suspected he was just saying that to change the topic, “Maybe you should keep pace with me. The world might look different if you slowed down.”
“Between the fanciful ideas your friend put into your head and whatever messed up pretentious bullshit the Yamada taught you, I think the only one of us that needs to see things in a different light is you.”
She hmm’d thoughtfully in response to his words, “Granted the Yamada are all about appearances, but I do not think all of what Tsubaki said to me was unrealistic. Maybe if you ….”
“No,” He stated.
Her lips pursed, “You did not even let me finish what I was about to say.”
It probably appeared to those around them that they were arguing as Hiko quickly responded, “I do not need to because this is the same conversation we have had ten times this week about me being more open to the possibilities of adventure. I stand by what I said previously….”
Tationy sighed, “Fine, but if you are going to tie an anchor to my leg to keep me grounded can you at least make it pink or something. It will brighten my mood.”
“Ahh, I will see about having one custom made.”
His words seemed to linger there as the two stepped into a small house toward the back of the Kari Village of Meratoia. “Dad,” His voice called as he relinquished her hand. He moved with a purpose and she allowed her senses to be distracted.
Tationy’s first thought was about how amazing it smelled. It was obvious something was in the oven being baked, but it was the little details; wood walls and floors adorned with historical decorations. All of which looked authentic and teased her mind with curiosity.
Eventually, the familiar voice of Hiko’s father responded, “You are late.” The tone was light and part of her hoped that indicated he was in a better mood than the last time they crossed paths. Sadly, she quickly realized that was not the case when he came in to view and his eyes settled upon her.
Silence blanketed the room and no one moved. Her heart felt as though it was pounding vigorously as she hid behind Hiko. It was clear by his father’s gaze that he was unaware that Tationy would be joining him.
“Is this some kind of statement,” Tadayoshi questioned. Admittedly, Tationy was confused by his words as she kept her eyes focused upon his very dour expression. “Well, is it?”
The tension in Hiko’s arm and back was obvious to her. This felt different from the last time she had witnessed father and son together though she was not certain why. Even with the question lingering there, Hiko did not readily respond which only seemed to irritate his father more. “Ahh maybe it is,” He finally stated. “Even if it is not, don’t you think you should be a good host for your guest?”
Begrudgingly or at least that was how Tationy took it, Tadayoshi got her some tea and the two Kari men left her in the living room. It was not as though she could not hear everything that was going on in the house. It was really only one room, divided by a wall made of wood.
“Are you out of your mind?” Tadayoshi had asked that question of his son before. “I told you to take that girl back to the Yamada.”
“I heard you quite well when you said it,” Hiko stated. “No matter how many phone call lectures and demanding texts you sent me it was not going to change my answer. She is not your business.”
“The hell she isn’t. I am the Elder of the Kari and you are my son. This…whatever this is between the two of you, I do not approve of it. Take her back, Hiko.”
“You did not ask me here to talk about her, so why don’t we just change the topic already.”
Tationy noticed the long pause that took place immediately after Hiko’s words. At first it had seemed as though Hiko had won round one, but then she heard the sound of something being placed upon a table and the irritated words of Hiko Kari, “Take it back.”
“Why?” His father had asked, “There is no reason for you to turn it down or is there?”
She was frustrated because she could not see what was going on. Certainly she was getting the verbal portion of the conversation, but she felt as though she was missing one gigantic detail and without it the conversation made little sense. “I told you before,” Hiko began, “That I have no interest. Return it.”
Tationy could hear the anger in Tadayoshi’s tone, “Don’t you get it boy. This is it. If you turn this one down….” He tried to calm himself with a sigh, “There will not be another opportunity for someone like you.”
The words of Hiko’s father confused her. Someone like him. What did that mean exactly and what was being refused? She wanted to know and even thought about taking a little peek to find out.
“The only person bothered by this is you,” Hiko stated. Though it was clear when he added, “I am going to have a smoke,” That he was not giving his father an opportunity to respond.
She almost got up and followed him, but her curiosity got the better of her and she stepped into the kitchenette. Tadayoshi’s eyes were upon her and she only briefly glanced toward the table. Just long enough to take in the item that Hiko had refused. She recognized it instantly, even the brightly colored pattern.
That was about the point that Tadayoshi spoke to her, “Is it because of you he keeps refusing?”
Uncertain what to say she only managed, “I think if you want to know why you should be asking him.”
Tationy had a bad feeling as she looked upon Tadayoshi Kari. She always heard he had a gentle hand and was considered kind among his people. The hard stare he gave her said that he was not afraid to go above and beyond for his clan even if that meant being underhanded. It was the first time in her life she did not feel safe.
“When your grandmother stood before the great clans of Aslann and gave her word that you would never be a burden upon us, there was relief. We were foolish to trust the forked tongue of that Yamada woman,” Tadayoshi Kari stated. Tationy could feel her lips pursing tightly as her eyes locked with his, “Release your death grip upon my son, snake and take your Yamada sex elsewhere.”
Initially, she did not move nor address him. It was clear that he did not think she was good enough for his son and that was alright. She thought he was probably right. Hiko was wealthy and successful and she was dressed by her grandmother and apparently locked in the basement for the past seventeen years.
With a deep sigh she stated, “My grandmother called you Tadayoshi with the gentle hand. The kindest of all of the Kari.” Tationy turned her back and began to walk away, “How sad that you will only be known to me as Tadayoshi with the frozen heart.”
Tationy was ready to leave as she stepped outside the dwelling of Tadayoshi Kari. She had hoped that her adventure would be as exciting as the beach and certainly it was, but a very different and darker form of excitement. The kind you did not want to repeat and that exhausted you thoroughly.
When she caught sight of Hiko, she understood that he was probably feeling the same way. “I think I made your dad mad,” Tationy stated awkwardly. “You don’t have to take me with you anymore….I just,” She abruptly stopped speaking. Tationy wanted to tell him that she did not wish to burden him further, but the fear of being on her own kept the words from being spoken.
Hiko though offered no words and his posture spoke volumes to her. Something was wrong, “How…how many of those marriage contracts have you gotten?”
His head lifted, “One or two a year since I was sixteen.”
“Wow, you are really popular. I have never gotten one, not even from Aoba.” She paused a moment, “I recognize the paper it was wrapped in. It is from the Kawazoe. That is a pretty big deal…” Her words hung there, “Why have you turned them all down?”
Tationy expected him to change the topic as he had done so many times before. “I am just not interested in women.”
It was not the first time she had heard him say something like that, but in this context it brought about a question she had not thought of previously. “Does that mean you like guys?”
Hiko choked, “Don’t be ridiculous. I like women, I just have no interest in them.” There would be a bit of a pause before he elaborated, “Physically, I have never found anyone attractive and emotionally, there is just nothing I like in anyone I have met well except you.”
Her heart thumped when he said the words, but she doubted he meant them in any romantic fashion. Though she tried desperately not to swoon at the thought as she tried to coax him to continue, “There is something about me?”
“Ahh,” He stated though the insufferable Hiko Kari did exactly as he always did and changed the topic. “We should get going before the Kari chase us out with pitchforks.”
“Alright,” She stammered as the two left the Kari Village of Meratoia behind.