Kaz sat on the floor the room. Legs crossed, his guitar on his lap, he sang his newest song for an audience of one: “My father told me, when I was just a child/Don’t lend your fancy to the wind/There’s nothing good that can grow from something wild…”
Minoru was seated on his platform bed, in thought. He was hastily copying the lyrics to his notebook from the two sheets that lay alongside. As he did, Minoru thought of what he was hearing: the verse chords were simple enough, but did have some quirks to them. Using a red pen, he wrote down the chords where Kaz seemed to be placing them.
“It builds up here,” Kaz said as he did the same with the strumming action of his right hand, “and…”
“The higher you climb
The farther you fall
You get hit the hardest when you’re standing tall
The fullest cup is the easiest to spill
And the waves will always find the castles that you build
(Oh) I can’t believe, that you believed…”
Minoru gave a vigorous nod and kept jotting down the lyrics. “Keep going,” he urged during the instrumental break. Minoru noted the choruses did change slightly, and they didn’t rely on the same words each time; Kaz had definitely picked up how to structure a song from Kaldera. But these words--they were so eloquent, and Kaz’s range fit the emotion of the piece.
“Don’t fear the climb, though you may have to crawl…” Kaz built up the final chorus, going high for the last chorus and sang of belief and will. He played through the chords once more, then brought the song to an end.
“That,” Minoru declared,” “is exceptional!” He put his palms together and bowed from his seated position in Kaz’s direction. “Kaz, there is nothing to change; you must bring this to Kaldera and the others this week.”
Minoru had referred to another get-together of the club at the boathouse Wednesday. At this Kaz smiled, but shrugged. “I don’t know; I think it needs a little more work.”
“I detect,” Minoru replied as he jumped to his feet, “a little doubt in your voice, Kaz! There is nothing to be afraid of with this. Besides, you will be among friends, it’s not one of those Idol shows.”
Kaz laughed as he gathered up his papers and placed them in his book bag. “True,” he replied. “I hoped to let a little of myself go, the way Kaldera did the other night, that where it came from.” Kaz paused then asked with surprise in his voice, “Speaking of which, did you read that email from Midori yesterday?”
“Yes, I did,” Minoru said as they put their instruments away. “How sad a story, and yet one is also inspired at the same time.”
Now it was Kaz’s turn to be the questioner. “What do you mean by that?”
“How Midori can be so kind to others,” Minoru replied, “after being abandoned like that. Her years at the temple most certainly healed her inner self.”
Minoru sounded genuinely saddened at recounting Midori’s tale. “You have your own,” Kaz noted, “and somehow you remain pretty cool.”
Minoru chuckled as he slung his shamisen bag over his shoulder. “It’s not easy,” he admitted. He reached out and carefully adjusted the photo of Ebissan, before the two left the apartment.
The narrow hallway was carpeted, but the steps of the two young men could be heard, and their voices echoed off the open ceilings and walls. “I remember it being very strange that I didn’t have a father,” Minoru continued, “he was never around. Mother raised me on her own, but unlike Midori’s, she did not forsake me. I remember how hard she worked, but always at the end of a long day she made time for me at home. She read to me, and later I to her; at times Mother was very intense, due to her work. When she was around me, that went away; I feel fortunate for that.”
The two walked into the sunshine of the afternoon; they’d decided to get coffee at a nearby place both favored. Kaz was about to ask further about Minoru’s mother when the latter’s cell phone hummed. Checking the text message, Minoru stopped in his tracks. “Oh no,” he exclaimed.
“What?” Minoru’s face had gone white, if it were possible.
“This is not good,” he replied. “Where is Aimi today?”
“She’s at the shop.”
“Have you the number?” Minoru punched the numbers into his phone as the two walked on now at a quickened pace. Aimi apparently answered the phone, for Minoru made a polite but fast greeting and added, “Will you be able to leave work? I’m sorry to ask you this favor, but can you meet Kaz and myself at the Metro? There’s a serious problem, and I may need your help.” There was a pause as the two halted at the nearby bus stop, and Minoru said into the phone, “Thank you, Aimi. We’ll be there soon and I’ll explain.”
Ringing off, Minoru then speed-dialed another number, but after several moments he rang off. “Kaldera is nowhere to be found,” he commented. “Not to diminish Mei and Midori’s importance, but I believe we, or rather myself with your and Aimi’s assistance should suffice.”
The bus was pulling up, Minoru and Kaz the only ones waiting. They were aboard almost before the bus stopped moving, and Minoru headed for the rear seats where they could sit and hold their instrument cases comfortably.
“Minoru, what is going on?” Kaz asked, once they had sat down. “I’ve never seen you so agitated.”
Minoru was in fact shaking, and he nearly dropped his phone. “That text,” he said, “means it is time for truth to be told; but,” Minoru added, “I am not sure if I can do it. Let us please say no more, until we see Aimi.”
Asuka was on her cell in her room. She was confused, firstly about a strange message delivered to her today, and the conversation she was currently engaged in. “Homoka,” she said, “I don’t understand why you’re so concerned about this. So Minoru and Aimi were seen together; so what? Aimi is a friend, a very dear one, and there is nothing going on there. You are overreacting.”
There was a silence as Asuka listened, and she replied, “I am sorry, I must go. My mother wishes to see me right now; I will call you later, but please don’t worry about it. All right, goodbye.”
Asuka sighed and tossed the phone onto her bed. Homoka was in one of her conspiratorial moods, and her teammate, though a good friend tended to see more to a situation than there actually was. She brushed out her hair, put it back in a ponytail, and smoothed her blouse and skirt. Nanae had said Keru was coming home soon, and he wanted both to be present for a family meeting.
She wondered what this was about as she descended the staircase, and found herself feeling most uncomfortable. Asuka remembered that Nanae had said very little at dinner the night before, and she looked terribly restrained. Keru had of course not spoken much, but for a few cursory questions about each of their days.
When she tried to question her mother in private following the meal Nanae only said, “I cannot speak about this while your father is in the house, Asuka. See me tomorrow, after he has gone to work.”
Further bewildered, Asuka spent the balance of the evening in her room attending to her summer break homework and reading. She then slept in; Keru had already left for work by the time she came down for breakfast. There, one of the staff told her that Nanae had not yet arisen.
Concerned, Asuka went back upstairs after breakfast and caught her mother in the hall. The conversation was brief, and even more baffling.
“Clouds are gathering; I anticipate a coming storm,” her mother said. Nanae placed a firm hand on Asuka’s wrist. “Be prepared, Asuka,” she said, “and be brave when the time calls for it.”
Nanae turned without further word, and headed downstairs. Asuka did not have time to say more; Nanae’s words were cryptic, and the look in her eyes was one Asuka had never seen before. For the first time ever, Asuka thought Nanae was actually afraid of something; but what?
With nothing else to go on, Asuka busied herself with a workout in the small gym in the basement of the house, and then returned to her room for more homework. Now came this call from Homoka; and before Asuka could leave the room, her phone went off again.
This ring tone was the special one Asuka reserved for Minoru, and she plucked the cell off the bed. Before Asuka could say more than hello, she was cut off.
“We’re coming over,” Minoru said, “but do not tell your parents, please! Our arrival must be made in secret.”
“Minoru, what in the world is going on?” Asuka demanded. “Everyone I’ve spoken to today has been acting crazy. What is happening?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there.” Minoru’s voice sounded like he was either running or walking fast, as he was breathless. “Just hold on!”
The line went dead. Then Asuka heard the front door open, followed by the familiar heavy tread of Keru’s feet, plus the lighter footsteps of Daisuke. She heard her name being called, and that of Nanae’s in the voice Keru used when he had something important to discuss.
Putting her phone down again, Asuka left the room. She suddenly felt very afraid.
The day was darkening, and the wind had begun to blow. The first drops of rain began to fall, and struck hard. Yet Kaldera was unconcerned about this as he sat in meditation outside on the deck. Had his eyes been open, Kaldera would have been staring to sea, but he remained focused on his breathing and that imaginary point before him.
He was alone; Marlie had moved on with her tour after staying that first night with Kaldera, and he had not heard much from his friends. They now were on his mind. Kaldera sat in contemplation of what he was feeling; he could ascertain the energies of each person involved.
There was the rumble of thunder; Kaldera could feel the wind blow his hair back and slam against the closed glass doors. The rain fell harder, and stung his face. What Kaldera had felt growing in strength these past few days he now identified.
“I know,” he said aloud to the sky, “and there is nothing I can do. It is up to those most closely involved.”
“You cannot be serious, Father!”
Asuka was seated in the living room beside her mother, while Keru stood near the unlit fireplace. He had delivered his verdict on the matter at hand.
She looked to her left. Nanae stared at her husband, her dark eyes narrowed. Beyond her, Daisuke stood near the doors to the patio. His face remained impassive, but the look he shot Keru’s direction was a stern one; he, too was not pleased with what he had heard.
“I am perfectly serious,” Keru said, displeased at what he considered back talk from his daughter. “It is clear to me,” he went on, “that you have a choice to make: either cut your associations with that rabble you’ve been hanging around with, or another school elsewhere will be your fate.”
Nanae stood up. “Keru,” she replied, a rarely-expressed anger in her voice, “your arrogance knows no bounds! I overheard your conversation with the headmaster of that school. I am insulted,” she continued, “that you have the temerity to set these plans in motion without consulting me, and without even considering our daughter’s feelings.”
Nanae was usually more than a match for Keru, but this time he appeared ready for it. “Do not go against me on this, Nanae,” he returned, “I have made up my mind; these lowlifes from Asuka’s influence.”
“They are not lowlifes!” Asuka was angry, yet also scared as she too stood and approached her father. “They are my friends, and they are as good as any people I have ever met. In fact, they are better than many of the people I thought were my friends.”
“Then perhaps you need to learn to choose your friends more wisely,” Keru snapped, and he too stepped forward. A tall girl, Asuka still had to look up to Keru. “I have worked long and hard for too many years,” he declared, “to build our family’s business, and to have something for you in your future. Minoru is one matter, but these others are people who will amount to nothing. They quite likely are your friends only because they sense wealth, or something they can get hold of.”
“That is not so! They are real people who care nothing for class!” Asuka felt her eyes welling up with tears, and she was shaking. Keru looked even bigger now than before, and for some reason Nanae was silent on the whole thing. Had she given up?
Her voice shaking, Asuka looked her father in the eye. She saw his lined face and the scowl that filled her vision. “I shall do neither of the things you say, Father,” she said, “and that is my decision!”
Asuka heard the crack and felt herself falling, a sharp pain across the left side of her face where Keru had struck her. Her body fell to the carpet, which did little to cushion her fall. Asuka saw stars; she heard Aimi and Kaz’s voices, and those familiar hands take hold of her. She heard Nanae shouting angrily at Keru, and Daisuke’s voice as he told his boss to control himself.
Then there came another voice: “Stop! Dissemble no more, Keru! Or do you still deny that which is due your son?”
The room fell silent but for the rain, which Asuka was only vaguely aware of at this moment. She looked up to see Minoru, standing in his customary black clothing and overcoat at the entrance to the living room. He strode past her and their friends, and placed himself in the center of the room, between Asuka and Keru. As she looked past him to her father, Asuka saw the man’s face had changed from one of great anger to one of shock.
Everyone else appeared stunned by this statement too, but for Daisuke. He calmly walked back to his place by the windows and stood there, a knowing look on his face.
“Minoru,” Nanae gasped, “what did you just say?”
Minoru continued to glare at Keru. “This man is my father,” he said quietly. “It has been our dirty little secret for far too long. I knew one day,” he added, as his own voice began to falter, “that I would have to bring this out. You always said that it was too early, or the timing was not right. But I now know, that time would never have been right for you.”
He turned and helped the others lift Asuka back to her chair. The side of her face throbbed, and tears ran down her face, as she stared in disbelief at Minoru. She tried to say his name, but no words came.
Minoru turned again, and stood fully erect before Keru. “All your young servants,” he said, “are drifting away. I care not if you cut me off forever; but you will not use Asuka, and you will not take away what the both of us have desired for years!”
He then turned and stormed from the room. Asuka rose to her feet, pushed past Kaz and hurried down the hall. But Minoru had gained a head start; Asuka felt the breeze from the open front door, and she ran out into the now-driving rain behind him.
“Minoru, wait for me!” She shouted. “I need to know!” Asuka nearly fell going down the steps, but caught herself. She jumped from the stone steps to the carport, then followed Minoru down to the lawn.
Fortunately Minoru had cut across here, so the going was easier on Asuka’s feet. She put on speed and caught Minoru on the lawn near the street. Grabbing at the bag that held his shamisen, Asuka pulled him to a stop, then got in front of Minoru.
“Asuka,” Minoru said, “I can’t say anymore, this is not the time--”
“--Minoru, for once will you shut up!” Asuka screamed at him. “I must know,” she pleaded, “is this true? Are you my brother?”
It was like looking in a mirror, she was just able to comprehend. Through the rain, the tears flooding from her eyes and her shaking from emotion and the cold of the outside, Asuka could tell that Minoru was in the exact same condition. He was sobbing; Asuka had not seen this from Minoru since the day Ebissan had died.
“Yes,” he cried, “you’re my sister, my half-sister. I’m sorry, Asuka--I’ve been lying to you. But there is another who loves you. He is closer than you think.”
Minoru then pushed past her and hurried off in the rain, and this time Asuka could not follow him. Her legs buckled and she collapsed into the wet grass and mud.
Asuka felt Aimi taking hold of her arm and pulling her to her knees. She heard Kaz’s voice as he ran past them down the street, calling for Minoru to come back.
Asuka could bear no more. She buried her face in her hands and screamed her brother’s name.
(Writer's Note: "Climb" is written by John Lauver, and was performed by Ahltyrra.)
There you have it! Please leave comments, I welcome them...