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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 20--"Talking Back to the Night"

Here we are, with Chapter 20 of "Take Another Road."  Before we begin, my thanks to everyone who has wished me a happy #46.  I am most grateful.

Here we go...

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Chapter 20--Talking Back to the Night

            Keru sat in his usual chair, but he was far from comfortable.  A cigar was lit in his fingers, his index and middle appendages holding it tightly to keep it from falling.  He was not alone in the room; sitting across from him was Nanae, and Keru was under a stare that fixed and held him.  Daisuke had left; Keru now knew he was the one who had warned Minoru, but that was hardly a concern right now.

            “What else have you lied about?”  Nanae’s face was not angry; it was impassive, but behind the dark eyes of his wife was the rare but terrible anger she possessed.  Keru expected it, and for once would take what he had coming to him.

            “Nothing.”  Keru did his best to look Nanae in the eye, but it was hard.  He had always prided himself on being able to look another man, a customer, potential client or partner, anyone for that matter in the eye.  But now Keru found himself wilting under the heat from those eyes.  “I have been honest in every other thing in our lives Nanae, you must believe me,” he said.  “This is the one place I have not been, but I am ready to do so now.”

            Nanae continued to stare, her eyes unblinking.  After a moment more, she inhaled slowly.  “I want to believe you, Keru,” she said, “but the only way I can at this point, is to hear all of it.  When did you become involved with Ebissan?  How did all of this occur?”

            Keru took a long, slow puff from his cigar, then placed it in the ornate ashtray beside him.  “It happened,” he explained, “before you came to work for my father.  At the time I was one of his assistants; I had just graduated from university, and worked in the office.  Ebissan came to apply for an open position, and I conducted the initial interview.  Though having only a high school education, there was something about her that impressed me:  I sensed a great intelligence, plus a willingness to work hard and to excel.  I personally recommended her to Father, and he too was impressed by what he heard and saw.”

            Nanae drew up her right leg and crossed it over the other, and much of it was now revealed by the slit of the silk dress.  The expression on her face had turned venomous; Nanae now looked much like the stereotypical, evil Oriental woman seen in so many films.  “So when did you become involved?” 

            “Not long after,” Keru admitted.  “We worked together on an initial project, and I found I liked her very much.  Though from the lower classes, I was very pleased with her work ethic.  Even on the most menial of tasks, Ebi did all she was asked, and did well.  We began to see one another, at first for drinks after work, then dinner.  A few months later, I learned she was pregnant.”

            The stare remained the same, and Nanae’s eyes did not blink.  “You were the one responsible, then?”

            Keru nodded.  “I was.”  He noted that his cigar had gone out in the ashtray, but took no further interest in it.  “I spoke with Father,” Keru went on, “and he was most disappointed, but asked what action I wished to take in the matter.  I told him I would do what was right; I would propose to her, and be the father of the child.”

            “So why did you not marry Ebissan?”

            “She refused.”  Keru shrugged, and even Nanae seemed surprised at this.  “I proposed,” he said, “and I told her I would take every responsibility that a man should in these things.  Ebi refused me; she said that while she did have deep feelings for me, she did not love me the way a man and woman should be in love.  She was also deeply ashamed of what had happened; Ebi felt she had dishonored herself, her family and the company by allowing this to happen.

            ‘In the end,” Keru concluded, “we made a compromise.  Father did indeed like and value Ebissan very much, and he gave her a job in the company for as long as she wanted one.  I took care of Ebi’s physicians, her care, and I provided for Minoru.  I was asked by Ebi to not be involved in his upbringing.” 

            Keru took a deep breath.  “I’m sure you understand was difficult.”

            “I am sure,” Nanae replied with unveiled sarcasm.  “I came to work for your father, not long after all this,” she said.  “I remember Ebi’s pregnancy.  What attracted you to me?”

            Keru looked Nanae in the eye, and found this time he could.  “Because,” he said quietly, “I was in love in you the moment I met you, and I swear on the good name of our family, that is true.  You and Ebissan were two different women; I had resigned myself to the reality that she and I could never be, and that I could not be the father to Minoru that I should have been, and wanted to be.  We had agreed that our relationship and Minoru’s lineage would remain secret, until the time was right.”

            “But it seems,” Nanae responded, “that Minoru may have been correct.  You might never have let this secret pass your lips, or his.”  The woman uncrossed her legs, and sat upright in her chair, her gaze locked on Keru.  “He had a right to know who his father was, Keru.  When did he learn of it?”

            “Ebissan told him when he was twelve,” Keru explained, “after his repeatedly asking.  She told him why things were as they were, and that if ever he was in need I would help him.  After Ebi passed away, Minoru went to live with her older brother, but that did not last long.  Minoru came to me and said he did not get along with the man; he wanted to be back here, and so I arranged for the apartment, and whatever else Minoru required.”

             Nanae’ s eyes narrowed to a glare.  “You made him promise to keep quiet, didn’t you?” She demanded, though her voice did not rise.  “And you allowed Asuka to pursue Minoru as a suitor, even though you knew he was partly her own flesh and blood?”

            Keru leaned forward in his chair, his hands knotted together.  “Yes.  I knew one day we would have to bring the secret to light.  I had hoped that it could be done differently, but I know now how foolish I’ve been.  You are right,” he continued, “I denied Minoru what he should have had after Ebissan died, and yes, Asuka should have known.  You as well.”

            Nanae slowly stood up.  “I appreciate you coming clean, at least now, Keru,” she told him, “but you have a great deal of damage to repair.  Did you not think that I would not accept Minoru as my son?  What were you afraid of?”

            Keru now looked up at her.  “I was afraid of many things,” he replied, “I can’t even begin to explain them all.”  He was about to go on, when Nanae held up her hand. 

            “Say no more,” she said.  “I have no more need to listen to you, Keru.  We have a daughter up there that needs us, and a son as well.  I must think on all I have heard before I can decide in my own mind what to do.  As for you Keru, you have decisions of your own you must make.  Decide well.”

            Nanae turned.  “I will not be sleeping in our room tonight, Keru.  Don’t come looking for me.”

            Keru stared at the wall; the click of Nanae’s heels as she walked away was the only sound he heard.

            “Here, put this on.”  Aimi slid a white terrycloth robe over Asuka’s shoulders and helped her into the garment.  They were standing in Asuka’s bathroom before the huge mirror.  Her drenched and muddy clothes were on the floor in a pile next to the tub.

            Asuka was in a fog; she still reeled from the pain of Keru’s assault, as well as Minoru’s confession.  She leaned against the sink, while Aimi wet a facecloth.  “I’m sorry if I’m out of it, Aimi,” she whispered, her voice strained.  “I still can’t believe what I’ve heard.”

            “I know,” Aimi replied, “Minoru didn’t tell us on the way.  He only said that things had come to a head, and that he had to tell all.”  She wet a facecloth and handed it to Asuka, then picked up a brush and began to work on the ends of her damp hair with it. 

            Asuka winced as she held the cloth to her face; she leaned forward and felt Aimi holding a length of her hair while brushing out the tangled ends and trying not to strip them or cause her pain.  She closed her eyes, not wanting to see what a fright she must look like in the mirror.

            At length Aimi finished and Asuka sat on the edge of the bathtub.  She felt Aimi sit beside her, and put her arm around her shoulders.  “I’ll stay,” she offered, “if your parents will allow me to.”

            “They will, at least Mom will,” Asuka replied, “and thank you, Aimi.”  She sniffed and put her head in her hands.  “I feel like such a baby,” she mumbled, and started to weep again.  “All my life I’ve leaned on someone--my parents, Minoru, and now you.  You must think I’m a spoiled, stupid child.”

            “No!  I don’t think that!” Aimi held Asuka to her tightly.  “Today is one of those days where things cannot be fully understood,” she added.  “Your father’s actions, what Minoru said, that’s enough to cause even the strongest person to break.  It’s all right, I understand.”

            Asuka looked over at Aimi; through her blurred vision, she saw the girl’s wide brown eyes, and an accompanying expression of honesty and concern.  “We may be very different,” Aimi said as she caressed Asuka’s unwounded cheek, “but we are the same.  We’re people; we have the exact same feelings.  Believe me when I say that, Asuka--I do understand.”

            “I know you do,” Asuka stammered as she leaned against Aimi’s shoulder.  “My father’s never hit me before, but it’s in line with what he’s become.”

            “Become?”

            Asuka wiped her eyes and face with the cloth.  “I want my dad back.”  At Aimi’s searching look, she continued, “The man that was my dad is no more--the last few years, I started calling him Father, because he seemed to like that better.  I don’t know when it began, but he became hard, all the time.  He could be a hard man in business, sure, but when he came home he changed.  He was my dad--I want that man back.”

            Aimi nodded and continued to hold Asuka.  “I only hope he can be brought back,” she said, “but what about Minoru?”

            “He’s my brother,” Asuka whispered.  “I have to see him as that, and not what I dreamed and fantasized so much about.  I don’t know how I’m going to do that.  Aimi, there was no sex between us, nothing like that, even though I wanted it.  Now I know why Minoru was so distant--he knew.  He could not let it happen.”

            “That was very noble of him,” Aimi replied.  “He could have taken advantage of you, under the guise of not knowing; but that is not how he was raised, nor how he is.”

            Asuka shook her head.  “Aimi,” she asked, “Minoru said something outside; he said someone else loves me, and is very close.”  She looked at Aimi.  “Did he mean Kaz?”

            Aimi inhaled slowly.  She knew that she could not hide in her face what Asuka had suspected.  “Asuka, I don’t know,” Aimi replied, “and that is the truth.  I know Kaz has great respect for you, but I cannot answer that question.  That will have to come from him.”

            “I should not even be thinking about that,” Asuka said, as they stood and went into the bedroom.  Asuka went to her closet and slid the doors open.  “I have a spare robe here,” she said, “you should get out of those wet clothes.”  She found the article and brought it out, a duplicate of the one she was now wearing.  Asuka handed it to Aimi, then crawled onto her bed.  She lay on her stomach, and buried her face in one of the pillows. 

            Aimi followed her to the bed.  She sat beside Asuka and stroked her hair, and said nothing.

            Minoru was huddled in the small, dark room.  How he and Kaz had ended up in this place he still wasn’t sure, but here they were.  “I think,” he said, “I have done what needed to be done.  The consequences of it however, are what I fear.”

            “Why would you?”  Kaz was sitting on his platform bed.  He looked down at Minoru, who had drawn himself up on the floor, his back to the wall.  Even with all that was swirling about in his mind, Minoru thought this room was as small as most of the others in the homes in this neighborhood.  There was barely room enough in here for Kaz’s bed, chest of drawers and some bookshelves. 

            But the aesthetics of the room mattered little at this point.  “Did Asuka’s, uh, I mean, your father,” Kaz asked, “keep you silent about this?”

            “To some extent, yes.”  Minoru stared at the floor over his folded arms, “but I was never under any threat.  I kept silent out of respect for him, knowing that the revealing of my true bloodline would cause him great difficulty.  I can only imagine what Nanae is doing to him right now.”

            Kaz smiled grimly.  It would serve the son of a bitch right, he thought to himself.  “Well,” he added, “what could Keru actually do to you?  There’s not much he can, is there?”
            “He could cut me off,” Minoru replied, “but that would not bother me in the least.  I could sleep in Kaldera’s loft; despite what appearances I put up Kaz, I don’t need a lot to live on, or in.  That would do just fine.  I don’t think Keru will do that, though--Nanae and Asuka would never permit that.  Nanae and my mother were dear friends, and she is not a woman that would visit any sort of revenge on the child of such a friend.  The hard thing,” he added, “is trying to go back there, to see Asuka and to tell her how sorry I am.”

            Kaz shrugged.  “I can’t tell you what to say there,” he said, “but she is what I think you might call a ‘lady of character.’  What I mean is,” he continued after another moment’s thought, “she has such internal strength.  Other than that first time, when she seemed a little unnerved by us, I still thought Asuka was very much like you.  She has become more open to things; I began to realize you two were a lot alike, but,” Kaz chuckled, “I never expected this.”

            Minoru nodded and listened.  He could hear voices in a nearby room, Kaz’s parents; what they were talking about he didn’t know.  “The story has taken itself into a new chapter,” Minoru said quietly, “and things have now changed from the way they once were.  Those days are now gone; ‘Quoth the raven, nevermore.’

            There was a quiet knock on Asuka’s bedroom door.  The room was in darkness, as the falls around the bed were closed.  She sat up; Aimi lay to her left, and by her own movements, she too was awake.

            “Asuka, are you still awake?”  It was Keru, and the voice sounded very different.

            “Just a moment, Father,” she called.  She slid out of bed, and said, “Aimi, you can stay.  I’ll talk to him.  I have to stand on my own.  I’m going to.”

            Aimi nodded as she lay against the pillows.  “Good luck,” she whispered.

            Asuka smiled slightly, then went to the door.  Opening it a crack, she saw her father.  He was still in his business suit, and in the shadows of the darkened hall looked haggard, almost sick.  “May I speak with you?” He asked.

            “Of course, Father,” Asuka replied and slid the door fully open.  Aware that Aimi was in the bedroom, Keru motioned to the two chairs situated around a table by the hall windows.  Asuka nodded and stepped out.  All the lights were off in the hall; the only one came from the moon through the window.

            As they sat, Keru began, “Asuka, I first must sincerely apologize for my behavior.  I am sorry I struck you; that was a terrible wrong.  Also, do not worry about your school or your friends.  Those things do not have to change, and they will not.”

            Asuka nodded, but said nothing.  “I have spoken with your mother about Minoru,” Keru continued, “and now I will tell you.  I promise to hold nothing back, and you may ask me anything you wish.  I will answer as best I can.” 

            Asuka nodded again.  Keru took his daughter back through the same explanation he gave to Nanae; he elaborated on the nature of his relationship with Ebissan, her pregnancy and the situation that followed it.  Keru also described how he became involved with Nanae, and how all things had built up to this point.

            Asuka did not ask any questions; she merely listened and took in all Keru had to say.  When her father finished, she asked, “What becomes of Minoru, Father?  Will he move in here, with us?  Will he stay where he is?”

            “Whichever he chooses,” Keru replied.  “I will leave that decision to him.  How do you feel about him?”

            “I accept Minoru as my brother, whole-heartedly,” she replied, “but Father, there is one thing I must ask of you.”
            Keru nodded.  “Do.”

            “There is only one thing,” Asuka whispered, “one thing that I desire from you.  I don’t forget, nor am I ungrateful for all you have done for me, and for all the advantages you have given me--but there is only one thing I need.”

            “And that is?”

            Asuka took a deep breath.  “My dad.”  She saw Keru give a start, and she added, “I was telling Aimi about this earlier.  I remember my dad as a big, strong, but good-hearted man--the one who always smiled when he came home from work, the one who always picked me up in his arms when I was little, who always held me, and who I never feared.  In recent years,” Asuka went on, as she now stared at the floor, “he has gone away.  Dad turned into the man I call Father.  You wanted that, I thought--you looked for respect from me that I long thought I’d not given you.  So I called you that.  I became afraid of you.”

            Asuka put up a hand in the darkness.  “Don’t think this is a fantasy Father,” she quickly continued, “because I was.  I feared your anger, your disapproval, and your wrath.  I could tell you did not approve of my new friends such as Aimi, but I needed them.  I needed to see how life is lived beyond the walls of this house, beyond the walls of the academy, and beyond the circles we walk in.  They’re no different than we are.”

            She stood up and walked the one step over to Keru’s chair.  “I want my dad,” she said again. 

            Keru stood and took Asuka in his arms, and she clung to him.  “You shall have him,” he whispered.  “If he is not here now, I will find him.  For you, for Minoru, and for your mother--I promise."

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And there you have it!  Let me know what you think!

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