Chapter 21--The Taking Down
Mei stepped out of the changing room in the Matsunaga dojo. She was back in her customary black street gear, that very opposite look from her martial arts uniform, which was now in the equipment bag over her shoulder. The midday class was over, which she had taught under the watchful eye of Sensei Matsunaga. It had gone well; Mei instructed the lower ranks, and watched over them during form practice.
Standing in the foyer, Mei looked out through the windows that advertised the business. Midori had not arrived yet, and there was a meet-up planned today. Leaving her bag on the bench near the door, Mei returned to the dojo’s practice room, “bowing in” before walking onto the bare wood floor.
The room was rectangular, with a rank of mirrors on one of the long sides, and railings at hip level on the other three. Seated in meditation, centered but closer to the mirrors than the wall was a short, stocky man. Sensei Matsunaga was in his early sixties, hairless but for the graying goatee on his face. His gi was white like those of his students, but the collar was bordered in black all the way down, denoting his rank and position.
Mei sat before the man, and took up the lotus position. After a few moments, Matsunaga’s clear blue eyes opened and he smiled. “Awaiting your friend, Mei?”
The sensei’s tone was quiet and gentle, very much the opposite of the command voice he used in the dojo.
Mei’s eyes opened, and she returned the smile. “Yes, Sensei,” she replied, “but I also wonder if I might ask you of what is coming?”
Matsunaga smiled wider. “Yes,” he replied, “the testing. You are concerned, are you not?”
Mei sighed. “Only a little, Sensei,” she admitted. “I know what is expected of me, and I am as ready as I ever will be. I will not disappoint you.”
“You could not, even if you attempted to,” Matsunaga responded with a slight smile. “But that day will be a difficult one; I recall the day I tested for my black belt: no more frightful a day for me was that one! You and Ishikawa will both face it well, of that I am certain.”
Matsunaga had mentioned the other young man who would test for black. The testing would be held here at the dojo, and was specifically for these students only. As a member of the national association, Matsunaga as well as three other sensei would judge the students. Testing would start in the morning with the younger and lower ranks, and would culminate with Mei and Ishikawa’s test.
“How is Reiko, by the way?” Matsunaga had known Mei’s mother for years.
“She has good and bad days,” Mei replied, “a few more good of late. Sensei,” she went on, “I am of an uncertain mind about things, and I hope I might learn something from speaking with you.”
Matsunaga smiled. “Tell me your thoughts.”
Mei sighed. “I wish,” she replied, “to look after Mom. I will do all I can for her, but once school is finished I cannot see myself going to university. This is all I have: my mother, Dad when he’s around, my friends, and this.” She indicated the dojo with her finger, and added, “I have a purpose here, and I hope to fulfill it, and at least have something with which to support Mom.”
Matsunaga bowed in her direction. “You think strongly of Reiko, and that is good,” he told her. “Your selfless behavior in terms of her is to be admired. I am glad you have been able to teach, and you are ready. You are ready to take on any challenge that comes in your life, Mei--you have proven that to me. You represent the art, as well as the people of the world in an exemplary fashion. Has no one told you that?”
Mei took a deep breath, and tried not to show her relief at Matsunaga’s words. “Not quite like that, Sensei,” she replied, “but thank you. There are those in my life who remind me each day; not just Mom, or you.”
“Yes,” Matsunaga replied, as he looked toward the doors. “I believe one of them is here for you now,” he added. Midori had just passed through the doors, and she smiled and waved.
The pair stood, and Mei bowed to Matsunaga, who returned it. “Thank you, Sensei,” she replied, “I won’t let you down.”
“You won’t,” he replied as they walked to the entranceway, and bowed out. Mei and Midori then embraced and kissed, and Matsunaga exchanged pleasantries with Midori before the two left. Matsunaga watched them leave, then smiled and went into his office. Another class would soon be coming in.
“This might be a little long on you,” Asuka said, “but I think it should fit well enough.” She and Aimi were standing before the full-length mirror beside her dresser, as the latter tried on a black dress. It did, Aimi thought, and on her the hem of the silky material stopped well above her knees.
“It’s very nice, thank you,” she replied.
“Well, it will do until we can get your other clothes cleaned,” Asuka replied. She picked up a similar cut of dress, this one in blue and much shorter in length. “I think I’ll go with this,” she added, “and we can match!”
The girls laughed and Aimi sat down to put on her shoes. “I can’t thank you enough,” Aimi told her, “I feel a little like royalty, the way I’ve been looked after here.”
“This is normal for me,” Asuka said, “at least here. With your looking after me, it is the least I can do.”
Aimi had found staying the night at Asuka’s house very peculiar, but in a good way. She awoke to find the kitchen staff wheeling breakfast in for the two, like in a luxury hotel. Her and Asuka’s clothes were also taken away for laundering, though they would not be ready until later.
After getting dressed, Aimi sat Asuka down on the remade bed. “Asuka,” she said, “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Ask away,” she replied.
“Well,” Aimi explained, “I’m all for meeting up with the club, but today is a day I must make a visit. I didn’t mention it, because of all the excitement from yesterday, but today I’m going to visit Kira. Would you like to come with me?”
Asuka watched Aimi’s face as she listened. Aimi seemed nervous as she made the request; her eyes flitted to the left and right, but Aimi was able to face Asuka directly as she made the invite.
“Absolutely,” Asuka replied, “I’d be honored. I’d love to meet Kira, she’s obviously very dear to you.”
Aimi smiled and nodded. “Thank you. We can meet up with the rest later,” she promised, “it should not take too long. I’ll just have to make one stop on the way, okay?”
“Okay,” Asuka replied, and she embraced Aimi. “Thank you again for being with me last night. After what Father, uh, I mean Dad said (the two chuckled over the correction), I think we’re all making steps to get back on the same road. As for Minoru, he is my brother, and I’ll proudly say it. This is going to take some time to figure out, but I believe we will do it. I’m just glad to have you around, and the others.”
“You’ll always have us,” Aimi said as she returned the hug, and added, “no matter where we are.”
The activity at Kona Blends was typical for a weekday. The glass-enclosed shop was about three-quarters full, with teenagers and students the bulk of the customers. A few suited businessmen were there as well, along with women on break from work or shopping. Standing out in front of the red and black painted structure were Mei and Midori, and they greeted Kaz and Minoru as the two stepped off the bus. Kaldera joined the group a moment later, as he’d found a good parking spot for the Vanagon.
Inside, the group joined the queue of three other customers. “Has anyone heard from Aimi or Asuka?” Kaz asked. “We tried calling them, but we didn’t get a response.”
No one had, but Mei slowly moved her head in Kaz’s direction, and he got the message. He then added, “Oh well, they’ll catch up to us.”
The exchange had been detected by those not in the know. Midori looked to Kaldera; he seemed as clueless as she for once, but neither spoke up about it.
Kaldera called the round and picked up the tab despite polite objections; each ordered cups of the Hawaiian coffee that the chain was renowned for, or drinks of their choice.
Those with the most easily made drinks secured a choice, round table near the windows. These included Mei, who got her customary black coffee, plus Kaldera and Kaz.
“We are being watched,” Kaldera casually said as they sat down.
“Watched?” Mei asked.
“Is that your intuition talking, or are we really?” Kaz followed.
Kaldera imperceptibly turned his head in the negative. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but that group of girls to the right? They’re watching us, or rather they are eyeing Minoru. This should be interesting.”
Out of the corners of their eyes, Kaz and Mei saw them: there were four girls seated at a nearby table. All four were in the colors of Katsuhashi Academy, and they indeed were looking right at Minoru. He had gotten his drink, and was escorting Midori over to the table, when one of the girls got up.
Midori and Minoru seated themselves among the others as this girl followed, though cautiously. “Come over, Homoka,” Minoru then said with a welcoming manner and gesture, “my friends won’t bite.”
He stood again, as did Kaldera and Kaz to be polite, and Minoru introduced her around. “Homoka is a friend of ours; she plays field hockey with Asuka.”
There was some real tension, just the same. Homoka was an attractive girl, everyone silently agreed; she was short, but like Asuka but thin and athletically built. The girl in fact looked an awful lot like Asuka, right down to the way she wore her hair, her short dress and school jacket.
“Very nice to meet you all,” Homoka replied with a bow. “Minoru, I am sorry to take you away from your friends, but might I speak to you for a moment?”
“Certainly.” Minoru turned to the others. “A moment,” he promised, “and I shall return.” Then he winked, which was noticed by all but Homoka.
“This will be fun,” Kaldera replied in an undertone to the others, as Minoru followed Homoka to the other table. “Watch this. I have a feeling a certain bubble is about to be burst.”
“Did you know about Minoru’s parentage, Kaldera?” Midori asked.
“I did,” he replied, “and I assured Minoru that I would keep it a secret. Yesterday’s events changed many things, and I knew from what I felt, that it would come out. Here,” he motioned to the gathering on the other side of the room, “will be a sidelight, perhaps even some comic relief.”
Minoru put on his most gentlemanly smile as he approached the table, and said hello to Homoka’s companions. Masami, the bespectacled (and smarter one, in Minoru’s mind) was there, along with those same two teammates that had been with them in the marketplace the other day. “We are luckily met,” he exclaimed as he borrowed more lines from Poe, “and how remarkably well you are all looking today!”
The girls smiled, seemingly warmed by the presence of Minoru, and his actually taking the time to speak to them. “Well,” Homoka replied, as she stood beside him, “I wonder if we might ask you about certain things.”
Minoru turned and gazed at Homoka. “You may,” he said, “though what I may tell you might not be what you wish to hear.” He could tell Masami had picked up on the subtle, calculated change in his tone of voice. She seemed ready to stop Homoka, but did not.
“We are wondering,” Homoka went on, “about Asuka, and what has been going on lately. We haven’t seen much of either of you, and we have wondered about some of these people we see you with.”
Minoru looked over at his friends. All were watching; Mei looked ready to jump to his aid, while Kaldera had a look of great anticipation on his face.
“Well,” Minoru replied as he turned back, “there really isn’t much to tell. Suffice to say, that Asuka and I have fallen in with some most interesting and wonderful people. They are people I think you would all like very much, if you gave them the chance. But please, hold your responses until I am through.”
Minoru had held up his hand, and all remained quiet as he spoke: “Speaking only for myself, I have been less than amused by the standard you have forced Asuka and I to set for you. I know all about the Golden Pair, and of the importance you attach to that. You see us as some kind of perfect couple, when in fact each of you could be moving on in your own lives, and finding something of value in yourselves. It to be plain, makes me sick.”
His voice quiet and level, Minoru went on, “I have no personal dislike of any of you, and I mean no disrespect. I’m sorry if I come across in that way, but it would do if all of you could see Asuka and myself as human beings and friends, and treat us in the way you wish you would be treated. Again, I speak for myself, and not for my sister.”
The shoe had dropped. The collective gasp of breath that followed one second later sounded like the four girls who made it would suck up all the air in the coffee shop. Minoru smiled as he looked at the wide-eyed, open-mouthed expressions of the girls.
“Oh, you didn’t know that, did you?” He asked playfully and with all politeness and deference. “Yes, Asuka is my half-sister; we share the same father. This was not revealed until yesterday, and I have yet to speak in detail with Asuka about it, but I hope to soon. Now, as that little matter is dealt with, I beg you will excuse me. My latte is getting cold, and my friends require my attention. Good day to you, and I hope you all get a life.”
He bowed, then turned and walked back across the shop to his table. Everyone was grinning now, as they watched Homoka sink into her chair, she and her companions in utter shock. “I probably should not have done that,” Minoru said as he sat down, “but I could not resist. I have had enough of their following us around like sheep, and I feared they might make trouble for Aimi; but, I think that will put them in their place.”
Everyone chuckled, and they watched the four girls pick up their drinks, bags and other items and slink out of the building. “I would love to have been a fly on the wall over there, Minoru,” Mei said, “we couldn’t hear with all the noise, but I’ll bet that was something!”
“It wasn’t much,” Minoru replied, “but they now know. I am sure the rumor mill is going to run in overdrive for a while, but I care not. I never liked being put on a pedestal; despite all things, I have only wanted to be accepted for who I am, and not what others think I should be.”
“That comes in time,” Kaldera replied. “I think your reconciliation with Keru and Asuka should not be hard. When the time comes, I believe all will work itself out.”
Kaz’s cell phone had gone off, and he had turned to answer. They could tell it was Aimi who was calling, and the conversation was brief. Once over, Kaz turned back to face the others. “That,” he said, “was strange.”
“What?” Mei asked.
“Aimi called to say she and Asuka will meet up with us later,” Kaz replied. “They’re going to see Kira today.”
All noticed the blank reaction from Kaz, as well as the one from Mei. “Her name has come up,” Kaldera remarked.
“Yes,” Minoru added. “I heard Aimi call that name during the vision quest. Who is Kira?”
Kaz and Mei knew that all eyes were on them. Mei looked at Kaz, and he nodded. “It’s time.”
Mei then addressed the others. “There’s something you should know."
There it is! Let me know what you think!
There it is! Let me know what you think!