Returned to PA yesterday, following a largely good vacation to New England. Back in Vermont for my nephew Aubrey's wedding, a short jam session with my brother Mark, and then off to Boston.
While there, good meetings with Riz and Jen (we're collaborating on the Sweet Dreams Series manga venture), plus my old friends Gretchen, Linda, and a fine dinner at the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth with Jesse...great to see him again, but all of them really.
I'm in a better state of mind, now that I've returned, and I again feel centered and ready to take on whatever comes next.
Time now...for Chapter 10...enjoy, and do comment if you please, in any way you wish!
Chapter 10--Other Roads
Aimi, Kaz and Mei stepped through the doors of Masuyo, joined by a wave of their classmates. The half-day had passed swiftly, as students prepared for the coming exam week. Their schedules for the finals were similar, as they shared most of the same classes.
“Glad it’s only one exam a day,” Kaz noted as he perused his copy of the printed schedule. “My science one is last, which is good.” Kaz was not outstanding in that particular class, but Aimi and Mei had helped him through it.
“Why don’t we do what we’ve done in the past?” Aimi suggested as they walked toward their usual bench, where Midori waited, again seated in meditation. “Let’s all get together, and test each other.”
“That’s cool.” Mei nodded her agreement, as did Kaz. The three often met up at one or another’s houses and went over their like subjects. They had made a game out of studying, and found their test scores were much higher when it was done that way. Aimi also found studying a lot more fun, when it was done with her friends.
“I have to work out,” Mei added, “but come around after that. Let’s ask Midori, too; she mostly has first-year classes, but it should work.”
Midori opened her eyes and smiled as she saw her friends approach. She was wearing the jacket Mei had given her the night before, and it was wrapped about her shoulders like a cape. “Hello again,” she hailed the three, and climbed down to greet her friends. “I can’t get over how great last night was,” she continued, “Mom and Dad really enjoyed themselves.”
“Kaldera was really good, I have to admit,” Mei added as they sat down. “That guy’s a pro; and Kaz, I’ll say it again: you rocked last night!”
Kaz grinned and lowered his head slightly. “Thanks,” he said, “but you don’t know scared I was! Kaldera sprung that on me just before he went on, Minoru too. Minoru didn’t want to play until the end, because he didn’t think the shamisen would work on anything else. Me, I was shaking until I got out there.”
“So you felt fine, then?” Aimi asked.
Kaz nodded. “Yeah. As soon as I started playing, I was all right. It’s kind of an odd thing, me singing about Johnny Cash, but it was a song I heard over at Kaldera’s, and I just picked up on it.”
“No matter, it was great to hear you finally,” Midori told him. “I think everybody enjoyed what you guys did.”
“By the way…” Aimi wasn’t sure how to ask it, but felt she must. “Your folks weren’t there. You did invite them, right?”
“I did.” Kaz shook his head in the affirmative. “I think they were actually curious,” he continued, “but Mom told me this morning they’d had another argument. Neither felt like going by the time they got it settled.”
Aimi watched Kaz’s expression; it again was a fallen one. “They’re fighting now?”
“Not really.” Kaz shook his head again. “There is a lot of tension between the two of them, lately. I know part of it is because of their jobs. They work long hours, and there’s not much time for anything else. I don’t know for sure, but I’m afraid I may be the source of some of their troubles.”
Mei reached over and took his arm. “I can sympathize,” she replied, “but you’re not it, believe me. My mom and dad had their fights, too, and I used to think a lot of it was my fault. You know the problems I had when I was younger,” she went on as she indicated Aimi and Kaz, “but they made it clear that I was not the problem, it was them. Dad was always on the road, doing construction; he still does, he loves traveling and doing different jobs, not always the same thing all the time. Well, Mom got sick of him not being home; and when her health problems started to mount, they were at odds. They finally agreed to end the marriage before they hurt each other, or me.”
“I know what you’re saying, Mei, and I appreciate it,” Kaz said. “This thing with Mom and Dad is sort of like that, but only in certain ways. I do know I am a problem to them; they don’t say much, but I know that both of them are concerned. They want me to go to university, and find a stable life. I know they’re right, I should do that.”
Kaz interlaced his fingers before him. “I should go on to university,” he said, “but for what? I don’t know; I don’t honestly know what I want to be, or do. Music is the only thing I’ve truly enjoyed the past year or so. I love learning from Kaldera, and I learn more than just guitar; he is a great teacher. Minoru and I spend a lot of time talking with him about so many different subjects. He’s knowledgeable in a lot of areas, and I feel like he’s gotten me to look inside myself, to find out what more is there.’
All listened, interested. “I’ve always felt there was more to Kaldera,” Aimi agreed. “Hey, that leads me to a question: we all saw what happened last night when he did that song, the one toward the end?”
“The one about the ‘Spirit Trail?’ Yeah, that was eerie,” Mei said.
“Well, Kaldera’s done stuff like that before,” Kaz interjected, “we’ve seen it. He radiates a kind of light or energy when we play music; even when he’s just around, I feel it. I’ve never experienced that from anybody before. I don’t think there’s anything harmful in it, like Tanaka-san said last night, but it makes you wonder.”
“He could be a kind of shaman.” Midori had suddenly made this suggestion. When all looked to her, she explained, “Shamans are healers, but they’re also seekers. We read about this in history class: certain people in tribes all around the world are believed to be able to walk in the Spirit World, and find answers to questions and things. They can heal people, and in some cases harm others.
‘But I agree,” Midori quickly went on, “I don’t think Kaldera is dangerous. Now there’s another thing--have you guys noticed that Kaldera is sort of the focal point for all of us? He’s brought Kaz and Minoru together; he then brought Asuka, really all of us together. He did it last night, and I wish I was gonna be around next weekend; I am interested to know what he’s talking about, beyond just going sailing.”
Everyone nodded. “He has done it,” Aimi said. “Kaz, Mei and I have always been united, but then came you, Midori. Minoru and Asuka are here now…he’s almost put us together,” she added, “like a puzzle. We all get along as friends, and I feel like we’re destined to be together.”
“Like a club?” Kaz asked.
“Yes,” Aimi responded, all the more excited as she talked about it, “and that last song he did, about another road? Perhaps that’s it: we’re all on a road that was made for us, but perhaps some of us, or all of us need to take the other, the ‘road less traveled.’”
“There’s no harm in going in another direction,” Midori said, “if it is the right one for that individual.” She had picked up on Aimi’s train of thought before anyone else.
Aimi stood up. “I have an idea,” she said. “We’ve always been our own little group. I suggest we form a club: The Other Roads Club. We’ll bring Asuka and Minoru in, and Kaldera if he wishes. We’re all in this life together; why not join as friends and go together, and help each other when in need?”
She put her hand out, and each put their hands on the others. “We are,” Aimi declared, “The Other Roads Club!”
“Hear, hear!” All shouted.
“Permission to come aboard, sir?”
“Permission granted.” Keru extended his hand as Kaldera stepped from the dock onto the deck of the Bayliner. The two shook hands, and Keru added, “I see you’ve recovered from last night.”
“I’m not sure what there was to recover from,” Kaldera replied with a laugh. “It seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves, that was the point.”
“Quite.” Keru was dressed for the yacht, in a fashionable striped polo shirt and shorts from one of Tokyo’s finer downtown clothiers, plus a pair of red-lensed Mykita sunglasses. Kaldera thought to himself, clothes do make the man—in some cases.
He followed Keru around the port rail, and said hello to Asuka and Minoru, who were lounging on the fiberglass deck before the bow. Both stood up to greet him, Asuka in a barely-there white bikini, which showed off her every curve quite nicely. Minoru was in his customary black, jeans this time, and a tank top.
“Good to see you again, Kaldera,” Asuka said, “and again, you and your band were wonderful last night.”
“Thank you,” Kaldera replied, “the whole show went really well, and I am at peace.” He leaned against the rail, whie Keru went aft; the others sat back down on the towels they’d laid out. “I gather Keru is ready to give the boat a trial.”
“Yes,” Asuka replied, “we’re glad you could join us.”
Kaldera chuckled as he pulled out his pack of Silk Cut. “I have always been more of a sail guy,” he admitted, “but it is good to try out different things.”
He regarded Minoru through the smoke of his cigarette as he lit up; Minoru had been quiet and more reserved than usual, it was that pronounced. “Last night go okay for you, Minoru?”
“It was,” Minoru replied, “but I’m more happy for Kaz. He gave an excellent performance, as I knew he would.”
“He did,” Asuka concurred. “You’ve really done well by him, Kaldera.”
“Well, a lot of that’s been on his own.” Kaldera exhaled the smoke through his nose, and continued, “I never had a teacher. I just fooled around on guitar, piano and other instruments to get what I wanted. Kaz is doing the same, and he really does work at it.”
“He does.” Minoru pulled his knees to his chest and said, “I think he really has found himself. I did the same, a little earlier in that way. But I’m pleased for him, and I can’t think of too many others I respect as much as Kaz.”
Kaldera nodded. “That’s good to hear,” he replied, “and you two get along really well, but I knew you would from the start. Speaking of which…” He addressed Asuka, “Will Father let you out of the pen next weekend?”
Asuka laughed, as did the others. “Mom worked on him,” she said, “it is a go. My meeting with Aimi the other day really opened some doors for me, and I really like her, Kaz as well. I am not so sure about Mei, she still seems a little standoffish.”
“She is that way,” Minoru said, “but really, she is the kind of person that, if Aimi or Kaz have friends, they become her friends, too. I would not worry Asuka, about her.”
Keru returned at this moment, preceded by Nanae, who wore a colorful sarong over her one-piece bathing suit. “Ah, Kaldera,” she greeted as she took his hand and kissed his cheek as he stood. “Welcome! You have been getting rave reviews from our friends who were at the club last night, and you get one from me as well.”
Kaldera grinned and sat again, Nanae beside him, while Keru remained standing. “I am honored,” he replied, “and I will have to see how future shows go. I may have an old friend coming to Japan to tour, and I want to see if I may entice her to join me next time.”
“Who is this?” Nanae asked.
“Her name’s Marlie,” Kaldera explained, “a folksinger that I’ve known for a long time. She’s had a few records out in the States. No huge hits, but then again Marlie was never known for being commercial. I have not seen her in years; it’ll be good to, and I hope you and your friends,” he motioned to Asuka and Minoru, “will be able to meet her. She’s a great person.”
“I would like that,” Minoru replied, and Asuka nodded her agreement.
“Well, we’re loaded up,” Keru broke in, “shall we?”
“Let’s.” Nanae stood up and said, “Come down all of you, lunch is on.”
Kaldera helped Minoru cast off the lines, while Keru climbed to the bridge and fired up the twin diesels. Kaldera joined him there, and he watched Keru guide the boat (named the Kiyomi) out of her slip, past the long lines of other yachts, cabin cruisers and vessels of the upper classes.
“Where’s Daisuke?” He asked. “Thought he’d be with us.”
“He is off today,” Keru told him, “I believe he is on a date with Saki.” At this, the two chuckled. Daisuke was unmarried, and was a known favorite of the ladies at the club, Saki for one.
“Good for them both,” Kaldera replied. He lowered his shades as he watched Keru guide the Kiyomi into the channel, a little too close to a passing cruiser for his liking.
Keru seemed not to notice, and increased the throttle speed slightly as they moved past several more slips. “Saki has become an exceptional manager,“ he commented, “for one so young. Being a hostess is never easy, I’ve learned that much; but she has a thick skin, and knows how to deal with people.”
Kaldera nodded as Nanae effortlessly climbed to the bridge with a pair of wide, heavy-bottomed glasses. “Here you are, gentlemen.”
Keru nodded his thanks, and Kaldera voiced his as he accepted his drink and tasted it. Tanqueray and tonic, he noted, and very well made; Kaldera made a mental note to himself that he would have to be careful about how much he drank while out here.
Nanae returned below, and Keru bumped up the throttle a little more as he guided the boat into open water. “Good day for a sail, eh, Kaldera?” He asked, over the sound of the diesels.
“Indeed,” Kaldera replied. He clinked his glass to Keru’s and took another sip. He looked out across the water; it was a sunny, almost cloudless day and he eyed some of the other pleasure craft. I remember these days; I thought I’d left them behind. But in looking back, I feel happier, I think because of these friends of mine, especially the younger ones. I must, I know now, watch over them if I can. I will never be their father, but I can be their friend and stand by them if they need help. If only they knew how much I need them--but then, that would be too much for them to know right now.
There you have it...thank you for reading!