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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scattered to the Winds

I am afraid that what I am about to write is really going to make some readers, in particular certain ones, angry but I don't feel I can articulate things very well without saying how I feel.

The past two to three months have been very difficult, and yet they have also been good in other ways. 

Physically, I'm much better.  I am one day shy of two months without a smoke; that's the longest I've gone without one in years, and I feel so much better just on that count alone.  My workouts at the gym, the cardio and swimming have already been beneficial; I've lost a bit on my waist line, and I'm gaining muscle.  Not a lot, but you can see some differences.  Very happy with that, I am.

I have mentally, however become scattered; scatter-brained maybe.  I have found myself scattered, in terms of my energy on a number of projects, and I have to refocus.

Recent events have led me to consider stopping just about everything, and returning to the writing that started it all, "Sweet Dreams:  Searching for Roy Buchanan," or SDS-1 as I've often called it.

A friend whose name I'll not mention has looked at this, and also at "Take Another Road," which I've been serializing up here.  This person's take has been very interesting and instructive.

I appreciate criticism, but I also fear it.  Don't we all?

Too many people around me have told me how good my writing is, but why am I not published yet?  Well, that takes years, in many cases.  My craft is not perfect yet, never had been, and won't be. 

I wonder if I have tried too hard to subconsciously make my work commercial; have I also tried too hard to incorporate what several people have told me is right, because I'm not?

I don't think anyone is saying my writing is bad; I don't think anyone is saying it sucks, but it seems every person who offers a critique only agrees on some minor points, but everything else is somehow terribly, terribly wrong.

I know this person is not trying to make my work commercial, I know it.  This makes me cast my eye to others; has everyone been trying to make me over in their own image, because of what they think is right?

In the end, I take the blame/credit for how things went.

My attitude is two-sided, and understandable.  There is my Reactive Side; it says:


Something like that.

Then there is the Logical Side; it says:

"Okay...after further review, there are some valid and worthy points here.  They are well-taken, and I'll think about them very hard."

I have promised this to more than one person.  But we must remember something, and I have to especially:  it's something Frank Zappa said on "Johnny Carson" years ago.

Paraphrashing:  "The first duty is to the artist."

There was more, but that line is important.  I am a writer, and I suppose an artist of sorts.  I do not think I'm a great one, but I am a good one, dammit.  I will do my best to present what I want to see, and what I feel needs to be presented.  That is what artists do.

Not being pretentious here, trying not to; this is what I do, and what I love to do.  I know what I've got, and I'll do my best to make it work.  I can bend, but I will not break and do whatever it takes to get published.

Bands will record specific songs or tailor their look to get signed; the Rolling Stones had to take the hard decision of removing Ian Stewart from the band because he was too old, and didn't have the look.  Thankfully Stewart accepted that decision with grace, and the Stones never forgot him for it.

I can make edits and changes, to be sure...but I will NOT compromise the idea, and what drives me. this arrogant?  Pretentious?  Have I just told good friends of mine to go fuck themselves?  I hope not.

This is how conflicted I feel right's hard, but I've been through a damn sight worse.

Thanks for reading, and for the support of showing up and at least giving me a hearing.

Blessed Be.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 15--"Morning After"

Here's Chapter 15 of "Take Another Road."  And you know you wanna know what happened after the last know you do...;-)

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Chapter 15--Morning After
            The morning sun’s rays reflected off the well-polished bow of the Kiyomi, and Daisuke shifted his deck chair slightly to avoid it hitting him in the face.  Keru sat beside him, lighting a cigar.  Daisuke had joined his boss for breakfast at the house, then came down to help finish a few details on the boat.  “So the first run went well, you said.”
            Keru nodded as he puffed on his cigar and exhaled.  “Yes, a very good trip,” he replied.  “The engine overhaul was a good investment, they ran perfectly.  I’m ready to take her a little further out, with the family.  I hope you might come this next time, Daisuke.  You’d enjoy it.”
            “I should,” Daisuke replied.  He had worked on a boat in his youth, and had taken part in sailing while at Harvard.  The Bayliner was a different breed to him, however and Keru’s piloting he did not put too much stock in.  “Perhaps next time.”  Changing the subject, he said, “The house was rather quiet this morning.”
            Nanae had not felt well the night before, and so slept in; with Asuka away, it was the two men alone at the breakfast table.  “Nanae should be more like herself today,” Keru explained, “and Asuka is of course off on that expedition with those friends of hers.”  Keru’s tone of voice showed he did not care for certain ones; Daisuke recalled that while Keru had not spoken much to any of Asuka’s new friends at the club the other night, he did actually seem to have liked Goro.
            “We have talked of this before,” Daisuke said as he admired a small ketch that was headed out.  “They are decent people, Keru.  They do the best they can with the circumstances life has offered them.  What worries you so?”
            “As I’ve said,” Keru explained while he carefully knocked the ash from his cigar, “I worry that Asuka is consorting with some people who are not worthy of her.  It is not that they are bad people--but Asuka can do much better.  I am taking steps to that affect.”
            Daisuke turned and regarded Keru through his shades.  “What sort of steps?”
            Keru continued to stare seaward.  “Steps,” he replied, “that must be taken.  I’ve not done all this for my daughter to have her settle for less.  I will deal with that when she returns today, or perhaps tomorrow.”
            Daisuke said nothing, and turned back to the water.  He didn’t like the look on Keru’s face.
            Mei awakened to the familiar, and welcoming scent of brewed coffee.  Opening her eyes, she found herself on her back, her right arm stretched out.  There was no one there, but Mei could hear two voices from the kitchen, and she smiled.
            Rolling onto her side slowly, Mei put her arms around one of her pillows.  It had been a long night, and Mei felt like she was living it over again, even now.  Those feelings, every moment of them were coming back to her, and she pulled the pillow tighter to her body.
            Footsteps were approaching, and Mei slowly pulled herself up to a sitting position, and took up the covers up as well.  The door had been cracked, and a small, bare foot slowly pushed the door aside.  Midori entered, wearing the shirt she had on from last night and bearing two cups of coffee.  “Good morning, Mei,” she called.
            Mei grinned as she moved over, and Midori carefully slid the door closed before coming to the bed.  “Your mother says you take yours black,” she commented as she offered one of the cups to Mei.  “You’re a braver girl than I.”
            Mei let the covers fall as she took the cup and inhaled the sapid aroma of the UCC blend she and Reiko enjoyed.  She noted Midori’s cup looked more like a latte; there was so much milk in it, as the girl settled beside her.  “Thank you, by the way,” Mei added, and kissed her lips.
            “For this,” Midori replied, then returned the kiss, “or for last night?” 
            The two girls laughed quietly and kissed again.  “For all of it,” Mei replied.  “You have been a surprise, but one of the best I’ve ever had.”
            Midori sipped her drink.  “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” she responded, “and you have been as well.  I don’t mind saying out loud that I love you; I hope it does not concern you.”
            “You said you didn’t care last night,” Mei reminded her, “and I don’t.  I love you as well.”  She took a sip and asked, “So, when did you decide you liked girls?”
            Midori giggled.  “I haven’t!”  She replied.  “I like boys as much as the next girl, but…” She thought for a moment, then said, “I’m just more comfortable around girls.  I feel I can be myself a little more around them.  I don’t have to put on an act for the boys, you know what I mean?”
            “You know,” Midori continued, after she took another sip, “boys expect you to be a certain way, based on how they’re brought up.  They want their girlfriends to either dress like their parents, or dress like streetwalkers.  I don’t want to be either, I want to be me.”
            “And you are you,” Mei pointed out.  “Don’t ever think I’d object to anything you wore or didn’t wear.  That has nothing to do with you, the person, and it shouldn’t.”
            “Right.”  Midori paused, then asked, “Now, how about you?  Do you prefer girls?”
            Mei laughed, and Midori joined her in it again.  “I never thought in my life I’d ever have a boyfriend,” she replied, “other than Shuji.  There was nothing going on between us, as I’ve said; but boys have never been interested in me, either because I was fat growing up, or because I’m this butch martial arts girl.  I honestly didn’t give it much thought.  I believed that if someone was to come into my life, I’d know it was meant to happen, and I’d recognize it.  That’s where you come in.”
            “How so?”  Midori asked as she cuddled closer to Mei.
            “I knew,” Mei told her, “from the moment we spoke to one another on that first day of school, there was something there.  I didn’t know what at the time, but I just knew I liked you a lot.  I understood your situation, and you understood mine.  I felt that connection, but like I said, I didn’t know right away.”
            Midori sighed and concurred, “Neither did I.  The fact you stood up for me like you did was a big factor in it, but there was more:  I saw you as a tough girl who’d been through a lot, but under that exterior I knew there was a really sweet person.  You showed it to me, and you don’t let too many people know about it.  That says something about you.”
            Mei listened as she sipped her coffee, and didn’t answer for a few moments.  “You are right about that,” she said.  “I don’t let it out; only my closest friends see it.  I guess it’s because I put myself out there for Shuji, and then got shot down in such a horrible way.  I became afraid of it, afraid it might happen again.”           
            Midori put her cup on the table and slid her arms about Mei’s body.  Kissing her lips, she said, “You don’t have to put yourself on the line for everyone, only when you feel right about it.”  She embraced Mei tightly.  “This,” she added, “feels so right, and I’m so glad you’ve let me in.”
            Mei closed her eyes; with her free hand she felt for Midori’s face and pulled it to her.  The two kissed, and held it for as long as they could.
            Feet thumped on the deck above, and Aimi and Asuka awakened at the same moment.  The sun shone through the windows of the cabin, and both girls blinked their eyes.  
            “Oh, my,” Aimi said, and tried to stifle a yawn as she spoke.
            Asuka chuckled as she rubbed her eyes.  This would be something for them to walk in on,” she joked.
            “Oh, no!”  Aimi tried not to laugh.  “Think of the rumors that would start!”
            “Amongst us?  I doubt it,” Asuka replied, but she did slide out of bed, and dropped to her knees in front of Aimi.  “Thanks again, Aimi,” she whispered, “for listening last night; and you were really great to be with.”  She then added hurriedly, “In a non-sexual way, of course.”
            The girls giggled, and both got up and began to get dressed.  A creak, and the hatch opened slightly.  “Hey, are you decent down there?”  Kaz called.           
            “No!  Go away!”  Both girls shot back, but laughed as they did so.  They heard Kaz laugh as well.
            “Okay,” he replied, “but Kaldera wouldn’t be down there, would he?”
            “I don’t think so,” Aimi called back sarcastically, “why?”  Both girls were back in their swimsuits by this time, and they headed up the steps. 
            Kaz was there, in his trunks and looking a little perplexed.  “We can’t find him,” he reported.  “He left the fire last night after you two came back here, and he’s still not returned.”
            “There he is!”  Minoru had climbed the main mast and was scanning the island with a pair of binoculars.  “He did go back up there,” he called, and pointed in that direction.
            All three turned to look at the island.  They shaded their eyes; on the peak they’d scaled yesterday was a faint, but recognizable form.  Kaldera’s silhouette was could be seen, and it looked like he was either doing Tai Chi or some similar exercise.
            Minoru climbed back down to the deck and passed the glasses to Kaz.  “Kaldera mentioned once that Yasukuni is like a chakra, all its own, at least to him.  He comes here to meditate, to draw its energy in, then send it back out.”
            “Kind of like what he did with us the other night?” Asuka ventured.
            “Yes,” Aimi replied, “there is a give and take with that sort of thing.  You don’t want to hold it all in I would say, at least not for a long time.”
            Kaz continued to scan the figure in the distance.  “Looks like he’s coming back,” he commented.  “Well, we should start clearing away over there.”  Everyone nodded and jumped off the boat in an impromptu swimming race to shore.
            Dear Kira:  Forgive me if my handwriting is a little jumpy, but we are at sea once again.  We have not yet left Yasukuni, but we will soon.  We have all eaten our fill of last night’s leftovers, and everyone’s playing music or just enjoying it on this beautiful morning.
            I wish you were here with us; you‘d have had fun.  I feel very privileged to have been asked by Kaldera on this trip.  Asuka and I got our sea legs quickly, and there was no sickness from either of us!  The trip to the island, the hike, singing around the campfire, it was all too wonderful for mere words.
            I also spent the night with Asuka…but not how you might think!  We had a long talk, and I understand how she feels about Minoru.  Something is wrong there; I believe he is hesitant in engaging in relations with her, because as Asuka says, he’s afraid of losing what he has with her.  That says much about his character, and that is something I can only admire.
            But as I have said, Minoru is holding some painful memory or feeling inside him; it must have to do with his mother.  I understand well.  I hope he can bring it out soon. 
            Aimi looked up from her writing and lowered her cheap sunglasses.  She was sitting on her beach towel, forward of the main mast; Asuka was beside her on her stomach, the straps of her bikini top unhooked in order to eliminate her tan line.  Seated around them were the men of the crew, Kaldera and Kaz on guitar, while Minoru added some interesting shamisen licks to the song they were playing.
“I’m sailing down the summer days
Where fish and seagulls play
I put my troubles all away
And when the gale comes up I’ll fill my cup
With the whiskey of the Highlands
She’s a good ol’ ship and she’ll make the trip
From the lee of Christian Island…”

            Kaldera was singing in an unusual style, his voice in a lower register on the Gordon Lightfoot song.  Kaz was picking a slow lead lick over the chords, while Minoru deftly worked the fingers of his left hand along the neck of his instrument.  It sounded almost like a steel guitar, which Aimi had heard on some recordings. 
            She smiled as he watched her friends; all seemed just happy to be here, in this one place.  Looking down, Aimi could tell though Asuka’s eyes were closed, she too was at peace.
“When the summer ends we will rest again
In the lee of Christian Island…”


(Writer's note:  "Christian Island" was written and recorded by Gordon Lightfoot; it appears on the album, Don Quixote (1972).  A re-recorded version appears on Gord's Gold, Vol. 2 (1989).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 14--"Revelations"

Here we go, with Chapter 14 of "Take Another Road..." Enjoy!


Chapter 14--Revelations

            Minoru sat on a half-buried log and watched the bonfire as it burned in the stone circle he and the others had set up.  It was late, and the gathering had wound down for the night.  The Kudo was anchored just offshore, sails down and all but the topmast lights darkened.  He could see the lights of Tokyo beyond.

            It had been an active day.  Kaldera had guided the boat into this small cove, and was pleased to find no one else here.  The island would be theirs, at least for today. 

            Everyone moved their gear ashore, holding it above their heads as they waded in.  Though Kaldera had set up his large camping tent, it was a warm night, and Minoru decided here by the fire would do for him.  Kaz seemed of the same mind; his sleeping bag, equipment and guitar were nearby. 

            Once all things were in readiness, it was time for the hike.  Kaldera led the club along the island by paths that he knew well; none of the others had ever been here before.  He fortunately went at a measured pace, stopping every so often to show off certain topographical points of interest, as if the island were his home.  

            Yasukuni was an intriguing place, Minoru thought.  The ground sloped up from the wide beach, and the hikers passed through sea grass.  Then things went nearly straight up; the path Kaldera chose was rocky, but climbing gear was not required.  Minoru watched how Kaldera navigated the narrow, winding paths and right up the rock itself in some places.  He had thought with some amusement that Kaldera displayed the agility of a mountain goat.  It’s good that we’re all in decent shape.  I found myself being pushed a little by what Kaldera got us into. 

            Minoru been worried about Aimi; she was second in the line, with Minoru behind her.  She looked fit, but he wondered if Aimi could keep up the pace.  Minoru realized quickly Aimi would be fine; she seemed genuinely enthused about the hike, and where Kaldera was leading them. 

            The only sign of any habitation on the entire island was on a patch of open ground, which faced the sea:  a small stone monument, set up by whom no one knew, to remember those killed in the war.  There was a Shinto shrine that bore Yasukuni’s name on the mainland that honored the war dead, though it was a matter of political controversy for some.  This seemed to be a more personal memorial, however.

            Someone had been there recently; the remnants of a bouquet of flowers lay before it, some of the now-dead blooms partially scattered by the wind, plus the remnants of two sticks of incense.

            Taking a small leather pouch from his knapsack, Kaldera withdrew several sticks of his own and set them in the ground before the stone.  Lighting them, he and the others bowed before it and paid their respects, and drank in the strong scent of patchouli. 

            The hike returned to its previous tenor again, as Kaldera led them to the summit, a high, prominent rock well above the rest of the island.  Here, the going was harder, and each had to provide a hand up to the one below.  There was just enough space at the peak for all to stand or sit.

            Minoru could not get that view out of his mind:  they were high above the ocean; the crashing waves below looked spectacular, but sounded so faint.  He looked out across the Pacific; to his left and right as well as forward there was nothing but water, sun and sky.  Everyone remarked on how beautiful and wild this place was, and Minoru noticed how his friends looked--all sweaty from the strenuous hike, but joyful at the accomplishment, and its reward.

            The return went equally well, and all took a swim to cool off once back at the beach.  They then scoured the shoreline for driftwood; dinner followed, a simple meal that under Kaldera’s hands was filling after the long day.  Music followed, with Kaldera and Kaz on guitar and Minoru on shamisen.  Everyone joined in the singing (at least the songs they knew); some were from Kaldera’s prodigious catalog of tunes, along with native folk and popular songs. 

            Minoru thought about this as he paged through his book, the pages illuminated by the flickering fire.  “It was many and many a year ago/In a kingdom by the sea/That a maiden there lived whom you may know/By the name of Annabel Lee…”

            Footsteps muffled by the sand were approaching, and Minoru closed the casement that was his book.  As he placed it beside his shamisen, Kaz stepped out of the darkness in a t-shirt and jeans, his feet covered in sand from his walk.  “Kaldera’s disappeared,” he said as he sat on the log beside Minoru.

            There was no hint of concern in Kaz’s voice, and Minoru didn’t have any, either.  “I think he has gone back up there,” he replied. 

            Kaz nodded and poked at the fire with a stick, then tossed a thick chunk of wood from the small pile nearby.  He stared at the flames, which were not needed to reflect his expression.

            “Is anything troubling you, Kaz?” Minoru asked after some moments of silence.  “You are very deep in thought; in fact, you have been much of the day.”

            Kaz set the stick aside.  Resting his forearms on his thighs, Kaz laced his fingers together and continued to stare into the fire.  “I am not troubled, not really,” he replied at length.  “I do have a lot of thoughts that are crises-crossing inside me, though; I don’t know how to deal with them.”

            “You know Kaz,” Minoru said, “you can discuss it with me.  We are alone right now; the girls have gone back to the boat, and I think they’ll be sleeping there.  Kaldera certainly would never repeat something he felt was meant to be private; I will not, either.”

            The silence continued.  Kaz closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.  As much as he did not wish to share these thoughts with anyone, including Minoru he had no choice.

            Kaz turned and looked at his friend.  In the firelight, Minoru’s wild hair looked even more so, but his gaze was that honest, direct one he used with his friends.  Over the several months of their relationship, Kaz knew that Minoru had a different mask he used, for those he wished not to disclose too much to.  Here was the other. 

            “I appreciate that,” Kaz told him, “but I am afraid this is something that may hit too close to home.  I do not wish to anger or upset you, in any way.”

            Minoru smiled.  “You could not do that, my friend,” he responded.  “I believe I have an insight into what you are concerned over, but I wish to hear it from you.”

            “Then perhaps you can help me understand my feelings.”  Kaz turned back to the fire, and stared at it.  “You have had a long friendship, and relationship with Asuka,” Kaz continued, “so you at least would know what I am talking about.”

            “I assume so.”

            “Asuka is a very interesting girl,” Kaz said, his tone of voice now abashed.  He lowered his head and continued, “I like her very much; she is intelligent, she is kind to everyone, and I’m glad that she and Aimi are friends.  Even Mei seems to have been won over by her; and,” he sighed, “she is very beautiful.”

            “That she is,” Minoru replied, “in all respects.”

            “Then why,” Kaz asked, turning to Minoru, “do I feel the way I do?”

            Minoru sat up and faced him.  “You are attracted to Asuka, am I right?” He asked.  “Please, don’t be afraid to say it.  I will not take offense.”

            “I guess that’s it,” Kaz said.  “From the moment you introduced me to her,” he explained, “I couldn’t stop looking at her.  Not in a bad way, believe me--I just couldn’t get my eyes off her.  It’s not just her body--it’s everything about her.”

            Minoru chuckled.  “Asuka attracts attention,” he admitted, “I was aware of it from the earliest of my memories.  She could gain it by doing nothing at all; but do tell me more.”

            Kaz again looked back at the fire.  He was thinking of how Asuka looked in her bathing suit, how stunning she was as she stood at the bow beside Aimi.  Then later, when she changed for the hike, Kaz worked it so he got behind her in the line.  He stared at Asuka, in her t-shirt and tight hiking shorts as she walked ahead of him.  He did indeed enjoy the hike, and not just for the view. 

            “I have too much on my mind,” he suddenly shouted.  “I can’t talk of this; I am ashamed of what I’m thinking!”

            Minoru’s hand rested his shoulder; immediately Kaz felt the tension dissipate.  “I now understand,” Minoru replied quietly, “but there is something missing from this conversation, a salient point that has not yet been made.”

            Kaz turned and saw Minoru’s face directly.  The expression was one of understanding, but strangely it had also become sad.  “What’s that?”

            Looking him in the eye, Minoru leaned closer and said, “Asuka is my oldest and dearest friend, yes; but Kaz, there is nothing between us, other than that friendship—there can never be.”

            Kaz was stunned.  “But I thought--”

            “--think nothing of it,” Minoru cut him off.  “Asuka wishes for much more than what we have, to be sure.” 

            Minoru slid down into the sand and rested his lower back against the log.  “I love her, as much as Poe loved his dear wife Virginia, as much as the writer he chose to be loved the Lady Ligeia; but it ends, as I’ve said, there.”  Looking up at Kaz, he added, “The door is open for you.  Now that you have unburdened yourself, may I also do the same?”

            “Sure,” Kaz replied, relieved that Minoru was not angry with him.  “What have you to confess?”

            Minoru chuckled and looked up at the sky.  “I have felt,” he said, “very much the same strong, deep feelings you have for Asuka—only they are for Aimi.”

            “Really?”  Kaz grinned.  “I knew,” he replied, and he pointed at Kaz.  “I knew right away, you would say her.”

            “Is that bad?”  Minoru asked.

            “No!  It is wonderful,” Kaz replied.  “I always felt you two would get along well.  There is something about Aimi that is indeed special.  I’ve known her as long as you have Asuka, I think.”

            “That is accurate," Minoru replied.  “Aimi is beautiful, too—physically yes, but I was attracted by her mind from the start.  The short discussion I had with her near her parents’ shop in Ameyoko confirmed what I’d felt.  She is so open, yet not completely na├»ve--there is a great intelligence within her, and an empathic one.  I too could do nothing but watch her today; she has such a love of life, and she infuses it into everything and everyone she touches.  But I am surprised,” he added quickly, “that you and she did not become involved, you being the ‘boy next door’ and all.”

            Kaz laughed and sat in the sand beside Minoru.  “It never crossed my mind,” he said, as he locked his arms under his thighs.  “We were just so close.  Mei as well; they’re more like sisters to me than anything. We have spent that much time together, played together, talked about things together.  That’s how it is.”

            Minoru grinned as he looked heavenward.  “Oh, the cunning stars,” he intoned.  “I think,” Minoru chuckled, “that we will have some work on our hands, Kaz, to facilitate the directions of our personal wishes.  This,” he added, “will prove to be a great challenge.”

            Aimi pulled the wool blankets around herself as she settled into the lower bunk.  It had gotten too chilly for her on the beach, even with the fire, and so she waded across to the Kudo.  After removing her bathing suit and toweling off, she quickly pulled on her school track pants and a tank top, and burrowed under the covers.  The boat was anchored well fore and aft, and there was barely a swell. 

            She had enjoyed the day, from the sail to the hike, as well as the campfire.  Aimi had not been camping in years; she and her parents had gone on occasion when she was younger, but in recent years there’d not been the time, or the money.  She wondered what tomorrow would bring; her guess was they would have to sail back, as Kaldera indicated he had some things to do Sunday evening.  Add to it, Aimi had never really been far from her parents, so it would be good to see them again, and the others.

            She was just drifting off to sleep when Aimi heard a splashing in the water near the boat.  She listened; someone else was coming aboard.  There was the movement of the aluminum ladder as it thumped against the hull; then a quiet, barefoot step along the deck to the closed hatch.  “Aimi,” a voice called, “are you in there?”

            Aimi sat up.  “Yes, Asuka,” she responded, “come in.”

            The hatch door opened and Asuka carefully stepped down into the darkened cabin.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m going to have to turn a light on.”

            “That’s okay,” Aimi replied, and covered her eyes.  A click, and the one overhead light in the cabin came to life.  In addition to the bunk beds on the Kudo, there ran the length of the starboard side a padded bench, plus a table for those who wished to take their meals below.  Right now, much of the gear brought for the trip was stacked there.

            Asuka closed the hatch and came down, dripping wet in her bikini, a towel over her shoulders.  “It’s too cold out there,” she said, “I hope you don’t mind some company.”

            “Not at all,” Aimi replied.  She watched as Asuka dried herself off, disrobed and pulled a sweat suit from her equipment bag.  As she dressed, Asuka said, “It’s been fun today, hasn’t it?”

            Aimi nodded, but there was something in Asuka’s voice that didn’t sound right, and she said so.  “You sound a little upset,” Aimi added, “if I may be so bold.”

            Asuka looked up.  She was sitting across from Aimi on the bench as she pulled on her sweats.  “Well,” she replied, “yes and no.  The no part is the larger one.  I have had a wonderful day today; but something just happened with Minoru, again.”

            “What?”  Aimi looked closer at Asuka, who was now hiding her face in her hands.  “Did you have an argument?”

            “No.”  Asuka looked up, her face confused.  “I was hoping to be with him tonight, on the beach, if you know what I mean.”

            Aimi smiled.  “I do,” she replied, “and I don’t think anyone would have been surprised by that.  But you said, ‘again’ just now.  How do you mean?”

            Asuka sighed.  “I think you know how much I love Minoru,” she said, “and I do, deeply; but especially recently, anytime I try to get close to him, he pushes me away.  Not in a mean way; believe me, he is most considerate.  But he keeps doing it.”

            “Why do you think that is?”

            “I don’t know.”  Asuka stood in the low cabin, careful not to strike her head on the ceiling.  “I am afraid I’ve done something wrong, or have hurt him,” she said, “and it is upsetting me to no end.”

            Aimi pulled back the covers and motioned to Asuka.  “Come in, if you wish,” she said.  “It’s warm in here, and I have a feeling you need someone, as I did last night.”

            Asuka’s expression was a grateful one as switched off the light and slowly picked her way in the dark to the bunk.  There was just enough room in it for the two of them; once the covers were wrapped securely about themselves, Aimi pulled Asuka to her.  “Talk to me,” she said quietly, “just between us two.”

            Asuka rested her head on the pillows beside Aimi.  “Well,” she said, “Minoru has told me that he is afraid of destroying our friendship, if we become intimate.  I admit, I may have been too forward about that in the past, but I was trying to go slow, and ease him towards it.”

            “He may just not be ready,” Aimi replied, “and it is true I understand that things change between friends, once they’ve had sex.”

            “I’ve heard that, too,” Asuka said, “but I can’t imagine it.  Not in this case.  I know how I feel for Minoru, and I’ve been there for him at the worst times of his life.  When Ebissan died, Minoru was devastated; I’d never seen anyone hurt so much.  He still does, and from what he’s told me, he doesn’t get along with his relatives, either.  He’s shut himself off, except to myself, my family and Kaldera; and now the club.”

            Aimi felt Asuka’s arms slide around her neck and waist, and she tightened her hold on Asuka.  “You do care very deeply for him, that’s easy to see,” Aimi replied, “but sometimes that’s all you can do.  When someone has lost a love, be it a family member or a friend, it can be very hard.  It can take a long time.  I’ve seen it in my family; I at least understand what Minoru is feeling, thought I can’t say I know for sure.”

            Asuka listened.  She felt a slight wave brush against the Kudo, the sound of Aimi’s voice, her breath along her face.  “I suppose so,” she finally said.  “You are right, Aimi; I’ve been so self-centered, thinking only of what I want for myself.”

            “You do think of Minoru, though,” Aimi replied, “and you do think of others.  Don’t feel bad over it.  I think it best that you let it lie for now--when Minoru is ready, he’ll let you know, and then perhaps you will also know more of what you will face in the future.”

            She felt Asuka‘s head move, and her lips go to her cheek.  “Thank you,” she whispered, “for not judging me.”

            “I cannot judge you,” Aimi told her, as she returned the kiss.  “You are my friend, and there’s nothing to judge.”

            The two drifted off to sleep, gently rocked by the boats movement in the water, the anchors holding the Kudo, and themselves securely.

            Mei slid closed the door of her bedroom, after one final trip to the bathroom.  She was wearing her old football jersey and began to brush out the ends of her hair in preparation for bed.

            “I hope this is not an inconvenience.”

            Mei smiled as she looked behind her.  Midori was sitting up in bed, her knees to her chest, in an old Asahi beer t-shirt that had belonged to Mei’s father. 

            “Hardly,” Mei replied, “I’m glad your folks let you stay over.”

            “Yeah, Mom and Dad are cool about things like that,” Midori replied as she watched Mei continue to work on her hair.  “I don’t think I’m gonna tell them about this, however.”

            “I can understand that.”  Mei soon finished with her hair and came over to the bed.  “We can keep this quiet,” she added, “however you want to play it.”

            Midori smiled as she watched Mei climb into bed beside her.  “I honestly don’t care what anyone thinks,” she replied.  “I’ve dealt with my background all my life, I can deal with this.  I will talk to Mom and Dad about it, eventually.  But right now…”

            Midori slid down beside Mei as the bedside light was put out.  In the dark, the two found each other and embraced. 

            “Thank you, Midori,” Mei whispered, “for being here.  I never realized how much I needed another in my life until recently.  I’ve tried so hard to go it alone, just with the few friends I had.  But I’ve wanted, and needed more.”

            “Don’t worry,” Midori replied, her voice also as quiet as she could make it.  “We all need that someone in our lives, and I know what it’s like to be alone, totally alone.  When you find that one, it makes it all worth it.”

            The two kissed one another on the lips, then Mei slowly turned Midori onto her back.  As Mei slid over top of her, Midori reached out and pulled the covers over their bodies, and Mei slowly brought herself down, and into the arms that would envelop her.