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Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Finale: Chapter 26, Take Another Road: "Another Road"

This is it!  The final chapter of "Take Another Road!"  I thank everyone who has read through the saga, and I hope to find out your opinions and feelings now that it's done.


Chapter 26—Another Road
            Aimi opened her eyes.  At first wasn’t sure where she was, and had awakened to find herself in a rather cramped position.  Then she remembered, and moved carefully so as not to disturb the person whose arms held her. 
            The two armchairs in the living room had again been pushed together to make a small bed.  But for an old, oversized t-shirt, Aimi was naked beneath the wool blanket wrapped about her and Minoru.
            She thought back to the frantic moments of the night before, as the typhoon blew itself out.  Kaldera had been carried inside after his collapse, but to everyone’s relief regained consciousness almost immediately.  He was brought to the couch, where Saki was ready, a cup of coffee in hand.  As she got him to drink it, Kaldera sniffed, and his sense of humor returned.
            “Found my bottle of Jagermeister,” he observed.  “This’ll be the best cup of coffee I’ve had in a while!”
            Despite all that had happened in the past several hours, everyone had to laugh, and all availed themselves of the food and drink Saki and the others had prepared.  “All of you,” Kaldera said as he headed for the bedroom with Saki’s help, “you did damn well out there.  Every one of you showed courage, and you did indeed work as team.”  Raising his cup, he added, “Here’s to every one of you--I am thankful you are my friends.”
            The others eventually trooped to the shower, while Daisuke borrowed a change of clothes and went to the hospital.  As dawn broke, the group began to crash:  Kaz fell asleep on one end of the couch, while Mei took the other, Midori in her arms.  Minoru opted for the chairs again, and as he climbed into it, he noticed Aimi as she stood in the room. 
            Aimi was wrapped in a thin blanket, and wondered where she should sleep.  She had tried not to let Minoru notice her uncertainty; she didn’t want to assume anything.  At the same time, Aimi could not deny that she wanted to be beside Minoru, now.
            Minoru of course had seen through it.  “Aimi,” he whispered, “you can come here.  Don’t worry, I won’t try anything.”
            Aimi chuckled as she wrapped her blanket more tightly about herself.  “I wasn’t think of that, Minoru,” she replied quietly, and sat on the edge of the chairs.  “But how is this going to look?”
            “Does it matter?”  Minoru’s eyes were heavy, and he replied, “I may not be in my right frame of mind, but I know how I feel for you, Aimi.  You saved my life, my family’s lives--we’ll never be able to repay that.  And while this is not the time or place for acting on it, may I at least say that I love you?  As a friend, but also more, I feel?”
            Aimi smiled, and she reached out and ran her hand through Minoru’s hair.  “I feel it too,” she said quietly.  “I didn’t just go out there for my friends--I went out there for people I love.”
            She shed her blanket, then stepped over the chair and climbed into Minoru’s arms.  She curled her body against his, and Minoru wrapped his blanket around both of them.
            “What did you do out there?”  Saki sat on the bed beside Kaldera as she placed a wet cloth on his forehead.  Kaldera was a feverish, but Saki did not detect much more wrong, apart from that and exhaustion.
            “I called on the powers,” Kaldera explained, his eyes closed.  “I asked for help from the Spirit World, to give me the strength to lead us to our friends, and to bring them home.  I can’t really say much more than that, Saki; it would not make sense to you, and I am still not sure of it all myself.  I am a healer, but not a very good one.  I have had to expend so much energy over the years to heal myself, I wondered if I had anything left to give to others.”
            Saki walked around the bed and removed her tank top as she did so.  “You do,” she said, “and you have.  I have watched you do your work; when you play music, when you sing, and when you teach others--that is how you do it.  The way you have brought these kids together, people who are of different circumstances, but have things in common, that’s a gift.  You have given freely of that gift, Kaldera.  Don’t think you haven’t done anything since then.”
            Kaldera smiled as he watched Saki bend over to remove her underwear, and then slide into bed beside him.  “You are very kind, Saki,” he said, “too kind.”
            “I hardly think so.”  She leaned past Kaldera and turned the key to switch off the antique lamp.  As she lay against him and pulled the bed covers over their bodies, she asked, “One more thing, Kaldera?”
            “The song that was such a big hit in America,” Saki asked, “what song was it?”
            Kaldera chuckled.  “It was the worst of an eight-track demo I gave to a singer friend of mine,” he said.  “He called me a week later to say this song was the one he was going to cut.  I was honored he would record any of them, but I so wished it would have been one of the others.”
            “It must have been a very good song,” Saki posed, “at least in his mind.”
            Kaldera shook his head as he began to drift off to sleep.  “To borrow an old phrase,” he said, “it was a piece of shit.”
            Kaz set a laundry basket full of wet clothes, blankets and other items on the Kudo’s deck.  He had awakened a few hours after the boat’s arrival; everyone else was still down for the count.  Deciding to find something to do without waking up the house, he went down to the boat.
            The Kudo was going to need some repairs before she could put to sea again.  Kaz found no leaks as he inspected the hull; some of the lines, tackle and lighting rig however would need to be replaced.  He’d leave that to Kaldera, but Kaz could at least do some of the housekeeping.
            He looked across the water.  The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day, apart from the mess the storm had left behind:  two nearby fishing boats were being pumped out, and there was debris of all sorts floating in the water.  Some of the buildings nearby had lost parts of their roofs, and at least one of the dry-docked boats in the yard had been damaged.
            “Kaz!”  He turned and saw Asuka walking up the gangplank.  She was wearing the same clothes she’d had on from the night before, though they were now dry.  Her hair was brushed but frizzy, and she had dark circles under her eyes.
            He found himself rushing to Asuka, and the two embraced.  “Are you all right?”  Kaz asked.  “How are your parents?”
            Asuka clung to Kaz, and said nothing for a long moment.  “They’re fine,” she replied eventually.  “Dad has a separated shoulder, but the doctors told us it is not serious.  Mom is fine, just worn out.  They’re being kept until tomorrow for observation; they released me this morning.  I had Daisuke drop me off here; I wanted to see you, all of you.”
            Kaz looked into Asuka’s face, and down her body.  Her sweatshirt did little to obscure the curves of her body, and her tight, rolled up jean shorts showed all of her lean, toned legs.  She looked so good right now, even in this state, but he quickly averted his eyes to her own. 
            “We’re okay,” he said, “everyone’s still asleep up there.  I came down to get this stuff taken care of.”
            Asuka nodded, but continued to lean on Kaz.  “Is Minoru all right?”
            “Yeah, he’s fine.”
            “That’s good.”  Asuka raised her head and looked up at Kaz.  “You saved us,” she said, “I don’t know how to begin to thank you.”
            “No thanks are necessary, Asuka,” Kaz told her, “don’t even think about it.  We did it because we had to; we’re your friends, and…” 
            Kaz had stopped, and Asuka noticed he had looked away.  She reached up and took his face in her hand.  “What is it?”
            Those fingers, strong yet delicate touched Kaz’s skin.  He again looked to her, then slowly moved one arm around Asuka’s waist, the other about her shoulders.  “You don’t owe me a thing, Asuka,” he stammered.  “I…”  He tried again to turn away, but Asuka held to him, with a strength he hadn’t anticipated.
            “I know,” she replied, “it‘s hard to say what you want, isn‘t it?”
            “Yes.”  Kaz was shaking inside, yet a feeling was rising in him that he could not hold off.  “I have been trying to keep my mouth shut,” he began again, “and my eyes off you Asuka…out of respect for you, and for Minoru.”
            Asuka smiled and nodded approvingly.  “That is very gentlemanly of you, Kaz,” she replied.  “May I ask you a question?”
            “Sure.”  Kaz was only a little taller than Asuka, and he found himself looking down into her face.  It was so close.
            “Minoru told me there is one who loves me that’s very close,” she said.  “Is that one you?  If so, I wish to hear you say it.”
            Kaz blinked.  “Yes,” he said with some difficulty, “it’s me.” 
            He had no chance to say more, as Asuka’s lips met his and the two kissed.  He didn’t know how long they stood there, but the kiss went on for some time.  Both were inexperienced in this, but it didn’t matter.
            Kaz’s eyes opened, the same time as Asuka’s.  He could not speak, only smile.
            Asuka turned to look down the open hatch.  “Come with me,” she said.
            Kaz allowed himself to be led by the hand, down the Kudo’s steps. 
            Dear Journal:  The days that followed the rescue were a whirlwind, almost like the storm itself.  Fortunately none of our friends were badly hurt.  The boat was a total loss, but it was insured.  There were no other serious injuries from that terrible storm either, I’m so relieved.
            Now that the excitement is over, we can move forward again.  Minoru and I are closer now, and everyone seems fine with it.  Asuka and Kaz are dating now, too, and they are a great couple.  Keru seems to approve; he has changed, and it happened even before the storm.  Mei and Midori?  Well, we know about them, and none of us could be happier.
            Mom and Dad were very concerned when they learned what I’d done, but they also knew that I would have laid down my life for my friends.  Kaz’s parents at first thought he’d gone mad, but they were in awe of how brave he was, and are very proud of him.  I am glad for that, because even with their breaking up, Kaz loves them both so much--he’s needed their approval.  Maybe now they see how well he’s turning out.  I can also say that all of us are becoming even better friends; we’re closer than we ever thought possible.
            We got a small write-up in a local newspaper about the rescue, but I don’t consider myself a hero, none of us do.  We did what we had to, and I hope if a situation like that ever arises again, I can act the same way.
 In any case, Keru and his family have been more than grateful; they hosted an event at the club for everyone, and Kaldera performed of course.  This time, it was different:  Marlie joined him onstage, as did Kaz and Minoru!  Kaz sang that new song, and it was wonderful.  We’re all finding ourselves, even me.  I don’t know what I’m going to do after high school, but as my family has said, I should enjoy my youth and my friends.  There will be plenty of time to know what I will become.
            Aimi stood at the bow of the Kudo, in a one-piece black bathing suit.  It was a gift from Minoru; not because he wanted to see her in it (though that might have been an incentive), but he knew that she didn’t like her school suit, either. 
            Today the Other Roads Club would make another trip to the island, but this time it would be even better.  Beside her at the bow was Asuka in her white bikini, and she looked as good as ever.  Arms around one other, Aimi said, “We’re right back where we started, aren’t we?”
            Asuka laughed.  “I suppose so,” she admitted, “but I can’t complain.”
            “Neither can I.”  Kaz and Minoru then joined them at the bow, and Aimi looked behind her.  Mei had overcome her fear of being on a boat, and she made her way forward, wearing a black sarong over a red swimsuit.  Midori followed her in a floral bikini, and they joined the others at the rail. 
            “No seasickness yet, Mei?”  Kaz quipped.
            “Don’t remind me!  No, I’m cool,” Mei replied as she quickly softened her tone.  The day was sunny and wind filled the sails, but the waves were only very slight.  “I’m doing fine.”
            Aimi looked behind them:  Kaldera was at the rail, Keru beside him.  The latter’s arm was still in a sling, but he was in better form, a lit cigar in his teeth as enjoyed the trip.  Nanae sat at the stern alongside Aimi’s parents, and all waved to her.  Saki was also back there, in a black thong standing on the other side of Kaldera.  Daisuke was aboard too, one of Saki’s hostess bar colleagues (similarly attired) as his date for the day.
            Turning to face forward, Aimi said, “We’ve come a long way, and our lives will only get better.”  Pointing ahead, she added, “Look!  Our lives are as open as the horizon.  No matter where we go--I’ll always love you guys, and remember what we’ve been through.”
            Kaz put his hand forward.  “The Other Roads Club--may it live on forever, and may we always take the one less traveled.”
            Everyone put a hand on Kaz’s.  “And that will make all the difference,” Minoru declared.
            “Hear, hear!”  All said, and held to one another as the Kudo took a heavy swell.  Then the music came on again, over the loudspeakers, and Aimi smiled as she looked forward into the sun.

“Take another road to a hiding place
Disappear without a trace
Take another road to another time

On another road in another time
Like a novel from the five-and-dime
Take another road, another time…"


(Author's Note:  "Take Another Road" is written by Jimmy Buffett, Jay Oliver and Roger Guth.  It appears on the album, Off to See the Lizard, 1989.)


That is it, the first of The Other Roads Club trilogy! 

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