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Continuity

Emi recently turned sixteen when their betrothal was announced. On that day, the Tsuki gathered at the main family’s house, dressed meticulously in authentic kimono, and treated carefully with each other, as always. The humid atmosphere and the forbidding grey clouds hinted at a dreadful rainy season, and many a fashionable umbrella was propped up on shoulders to gallantly protect the ladies from stray raindrops. Emi, just hearing the news of her engagement, traded socializing for a stone bench underneath what must have been a blossoming cherry tree a few months ago.
The news itself did not shock her. She was closest to Takashi in age, not too distant, and not too closely related. Her flawless reputation and geisha-like beauty was lauded by many, both Tsuki and not. “You would make a good wife,” both fathers remarked approvingly. Part of her considered that an offense. After becoming best friends with Hikari Akane, she’d thought the last future she wanted was one of an ordinary, close-lipped, dish-washing, family-oriented woman. She envied her literally hot-headed friend, her careless freedom, and her wild rampages. But Emi was a woman of the Tsuki, a clan that valued conservative and patriarchal tradition. If she were to become anyone’s wife, she might as well have been thrilled to be promised to the future head.
But she wasn’t thrilled. In passing and in the few classes they shared together at school, she’d observed that Takashi was astute, standoffish, haughty, and far too severe. Despite growing up with the knowledge that she’ll never enjoy free will concerning her love life, she was totally unprepared for the truth of it. Emi saw her prospects, once a path of many branches that traced the horizon, merge, begin and end with Tsuki Takashi.
Tsuki Takashi.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
Tsuki Takashi?
Emi nearly spluttered in surprise, but was disciplined enough to keep her mouth politely shut. Nodding, she scooted over to accommodate him on the small viewing bench. They sat in absolute silence, save the rustle of the leaves and the stray guffawing of a half-drunken relative seeping through the thin house walls. The sky darkened. Clouds rumbled together, rolling across any unoccupied space like children scrambling before each other, queued up for lunch. The first drop tumbled on Emi’s toe, feeling like pinching, ice cold fingers demanding her awakening from a vivid dream.
The drops fell in earnest a mere two seconds after the first, while the tree did very little to shield them. Emi sighed in defeat, not wanting to return to the party. “Let’s go back to the house, Takashi-sama,” she suggested, courteous enough to not abruptly stand and ditch him.
“No. Let’s stay.” Takashi looked up at her sternly underneath his wet bangs, which already began sticking to his forehead.
“We’ll get soaked. And Takashi-sama will get sick.”
“I’m already soaked and I’m already sick. Sit down.”
She complied, too startled by his instinctive bossiness to dispute him. She will be taking orders from him for the rest of her life – what’s for dinner, what she’ll purchase for interior decorating, what room she’ll be forbidden to clean, what questions she must never ask. Water slid down her cheeks, down her neck, and crept along her spine. Mother Nature was being uncharacteristically sympathetic; she disguised Emi’s tears.
A warmth grasped her hand, just how the clouds sweep across hillsides. Four fingers prodded their way between hers, and a thumb followed her tiny, stream-like blue veins. Takashi’s skin, slick with rain, was much larger and darker in comparison to hers. Beside him, she felt so small.
“Takashi-sama! Emi-san! Get inside; it will start thundering soon!”
Emi waited for Takashi to respond first. When he didn’t, she attempted vainly to escape, apologize, and rejoin the indoor festivities. “Takashi-sama, we must return.”
She never noticed before how narrow his eyes were, nor how they created an eternally intense expression. Years alter she’d learn that, when he does offer a genuine smile – which is and was seldom – he closes his eyes as though he’d sheathed two daggers. Takashi did smile that afternoon on the rainy season’s first rain underneath the cherry blossom tree that finished blossoming. It was a satisfied grin, directed inwardly at a private joke.
“As you say, my queen.”
Takashi lifted Emi’s hand, kissed her palm, breathed in, and then released her.
They returned to the gathering wordlessly, endured their scolding wordlessly, and consented their hearts to each other in that very same fashion.

When she requested she rendezvous with her elder son in a place where Takashi would never stumble upon them, she didn’t expect a downtown woody bar designed as if to pleasure docked pirates. The only item of decor that looked remotely encouraging was the cobwebbed jukebox crooning what sounded like upbeat Satanic chants. If this was the world, Emi needed to get out of the house more – or Ichirou needed better taste. She nigh berated herself for the chain reaction that possibly climaxed in his discovering this sleazy pub. Ichirou squeezed her arm reassuringly (when did his hands get so big?) and steered her to a very wooden table equipped with equally wooden stools.
A blue-haired waitress with a lip piercing and a bubble-gum scowl asked for their orders. After Emi awkwardly ordered “water” and her son, scotch, she simply nodded and clicked away on her heels, with a sweeping backwards glance at Ichirou. As his mother, Emi couldn’t help but notice the female attention he received. If Ichirou did, he ignored it as a vulture would a very alive rodent.
“So, tell me why I had to take you to the most forlorn bar in the city.” Ichirou didn’t beat around the bush when it concerned family.
Emi stared guiltily at her lap, a habit she’d entertained after years of kneeling mutely on tatami mats. “Your otou-san and I are in a separation. At the rate it’s heading, we will be divorced by the end of this year.”
Even though Ichirou didn’t reside at the main Tsuki house any longer – instead he attended college in a small, tranquil town, far from Tokyo – he didn’t look particularly startled at the news. Save the fact that Takashi had fathered two resilient boys, he could have been mistaken for being totally asexual. He derived no enjoyment or interest in anything that wasn’t business-related, much less in his own wife.
Ichirou’s lips thinned into a concerned line. He seemed grateful for the waitress’ arrival with their drinks. “Why are you telling me this now, kaa-san?” Emi knew that low tone well, and recognized Ichirou’s careful selection of words. That lasting, accusatory ‘mother’ rattled her. Withholding sensitive information from like that from her son was a mistake.
“I was going to tell you earlier-”
“Riku didn’t even tell me anything.” If anything truly hurt Ichirou, it was anything or everything that involved his little brother. Everyone in the Tsuki family loved him as the youngest, but Ichirou adored, and quite possibly worshipped, every spike of rebellious hair on his head. It was an incomprehensible affection bred since the younger’s birth, and puzzled anyone who glimpsed the mellowing in Ichirou’s attitude when the subject of Riku happened to crop up. “Did you two agree to keep tight-lipped about it?”
Tacitly, she admitted. “We didn’t know how to tell you. It was so sudden.”
Ichirou softened marginally at the melancholy glaze over his mother’s eyes. “It was inevitable. I’m sorry.” He held his breath, brow knitted and focused deeply on Emi’s untouched glass of water. Gesturing at it, he commented speculatively, “You obviously didn’t invite me out to have a mother-son drinking game of ‘let’s forget about the b****rd.’” Emi surrendered only a weak chuckle in reply. “Are you going to keep me guessing? You’ve got a plan. Tsuki Okaa-sama, indeed.”
The Tsuki are manipulative by nature, you see.
Hesitant and even embarrassed to be caught in the act, she nodded. “I know this might seem odd to you, but...I love Takashi. I love him very much.”
“Say that again,” Ichirou urged.
She couldn’t be certain whether he was cross or in shock. She repeated with the wobbly confidence she had in every Takashi-related matter, “I love Takashi. He’s a fool, but I love him.”
With a chuckle, a swallow of half his drink, and a premature order of a refill, he began furiously texting away on that Blackberry of his. Emi, bemused, sipped at her water at regular intervals to pass the time. When he was young, she remembered, it was always best for him to do his homework in silence. By the time he shut off the eternally vibrating contraption and pocketed it, her glass was empty save a film of water glinting in the bar’s yellowish light.
“Sorry, I didn’t expect those I contacted to respond so enthusiastically.”
“Contacted? I don’t-”
Ichirou interrupted her again. He was quite out of character today - perhaps college changed him? “We’re going to win him back, of course,” he said as surely as he could recite his times tables.
“Excuse me?” Emi had expected as much, yet she wished Ichirou would advise her to relinquish the marriage. She was forty-two, for heaven’s sake; she had no time for love games. She’d married a man, raised two wonderful sons who compensated for the lack of husband, and lived securely in the Tsuki house. Maybe some circumstances of life would wrench a portion of that away, but it was too late and too tiring to challenge fate.
“Father’s experiencing a mid-life crisis right now. I don’t blame him. One of his sons is in college, and the other one is, well, Riku.”
Emi watched her son suspiciously. “Where are you going with this?”
“I’m getting there. He’s never been a particularly loving man, but I’m sure you of all people remember the days when he was. Stress, work, and even his distant fatherhood have worn him out like it has you. And, like you, he believes it’s too late to fight for you. He hasn’t fully recognized his errors, and even if he does, he’s far too arrogant to ask penance. He’s simply assumed that you’re indifferent. Your decided silence certainly is not helping your case.”
“The Tsuki prodigy, indeed,” Emi countered. “You’ve thought this through, haven’t you?”
Almost offended, Ichirou frowned. “Yes, I have. Riku asked this of me. He doesn’t like this separation and dreads the divorce.”
He had lied back there, she thought, half charmed and half bewildered by her own son’s smooth duplicity. “I’m forty-two years old,” she argued. “Four long decades, two of which I spent with Takashi. I should be grateful I shared any time with him at all. I’m getting old, Ichirou. I feel so old.”
He scowled again, and she decided in that instant that she liked him immensely better when smiling. “You don’t look it. Forty is the new twenty.”
Suddenly self-conscious, she ran a hand through her hair and across her cheek, mindful of her sagging skin and thinning fiber. “That may be true, but I feel much, much older. You’re still at your prime; you’ll understand someday.”
Ichirou laughed bitterly. “I feel as though I’ve lived a thousand years.”
“When you’re my age, four thousand.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Touché. But enough about me. We’re here to talk about you and tou-san, a romantic date or two.” He smirked at some private inside joke, simultaneously swallowing his sixth shot. “Forty years is the same as twenty, except you’ve got more silver than green. If you do this and it fails, then fine, I will take responsibility. I’ll personally see to it that tou-san doesn’t misconstrue our intentions. If you don’t, then you alone will have to deal with a brooding Riku until he leaves for college. And you know he’s an expert brooder.”
Ichirou paused and looked at his mother expectantly. Stifling a laugh behind her hand, she blinked back a searing tear, shook her head, smiled, and smiled hard. “You were born to become the new head of the family,” Emi remarked. “You’ve just made me an offer I can’t refuse.”
“You flatter me. I was under the impression that you had no intention of refusing in the first place.”
She sadly laughed at the sheer gravity of witnessing her son’s transformation into a business man. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, Ichirou.”

“Any man who considers leaving you doesn’t deserve you, you know.” Akane, ever the wise one, guided her through the crowded mall by elbowing her way through every stationary clique of mall-rat teenagers. Among the contacts Ichirou furiously texted two nights ago, she gladly accepted the duty of gussying up her childhood friend into a beauty Takashi couldn’t resist. Emi wondered which son planned that particular detail of the strategy; a highly baffled part of her knew it was the conniving elder.
“I know, I know, I’ve heard that one before,” she responded, disenchanted. Any discouraging quip dampened her resolve, and regarding Takashi, Akane was full of them. When she was first betrothed to be married to him, Akane nearly on her mouthful of objections, and even more so when Emi attempted to convince her that she’d liked Takashi anyway. When their sons were born, she’d disapproved of Takashi’s detached yet pressuring parental tactics and grew increasingly vocal. Luckily, her husband, Minoru, buffered her acidic accusations with friendship and political connections. He was, technically, Takashi’s superior.
“Where are we going?”
“First, make up. Then, clothes. Then, hair. We’ll have a day at the spa together tomorrow. Did I ever mention how fabulous your sons are?”
“Don’t tell me they’re paying for all of this.” Perhaps she wasn’t wrong to question Ichirou’s sanity when he’d derived the quadratic equation at kindergarten while other children struggled to color in the lines.
Akane made an ungraceful pfft! sound that implied she wouldn’t pay one yen to win Takashi’s affections. At least she managed to graciously refrain.
“I feel like a teenage girl again.” Giggling, Akane gently applied a base powder to Emi’s neck, shook her head, and sampled a paler color. “Do you ever go outside, Emi-chan?”
Emi smiled sheepishly as another shade – paler – was smudged against her jaw. “I was always this pale. You used to be, too. Remember?” In high school, they’d sunbathe on rooftops in fruitless endeavors to bronze their skin. After consistently emerging with sweltering red burns, they’d settled on crushing on guys with darker tones to save their offspring from the curse of easy burning. Minoru tanned as naturally as a beach boy, and Takashi, like Ichirou (who was consequently saved from burning) boasted an exotic, olive, ‘main Tsuki branch’ tan. Riku, however, nearly always returned from the beach with a body part or two as red as tomatoes.
“Takashi liked you pale,” Akane said cheerfully. “I remember how you blushed got after hearing him say that. I still hate the guy, but…”
“But what?”
“He made you real happy, you know.”
“I do know, silly.”
“And then he turned you into a soft-voiced housewife! How backhanded is that, you know!?”
Emi nodded, satisfied with the base color, but dissatisfied with her friend’s tactlessness. “I wanted to be there for Ichirou and Riku. I don’t regret the decision.” Avoiding her gaze, she ventured on to the tables of eyeliner. Akane followed her, uneasily quiet after her unintended, brash insult, and watched Emi haphazardly pluck handfuls of eyeliner pens. Emi scarcely depended on makeup, wore it sparingly even in her youth, and thus remained wholly ignorant about highlighting her facial assets – whatever those were.
“Oh, stop that,” Akane interjected, fed up with observing her cosmetic faux pas. “Put that gaudy red away and try this blue. It’ll draw out the bluish-black tint in your hair. You were always more like water than fire, anyway, Emi-chan. Sometimes I wonder why you’re in the fiery Tsuki clan.” Emi remained silent, and allowed her to select what hues would best suit her. “Takashi’s like a wildfire, and you’re full of water. No wonder both your boys have grown to be such fine young men.”
She understood her apology, accepted it with a knowing smile, and hugged her tightly before moving on, as cosmetically muddled as ever, to lipstick.

In the four years of their betrothal, the rainy incident was never repeated. Emi and Takashi often paired together during family gatherings and sporadically hung out at school with Akane and Minoru, but were never alone. The little intimacy they shared contained itself in extreme politeness, Takashi’s inability to look at anything but her, and Emi’s inability to look at him without flushing bright red and turning away. If they sat beside each other during dinner, his hand would sidle its way over hers. Sometimes dinner lasted long enough for their hands to stick together, but he never let go and she never turned him down.
The night of their marriage was the second time they were truly alone. Emi stepped inside their new room, wrapped in a virgin’s red yukata. Takashi watched her intensely, like always, and only averted his gaze to lie down on their futon. Tensely defending the knot holding her yukata closed, Emi positioned herself beside him, awkward and trembling.
The sheets rustled. Takashi tilted her chin upwards, linking their eyes, and eventually linking their lips. After a few seconds, he broke away from the kiss, and bid her good night.
“You’re not going to…?” Emi wasn’t certain whether to feel relieved or affronted.
He closed his eyes. “I wouldn’t do that to a woman I don’t love.”
Legs quaking from the sheer weight of her marriage’s circumstances, she whispered, “So you don’t love me.”
“Do you?”
Their conversation continued no further, and neither enjoyed the luxury of a restful sleep.

Their early years of marriage was resembled an intimate courting, during which Takashi absorbed himself in her, began to love the natural scent of her thick hair, and could deduct by one fleeting look that she was on her period. He made a special effort to arrive home early, change quickly into casual jeans and a shirt, and spontaneously plan their evening at stop lights. To any work or Tsuki-related socials, he proudly entered with Emi on his arm, and felt a surge of inexpressible delight when she was complimented. His appreciativeness for women in general amplified, as month after month she’d curl in bed hugging a warm pad to her lower stomach, devotedly brushed her long hair every evening like a child would a delicate doll’s, and identified colors with more vividness and precision than he could ever imagine. Every night he slept with her hair tickling his chin, he heartily thanked whatever red string that happened to knot them together.
In turn, Emi learned to appreciate his nuances, foibles, and strengths: his interrogative eyes, his unwavering dedication to his commitments, and the way his fists rhythmically clenched like a beating heart when angry. She’d thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through recipes to test his taste buds, but occasionally they’d circle grocery stores for hours, debating frozen pizza or instant ramen. She’d introduced him to things Takashi would originally never look twice at: ballroom dancing, art museums, campy movies, craft fairs. Of course, he grumbled, protested, brooded, and was far too serious for his own good. Underneath those pretenses, Emi discovered a man under pressure, the knots in his muscles, the natural clench of his strong jaw, and the goodwill in his intentions. She knew she loved him when doing his laundry didn’t feel so demeaning, simply because it was his.
Two years later, the first time they made love, Emi became pregnant with her first son.
From there, like many things when a child is born, things changed.

Takashi was never a man of many words. Rather, he threatened with his eyes, exercised implicit control and held his chin parallel to the ground at all times. Discipline and order, power and justice. He’d grown up believing such concepts, and raised his ill-receptive sons to follow those ideals as well. Ichirou absorbed what he liked and discarded the rest; Riku, no matter how eager to please, only acted the part. Those flaws were negligible – they were exceedingly successful, and what they failed to do separately they could easily accomplish together. The Tsuki family and its corporation were in good hands.
At this age, he’d wanted to reminisce and picture a conquered path of prosperity for the Tsuki, attributed to his steadfast leadership. There was no doubting the truth in that now. Both sons had their respective bumps and troubles, but they were maturing into especially fine men. Once Ichirou completed his education, he’d marry his currently undecided betrothed. The 21st century being what it is, Ichirou probably prepared a catalogue of reasons to not marry his chosen girl. No matter: the long-standing principle of preserving the main branch’s purity was beginning to die out, and Ichirou’s persuasiveness could ultimately override any clan decision. The Tsuki family was still in good hands.
After three decades, Emi had been a very faithful wife, excellent support, and omnipresent in the household. She was obedient, and didn’t mind his working late night after consecutive night. Their prime disagreements concerned parenting – clearly, she was ignorant to the demands Takashi endured in preparation for his future as head of the Tsuki. If his sons couldn’t handle such pressure, they were useless. Emi had them going soft; consequencly Takashi became constantly irritable, aggravated, or otherwise nonexistent. He’d wanted to prove a point, but as proud as he was, that point extended to a period. Thus, this separation. Both his sons were grown, and they didn’t need a mother to baby them any longer. This issue was negligible, as well. The Tsuki family was still in good hands.
Then what in heaven’s name bothered him so much?
“You look like you need an intervention, my friend.” Minoru scraped up a chair beside him, joining him at his desk. “Are you especially busy at the moment?”
Takashi contemplated the stack of papers awaiting his review and signature. “Yes,” he said diligently.
“Paperwork can wait, not people,” Minoru waved it off, flashing his famous toothy grin. “You’ve been really strung up lately, so I’m taking advantage of your phone not ringing off the hook.” He flipped his chair around and sat backwards, with his chin nestled casually in his arms. “I was hoping you could hear me out.”
Just outside the office, Riku had located and pulled Takashi’s telephone wire. After seeing his partner-in-crime change his seating position, he scurried out of the building, head low and inelegantly balancing on the balls of his feet.
“What do you need?”
“Some time to relax. I’ve been so swamped lately.” Minoru, rubbed his temple and yawned to emphasize his point.
At this, Takashi raised an eyebrow. “Do you need me to do a job of yours?”
“I wouldn’t ask that of you. I’ve tried to plan a night out with Jirou, but apparently he’s busy. It wouldn’t hurt to go to out, like the good old days, a non-business dinner, would it? God, that sounds great right about now…”
“I don’t have the time. I’m sorry.”
Minoru amended his statement, rapidly, “I didn’t mean to say you were a second choice from Jirou – he’s just a teensy more available, so I supposed – but I should have asked you first, I’m sorry.”
At this, Takashi raised both eyebrows. “I still don’t have the time. Sorry, Ono-sama.”
“I told you, call me Minoru, Tsuki,” he responded, grimacing. “Sorry to have wasted your time.”
“Time I could have spent doing paperwork,” Takashi maintained, because he liked having the final word.
“Yes, yes, I know. You’ll be doing paperwork.”
A few hours later, Takashi called, asking when he should schedule their conference dinner.
Good enough, Minoru thought triumphantly.

As Takashi changed for his meeting with Minoru, he heard heels clicking in the other room. For the briefest moment, he was transported to an era of nightly outings doing nothing but whatever he liked. The thump of the door returned him to the reality of the buttons on his burgundy shirt and what he pessimistically considered the antithesis of a relaxing dinner. He hadn’t a proper ‘night out’ in years. He suspected foul play on Minoru’s part.
Only when he saw the half vacant garage did he realize that a heel-clad Emi left the house, unannounced. A pang of curiosity (curious jealousy?) knocked at his chest and was promptly ignored, overshadowed my Takashi’s practiced coolness. She didn’t require his permission to go out. They were separated, for godssake.
Takashi rendezvoused with Minoru at the entrance of a dimly lighted new restaurant, with well-dressed folk filtering in and out in duos. “Did you want to speak to me about something?” he queried immediately.
He shook his head, exasperated. “Loosen up, Takashi. Not everyone needs a business reason to go out with a friend, right?”
Takashi glowered, unconvinced. Without responding, he opened the door for Minoru and followed behind him, suddenly wary of the hushed chattiness of the dining patrons within. Stiletto heels, little black dresses, smoldering smoky eyes, rolled up sleeves, gelled hair, ties and the occasional bow tie. Clearly, this was a hotspot for a formal date. Takashi felt sorely and unnervingly out of place.
“Reservation for Ono Minoru, please.”
A blue-haired, pierced waitress – funny that she’d be hired here with that outrageous punk hair color –confirmed their arrangement and guided them through the large expanse dotted with tables and bordered with booths to a secluded corner of the restaurant where only one other couple sat, inspecting their menus. Minoru strode broadly and quickly to the chair facing the wall. Takashi, with a bemused raise of his eyebrows, sat opposite him, and accepted his menu with a solemn nod.
Then he looked up, past Minoru’s shoulder, and saw the most stunning woman that ever dared breach the boundaries of his life. Her skin looked the color of a creamy sheet of cotton, and her lips were a mature rose. Her hair and eyes shone a dark-blue even in the golden lowlights. Her neck arched like a proud swan, her collarbones peeked out from underneath her taut skin, and her slender body was draped by a one-shouldered black dress, clinging to her body in all the right places.
Emi, Takashi realized, was beautiful.
“What’s wrong? What are you looking at?” Minoru interrupted his revelation and began twisting around to glimpse at what paled his partner so.
“Don’t look,” Takashi hissed, uncharacteristically panicky. His wife hadn’t detected him yet, and he intended on remaining discreet until she departed. The last thing Takashi wanted was an unwanted encounter – in the presence of Minoru, no less. He was mortified just imagining it.
But Emi was here for a reason. That reason, Takashi dreaded.
Across the table from his wife sat a clean-faced young man with a permanently bored expression and a book on his lap, bookmarked by his finger. Jirou, Minoru’s old protégé, and currently Riku’s business mentor. Jirou, the man who was supposedly ‘too busy to for dinner with Minoru’ tonight. Too busy on a date with Takashi’s wife, of all the available women in the city.
But he had to admit, the man had good taste.
The pierced waitress returned, and he hadn’t even opened his menu. “Are you ready to order?”
Not wanting to delay his exodus from this terrible predicament, Takashi hastily ordered an easy-on-the-stomach dish and a glass of water, and continued to gawk. Minoru talked – about what, he had neither clue nor care – and on occasion he’d contribute a “Hmm” and a “I heard about that, too.” When the food arrived, he tried to focus his very being into consumption and not the woman who looked like a woman he once knew who cackled too noisily at comedy movies and kissed with tongue only when she was especially turned on and loved Chinese restaurants with decorative koi ponds at their entrances and nearly broke Takashi’s hand when she had given birth to troublesome little Riku.
There she was, after all, with a younger man. Takashi knew Jirou to be studious, intelligent, unabashedly strange, yet humorous and compassionate. Having shared Minoru’s ideals, Jirou would never commit any treacherous act. Although Takashi could only reasonably consider him a ‘close acquaintance,’ he felt this date qualified as serious betrayal.
Betrayal for what? Stealing Emi? Making her smile when she hadn’t smiled in years? They were separated, for godssake.
God, he was embarrassed. Never in his life had anyone dared to cross him so, and if they did, Takashi could heartlessly draw a coherent plan of action to exact his revenge and regain the upper hand. Logically thinking, remaining apathetic to the situation would be the ideal reaction, but he couldn’t just pretend his indifference when all the muscles in his body yearned to punch Jirou in one of his droopy eyes and repossess what he laid claim to that day beneath the dripping wet cherry blossom.
“Takashi – uh – where are you going?” Slack-jawed, Minoru dropped his fork on the ground, gaping at his friend, who stalked like a predator across the room.
Emi was his. She was destined to be his as decreed by the Tsuki family. She submitted to this fate when they were married, and it culminated in the birth of their two sons. She was his, and for heaven’s sake, he was going to make it known.
“Emi.”
When she looked at him, her eyes betrayed fear and confidence all at once. “Takashi…what are you doing here?”
“We’re going home. Now.” He grasped her protesting arm, thus forcing her out of her chair, and dragged her to the exit without a second look back at Minoru or Jirou, who flashed each other a hearty thumbs-up.


***
Emi clambered into the passenger’s seat, disoriented, and her feet tender. Their plot had been executed perfectly so far, but from here on, it was all on her. As it should be.
Takashi reacted with more rage than remorse – his slamming every door they passed was proof enough – obviously foreshadowing the battle she was about to fight. It took all the self-control she had to keep her jaw from jittering. Takashi had never hit her or the boys, but if he ever looked prepared to do so, now was the time.
Once he closed the door to his car, he commenced his tirade. “What were you thinking, embarrassing me like that? I was at dinner with my superior, with Minoru. If he were to see my wife tramping around with a man, what do you think he’d think?”
“Minoru knows we are separated,” Emi responded, rendered half dumb by her husband’s frantic expression. Takashi ordinarily maintained a calm face, and released any accumulated fury in bursts of menacing glares, formal one-sided talks, and disappointed, crossed arms. When he did get genuinely mad, he spat fire.
“Does it matter? Did you think you could get away with making eyes at each other while I was sitting in the same godd*mn room?”
Softer still: “I didn’t know you were there. It was a coincidence. Forgive me.”
Takashi flinched. It was true, she hadn’t noticed him for the thirty minutes he sat, transfixed. In those thirty minutes, he was utterly nonexistent – as good as dead to her. He couldn’t fathom why it hurt so much, or why he felt already closely acquainted to this ache. He next spoke in a low growl: “Was this the first time? Was this the first time you’ve been out with another man?”
“Yes,” Emi answered truthfully
“Why him? Why now?” Seething, he grasped the steering wheel, clenching and unclenching, and looked at her searchingly with those bottomless, bottomless eyes.
She set her jaw and clutched the hem of her dress as emotional support. “I could ask you the same question. Why do you care now?”
“You were an embarrassment.” Proud. His nostrils flared.
Emi felt her heart melt and spill from her mouth and eyes, like searing lava. “You didn’t give me the time of day for five years. All business, all success. You never slept facing me, Takashi, and now you’re upset because I’ve hurt your precious pride?”
“That doesn’t give you the right to start whoring around!” Jumping to conclusions. Veins popped from his fists.
“I wouldn’t do that to a man I didn’t love.”
Takashi’s face unraveled itself, from rage to the ambiguous look of a kicked wolf. “I saw the way you looked at him.”
Stubborn tears leaked from her eyes, burned down her cheeks, and salted her tongue. She could hardly bear to look at him, this man she was ordered to love and did, however ephemerally. “Why do you care how I feel about him? Was it because I actually dressed up for a change? Or because you hate having something taken away from you? Is that it?”
His answer could change everything. Emi waited, breathing in small hiccups.
But his tense brow smoothed, and his eyes lowered and closed, directed inwardly, soft. Maybe broken. “I don’t know,” Takashi finally muttered.
He started the engine and drove home, as if to distract himself. His vague answer, for all she knew, would remain vague for the rest of her life. The divorce will be finalized in the upcoming weeks. She will fight nail and tooth for custody of Riku, whose volatile, teenage emotions were already prepared to self-destruct. The pre-existing rift in the relationship between Ichirou and Takashi, caused by years of brotherly protectiveness for Riku and parental pressure respectively, would become an impassable valley. Forehead flattened against the window, Emi gritted her teeth and wept for the years of wasted love.
Still silent, they pulled up at into the garage. Emi, too weak to move, figured she’d rather remain in the car and pathetically mourn her sons – mourn her loss. Takashi, intending the complete opposite, moved to leave the vehicle as soon as physically possible. Once he left, she took the liberty of crying harder, soaking her face in itself. Her heart was spilling everywhere.
The door she leaned on opened. Off guard, Emi fell sideways, lacking the will to lift her hands to guard her from her fall.
She needn’t. Takashi caught her, brought her down with him to his knees, shoulders shaking, and his damp face buried in the crook of her neck. His hot breath tickled her collarbone.
So close.
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know.”
Her initial shock briefly plugged her tears, but the sound of his cracked voice ruined whatever emotional stability she had left. “Five years,” she said. “Five years. You haven’t held me for five years, and now…”
Takashi lifted his face from her shoulder and kissed her, hands tangled in her long hair, long because he liked it that way. He always has. “You have to believe me,” he murmured, forehead against hers. “I thought you never loved me in the first place.”
“After all these years?”
“You could hardly bring yourself to look at me. You were frightened of me. It was arranged. No one wants their life mapped out like that. Much less someone like you, Emi.” His eyes were watery, desperate. “You bore my children, and then I thought you believed your duty done, and…and even if I ignored you, you didn’t care. You never said a word, you never looked at me. Please believe me.”
Her final tears slipped from her eyes. Emi laughed, in utter disbelief, stupefied by the Dickensian outcome, how complicated a simple thing seemed, and how maybe, just maybe, resolution was possible, closer by an eyelash’s breadth, even when it was so close in the first place. She wrapped her arms around Takashi’s neck and offered something she’d hoped he’d believe in.
Outside, Ichirou closed the garage door for them. After all, it was beginning to rain.




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