Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reikoku Part 3

It's funny to think that I was incredibly nervous only a few seconds ago, because after I heard the doorbell ring, I felt a wave of relief passing through me. It was sudden and apparently at random, but I felt peace, like it was the calm after the storm.

"Just a second!"

I ran through my flat to answer the door, taking care to avoid the piles of boxes I hadn't unpacked yet. Obviously I had started unpacking before the girls came because, well, I didn't want to look like a lazy guy.

As soon as I realized that the door key was not in my pocket, I start searching for it in my house (which, thanks to the boxes, was a tough task). In the end, my efforts were wasted: the key had been in the door the whole time. When I saw that, I died a little bit inside.

I opened the door and saw two faces that were quickly becoming familiar. Kouma and Ryo came two minutes earlier than planned, which is good; we have a full day ahead of us and if they were late I am not sure we would be able to make it. I do have a lot of boxes, and even if I moved the boxes to the first and second floors, the ground floor would look rather empty (especially because the shelves and cabinets are already here). So, the teacher would come and see I live in a place with closets and bookshelves and even an antique mahogany cupboard of which I'm very proud of (but would never admit it in front of people) with absolutely nothing on them. Which would be extremely embarrassing and...

...I did it again, didn't I?

"Sorry for making you guys wait." I shake my head and wave the random thoughts away. "I had a hard time finding the key. Please come in."

"Sorry for intruding." Ryo steps in with the grace of, uh, something very gracious. You can't possibly expect me to think about clever or poetic comparisons all the time. I'm not that smart.

Kouma entered just after her, but she didn't say a thing until she noticed that she was not minding her manners...

"I'm not going to say I'm sorry for intruding because technically you invited me and I'm the one doing a favor." She said, looking directly at me. "And I only came because I didn't want Ryo to be here alone with you. If I'm sorry for anyone, it is for myself."

...and instead of doing so, she only made the situation worse by issuing a declaration of war under my roof without a trace of shame on her face. That's Kouma Yon for you.

"This place is huge!" Ryo wasn't paying attention to her friend, which is good. I guess. "You've got to be kidding me; you're living by yourself in a flat with three floors? It even has a spiral staircase. A spiral staircase! I've always dreamed of a spiral staircase!" She kept running from one point to another like a little kid in a theme park. She went all the way up the stairs and screamed, her voice echoing in the second floor's empty space and finding its way to the ground level. "Look at this view! You said it was romantic, but this is simply the epitome of awesome!"

I was thinking about telling her that this place wasn't that great compared to the mansion we had at England or the château at Vallée de la Loire, but I stopped myself before I ended up sounding snobby. Let's just keep it a secret between you and me, okay?

It's interesting to compare Ryo's cheerfulness and Kouma's lack thereof. I wonder how those two ended up being friends. Well, people do say that opposites attract, though I'm just not quite sure if magnetic fields are the same as relationships of any kind.

Not that I'm an expert in magnetic fields. Or relationships. Just saying.

As I closed the door, Kouma started stepping through the ground level. Her falcon eyes made up for the lack of expression on her face. After a minute of silence, she decided to enlighten us with one of her amusing comments.

"A huge mess, really." No kidding, Sherlock. "Did you really need to bring so much stuff with you?"

"Yes, I did. I wouldn't stay away from my CD collection, my board games or my kitchen utensils." Wait, that didn't come out right. Worse than that, Ryo came along just in time to hear me talking about my girly collection. Think, boy, think! "Did I say 'kitchen utensils'? I meant my secret manly stuff. Because I'm a manly guy who likes manly stuff. I’m really manly. Like a pirate. Harr."

"...right." Kouma just looked at me with disbelief in her eyes. "So, you were here since Saturday night, right?" I nodded. "Why didn't you start unpacking Sunday?"

"I can answer that one, matey!" Ryo raised her hand, clearly getting into the pirate character. "Me fellow Shin-tsu couldn't swab the decks of his ship at Sunday 'cuz we went down to the port for some grub and ended up singin' ol' chanteys till nite."

It took me a while to understand that she was telling Kouma about our Sunday meeting. At first I thought my Japanese skills had failed me, but I guess I talk better than I read (except when it comes to understand girls impersonating pirates, perhaps).

Kouma seemed to be having a hard time making sense of Ryo's speech, so I translated it for her...

"What our corsair Ryo was saying is that we met for the first time in real life on Sunday and after going out to eat, we spent the day together. By the time I came home, it was getting late and I was too tired to unpack, so I just slept."

...which was not such a smart move, now that I thought about it.

I felt a dark aura emanating from Kouma's body and I feared for my life. I was certain I would be killed at that moment. Curiosity killed the cat, huh? Then why am I the one who is going down? It's all Kouma's fault! She is the one who asked too many questions!

...I wonder if the cat died because he was so curious about a box that he entered it to see how it was from the inside. Probably. Then, at that very moment a theoretical physicist walked in and closed the box, making an internal mechanism release poison inside the box. Now that I think about it, I can't tell if the cat is dead or not because the box was closed when he entered it. And technically (since there were no holes to watch the cat), the cat would run out of air pretty quickly, with or without the poison.

I reach the conclusion that I don't like physicists very much, and neither do cats. I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'm trying to think of something else while Kouma kills me in the most dreadful way she can imagine (unfortunately for me, she does look like someone with an excellent imagination). Which she is going to start doing any minute now... any minute now...

"We're wasting time here." Kouma exhales lightly. "Let's stop fooling around. We need to get this done."

Despite her obvious anger, Kouma managed to keep her self-control and act with much more maturity than I expected. Which is good for me, since her self-control in these situations is probably the thing that stopped her from smiting me with her bare hands. However, I am kind of disappointed now. It's not like I'm a person with suicidal tendencies or anything, but her reaction didn't quite meet my expectancies. Don't judge me, you were expecting a violent reaction yourself.

I raise my hands in defeat.

"Okay, we've played a little bit, let's get down to business."

Ryo suddenly saluted.

"Sir, permission to go to the bathroom, sir!"

Really, it's like she is a little kid. Deciding to go to the bathroom just when we are about to start working...

I guess it could be considered cute if we didn't have such a tight schedule.

Twice as cute if it didn't have a toilet involved.

"...permission granted, it's the second door over there." She saluted again and walked away. "And that's not a pirate, it's a soldier!"

Once the bathroom door closed, I was alone with Kouma. You can imagine what happened.

Right, nothing did. Kouma didn't say a word since Ryo left the room, and it's quite disturbing. I mean, it's obvious that she is good friends with Ryo and since I intend to spend a great deal of time with Ryo, I'll end up spending a considerable amount of this time (probably most of it) with Kouma too. However, the girl didn't liked me from the start and I haven't done much to change this situation (actually, I met her today and I have already teased her twice).

Girls tell everything to each other and when they're close friends they can talk about any subject, right? Plus, friends can influence others with their opinions. If someday Ryo got mad at me, she would probably talk about it with Kouma. Who would probably bad mouth me and make my situation even worse. Basically, my friendship with Ryo might depend someday on this girl's opinion of me. And I started with the left foot. Way to go, champ.

Well, there might still be hope: I could be incredibly nice to her from now on and make her change her mind! And this is the perfect occasion to put my plan into practice. I'm alone with Kouma, so no external interferences will affect the course of our conversation. I just need to pick a topic.

Which would be an easy task if I only knew her interests. Besides Ryo, I mean. It's kind of weird, really. The spark that glows in her eyes every time she sees Ryo makes me think of that nurse in Misery. Creepy, but she is still Ryo's best friend and I need to impress her.

Oh, I know! I could talk about her clothes! Girls love fashion, right? Also, everyone loves a compliment, so if I manage to say good things about her dressing style I might be able to score a point or two and start a friendly relationship out of this.

Alright, I'll do my best!

Gooo~od morning, Miami! Welcome to Fashion Week! On the catwalk, Kouma Yon! She is sixteen, 5'3, and a full B-cup (believe me; I have a good eye for that kind of thing)! Kouma is wearing dark skinny jeans, a brown cashmere V-neck sweater and the most fabulous silk scarf I have ever seen! Some will say it might not be the best choice of clothing to use when you're going to unpack boxes, but when this girl decides to get down to work she will most certainly do it with style!

...I could just go with the simple, straight (pun intended) way.

"You're looking really good dressed like that, Kouma-san. Err... It's a shame that our school's uniform rules won't allow you to show your true beauty."

She looks deep into my eyes.

"Please don't hit on me. You're weird and I don't have the slightest interest in 3D boys."

...I must confess that I wasn't expecting this.

"What the...? A female 2D lover? That's not even possible! There are no giggle.com results for that!" I keep struggling with the idea of a pretty girl with a great sense of fashion who is only interested in anime characters; it certainly doesn't sound right. "And I wasn't hitting on you; I was just trying to be nice! Why do you need to be like that? Have I done something wrong?" And I add, in a much lower voice. "Is teasing the only way I can get to you?"

She stayed still for what seemed to be centuries and then started muttering something unintelligible.

"What did you say?"

"...it's not personal. Really," she finally said. "Please sit down, Koukishin-kun. We need to talk."

"Okay." Her voice was a little different. We sat on the couch next to the stairs, which was probably a strategic move on Kouma's part since from that point she could observe the bathroom door. That's why I assumed that our little talk was going to be about Ryo. "And like I said earlier, you can call me Shin-tsu. No need for family names or honorifics."

"Understood, Shin-tsu." I was done with the teasing, but it still felt good to see Kouma having a hard time talking to me without being able to sound indifferent or impersonal. It obviously wasn't easy for her. "We must talk as quickly as possible, since we don't know how much time we've got."

"Right."

She sighed deeply.

"I'm sorry if I made you think I had something against you. It wasn't intentional; I'm just not fond of people." Kouma stopped herself for two seconds of meditation. "This is probably the reason why Ryo-chan is my only friend in the world."

Despite her usual lack of facial expressions, that sentence showed me that the girl facing me had feelings. It kind of hurt because I was in the exact same boat as she was: currently Ryo was my only friend in the world as well. I wanted to interrupt her and say that I understood her and that we could be friends, but I know that you can't just decide something like that. It takes time and several moments together before you can form bonds with someone, and we only met today.

Besides, she looked like she still had much to say and not a good amount of time to do so.

"I think I have been acting childishly towards you, and I apologize." Actually, I'm the one who was having fun teasing her. Listening to her apologize to me when I was also at fault made me feel bad. "I was jealous. I still am, actually. You've managed to do something I have been trying to do for months just by saying you'd come here."

"What are you talking about? What have I done?"

"You made Ryo-chan smile."

No words could describe what I felt at that very moment. Especially because I had too many mixed feelings about her statement: happy because the fact that I was moving here cheered up Ryo, concerned about the fact that she was unhappy before my announcement and particularly intrigued because I don't remember anything about Ryo being sad and we talked every day, about everything. This last one is tricky, because either Kouma is lying or Ryo has been hiding something from me. I guess I'll have to give them both the benefit of the doubt for now and investigate a little more on both sides.

I've been in this kind of situation (conflicting experiences and arguments) before, so I'm used to dealing with it. I'm just glad that, despite requiring a little bit of investigation in order to find the truth, this doesn't smell like Mystery at all. actually, it smells like teen drama, which is not much of a big deal. I'm still safe.

"So Ryo was sad before I said I was moving here, huh?"

"Yes, she had been like that for three months. She kept smiling and saying everything was okay, but I could tell that she was depressed just by looking at her." Based on what I saw today, I bet she does that a lot. "No one else seemed to notice it, but I have known her since kindergarten. If anyone can understand Ryo, it's me... or that's what I used to believe."

"What do you mean by that?"

Kouma took another breath like she was having a hard time focusing.

"I need your help."

She certainly doesn't look like the kind of person that says that a lot. Since she stopped talking then and I could see that the bathroom door was still closed, I try to guess what she wants.

"You want me to find out the reason for Ryo's sadness? How am I supposed to do that? Do you want me to pray for a miniature moon or something?"

Kouma waved her hand.

"No, that task is mine. I know Ryo better than you do, and my odds of making her talk are much bigger than yours because I'm a girl and I have been by her side for the past ten years. I just need you to keep her happy until she feels comfortable to talk about that problem of hers. Just keep doing your job and she will be fine. Also, stop quoting nearly-unknown songs from the early nineties."

"You shouldn't talk like that when you're asking someone for help."

"I never asked you for help. I said I needed it, and I know you will help me because you want the best for Ryo too. I am not begging you, I am giving you a list of your tasks."

I do want the best for Ryo, but I don't enjoy being used like a toy. This Kouma girl is completely impertinent. She took it to a whole new level. I mean, how dare she say that to me in my own house?

"What if I don't cooperate?"

She sighed.

"If you don't want to be near her, I can't force you. I'm not very supportive of you being friends with Ryo, but I'm not against it either. Really. The more the merrier. I can even ignore your disturbing lack of honorifics towards her, if I must." She looked around and then looked at me again, staring at my jugular. "On the other hand, if you make her life just a little more painful, I'll make you wish you were dead and after I have my fun I'll grant that wish. Do you understand me?"

I wanted to talk back, I really did. However, what I saw in her eyes wasn't the same thing as before. It wasn't anger or sadness: those were mere paper masks of a deeper feeling that kept growing inside her and was consuming her soul quickly. I have seen that before, and every time I see it, I just hope it's the last time. She would do anything to reach her goals (whatever they were), even if it meant killing or dying. In front of my eyes, the horrendous face of desperation.

This is starting to sound like Mystery, and I don't like it.

"Have you guys done any work yet?" Ryo said as she walked out of the bathroom wearing her hair in a ponytail. I noticed that she was also wearing make-up now, which she doesn't seem to do a lot (justifying the amount of time she spent inside that bathroom). She did a surprisingly good job for someone without any experience in the field. It's not like I'm an expert or anything. "We don't have much time."

"Are you done with pirate talking already?" I turn back to Kouma and extend my arm with a smile on my face. "Come on, sailor: we need to keep up with the plan!"

Kouma understood it at once and shook my hand with tremendous force. We stood up and I did my best to pretend there was no tension between me and her. Now I'm worried about both Ryo and Kouma, but I can't let that show.

I might need to save them both in the future. Right now, the only thing I need to tidy up is my house.

"Raise the anchor! This ship is sailing!"

Ryo saluted in the cheeriest way.

"Aye aye Capt'n!"

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