As per Yulan’s request, Haruko accepted to be transferred to another high school in Tokyo. In fact, only a month before the entrance exam, Yulan had pulled Haruko into a well-lit, comfortable cafe in one of Tokyo’s many market streets. He looked at Haruko with shining eyes, handed her an envelope, and proceeded to sip his oolong tea.
“Miyazaki High is accepting new students. Why don’t you give it a try?”
Poking at her chocolate cake, Haruko had asked why he had picked such a sudden interest in Miyazaki High. Yulan simply replied that this school had a very good reputation. Most businessmen sent their young sons to that school, only feeding in its quality of education. The world of rich, capitalistic conglomerates remained untouchable by the middle-class citizens, of course. To be able to send your child to such a prestigious school only meant good fortune. Seeing Haruko’s bored reaction, Yulan knelt quickly and faked a sad face.
“My precious Ko-chan, could you at least consider it, please? This old man simply wants his little Ko to fulfill his wish...attending a prestigious school...that way I can brag to all my coworkers.”
Haruko laughed happily.
“You're not that old yet, Lan-San. And stop this,” she said, laughing, “people are staring.”
Yulan smiled and sat back down. He crossed his long legs and watched Haruko placing down her fork.
“I don’t have any particular objections. You rarely ask anything of me, after all.” Haruko said, carefully placing the envelope inside of her oversized coat pocket.
That day, Yulan beamed with happiness and cheered for Haruko’s success in her studies. He even ordered an extra cake for her. As a high-ranking criminal investigator, Yulan was certainly more of a mysterious character. Unpredictable, maybe. 12 years ago, he had come before Haruko when she was just 5 years old and had asked her:
“Do you like chocolate cake or matcha cake?”
Haruko wore a pink and white dress, with frills around her neck and fat hands. A tall, pointy hat adorned with a shiny red ribbon sat on the top of her neat head of hair. She looked at the crimped paper covering the most beautiful brown and green cakes she had ever seen. Still... she couldn't.
“...Ko-ko doesn’t take cake from strangers.”
Then, pointing her short, stubby finger at Yulan’s clean face she said, “you must be a villain.”
Yulan laughed audibly, making the many passersby in the cold white hospital corridor turn their heads. A group of nurses looked over warily yet, upon seeing Yulan, resumed their conversations. At the time, Yulan was not the same “Lan-san” as today. That day, May 26th, was Yulan’s birthday. Why did he look so miserable in front of her?
“Little princess, you were raised well.”
His eyes glinted, but his smile was peaceful. Haruko’s eyes widened. What a strange, yet soothing expression. The nameless man seemed like he had just hopped out of her The nameless man seemed like he had just hopped out of her favorite story-book, “My second Prince”. Though, he was not a prince. He took out the fork from the cake box and stabbed the chocolate cake, making the deep, creamy ganache spill out. Taking a big bite, he smiled wryly and looked down at the now terrified little girl.
“It looks like this villain has been found out. I will have no choice but to capture you now.”
“Your total is 170 Yen. Please insert card or credit into th-”
Haruko slammed the coins into the machine.
“Thank you. Would you like to receive your re-”
This time the machine was interrupted by Haruko’s fast hand, spamming the accept button. Yulan looked over her shoulder and raised his eyebrows as if he was asking “who made you so mad?”
“No need to be so brutal now,” he said.
This is Shinjuku station. It takes about 16 minutes to reach Miyazaki High; Haruko would soon grow familiar with this route. She had taken the subway multiple times before, yet it had been so long since she had gone out on her own. Her eyes felt heavy as she and Yulan walked swiftly past the crowds and down the stairs. Men in business suits, women with modest skirts and cream colored heels, young girls and boys all wearing uniforms streamed past the pair. Occasionally, a person or two would bump into Haruko’s tiny body and continue on their way. Haruko struggled to keep up with Yulan’s quick pace.
She stared at his back. He was tall… Whenever she looked at his back, she would get a strange sense of inferiority. Perhaps it was his pitch-black suit that made him seem so unapproachable?
“Why am I comparing myself to a grown man?” she thought suddenly, “I must have finally gone mad.”
Suddenly, Yulan quickly turned around and started moving his head this way and that, looking for something. He lowered his eyes and saw Haruko squeezing past two men in tracksuits. Yulan quickly grabbed her hand.
“Haha. You’d think you saw a porcelain doll taking the subway.”
Haruko avoided his gaze and glared at the tiles on the floor.
“Don’t worry,” he said, tightening his hand around hers, “I won’t let go. Let’s hurry.”
As the two continued on their way down, Haruko felt her heart beating like crazy. The sound of the crowds faded away until she didn’t hear a thing anymore, except the pounding of her heart. Her face felt hot. Her hand felt cold and sweaty against Yulan's.
“What the hell is wrong with me?”
Her eyes widened.
“I'm normal. This isn’t what I think it is. I’m like everyone else.”
She felt her hand fall abruptly from Yulan as the sound of the intercom blasted through her ears. They had reached the waiting platform.
“Shinjuku...this is...Shinjuku station. Shinjuku..this is..”
Haruko gripped her bag tightly and darted past Yulan. Unfortunately, he quickly caught the sleeve of her white sailor uniform.
“Hey- where are you running off to. Aren’t you going to say goodbye to me?”
He suddenly clutched his chest, pretending to be in deep pain, and knelt next to the signboard.
“GOD...this old man can b-barely stand...what will he do, without his little Ko-chan next to him? She is finally leaving the nest… I am so proud...”
Haruko stared at him. As always, he was wearing his black suit and tie, with a white collared shirt. Come to think of it, had she ever seen him wear anything else? Even at home, Yulan wore his suit or wore his collared shirt without his jacket. Although when she was at home, in that tiny one-room apartment, Yulan rarely ever came back in the first place. On the rare times he did come to see her, it was always to give her something. Letters from his coworkers praising her splendid work in catching a criminal that had gone rampant for years. Or, fresh fruits that he found randomly walking by a market. Sometimes, he would even bring her marshmallows, though she knew that when he did, he was probably going to ask her for a favor. Though, she didn’t mind anything he asked of her and requested he bring marshmallows all the time. Haruko never asked for anything else, not even chocolate cake.
“Oh, not again. These days, even the old gramps and grandmas...they have enough energy to stand at the subway line, and you’re out here collapsing like a...deflated balloon. Besides, this isn’t the first time I go to school… it’s my final year, remember?”
Yulan had a look of terrible pity all over his face.
“What are you saying! Everyone goes through different hardships these days. I have..what do you call it...iron deficiency.”
He smiled strangely and stood back up.
“Don’t worry Ko-chan. Even if I don’t seem like it, I would never forget what grade you are in. Especially this year.”
Haruko felt her heart calm down. Letting out a relieved sigh, she thought to herself that everything would stay the same. Yulan would never change, it seemed only she would. As long as she kept her head clear… she would be able to keep preserving Yulan as he was right now, in her memories.
“You have more mental issues than physical… but…”
The small girl bowed slightly, while stuttering on her words.
“T-thank you for taking care of me when you are so busy a-all the time.”
Yulan’s eyes briefly widened as if he was going through shock. Then, he closed his long, thin eyes as if he was remembering a very pleasant memory. Placing his hand on Haruko’s head, he smiled.
The intercom blared once again.
“The train is now approaching. Please stand behind the yellow line.”
The crowds moved slowly towards the sliding doors, undulating like big waves in the ocean. Haruko’s dark-rimmed eyes searched blankly over the masses, looking for a way through. Slightly anxious, she looked back and nodded in Yulan’s direction.
The tall, suited man returned the nod and smiled slightly. A mysterious expression… just like the villain in “My second prince.”
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