I was woken up by footsteps running around in the hallway. It was still early in the morning. I got out of the bed and unlocked the door. As a precaution, I placed my ear against it to see if I could hear Toshiko’s loud voice outside of my room. The only thing I heard were the footsteps getting further away. I presumed that it was safe to take a peek outside. And I guessed correctly. The hallway was empty again. The door to the room opposite of mine opened as well and I saw Sayuri in her pink pyjamas peeking as well. Our eyes met and we started laughing.
“Do you know what is happening, Ayumi?”
“I have no idea. I guess we should freshen up and change clothes first before we go and investigate what is going on.”
Sayuri agreed to my suggestion and the first thing I did was take a quick shower. We met up in the hallway again, both of us wearing our uniforms. She was carrying a yellow pouch with tiny flower ornaments attached to it. I knew what was inside of it; her Paroxys. She was leading the way to the main hall when we ran into Choko. I was relieved that it wasn’t Toshiko.
“Morning. Perfect timing. I was about to wake you two up.”
“Choko-san, did something happen?”
“Sayu-chan, how many times have I told you to call me Choko.”
Sayuri got startled by Choko suddenly petting her head. Her cheeks turned red. She sighed out loud and told us to follow her. We entered the main hall. It had long, big windows that were letting the light through. I was surprised to see how many Outliners had gathered. Toshiko had explained to me that the official name of DNPI agents was Outliners. Basically, anyone who was wearing the same clothes as me, was one of us. Those were her words. You can see what rank they were by looking at the pin they were wearing. It was a very simple system. The bronze pin meant that you were a Rookie or a Trainee. Juniors were the ones with the silver pin. If you had a gold pin, it meant you were a Lieutenant and were allowed to give orders to Juniors and Rookies. The highest rank you could achieve was with the black pin. They were called Generals or Masters as they had completely acquired the ability of controlling their Paroxys to perfection. This also meant that Toshiko was a Lieutenant, a high-levelled individual. It gave me shivers all over my body just thinking about it.
We were told to form lines in front of the big stage. I made my way to where all the Rookies were standing. Someone bumped into me and before I could say anything, he gave me an angry look.
“Look where you’re going.”
He was by a hair smaller than me.
“What’s your problem? You bumped into me.”
Sayuri grabbed me by my arm and tried to pull me away when the guy came up to my face, but I refused to budge even the slightest. Both of his hands were in his pockets.
“Yu, stop it right now.”
We were approached by a giant. Well, not really a giant but he was at least two metres tall. I didn’t realise at first but that timid voice that was telling the I-bumped-into-you-but-I-will-get-angry-at-you guy to stop, belonged to him. Not only was his voice timid, but also his conduct. After apologising to us, he left with the I-bumped-into-you-but-I-will-get-angry-at-you guy. Sayuri kept apologising as well and let out a big sigh of relief after they had left. We managed to get into line before the meeting started. Some very important looking people were standing on top of the stage. A bald, elderly man in a white suit stepped closer to the microphone.
“Welcome, everyone. I am sorry that I have gathered you all in such a haste, but this matter is very urgent. I am confident that you all have heard about the recent series of kidnappings and murders. We would like to discuss the next steps in about how we are going to confront such a dire situation. The police have asked for our complete cooperation and as to no one’s surprise we have agreed to it. I would like to pass the microphone over to one of our experienced and competent Lieutenant, Toshiko-san.”
I choked on my spit after hearing her name. Sayuri was standing behind me and started slapping me on the back while I was coughing up a storm. Everyone got quiet and it seemed as they were waiting for me to finish whatever I was doing. I immediately bowed my head and apologised. Toshiko didn’t say anything and carried on as if nothing had happened. She looked like a completely different person on that stage. Not the loud and drunk woman I got to know in the past few days. A serious and composed tone was sitting on top of her voice. It completely made me realise that Toshiko was a Lieutenant and had gained everyone’s respect. Someone else joined her on the stage. He was also wearing a golden pin. His hair was dark grey and went to his shoulders. He had a stubble for a beard. Even though we were inside, he was wearing black sunglasses. He was taller than Toshiko but looked a little frail. The meeting lasted for about an hour. After they were finished, we were dismissed for today. I looked around to find Choko but Toshiko was quicker and found me first.
“Ayumi, let’s go.”
She walked out of the main hall. Without a second thought, I followed her. Choko had joined us, but Sayuri excused herself and said that she was going home.
“Where are we going?”
“To a place you really wanted to visit.”
She gave me a smile and opened the passenger door to a car. Choko sat down behind me, and Toshiko was driving it. They talked about the kidnapping and murder cases. I wasn’t really interested in it and dozed off. It was Choko who woke me up and told me to get out of the car. Toshiko had disappeared. I was surprised to see that we were in a car park of a hospital.
“She’s in room 162.”
My eyes widened and I rushed into the hospital. The elevator was taking too long, so I rushed up the stairs. I was getting out of breath, but I kept running until I was standing in front of the room that had 162 written on it. My hands were shaking. I took a deep breath to calm down my nerves. I knew exactly what was waiting for me behind this door. It easily slid open. My footsteps were drowned out by the beating of my loud heart. I pushed away the curtain that was swaying with the breeze that was letting itself in through the open window. The sun was shining brightly. There was a constant beeping coming from one of the many machines that were attached to her. Her eyes were closed. But what else did I expect? I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to embrace her, but I didn’t.
I turned around to see who had called out to me but was suddenly hugged. It was Mamoru. My voice refused to come out. All I did was cry like a little child in his arms. My tears wouldn’t stop. He didn’t say anything either but held me firmly. I knew that there was nothing that we could do. Not even Sayuri could help her. Toshiko had warned me already. It hit me differently after seeing her in person. My heart broke into two pieces. Charlotte had slipped into a coma.
“Don’t say that. You’ll make Charlotte angry.”
Mamoru laughed half-heartedly. I wasn’t allowed to tell him the whole story and that hurt too. He probably wanted to know the truth, but I couldn’t give it to him. I knew he would believe me if I would tell him.
“It’s okay. Don’t push yourself. I’m just happy that you came back to us.”
Those were his last words to me before I left the room and crouched next to a wall. My face was buried in my legs, and I had placed my hands over my ears.
“Are you okay?”
I shook my head. I recognised the voice. It was Choko.
“Of course, you aren’t. Sorry, that was a stupid question.”
She crouched next to me and placed her hand on my head and softly caressed my hair.
“The doctors said they don’t know when or if she’ll wake up.”
I knew that. Toshiko updated me every day about Charlotte’s state but like a fool I had my hopes up that just maybe if I’ll see her, she’ll open her eyes for me. But I was wrong.
“We got to go.”
I walked past Charlotte’s room and the room next to hers but stopped in my tracks.
“Ah, yeah. Toshiko had someone to visit as well.”
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