Chapter 16:

Old Past, Near Future

Second Chances

I had a dream.Bookmark here

It was a particularly unique, recurring dream; as if it’s my distant memory, lost long, long time ago.Bookmark here

I was in a field of flowers. Sunflowers.Bookmark here

The breeze was soft, the sun was warm, the birds were chirping merrily and the flowers were dancing playfully with the breeze.Bookmark here

But slowly a man faded into my sight, he appeared in front of me with a straw hat covering his face, passing the hand of a little girl to me. The girl is almost the same height as me. 8, or 9 years old; so was I.Bookmark here

“Your turn. Take care of Kumiko,” the man said.Bookmark here

“Where are you going?” I asked.Bookmark here

“I need to settle something for the sake of my family,” he said. “Don’t worry, you know me: I won’t die that easily.”Bookmark here

He bumped his fist with me, as he handed me Kumiko who was already on the edge of crying.Bookmark here

“Be careful,” I said.Bookmark here

“But I want to stay with you, big brother,” the girl said, gripping the man’s shirt tightly. “Please don’t leave me behind.”Bookmark here

The man smiled and patted her head. “It’s ok, Kumiko. Once I’ve finished my things, we can be together as long as you want. Forever. I’ll watch you grow up to be a beautiful lady, a kind mother, and a loveable grandmother. Ok?”Bookmark here

“But—But—”Bookmark here

The man, one by one, released her tiny fingers, her grip on him. He smiled again at her before leaving us.Bookmark here

She started to cry, as she tried to run towards him, but I held her back. She started to knock at my arm with her little fists. “Let go! Let go! You bad guy! I don’t want you!”Bookmark here

I hugged her as she continued to hit me, and as the man slowly disappeared from our sight. She couldn’t stop sobbing, just as she couldn’t stop hitting, kicking me. I didn’t say a word but only hugged her. She tried to push me away, kicked me away, but I wouldn’t budge. Her tears flowed down to my cheeks as I wrapped her tightly in my arms.Bookmark here

“It’s ok. Punch me all you want. Cry as loud as you want.” I said.Bookmark here

“Bad guy! Bad guy! You took my brother away!”Bookmark here

Eventually, she stopped hitting me. She didn’t have the strength anymore, and could only cry. She cried louder, and louder right beside my ear, tearing the sky apart, silencing the whole flower field, telling the world how sad she was.Bookmark here

“… I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

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“Shin.”Bookmark here

I felt myself recalled back to reality.Bookmark here

“Shin,” someone called my name again.Bookmark here

I opened my eyes only to see Chiaki’s mother in her business suit, standing in front of her room’s door.Bookmark here

“I knocked, and there was no answer, so—” she paused at me.Bookmark here

I turned my head to Chiaki.Bookmark here

She hugged me, like a bear hugging its honey jar. Both her legs entangle and trapped my left leg in between them, and her hands are wrapped around my left arm, with her breasts pressing on it. She was practically sticking on me. She thought I was her dragon plush.Bookmark here

“Umm…” I looked at her mother, “This is not what you thought it is, Chiaki’s mother. She was just tired last night while reading, so she slept on the table, and somehow hugged me while I was asleep.”Bookmark here

“Mmmm,” Chiaki mumbled, as she hugged me tighter, pulling herself closer to me. “You smell nice.”Bookmark here

Her mom chuckled. “That sounds like what Chiaki would do. But between you and I, it’s better to not let her father see you both in this state. Her father also has black belt in Judo, you know.”Bookmark here

“Well then,” Chiaki’s mom started to close the door. “I’ll leave you two youngsters alone, but be sure to come down in the next five minutes.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, umm… sure.”Bookmark here

The door was then shut.Bookmark here

I tried to move myself out of Chiaki’s grip but to no avail. She has much more strength than I imagined. She was drooling.Bookmark here

“Chiaki,” I softly called out, shaking her shoulder. “Wake up.”Bookmark here

She mumbled something again, refusing to let go. Her slender legs tightened their grip.Bookmark here

“Chiaki,” I called her name again. “As much as I’m enjoying this, I don’t want your father breaking my arm if he saw us like this.”Bookmark here

“Hmmm?” her saliva slipped down from my arm, as she opened one of her eyes. “Shin?”Bookmark here

Then she looked at her sleeping position, and at my slightly red face. Her eyes widened.Bookmark here

“Chiaki. Calm down.”Bookmark here

She immediately let go of my arms and kicked me away. She turned her head away from me, gripping her blanket. “Did you see it?!”Bookmark here

“See… what?”Bookmark here

She wiped her mouth.Bookmark here

I instantly realized something, “No.”Bookmark here

She shot a deadly look at me. “Really?”Bookmark here

“Umm…”Bookmark here

“Get out, I want to change.”Bookmark here

“But…”Bookmark here

“Get out!”Bookmark here

I walked myself out of her room, and she slammed the door behind me. Her face was as red as an apple.Bookmark here

I paused in front of her door. If I were to go down to the kitchen casually now, it’d be really awkward.Bookmark here

“Chiaki,” I knocked on her door. “Is there a bathroom I can use on this floor?”Bookmark here

“The end of the hallway!” she yelled.Bookmark here

And so, I went in to refresh myself, and to tidy up my bed hair. It was after I looked into the mirror then I realized my eyes were a bit red, as if I cried in my dreams. I rinsed my face again, and slapped myself on both my cheeks. I have not seen Chiaki’s parents for quite some time now. If I were to get permission, I needed to give my best impression. Well, to her father at least.Bookmark here

I fixed my shirt and practiced a few greetings in front of the mirror. This is my chance.Bookmark here

“Shin,” Chiaki knocked on the door. “We should go down now.”Bookmark here

“Ok,” I said, turning off the basin tap.Bookmark here

“I’m ready.” I said to myself.Bookmark here

“What?” Chiaki asked on the other side of the door.Bookmark here

“Nothing,” I said as I opened the door.Bookmark here

Chiaki stood in front of me with her casual clothes, and I noticed some of her hairs near her left ear were entangled with each other.Bookmark here

“Your hair, don’t move,” I said as I gently swiped her hairs around her ear to untangle them.Bookmark here

I then smiled at her. “There. All better. Now we really should go—”Bookmark here

She suddenly kissed my cheek, before turning away from me.Bookmark here

“Thanks,” she said, as she started to walk down the stairs.Bookmark here

I swiftly followed her down, touching the kiss she left on my cheek.Bookmark here

Her parents were already sitting on the kitchen table when we came to join them.Bookmark here

Chiaki sat in front of her mother, so I took my seat in front of her father who was reading the newspaper, and upon seeing me, he put it away.Bookmark here

“Thanks for the meal,” Chiaki said, ready to eat.Bookmark here

Her mother added a tempura in her bowl of rice.Bookmark here

I just sat there silently because her father had not taken his eyes off me since I sat down at the table.Bookmark here

“Shin,” he called me, in his deep fatherly voice. “Long time no see. How are your parents?”Bookmark here

“Oh, they are fine, thank you. ” I said, trying to not give in to his intense ‘I will choke you if I see you touching Chiaki’ aura.Bookmark here

“So, were you sleeping with my daughter?”Bookmark here

Chiaki choked on her rice, and her mom elbowed her father.Bookmark here

“Were you?”Bookmark here

“Dad,” Chiaki called out.Bookmark here

“Were you, Shin?”Bookmark here

“I was,” I said. “But we didn’t do anything indecent, she only fell asleep on my arm because she was too tired.”Bookmark here

“And could you explain why you were here, at midnight yesterday?”Bookmark here

I couldn’t say anything. It was indeed selfish of me, and I can’t explain the reason to them.Bookmark here

“If our neighbor happened to see Chiaki inviting a stranger into the house in the middle of the night. What would they think? Do you think it’s fair to her?”Bookmark here

I crossed my eyes with her father’s. “Chiaki didn—"Bookmark here

I took a deep, calm breath.Bookmark here

“Then I will take full responsibility,” I said. “If your daughter, Chiaki’s pride was tarnished in any way, I will take care of her. No, I want you to let me take care of her. I want to be there when she’s happily enjoying her books, I want to be there when she can’t solve something by herself, I want to be there when she needs someone to talk to, when she wants to cry, when she wants to share her joy.”Bookmark here

“No,” I said, standing up. “I will be there for her.”Bookmark here

I bowed down to Chiaki’s mother and father. “So please, let me take care of your daughter.”Bookmark here

“… Oh, my,” her mother said.Bookmark here

“Shin… can you guarantee that you won’t hurt her?”Bookmark here

“No, I—I can’t guarantee you that, Chiaki’s father. We might have fights, we might argue and said something stupid to each other… but I promise. I promise no matter how many fights we have, I will make her smile in the end. I will… never give up. Not anymore. Not now. Not ever.”Bookmark here

The kitchen fell into silence after my last sentence. Tension slowly filled the air surrounding all four of us as I waited for his reply.Bookmark here

“… Very well, I give you my permission, Shin,” her father said. “However, it’s under the condition that my daughter herself would want to choose you.”Bookmark here

I raised my head a bit and looked at Chiaki.Bookmark here

She was looking at me, with a surprised face; she was likely taken aback by my outburst. But I didn’t want to drag our relationship anymore.Bookmark here

She looked at me, but no words came out from her mouth for a full second. Was I… too reckless to advance our relationship? That, she wasn’t ready? I didn’t even get a chance to ask her how she felt about us. Would she feel insulted with the way I handled this?Bookmark here

“Give—Give me some time,” Chiaki said, flustered, looking at her rice with a tempura. “I want to sort out my feelings first. I want… some time alone to think. About our future.”Bookmark here

“Then,” Chiaki’s mother cut in. “I think it’d be best if you leave first, Shin. You two are meeting tonight anyway, right?”Bookmark here

Chiaki’s father stood up, as he led me to the main door.Bookmark here

“Thank you for your hospitality, Chiaki’s mom,” I said as I followed him. I didn’t get to have a final look at Chiaki.Bookmark here

Her father opened the door, invited me out, and closed the door behind him as he looked at me.Bookmark here

“You’re a big adult now, Shin,” he said as he tapped my shoulder. “Last time I saw you, you were like—” he lowered his other hand to the level of his waist “—this tall.”Bookmark here

I chuckled. This is the first time I see his transition from a stern and serious father to a talkative and friendly one. He was always that one dangerous-looking dad which no child dared to approach.Bookmark here

“Do you want me to drive you home?” he asked.Bookmark here

“No. It’s ok. I can walk home, it’s not that far,” I said. “Thank you for having me over, Chiaki’s dad.”Bookmark here

He let go of my shoulder as I bowed.Bookmark here

Then, before I took my leave, he offered me a hug.Bookmark here

And, I accepted, reluctantly.Bookmark here

“Thank you for being with her, while we were busy, Shin. Chiaki’s mother and I sometimes had to work on holidays and weekends as well. So, we tried to spend some quality time with her whenever we could, and most often, your name would come up when she talked to us. It’s reassuring to know that you feel the same way about her as well, and are willing to protect her.”Bookmark here

He patted my back as he continued to hug me. A neighbor walking his dog passed by and looked at us weirdly.Bookmark here

“If she allows,” he continued. “I hope you continue to stay by her side, and create many precious moments with her. She’s our only daughter, Shin. You know what that means, right?”Bookmark here

I nodded my head.Bookmark here

Then, he relaxed his hug and let me go. “Send my regards to your parents. Chiaki’s mother and I will visit them soon.”Bookmark here

I bowed once again at him. “Thank you, Chiaki’s father.”Bookmark here

Then, he just made a single wave at me as I started to walk down the street, heading back to my home.Bookmark here

I looked at my watch.Bookmark here

8:03AM.Bookmark here

Last morning of the year.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.