Chapter 15:

The Dark Serves Us Coffee

The Fall of Prince Hayashi

“We’re going to find Kuro Mori today,” I said, “And end this all tonight.” Bookmark here

Why did I say that? What is the adrenaline rushing through me? Or maybe it was just my idiocy, the one that Imai always pointed out I had but I always chose to ignore? Well either way, after saying that, it seems like I doomed our mission from the start. Bookmark here

We started our search for Mori near the convenience store and the places that line that area. Apparently, Imai said that a lot of people who went to Kumano stayed around here. Most of the students took over their parents business in the shopping center and it was highly unlikely that Mori was an exception. Or at least I hope he wasn’t. Bookmark here

Right now we were right in front of a candy shop. How many stores did we already search through? I turned around and counted all the stores we’ve hit on the block already. This was the 10th store we visited on the block, and my feet were starting to kill me.Bookmark here

I opened the door to the shop. “Do you know anything else about Mori?” Bookmark here

Imai looked over at me, entering the shop. “I don’t think anyone knew anything about him. He was always a mysterious guy.… Kind of like Hayashi a bit.” Bookmark here

Instead of looking at the candy, we went straight to the front of the store and looked over at the staff. The only person in the store was a high school girl in a stupid candy costume at the register. She smiled at us, but I could tell that she was tired of greeting people. Kind of reminded me how I was when I first started working at the store back in Onomichi. A sad teen, just looking to make some money behind the school's back. Bookmark here

“Hello!” The girl at the front desk waved at us. “What can I help you two with today?” Bookmark here

Since I asked the question of the last shop, it was Imai’s turn to ask this time. She leaned against the counter. “Do you happen to have an employee named Kuro Mori?” Bookmark here

The girl thought about it for a while, but then ultimately shook her head no. “I don’t think we have anyone of that name here. My dad owns the store so I think I would know.”Bookmark here

What’s up with all these parents giving their kids the stores? First Imai, and now this kid? Where is my store??Bookmark here

Imai got off the counter quickly. “Oh that’s fine. There’s nothing else I need to ask you.”Bookmark here

That was our sign to leave, so the both of us headed outside, nothing in either of our hands. We started our search at the beginning of lunch and with every passing store, the only thing we seemed to be nearing was dinner. It was like Mori didn’t even exist in Kumano. But why? Most of the people who lived here stayed here, since it was close to the train station and close to a work district. If they really needed to work outside of the shopping district, they would have used the train. So where on earth would he be? Bookmark here

Unless there is something he didn’t want to be confronted by…Bookmark here

“What now?” I asked, closing the door behind us as we left the store. Bookmark here

Imai crossed her arms behind her back and sighed. “I don’t know...let’s take a break after the next store though.”Bookmark here

We both deserved a break after everything we went through today. Running around Kumano on one bento box well past lunch wasn’t the best experience ever. I bet that Imai had breakfast though, unlike me. I could also bet that if I told her I didn’t have any breakfast, she would kill me in the matter of seconds. Or at least, she would kick me and go get me food. Bookmark here

There were only a couple of stores left in the shopping district to search through, even then it seemed like no one knew anything about Kuro Mori in Kumano. Even the people who went to Kumano high school seemed lost when we mentioned his name to them. How could they forget someone who used to be so popular? Was Hayashi’s takeover that seamless? Bookmark here

Imai headed down the street to the next store. It was a hardware store, owned by one of the first families in Kumano. The sign above the store was in the worst condition, with stickers peeling off and the letters discolored. Unlike the other stores, which were bustling with activity, this store lacked any customers. Bookmark here

We entered the dark store, the bell above the door ringing loud as a sign of our entrance. The outside of this shop matched how the inside looked exactly. In comparison to the other shops in the area, this one looked completely beat up. The paint was chipping off the walls, the lights above us were turning orange and the floor seemed to have more scratches than panels. The only other customers were a group of old men smoking cigarettes in the corner. They eyed us both walking in, and even I noticed the way their eyes lingered on Imai. I moved in front of her, ignoring her confusion at my sudden movement. Bookmark here

Let’s just get the hell out of here. I doubt that these people even know anyone our age, much less Kuro Mori. Bookmark here

The cashier at the front was a middle-aged man, slightly graying at the roots of his hair. He was also smoking a cigarette, except his was burned to the end, like he was trying to get all of his money’s worth of smoke out. He wore glasses that would have made him ‘nerdy’ if it weren’t for the cold glare his face held. His face was pointy, his expression cold, and his look worse for wear. Bookmark here

I grabbed Imai’s hand, ignoring her soft gasp and headed up to the cashier. Take a deep breath and let it out. I just needed to ask the stupid question and leave this place. If Imai was going to kill me for holding her hand, she could do it when we were outside. The last thing I wanted was a sixty year old man to start hitting on her in the middle of the store. Bookmark here

“Hello." The man at the cashier took the cigarette out of his mouth. “Are you looking for anything specific?” Bookmark here

Come on Souta. Be nice to the guy so you can be safe. I smiled and shook my head no. “I’m here because I’m looking for someone in Kumano. His name is Kuro Mori, recognize the name?” Bookmark here

The man took a long whiff from his cigarette, ignoring my clear impatience. He tapped the cigarette against the ash tray by his side and watched the both of us closely. Bookmark here

“Yeah, I know him,” the man sighed. “He’s my nephew actually. He’s not in Kumano anymore.” Bookmark here

He was his nephew? Mori wasn’t in Kumano? I put my hand down on the desk. “Where is he the-”Bookmark here

“In America,” the man said. “He lives in America last time I checked. I don’t really speak to his folk anymore, but I know that much.” Bookmark here

“America?” Imai whispered. Bookmark here

The man nodded. “Yep, Mori in America right now.”Bookmark here

America? How the hell did he get to America? I didn’t wanna say it, but most of the kids in Kumano lacked any common sense or intelligence. They all knew that they were going to get their parents store so they lacked any motivation. No one bothered with good scores except Hayashi. Kuro Mori. Either he was super smart, or super sneaky. Running off to America without telling anyone. Rather it seems like no one even knew who he was. What is his plan all along? Make everyone forget the past and run along to you a new future?Bookmark here

I fell Imai punch her elbow into my rib cage and I let out a gasp of air. Damn, I spaced out again. Mori's uncle stared at me, his bland face showing clear annoyance at me. If I wasn’t buying anything, he wanted me to get the hell up out of here. Bookmark here

“Thank you sir,” I said. “Will be leaving now.”Bookmark here

Without anything else to say, me and Imai left the store. I heard the old men in the corner chuckle, probably amused at how odd I was acting. Could they really blame me though? I had Imai to worry about, the search was going nowhere, and now I realized the person we were searching for is halfway across the world.Bookmark here

I was so busy walking down the street, stuck in my own thoughts, but I couldn’t even predict that Imai would grab me by my shoulder and turn me around. She looked me dead in the eyes and then proceeded to smack me. Bookmark here

Second smack of the week, Souta. Bookmark here

I pushed Imai away from me and held a hand to my face. “What the hell-?”Bookmark here

Imai grabbed my hand again. “Are you OK?”Bookmark here

“Am I OK?!” I pulled my arm out of her grip. “You literally just smacked me.”Bookmark here

“I smacked you because you were scaring me,” Imai crossed her arms. “You look like you’re going to go back an fight everyone in that store… And that scares me.”Bookmark here

“Do you think that just being scared means that you can smack people around?!”Bookmark here

“This is exactly what I mean,” Imai shouted. “You’re letting everything get to your head!” Bookmark here

Imai started walking away and I followed behind her.Bookmark here

“Why are you leaving?” I shouted.Bookmark here

“I’m not leaving, I just want to go get something to eat so you can relax.”Bookmark here

So I can relax? I felt my whole body tense my anger consumed me. “I’d be ten times more relaxed without you here!”Bookmark here

Imai turned around, the same amount of anger in her eyes. “Well you’re not getting rid of me!”Bookmark here

Something in me just wanted to keep yelling at Imai. To keep spewing stupid nonsense until I was victorious. Why couldn’t I be a bully? Let my anger out and some random people and then move on with my life? Never feel bad about it and then grow up to be a successful person? I wanted to yell at her and at the same time I wanted to sit down and just lay on the floor. I wanted to go back home and lock myself in my room and sit there staring at the wall. How? Why? Why did I have to be the one who went through everything?? Bookmark here

“Let’s go get something to eat,” Imai said, not bothering to face me anymore. I swallowed my pride and followed her from five steps behind. Bookmark here

I was holding her hand earlier. I must’ve held it the whole time we were in the shop. How come she wasn’t yelling at me about that? I looked at her hand and realized that Imai was shaking. Her whole body was still but her arms and hands were shaking. Now they think about it… She was really quiet. A little bit too quiet for the Imai I knew. Was she… scared of me?Bookmark here

Half of me was impressed. Impressed that she was able to still yell at me and put me in my place while being scared out of her mind. The other half of me felt horrible. And this half was starting to take over as I inched closer to Imai. Soon, I was standing side by side to her. She didn’t look me in the eye, but I could tell that she was wondering what I was doing standing next to her. Bookmark here

So I put her hand in mine and waited for her to push me away again. Bookmark here

I waited like that for a couple of minutes. Waiting for Imai to put me back in my place and force me to walk five meters away from her at all times. Yet that explosion never happened. Passing through crowds of people, Imai never let go of my hand. I took that as a “yes” and tightened my grip on her hand slightly. I let out a breath as we entered the nearest café to our side. Bookmark here

“Hello!” The woman at the front waved at us. “A table for two?” Bookmark here

“Yes please,” Imai said. Bookmark here

The woman guided us to a small table near a huge flower wall and we sat down facing each other. A menu was handed to both of us as the list of café food spanned multiple pages. Cakes, cookies, patisserie. This place had it all when it came to sugary desserts. Bookmark here

Imai was staring at the menu in front of her, her eyes flying across the pages. She was scared of me for a moment back then. I was being stupid and she worried for me in the odd (violent) way she does. It’s just the thought of her hurting at all seemed to pain me. That if anything happened to her, I wouldn’t be able to solve the issue peacefully. Bookmark here

I whispered. “Souta.” Bookmark here

Imai looked up from the menu, her eyes lingering for a while. “What did you say?” Bookmark here

I stretched my arm out a little bit. Come on. Be a man. “I think that you should start calling me by my first name… If that’s OK with you.“Bookmark here

Imai look back down on her menu and I took that as my offering for peace failing. But what can I do? If she didn’t want to call me by my first name, she didn’t have to. I definitely messed up in the store today th-Bookmark here

“Then you can call me Satomi.” Imai lowered her menu. “It’s only fair that if I call you by your first name you can call me by mine.” Bookmark here

“I’m sorry I scared you today,“ I blurted out, my eyes focusing back on the table. “I just didn’t want anything to happen to you in the store. You’ve already been through a lot. Even worse than what I went through.” Bookmark here

Imai let out a deep sigh and called over a waiter. She turned to face me. “How many times did I tell you that this isn’t a competition? The past doesn’t matter to me anymore. So just shut up and eat.” Bookmark here

A.k.a. I forgive you. Now shut up and eat. Bookmark here

Satomi ordered a small cappuccino and crepe cake. Meanwhile, I took a huge iced coffee and a stack of pancakes. If I was going all out with the foreign food, I might as well indulge in it. This time I was going to pay for both of our meals without complaining about it. It was the least I could do after the whole fiasco that happened earlier.Bookmark here

“So America?“ I said, hoping to start the conversation off right.Bookmark here

“He never seemed to be the type to be a foreign student,” Imai crossed her arms and leaned against the table. “Usually the foreign students already have the money saved up before they even enter high school.”Bookmark here

Most exchange students were rich or were planning on being educated out of Japan by the age of five. Or at least that’s what I thought. Turns out that some people could just leave, and not look back. Still, even the one student we had who is determined to go to college outside of Japan would never shut up about it. Constantly talking about their trips to the US, how they were so much cooler, and how they couldn’t wait to just leave high school and leave Japan. Bookmark here

“Mori never mentioned anything about him going to America, right?“ I said. Bookmark here

“I knew him only for my first two years. Even then only halfway through the second year. He’s never mentioned a plan to go to the US to me ever. Whenever we’d talk about the future, he would either bring up his parents' store or try to change the subject.“Bookmark here

The waiter came by and dropped off our food, a slight pause forced into our conversation. I thanked the waiter as he walked away, ignorant to the conversation unfolding at our table. Bookmark here

I took a bite of my pancakes. “I have a feeling that he ran off after Hayashi died.” Bookmark here

Imai nodded. “I have the same idea. Why else would he go to America out of nowhere?” Bookmark here

“Everything we’ve seen so far points to this,” I took a sip of my coffee. “I don’t think it could be any more complex than this. Usually the solution to things are the simplest.“Bookmark here

“All we need to do is to confront Kuro Mori, Souta. Maybe we can find a way to contact him in the US?” Bookmark here

“Or maybe… You can look up from where you guys are talking.“Bookmark here

Both me and Imai stopped we were doing, and looked up at our waiter. It was the same waiter from earlier. But finally the features from his face were starting to click together. The dark hair does seem to take in light, the white face that seemed blanched, and the menacing look on his face. There was no denying it…Bookmark here

“Mori?” Imai said. “What are you doing working here at a café?” Bookmark here

Notes from Zen: Bookmark here

We've met Mori! He seems nice....for now ;) Bookmark here

If you like this chapter please give it a like and if you like the story, feel free to add it to your library! :)Bookmark here

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