‘Not now Asahi… I’m tired’.
‘Didn’t I just tell you I’m tired? Let me sleep for a bit. Cut it out, man.’
I felt a tug on my right shoulder, so I pinched my fingers over my eyes to open them, then turned towards Asahi, who was pointing directly ahead of me, towards the front of the class. My eyes followed his finger, right towards our professor.
‘Mr. Tsuyoshi Yokoyama.’
I cocked my eyes up, signaling that I’d acknowledged him.
‘Thirty-seven absences thus far… and we’re only eighty-three days into the semester. It’s a damn wonder how you’ven’t been expelled yet, and here you are dozing off in my –’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this song and dance before. Just send me to the dean’s office or whatever. I’ll get whatever needs to be signed, signed. Don’t need another damn lecture.’
I looked around, and the class was appalled – to be fair, no normal student would address an authoritative figure in such a demeaning manner. Asahi smirked and shrugged his shoulders, but dropped his face towards his desk before anyone could notice.
‘You’ve got a serious attitude problem kiddo. Acting like a hotshot in front of a professor when you haven’t faced a day’s worth of challenges in the real world? That’s comedic right there.’
‘It’s not comedic at all. It’s just that I’ve heard this shit over, and over, and over, and over. No matter how many days I miss, I always place in the top twenty percent in both spring and end-of-term exams. That’s good enough, isn’t it? Why do you guys’ care if I show up or don’t?’
With that, I picked up my knapsack, threw my sweater around my neck, and headed out the door. Honestly, I wasn’t even angry. I was just tired… tired of hearing the same sermon from different people, tired of attending classes that were hardly interesting and brought about no personal benefit, tired of thinking about graduation, the future, and entering a supposed ‘real’ world. Still, more than anything, there was one particular thing I was tired of:
I was tired of living in a world where I had to create my own solace.
Pretty straightforward, I guess. I hated the fact that there was nothing interesting about life – it was simply a monotonous, melancholic cycle. What was that saying… time and tide wait for no man? Or something like that? Life just keeps moving on – whether you or I like it or not – and I really hated that. I came to that realization about my feelings early on though, and I recognized that to find some reprieve from this monotony, I simply had to create my own exhilaration, something that wouldn’t be easy, but –
Oh yeah, I got completely lost in my own thoughts there, as per usual.
‘Sévère! How’ve you been keeping up?’
‘Good, good. Family’s been keeping well.’
‘Ah, I assume your fathers in good health then?’
‘Yes, he is. He’s conducting business internationally on a frequent basis, so I rarely take note of him at the academy, but we chat often. Speaking of, I presume you’ve been summoned to discuss matters with him at the dean’s office?’
‘Yeah. Prof told me to go kick rocks, so I let him hear it. If your father isn’t in, should I just speak to the assistant dean at the main office?’
‘No need, no need. I’ll sign off on your papers and you’ll be fine. Just hand them to the assistant dean and you can skip the rest of the day, no issues.’
He paused and pushed his glasses upwards into the bridge of his nose before continuing.
‘Still. I don’t like doing this, even for you… I get that you’re able to keep up with material and you have other important affairs to tend to, but please, try to keep things civil when and if you do choose to attend classes.’
I looked at him and chuckled.
‘Yeah, my bad man. I really appreciate all that you and your father have done for both the academy and for me. It’s hard to find a will to come to class, and even harder to find a will to stay in the class when I do come, but I’ll keep trying man. You have my word.’
With that, Sévère signed my Dean’s Appointment papers and headed in the opposite direction, towards his girlfriend, Yuki’s, class. He and Yuki were the twin towers of authority at the academy as the Student Council’s President and Vice-President of acting operations, with Sévère being the academy director’s son, and hence holding a wealth of power in decision-making affairs. Realistically, he had no business being as cordial as he was in his dealings with myself, however, his bearing witness to the empire that I’d created outside of the academy’s walls – on a random occurrence, nonetheless – all but assured his acceptance of me as an equal. But how could an edgy, know-it-all, brat like myself, even remotely compare to a perfect academic resume, multiple elite-class internships, flawless athletics awards, and student council presidency flaunted by the son of an academy’s director?
Simple. You create an empire through blood, sweat, and tears. The world that I lived in – the world that I created for myself that wasn’t one of boredom, and was instead filled with invigoration and unending thrills, was built, brick by brick, galvanized to my liking, and was somewhere where I’d always find peace.
It was the world of delinquency. A gangster’s paradise, if you’d call it such.
Here, I always found a reason to keep moving forward. The violence kept propelling me forward; it kept pushing me to become stronger, because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d lose everything that I’d worked for. That feeling – that feeling of compensation for everything, the money, the blood, and the hard work I’d put in – that’s what excited me. Before I knew it, the inheritance that I’d received from my late grandfather – God rest his soul – was put into the downpayments for two nightclubs – those turned into four, which turned into eight, which eventually turned into casinos, nightmarkets, and just about anything that would bring in liquid cash. The funding allowed for swift and vast improvements of my team – X54 – to the point that our crest alone struck fear.
I was – and still am – addicted to the high that the violence brought me, and it’s why I continue to spend most of my days away from the academy, with my crew instead. Sévère acknowledged this and doesn’t question this world that I’d chosen for myself, so long as I’d promised the academy’s security: a simple task for a crew as expansive as my own.
Shit, lost in thought again. I’d already made my way to one of our crew’s quarters, and nightfall had already begun to cloud the skies.
‘Tosh, my man! How’s everything? Got any updates?’
That’s twenty-five-year-old Toshiaki Kojiro, probably the most integral member of our crew. Although he’s smaller in stature, and isn’t really our most useful hand-to-hand combatant, he’s the strategist and negotiator responsible for the creation of this mega-empire. His financial strategies allowed X54 to gain the notoriety it did in less than a calendar year – without him, it’s likely that my vision of this ‘paradise’ never comes to fruition.
‘Nothing much. Just keeping tabs on those guys who’d rampaged down south.’
‘Who again? I can’t ever keep track.’
‘Those Death’s Bliss guys. They don’t really have presence up here and prefer to defend their territories as opposed to pushing for further expansion northward.’
‘Oh, so no concern then, I’d presume.’
‘Well, that’s what I’d like to tell you, as they’ve always believed that further expansion would just lead to territories that they’d have wavering control over, which would eventually lead to the deterioration of their main territory. What I’ve heard recently though – and mind you, this is all speculation, is that their second-in-command stepped away for personal reasons.’
This is what I mean when I imply that Tosh knows everything about everything. Still, what the hell am I supposed to do with this information?
‘So again, no concern? I don’t really care what they do down there.’
He chuckled and nodded his head.
‘Yeah. Nothing in particular that you’ve gotta keep your eyes on. Just know that something or the other happened down there, and we don’t want it flaring up here.’
‘All good man. Thanks for the update.’
He pulled out a twelve-pack of cigarettes and offered me one, to which I declined. He lit one and took a quick smoke, before turning around and heading back to his office. The guy was a heavy smoker, going through at least five twelve-packs a week, while the rest of us – at least us at the top – didn’t really care for tobacco like that. He’d mentioned – at least briefly – that at his last underground position, he’d lost his girlfriend to a sudden, severe case of leukemia just before their fourth anniversary, and that’s what caused his unending nicotine addiction. It’s also what extinguished his passion for strategic planning, something which was only rekindled two years later when he met us – still, he always tells us that he’s ‘only along for the ride’. Don’t really blame him either, as I’d presume she was his solace in this unchanging world – being able to withstand that magnitude of loss would be unbearable.
Oh, that voice. That annoying voice.
‘Dude. Why’d you even show up to class if you were just gonna laze off? Just don’t come! I’d send you whatever assignments we have anyway – not that you need them!’
‘Ah, shut up Asa, ya fuckin’ nerd.’
Yeah, that’s Asahi Nakamura, my classmate, childhood best friend, and our crew’s number two. On the crew, he’s Toshiaki’s other half, and together they don’t miss anything strategic, or finance related. Unlike Tosh though, he’s strong, flaunting black belts in Judo and Aikido – it was our combined strength that allured hundreds to follow us, allowing X54 to become both feared and admired. Away from the crew though, he couldn’t be more different from me – X54 isn’t something that he created to find solace, he just thought it’d be something fun to try. The success which followed was unprecedented, however, he’s always planned to leave the underground scene at some point or another – it just depended on what I’d want, as he didn’t want to abandon me. That fact often brought about disdain from his girlfriend, Haruna, who’d turn a blind eye to our ventures, despite clearly wishing for him to return to a simpler lifestyle. Still, whenever Asahi discusses things with her, her reply is simple: He can choose as he pleases, who am I to stop him? If he enjoys what he’s doing, then I’ll support him in every capability.
‘Aye, Tsu, you hear about the Death’s Bliss stuff?’
‘Yeah, yeah. Sounds like a whole lot of nothing, eh?’
‘Guess so. Weird that such a high-ranking crew would choose to split, especially at the peak of their glory down south. Internal friction can really be annoying, eh?’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘Lucky we don’t allow those kinds of problems to persist around here. Buzzing flies get swatted around here before they disrupt the peace.’
‘Do you really have to metaphorize everything?’
‘I’m just using what I learned in class… something you can’t say, that’s for sure.’
That’s the other thing about Asahi. He works diligently. Even if we’ve always been compared to one another, and our physical talents and mental capacities are roughly equivalent, he’s always outpaced me in both academics and athletics. That work ethic’s something I’ve always admired about the guy, and it’s why he routinely scores in the top five percent of our grade, while I’m in the top twenty. Sure he shows up to way more classes than I do, but that takes effort and commitment, something that I don’t have outside of this world I’ve created for myself.
I looked back up at him, lightly punched his arm, and smirked. He didn’t respond though, instead pinching upward on his left eyebrow, almost like he was thinking about something.
‘Oh yeah, shit!’
I shook my head, confused.
‘We’re down to our last twelve-pack man.’
‘Oh, what? I just saw Tosh pull out a pack.’
‘Ah, damnit, that was the last one then! You mind stopping by the corner store and grabbing a bunch of packs to restock?’
I shook my head.
‘Isn’t that your damn job? You go do it!’
‘I would, but I’ve got a bunch of tax paperwork to take care of. Please? I’ll owe you one. Hell, take my wallet and put it on there, and get yourself something.’
I sighed and laughed as I caught the wallet he threw over.
‘What, are we elementary schoolers? Money isn’t the problem here, you annoying ass! We’re swimming in it! I’ll go though, damn ya!’
I picked up my keys and headed out the main door, into the darkness illuminated only by streetlights and stars. It was chilly and late, so I pulled my jacket tightly and walked briskly.
Little did I know, this one little decision would change the trajectory of my life. Forever.