Chapter 31:


VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

I nail the interview, and am scheduled to start work the beginning of November, so Halloween turns into an even greater cause for celebration!

We go out in the full shironuri deathly white make-up to bring the costumes to life. It would be a shame not to, after all.

At the unofficial Shibuya Scramble event, we get stopped for photos quite a bit, though there were hundreds of equally amazing costumes. The highlight was being surrounded by a group of Sexy Presidents, all cowering in fear of our revolutionary might!

Well, that’s just how we posed the shot.

It’s a pity we can’t drink during anymore. Not that I’ve gotten a taste for it, but the party atmosphere is tickling that certain spot. It’d just heighten the whole thing, y’know. Damn relaxed public drinking laws making it too tantalising at times…

We stay out way past midnight, just soaking up the energy. It was too hard trying to settle on an official event, then my suddenly becoming unemployed limited our options. By the time I could afford anything, all the tickets had run out.

Whatever! Sometimes, simple is best!

To savour the cool night air, we walk back to our dorms, stopping for more photographs with other revellers along the way.

Once out of Shibuya, Kaori pulls a familiar, almost forgotten bottle from her pocket.

“We never finished it.”

She takes a drink and winces, then hands it over.

I want to protest, but I know it means a lot to her. Probably more so considering I thought she was a guy when we last had it, even if she looks the part again right now.

Still beautiful, however she presents.

Unfairly so.

“To…” I search for an appropriate toast…

“…us?” Kaori intercepts and grins, forcing me to accept. Like I would object.

“To us!”

I have a sip, the petroleum slick fumes and mouth feel, a potent combination.

We chat unsparingly, never quite running out of words. Still riding the high from swarming the streets with a thousand other souls…

“A park!”

She runs over to a cute little play area and sits herself down on the swings. Having herself another drink, grimacing less than before, and offering me the bottle again.

“Push me!”

Not a request - a command - I oblige.

It’s a pleasant scene from the inside, but the handful of locals that walk by do double or quadruple takes. We probably look like the ghosts of protestors long past, taking a break from haunting their abandoned picket lines. Nothing scarier than politics.

“Why do you fixate over this era?”

Ok, maybe serious topics like this are scary too.

Obviously emboldened but the hanazake, Kaori picks a serene moment to ask a question she’s probably held onto since meeting me.

We’re close enough now that she deserves to know… I just, never really have the words to express these things.

She looks up, eyes full of slightly hazy enquiry. I take another drink from the bottle and hand it back, pushing her on the swing, so I don’t have to deal with the eye contact.

“My brother…”

Kaori gets the cue and turns away, still intently listening.

“…he was into anime and manga and game and stuff, so imported loads back in the 00’s from the few Japanese sites that did exports, and all those dodgy personal shopper services…” I realize I’ve told her all the basics before and glaze over them, “…when he went to college, every term he’d send more home, that’s why his collection filled both our rooms.”

She looks back over her shoulder, wild eyed and miming a wide-mouthed “WHAT THE FU-” until she wobbles and nearly falls off the swing.

“Yeah, our parents only realized the situation had gotten bad when he came asking for money…” I take the bottle from her for another drink, “…he always saved, but spent every penny on his collection. It was harmless when it was a small hobby, something he shared with me while I was sick, but it became something else…”

An addiction? An obsession?

“…he used it to cope.”

The description comes unbidden, but it’s the most truthful way I’ve ever felt myself describe it.

“He was just a kid, y’know. Our parents were too busy with me and work, so really he got no attention or support. His hobby became his world as a coping mechanism. He was bullied and had nothing else.”

A final sip to get me through, and I hand the hanazake back to Kaori, her hands readily accepting the bottle as I tap it on her shoulder to be taken away. It’s dregs at this point anyway.

“My illness ruined his childhood. He basically had to be another carer, and when he went to university, his only way to handle stress was to spend more money.”

Credit cards, loans, collection agencies… adding to everything else our family was going through.

“When our parents found out, they made him sell everything. They had to pay off his debt somehow. He got to keep that one box of his favourites.”

It must have felt like giving up his own children.

Kaori nods, recalling the photo of my room back home, as she takes a drink herself.

“He’d already gifted me all the music and fashion stuff before going to college, that’s where my collection began… and ended, until now. Our parents forbade me from buying anything, so all I could do was study or work.”

I chuckle, recalling a loophole I exploited, and she looks up at me, wanting in on the joke.

“Sorry, I got round that one by getting a job at Hot Subject. I’d buy all the punk and goth clothes closest to the VK stuff I saw in KIRA and Viscus, then modded them myself.”

Her expression softens, the glimpse of a creeping smile as she turns away again. I continue pushing her to keep things light.

“He never came back for the box. I think he doesn’t want anything to do with me now, but he was my lifeline when I was sick. I relied on him for my sanity, because he didn’t treat me like a burden or a pity case.”

My tone grows heated, and I have to walk away for a moment to calm myself. Kaori remains on the swing, a pendulum slowly ticking out the time until I can return.

“So you cling to those bands and clothes, the things you and your brother had in common…”

The creak of the chains and hinges punctuating every few words as she offers her take.

“…a connection through time to when everything was better between you both.”

My chest aches as her astuteness pierces through my points, right to the core of them. It makes me hate how right she can be, but only for a second.

“I completely understand…”

Of course she would. We’ve felt like kindred spirits from the start.

“…it is the same for me and my sister.”

Her voice cracks, but her make-up remains untouched.

I thought she would be crying. She’s become a bit of a baby with me, letting herself be vulnerable whenever we end up on something deeply personal. Letting out pent-up emotions like barrels of toxic waste, finally denatured enough to be handled securely. It’s cathartic for both of us.

However, I’m only just managing to swallow my own pain. I drop to my knees in the gravel around the swing and hold her like drift wood in a storm. Desperately holding everything in.

It really is fate that we found each other.

After a few minutes, my shins start to hurt from digging into the course earth, and I stand, offering my hand to her. She takes it and her light form almost floats to her feet. Both of us lighter despite tears being sniffed back instead of shed.

We don’t need to talk for the rest of the walk home.

It’s something that happens with surprising regularity, and it still makes me a little anxious. I don’t like silences, but I feel safe with Kaori at least.

She slips out of my grasp for a moment and runs off to a side alley, leaning over at the end.

Is she going to be sick?

I go to help get her hair out the way, but see a small shrine tucked away in the darkness. Her head bowed in prayer.

I join her, not really sure of the right rituals or even what to pray for, other than hoping things between us work out. She stands with a start. Nearly knocking me over, oblivious that I’d even followed.

Without a word, she smiles, redoing the prayer to guide me through, then pours the last of the hanazake as our offering to the guardian spirit within.

We walk away, feeling more at peace, our closeness bringing us both calm.

“To us…”

She whispers to herself. I smile and sigh my response…

“…to us.”

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