Chapter 37:

“Raison D’etre”

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

“Stir this!”

“Yes chef!”

Kaori mixes the gravy while I baste the chicken.

“Drain those!”

“Yes chef!”

I finish glazing some carrots as she drains the potatoes.

“Take these!”

“Yes chef!”

She gets rid of some peelings for me while I put everything in the oven.

“And stop saying that!”

“OK chief!”

“Or that!”

“Roger commander!”

“OR THAT!!!”




I’m getting stressed with everything that needs doing all at once, but my sous-chef’s dumb jokes disarm me each time…

“What’s got you so excitable?!.”

Kaori stares like I’ve asked the most obvious question in the world.

“Because I have never celebrated Christmas before.”

That explains it… I’ve really gotta make it count then!

“Well, I’ve got things under control now, just need to check occasionally. You go get changed, and I’ll be up in a minute.”

Kaori nods, calmly untucks a hand towel she’s been using as a bib to keep her/my top from getting splattered, then sprints off with a grin and my gift in tow.

Guess she can’t wait...

I double, triple check everything is safe to be left alone, then head upstairs. It’ll be nice to get cleaned up and relax before dinner.

I’m showered, dressed, and back down to make sure things are fine in no time, but Kaori is MIA longer than expected, so I go check on her.

“You alive in there?”

Tapping on the door as I call out.

“Yes. You can come in and wait if you want to chat.”

Her tone implying that’s what she wants.

I sigh, as I enter, at her still not being able to be completely honest... like I can say anything.

The bathroom door is open to ventilate the steam from the shower, and I can hear her clattering about with skincare or whatever. As I pass, I pretend not to notice she’s only in a towel.

That was most definitely on purpose.

“I will give you a call if I need help.”

Without turning, I groan in agreement, and sit down at her desk. Can’t be tempted to peek like I might from the be-

Her hallway mirror reflects the entire bathroom.

My eyes dart in every direction to find somewhere else to look just as Kaori’s gaze locks with my reflection’s.

She smirks.

She wouldn’t.

Her hand raises to the towel, and I spin on the chair to face the wall.

An eruption of laughter.

Lost that game of chicken.


Her wet towel hits the floor. No sound of the door closing. Is that an invitation to look?!.

I sit and sweat and translate the titles of the textbooks on her shelf until I hear light footfalls behind me… how can feet sound disappointed?

She slips her arms around my shoulders, feeling out my collar bones, and crossing my chest. Her head comes to rest by my ear... not this again, please!

“Good boy.”

I go to turn with a riposte, but she lightly kisses my cheek, retreating before I can react.

Will I ever be able to keep up!

“What do you think?”

She looks exactly like her sister did in the promotional shoot for One’s Self And Alter Ego.

Better even!

Life surpassing art.

Her giggle at my dumbfounded gawk is accompanied by a curtsied thanks.

“I was maybe 6 in that photograph. The brand had only been around for a couple of years…”

Kaori wearing their flagship print - a wrought iron railing upon a sea of black - as if it were made for her alone.

“…MAYA actually hand-picked Kazu to model for them. She had to babysit me that day, so…”

She steps closer; the epitome of gothic elegance…

“It does not feel quite right on me…”

Sits in my lap, “…like I am pretending to be my sister…” and holds me tight.

“…but it is a connection I never thought I would have.”

She takes my hand and kisses it… “Thank you, Tai!” …then leads us down for dinner.

Of which, I did amazingly well for my first full roast, if I do say so myself!

Nothing’s burnt or undercooked, everything’s ready at the same time, and most importantly… it’s Kaori’s turn to be speechless.

I half expected her to shovel in her plate and go back for thirds, but she delicately takes her time, savouring every bite.

“This is lovely.”

Her delighted smile sweeter than any dessert. A greater gift I could not have hoped to receive.

“You’re more than welcome…” my love, “Merry Christmas!”

…my words trail off as my confidence pitters out. Maybe I’ll be able to say it before new years…


Maybe not…

People start filtering back into the dorms from Boxing Day, and we’re quickly forced out of communal spaces by snickering comments.

“Look at the passport-bro!”

“Eww… I knew he had yellow fever!”

“Do they ever do anything on their own?”

It hurts the most when I overhear the rumours spreading to people I used to actually get on with. At first, they resist, but one look at how inseparable Kaori and I have become, they pick up the chorus.

As New Year's Eve rolls around, the place is full again, and the common room is taken over by the international students and some special guests… Toshi, Ryu, Saki, Fuyumi, and a load of others - not Ryosuke though - all arrive as I’m picking up some laundry.

Their expressions ranging from disgust and derision to dismay and disregard.

I return to my room and try to put stuff away, but finally come to the conclusion I’ve let things get out of hand.

Not with the gossip - though I would like to do something about it as they’re targeting Kaori too - but my room needs cleaning before we hang out tonight… it’s become a bit of a dumping ground.

All the crap I’ve bought is taking up too much space.

I was fine living with it when I wanted was more, but now I’ve detached from that…

“What is on your mind?”

Kaori comes in to take her clothes through; I must have been spacing out.

“Nothing much…”

“Same as normal.”

“Only because you have the brain cell today!”

She giggles as she folds her share.

“You ok giving me a hand tidying up in here?”

Under furrowed brows, she scans the room, then turns back to me.

“I do not think the whole dorm could help.”

I smirk, but I’m being serious.

“It’s not that bad. I just want to send everything home. Spend the rest of the year with a clean room, clear my head.”

Her lips part - I sense she intended to make a comment about my mind already being empty - but she takes heed of my narrowed eyes and rolls her own.

“That sounds like a good idea. It is the final semester, so you will need to focus.”

“What? No, I’ve got another after Spring.”

Kaori’s face scrunches in confusion.

“Ohh… I assumed your course followed the same academic year as mine.”

“What do you mean?”

She tilts her head while placing the last item atop her pile of clean laundry.

“I graduate in March.”

How can she deliver a death blow so nonchalantly?!.

We have so little time left together. She might have to move for work, or go back to live with her parents, or…

Anxiety takes hold, and I am compulsed to occupy my hands. I start moving boxes, finding packing materials, anything to not have to think about what comes next.


Kaori’s hand lightly grazes the back of my arm and I jump.

“I didn’t know! What do we do? I don’t want…”

My brain capsizes at the thought of losing her. I can’t articulate my thoughts even to myself. Why am I panicking so much?!.

I stub my toe on a box and curse everything under the sun.

“-uck! What are my parents going to think if all of this just turns up on their doorstep? They’ll kill me!”

They’ll think I’ve screwed up, just like my brother.

As I edge clearly into hysteria, Kaori tries to calm me. Stepping in to rub my back, suggesting ways to lessen the blow, holding my face, so I focus on her alone.

“Call them. Let them know you are sending things that will not fit in your suitcase. Assure them you are fine for money, you are working, and nothing else is coming home with you.”

Nothing else is coming home with me?

Kaori won’t be?!.

I mean, of course she won’t… she can’t!

She has a life here. She had one before me and will after. I mean nothing. Just a footnote that will eventually be forgotten.

I try to wrench away. I need to get out of here, get some fresh air, stuff like that. I need…

Are we codependent?!.

Is that why I’m freaking out so much?

I need to be alon-

The world goes horizontal with a screech.

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