Misao had begun to think as of late that all her fears were unfounded. At the very least, her efforts to think that way had begun to succeed.
There was no need for her to waste her time thinking of such frivolous things. It must just be that Mio and Shougo were trying to fill the hole that was left behind from having been separated after twenty four years, and that was why they were suddenly so close.
Mio’s striking change was proof of that. In a short amount of time, she had lost any excess weight and it was replaced by a rich sparkle to her eyes. You could say that kind change is an aspect typical of a woman in love, but it could also be something that could have come from the psychological shock of Shougo coming into her life. Now that she thought back to this past year as a whole, she could see that Mio was beginning to settle down, and it was clear that she was beginning to take into serious consideration her plans for the future.
She had even ended her relationship with Muda, and had told her that she wanted to work at her office. Even if it were something that was said as a joke on the spur of the moment, it could be said that just by voicing it verbally, it was proof of her eagerness to finally lead an honest life. Shougo was likely to thank for this; to look at it from a different angle, it was likely Shougo’s presence in Mio’s life was what cast a light on her future; he was the one who showed her the joy of life.
After all was said and done, she was glad to have reunited them.
Even if Mio’s relationship with Muda in which she gave her body in return for a high pay came about from Muda’s genuine feelings for her, for a woman nearing thirty, there was no denying such a relationship would leave a blemish on her life. Mio had freed herself from such a relationship and was trying to start her life anew. Even though it took Mio quite a long time to reach her starting point in life, Misao, as someone close to her, wanted to support her in her journey.
If she could see Mio’s father now, he would likely be joyous of the change of events. His beloved daughter was getting ready to set sail. If he had been alive, his eyes would have probably been moist with tears, and he would have been shaken by deep emotion.
Keiichi… Keiichi… Keiichi… She repeated his name in her heart countless times.
She remembered back to Mio’s words when she suggested that she find herself a lover aside from Kusuda-san. She had no desire for one though. Now, as it had always been, the only person she wanted was Keiichi. Even as the years layered on and she would one day reach an age when she would be considered an elderly person, she had the feeling that she would forever be consumed in her love for him, and would live her life submerged deep into her memories of him.
Strangely enough, that didn’t cause her to feel pain, but rather, that knowledge wrapped her in a gentle embrace. There was no bringing back the dead, but it was also true that death was forever. When she thought about how Keiichi would never again leave from her side, feelings akin to happiness welled up inside of her.
The meeting that had been scheduled on the afternoon that Mio and Shougo planned to go on the drive to Yokohama was cancelled. Her day was originally short enough as it was, so now that the urgent meeting had been cancelled, she decided that she should take advantage of this to have a relaxing night off for the first time in a while.
She stayed at her office until just past five, but as the clock struck five, she left the rest of the work to her secretary, and set off into town on a beautifully sunny day in May. She got on the subway to Shirokanedai, and went shopping at the local supermarket.
Mio looked up to her, as always. Whenever she had the chance, she chose to stay at home to cook dinner for herself instead of going out to eat; this had become a habit of hers.
Lately, she had been indulging in mostly Western-style dishes, so she was in the mood to eat some light Japanese-style simmered dishes. If she made boiled taro roots in soy sauce, she could whip it up in no time.
In addition, she would make boiled spinach with soy sauce dressing and simmered hijiki. And a miso-soup with tofu and plenty of vegetables. To top it off, she would have a fresh skipjack tuna tataki. That would probably be more than enough.
If she said so herself, it was quite an impressive healthy menu. As she gathered all the ingredients she needed at the store, she quickly made her way back to her apartment.
Turning on the TV, she listened to the evening news as she began dinner preparations in the kitchen. Without even realizing it, she had begun humming. There was plenty of relaxing time for her tonight. She hadn’t made plans to meet up with anyone, and there was no one to bother her. It was a little disappointing that she couldn’t see Mio, but because of this, she was able to have time to herself.
There was also no possibility of Kusuda suddenly calling her to tell her that he wanted to see her. He was staying at a guest house by Lake Towada along with his students. It was a study trip, so it would be one week before he returned. He seemed like he would be pretty busy after his return as well, so they would probably not be able to see each other for some time yet.
She had just finished boiling the spinach and was checking the status of the simmered taro roots when the phone in her living room began to ring.
Reflexively, she glanced at her watch. It was just after seven. She wondered who would be calling at this time of night. If some troubles came up at the law office after she had left, the secretary would be calling her cell phone, not her home phone.
On the other line, she heard the familiar voice of a young man.
“Oh, so you were back early today, after all. I’m glad.”
He said this without much inflection in his voice, as he also quickly added that he was in front of the apartment complex right now. “I heard from Mio-san that you would be back early today. She’s probably told you already, but we’re heading out for a drive soon.”
“Ah, yes. She told me.” Misao replied. “Did something happen? Did she cancel on you at the last minute?”
He chuckled quietly saying that wasn’t the case.
“I just got here a bit early. I called her just now, and she said that she was taking a shower, and asked if I could wait a little longer.”
“She always was someone who went by the beat of her own drum. Well then, while you’re waiting, would you like to come over to my place? I’m in the middle of making dinner, but feel free to come on up. You can call her and let her know.”
“No, that’s all right. If possible, I was wondering if you could come down here.”
“Just until Mio-san comes out, please come down here to take a look at the car; it’s a Jaguar. You’ll be impressed. It’s something I borrowed from the owner of the café where I work part time.”
There was a part of her that didn’t feel like going through the trouble of leaving the apartment. If she went out, she would have to turn off the oven when the dish was just about finished.
“Please,” he said to her with an unusually eager tone to his voice. “It won’t take long; I’d just like for you to see it.”
She gave in and said, “Okay, then I’ll be there in a few minutes,” before hanging up the phone.
She turned off the oven, took off her apron and slipped her feet into the sandals that were at the entranceway. She locked the apartment door and took the elevator down to the first floor.
On the other side of the entrance doors, she saw Shougo’s figure. He was leaning against a metallic red Jaguar and he had his arms folded in front of him as he gazed this way. He was dressed in a suit, different from his usual attire. Perhaps that was why he looked even more mature than he usually did, and he gave off an unapproachable aura.
“Well aren’t you dressed sharply today. Dressed like that, you look like some young aristocrat.” She joked.
Any way you looked at it, he was dressed up for a date, but none of the feelings that bothered her so much rose to surface like before.
It’s fine; they were close siblings. There’s nothing wrong with that, she told herself.
“I guess you’ve come to pick up the princess?”
“You could say that,” Shougo smiled. “So what do you think? It’s a pretty sweet ride, don’t you think?”
“It really is.”
“He has two other cars like this. Can you believe it?”
“So I heard from Mio.”
“Would you like to hop in?”
“Is it okay if I do?”
He opened up the passenger door for her. As she slid into the seat, the door closed with a heavy thud. Soon after, Shougo sat down in the driver’s seat.
There was no music. The car with its engine turned off had an almost eerie silence to it, and it felt as though the even the faint sound of someone swallowing would echo in the enclosed space. Although there were likely to be cars passing by on the street, she couldn’t hear their sounds even as she cocked her ear to listen.
“I don’t really know much about cars,” she started. “But even I can tell that this is a car at the top of its class. It’s beautiful.”
He didn’t reply. Even though he had invited her to come down here so that he could brag about the car, he looked as if he wanted to say that he had no interest in cars. In that instant, she felt an indescribable sense of discomfort take hold of her.
“You see…” He began to say as he kept his gaze facing the front.
“…There’s something I thought I ought to tell you.”
His side profile caught the light of the entranceway, and it looked as if he were sparkling.
“This isn’t like you. Why are you so serious all of a sudden?”
“I just got a call from Mio just now saying it’ll probably take her another twenty minutes to get ready, so we have plenty of time to talk.”
“Is it something that we need to talk about just the two of us?”
“If possible, yes.”
“Are you saying it’s not something you want Mio to hear?”
He didn’t reply as he continued: “The truth is… this is just my guess. It really is just my guess, but lately, I can’t help but think that it may just have happened like how I imagined it to… and I was hoping that some day, you could hear me out about this.”
As he said this, he slowly turned his head so that he gazed her way.
“It’s regarding my biological father… Shimada Keiichi-san. Oh, I’m sorry, I still haven’t been able to reach the point when I can refer to him as ‘father’ yet so I still call him Keiichi-san… at any rate, it’s something to do with his death… there’s something that comes to mind.”
Misao felt as if her heart gave a small beat before stopping all together. She leaned back against the seat and turned his way.
“I can’t recall exactly how many years ago it was… there was a night when my mother… oh, I’m referring to the person who raised me, but there was a night when she waited up for someone. I was around seventeen when this happened, so that would probably make it seven or eight years ago. Any other day, she would have gone to bed by eleven, but that night, she didn’t even take a bath. She hadn’t even changed out of her regular clothes into her pyjamas and she had left her makeup on. For hours she glared at the phone in the living room.
I can’t even remember what season this was, but I do remember this feeling of doubt I felt. I do remember though asking her what was wrong, and she told me that she was just waiting for a call from an old friend. She said that that friend might be heading to Utsunomiya right now. She said that she had just received a call from that person and she might be heading out soon, so I should make sure to lock up before I went to bed.
I remember thinking it was strange for that person to call so late at night. I didn’t know if that old friend was male or female, but I couldn’t recall her ever having friends who would come to visit her so late at night… But that day, I didn’t give it much thought, and I went back to my room after that. In the end, the phone didn’t ring and from what I know, she went to bed without ever having left the house.”
She blinked before asking in a low voice, “And you think that that person she was waiting for a call from was Keiichi-san?”
He nodded. “If memory serves me right, Keiichi-san’s accident happened on the Tohoku Expressway, right?”
“Did he have any acquaintances who lived in that direction?”
“Not as far as I know. That’s why I couldn’t figure out why he would be on that high way in the first place so late at night.”
“Exactly where did the accident happen? Could it have been a place that could lead to Utsunomiya if you got off the high way?”
She felt a lump in her throat and she slowly turned his way. He was expressionless as his gaze remained affixed on the view through the windshield.
“It was raining,” she said. “And the car slipped; they told me later he was going thirty kilometres over the limit. The car was completely destroyed. I’m the one who went to identify his remains, since I thought that for Mio it would have been too heavy of a burden to do so. But it’s strange… I don’t even remember what he looked like that day. I knew that his body was badly damaged, but I can’t remember what it looked like. All I have now are memories of the time when he was still alive.”
And with that, she closed her mouth and let out a small sigh. “There was an interchange a short distance away from the scene of the accident. It’s true that it would have been possible to head to Utsunomiya from there.”
“I really have no proof of this other than my gut instinct,” he said. “Even if the road could have been one through which Utsunomiya could have been accessed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that was where he was headed.”
“You’re trying to say that the mother who raised you contacted Keiichi-san… am I right? That’s why he was in his car speeding his way here without telling anyone in the dead of the night, heading in the direction of Utsunomiya?”
In her jumbled mess of a mind, she thought long and hard. In the past, although she had thought long and hard about Keiichi’s accident, as well as the history of Shougo’s life until now, there was never a point when she had tied the two together; she was embarrassed that she hadn’t seen the connection.
It was probably the case that the woman who had kidnapped Shougo knew how to contact the biological father of Shougo, who was also Shimada Takao. Even if she didn’t have the exact details, she could have easily found out if she bothered to look.
And it could have been that one day, she had decided to give him a call. She didn’t know if the woman used an alias or if she told him of the truth from the very beginning. Either way, this woman named Tomoko had called Keiichi and told him that she had her son, that she wanted to tell him of the circumstances after they had met, and that he should come without telling anyone.
He must have been taken aback. The thought probably flashed through his mind that this was a prank call. But he must have somehow confirmed that the person who was calling was genuine, and the chances of it being a prank call was slim, and he had gone onto the Touhoku Expressway with every intention of seeing that person. This theory could very well have happened.
“When all was said and done, it was probably shortly afterwards that she found out about his death without having ever been able to see him.”
“It was not long after that her health took a turn for the worst.”
“Are you saying that her guilt accelerated her illness?”
“That’s only if my theory were correct. It would have been a two-layered guilt: that of having kidnapped me, and that of having caused the accident that lead to Keiichi-san’s death…”
She bit down on her lip. There was no turning back the hands of time. Keiichi, and this woman named Tomoko who had raised Shougo had both died.
There was no one who could confirm that on that rainy night so long ago, Tomoko had called Keiichi to meet with him, and that he had taken his car to head to Utsunomiya to hear the truth.
“Hey,” Misao said as she glanced over at the entrance way, expecting Mio to show up at any moment. “Please let me ask this though. Why did you tell me this?”
“Because I heard from Mio-san that you were in a relationship with Keiichi-san.”
“Oh that girl,” a wry smile formed on her lips. “She even opened up to you about something like that?“
“That’s why I wanted to tell you; that’s all.”
“You don’t plan to tell Mio this?”
“It would take courage to say that the person who might have caused the death of her beloved father was the woman who had raised me… more courage than I have.”
“It may be true that it takes courage… but I’d say it probably took you just as much courage to tell me.”
He turned his head slowly to meet her gaze. His expression was something akin to sadness, as enigmatic as smoke.
“You’re probably right,” he said. “But this could be said as well: the last action he took on this Earth was something related to Mio-san, after all.”
It was when she opened her mouth to say something when a slender figure appeared in the entrance hall. The figure was running headlong towards the car with a smile on her face.
“I have to thank you,” he said quickly.
“For reuniting us.”
“Why are you bringing up something like that now of all times?”
“We’re siblings, and it’s probably the case that we’ll probably never part form here on out.”
Mio, who had rushed over to the side of the car, had a slightly surprised look on her face to see Misao there, even as she kept a bright smile. Misao opened the door, and got out of the car. She could feel that her face was a bit stiff, but Mio didn’t seem to notice.
“What are you doing here, Misao-chan?”
“Shougo called me saying that you were making him wait so I thought I’d come down here and see this Jaguar that’s been such a hot topic.”
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t realize the clock in my room had stopped. I thought it was weird that it wouldn’t move from 5:20 but the moment I realized it had stopped, Shougo-kun had already arrived here. Wow, Shougo-kun! What’s gotten into you today? You’re dressed to the nines. Are you planning on heading to some sort of party?”
“There’s nothing wrong with dressing like this every once in a while, don’t you think? How do I look?”
“You look dashing.”
Misao watched as Mio sent a shy smile his way. She was wearing a black and white lattice patterned dress with a white three-quarter sleeved jacket. Aligned with Shougo in his suit, they were almost blinding in their beauty.
“Well then, I’ll be heading back.” Misao said.
She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t stop the sudden chill that ran down her spine. She couldn’t seem to calm herself down. She couldn’t figure out why she felt this way.
“I was just in the middle of making simmered taro roots. If you feel hungry in the middle of the night, why don’t you stop by to come have some?”
“That sounds great,” Mio replied. “I might just stop by if we get back early. Is that okay?”
“Feel free,” she said. “The only condition being, don’t come knocking on my door at three or four o’clock in the morning. No later than midnight, do you hear me?”
“We might not be able to get back that early though.”
“Well, I won’t hold my breath then. I won’t keep you any longer. Be safe out there.”
“See you,” Mio said.
Shougo looked at Misao straight in the eyes, as he gave a meaningful nod her way.
She returned the nod, and with that, she watched as the metallic red Jaguar carrying her beloved niece and nephew disappeared from view.
That was the last time she ever saw Mio.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 16 (end) - 301 - 306]