Claim of Ownership: All characters and situations presented in this story are copyrighted (©) as of October 30, 2003 by Lauren Kollett, AKA the Dragon Mistress. All characters and situations are entirely fictional and exist wholly in the author's imagination; any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Episode 14 - The School Festival
Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. Setsuya was up at six-thirty, eager to get going. He knew better than to bother Komaru before eight, so he pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt silently before hurrying off to start breakfast.
Shukuko was just snapping the lid shut on the rice cooker when Setsuya entered the kitchen. The redhead was surprised to see that Shukuko was still in her nightgown and bathrobe; usually she was always dressed in one of her pretty, colourful kimono when she emerged from her room. She seemed to have guessed what he was thinking. "Good morning, Setsuya-kun. I know I must look a sight, but I decided I'd wait to get dressed until we were ready to leave. I don't want to get food on my clothes."
This was ridiculous; Shukuko was a neat, tidy eater who took such small bites that it was impossible for her to drop anything on her clothes; Setsuya wouldn't have been surprised in the least if she had started eating her rice one grain at a time. She was up to something, but Setsuya didn't ask. He tied on an apron and headed towards the fridge. "You look lovely no matter what you're wearing, Shukuko-san."
She giggled at this and flapped a hand at him, blushing like a little girl. Even though she had two grown sons, she was still a young woman, and it was almost like having an older sister around.
Komaru trudged into the kitchen just as Shukuko was putting the rice into bowls. His eyes were half-lidded and his hair was a mess; a cigarette jutted from between his lips. He was not a morning person, and only grunted when his mother and lover said good morning.
"Poor boy." Shukuko set a cup of strong black coffee in front of him. "Drink up. You'll feel more awake."
Komaru mumbled something unintelligible, raising the mug to his lips and drinking, taking the opportunity to tap his cigarette over the ashtray. He ate even slower than Shukuko in the mornings, even though he took no pains to be neat and sometimes got food all over the newspaper. It would take a lot more than just a few weeks or months of having a lover and a mother around to break him out of his bachelor habits.
The doorbell rang while Setsuya and Shukuko were washing the dishes. Komaru didn't budge or even look up from the paper; he just sipped at his third cup of coffee and let someone else get it. Definitely not a morning person.
Setsuya hastily dried his hands and ran to answer it. "Mi-chan! Good morning, I -oh!" He stopped and stared at his best friend, who giggled and spun in a circle, her arms held out.
"Do you like it?" She was wearing a yukata of pale orange cotton with a pattern of deep plum-coloured swashes like an artist's brushstrokes. Her obi was a serene blue and tied in a simple butterfly knot, and she wore black lacquered geta with blue straps. It was actually a very simple outfit, but it was the first time Setsuya had ever seen Mitsuharu in traditional clothing.
"You look beautiful," he said, standing back to let her in. She smiled as she stepped out of her geta.
"These are a pain to walk in," she said. "And come on, 'Suya-chan, no matter how dressed up I get I'll never be as pretty as Shukuko-san. She's probably wearing a glamourous silk thing that'll make me look like an idiot."
"That's not true," Setsuya protested. "I think you're just as pretty as Shukuko-san. She's not even dressed yet, either."
Komaru shuffled out of the kitchen. He still looked a mess, though a wide-awake mess. "Good morning, Mitsuharu-chan. You look nice today."
"Thank you," Mitsuharu blushed a deep red. Komaru lit a cigarette and trudged off to the bathroom.
"Make yourself at home while we get dressed," Setsuya said to Mitsuharu, and darted for the bedroom. He hummed to himself as he stood on tiptoes to reach a wooden box high on the closet shelf. He lifted the lid. Inside was nestled a man's kimono and hakama. He lifted them out and smoothed the fabric lovingly. His mother had given them to him shortly before he had moved into Komaru's penthouse.
"Your father was wearing this outfit when we first met, at our school carnival," she had told him. "I know he'd want you to have them."
Smiling at the memory, Setsuya stripped off his clothes and began to dress. The kimono was dark blue with a pattern of tiny black checks, and the hakama were black-and-white striped. Once he had them on, Setsuya felt different somehow. His father's festival clothes made him feel somehow older, more grown-up, more dignified. Smoothing the front of his hakama nervously, he picked up his sandals and went back into the living room.
It was quite an anachronistic scene: Mitsuharu and Komaru were watching television while wearing their traditional clothes, and the effect was a little strange. Komaru had on a plain white happi coat with blue trim, and loose white trousers. His long hair was partially wrapped in a long piece of cloth, tied with blue ribbon; it was easier than braiding.
"You look so cute!" Mitsuharu exclaimed when Setsuya joined them.
"Really. Where did you get those clothes?"
"They were my father's," he said quietly. "He was wearing them when he met my mother."
"They're good luck, then," she grinned. "Are we almost ready to go?"
"As soon as Shukuko-san is ready."
"I'm ready," Shukuko called. "Here I come."
She emerged from the hallway, and they all gasped softly. She was wearing a silk kimono that was pale pink at the edges, slowly receding up to white at her shoulders. Red camilla blossoms were scattered across the fabric, and her obi was a wonder. It was blood-red with silver embroidery, and the obi cord was black, ending in small tassels. In her hands, Shukuko held a pair of black geta with red straps. Thin silver etchings were traced along the sides of their wedge-shaped soles. Her long hair was tied up in a ponytail with a long ribbon that exactly matched the shade of red in her obi.
"You're beautiful, Mother," Komaru said, recovering first from this sight. "More than beautiful. You're... amazing!"
"Really?" She looked uncertain.
"Really!" Setsuya and Mitsuharu nodded vigorously. Mitsuharu reached out to gently run a finger along Shukuko's sleeve, and shot a look at Setsuya.
"You lied! You told me I was as pretty as Shukuko-san. But she blows me out of the water!"
Komaru's mother blushed redder than her obi. "Oh, Mitsuharu-chan... I'm not..."
"Stop it, you are!" Mitsuharu smiled at the older woman.
"Ready to go?" Komaru asked, pocketing his cigarettes and lighter.
"Yes!" the others joined him. Yuuji followed, barking; Shukuko picked him up and cuddled him. "Let's go!"
"Tell me again why I'm attending this sorry waste of time?" Akira asked, the words escaping from under his moustache in a venomous hiss.
"Easy, Pops," Hiroshi drawled from beside him. The teenager was perched on the end of a bench, slurping down a bowl of soba noodles. "I told you that if you were patient, you'd get something good."
Akira growled as he looked around. As far as he could tell, it was an ordinary school festival. Students dressed in old-fashioned clothes were running the events. There were game booths, like balloon bobbing and goldfish catching; several booths were selling traditional festival foods. Cheerful music filtered through the chatter of the crowd on a PA system. It was so cheery, so cute, so... ordinary. Like every other high school across the country. Didn't children have any imagination these days? Akira had detested festivals since his own days as a student. He hadn't even bothered to dress up; he was in his usual suit, though without the usual tie. His collar was unbuttoned against the warm weather.
"Take a gander, Pops," Hiroshi spoke up, tossing his plastic bowl and disposable chopsticks into the nearest rubbish bin. "There's your reward."
Akira peered in the direction Hiroshi was pointing, shielding his eyes against the sun. His eyes widened. His son was just entering the school gates, hand-in-hand with his redheaded boyfriend. Slightly behind them came the girl with the purple hair, wearing what Akira thought was a very ugly yukata, and walking alongside her was... Shukuko.
It was definitely her. No one could have missed her, in her pale-pink kimono and blood-red obi. She was chattering away to the purple-haired girl, stroking a small dog tucked under her arm. Akira's eyes followed her hungrily as she followed their son through the crowd. So close. So close.
He slipped away, ignoring Hiroshi, who called out to him. In a few seconds, he had caught up so he was a few paces behind Shukuko. His eyes fixed on her swinging ponytail, wagging back and forth in front of the tidy drum knot of her obi. He was careful not to breathe a word or make a sound that would cause her to turn around and spot him.
"Oh, look!" he heard her say. "Look, how pretty!" She had stopped at a booth that offered to do scrolls featuring one's name in calligraphy on old-fashioned paper; the scrolls were decorated with watercolours of butterflies and flowers, and could be rolled and unrolled as one wished. Akira slipped into a niche between the calligraphy booth and the noodle booth next door; he could hear what Shukuko was saying without her seeing him.
"Do you want one, Mother?" Komaru's voice. It was a voice Akira had heard time and time again on the radio - though he had always switched it off in annoyance. He listened as the girl in the booth rolled out a fresh scroll and picked a brush from her collection, before asking Shukuko her name.
"Nagai Shukuko." He ground his teeth at the sound of her reply. She should have been Tomoe Shukuko - would have been, if it weren't for her family. Her bastard father had been the one who had threatened him and forced him to leave Japan. Yamazaki Kenichi had been an enormous man, and very strong - he had been in the kendo, judo, and karate clubs in school. It was painfully obvious that he would have emerged the victor in a fight, so Akira had left Japan. But there was no father to protect her now. Only their son.
He peeked around the corner. Shukuko was smiling as she held the completed scroll up for everyone to see. Komaru paid the girl in the booth, and they continued on their way. Akira heard the redhead say, "Komaru-kun, I'm hungry. Can we get okonomiyaki?"
"I don't see why not..."
Akira slipped from between the booths. Shukuko was following along behind, as she usually did, and he grinned maliciously. One of his large hands reached out and seized her ponytail, pulling painfully hard. Shukuko shrieked as she tottered off-balance on her high geta, dropping Yuuji and the scroll, and fell backwards into his arms. Her eyes widened in horror at the sight of him and she prepared to scream. He clapped his hand over her mouth and smiled as he pulled her behind the calligraphy booth.
"Shh." He kept his hand over her mouth as he heard Komaru and the others cry out in alarm. Yuuji was barking shrilly, and the passerby were looking around in confusion. Akira dragged Shukuko further back into the shadows, and jumped when he felt a hand on his arm.
"Cool it, Pops." It was Hiroshi. He nodded behind them at a car idling behind the school. "Swift getaways are a specialty of mine. Hop in."
Shukuko fought as the two men dragged her towards the car and stuffed her in. With a squeal of tires, they were gone.
A few hours later, the police had been summoned to the festival. Komaru, Setsuya, and Mitsuharu, along with several classmates and campus security, had searched for Shukuko fruitlessly. Komaru was now slumped on a bench, his face in his hands. He had just finished describing his mother to the police. "She's wearing a very distinctive kimono," he heard Setsuya telling the officers. "It's pink at the bottom and white near the top. And she's wearing a red obi with it. You can't miss her."
Yuuji whined and pawed unhappily at Komaru's leg. Komaru scooped the dog up and stroked him.
"Do you have any idea where she could have gone? Was there anyone who would want to hurt her?" one of the policemen was saying.
"Yes," Komaru growled. Everyone turned to him in surprise; he hadn't said much during the course of the questioning. He put Yuuji down before his fingers could tighten to the point of squishing the poor dog. "My father."
"He's had it in for her ever since he returned to Japan," Komaru muttered. "Something. I don't know what or why. But he's been after her. I thought we'd seen the last of him at the penthouse, but..."
The policemen exchanged looks. "Well, why don't you describe him to us."
"He's around fifty... black hair... glasses... moustache... he's probably wearing a business suit."
"That's half the men in Japan, son," one of the officers said.
"He's got really cold eyes," Mitsuharu spoke up. "Really cold. When he looks at you... you think he could be capable of anything. He's... just scary."
"His name's Tomoe Akira," Komaru mumbled.
"The novelist, Tomoe Akira?" the other officer asked in surprise.
"Yeah, him." Komaru looked up. "Did you read his books?"
"One of them." The officer shivered. "I'm telling you... creepy stuff. I know it's well-written and everything. Rumoured to win an award... a best-seller. But it was a little too well-written, if you ask me. Graphic murders. Really graphic. And violent sex scenes. It was bad. I couldn't bring myself to finish."
"God," Setsuya said, looking sick.
"We'll get looking for him," the officer managed. "And your mother. Just hold on, okay?"
Komaru nodded. The police left, and Setsuya collapsed onto the bench beside his lover. He was quite pale. "You know, I've read the book the officer was talking about. The Shibuya Murders. It was assigned to us in my honours Literature class, but the PTA vetoed it. Said it wasn't for most adults to read, let alone children. I got curious, picked it up at the library. It was... awful." he swallowed hard. "It gave me nightmares for weeks. I can't believe it was your father who wrote that... I completely forgot about it until just now."
"What happened?" Komaru asked through numb lips.
"You don't want to know. But we'd better pray Shukuko-san doesn't end up like the women in the story."
To Be Continued...
(A/N: The Shibuya Murders. Not a unique title for a novel, but the best I could come up with at short notice. Besides, Shibuya is known for being the 'in' place for trendy young celebrities and such; I figured a series of murders there would make a good topic for Japan. (Not to mention Japan has a very low crime rate, so a string of murders in the same area would be unusual.) I'm not going to write anything from Akira's book; first off, it would be disturbing, and secondly, I don't think I have the imagination to write a book as horrifying as The Shibuya Murders sounds. That's a good thing.
Please stay tuned for chapter 15, and thanks for the reviews! 'Glitter' will continue!)