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"Hold still," Yuki said, threading the thick obi ribbon through the back of the bow. She pulled the loops tight. "Okay, now breathe in."
I took a deep breath as Yuki shifted the bow to the center of my back, but didn't look up from my phone. "How's that?"
No messages in my inbox. "Looks great."
"You didn't even look."
"Mmm-hmm." Yuki snatched the keitai out of my hands. "Hey!"
"Ano ne," she said, an expression which meant we needed to talk. That didn't surprise me. "You're starting to look obsessed. Yuu will call you; I'm sure of it. You don't want to be the needy girlfriend, right?"
I didn't say anything. How could I? Yuki didn't know that not being able to get ahold of Tomohiro could mean the Yakuza had him, or the Kami had kidnapped him, or that Tomo had drowned in an ocean of his own sketching. The Kami, descendants of the Shinto goddess Amaterasu, could make ink come alive on the page, although the power came with its own cursea plague of nightmares and threats, scars carved by the claws and talons of their own feral drawings.
It had been two weeks since I'd almost left Japan, since the revelation that Tomo was one of the most dangerous Kami alive. Takahashi Jun, Tomo's kendo rival and the leader of the Kami in Shizuoka, said he hadn't seen anyone as powerful in a long time and wanted him as a weapon to help destroy the Yakuza. He also said that somehow, I was making it worse. I was making the ink in the sketches do strange and deadly things. Tomo lost control when I was around, his eyes vacant and his nightmares worse.
How? I couldn't be a Kami. I was blond
and more importantly, not Japanese. But whether Jun was right or not, after watching Tomo's sketched gun go off and put his best friend, Ishikawa, in the hospital, I knew the ink wasn't something to play around with.
It could've been Tomo in the hospital.
It could've been me.
Yuki grinned and sidestepped, pulling the sleeves of my yukata straight. "Now look," she commanded. I looked.
The summer kimono made me look elegant, the soft yellow fabric draped around me like an origami dress. Pink cherry blossoms floated down the woven material, which Yuki had complemented by lending me her pink obi belt to tie around my waist.
"It's beautiful," I said. "Thank you."
She grinned, smoothing her soft blue yukata with her hands.
"Yuu is a jerk for not calling," she said. "But let's forget about that. It's Abekawa Hanabi festival, and you're still here with us. So let's go celebrate!"
Was he being a jerk? I hadn't been able to get ahold of him since deciding to stay. It didn't make sense, unless he was in trouble. Or avoiding me, in which case he'd clearly learned nothing from the first attempt to scare me away and I would pound him into tomorrow.
But it didn't matter if he was avoiding me. Sooner or later, I'd have to get in touch with him. Because as much as I'd wanted to stay in Japan to be with him, the real reason was that I wanted control of my life. I was connected to the ink, and I belonged here. IfJun was right, Tomohiro was a ticking time bomb, and I was the only one who could defuse him.
It was hard to believe Jun was a Kami, too, one of the many secret descendants of the goddess Amaterasu. Most weren't powerful enough to bring their sketches to life off the page, but Jun and Tomo could. I remembered how cold Jun's eyes had been as he'd talked about using Tomohiro as a weapon to wage war on the Yakuza, the Japanese gangsters who'd tried to force Tomo into their ranks. Jun had wanted Tomo to kill the Yakuza boss, Hanchi, and had talked about ruling the country the way the ancient kami once had. Did he really mean all that? He'd seemed so normal beforecharming evenwhen we'd walked to school together. And he'd saved us from the Yakuza with his sketched army of snakes. Sometimes it was hard to know what lay beneath the surface of someone you thought you knew.
Which I guess was the case with Tomohiro, too.
My aunt Diane entered my room, carrying a tray of glasses filled with cold black-bean tea. The ice clinked against the sides as she set them down. A pink spray of flowers unfurled in a corner of the tray.
"Don't you girls look beautiful?" she said. "Katie, here. I picked this up for you on my way home." She lifted the spray of pink flowers off the tray, the little plastic buds swaying back and forth on pink strings. She tucked it into the twist of blond hair Yuki had helped me pin into place.
"Kawaii," Yuki grinned. "You look so cute!" I turned a little red. They were fussing too much.
"You, too," I said, trying to get the focus off me. I was the wrong shape for the yukatatoo tall, too blonde, too awkward. Yuki looked stunning in hers. "We should get going."
"You should," Diane said. "I think Tanaka's starting to sweat a little out there."
Yuki took a gulp of tea and slid the door to my room open to find Tanaka waiting in shorts and a T-shirt.
"You guys are taking forever," he said. "Can we go now?"
"Let's go," I said, the long yellow sleeves tangling around my wrists as I slipped on flip-flopsno chance of finding geta sandals for my American-size feetand shoved my phone into a drawstring bag.
"You look cute," Tanaka said.
"So do you," Yuki said, and she stuck her tongue out at him while he turned red. She grabbed my hand and we headed out the door.
"Itterasshai!" Diane called after us.
Go and come back safely.
The only word Tomo had written in the farewell note he'd pressed into my hands, the one with the moving ink rose that had sent me tripping over my own feet to catch Diane at the Narita Express platform before she left the airport. The goodbye that had made me stay in Japan.
Tanaka pushed the button for the elevator.
Jun had said we didn't know what Tomohiro was capable of. We'll find out together, Tomo had answered.
It didn't make sense. Why would he push me away again now, when I was so determined to help?
The light was fading outside as we stepped into the heat. It was the last week of summer holidays, before school started for the second semester, and the hot weather wasn't going to give up easily. We clattered down the street in our geta and flip-flops, hopping onto the local train for Abekawa Station.
"We're gonna be late," whined Tanaka.
"It's fine," Yuki said. "We'll still make good time for the fireworks."
The train lurched around the corner and I tried not to press into Tanaka's side.
"If the takoyakis all gone by the time we get there, I'll blame you."
"How would that even happen?" I said. "They won't run out."
"Right?" Yuki agreed. "Tan-kun, you and your stomach."
By the time the train pulled into Abekawa the sun had blinked off the horizon. We stumbled through the musty train air toward the music and sounds of crowds.
It felt like all of Shizuoka was here, the sidewalks packed with festivalgoers while dancers in happi coats paraded down the street. Lanterns swung from floats and street signs glowed, and over everything we could hear about three different songs competing for attention above the crowded roads. It was a little claustrophobic, sure, but filled with life.
"What should we do first?" Yuki shouted, but I could barely hear her. She grabbed my hand and we pressed through the thick crowd toward a takoyaki stand. Tanaka rubbed his hands together as the vendor doused the battered balls of octopus meat with mayonnaise.
"Anything's fine with me," I said. Translation: no idea.
"I'm good, too, now that I have my takoyaki," Tanaka said. "Want one?" The bonito flakes on the hot batter shriveled as if they were alive.
"Um, maybe later."
Yuki grabbed the spare toothpick from Tanaka's container and stabbed a takoyaki, taking a chewy bite. "We should try to get a good spot for fireworks soon, though," she said through the mouthful. "The bridge over Abe River would be best."
"We have lots of time, right?" She'd mentioned them about five times on the train, too. "What's the big deal about the fireworks?" I mean, I loved them as much as anyone, but now who was the one obsessing?
Yuki pulled me over, whispering in my ear. Her breath was hot and smelled of the fishy batter.
"Because," she breathed, "if you watch the fireworks with someone special, you're destined to be with them forever."
"Oh." Jeez, I could be so stupid. So this was some big scheme for her and Tanaka. "Do you want space or something?"
"No, no!" She waved her hand frantically. "Not like that. Let's stick together, okay?"
"Sure," I said. Like she'd tell me if that was the plan anyway. One thing I'd learned living in Japan was that sometimes it was hard to get a straightforward answer out of someone. They found it too direct, something that could make others feel uncomfortable. It was something I was trying to work on, another in my list of gazillions of daily cultural mistakes.
We rounded the corner to two rows of brightly lit tents.
All the thick, fatty smells of festival foods filled the air. Fried chicken, fried squid, steaming sweet-potato fries, roasted corn, strawberry and melon kakigori ice. My stomach rumbled and I moved forward, heading for the baked sweet potatoes. I handed over the yen and pocketed the change. Then I pulled back the aluminum foil to take a bite, the steam flooding my mouth. Beside me, kids dipped red plastic ladles into a water table while an old motor whirred little plastic toys round and round. The toys bobbed in and out of the ladles while the kids shrieked with excitement.
A flash of color caught my eye, and I turned. I strained to hear a sound above the music and chatter of the crowd, but I could hear itfaintly. The tinkle of the colorful furin, the delicate glass wind chimes that Tomohiro had sketched into the tree in Toro Iseki.
Across from me, the furin booth glowed with electric light, catching on the gleaming chimes as they twirled in the night breeze.
"Hello," the vendor greeted me in English, but it barely registered as I stepped into the tent. Almost a hundred chimes hung suspended around me in a rainbow of glittering colors, spinning above my head in neat rows. Tomo's had been black-and-white, like all his sketches, but they'd held the same magic, the same chorus that my ears could never forget. These sounded happier, thoughhis had been melancholy, the tones haunting and ominous, a sort of beautiful discord.
"You like the furin?" the vendor smiled. He had a kind, worn face and the early beginnings of a gray beard.
"The sound of summer, ne? The sound of possibility." I reached out, cradling a glass furin in my hand. Possibility. "Yuki-chan, look" I turned.
I'd lost her to the crowd.
Panic started to rise up in my throat. She wasn't one to abandon me on purpose. Even if she did want alone time with Tanaka, I knew she wouldn't leave me stranded.
It wasn't like I couldn't get home safely. Taking trains around Shizuoka wasn't a big deal for me anymore. Festivals just weren't as fun by yourself, and the loneliness stung a little. I clutched my fingers tighter around the furin.
"You looking for someone?" the man asked.
"I'm okay," I said, releasing the furin and stepping back into the darkness between the bright tents. I pulled out my keitai, ready to call Yuki, and then stopped with my finger on the button. Why was I so worried? I'd been in Japan long enough that being lost in a crowd didn't have to be a big deal. I could communicate and get around. Anyway, Yuki had wanted time alone with Tanaka, right? She'd always done so much for me, helping me with my Japanese and smoothing out my cultural blunders. I should do something for her, even something little like this.
I slipped my phone back into my bag and pulled the drawstring tight. I watched some plastic toys whir around the water table a little longer before I strolled down the row of tents.
I stared at the different festival games interspersed with food stalls. Eel scooping, pet bugs, yoyo tsuri balloons on strings floating in tiny blow-up kiddie pools. I finished my sweet potato, balling up the aluminum with a satisfying crunch. In the next tent a pool of goldfish darted around, slipping out of the way of the paper paddles dipped into the water to catch them. I watched the fish swim for a minute, their scales shining under the hot buzzing lamps of the tent. The paper paddles broke and kids shouted in dismay, while the vendor gave a good-natured laugh.
I shuffled closer to the tent as the group of kids left, a teen couple the only ones left trying to catch a fish. The girl trailed a goldfish slowly with the paddle, her movements deliberate and cautious, her giggle rising when the fish caught on and sped away. She crouched on the ground beside the pool, paddle in one hand and bowl in the other, her red-and-gold yukata crinkling around her geta sandals.
And then I realized I knew this girl.
The pregnant bump of her stomach under the light cotton of the yukata.
And the boy beside her. Tomohiro.
Not kidnapped. Not falling apart. Not dead.
Scooping goldfish with Shiori.
I stepped back. He hadn't noticed me yet, the two of them laughing as Shiori tried to maneuver another fish into her bowl.
I knew he was here with Shiori as a friend, supporting her. He wouldn't give up on us that fast, like we didn't matter at all. Maybe that was the attitude he portrayed at school, but I knew better. After a sketching accident had left his elementary-school friend Koji almost blind, he'd decided to keep his distance from everyone, except his childhood friend Shiori, and now me. Shiori had been abandoned to the cruel bullying that came with being pregnant at her prestigious school. Tomo knew what it was like to be alone. That's all this was.
But it still bothered me. I had to admit they made a cute pair. Seeing the closeness between them, seeing Tomohiro smile at another girl like that
I felt stupid suddenly, tall and ugly and awkward in my borrowed yukata.
Maybe Tomohiro wasn't as dangerous as Jun had led me to believe. He seemed normal enough squatting beside Shiori, his eyes following the goldfish, that smile on his face. He wore jeans and a dark T-shirt, the usual thick wristband around his right wrist. I could still imagine the ink stains streaking up his arms, the scars hidden on the inside curve of his skin, but in the evening darkness there was no trace of what had happened. He looked so
Maybe staying in Japan had been the wrong choice. What if staying away from Tomo really did give him the ability to rein in his powers? Maybe the Kami didn't need memaybe he didn't need me.
"Yatta!" Shiori shouted. "I did it!" The fish had slipped from her paddle into the bowl. The vendor laughed and reached for a plastic bag to fill with water.
"Yatta ne," Tomohiro grinned, reaching his fingers into the bowl to chase the fish.
I stepped back and my flip-flop scraped against the street. Tomohiro and Shiori looked up.
I stared at Tomohiro's dark eyes. They were unreadable, the smile slipping from his face as he stared back. They weren't cold like Jun's had been, not at all. They were warm, surprised, deep. I couldn't look away, like prey. I felt ridiculous.
Shiori stood up, a hand on her belly. "It couldn't be
Katie-chan? Is that right?" Tomohiro stayed crouched on the ground, unable to move.
I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I didn't want her using chan with me, labeling me a friend. It was a closeness that felt stifling, that only made me aware I didn't really belong. Tomo had fallen seamlessly back into his life with her, as if I'd never existed.
"I thought you returned to America?" Shiori said.
"Canada," I said. My throat felt sticky and dry.