Chapter Thirty Five
The first snowfall of the year came on a Thursday afternoon in mid-November. Akemi looked up at the clear, gray skies and watched tufts of snow cover the windowpanes down the hallway at school.
"Wow, it's snowing!" Chiharu breathed in amazement. "I can already feel the Christmas spirit!"
"Do you celebrate Christmas?" she asked as they continued walking down the corridor.
"Not really, although we have a nice family dinner," Akemi smiled fondly at the reminder. It was short-lived at the realization that this year would be different.
She paused in her tracks and closed her eyes, putting a hand to the wall and swallowing.
"Akemi?" Chiharu stopped to look at her in worry. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she murmured. "I just don't feel well this morning."
"Are you coming down with something?" Her friend put a hand to her forehead. "You don't feel warm though..."
"I think I need to go to the restroom..." she said, heading to the nearest washroom as Chiharu worriedly followed after her.
The moment her eyes spotted a sink, she immediately felt like she was going to hurl. She locked herself up in a cubicle, relieving herself as her stomach tightened with nausea.
"Oh my God, are you alright?" Chiharu whispered when Akemi finally got out and went to the sink.
"Yeah, I feel better now," she muttered, rinsing her mouth and tiredly closing her eyes. "It must be something I ate this morning..."
She looked up to find Chiharu eyeing her with concern but saying nothing.
"I'm sorry about that," Akemi uneasily smiled as she wiped herself with a paper towel. "Let's go back."
"Right," Her friend nodded, following her out.
"Figures for the fourth quarter are looking good as we bounce back with 37% market share from last month's extensive campaign..."
Takeshi flipped to the next page of the report when his gaze caught the platinum band on his left hand. He stared at it for a long time until the voice of the presenter at the other end of the long table was lost to him entirely.
Lately Takeshi would stand in front of a mirror and find a different man in his reflection. Almost a year ago, he lived recklessly and had a different woman every night. He had not believed in marriage, and now that he was in one he often wondered what must've gotten into him.
He was very much aware that he was the sole reason for his misery. After everything he had made his wife go through, of course the state of his relationship would be in shambles. Still, that stubborn, proud part of him remembered how easy women were, and still he wondered how out of all of them, only Akemi remained the exception.
By now Takeshi was past the point of anger. Most days he would shift from frustration to resignation. She would make him believe for the few nights that she did return to him, but come morning she was back to being as cold as his vacant bedside. She had taken their relationship to a new level of destructiveness, and even he could not think of a better payback.
Takeshi blinked and looked at the man at the other end of the table.
"Mr. Ryuuzaki," Chairman Sawamura repeated. "We'd like to hear your presentation now."
"Yes, of course," He cleared his throat and stood up. He grabbed his papers and walked to the screen. He faced the Board and put on his usual, self-assured smile.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen."
The library was bathed in a deep orange glow on a late afternoon as Akemi pushed a cart of books down the hallway. She stopped in front of the Literature section and turned down the aisle, returning several books to the shelves.
Akemi looked at her watch and inwardly sighed. She had half an hour left before her after school service was finally completed. Unfortunately Sayaka was also given the same task as her, although she had managed to avoid running into her so far.
She picked up a particularly heavy encyclopedia and pushed it up a high shelf with slight difficulty. A sudden wave of dizziness swept over her as she put a hand to the bookcase for support.
Akemi leaned back and swallowed. The bouts of dizziness had come and gone for the last few days, but now a certain heaviness and sluggishness was spreading over her...
Sayaka was heading her way down the Mathematics section with several books when she stopped at the sight of Akemi down the aisle. She was only about to tell on the girl for slacking off when Akemi suddenly collapsed to the floor.
"Oh my God," The brunette whispered, running to her and finding her unconscious. "Morisato...?!"
Akemi opened her eyes and found herself in the school clinic. She slowly sat up and found her bodyguard-slash-Russian History teacher reading a book at the other end of the room.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, rising from his seat.
She creased her forehead. "What happened? What am I doing here?"
"You passed out. Hanasaki brought you here."
"Sayaka?" she said in disbelief, suddenly remembering. "Oh..."
"The school doctor already left when you were brought in. I've already notified Mr. Ryuuzaki. He should be here soon."
"I'm fine," she frowned. "I was just dizzy, that's all."
The door opened. Takeshi arrived into the room, straight from the office in his trench coat and suit. Kusanagi bowed at his arrival and dismissed himself from the room.
"I heard what happened," Takeshi began, his eyebrows meeting. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she repeated. "You didn't have to come."
"We should at least go to the doctor," He settled on her bedside. "Just to see what's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," she snapped in annoyance. "Just leave me alone."
Takeshi frowned at her in exasperation. "Just this once, Akemi, I don't want to fight with you."
"Then fuck off!" she snarled. The stinging in her eyes was instant as she lowered her head and tried to hold back her tears.
He beseeched her gaze but she remained staring at the sheets. He slowly rose from the bed and left the room. When she heard the door close, Akemi brought her trembling hands to her face.
She didn't have to go to the doctor to know what was wrong. The dizziness, the vomiting, and now passing out... She had never been one to keep track, but now that she thought about it, she was running late in her cycle...
Her vision began to grow blurry with unshed tears.
She was pregnant.
Akemi entered her mother's room carrying a bouquet of flowers only to find an empty bed when she arrived. Instead, she saw her sister by the window, looking up from the book she was reading.
"Akemi," Her sister blinked as she closed her book. "Hey."
"Hey," Akemi smiled, placing the flowers on the bedside table as she looked around the room. "Where's Mom?"
"She's having her afternoon walk. She'll be back soon," Izumi rose from her seat. "So what are you doing here today? Don't you have class?"
Akemi played with a petal and shrugged. "Didn't feel like going today."
Izumi sighed as she walked to her mother's bed and sat down. "How have you been? I feel like I haven't talked to you in ages."
"Fine. The usual."
"I mean, really, Akemi," Her sister worriedly frowned. "How are you with Ryuuzaki and all?"
"Well Mom's still in this hospital, isn't she?" She placed a wan smile on her lips. "It means everything's fine, so you don't have to worry about anything."
Izumi creased her forehead. "We both know why Mom's here and why you're with him. You don't have to act like this in front of us."
Akemi retracted her hand from the bouquet of flowers.
"No, you don't know why Mom's here."
Izumi looked at her in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"It's not just because I'm staying with him," Her smile turned bitter as she swallowed back her tears. "I married him."
Izumi was unresponsive for several seconds, as if failing to comprehend her words.
"Wait... what?" she whispered. Akemi's blank, teary gaze remained on the flowers, and her puzzlement slowly gave way to realization. Finally, the horror hit her hard, and all she could do was look at her sister in disbelief for a long time.
"No..." she heavily whispered. "You've got to be kidding me."
Akemi dryly laughed as a tear slipped down her cheek. "I wish I was. I've been married to him shortly after Mom got admitted here."
"How..." Izumi's slowly took a step forward. "Why didn't you tell us? We could've..."
"It doesn't matter now," The girl approached the window. "Once Mom has completely healed, I'll leave him."
The fierce throbbing in Izumi's temples finally subsided, yet she could not entirely shake off the dread in the pit of her stomach. She slowly approached her sister, reaching out a hand.
Izumi's arm froze. She stared at her sister's back as a long silence fell over the room.
Akemi briefly crossed her arms before wiping away the fresh tear that slipped down her cheek with a shaky hand.
"He doesn't know it yet. I could get rid of it."
Izumi instinctively grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around.
"You will do no such thing," she stated, her gaze angry, horrified, but resolute. "This child has done nothing wrong."
Akemi gritted her teeth. "This child will make everything permanent."
Izumi's vision began to blur with unshed tears as she narrowed her eyes. "You're better than this."
"Am I?" The girl spitefully questioned. "I feel like I've been singled out to go through all these things, and I'm sick and tired of it."
"You're not the only one," Her sister whispered. "We're all suffering in our own way, but we have to keep going somehow."
Akemi finally submitted herself to her sister's arms and buried her face on her shoulder in silent tears. Izumi closed her eyes and embraced her tight, unable to say or do anything else.
Akemi mindlessly walked down the empty corridor on her way to the restroom the following day at school. She had excused herself in the middle of fifth period to get away from the teacher's droning lecture before she lost her head and jumped out the window.
She wryly smiled at the thought as she stared at her shoes. Jumping out the window would be funny indeed. Being on the third floor she'd most likely fail to kill herself, though the baby might not be so lucky...
She frowned at the sinister turn her thoughts had taken as she finally arrived at the girls' room and walked to the sink. She stared at her reflection long and hard and looked at the rings under her eyes. She had never seen herself look so tired before. No wonder Chiharu wouldn't stop giving her the concerned eye.
She turned on the faucet and listened to the sound of running water. A part of her was still in denial about the life inside her. After all, she hadn't taken a pregnancy test or gone to the doctor to confirm it. It could just as well be a figment of her imagination...
The cubicle door behind her opened. Sayaka stepped out as the two of them stared at each other in silence for several seconds.
Sayaka was the first to look away as she cleared her throat and walked to the sink beside her. Akemi started washing her hands.
She had only dried her hands with a paper towel when Sayaka said, "Are you sick or something, Morisato?"
Akemi stared at the tile wall for a good while before facing her. "Thank you for bringing me to the clinic the other day."
Sayaka frowned at her in a mixture of remorse and reproach. "You should. You gave me such a fright back there."
She wearily smiled. "Sorry about that."
The other girl stood up straighter and haughtily looked into the mirror. "Well as long as you're not dying."
"I didn't know you cared."
"And why would I care?" she snapped despite the faint fluster on her cheeks. "The only sad thing about you being dead is that it'll get boring."
Akemi slowly shook her head and smiled. "You're welcome."
Sayaka stared at her in disbelief before heavily sighing. "Honestly, Morisato. You're impossible."
The two girls exchanged smiles for a fraction of a second before Akemi finally left the girls' room on her way back to class.
Akemi was idly swinging her legs as she sat on a bench by the school gates. She stared at the fountain at the center of the curved driveway, observing the way the water looked orange from the sunset.
She glanced at her watch and sighed, wondering where her ride was. It was almost six and she was practically the only one left. Her driver Yamazaki was never late, but Kusanagi told her the car was already on its way. With a sigh she dropped her gaze to her feet again until an Aston Martin pulled up in front of her several minutes later.
Akemi creased her forehead and slowly stood up. She found Takeshi in the driver's seat when he lowered the window.
"Sorry I'm late," he frowned. "Have you been waiting long?"
She inwardly sighed as she stepped inside the vehicle. She said nothing as he watched her fasten her seatbelt.
Takeshi drove the car forward. Akemi automatically shifted her gaze to the window as they rode in complete silence.
The car stopped at a red light.
"So how was school today?" he began.
"Where's Yamazaki?" she answered.
Takeshi sighed in exasperation. "I told him I'd pick you up. I'm sorry I was late."
"I thought we'd stop by the doctor today," he continued in her silence as the traffic light turned green.
Akemi froze in her seat.
"I found out from your maid that you haven't been eating well lately," he frowned.
"I don't have much of an appetite in the mornings," she swallowed.
"Still, I just want to make sure you're okay."
"I'm fine," she injected, glaring at him. "I told you we don't need to go to a doctor."
"Why are you so adamant?" He creased his forehead. "It's just a check-up."
"It's a waste of time," she snapped.
Takeshi bit back another sigh as he made a right turn and pulled up to the closest parking lot. He turned off the engine and stared out the windshield for a long time.
"I'm trying to make things work here."
"Then let's go home," she obstinately repeated.
"I'm concerned for your health," he stressed with a worried frown.
Akemi kept her resolute gaze to her lap. Panic began to claw at her chest, but she fought to look calm.
"I'm tired. Can't we just do this some other time?"
Takeshi leaned back to his seat and massaged the bridge of his nose. Even as she sat at an arm's distance from him, she felt like she was miles away.
"Why do you keep pushing me away, Akemi?"
She averted her angry, teary gaze to the window.
"I'm trying my best here," He looked at his hands and clenched them into fists. "I love you."
His last three words reverberated in the silence of the car. She remained still as death in her seat, her gaze never leaving the window. Inside, her ears were ringing and her heart was beating with ferocity from his confession.
She felt his hand reach out to hers. She instinctively flinched, but he eventually captured her hand and held it in his for a long time.
She finally looked at him. His last three words reflected infinitely through his eyes, louder and more clearly than it could ever leave his lips. Her vision blurred as her tears tried to protect her from him for the last time, but it was too late.
He clasped his hand more firmly around hers.
"Let's go home," he finally said.
She nodded, but neither of them let go. His hand remained warm and strong around hers until finally, reluctantly, he released her to start the car and drive them home.
to be continued