To anyone who has read Of Candlewax and Rain,

I just realised I hadn't actually updated this story in months, and also that I hadn't put everything I'd written on here. Turns out a couple of months is long enough to forget the finer points of a storyline, so I probably won't be posting any more (also, I'm working on The Novel (capitalisation for the huge amount of time it's likely to take me) now). Anyways, if you chance upon this story somehow and want to know how it ends, review/ PM me and I'll do my best (open to suggestions- like I said, I've forgotten all but the bones of the plot. I like to think it was a stunning, keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, win-a-bazillion-prizes-for-fine-literature sort of storyline. In which case, damn. :P)


Chapter the Second

"You're persistent."

Shizuka-san says this in a voice tinted with mild surprise, her disconcertingly magnified grey eyes turned on me like a car's headlights.

"Yeah. I just... couldn't figure it out. And I couldn't let it go, either." That's the understatement of the year. Barely a week after my first day at Shiromachi High, and already my thought are filled with the sheer oddness of the pair. I've been watching them, watching everyone's reactions to them. She'll do something- laugh, maybe, tilt her head a certain way- and he'll follow, conscious of it or not. They seem to fit, perfect- the little crow-haired doll of a girl, and the handsome boy with his envious retinue. And yet, the whispers have barely ceased. Heads still turn (not in my direction, unfortunately- I've been treated like a dejected ghost all this time) mouths still hang open as they pass. It's haunted me in classes, as the devious Hinako-san plays with the mood of the class, wrapping it like strands of hair around her finger. It dogged me as I determinedly took notes from textbooks 'borrowed' from the school supply cupboard, earplugs firmly inserted in my eardrums (don't laugh, it's the only way I'll learn anything here.) It followed me as I passed them in sardine-crammed corridors, one step out of time with my own.

That, I told myself, was why I was here. Driven by curiosity to wait for hours after school against a crack-ridden redbrick wall, waiting for the newspaper club to finish newspaper-clubbing. Waiting to question the one person who seemed to know something about the strange story of Yasora Senri and Hinako Hioki.

"If they're so opposite, how do they seem natural for each other? And what is with everyone treating her like some sort of goddess? For god's sake, this town can't be that deprived! Surely people have better things to do."

Her smile, laced with irony, curls with each passing word, until she begins to actually resemble her (supposedly identical) twin.

"And nor do you."

This stops me midway through preparing a persistent (yet witty, canny, and altogether response-provoking) answer to a refusal. Of all things she could have said.. but it's true, isn't it? I really do have nothing better to do. Oh, how the mighty have fallen- from socially-savvy Tokyo urbanite to a sad backwater stalker. Truth be told, I just wanted to hear a good story. "Yeah, I guess. So, what makes them so different?"

Her eyes shift, reflecting now the sieved sunlight falling between the blossoms of the school's lone (and much-abused, by the looks of its heart-tattooed trunk) cherry tree. "Sit. This will take awhile."

" Some stories begin with 'Once upon a time', and continue in much the same fashion. This story begins on a cloudy Thursday six years, two months and twenty-one days ago. I remember it so well. The clouds were the sort that are heavy with unborn rain, so thick they seemed to sag to the ground, seeping through every crack and crevice in the Hinako household. You think this school is old- the house puts every other building in Shiromachi to shame. It's been there for centuries, and Father likes to say the town was built around it. When you're there, you can believe it, too- the wooden floorboards polished smooth by thousands of footsteps, the sturdy tatami frayed in places, the fusuma undulating with age-faded images of glistening waves, smoke-cloaked mountains and wild horses. On days such as that, the air seemed almost liquid, shimmering like heat to breathe life into those pictures. They moved, twitching with a sort of agitated laziness in the corners of eyes. On those days too, the smell was thicker- the smell of candlewax and rain on dust-roads, of yellowed histories- of time itself. "

" Y'know, this is all very fascinating, but what I really wanted to hear about was-"

" I'll get to that." She turns her schoolteacher gaze on me. I gulp in an exaggerated, cartoonish way, bring my palms up by way of apology. " Sorry. Continue."

" I remember the fusuma in one room particularly well- an upstairs one, with a mutinous warped-wooden balcony that no-one except Hi-chan and I dared walk on anymore; and that was only when we dared each other to. These were of the thinnest, most faded paper, worn transparent near the edges where countless fingertips had pulled them along. And on them, ink designs retaining vestiges of bright colour. Clinging to it, almost, like a different set of bright fingerprints. In those designs, gods and goddesses in bright kimono revelled and banqueted in a great courtyard littered with small signs of magic- an antlered hare leaping from a bush, a tree with jewels for fruit. When they were open, revealing the sprawling green of the Hinako gardens, the doors would appear to blend with the scenery beyond them, as though these divine beings had come to visit our backyard for a time. But on that day, the doors were closed tight- to keep the candlelight in and the outdoors out, Grandmother said. And on this day, everyone listened to her requests. In fact, everyone was assembled there in that room, clustered in a loose circle around the rusted metal of her bed, mattress and blankets stretched too thinly over it like the skin stretched over the bones of its occupant. Because the story begins on the day Grandmother died, cursing us before she left."

"Cursed you? That's a little extreme, ne?" Still, my eyes widen just a little. Well, Kaien, you did want to know. Most likely she's batty.

My head is so cynical sometimes.

" Don't you have curses in Tokyo?" She turns those grey eyes, sea-shaded magnets in their own right, to lock against mine. In this light- fading, half-shadow- they seem inhuman, the eyes of a doll. Her hair catches a little on a slight breeze, and she shivers almost imperceptibly. Funny, I hadn't noticed the drop in temperature until now.

" Well... I guess not. I mean, big city and all- not much room for witchcraft amongst the cars and cell-phones. " This hooks a smile, dragging her mouth upwards at just one of its edges.

"Fair point. " Her eyes dart around, sweeping the area smoothly. A synthetic rustle makes me look up as well- a bright plastic packet tumbling merrily with the building wind. The sound is drowned out amidst a greater silk rustling of petals. They fall like confetti, decorating us both. Only the residents of this town probably don't even know what confetti is , he reminds me.

" It's later than I thought. Darker too- winter's not quite gone. But I should be." She stands, her movements contradictory as before. The wind blows a peculiar scent towards me- something like what she described, candlewax and rain and a little sweat. " Ja mata, ne?"

" Sure." I watch her hop down the gravel (stone age. Literally.) driveway, out of sight. Moments later, I realise I've missed the one and only bus from school to my street.