"Eurt e bot ti wonk uoy esion dnuorgkcab eht tuo tuc."
Am I dreaming again?
I'm wandering around this vast empty house. In front of me is that little girl in the white lily dress.
"What do you mean?" I ask her.
She takes me by the hand and drags me along the endless hallway. I wanted to let go of her hand, but there was a part of me that was reluctant at losing her. It was absurdly long, much longer than I expected for the size of this house. There were old paintings hung up on the walls, most of them dusty and covered in cobwebs. It seemed as if no one had gone down this place in a very long time. Finally, she stops in front of a door.
"Here?" I ask.
She gives a simple nod and points.
This seemingly peculiar white wooden door caught my curiosity. I looked up and down to see any marks or labels, but there were none. I could feel an eerie glow behind the door, like there was a light being projected. I calmly rest my hand on the golden doorknob. It was surprisingly warm to the touch, like someone had rested their hand earlier. My hand began to shake sporadically, until the little girl rests her tiny hand atop mine.
"Maerd a evah uoy od?"
"I do not understand." I tell her.
The little girl looked visibly disappointed. Everything that has happened so far made no sense to me. Before I knew it, the little girl had disappeared from my sight, vanishing into thin air. It was just me, and this door. I slowly turn the knob to open the door, only to be engulfed in a blinding light. I feel the warmth wrap around my body. I do not think I will remember what happened.
I shocked myself awake again.
Did I have another nightmare?
I lie back down and stare at the ceiling. I did not want to get up today, but I had to. I was still a bit tired from yesterday's beach day. Although Daisuke's methods were a bit too much, the ends justified the means. Hopefully they would finally get the message.
Manager-san's swimsuit for me was really embarrassing.
Today I was going to visit Yui again with Daisuke-kun. Ever since the incident, Daisuke and I had been officially seeing each other as a couple. We agreed to not use the word "relationship," since it just did not feel right to either of us. It was only yesterday when we officially "revealed" our partnership to Mary and Kazuki. A coward like me did not deserve Kazuki-kun since I already lost my chance. I could not imagine ever falling in love with someone else, since my heart belonged to him. Daisuke felt the same way about Mary.
It was a notification from my phone.
"Good morning. Let's meet at 10? That's when visiting hours start."
I take off the hoodie on my black cat pajamas and let my long hair down.
"Of course. I will see you there."
I hesitate a bit, biting my thumb, until I decide to do it anyways. I send him a cute cat emoji waving good-bye. I put my phone on the nightstand, and let out an embarrassingly loud yawn.
I better get ready.
The wind felt pleasant up here. It was a bright and sunny day. Usually I would eat breakfast down in my apartment, but today I could not pass up the breath-taking view of the city from this rooftop. This was my secret spot I would go to when I wanted to be alone. Only I had access to the rooftop, due to having a deal with the landlord. I would give her discount coupons to the Purrfect Café, and she lent me the key. Apparently her husband was a frequent visitor or something. From up this high, you could see the school in the distance. Just a little to the right was where Kazuki lived-
I appreciated the solitude this place granted me. It was just me and my thoughts. It was someplace I could be away from everyone. I feel something tugging at my chest, but I try my best to ignore it.
Suddenly I hear some quiet footsteps behind me. I see a tall shadow slowly approach.
Who could this be…? Loan sharks?
"Take this!" as I stand up and thrust my fork towards the intruder with furious momentum.
"Good morning Kanny!"
I see my big brother Jumpy who had managed to disarm me in one motion with only his right hand. I break free of his hold and calm myself down.
That was close…if it was anyone else they would be laying on the ground with a fork in their eye.
"Is that how you greet all your visitors?" he sarcastically asks.
"I-I am sorry big brother. You should have said you were coming." as I profusely apologize and bow my head.
"That's okay Kanny." he pats my head.
I raise my head and brush off his hand.
I-I am not a little girl anymore.
I had to admit it did make me feel warm when he did. Still, my brother was not the type to make unexpected visits.
"Why are you here big brother?" I ask.
"I just wanted to check up on my little sister like any good brother." he seemed offended. "I went to your apartment but you weren't there. I asked the landlord down the hall and she pointed me up here." he explains.
My resourceful detective big brother like usual.
"I got a surprise for you though."
He reveals a large pink box in front of me and opens it.
"Just hot out of the oven, got all your favorites Kanny." as Jumpy smiles.
There were a dozen donuts, and these were from the new donut shop that I wanted to try. I just did not have the time.
Which one do I choose…?
There was a jelly donut, a boston kreme pie donut, chocolate glazed, powdered sugar, a maple bar, and others. My mouth begins to water uncontrollably.
Control yourself Akane.
"I think I shall take this one…" as I take a classic glazed donut.
The subtle addition of salt accentuated the sweetness of the glaze, and the dough was unbelievably fluffy and light. It was a perfect donut.
"Thank you very much big brother." as I munch down on the delicious pastry. I sit back down on the bench that was up here.
"There's something I need to talk to you about." as Jumpy takes off his black fedora and sits down next to me.
"What is it?" I ask as I take another donut from the box.
He was never the type to avoid questions or the elephant in the room. Despite my brother's playful personality, he was a completely different person when something serious needed to be addressed.
If only I was as strong as he was.
"Look…" he pauses. "There's no easy way for me to say this."
Jumpy sighs and takes a deep breath.
"We need to talk about Daisuke." he says unwillingly.
I nearly choke on my donut and cough out a small piece. I could feel that my body temperature was rapidly rising as I was trying to think.
"W-What do you mean?"
Is this like in the books and shows when the big brother forbids his sister from going out?!
"N-Not like that Kanny." he blushes.
I breathe a sigh of relief. He immediately knew what I was thinking like always. Jumpy composes himself and continues.
"I need you to tell me something." he says.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Like if he does anything suspicious. I don't know-"
"He is nothing like that!" I interrupt him. I stand up, towering over him while he is still seated.
One thing was for certain, Daisuke Akatsuka would never hurt anyone. Sure sometimes he was foolish and dumber than an elementary school student, but his heart was there. Even with the revelation with Kazuki-kun, it was impossible to think of Daisuke as a brute. He would never bring harm to anyone and he cared about his sister more than anyone in the world. My blood was boiling at the thought, insulted even, that someone would think Daisuke would do something like that.
Junpei cannot be more wrong.
He's dangerous Akane. You've heard rumors about the White Tigers. He's a White Tiger!" said Junpei, who stands up. His towering figure was looking down on me.
There was no way Daisuke associated with those barbarians. They were all over the news with reports of kidnapping, extortion, and other criminal activities. I will admit that I had heard rumors and whispers of Daisuke's past, but they were just rumors after all. Still, every time I would dig, he ignored me. The new transfer student Shion Masaki's sudden arrival was also concerning.
No. I trust Daisuke. He is a good person.
"I know how to take care of myself Junpei!" I snap back at him.
I have been taking care of myself for years. I do not need your concern.
"You took out some wannabe low-level thugs last time at the abandoned factory, but this is the real deal!" he scolds me.
I could not care less. My heart was racing with rage about how my brother was a hypocrite, lecturing me about staying away from danger.
"I'm not sure if it's true or not, but I need you to tell me immediately if something happens. Promise me Akane. Lives are at stake!"
"I cannot believe you are telling me to spy on my friend!"
This explains the donuts. He wanted to bribe me first.
"I'm not telling you to spy on him." Junpei tries to clarify. "I just want you to be safe…" he says woefully.
I stay silent. Junpei rubs his eyes and looks off into the distance.
"We can't run away from our destinies Akane. Promise me that you'll keep out of trouble, okay?"
He puts on his fedora, slightly adjusting it to a certain angle. Junpei approaches me with a hug. His arms wrap around me warmly. However, a shiver runs down my spine.
Stupid big brother…
He waits for me to embrace him but I stand still in silence. He lets go. Before exiting, he grabs a donut from the box.
"I love you sis." as he waves me off and exits the rooftop.
My appetite was gone.
It cannot be true.
I pull out my phone to see the time. It was nearing 10 o'clock.
I better get ready.
"You're the best big sis Akane!" said Yui as she hugged me tightly.
"T-Thank you Yui." I replied.
Yui was eating the specialty chocolates one by one.
Daisuke and I have been stopping by the hospital any spare moment we had to see Yui. I could tell that there was definitely something wrong with her, but Daisuke told me nothing. My instincts concluded that Daisuke just did not have the heart to tell me that her condition was worsening, that it would take a miracle at this point for her to get better. Daisuke's brave face was taking its toll on him. He was playing his part as the caring big brother. Yui was playing her part as the cute little sister, the shining beacon of hope for him. We were all just playing our parts for the sake of each other.
We look to the door and notice it's Yui's doctor. He approaches us with a clipboard in hand.
"Can I have a word with you?" he whispers quietly into Daisuke's ear.
Daisuke looks at me and I nod instinctively.
"What is it big bro?" asked Yui.
Daisuke comes closer to Yui and pats her on the head.
"I just need to talk to the doctor, maybe it's about time you finally leave this place?"
He walks out to the hallway with the doctor and closes the door behind him.
"I'm never gonna leave am I big sis Akane?"
"W-What do you mean Yui?" I responded.
Her question took me by surprise. This was the first time Yui ever said something like this. Her usual bright and upbeat personality was gone right now. She was much quieter, almost on the verge of tears. She looks out through the big glass window, gripping her old teddy bear tightly. The sun was shining through into the room, making it really warm. Suddenly though, I could not help but feel the room got colder.
"I know what's going to happen. At night I pretend to sleep and I can hear all the adults talking about my condition. It would take a miracle right big sis Akane?" said Yui.
I did not know how to respond. Yui had become a little sister to me, and I had grown fond of her the past few weeks. It made my heart feel warm whenever she called me "big sis." There was no way I could tell her the truth. I wanted to just tell her everything will be okay, but I could not lie to a child.
Was this how she felt this whole time?
"I just wish they would treat me like an adult…" said a somber Yui.
"You will be an adult one day Yui." I said to her. Even if they said it would be a miracle, I had to believe in hope.
I come closer and hug her tightly.
"But until then, just keep fighting Yui."
I could feel a tear drop from my eyes.
"You'll take care of big bro won't you big sis Akane?"
I looked into her puppy dog-like eyes, waiting for my response. For some reason though, I was hesitant.
"Hey! What are you two ladies up to?" interrupted Daisuke.
I did not notice the door even opening. His bright smile illuminated the somber mood of the room. In his hand was a small bag of drinks from the vending machines downstairs. Yui quickly wipes her watery eyes, and returns back to her act.
"Who wants orange juice?" asks Daisuke.
"I do!" as Yui raises her arm.
I sat in silence, giving my false smile when it was necessary.
We just have to play our parts.
We left the hospital since visitation hours were over now. It was time for us to go home. When we stepped out of the building, I could see the full moon beaming brightly in the night sky. Daisuke looked visibly tired, his energy exhausted from playing around with Yui. He rubs his eyes and gives a long sigh.
Something is going on…
I could sense that something was troubling him, and it was not Yui's condition.
"What did the doctor say?" I asked.
Daisuke looks away and fidgets his hands.
"Nothing. Just some more tests and stuff."
I step in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. He was clearly lying.
"I thought we had a partnership Daisuke. I know you are lying to me."
Daisuke gives a long sigh. "The payment wasn't able to process." he finally revealed.
Then does that mean?
"Is there any way I can assist?" I asked.
If it was a matter of money, I could work double shifts at the café. Knowing Daisuke's pride, my offer of help was probably futile. He never did like others helping him.
"No Akane. You've done enough, making sure Yui stays happy."
He's still hiding something.
I could tell whenever he was lying. He would not make direct eye contact like usual, which was an obvious sign. From Shion Masaki's history with him, Yui's condition, and now this, I could no longer just tolerate his insolence.
"This partnership is based on trust. You are still keeping something from me. Just tell me!" I pleaded to him.
Daisuke brushes me aside.
"This doesn't concern you Akane."
Anger seeped through my veins. My fists began to curl at my sides, while my brain was resisting the urge to slap him.
"I know we are just settling for what we have, but I care about you Daisuke. That part is real."
Like Yui, I genuinely enjoyed the time we spent together. It was not the same feeling like with Kazuki, but I felt comfortable around him. The big difference was that Daisuke was just as stubborn as I am.
"I see…" as he pauses to look up at the night sky.
"I'm sorry Akane."
"Are you ready to know the truth?" he asked.
"Yes." I said confidently.
Daisuke extends his hand and I take it. We walk down the street, and I follow his lead.
Daisuke directed me down a series of twists and turns, eventually ending up on the edge of town, near the new construction site. We were in complete silence the whole time. I had heard that this was White Tiger territory, controlled by that gang of criminals I saw on the news. It was difficult to imagine that our quaint little town included such a place of scum and villainy.
Just what is this place?
We were now standing inside an old warehouse building. Daisuke pulled out his phone, checking the time. It was almost midnight now.
"Where are they…?" he muttered underneath his breath.
"What are we doing here Daisuke?" I asked.
Before he could answer it seemed that our guests had arrived. A big black truck pulled up in front of us, with its headlights blinding me. Three silhouettes exited the car, with the car engine still on. As they came closer, one man I could see was much older than the other two. He was wearing a large leather jacket embroidered with a large white tiger.
"Well well, you didn't say yer bringin' a lady with you Daisuke-kun." said the mysterious man.
Upon closer inspection, he looked threatening. In fact, I could not shake the resemblance he had to Sojiro-san, who ran the warehouse where Manager-san would get our café's uniforms. He was tall, if not taller than Daisuke was. His scar-ridden face was wrinkly, along with his large cauliflower ears. He was also sporting a long gold chain, which was shining brightly from the headlights. The man approaches me and tips his fedora, revealing his balding gray head.
"Let's just get this over with Maki." said Daisuke.
Annoyed, the old man waves to his two henchmen. A hooded figure wearing a black skirt steps forward and hands Daisuke a small suitcase.
"It's you again." said a vexed Daisuke.
The figure pulls their hood back, and gives a sinister smile.
"Hellooooo Daisuke-kun! Nice to see you're feeling better."
It was Shion Masaki, the new transfer student. She blows me a kiss which I could not help but feel cringe.
"No more drones to carry out your orders so you have to resort to this?" asked Daisuke sarcastically.
Maki laughs. Masaki-san began to pout.
"Well, since you Daisuke-kun aren't around no more, things have been pretty hectic y'know. Personally, I feel there's a strong need for leadership…" teased Masaki as she lined her index finger up and down Daisuke's chest.
"Alright that's enough." barked Maki.
Daisuke shoves off Masaki's hand, and then takes the suitcase.
"Eerything should be in there kid. How's lil Yui-chan doin?" he asks.
Daisuke ignores his question.
"Oh I understand! You wouldn't be here right now if she was okay right?" said Masaki-san with a grin.
Daisuke was about to punch her in the face, but I quickly held him back. Maki shook his head and pointed Masaki-san to get in the truck. Maki approaches Daisuke to apologize and calms him down.
"Just remember kid, we look out after our own. Once a White Tiger, always a White Tiger."
He and Daisuke reluctantly shake hands, and their party departs.
What is he talking about?
There were just too many questions to ask about what just happened.
"How do you know them? They are the White Tigers in the news." I asked.
Daisuke could not look me in the eyes.
"My brother is a detective for God's sake! He has been trying to build a case around them for months! The White Tigers are criminals! What are you doing with them?"
I place the suitcase on an oil drum close by and open the suitcase to confirm my suspicions – it was full of money.
No…it is impossible!
"They were my family back then. Still are technically." said Daisuke.
He closes the suitcase and forcefully takes it away from me.
"I have no other choice!" he snaps at me.
My legs began to shake.
Is this really Daisuke?
"It's only to make this month's payment is all." as he calms down.
I was still struggling to understand why he would stoop down to deal with criminals. Was he that desperate? What would happen next month? And the next?
"Why did you not tell me?! I-I could have worked double shifts-"
Daisuke shushes me.
"I can't do that to you. Despite everything, taking care of Yui is my responsibility, not yours."
Every cell of my being wanted him to stop, to find another way.
"I care too much about you…To see you become someone like this, to see you hurt yourself like this. I-I…"
"If you're asking me to stop, then I'm not being myself Akane." he interrupts.
"I have to do this. I guess you can't run from destiny after all."
"Because the truth is Akane…"
Daisuke takes a heavy sigh and he finally looks into me with his brown eyes.
"My father was the White Tiger's previous boss. I'm supposed to take over."
Please be a lie. Please be a lie. Please be a lie.
He breaks eye contact, and slings the suitcase on his shoulder.
"Let's go Akane."
I thought I understood Daisuke. But it turns out I knew nothing about him. It was just only supposed to be a partnership after all. I thought I was ready for the truth, but I could never be more wrong. Maybe it was for the best if I knew nothing about him.
Daisuke Akatsuka…who are you?