Chapter 31: Conclusion/Continue?

            They started running toward the tree that Rick has dreamed many times before. With laughs, and tears, Rick and Mina proceed forward.

            Distance was not an issue as the two strived, one in the front, the other in the back, for the tree.

            Mina glided through air, as Rick chased after her. She slowed down every time Rick seemed to be losing the race, but resumed her face pace when Rick started to catch up. Finally, Rick caught her, and Mina giggled, as the two lost their footing, and fell.

            "I finally caught you." Rick said quietly with a serene smile. "Where have you been all my life?"

            She smiled. "Rick, after what we have learned, do you think we still can…?"

            We have learned.

            "Mr. Kurosawa…?" Dr. Johnson asked rather loudly. "Have you learned anything from this semester?" He asked sarcastically with a smirk.

            "Oh!" Rick exclaimed. "Oh yeah, I learned so much!"

            The whole class laughed in unison. Rick blushed, and shrugged. Then he leaned back and smiled. He cast a side ways glance at Josh, who had a smirk on his face. He also leaned back, and seemed to mutter something under his breath.

            "Very well, Rick. I see that you did do your own studies besides getting hints from Josh, after all." Dr. Johnson smiled. "This semester is coming to an end…" The bell rang, and everyone began to pack. "Thank you all for participating. I hope you all did well on the exam." He said simply.

            Most people had already left the classroom, some stayed behind to chat with Dr. Johnson.

            "So," Rick said to Josh as he began to walk out of the door. "What's your plan for the summer?"

            Josh averted his gaze. "I think I'm going to get a job, and take some summer courses at the community college." His eyes were on something else. Rick couldn't tell what.

            Rick nodded to himself, and let out a silent sigh, while shrugging. "That's interesting. So you're trying to get a head start for college even at 16, huh? What job are you going to get?"

            The two stood about 5 feet apart.

            "Well, I know the restaurant business the best, so I'm going to work at a restaurant." Josh said. His gaze was on the ground. Rick cocked an eyebrow, and was about to speak, when Josh interrupted him. "Oh no, not at my parents'. I wouldn't be able to stand it." Josh looked up. And Rick found Josh looking at him briefly with a smirk. "I'll be fine, really."

            Rick nodded. He was silent this time.

            The two stood silent.

            "Hey guys, what's cooking here?"

            Both Rick and Josh turned to see Jenny and Kirika. Rick took a breath, and let it out before fully examining Kirika's face. She was smiling softly. He let out a relaxing sigh. "Nothing much." Rick said casually. "So what's up with you two?"

            "Oh, Larry wants to hang at the beach for summer vacation." Jenny said in a lazy tone. "I'm still thinking about it."

            "Sounds like fun, why not go for it?" Rick said.

            "Make sure you bring plenty of cash, unless you would like some credit card debt." Josh said with what sounded like a mock sarcasm.          

            "Yes, Mr. Cynical." Jenny said mockingly. She stuck her tongue out. "Hey, I thought you've changed, and you guys made up already?"

            Rick smiled and spoke before Josh could. "Well, it's a long story." He paused.  "Are you guys done with your finals?"

            Kirika nodded, Jenny yawned loudly while speaking something. Rick shook his head, and laughed. "Yah, yah, like I can understand what you're saying right now." Jenny covered her mouth for a second, before uncovering it and laughing out a loud. "Say, what happened two days ago was just crazy." She wrinkled her nose. "And stupid, too.

            Rick was about to speak, when Kirika said suddenly: "Guys, I need to go."

            Rick smiled. "Is Matt waiting for you?"

            She blushed. Rick smiled gently. "Yeah. He is." Kirika said in a low voice.

            "Well, don't be shy! Go for it!" Josh said suddenly.

            Everyone stopped and looked at him.

            "What?" He said with his hands up.

            Everyone else shrugged. "Well, I'm going to see Matt now…" Kirika said while gazing at Rick. Rick smiled and nodded, and Kirika grinned broadly. "Right, I'll see you guys later!"

            As Rick gazed at her, Kirika ran with a lot of pep in her steps. He decided. Something ached in his heart for a few seconds, but he willed it away. Just before she left, the look she gave me also seemed have some ache in it, but when she left, she was definitely happier. Rick smiled at that thought.

            "So, are you guys going to see your girlfriends?" Jenny asked with a sly grin. "Since Larry and I are going to watch a movie right about now, I have to go, too."

            "Well, it's a long story…which will have to wait till later." Rick turned to see Josh said with the left corner of his mouth up. "Because here comes our 'girlfriends'. Hi you two!"

            Rick turned to see Mina and Karen walking toward them. He smiled gently, and Mina beamed back. "Hi guys!" Karen said with a wave. Rick thought she was definitely shining again. But this time, his thoughts were focused on Mina. He walked up to her. The two stood about 2 feet apart.

            "Mina." Rick nodded with a grin.

            "Rick." She smiled.

            Rick laughed dryly before going up to her, and the two hugged for a few seconds before separating. "Still can't forgive me, huh?" Rick said with regret in his voice.

            "That's not it." Mina said while leaning back on her heels, with her hands behind her back. "It's just that, right now…I think this way is the best." She smiled like a little girl. "So yeah, let's stay this way for now, ok?"

            Rick nodded. "Let's see what Karen and Josh is up to."

            Both turned and walked toward Karen and Josh. "Where is Jenny?" Rick asked.

            "She couldn't wait any more. So she left. "Karen said with a shrug. She seemed to cast a glance at Josh, who smiled back.

            Rick laughed.

            "What?" Karen and Josh said in unison. Both blushed.

            "So, I see you guy becoming love birds…" Rick said with a simper, before Karen interrupting him.

            "Don't start with me there. We…" She definitely turned her head to look at Josh this time; he nodded slightly. "We're still looking at what's happened, and deciding what we're going to do." She grinned.

            Rick turned to look at Mina, whose corners of mouth moved up considerably. "Well, then. I guess we're in the same boat.

            "Once again, I might add."

            The four shrugged. Then all laughed.

            Rick looked at the other three: Josh was laughing a little dryly; Karen had a smirk on her face; Mina laughed softly in a small voice.

            "Some people never change much, do they?" Rick murmured. He took a deep breath. "So, how about we go somewhere and hang?"

            "Sounds good." Karen said quickly. "How about 'Star Diner'? That's your favorite place, isn't it?" Her eyes were on Josh's face.

            Rick nodded, Josh and Mina both muttered agreements. The four quickly went on their way.

* * * * * * *  * * *

            "It turned out that some seniors played a prank on all of us." Karen said with disdain in her voice. "But they didn't realize that there was another terrorist alert out."

Josh snickered. "And so they've been charged with something. We don't know, and we don't care."

            "That's the story, huh?" Rick said flatly. "I guess some people are such idiots."

            The rest of the group sighed. Then all four just laughed.

            "Sure was really fun trapped in there." Karen said dryly. "You guys were about to bash each other's heads open."

            Rick groaned loudly, while Josh held his forehead.

            "Eh. Oh well, we were trapped, and it was like a riot outside." Karen said casually.

            "I…I was scared…that you guys…that you guys were going to fight…" Mina said in a small voice. "I didn't want to see either of you hurt."

            Rick smiled calmly at her. She beamed back. Josh put a hand on top of Karen's right hand. Karen grinned.

            They four sat silently for a while.

            "So, I guess the question remains." Karen said while clearing her throat. The other three winced a little. "Have we all forgiven each other?"

            All four examined each other's face. What happened two days ago began to come back to them.

* * * * * * * * *

            Rick, Mina, Josh, and Karen sat peacefully at the curb outside of the front of the school. Rick and Mina had already separated themselves, after opening the door, and being kind of rescued by the police.

            They told what they knew to the officers, who in turn told them that some people in the school decided to hatch a prank on the whole school. It just so happened on that day, an unexpected storm had occurred, which was perfect for their scheme. What they didn't expect was the wide spread panic because of the latest terrorist alarm, which they didn't hear.

            Karen stood alone in the crowd.

            Everyone else were hugging someone: a parent, a friend, or just somebody.

            She smiled icily. Her father was still in Japan taking care of business.

            She sighed, and began to walk toward the parking lot. Because everyone was outside, it would've been easy to disappear without anyone notice. As she walked toward section C, where her car parked, with her head hung low, she could hear among the noisy crowd, a voice – which was calling out for her.

            Karen frowned, and stopped for a moment without turning around. She took in a lung full of air, and shook her head. "Nah. Can't be."

            Josh's face right after they kissed, appeared in her head.

            It was a face of a content, gentle, and loving lover, who wanted nothing but to hold his love again in his arms. Then he would never let go.

            Karen sighed, and smirked. "It's nice to fantasize, isn't it?" She started to walk again. Her Camry was in sight. She picked up her steps, and hurried toward it.

            "Oomph!" Karen let out a sound after someone ran into her from behind. She could feel that person's arms around her waist. "Hey you…." She turned her head around angrily, and said: "Who do you think you are…?"

            She closed her mouth quickly.

            It was Josh.

            "Ah…you…" She blushed like a bride. "Um…" She briefly thought how uncommon it was for her to feel shy, and speaking with a stutter.

            "Karen. Please stay with me." Josh said simply, something in his voice told Karen that he wasn't about to give an inch of ground for Karen to protest.

            "I…" Karen said with a blush. She silently curse herself for blushing. "I don't know…I mean…" She couldn't help it but lower her head, while silently cursed herself for feeling shy. "It's just that…"

            Her hands instinctively held on to Josh's arms, which embraced her waist. But she didn't continue.

            "What?" Josh sounded like he was running out of breath. "What is it?"

            She sighed. "There is so much stuff going on in my life right now, and so many things have happened in the past two months that…" She lifted her head slightly. "I don't think I'm ready for a relationship. Not right now." She gently pulled Josh's arms away from her, although she definitely knew she hesitated a little before completely letting go of his arms. She felt a tinge of pain in her chest as she anticipated Josh's reaction.

            Karen was surprised that it didn't come. She found Josh stood in front of her. He was smiling, although she could tell how valiantly he tried to hide his disappointment. His arms were open as his palms were facing up. He shrugged a little.

            Karen frowned slightly. She couldn't understand what his gesture meant.

            "I can wait." Josh said in a low but firm voice. "And I'll walk with you." His arms were outstretched. He walked up to her, and Karen felt his arms around her again. "Karen. You know I care about you…" He paused. "I'm just not good at this. We can continue hugging if you like, if not…" He paused. "Tell me to back off and I will."

            Karen tilted her head slightly to her right for a moment, before answering with a smile.            

            "I think we're fine for now."

* * * * * * * * *

            Rick and Mina sat on the curb in front of the school. The commotions were mostly gone. Both had asked their parents or in Mina's case, guardians to go home and not worry.

            Mina's grandparents insisted on sticking around, and so they were hovering around where Mina and Rick sat.

            Rick's parents were pretty relaxed for a change, that both surprised and at the same time, delighted Rick, although they took Kirika home immediately. Both Ken and Yui Kurosawa were holding onto Kirika tightly as they go into the car. Just before they left, Rick saw Kirika turning her face around, and smiled happily and contently in tears, as her arms seemed to tightened around his parents.

            No, our parents. Rick had let some tears flow as he gazed at the three getting into the car, and left. Yui were stroking Kirika's hair in the backseat as the car drove away.

            Rick couldn't help but cried silently. He smiled peacefully.

            "So…" Mina's voice came, and he turned to see her sitting about two feet away from him. "Now what?" She said softly.

            Rick shook some of his tears away. "Mina, I…" He sighed. "What I did before was just inconsiderate to you, and to Josh." He braced himself. "I…I don't know what else to say." He lowered his head.

            Mina seemed to squeeze a smile. "Rick, I know when we were together, you really cared for me, and I…" Her face turned red. "I really wanted to be with you. I guess…I should've made my feelings more clear to you, and to Josh." She closed her eyes. "When I'm with you, I feel vulnerable, and yet free. I feel I need no masks. You…you make me feel like I can be true to myself, and others…" Her voice trailed off.

            Rick lifted his head. "Go on."

            Mina blushed, then she hit Rick on his arm. "Oh, you're so bad! You're just trying to make me confess." She hung her head, and Rick definitely saw a smile. "But…after all that happened, I'm not sure if I can trust you, because…" She lifted her head, and Rick found her big, clean, brown eyes gazed straight into his eyes. "Because now I'm not sure if you went out with me because of me, or because you and Karen weren't working out." She said in a small, but resolved voice. Rick opened his mouth, but Mina put a hand on his arm. "I do feel your love toward me, and I want that, but I need time to think about us, and…" She had a smirk on her face as she pulled back. "To observe you."

            Rick gazed straight back at her eyes; Rick could tell they held no fear, and no trickery. He continued to gaze in them for a while, before letting out a sigh. "So we're friends then?" He said.

            Mina nodded with a smile. Rick wasn't sure about the smile. "For now?" He asked, and couldn't help with the hopefulness in his voice.

            Mina definitely smiled this time. But she gave no answer.

            The storm clouds that fully swallowed the sky dissipated completely, as the sun shone brightly on the crowd in front of the school.

            Rick closed his eyes briefly, and took a deep breath. He opened them to see Mina standing up, and facing something, he looked.

            Josh and Karen were walking toward them.

            He smiled, as Mina waved. The other two waved back.

            "It's 2:30 in the afternoon, and I'm starving." Rick grunted loudly. "Let's go somewhere to eat!"

            Mina nodded with a grin, as she ran to tell her grandparents.

            Everything in Rick's surroundings looked squeaky clean. The leaves were a fresh shade of green, the cars were shiny, and the school building looked happy and new.

            Mina came back with a grin and a nod, and Josh and Karen were standing next to Rick quietly.

            "Let's go!" Rick said in a triumphant voice, and the four set off to lunch.

* * * * * * * *

            "Well? Have we forgiven each other?" Karen asked again, she shifted her gaze from person to person, finally, her gaze landed on Josh's face.

            Josh looked hesitant to speak. He pursed his lips for a long time, while the other three's eyes were on him. The air in the room was thickening by the second.

            Karen tossed a glance at Rick, who nodded slightly, and opened his mouth. "Josh, I, uh…"

            "No, it's ok." Josh put up a hand, and slowly, he smiled peacefully. Everyone else let out a breath, and the air in the room was thinning out a little bit. "I…" Josh cleared his throat. "I've never been a positive guy in my whole life. I mean, whoever knew me as a little kid knew that I was always down." He paused, Karen put a hand on his arm with a smile, and he smiled back. "I guess I've never told any of you about my past. You see, my brother was shot right in front of me when I was six year old…"

            So he told his story in front of the three. All three gasped, and Mina wept gently for him. Karen shred some tears, and expressed in her best effort sympathy.

            "Well, that's my story. I thought you guys needed to know about it in order to understand where I've been coming from." Josh said, he seemed to swallow a little bit. "I've never tried to love someone again after that day…" He stopped. Karen found his eyes on her face, searching for something. She beamed, and did her best to give him what she thought he was searching for. He grinned. "So it wasn't easy for me to hear that you two were…" Josh pause again, Rick and Mina looked uncomfortable, both sighed. Josh turned to both of them and smiled. "Never mind about that now. What struck me the hardest was that, I knew the two of you should've been together from the beginning, but I couldn't express that well, or at least insisting you," He nodded at Rick. "I should've insisted you to go out with Mina. See, I was lonely, so I needed someone to be with." Josh lowered his head slightly. "Part of me wanted to be with Mina, so that I took Rick's advice." He nodded to Mina. "And that wasn't fair to you. I'm…I'm sorry, Mina." He stopped, and was looking at her.

            Mina bit her lower lip.

            "I don't know if what I'm going to say is going to be relevant to what we're trying to solve here, but…" She let out a long breath. "Do you guys wonder why I live with my grandparents, and not my parents?"

            Karen opened her mouth, but Rick spoke. "Yeah, you never told me…us why." His face was moving a little closer to Mina.

            "Well…the truth is…" Mina turned to Rick. "You've seen them. What do you think my relationship with them is?"

            The other three frowned. Karen put a finger to her lip. "Mina, what exactly are you implying? Are your parents still alive?"

            Mina turned to face Karen. "Well, yes and…maybe." She smiled, but didn't continue.

            "Come on! Tell us already!" Josh said a little impatiently.

            "You were adapted by them." Karen turned to see Rick said.

            Mina nodded. "See, my real last name isn't really Anderson. But I don't know what it should be because…" She looked at something in the distance, her eyes looked wispy. "According to my gramps…actually, they're like my Mom and Dad, they found me in front of their door steps when I was just a very young child. My grandfather told me that I was maybe 2, 3 max at the time when he found me crying." She paused. Rick spoke up quickly. "I've always wondered why you don't look completely Caucasian, I mean, and your name is short for 'Minako', which is Japanese."

            "Yeah. When they found me, the only thing I could say was 'Minako'. So they thought I was maybe Japanese. But I didn't look completely Asian either. Anyway, They decided to take me in." Mina smiled, her eyes still looked slightly unfocused. "Their only child died quite sometime ago, and neither of them was thinking about having another child, until they got old. By that time, it was too late for the regular method. They were considering adapting a child." Mina tucked a strain of hair behind her left ear. "That's when they found me." Mina paused. "I know that sounded like nothing to do with what's happening with us, but because they told me about this pretty recently, I started to picture about my real parents; what they look like, what they do for a living, or if they're even alive at all." She looked at Josh. "I've always been fantasizing about things, maybe that's why I always looked like I live in my own world." Mina swallowed. "My gramps are devout Christians, even though I still don't believe…" She lowered her head for a brief second. "And that's why I've always tried to be nice and gentle to everyone, that's how I was taught to be." She sighed, and shook her head slightly. "But as Karen said before, sometimes being nice isn't the right way." She turned to look at Josh. "I've been hurting you by not being honest with you. You see, I was in love with Rick the first time we were introduced." She blushed, and smiled shyly. "I love your eyes. Both of you have beautiful eyes…I had a childhood friend once, and he promised to marry me one day…" She gazed at Josh. "Your eyes are just like his." She looked away. "But we broke up on my sixteenth birthday." She continued plainly, the other three winced hard. "So it's hard for me to really like someone, or know if I do. Because I've never had much experience before him." She laughed softly. "His name is Joshua, Josh."

            Josh sighed. "I wanna kick that guy's ass, I mean why would anyone want to dump you, you're a great girl…" Karen gave him a look. He stopped. Karen smiled, then said to Mina: "You're a nice person, Mina. It rather surprised me that you were dumped. I thought maybe you were just too picky." She brushed some hair away from her forehead with her right hand. "I'm sorry for my wrong opinions."

            Mina shook her head, and smiled. "I forgive you Karen. I've always admired you from afar, but I also secretly thought that you were fickle, and I thought you chased popularity like these other girls. But, you have a strong character." Mina bowed. "I'm sorry."

            Karen tried not to smile sarcastically, which She knew she would've been laughing at herself. "You're definitely forgiven. God knows I did play that game way too long."

            Mina turned to look at Josh. "Josh, I'm so sorry that I didn't made my feelings clear, and almost cost your life." Tears began to well out her eyes. "Oh Josh, I'm so sorry…" She began to sob. Josh reached out and hugged her. "I…I forgive you…Mina." Josh said, and Karen thought she heard some hesitance in his voice. "But it'll take a while to heal. I'm sorry."

            Mina nodded, tears were still flowing. Josh gently pushed her to Rick. "I think now you should hold her." Karen thought Josh didn't look like or sounded like he was being sarcastic.

            Rick held Mina in his arms briefly before letting go. She seemed to resist a little bit before relaxing in his embrace. He sighed. "Josh, I…I've been an asshole to you."

            The air was getting thick again. Karen smiled uncomfortably; she glanced at Mina and saw her doing the same.

            Rick and Josh were looking at each other. After what Karen thought was forever, Josh shrugged and said: "You were. In a way." He said dryly. "I can appreciate what you were trying to do, and perhaps your actions were based on good intentions." He shrugged again. "Someone once said good intentions is the road to hell or something. I believe him, but, "Josh put up a finger and leaned forward a little. "I know you meant no harm. And I'm ok with that." He sighed. "I don't know if I can forgive you right now, but I can at least say I do." He straightened himself up. "Rick, I'll try to forgive you as often as the bad memories comes back." Josh leaned back after saying that, and letting out a loud sigh.

            Rick's shoulders seemed to slump. "I guess that's the best I can get. Thank you, Josh." He said gravely, and also leaned back.

            The four became silent.

            Karen let out a long breath of air, and then greedily took in some into her lungs. "Well, I guess that's…"

            "Karen, I have to apologize to you, too." Karen found Rick examining her face. "See, I never did…" 

            Karen smiled and waved a hand. "I forgive you anyway. But we never had anything going, and you've never hurt me, and I don't think I've ever hurt you much…" She cocked an eyebrow. "Unless you remember otherwise…?"

            Rick shook his head. Karen grinned and continued. "Well, then. We're ok." She gazed around the table. "I hate to ask this question, but now what?"

            The four stared at each other, unable to speak for a moment. Until Rick coughed.

            The other three stared at him. But he simply smiled.

            "What?" Karen asked impatiently. "What did you think of?"

            "Come on, Rick! Speak!" Josh said.

            Mina looked puzzled.

            Rick smiled before he spoke: "Guys, we don't have to do anything special, just…we just have to talk and forgive each other as often as we're able, other times, just…just be us!" He jumped up. "I'm for a movie, how about you guys?"

            Karen was the first to laugh and shouted in agreement. Josh and Mina laughed, but simply let their companions to decide what movie to watch.

            The three o'clock sun in the afternoon never stopped beating down on people in the summer; it always gave equal share of heat and light to everyone under it. That day, it gave the four as much heat and light as long as they were outside. Maybe they didn't ask for any of that, and maybe they didn't need any of that, but for once, they gladly received what was given to them anyway.

            After all, whatever storms pounded them before were only passing through. And after the storm, the sun seemed so much brighter that day.

            They began to stroll down the street, and found their cars, they hopped in, and drove away speedily; they drove and drove until their cars became small dots in the distance. Finally, they were gone.