The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 15: Out in the Open, part 3 ~
Ami sat at her mother’s table and nervously pushed the food around on her plate. She listened as Makoto struggled to keep up the small talk and marveled at the girl’s ability. Only Makoto’s closest friends would have noticed the strain in her voice. Ami, for her part, could barely make eye contact with her mother, let alone hold up any conversation. Beyond hello, she hadn’t said much of anything since arriving at the house, and she knew it was making her mother suspicious.
There was a lull in the conversation. The only sounds Ami could hear were her own breathing and the slight clanking of the silverware as it touched the plates. Those sounds, coupled with the quick, furtive glances her mother kept throwing her, pushed Ami’s tension level over the edge. Her fork fell to her plate as she closed her eyes as tightly as she could and took a deep breath. Then, in one swift exhale, “For the last month, Mako-chan and I have been intimately involved, and when she moves next weekend, I want to go with her.”
Everything stopped and went completely silent. Ami slowly opened her eyes to see both her mother and Makoto staring at her in disbelief. Makoto’s mouth hung open slightly, her eyes wider than they had been a few minutes ago. Kaya’s eyes, on the other hand, had narrowed, and her mouth had formed into a tight line. Then her gaze turned slowly from Ami to Makoto.
Makoto shifted uneasily. “Well,” she said, putting on a nervous grin, “that’s not exactly how I would have put it, but…”
Using very controlled motions, Kaya set her utensils down on her plate. Placing her napkin neatly beside it, she said coolly, “I see. Well, I think this meal is over. I’d like for the two of you to join me in the living room, please.” Kaya then got up and left the table without looking at either girl.
Makoto smiled weakly at Ami. “That could have been worse. At least she didn’t yell.”
“My mother doesn’t yell,” answered Ami, swallowing the nervousness she felt rising in her stomach. “Come on,” she said as she stood. “We don’t want to keep her waiting.”
Makoto slipped her fingers around Ami’s as they walked the short distance to the living room. She squeezed them briefly before letting go when they reached their destination. Pausing there in the doorway, Makoto was uncertain how to interpret what she saw before her.
Kaya slowly paced back and forth in the living room, her hands clasped behind her back. She stopped when she saw Ami and Makoto, and waved them over to the couch.
When the girls were seated, Kaya said calmly, “Before I say anything else, I want to get this out of the way. Ami, you should already know this, but I’m going to say it anyway. I love you, and that will never change no matter what you do. Makoto, I have nothing but respect for you and how you’ve handled yourself with everything you’ve been through. That being said, I think the two of you can understand why I have some issues with this.”
“Mizuno-san,” said Makoto quickly, standing and bowing before the woman, “if you’ll allow me?” When Kaya nodded, Makoto continued, “I know the situation I want to bring Ami into looks bad, and that there isn’t really anything I can say to make it seem better to you. All I can tell you is that I love Ami. I have for a long time, and I can take care of her properly if you’ll allow me to.”
“You love her,” repeated Kaya, her tone questioning. “You’ve loved her so much and for so long that as soon as she went away you slept with someone else without giving it a second thought?”
“Mom!” said Ami, horrified that her mother would say such a thing.
“No, Ami,” said Makoto, stopping the other girl from saying anything more. “Your mother has the right to question this.” Her fists were clenching at her sides, and it was obvious she was fighting to control her temper in the face of what she felt was a personal attack. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Makoto went on, “I wasn’t with Ami then. I wouldn’t have done it if I had been. You see, at the time, I was looking for something, and I thought maybe I could find it with him. It was a mistake, one that I’ve made before. Partly it was because I was never comfortable with how I felt, and I didn’t think anyone else would be either, so I tried to make it go away. I never thought I’d be given a chance to find what I was looking for with Ami. I’m sorry that I hurt her with what I did, but I didn’t know how she felt then. That may not be much of an excuse, but it’s the only one I have. And whether I deserve it or not, Ami has forgiven me. And, for what it’s worth, I really do love her.”
Kaya carefully studied the girl before her for several moments, then said, “I’d like to speak with Ami alone, please.”
Makoto looked nervously at Ami, then back to Kaya. She nodded, then offered a polite bow to the woman before leaving the room.
When they were alone, Kaya looked down to her daughter. The poor girl looked like she was waiting for the executioner’s ax to fall. Then Kaya realized that Ami was, in a sense, and it bothered her greatly to be looked at as the one wielding it.
Without meaning to, Kaya began a slow trek back and forth in front of her daughter. “I’ve heard what Makoto had to say, and I know what she wants,” said Kaya. “Now I need to know what you want, Ami. And I need for you to be completely honest with me.” She stopped moving and stood with her arms crossed over her chest, not realizing at all how intimidating it made her seem.
Hands wringing in her lap, Ami looked up at her mother and said in a small voice, “I want her.” She looked down quickly, her cheeks warming at an uncomfortable subject. “I love her and want to be with her. The baby as well. I want them to be part of my family. To do that, I need to be there with them, but not as a visitor or friend or even as Mako-chan’s girlfriend. I need to be there all the time, not just because Mako-chan needs me, but because Miki will also. It still sounds a bit strange to say this, but it feels right when I do. I need to be there as a parent, Mom. I can’t do it properly if I’m living somewhere else.”
“As a parent,” repeated Kaya slowly. Her fingers came up to pinch the bridge of her nose. “I think I need to sit down,” she said as she moved unsteadily to the couch.
“Mom, please try to understand,” pleaded Ami.
Kaya looked at her child, a small, gentle smile forming on her lips. “Sweetheart, I do understand,” she said softly. “I understand that you love her, and that right now because of that you feel like you need to be with her every second of every day. I also understand that the kind of love you feel blinds you to all of someone’s faults and all of the problems that may come up from becoming involved in a relationship like this.” Kaya reached over a placed a hand over Ami’s. “Ami, you’ve only been with her like this for one month. That’s barely a drop in the bucket compared to the sort of commitment you want to take on. I’m afraid the two of you don’t fully comprehend that.”
Kaya stood suddenly and began to pace once again. “What you are suggesting is, essentially, a marriage. It’s hard enough when two fully grown adults try to make it work. The two of you are still in high school, and with the baby… It just makes the odds that much worse, because babies, as much as we may love them, don’t always make things better. More often than not, they just make things harder.”
Stopping a few feet from Ami, Kaya turned to her daughter. “Now, understand that I don’t have a problem with you wanting to see each other. I’m fond of Makoto, and if you’re willing to accept the situation the way it is, then I won’t try to tell you not to. However, anything beyond that, at the moment, I can’t agree to. Finish high school first. Spend some time getting to know each other as a couple and everything that entails, and if you still want this at that point, I’ll give you my consent.”
Ami shook her head almost imperceptibly. Then, surprising both her mother and herself, stood and said, “No.” Taking a breath and pushing forward before Kaya could recover, Ami went on, “Graduation is over a year away. The baby is due in three months. I admit that we may not completely understand what it’s going to be like after he’s born or what it’s going to be like for us together with him, but we’ll figure things out. But to do that, I need to be there now.”
“You can still be there, Ami,” returned Kaya, moving a bit closer to Ami. “I just want you to take a step back and really see the situation you’re walking into. Give it some time so that you’re absolutely certain this is what you want so you don’t have any regrets later on.”
“I’m already certain of what I want,” said Ami, her voice gaining strength in desperation. “The only regret I could and do have in any of this is missed time. If I wait until I finish school, an entire year of Miki’s life will have passed. If someone had told you to take a step back after I was born and to wait a year to decide if you really wanted me, what would you have done?”
“It’s not the same thing, Ami,” answered Kaya.
“It is to me,” replied Ami. “Miki is my son. If I lose that year with him, I won’t ever get it back. Makoto will wait for me if she has to. She’ll even understand why you want us to slow things down a bit. But how can I explain to my son that I had to spend a whole year trying to decide if I wanted him or not?”
Kaya sighed deeply and ran a hand through her hair. “Oh, Ami,” she said quietly as she stepped forward and took her daughter into a loose hug. As Ami’s arms slowly came up to return the hug, Kaya rested her chin on top of Ami’s head and said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt. You are my only concern in all of this, Ami. I want you to be happy, but I don’t want you to lose yourself in the moment. You had so many plans for your future. Have you even considered what you’re going to do about college? You used to talk about going abroad to study. You even had all the best places picked out for each field you were interested in. Do you understand how much of that you’ll have to give up if you take this on?”
Ami pulled back so she could see her mother’s face, but didn’t completely release her. “I think I’m gaining more than I’m giving up,” she said. “Besides, I decided some time ago, even before Mako-chan, that I wanted to stay here and go to school. Some of the best schools in the country are right here in my own backyard, and I hardly consider attending them as settling for something less. Plus, my friends are all here, as well as my family,” said Ami, smiling up at her mother. “I don’t want to leave any of them. And you know you don’t have to worry about Mako-chan ever forcing me to stay or trying to keep me from doing something I want. If she thought I wasn’t happy or truly wanted to study someplace far away, she would likely take me down to the pier and put me on the next boat out herself.”
Returning the smile Ami was giving her with just a bit of sadness, Kaya said, “You’re still supposed to be a little girl, you know. I feel like I’ve missed a step somewhere.”
“I think we’ve all been feeling a bit like that lately,” replied Ami.
Kaya held Ami’s gaze for several seconds longer, then slowly nodded. “Okay, Ami. Okay.” She sighed. “Before anything else happens, the three of us need to sit down and talk. There are some things I want made clear before I actually agree to this.” Kaya couldn’t help but smile at the huge grin that lit up Ami’s face. She added, “But we’re going to do it after I clean up the dinner dishes. I need some time to digest all of this for myself.”
Ami hugged her mother tightly then. “Thank you,” she said happily.
Kaya chuckled. “Don’t thank me just yet. I still get to try and scare off your girlfriend with evil glances and stories of your childhood.”
Makoto stood in the hallway leaning against the wall. She tilted her head back and blew air nervously through her lips. It was too quiet in the living room. The lack of yelling made her more anxious than she would have been if Ami and her mother had started fighting. At least if they had gotten loud, she would be able to hear what was going on.
Footsteps pulled Makoto out of her thoughts, and she stood straight as Kaya and Ami appeared. Makoto licked her lips as they approached her.
Kaya stepped up to Makoto, and, after a second, gave the girl a gentle smile. “The three of us are going to have a long talk. But I think we all need to take a few minutes to catch our breath first.” She reached up and patted Makoto’s cheek lightly, then headed back towards the dining room.
Makoto watched Kaya as she left, then turned to Ami, confusion on her face.
Ami smiled at her girlfriend. “It’s okay, Mako-chan. Mom’s worried about some things, but she’ll say yes.” Ami moved forward and put her arms around Makoto’s waist in a hug.
Relaxing at the feeling of having Ami near her, Makoto returned the hug. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths as she held her love close. Quietly she said, “I was beginning to think I’d done the wrong thing by insisting we tell your mom. I don’t know what I’d do if she tried to take you away from me.”
Ami pulled back a bit and smiled up at Makoto. When the other girl returned it, she said, “Don’t worry, Mako-chan. That isn’t going to happen. Mom isn’t going to do that. No one is.”
Makoto pulled Ami back to her and stood just holding her. She kissed the top of Ami’s head and rested her cheek against the softness of Ami’s hair. She felt safe like this, and for the first time in her life, Makoto began to think that maybe Fate wasn’t so cruel after all.
* * *
Shifting her bag more comfortably on her shoulder, Kaya knocked firmly on the apartment door. The lateness of the hour made the sound seem unnaturally loud in the stillness of the corridor, and she cringed slightly at the dull echo.
Ken answered the door a minute later, a novel in his hand and bookmarked with a finger. He smiled when he saw her. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Kaya answered. “I thought you might like some company.”
“Always,” replied Ken as he moved aside for her to enter, taking her overnight bag from her as she did. “I thought Ami was going to be home tonight,” he said as they moved into the livingroom.
“So did I,” said Kaya. “She and Makoto came by for dinner, but they had other plans for the evening.” She chuffed lightly and turned to Ken with a smirk on her face. “They’re sleeping together.”
Surprise crossed Ken’s features. “They? Ami and Makoto?”
“Are we still guessing?” he asked. “Or do we know for certain this time?”
“They came by tonight specifically to tell me that,” Kaya answered. She sat on the couch, folding her arms and resting them on her knees. “Well, not exactly that, but that they’re together. Better yet, when Makoto moves into her new apartment Ami wants to move in with her so they can raise the baby together.”
“Sounds like you had an eventful night,” said Ken as he came to sit beside her. “Are you going to allow it?”
“Yes,” answered Kaya. “I wasn’t going to, and there’s still a part of me that feels like this is too much, too fast. But you should have seen them tonight. When I told Ami I wanted her to wait, she fought me. I shouldn’t be happy about that. I should be even less happy that it’s Makoto’s influence that led to it. But it feels almost good to see something akin to a little teenage rebellion in her finally.” She sighed and turned to Ken, worry marring her features. Quietly she asked, “Did I make a mistake?”
Ken reached over and placed a hand on Kaya’s back. He began stoking gently as he said, “I can’t answer that for you. But I can say that I know you well enough to know that you don’t make decisions lightly and that you always have a good reason for what you do.”
“Makoto was very honest with me about things when we talked,” replied Kaya after several seconds of thought. She leaned back and let her head fall against the top of the couch. “I think she was a lonely child who grew into a confused teenager. While I’d prefer her confusion didn’t involve my daughter, I do think she’s begun to deal with it in a healthy manner. And while I may have initially been concerned about her motives, I believe her when she says she loves Ami. I told you before I thought Makoto seemed very protective of her. That’s still there, and I can see it even more clearly than before. It makes me trust her, even if I do have a few concerns with it all. But they have a chance to make this work for them. I don’t want to be the one that takes that chance away. And as long as we’re all on good terms with things, I can be there to keep an eye on them. Make sure Ami doesn’t make the same mistakes I did.”
A slow smile began to form on Kaya’s lips. “I remember once, when Ami was a little girl, she told me that when she grew up she wanted a large family with lots of children. At the time, I took it as a veiled request for siblings. However she meant it, it looks like that’s what she’s getting now,” said Kaya as she sat forward and turned on the couch so she was facing Ken. She held her hands up in front of her, about two inches apart. “Because the way I figure it, one little version of Makoto is going to be the equivalent of about three of any other child.” She laughed lightly as she moved her hands further apart. “They’re going to have their hands full with that little boy. And Ami is completely wrapped up in being his mother.”
At that, an odd looked crossed Kaya’s face. It was if she’d just remembered something or realized some detail and it had left her seemingly confused. Slowly, she said, “My little girl is going to be someone’s mother. In a few months she’s going to have a son, and I’m going to be that child’s grandmother.” Kaya closed her eyes and shook her head slightly, a hand coming up to rub at her temple. “Never mind what I said about Ami being too young for all of this. I’m too young for this. I’m only 43. I can’t be someone’s grandmother.”
A deep chuckle greeted her actions, and Kaya opened one eye partway to glare at the man sitting across from her.
“Uh, hello, Mr. Sensitive,” said Kaya through a scowl. “This isn’t the part where you start laughing at me. This is the part where you take me in your arms and tell me I’m overreacting and that I am most definitely not old.”
Ken’s smile widened as he reached forward to pull Kaya against him. “Better?” he asked as she settled against his chest.
“Much,” she answered.
“Now let’s see,” he teased. “I’ve been told this is where I’m supposed to tell you you’re overreacting. Experience, however, leads me to believe that would be a bad move. So, instead,” said Ken as he put a finger under Kaya’s chin and tilted her head so she was looking up at him, “I’m just going to say that you aren’t old. Even if you were, you’d still be the most beautiful woman I know.” He leaned down and kissed her lips softly.
They parted, each wearing a happy grin. Kaya turned and lay back so her head was resting in Ken’s lap. As Ken adjusted slightly and rested his feet up on the coffee table, Kaya took one of his hands in hers. She spent several minutes just playing with his hand, matching their palms together, twining and untwining their fingers.
Finally, she wondered absently, “I wonder if this is how my mother felt when I put her through all of this? I should give my parents a call; let them know what’s going on. I’m honestly not sure how they’re going to take it, and it will be easier on Ami if I break it to them first. You know, I think I know, now, why my mom laughed when she found out I’d had a girl. ‘She’s going to be just like you,’” said Kaya with a chuckle as she remembered that moment.
Ken looked down at her, glad to see her smiling, and brought her hands up to his lips. He kissed them lightly, and when Kaya turned her smile solely to him, he said quietly, “Marry me.”
Kaya sighed almost wearily and shook her head at the old proposal. “I can only handle one life-crisis at a time, Ken. And today my daughter beat you to it.”
His free hand stroking the hair that framed Kaya’s face, Ken replied, “All right, you get off the hook this time. But I’m going to get you to say yes one of these days, Mizuno Kaya. You haven’t got any more excuses.”
“She hasn’t moved out yet,” replied Kaya. Then, changing moods, she said cloyingly as she began playing with the buttons on the front of Ken’s shirt, “Speaking of Ami moving, do you have any plans for next Sunday?”
“Nothing concrete,” answered Ken.
“Would right now be a very bad time to ask for a favor?”
Ken pushed a lock of hair behind Kaya’s ear. “You can ask,” he said.
“Well, the girls have planned the move for next Sunday,” began Kaya. “Now, far be it from me to ever tell them they can’t do something simply because they’re female. In all honesty, though, they’re a bunch of girls, and they can’t move an entire apartment by themselves. I considered hiring someone to help, but I’m afraid Makoto would see it more as interference and lack of trust than anything helpful. She’s very proud, and they’ve planned everything out very carefully. I don’t want to step on any toes this early in the game.
“So I was thinking,” went on Kaya as she continued to toy with the front of Ken’s shirt, “if you offered to help me move Ami’s things over to the new apartment, when we got there you could very gallantly offer to help move some of the other things as well. I figure between you and Haruka we should be able to get most of the heavier furniture moved. The rest of the girls can handle everything else. Except for Makoto, of course. She can’t lift anything heavier than a shoebox, and she won’t even be doing that if Ami has her way.”
Ken thought for a second, then said, “All right, I’ll help. But on one condition.”
Kaya looked at him suspiciously. “And that would be?”
“Go away with me for a few days.” He put a finger to her lips to stop the protest he saw coming. “I know you have the time, Kaya. You need to take a real vacation, one that has nothing to do with any kind of work. The girls can last a few days without you. And believe it or not, so can the hospital.” He smirked at the look that got him, and pushed forward. “So, sometime in the next six months, you have to take a vacation with me. That, or you’ll be lifting furniture by yourself next weekend.”
Kaya nipped playfully at the finger resting on her lips. “Fine,” she answered. “But not until I’m certain the girls are properly settled in.”
Ken nodded his agreement. “That’s all I’m asking, Love.”
Admitting a small defeat, but not minding at all, Kaya resettled herself as Ken’s fingers continued to move gently through her hair. Her eyes were beginning to droop when she noticed the novel lying beside Ken’s feet. She hadn’t seen the title when he’d met her at the door, but now that she could, her interest was piqued.
“When did you pick this up?” asked Kaya as she reached over and picked up the book. “I thought the new one didn’t come out until next week.”
“Got it on the way home tonight,” answered Ken. “Looks like it’s going to be even more twisted than the last one, if you can believe that.”
Kaya smiled at him sweetly. “I don’t suppose I could convince you start over again, could I?”
“Possibly,” replied Ken.
“How about if I throw in some hot chocolate?”
“Then I can’t refuse.”
“Great,” said Kaya as she got up off the couch. “I’ll make the hot chocolate. You go get comfortable. And since it’s my turn to read first, I’ll just hold on to this.”
Ken chuckled as Kaya hurried off with his novel. Before retiring to the bedroom, he listened for a moment as Kaya puttered around in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinet doors and fixing the kettle to boil water. The knowledge of her presence alone left him with a warm and comfortable feeling, and if he could only have her for a night at a time, then he would be happy with that. But one of these days he was going to convince her that a more permanent arrangement was better for both of them, regardless of schedules, families, or past mistakes.