The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 17: Fairy Tales for the Modern Girl, part 2 ~
Kaya finished sorting through one box and replaced its lid before moving it to the far side of the attic. She lifted another box and took it back over to the small stepstool she was using as a chair. Kaya smiled as she wiped the dust away from the faded ink on the lid. ‘Ami – Four Years Old’ was written there in her own neat print.
The box’s lid was lifted and set to the side as Kaya looked down into the memories she had of her daughter. This box held things similar to the three others she’d spent the most time going through this morning. A photo album, the first picture in it a shot of Ami standing next to a height marker on her fourth birthday, was the first thing she took from the box. She spent some time looking through the album before putting it aside and digging further into the box.
Some books Ami had favored but outgrown were lifted out and set apart with a growing collection of things Ami was to go through when she arrived later this afternoon. A folder of progress reports, award certificates, and other papers from the preschool Ami had started that year, along with a collection of crayon drawings and other small projects, were overlooked in favor of what Kaya could now see at the very bottom of the box.
Kaya lifted out the plastic bag and unzipped it, then carefully removed the pale blue silk. Letting the fabric fall to its full shape, she held the small kimono out in front of her and once again marveled over the intricate, dark blue and white stitching her grandmother had done as a present for her oldest, most beloved (and at the time only) great-grandchild.
“Were you ever really this small?” Kaya shook her head, then refolded the kimono and placed it back inside the box. “She can have all of this when she gets a bit older. But until then, I think she might like to have you back now,” she said as she picked up the stuffed animal that was beside the replaced kimono.
Kaya grinned at the little cow’s slightly worn face. Ami had carried it around with her everywhere for two years before finally abandoning it that year. And all because of a careless comment by her father.
It had been a fight just like all the others they’d found themselves having back then when they were left alone in the same room. He’d complained about all the time she was spending at the hospital. Then more about how inflexible and cold she’d become towards him because of it. She’d argued that he was spending just as much, if not more, time holed up at the lake “being creative,” and if her working was such a problem for him, then why didn’t he get a real job and help support them for once. Here he would have usually cursed at her, or slammed a door, or as he’d done more and more lately, he would have left for the night and gone off somewhere to wait for the sun to rise and Kaya to leave for work. The usual course of things had changed, however, as he brought Ami’s name into the argument instead.
“Whatever it is you’ve done to her,” he’d yelled as Kaya stood in front of him with her arms crossed over her chest, “you’ve completely killed her imagination! Four-year-olds are supposed to believe in magic and fairies and… and purple cows!” he’d thrown out as he waved a hand at the drawings of Ami’s stuffed cow sitting on the play table in the living room. “She sees the world in black and white and gets upset when she colors outside the lines. She’s barely even a child anymore, Kaya. Somehow, without ever being here, you’ve turned her into an over-analytical little version of you!”
Kaya had snapped then and lost her temper in a way she rarely did. In that moment of unbridled anger, she’d forgotten bedroom doors offered little in the way of soundproofing when your parents were going at each other’s throats in the next room.
Having more than a decade’s worth of perspective gave Kaya a better view of what had started that night. She could see now that by that point she and her husband had already left each other emotionally. Ami was the only thing keeping them both there. For all that her ex could be irresponsible and flighty, he had cared for their daughter. He’d needed an excuse so he could pack up and move on with no strings attached the way his free, artist’s spirit had been demanding.
That perspective, however, did little to ease the anger she felt at him for leaving Ami the way he had. In Kaya’s opinion, a few pretty pictures when he could be bothered to remember he had a child didn’t make for a real father. Besides, if he was going to disappear from their lives, Kaya would have preferred he do it completely. Ami’s smile was enough of a reminder of that one big failure. Ami, though, had just seemed happy to know her father was thinking of her, even if he couldn’t take the time to so much as write her a note and say he missed her.
Kaya smiled sadly at the little cow she held. “You were never a straight line, Ami. Your waves were just too subtle for your papa to recognize.” She sighed and put the stuffed animal into the box she was making for Ami. “I should have just married a nice, boring doctor the way Father wanted,” Kaya mumbled to herself. She couldn’t stop the small, reproachful laugh that thought produced in her. “Have to watch who I say that around. I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Mom!” came a call from downstairs.
“Up in the attic!” called Kaya back as she replaced the lid on the ‘Ami’ box and moved it to the side. “I’ll be down in just a minute!”
“That’s okay,” answered a nearing voice. “We’re coming up.”
Ami’s head appeared at the top of the fold-down ladder, and Kaya made a point of frowning at her. “Ami, don’t make that poor girl try and get up here.”
“It’s all right, Mizuno-san,” said Makoto, a smile in her voice. “I think I can still fit.”
“You know I didn’t mean it that way,” replied Kaya as Makoto followed Ami into the attic. “I just know that ladder isn’t the easiest thing to get up when you’re only bringing yourself. I don’t imagine it’s any easier when there’s someone else along for the ride.”
“What are you doing up here?” asked Ami.
Kaya stepped over to her and wiped the dust from her hands onto her jeans before giving Ami a hello hug. “With you going through your things the way you have this week, I got to thinking about all the stuff up here. Most of it was already in boxes when we lived in the old apartment, and I never opened it or went through any of it before we moved in here. Decided now would be a good time to give it a look through. Since you’re both up here, you might as well pull up some chairs. There should be a few over there under that cloth,” she said to Ami, pointing out the right direction. “Grab two and get comfortable. I have some things for you to look through.”
Ami nodded and went to get the chairs, curious as to what she would find up here today.
Kaya turned to Makoto and tentatively reached to embrace the girl. “You too,” she said. Then added, “And there’s no need to be so formal with me.” Pulling back, she saw the surprise she’d felt in the hug. “Now, I’m going to be nosey and intrusive for a moment. Any unusual aches or pains? I know this last week must have been stressful for you. Are you getting enough rest? You’re not pushing yourself too hard trying to get everything done, are you?”
Makoto grinned and shook her head. “Nobody will let me overdo it. So I’m okay and no real complaints. Thank you for asking, though, Miz… um… Kaya-san.”
“Don’t believe her, Mom,” interjected Ami from across the room where she was poking around in a box after having pulled out the chairs. “She isn’t complaining about it much, but her back has been bothering her for the last few days. And for the past couple of weeks she’s had a hard time sleeping through the night.”
Makoto frowned at Ami for ratting her out, a gesture which Ami blithely ignored. “Ami worries too much,” said Makoto in response. “I wake up because moving around has gotten awkward. I can’t roll over onto my stomach anymore and I still keep trying to in my sleep. Plus, I have a bad habit of falling asleep when we get home from school. I sleep too much, if anything.”
“What about your back?” asked Kaya, her tone switching from mother to doctor. “Where’s the pain and how bad is it?”
Makoto shifted a bit uncomfortably. “In the middle, I guess. It really isn’t that bad, though.”
“All right,” said Kaya, forcing herself to pull back. “It’s likely just due to the extra weight. Or possibly because you aren’t sleeping comfortably.” Then she stopped herself. “But, you’d know if you needed help, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be so stubborn as to not ask for it. Remember, there will never be another time when people will be so willing to do for you.”
Makoto nodded. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now that that’s out of the way, come have a seat. You just might enjoy some of this.”
* * *
Makoto pulled another photo from the box she was holding. Another first in the early life of Mizuno Ami was revealed, this one, much to Ami’s relief, not involving naked baby pictures.
In the photo, a very small Ami stood beside a pool, the child barely visible beneath all the gear piled onto her. Her face was covered by overly large goggles, a snorkel hanging off the side. Pink and white polka dotted swimmies were on each of her arms. An inner tube shaped like a dragon was held up around her waist, and her feet were clad in white flippers no child could have actually walked in. And, in a manner very similar to what the older version was doing now, little Ami held a stuffed cow plushie close to her and smiled.
“She was three years old,” said Kaya when she saw the picture. “My brother, Kyo, thought she was old enough to learn how to swim. So when we went up to visit, he decided not only was he going to teach her, he was also going to outfit her for the occasion. This would have been all well and good if it had been anyone other than Kyo.”
“I remember that,” said Ami. “Uncle Kyo taught me to swim in Grandfather’s pool. It went all right.”
“You were three, sweetheart,” said Kaya through a chuckle. “Your memory is faulty. Kyo’s idea of teaching you to swim involved throwing you in the deep end and hoping you could float long enough for whatever natural instincts you might have had to kick in. Kind of like the way birds push their young out of the nest and hope they learn to fly before they hit the ground.”
Makoto laughed and looked back and forth between Ami and her mother. “Did he really do that?”
“Yes,” grinned Ami. She had heard this story so many times over the years she began to wonder if what she remembered was her own memory or a combination of what she’d been told by her mother and uncles. Regardless, she knew her part in the telling of it here. “But he only did it because Uncle Seijuurou was waiting there to catch me. He wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”
Kaya huffed at that. “You have too much faith in what passes for your uncle’s common sense.”
A musical tone interrupted at that moment. Kaya took the cell phone from her belt clip, looked at the id screen, then answered, “Mizuno.” Hearing the voice on the other end, her seriousness evaporated to be replaced with a relaxed smile. “No, I’m at home,” she said as she got up and took a few steps away from the girls. “I didn’t even hear it. The girls are here. We’re up in the attic.”
Makoto turned her attention to Ami and the scrapbook the girl had just picked up from the box at her side. Kaya’s chuckle, however, pulled part of her attention to that conversation.
“There are windows at both ends,” said Kaya through a smile. “I think she’d find a way to escape.” Another pause and a nod. “It should be down in my office. Hold on a second.” She started to move the phone from her ear, but stopped and smirked at whatever was said. “ sharp. The plans are still the same.”
Kaya turned to the girls then. “I have to get a file from downstairs. I’ll be right back.”
Both girls nodded to her before she descended down the ladder.
When Kaya was out of sight, Makoto asked Ami, “What’s your mom doing at ?”
Ami smiled. “Giving herself more time than necessary to get my things loaded up I expect. I wonder if her friend realized how early a start Mom intended for them?”
That caught Makoto off guard. “Her friend?”
“Um hm,” answered Ami. “She said one of her friends offered to help her bring my things over to the apartment, since Mom’s car isn’t big enough for everything. It’s why she said not to bother trying to get over here in the morning.”
“She told someone what we were doing?”
Ami focused her full attention on Makoto, the scrapbook she’d been leafing through coming to rest against her knees. She tried to place what she heard in Makoto’s voice with what she could see in the girl’s eyes. There was surprise and some worry there, and creeping in, annoyance and anger.
“She told a friend I was moving,” said Ami levelly, keeping back her own storm of emotions until she had a clearer understanding of what she was seeing. “I don’t know what else might have been said. It bothers you, though, that she might have told someone, doesn’t it?”
Makoto looked away and fidgeted with the tabbed and indexed photobox on her lap. “No, of course not,” she answered, the reply sounding less than sure. “I just didn’t think it was the kind of thing she’d want to tell people.” Then, in a bid to change the subject, nodded towards Ami’s feet. “You dropped something.”
Not taking the bait, Ami refused to look away. “Mako-chan…” she stared, but was cut off as Makoto leaned forward.
Moving a bit awkwardly, Makoto reached forward and snagged the paper that had fallen out of the scrapbook. She made a show of unfolding it, then looked intently at the picture drawn on it. After several seconds of study, a grin of admiration for the artist appeared on her face, and she held it up for Ami to see.
Ami took the picture that was held out to her. “It’s my mom. I’ve never seen this before.”
In the pencil sketch, Kaya’s hair fell long and wavy around her shoulders rather than in the short bob she wore it in now. While she was certainly attractive in the present, the face in the sketch was younger and appeared more carefree than Makoto had ever seen the more mature version. Makoto looked from the portrait to Ami and back again. The two were almost identical, the biggest difference at the moment being the smile Kaya’s image so easily wore.
Wanting the smile back on Ami’s face, Makoto lifted a hand and ran her fingers along the edges of Ami’s hair. “She’s really pretty in this drawing. You know, if your hair was longer, you’d look just like her.”
Ami understood the gesture and smiled shyly, allowing her questions to drop for the time being. “People say that, but I don’t see it. Except for maybe my eyes. We all have the same eyes on my mom’s side of the family.” She pointed to a set of initials and a date in the corner of the paper. “My dad drew this. I think this is around the time when they first met.”
“What is?” asked Kaya as she came back up the ladder.
Ami hesitated for a moment, then handed the drawing to her mother.
Kaya’s expression remained impassive. “Hmmm, now this is something I haven’t seen in a very long time. You’re right when you say this is when we first met,” she said as she handed it back to Ami, then reclaimed her seat. “It was the first day, actually. Your papa would sit in the park or on street corners and draw the people he could snag going by. It was how he tried to sell his work back then. I just happened to be at the park that day with a few friends. I was 22, spring was in full bloom, and he had the most incredible smile. Not to mention he was the epitome of everything my father hated about my generation.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Kaya’s mouth, and Makoto was surprised to see a glint of mischief in her blue eyes. Then Kaya shook her head slightly and sighed.
“That was a long time ago, though,” she said. “You can keep that if you want. I didn’t even realize I still had it.”
“Thank you,” answered Ami.
Kaya nodded. “So, do you two have any plans for the rest of the night?”
“We’re staying in tonight,” replied Ami. Then, realizing how that might sound to her mother, amended with a blush, “To make sure we have everything ready for tomorrow.”
Makoto chuckled quietly, then added, “Take-out, a couple cartons of ice cream, and some sappy old romances in the VCR. We thought that sounded like a good plan, even if the apartment is practically nothing but boxes.”
Kaya agreed and thought to herself
it would be nice if the good women of
* * *
The restaurant was only a block away from the apartment. Most nights it wasn’t too crowded, being more of a place to get good take-out, and the atmosphere was always low key and pleasant. Makoto thought this would be a good place to bring Ami on a date, maybe in a few weeks when things had settled down. The thought amused her as she realized they were doing things backwards in a sense, moving in together and having a baby before they’d even had a real first date.
Inside the restaurant, Makoto placed the order and went back to stand beside Ami in the waiting area. The dining area was nearly full tonight, the Valentine’s special being a big draw. It was the sort of thing that was just a bit silly, but romantic enough that it appealed to the younger crowd, especially those who couldn’t afford the fancier restaurants, but still wanted to do something nice for their sweethearts. Makoto was just glad that, now that she had someone to share it with, the novelty of heart shaped pizza hadn’t worn off.
Ami smiled at her as Makoto came over and leaned against the wall beside her. Makoto’s hands were pushed into her jacket pockets as she said it would take 15 minutes for their order to be ready. Ami nodded, then let her eyes drift shut as she listened to the soft piano music that filtered through the place. She was pleasantly surprised a few minutes later, when an arm gently nudged her away from the wall enough to rest across her shoulders. Feeling pleasantly warm, Ami leaned into Makoto’s side.
Some minutes passed with the two of them just standing there together when Ami felt Makoto’s posture tense. She was about to ask if Makoto was uncomfortable standing there and would she rather sit, when the arm that was draped over her shoulders was quickly removed. Ami looked up at her girlfriend and saw, then, the real source of Makoto’s discomfort. She frowned, both because of the teenagers seated inside who had noticed them and started whispering, and at Makoto for allowing it to bother her so much.
That same feeling of annoyance Ami had felt earlier reemerged. She took a breath and, feeling a small surge of defiance, leaned back against Makoto’s side.
“Ami,” said Makoto quietly as she tried to move away, “there’s people from school.”
Keeping her voice low and level, Ami answered, “I saw them. I don’t particularly care, though it’s obvious you do. Why? I asked you before, and I want an answer this time. Because you were the one who said we needed to tell people.”
“I said we had to tell our friends, because we couldn’t hide it from them, and your mom for a whole lot of other reasons,” shot back Makoto, her voice rising. “I never said anything about telling anyone else.”
A loud cough got the girls attention. It was then that Ami realized the white noise of conversation in the waiting area had disappeared, as several pairs of eyes watched her and Makoto. Wishing she could melt into the wall, Ami let Makoto go to get the pizza box and bag from the man behind the counter. Ami couldn’t help but wonder if that was really their order up, or if it was just a way to get them to leave more quickly.
The walk back to the apartment was short and silent. Once inside, Makoto went into the kitchen and placed the pizza box on the counter, throwing her jacket roughly over the back of a chair. Without saying a word, she began to set out the paper plates and plastic utensils that sat in a pile on the breakfast counter.
Ami followed after her, setting the bag of salad and breadsticks on the counter beside the pizza. She stood and watched for a moment, arms crossed and waiting to see if Makoto would say anything. When she didn’t, Ami said calmly, “I want to talk. Now.”
Makoto tensed, her hands stilling in their task. Facing Ami, she said, “Why? I’d think you’d be glad I don’t want a bunch of people in our business. After all, you’re the one who always hates it when people pay too much attention to her.”
Ami felt a small stab of hurt at that, her expression becoming more stoic as a result. It was an expression her friends had learned to interpret as the higher end of her emotions, the measured tone of her voice when she spoke lending more to it. “I admit that a great deal of undue attention makes me a bit nervous. However, I don’t expect you to do anything that would garner such a thing, such as, say, standing in the street and declaring to all and sundry what we do when we’re alone. Neither do I expect you to deliberately try and hide the fact that we are together or the fact that there are certain things that we may choose to do as a result of that.”
“I’m not hiding anything!”
“You are!” threw back Ami. Her arms tightened together as she tried to reign herself in. “You deliberately pulled back,” she said, her voice louder than usual, but still not quite a shout. “When you saw that group from school and realized you knew them, you pulled away from me. Even after everything we’ve done, you’re still ashamed of it and embarrassed to have other people find out.”
“I’m not!” Makoto yelled back. “If that were it, then I wouldn’t even be standing here with you.”
“Then what is it? Because from where I’m standing, that’s how it looks. And if that’s really the way you feel, then this isn’t going to work. We can’t live like that. I won’t.”
For a moment, Makoto just stood there, the storm raging in her eyes, her breathing heavy. Then she turned and walked away.
Ami blinked in confusion. Makoto was at the kitchen door when Ami’s brain kicked back in and she started to follow her. “Mako-chan, where are you going? Wait!”
Makoto kept moving, maneuvering around boxes in a less than graceful manner. “You want to leave? Fine. Go ahead and leave,” she said without turning around or stopping.
Makoto’s slower movement gave Ami an advantage. Before Makoto could make it to the hall and, presumably, the bedroom, Ami was able to get close enough to snag the back of her shirt and stop her. “Mako-chan, stop. I never said anything about wanting to leave.”
Moving around in front of Makoto, Ami stood and blocked the girl from going any further. There was only one lamp left working in the livingroom, and in the dim, shadowy light, Ami could see a shine in Makoto’s eyes. Slowly, she reached up and touched Makoto’s cheek, her thumb moving carefully under Makoto’s eye, wiping away tears that would never fall.
“I don’t want to leave, Mako-chan,” said Ami softly. “I want you to talk to me. I also want you to stop being so concerned about how it looks to everyone else. I know it hurts sometimes, hearing things you were never meant to from people who know nothing about you. I also know how hard it can be to just keep walking and pretend you didn’t hear it or that none of it bothers you. But you said it yourself. We’ll never fit into most people’s definition of normal. That doesn’t make us any less or any more, it just makes us us. We are a good thing, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Remember, how you see us is how others will come to see us. Most importantly, it’s how he’ll come to see us,” she finished as she laid a hand on Makoto’s stomach.
Makoto swallowed hard, her stance relaxing a bit. “You know I love you. I meant that. And I’m not ashamed of you.”
“I know. And I love you, too.”
Makoto reached forward and pulled Ami to her. “Pizza’s probably cold by now.”
Ami grinned. “You’re not getting out of things that easily, Mako-chan. We still need to have a real discussion about this.”
“Later, okay. Right now, I’m just tired and hungry.”
“All right,” relented Ami. “We could heat it up in the oven. That wouldn’t take too long.”
“We’d have to dig out a pan and a potholder. It’d be too much trouble.”
Ami pulled away and walked over to a stack of boxes. She looked for a few seconds, then smiled. Tapping the middle box, she said, “Kitchen: Pots and Pans. The potholders should be in one of the boxes over there, in Kitchen: Misc.”
Makoto shook her head and chuckled. “I swear never to make fun of your organizational system ever again.”
* * *
When they’d done it last night, Makoto had questioned why Rei and Ami were moving the television into the bedroom. It had seemed to her to defeat the whole purpose of getting everything cleared out of the room, which was the main reason they were all there. Now, she was glad they had. The livingroom, with its bare walls, shadowy light, and stacks of boxes, felt too depressing and cluttered. The bedroom wasn’t much better, the lack of knickknacks, houseplants, and curtains to cover the plain, vinyl shades making the room feel unlived in. But at least here they had more room to move.
In bed, Makoto rested comfortably back against Ami. Ami’s attention was focused on the television, where the appropriately hunky hero ran through the streets in the rain in an effort to keep his one-and-only from leaving town. Makoto’s attention, however, was focused on her pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream and thoughts of her own one-and-only.
Makoto knew Ami was feeing hurt by what had happened at the restaurant. She also knew that Ami expected an explanation beyond what they’d already talked about. However, Makoto was having a hard time coming up with one she could satisfy herself with. Saying she was still uncomfortable with people knowing about her didn’t seem like enough. It felt just as inadequate to say it wasn’t so much the strangers, but the near strangers, the ones she had to interact with everyday, that made her feel the most uneasy. Plus, she had no idea how to explain the twinge of panic she felt over everything without making is seem like she doubted Ami and their relationship.
A small hitch from the girl behind her knocked Makoto’s attention back fully to Ami. Ami was wiping at her eyes as the hero in the movie held his beloved in the glow of the taxi lights and declared his undying love in the middle of a torrential downpour. Makoto grinned. Never let it be said there was a greater romantic then her blue haired genius. The girl was a sap addict, whether she would admit it or not.
Makoto scraped out the remainder of her ice cream and held the spoon up to Ami’s mouth.
Ami sniffled, then wrapped her lips around the offered spoon.
Bringing the spoon back down, Makoto set it in the empty container. “Well, that’s the end of that.”
Ami leaned her head forward a bit to look over Makoto’s shoulder, then reached towards the nightstand and her pint of mint chip. “Do you want what’s left of mine? It’s a bit melted, though.”
“No thanks,” answered Makoto. Then, handing the empty container to Ami, “Put this over there for me, would you?”
Ami nodded and set the container on the nightstand alongside hers. The ice cream now out of the way, she wrapped her arms around Makoto’s shoulders in a hug. “If we want to watch another movie, one of us is going to have to move,” she said, leaning in close to Makoto’s ear, and then kissing it lightly.
She didn’t want to move, not ever. Makoto wanted only to stay here where Ami was touching her and kissing her and loving her. Where Ami just was. Maybe tomorrow she’d be able to explain it better. Somehow, things always seemed clearer in the morning.