Chasing Life With You (Chapter 9)

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Several days passed with nothing in particular of note. I ate, slept, walked around the garden, and went on my phone and computer; Tadashi and Katsumi cooked, cleaned, and played music. I relaxed into this lifestyle in a pretty passive way. It was slow and leisurely, like a dream retirement. But of course, it couldn’t always be that way. On my seventh day at Katsumi’s family home, several things happened that would almost entirely change the course of that whole summer.

I woke up that morning to the sound of Katsumi’s screams. They weren’t the crazed, shocked, hysterical type of scream – his voice was full-throated, terrified, and, for lack of a better word, tragic. If I could make up some kind of story about it, it was like he had just come across a serial killer standing over the body of his one true love, bloody knife still in hand. Katsumi turned and ran, and the serial killer chased him. It was that kind of scream.

I bolted out of bed, my heart pounding, and ran into the hallway. The other bedroom door was still closed; I banged on it worriedly. “Katsumi?” I yelled. “Tadashi? What’s going on?”

Nobody answered. I tried the door and found it locked, and resigned myself to shifting back-and-forth in front of it, agitated. What could be happening in there? My storyteller’s imagination went wild, and I choked on my own thoughts. Katsumi went on and on; Tadashi started yelling over him, his words entirely incomprehensible. Nearly a full minute later, the screams and shouts finally abated, and the house was plunged into a deafening silence.

“Hello?” I asked hesitantly.

A few moments passed, and then Tadashi came to the door. He opened it just a crack and looked out at me. His eyes were charged, his expression unreadable; he was shirtless – both of us obviously just out of bed, though I had slept in thin pajamas – and his long blond hair ran messily down his shoulders. For a moment he just met my gaze, his mouth slightly open, struggling to find words. He glanced over his shoulder, defeated, then turned to me again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Everyone’s fine. Hold on and I’ll tell you about it later. Just… go downstairs or something.”

Then he pulled back and closed the door, basically in my face, without saying another word. I was shocked. I swallowed the response I hadn’t finished forming, mechanically went to wash up in the bathroom, and then plodded down the stairs, stunned into obedience. I crashed on the couch, checked the time on my phone – just barely 6:30 – and closed my eyes.

Tadashi came down some fifteen minutes later. He had washed his face, brushed his hair, and changed into a navy blue short-sleeve button-up and chino shorts. He glanced at me almost absently, poured himself a tall glass of water, and chugged it. Then he came over and sat next to me.

“Morning,” he said casually.

“Morning,” I replied, my own voice still slow and tense.

“Woke you up?”

“Yeah.”

“Scared you?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry about that.”

I shook my head. “What happened?”

“Um… Well, first of all, Katsu had a bad dream.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. But… it wasn’t just a normal nightmare.”

I blinked, surprised. “What do you mean?”

Tadashi was calm and serious. “Chas, you can believe me or not, I’m just going to tell you things as they are, okay?”

“Okay…”

“Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes Katsumi has prophetic dreams.”

I thought about that for a minute. “You mean, like, he sees the future?”

“Yeah, well, not exactly. His dreams are usually of events that are going to happen in the future, but when he wakes up, he rarely remembers them. He just hangs on to bits and pieces, so it’s like a preview, like a movie trailer or something. And later when the event actually happens, the whole dream comes back to him.”

“Uh-huh… So you’re saying Katsumi had a prophetic nightmare this morning?”

Tadashi nodded. “I think so.”

“What was it about?”

“That’s the thing… he won’t tell me.”

I frowned. “Does he normally?”

“Yeah. That’s why I believe that sometimes his dreams are prophetic, because usually when he wakes up he’ll immediately tell me what he remembers, and then later on we’ll both experience the real thing. But today, for some reason, he isn’t telling me what his dream was about, and that worries me.”

He paused and studied my face. “Do you believe me, Chas?”

“That Katsumi has prophetic dreams? Sure.”

“Really?”

I shrugged. “It’s not that crazy. Stories about people who are like that are pretty common. And you aren’t the kind of person who would just go around saying things without having really thought about and analyzed them – so if you believe it, I believe it.”

“Okay,” he said, sounding relieved.

“Is he okay now? Katsumi? His screaming was really something.”

Tadashi nodded. “I haven’t heard him scream like that in a long time… when he woke up he just kind of sat on the bed for a while, not looking at me, not talking. I went to wash up in the bathroom, and when I came back he stood up and went into the bathroom after me. He’s taking a shower right now. I think he’ll be okay, but I have no idea how he’s gonna behave today, especially with you, so…”

“I’ll keep my distance unless you’re there,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I wish he would tell me what that dream was about…” he murmured with a quiet sigh. “Anyway, are you hungry? I’ll make something.”

He got up without waiting for my answer and wandered into the kitchen. I stared after him wonderingly, then sank back into the couch and closed my eyes again.

It’s too early for this, I thought. But I guess it’s too late to go back to sleep.

And so it was that we got a headstart on that fateful seventh day.


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Chasing Life With You (Chapter 8)

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Previous: Chapter 7

Next: Chapter 9


Lunch came and went, and in the early afternoon I settled back down onto the living room couch, browsing aimlessly on my computer. Nothing in particular aroused my interest – I was just wasting time. I do that a lot. Meanwhile, Tadashi and Katsumi cleaned up the kitchen and then vanished up the stairs one after another. I checked out the blogs and social media feeds of a few celebrities I like, and then spent half an hour on a pointless online word game.

Just as I was finishing that up and wondering what I should do next, the sound of electric guitars came blaring from the studio upstairs. I closed my browser, raised my head slightly, and listened to Tadashi’s swift, skilled tuning. First he did one guitar all on its own, and then he picked up the second one and tuned it to the first. I found out a while later that he has perfect pitch – no surprise there. Even without that trait, he’s always had exceptionally good hearing. Relaxed on the couch, I closed my eyes and waited for the two guitarists to start playing something.

As the days went by I’d learn to differentiate the sounds and styles of the guitars and figure out who was playing what, but for the time being I just accepted the music as it was, with no names attached. They warmed up for a few minutes, one of them running through some scales, the other playing an exceptionally fast, complicated melody. Katsumi tested out his voice, too. After this was a short pause; then they launched freely into a song. For this piece, there was some prerecorded drumming going on in the background, and Tadashi contributed no backing vocals. I listened with intense curiosity. The pace was faster than the song I’d heard last night, and the rhythm was far more complex; the guitar solos were spaced well apart with some kind of interlude between them, and in a lot of places the two guitarists were playing entirely different rhythms laid on top of each other. Last night’s piece had certainly impressed me, but this one captured my attention in a very different way.

And what about the lyrics? Even though he was all miked up and belting soulfully, I didn’t really catch Katsumi’s voice all that well, so I couldn’t really tell what the song was about. But, guessing just from the tone and melodies, it was certainly on the rougher side. The song they’d played the night before had been more of a soft, introspective, heart-wrenching ballad; this one, on the other hand, made me want to get up and take action, to get in a fight with someone over something I found worth fighting for – at least that’s how I imagined it.

Suddenly inspired, I opened up a new document on my laptop and wrote down my impressions of the song. Maybe, I thought, writing about music wouldn’t be so bad after all. I just had to learn the terminology, get to know the artists, listen to the songs more, and it would be just like any other article… right? And if the music was like this, like what Tadashi and Katsumi had just played, I might even be able to enjoy it.

Before they could start on their next song, I bolted upstairs and poked my head into the studio. There was an intimidating mess of instruments and equipment everywhere. Katsumi, who was adjusting his headset and monitors, saw me and gave Tadashi a surprised, somewhat perplexed look; my friend glanced over his shoulder, met my gaze, and smiled.

“Hey,” he said, turning to face me. He muted his guitar with one hand while brushing back his hair with the other. “You been listening?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said embarrassedly.

“That’s okay. What’s up?”

“You said you release your music digitally, right? Is there like a website or something? I have no idea how that kind of thing works…”

Tadashi grinned. “I’ll set you up with it after dinner, okay? Just remind me, in case I forget.”

“Okay, thanks. Also… can I stay and watch?”

He looked at Katsumi; the black-haired musician shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

“We’re just running through some of our old songs right now,” Tadashi explained to me, “so it’s probably a good time for you to listen in, too.”

“Is it okay if I bring my computer and write down my impressions of the songs?” I asked.

Katsumi scratched his head. “Yeah, whatever, but probably best if you don’t publish it – especially not for a real article.”

“Better if you talk to our manager first for stuff like that,” Tadashi clarified. “Otherwise she’s going to give you some trouble for it.”

“Okay, I won’t,” I promised.

I brought up my computer, crashed on the floor in a corner of the studio, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching, listening, and writing.

The two played on for hours without paying much attention to me, a behavior which I appreciated. I wanted to observe everything as it was, without interfering or changing it. The notes I made were nothing special – there was nothing you could describe as technical, no professional evaluation or criticism. I just jotted down how each song made me feel, and that was about it. But I would later come to believe that this kind of emotional, surface-level writing was just as important, and in some ways just as valuable, as the real thing you might find in a music magazine.

While listening, I observed their instruments and the equipment they used, trying to learn as much as possible. Having had no background in music, especially not of this kind, I was basically starting from scratch. It was like catching a glimpse of what life was like in a different universe. Tadashi would eventually explain everything to me properly, but for the time being I just tried to soak everything in.

I wasn’t at all sure why I was suddenly interested in their music. Maybe it was because it was my old school friend making it. Maybe it was because I was living in the same house with them. Maybe there was something special about their songs. I really hadn’t a clue. But whatever the reason, I knew in my heart that this was what I’d been searching for when I had started asking around for a summer place in the countryside – I needed cleansing, emotional and physical; I needed to jumpstart my stagnant life; and I needed writing inspiration. And here it all was.

The guitars, the lake, the people – everything was perfect.

After a few hours of on-and-off playing, Tadashi left to start prepping dinner. Katsumi fell back onto a chair and rested. He was breathing a little hard, but it seemed like he’d had a good time. His voice had come out well, I thought. I made no attempt to strike up a conversation, wondering how hard it must be to sing.

After a few quiet minutes he faced me and asked, “How was it?”

“Great,” I replied.

“Yeah?”

To be honest, I was still slightly wary of being alone with Katsumi. Sometimes he would be casual, sometimes he’d be just as friendly as Tadashi, and other times he’d be too friendly – as I mentioned, wild. But I was slowly getting used to these changes in his mood. I imagined the surface of the ocean, sprawling from horizon to horizon; sometimes it would be stormy and surging, sometimes the shifting waves would be of an average, expected size and shape, and other times the sea would be calm and still. Right now, tired as he was, and having loosened up with an afternoon of music, he seemed pretty relaxed. So I wasn’t too worried about having a conversation alone with him like this.

The worst times to catch him, I’d eventually learn, were either late at night or, in the event he hadn’t slept well, early in the morning. During the day, especially when he was with Tadashi, he was generally pretty tame.

“So you like our music?” he asked.

“I like it a lot,” I admitted. “More than I thought I would.”

“Anything in particular about it that you like?”

I thought about it. “Your vocals… when the two of you sing together. Two human voices singing together, that sound is really powerful, I feel. And you make good use of it. Also, just your personalities, the way they come out in your guitar playing… and the variety of style. The way you sometimes use recorded backing tracks, and other times play alone, that kind of thing. It keeps it really interesting. Each song is different and incredibly unique… that’s new to me. Most of the stuff I hear on the radio or in stores just all sounds the same. So I like the creative, artistic drive behind your music, it’s refreshing.”

“As expected of a writer,” Katsumi said. “You think carefully and speak meaningfully. I like it.”

I flushed. “What’s that?”

“Most people will just say ‘the melody is really catchy’ or ‘your voice sounds good.’ I like the way you think about it and really detail what you like and why it matters.”

“Oh… well…”

“That’s one of the reasons why I like artists,” he said. “They’re sensitive to this kind of thing, and they care about it.”

Artists…

I learned a lot that summer. About Tadashi, about music, about life – but also about myself.


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Next: Chapter 9

Taiga (Chapter 6)

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Now, don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like Taiga gave me this magical speech and immediately I became a good person. Something about his words tugged at me, that’s all, and I decided to go to one of my classes that afternoon for no other reason than I suddenly felt like it. I didn’t think all that much about Taiga’s lecture, I didn’t start contemplating morals or ethics or the sad state of my life at that moment. I just went.

It was a history class that I had signed up for, as I mentioned earlier, just to meet the minimum unit requirement to stay enrolled. You might be wondering why I even bothered to apply to college in the first place. I didn’t have much idea about that, either. But from the beginning, I’d been told that going to college after high school was just the thing to do, so I just went and did it. This has been a pretty common pattern in my life: I just go and do things, without really thinking about them.

Anyway, this particular class turned out to be a sweeping overview of world history – go figure – and on this day that I attended, the professor was talking about imperialism. I arrived to the lecture hall a bit late and sat in an empty seat in the back row near the door. All the students around me were taking notes; I didn’t even have a pencil to write with, let alone paper to write on, so I just watched and listened.

Did I know anything about imperialism prior to this lecture? No, not really. And I didn’t care to hear about it. But I was there, and the professor’s voice was loud, so I couldn’t help anything. She went on and on about imperialism and capitalism and their definitions and their impacts on human history, and somehow, for some reason, I actually paid attention. Maybe the alcohol had jacked up my brain.

After the class, as I was slowly making my way back to the dorm, I spotted one of the guys from the train gang – not the leader, just some other dude – walking toward me. I don’t think he actually saw me, since he was staring down at his phone the whole time, but just to be safe I ducked into the closest building and took an incredibly roundabout way home. I didn’t want to talk about that whole incident with anyone, let alone one of the guys who had almost killed me.

I arrived at our suite some thirty minutes later and found it empty. Taiga and Isabella had cooked, eaten, and left without me, as usual – not because they didn’t want to spend time with me, but because I never wanted to spend time with them. Anyway, I was glad they were gone. I took off my jacket, threw it on a chair in the kitchen, and checked the fridge to see if there was anything I could eat. There was a new bowl of curry rice, still slightly warm; I glanced at the dish rack and saw two similar bowls, empty. I heated up the curry some more in the microwave and settled down for a delicious lunch.

Isabella didn’t always cook for me. Most days I’d eat out somewhere or just have something stupid like cup noodles, or else I wouldn’t eat at all. But occasionally, she or Taiga would leave some leftovers in the fridge, and I’d just take it without asking. They never said a word. Sometimes, I suspected, they purposely left food for me – like when the leftovers would sit in the fridge untouched for a few days, or if there were a lot of leftovers for a meal that really shouldn’t have been a problem to just make two portions. I couldn’t comprehend for the life of me why they’d do that, but I didn’t think about it too much. I just took the food and ate it.

Taiga came back home before I’d finished eating. He saw me at the table, smiled, and went into our room without saying a word. I went on eating and watching pointless videos on my phone. After a few minutes he came back out to the kitchen wearing his work clothes.

“How’s the curry?” he asked.

“Um,” I said. “It’s good.”

“Not too spicy?”

“No.”

“Do you prefer your curry spicy or sweet?”

Slightly dumbfounded, I replied, “I don’t really care…”

Taiga nodded. “Isabella and I both like it pretty spicy, that’s why I was asking.”

I couldn’t fathom why he was making small talk with me. I just kind of nodded and mumbled along. He talked about curry for a little while longer, and then he said goodbye and headed off to work.

It occurred to me then that I had no idea what his internship even was. I’d never thought to ask. When it came down to it, I realized, I didn’t really know very much about him, or Isabella either. Back then, I didn’t know much about anyone at all – not even myself.

I finished my lunch, dumped the dishes in the sink, and almost instantly passed out on my bed. I figured there wasn’t anything better to do, anyway. I didn’t feel like searching for a party or hitting the streets, and it’s not like I was about to start my three weeks’ and four classes’ worth of homework. I napped for a few hours, woke up, went on my phone, and then rolled over and fell asleep again. By the time I finally pulled myself out of bed, it was nine o’clock at night. The world outside our window was dark and unforgivingly silent.

For a few minutes I leisurely paced around the room, waking myself up and trying to remember what I had been dreaming about. It had been a bad dream, that I knew, but I didn’t remember any single detail of it. And I hated that. That’s saying something, really. I didn’t have strong feelings about very many things, but I hated not remembering my nightmares with a gut-wrenching passion, and I still do. Something about it bothers me.

Eventually I gave up on my memory and went outside. Isabella was puttering around in the kitchen; she looked over at me, nodded without smiling, and went back to cleaning and washing dishes. Taiga was sitting at the table with his computer in front of him, an online textbook on one half of the screen and a note-taking application open on the other. He had early on taken up Isabella’s policy of not using paper unless absolutely necessary. He turned around in his seat to look at me, gave a slow, soft smile, and waited for me to say something.

“Hey,” I said awkwardly.

“Hey,” he replied.

“… I, uh, fell asleep…”

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “There’s some soup in the fridge.”

“Oh.”

“You can just cook some noodles to go with it.”

“Okay.”

He nodded, turned around, and resumed studying, and I went up next to Isabella and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. None of us said another word.


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Taiga (Chapter 5)

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Previous: Chapter 4

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When Taiga came back from his class, he found me on my feet, pacing around, struggling to outsmart Isabella while dealing with a throbbing headache. She wouldn’t let me out of the room – Taiga’s orders, but also her own – and I’d attempted practically everything short of violence in my wild desperation to leave. I didn’t want to face Taiga so soon, but it seemed Isabella would make sure of it.

He opened the door, looked at Isabella, looked at me, and smiled. That’s right – he looked at me and smiled. Ever graceful, he closed the door quietly behind him, took off his backpack, and set it on his chair. Then he took off his navy blue windbreaker and hung it up in his closet. I stared at him, waiting, wondering what he was going to say. Isabella vigilantly continued blocking my path to the door.

Taiga brushed back his hair with one hand, then nodded at Isabella. “Thank you, Issa.”

“My pleasure,” she replied.

They both stared at me. I was itching to leave – I couldn’t stand this strange tension, the air feeling like it would right before a great storm or earthquake, something unnatural getting ready to be released. Of course, it was all in my head, but that didn’t make it any less real to me. I just felt an overwhelming urge to run.

An animal – trapped in a cage, or cornered and on its way. That’s what I thought I was. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Taiga spoke softly at me. “How are you?”

There was no edge to his voice, no sense of anger or even disappointment. I shook my head slightly, confused at the question, but answered anyway.

“My head hurts.”

He nodded. “That’s how it is,” he replied simply.

“Why’d you come?” I asked.

“Why’d you go?” he countered.

I frowned. Taiga swept on before I could say anything else.

“It’s not any of my business what you do with your life,” he said. “You want to join a gang, spend your nights drunk and high and committing crimes, throw away any possibility of you being happy and content in the future, well, go ahead. That’s your prerogative.”

I nodded along with his words, growing more confused by the second. When I didn’t respond, he leaned toward me slightly, a gentle smile crossing his face.

“That’s what you think, right?” Taiga said.

I blinked. “Um. Yes?”

“That’s the problem,” he replied. “I think you’re wrong there. It is my business what you do with your life. And it’s your business what I do with mine. You’re human, aren’t you? And we all know humans are social animals. See, whatever you choose to do with your life affects me, and Isabella, and everyone else around you – even the family you claim to hate, the family you claim hates you in return. What do you think will happen if you get yourself killed? You think the world will just keep spinning, time will just keep flowing, all these people will just keep living as if nothing ever happened? Because if you do, you’re wrong. Human life doesn’t work that way.”

I tried to cut in, but he raised a hand and continued on.

“And what if you, in one of your criminal sprees or drunken antics, end up killing someone else? Accidental or not, you stole someone’s life away. You think the universe isn’t going to care? Listen, I’m not going on about karma or anything religious – these are basic fundamentals of human existence. We all have a responsibility towards each other, can’t you see?”

I stared at him. After a moment he sighed and looked away.

“You can go now,” Taiga said. “I just wanted to talk to you. Just think about that, okay?”

He turned to Isabella, his speech apparently over, his tone lightening. “What’s for lunch?”

“Oh, I was thinking some kind of stew or curry,” she replied. “Let me go see what we have in the fridge.”

“Sounds good. I’ll help. I don’t have work until three.” He glanced at me, smiled, and then followed Isabella out to the kitchen.

Alone in the room, I found my urge to run away had vanished. I sat back on my bed, tired, drained. My head hurt for more reasons than one. I drank some more water and then laid back and closed my eyes. Gazing into the internal blackness, I thought about nothing – I just breathed. In, out; in, out. Some kind of weird meditation, I guess. It actually relaxed me a lot. But I didn’t go to sleep.

Instead, a half an hour later, I got up and went to class.


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Previous: Chapter 4

Next: Chapter 6

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 7)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 6

Next: Chapter 8


After a relaxed, delicious morning meal, Katsumi and Tadashi headed out to the market. I cleaned up the kitchen a bit – it was the least I could do, if I’d be boarding at their place for free all summer – and then grabbed my laptop and settled on one of the soft chairs in the living room. First I checked my email. There was one message from someone I didn’t know, asking me to write an article for some sort of private publication. I made a note on my to-do list to look them up later.

After emails, I settled into actual work. I was in the middle of writing about an interview I’d held of a pretty popular local musician. Like I’ve said, I’m pretty far removed from the world of music, so doing interviews with musicians or writing articles on music always made me nervous. But lately I’d been trying to get out of my comfort zone. I opened up the transcript of the interview on one side of the screen, and my work-in-progress article on the other side, and just got to it.

Time passed smoothly, silently, at a perfectly unhurried pace. Occasionally I would take a break and look around and stretch out my neck. Several times, I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping outside. I found the natural soundscape out here incredibly interesting. I knew there was silence everywhere, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that different places filled that silence in different ways. Here in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, the sound of the birds was layered on top of a silence that was in itself complete; the birds weren’t necessary for the auditory environment to be in balance, but they were still an integral, valued part of what kept the air at peace. Very different from the city, I thought.

I finished my article in a little over an hour, and saved it to be proofread and revised later. I’d learned that it generally wasn’t a good idea to spot check your work right after you’ve written it – you need to look at it at another time, with a pair of fresh eyes, and a clearer head. I figured I’d look at it tonight or tomorrow, and submit it to the magazine editor tomorrow afternoon.

With that assignment done, I checked my email again, studied my to-do list to see if there was anything important, and then closed my computer. There wasn’t much to do; I decided I’d go out for a walk. I went up to my room to put on a hat and sunscreen, slipped my Swiss-army knife and phone into my pants pocket, and ventured into the semi-wilderness.

Given that this was my first day, I didn’t feel brave enough to just go wandering in any particular direction, so I just followed the walking path down to the lake. Various little birds and insects fluttered in the air amidst the trees. I walked slowly, observing, drinking it all in. The path got a little steep in places, and there it had been buttressed by human hands, with planks and ropes tied taut between nearby tree trunks. I watched my footing, moving carefully, and held onto the ropes as I made my way down.

Several minutes later, the woods spit me out onto the sandy, pebbly lake shore. I exhaled in slight relief, glad to have reached my goal, and walked up to the water’s edge. The clear blue water lapped gently at my feet; I took off my shoes and stepped into it, relishing the sharp chill. I gazed out at the perfectly flat surface of the lake, and smiled at the woods on the opposite shore.

What a place to be…

Staring out into this seemingly untouched, perfect wilderness, I was overcome with a sudden urge to just throw myself into it, to flee the rest of the world, to flee human society and just go. Not a very unique or creative feeling – I’m sure anyone in my shoes would have felt the same, and certainly many people have done so throughout history. But it was a strange, surprising feeling for me. I’d been pretty content with my life back in the city. The same old, boring routines, the same environment, the same people – this kind of static existence suited me, and I hadn’t given it a second thought. So I was pretty unsettled that I suddenly wanted to run off and become a hermit. I stood there quietly, slowly adapting to the temperature of the lake, testing out this newfound urge inside me.

This is dangerous, I realized.

Don’t lose your head.

I blinked slowly, backed out of the water, and started heading up the path towards home. I wasn’t prepared to face nature like this. Not yet.

Once I was back in the house, I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and crashed again onto the living room couch. Needing a distraction, I opened up my computer. After a couple minutes I found a pointless movie to watch and quickly pressed play. I didn’t actually care about the movie. It was one of those films that go in one eye and out the other, so to speak, just something you put on to waste time. I just needed some human connection again, so I put the movie on and stared at it until I heard Tadashi and Katsumi pull up in the driveway.

“We’re home,” Tadashi announced as he entered the front door. His arms were full with four cloth grocery bags. Katsumi came in right behind him, carrying an equal amount.

“Welcome back,” I said happily, standing up. “Need help?”

“That’s okay,” Tadashi replied.

They set the bags on the wide kitchen counter, and started stocking the fridge and freezer.

“What’ve you been up to?” Katsumi asked.

“Oh, nothing much. I got some work done, then I walked down to the lake for a bit.”

Tadashi flashed me a look. “Really? Alone?”

“Not the greatest idea,” Katsumi put in. “Especially on your first time.”

“Well, you had to do it eventually,” Tadashi said.

I nodded, glad that they both seemed to understand. “Anyway, how was the market?”

Katsumi grinned. “We had to wait a bit for them to open, but the upside was that we were the first customers in, so we got first dibs. Look at all this good fruit and stuff!”

Tadashi said to him solemnly, “If you don’t make us a good lunch, I’ll be mad.”

“I’ll make something disgusting,” Katsumi replied assuringly.

“Yeah, disgustingly salty. How about you teach Chas how to make something?”

“Oh no,” I cut in quickly, “I can’t cook for my life.”

Tadashi laughed. “Yeah, that’s why I told him to teach you.”

“I’m down,” Katsumi said. “I’ve got just the dish.”

“Whatever I make will actually be disgusting,” I warned them. “It’ll test the limits of disgusting. I’m serious!”

I kept insisting, and eventually the pair gave up, to my great relief.

Tadashi sighed. “One of these days, Chas, you’ll have to learn. But I guess for now it can wait.”

“Can it wait ‘till I die?”

He laughed at that. “What’s so scary about learning how to cook?”

“It’s not scary,” I replied, shaking my head. “I just can’t be bothered. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Don’t want to deal with it,” he repeated with great interest.

“Weird,” Katsumi said.

“Right?” Tadashi replied.

They both grinned sympathetically at my embarrassed face. Having just about finished unloading the groceries, Tadashi closed the fridge, and Katsumi folded the cloth bags and went to put them back in the car. I looked at Tadashi, and he smiled gently at me.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t force you to learn how to cook.”

“Phew. And here I was thinking–”

“At least not yet.”

“Hey, wait!” I started.

He grinned mischievously and fled from me. “We’ve got all summer, Chas,” he sang as he ran up the stairs.


Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 6

Next: Chapter 8

Taiga (Chapter 4)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5


I woke up the next morning, in my own bed, with a terrible hangover and practically no memory of the night before.

I opened and closed my eyes, stretched out my mouth, pressed my fingertips to my temples. I was hoping I’d feel better enough to fall back asleep, but no such luck. I lay on my messy sheets, incredibly awake, incredibly pained, and starting to get nauseous. Normally I don’t have such a bad reaction, but that just goes to show how much alcohol I’d really consumed the night before.

Somebody had opened the window blinds to let the sunlight in, and in my state I couldn’t stand it. I opened my mouth, swallowed an aching dryness, and managed to say in a surprisingly capable loud voice, “Close the window!!”

Nobody answered me. I didn’t know if anyone was even in the room. I sighed in my head, tried to fall asleep again, and failed again. After a while, with some of the pain and nausea fading, I rolled over onto my side and spotted Isabella, sitting on her bed across from mine, doing work on her computer.

She looked over at me, her expression completely impassive. She didn’t say a word. We stared at each other for a moment, and then she lowered her gaze back to her computer screen and went on working. There was a strange tension between us that hadn’t existed before, and I couldn’t comprehend the meaning of it. I kept staring at her, my mind completely empty, and after some five or ten minutes she closed her laptop and met my eyes.

“Good morning,” she said.

Her voice wasn’t cold – it was just neutral, and that alone startled me. Normally her tone was friendly and open. On this morning it was closed off and unreadable.

“Good morning,” I replied slowly, nursing my dry throat.

Isabella sighed. “Hungover?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t throw up. I’m not cleaning it for you.” Her voice curled up a bit, prodding me. “Do you want something?”

“Can I have some water?” I asked timidly.

“That’s five words out of six.”

“Please?”

She nodded, got out of bed, and went to get me some water. I waited for her to return, gazing around at the empty room, feeling alone and scared for the first time in years.

“Where’s Taiga?” I asked when she came back.

“Class,” Isabella replied. She handed me a glass and I gingerly sat up in bed to drink it. Immediately I started to feel better, though I knew the pain would probably last for quite a long time.

“Does he always go to class?” I said, amused at that idea.

Isabella sat on her bed to face me and scowled a little. “Don’t underestimate him. Taiga’s not some stereotypical snobby teacher’s-pet rich kid. He goes to the classes that are necessary and productive for his education, and skips the ones that don’t help him.”

Her words rolled over my head. “Okay, okay. Whatever.”

She started prodding me again. “Do you remember what happened last night? Anything at all?”

“No. Why?”

“Do you not think that’s a problem?”

“No,” I said honestly.

She sighed. “What are we going to do with you? Really.”

Something in that irked me. “Nothing,” I said, annoyed. “You have no business getting involved in my life. It’s mine and no one else’s, and I can do whatever I want with it. I’m the only one responsible for me, and I like it that way.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Isabella replied. “But one day you’ll understand that it’s not true.”

“What’s not true about it?”

“Take last night,” she said. Now her voice was edging on cold. “You say you don’t want people getting involved in your life – well, last night, Taiga got involved. You’d have died if he hadn’t saved you. Do you understand that? You’d be dead – dead and gone – and he might be dead too, on account of trying to save your worthless self, and for the rest of the semester I’d be living in a single at a discount rate because both of my roommates went and died on me for no reason at all. Are you listening?”

She was talking too fast, and I couldn’t keep up. I closed my eyes, fought off an intense desire to just flop over and go back to sleep, and spoke slowly.

“Isabella, what happened last night?”


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Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 6)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 5

Next: Chapter 7


I woke up the next morning to the first rays of sunlight filtering through the window. Tadashi had told me not to put the blinds down – way out here, there were no city lights to interfere with one’s sleep, so there was nothing to block out. Most of all, I discovered it was a genuine pleasure to wake up with the sunrise. I sat up in bed, gazed out the window for a bit, and smiled.

After showering and washing up in the bathroom, I headed downstairs. Tadashi was making breakfast. He was wearing a loose gray shirt with a simple geometric design that seemed to complement him nicely. He glanced over at me and said good morning.

“Sleep well?” he asked.

“Yup. What are you making?”

“Scrambled eggs. Want some?”

“Sure.”

I sat at the counter and watched him cook. He threw some mushrooms in with the eggs, turned off the heat, mixed them well and portioned them evenly onto three plates. Then he turned the stove back on.

“Breakfast potatoes?” he asked, turning toward me.

I nodded. “Okay. Thanks. Do you need help?”

“Nope.”

“Where’s Katsumi?”

“In the garden. You can go see him if you want. This will take a while.”

“Alright.”

I got up and headed out the side door, following the well-worn path Tadashi had pointed out the day before. The air was slightly cold but incredibly clean, and I drank it in happily. Wandering slowly through the woods, I imagined that I was a hermit, living in the middle of nowhere.

The gardens came into view after a couple minutes of walking. There was a huge variety of plants, most of which I couldn’t identify, and a lot of them were flowering or bearing colorful fruit. They had obviously been planted with care, lined up initially in even rows, but the paths between them had been heavily overgrown since the last summer. Katsumi had started weeding and clearing them out, but it looked like he might have given up. I wandered among the plants, admiring them, until I found Katsumi at the far end. Kneeling on the ground, he was up to his elbows in dirt, digging up enormous sweet potatoes.

He raised his head as I approached. “Morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” I replied.

He seemed calm and content, even as he wrestled with the plants and the earth. For a moment he looked like he was smiling – at me, at the sun, at no one. I’d noticed yesterday that Katsumi didn’t smile as much as the average person. He’d only really looked happy when he was making jokes, playing music, or bantering with Tadashi. I wondered what his reason was for smiling now.

“Those potatoes are huge,” I remarked.

“Yup. Haven’t been bothered in at least a year.”

“Are these for breakfast?”

“Lunch.”

He grinned. “I’ll make something real good, then you can tell Tama I’m the better cook. Okay?”

I laughed. “We’ll see.”

“Is he making me breakfast too?”

“Yup.”

Katsumi nodded, looked back down into the dirt, and started digging again. He continued speaking without facing me, his expression now shielded by his long hair.

“We’re going to go to the market afterwards. Do you want to come?”

I thought about it. “I’d love to, but I have some work to do. Maybe next time.”

“Okay.”

I squatted down beside him. “Can I ask you something?”

He glanced at me quickly. “Yeah.”

“How did you two meet?”

“Me and Tama? We almost killed each other.”

I started laughing, but Katsumi looked at me again with a completely straight face and added, “No joke.”

“Oh.”

In my head, I was thinking: should I be alarmed?

“It’s kind of a long story,” Katsumi admitted. “You want to hear it?”

“Um… yeah, I guess.”

“So this was sometime during our second year of high school…”

He leaned over and gave a firm yank, and a pink-and-purple sweet potato came out of the ground. I clapped. The potato joined the growing pile at Katsumi’s feet, and Katsumi sat back on his heels, brushing the dirt off his hands.

“I was walking home from school one day,” he said. “And I saw this guy. He was one of our upperclassmen. He was leaning against the wall of a big building, and he was harassing this other girl in my grade. I mean, totally harassing her. He was calling her names, laughing at her, throwing things at her, and eventually he started coming closer to her and touching her. Both intimately and violently. And all throughout it, she didn’t leave – maybe she was too scared, maybe they were boyfriend and girlfriend, who knows. But she was asking him to stop and he didn’t.”

“Did you call the police?” I asked.

Katsumi shook his head slightly and held up a finger, as if to say, I’m getting there. He went on, “Regardless of who you are or what your relationship with the other person is, you can’t treat people that way. At least that’s what I think. When I saw this happening, I got really mad. And when I get mad, I get really mad – like, I can’t control myself. I went right up to him and punched him in the face. He hit the ground, and I started kicking him. I told the girl to run away and she did, and meanwhile I kept beating the guy up. I might have killed him, really.”

Listening to his story, I remembered the look he’d had in his eyes when we’d first met – wild, dangerous, on the edge. I wondered if it was a sign of him losing control. I wondered what had set him off.

Katsumi continued, “While I was just about killing this guy, another person appeared. It was Tama, who was also walking home. He arrived basically right after the girl had run off, so he didn’t see her; he didn’t get any of the context. All he saw was a guy beating up some other guy who looked bloody and helpless. And you know how he is – the way he can go on about peace and human love and all that. He tried putting himself between the two of us, and I got mad and punched him, too.”

I scratched my head. “Great way to meet someone.”

“Right? So at this point in my madness I gave up on the other guy and started beating on Tama. I thought he would be an easy target – he’s pretty small, and he looks really feminine, which society traditionally equates with being weak. But my assumptions were entirely wrong. Tama fought back, and he fought hard. It turned out he was just as strong as me – in fact, he was exactly as strong as I was at the time, and because of that, neither of us could really win. We just beat each other up really badly until we were both too tired to continue.”

“I can’t really imagine it,” I said. “Tadashi fighting…”

“You wouldn’t dream of it now, right? But back then, we almost killed each other. The fight ended with both of us lying on the ground, broken and exhausted. We mutually agreed to not call the police on each other, because neither of us could afford that. Then I asked him why he had intervened, he asked me why I had been beating up the other guy in the first place, and we realized it was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. We started talking about other things – school, family, music – and bonded over them, and now, several years later, we’re closer than anyone could have imagined. It’s kind of crazy.”

“That’s a wild story,” I said. “I just met him when he sat next to me during recess in fourth grade.”

Katsumi laughed. “Well, I bet you were less hot-headed than I was, especially at that age.”

“What happened to the other guy?”

“The first guy I beat up? Tama made an anonymous phone call to an ambulance service, and then we hightailed it out of there. A couple months later I caught a glimpse of him at school again. But I don’t think he recognized me – or if he did, he didn’t care. At least I know that I didn’t kill him. That would’ve been bad.”

Behind us a voice retorted, “You almost killed me. That would’ve been worse.”

We turned in unison to see Tadashi walking through the garden toward us. Katsumi laughed; I smiled, and my old friend smiled back, quiet and happy.

“Breakfast is ready,” he said.


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Previous: Chapter 5

Next: Chapter 7

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 5)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 4

Next: Chapter 6


That night, Tadashi threw together a light mixed vegetable pasta for dinner. I helped with the prep work a little but Katsumi soon took over from me, remarking that I clearly didn’t know what I was doing, which was true. Really, I didn’t cook much at home. On normal days I went out to eat, ordered takeout delivery, or bought boxed meals that just needed to be warmed up in the microwave. It was an unhealthy and sometimes expensive habit, but I just couldn’t be bothered to learn how to cook properly. At any rate, Tadashi and Katsumi were both fantastic chefs, especially when working with the fresh ingredients we had that summer. It was another thing I learned to be grateful for.

When the pasta was done, I helped dish it out, and the three of us took our plates outside. We sat around the porch table contentedly. The sun was just starting to set over the trees, and the rich color patterns gave the effect of lighting the lake water on fire. I watched, mesmerized, as we dug in to the meal together.

“It’s so pretty…”

“This needs more salt,” Katsumi exploded after one bite.

Tadashi pushed him on the shoulder. “Your abnormal taste buds will kill you one day. If you’re so obsessed, go salt it yourself.”

“Hey, I think it’s really good,” I said honestly.

“See! Thanks, Chas. Wait until tomorrow and you’ll see how much salt Katsu puts into everything. Take his food with a big glass of water, okay?”

“Take Tama’s food with a salt shaker,” Katsumi replied. Despite saying so, he seemed to be actually quite content with the taste of the pasta. He ate it quickly as it was, and even went back for seconds. I wondered if the complaints were just typical banter between the two.

I finished my plate and ended up declining Tadashi’s offer of a second helping, my stomach being plenty full. I had never been a very big eater. Even with my favorite foods, I could never stuff myself like a normal person. Tadashi dumped the rest of the pasta onto his own plate and asked if I wanted dessert.

“Dessert? Like what?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. But if you want something, tell me.”

I shook my head. Sitting back, I engrossed myself in watching the sunlight fade while the two finished their dinner. When they were done I took all of the dishes inside and washed them in the sink. Tadashi arranged them in the dishrack and watched me while I was working.

“You know Chas, you have changed,” he remarked slowly. “Just a little.”

“Really? How so?”

“The way you move your hands is different.”

He saw the look on my face and laughed. “I pay attention to these things…”

Katsumi came back from the bathroom then. He saw me finishing up and looked at Tadashi. “Want to play something?”

“Why not?”

They went upstairs together. I wiped my hands with a towel, hung it up to dry, and went to occupy a couch in the living area. A minute later the two came back carrying twin acoustic guitars.

“Cool…” I murmured absently.

They set themselves up angled towards each other, across from me. Tadashi tuned the guitars by ear. Katsumi tested out his voice for a while and then shook his head with disapproval.

“I’m not good right after eating,” he said. “Oh, well.”

Tadashi struck a chord, brushed his hair back, and sighed. “What should we play?”

“How about ‘Unsuitable’?”

Katsumi tapped out a measure and they launched into the song. They went all-out from the first note, playing with as much passion as if they were on stage before an audience, though of course not nearly as loud. I listened with rapt attention. The first few bars were instrumental, with a deep, throbbing melodic line, and then suddenly Katsumi opened his mouth and started to sing. His singing voice stunned me. It was deep and slightly rough, and that roughness somehow made it a hundred times better. Tadashi backed him in the upper octaves, his voice being naturally higher-pitched. He looked embarrassed to be singing in front of me, but his vocals were smooth and steady. Their guitars interwove supporting harmonies throughout, with Tadashi mostly structuring the rhythm and Katsumi doing the more technical work.

During a break in the vocals, the pair took turns soloing. Tadashi went first. From the beginning he had played with a pick, but now he put it in his mouth and plucked the strings with his fingers. I watched in admiration as he launched into a demonstration of skills I hadn’t known he had. Gazing at him bent slightly over his guitar with his long blond hair masking his face, I thought: wow… I’m glad I could meet him again.

He ended his solo with a dramatic flourish, and then it was Katsumi’s turn. Katsumi played slower and more emotionally than he’d done before, closing his eyes at times as he pieced together an overwhelmingly powerful melody. There was an almost trance-like quality to it. I watched, impressed at the level of contrast and the balance between technique and expression.

In the last part of the song they brought back the chorus. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the lyrics, but I did now. “Unsuitable”… I wondered about the name. The song was clearly about forbidden love, an oft-used theme, but there were elements of religion and family tied into it as well, and to use the word “unsuitable” just seemed so interesting to me. I wanted to ask about it, but I didn’t. I figured it might be personal for one of them.

They closed out the song with Tadashi alone slowly reiterating the main melodic line. He struck the final note and listened to it fade into silence with a thoughtful, almost sorrowful look on his face. I clapped.

Katsumi smiled wryly. “What an audience…”

“So, impressions?” Tadashi asked me as he set his guitar down.

“Katsumi’s a good singer, but he’s better with you backing him,” I replied. “And I really can’t tell who’s the better guitarist, you’re both great. That was an interesting song! Really sad lyrics, but it was upbeat, something you can jam to. The solos were the best.”

“See, he says I’m the better singer,” Katsumi remarked.

Tadashi laughed. “Are you listening? Only with me, goof.”

“It’s pretty popular, that song,” Katsumi said to me. “Probably our best acoustic. We play it a lot live. I think we found the greatest balance with the solos on that one.”

“Question,” I said. “Aren’t you left-handed?”

“Yup. Mostly.”

“But you play guitar right-handed.”

Tadashi smiled at me. “Hey, you’re pretty observant.”

“It’s cheaper and more convenient,” Katsumi explained. “And it generally looks better on stage, ‘cause Tama’s right-handed. But give me a left-handed guitar and I can play it just as well. I learned and practiced both ways.”

“I suck at the left-handed guitar,” Tadashi confessed. “Just couldn’t ever figure it out. But some right-handed people play better left-handed, and some left-handed people play better right-handed, so the way someone plays isn’t always a given. At least in my experience.”

“Hey guys,” I said slowly. “You think I could learn to play guitar?”

In other words, could you teach me?

It was a strange question, especially coming out of my mouth. I mean, I’d already declared that I had basically nothing to do with music. But I heard these two play for five minutes and I just thought it seemed cool. I’d been meaning to pick up a hobby anyway, and I’d be living with these two great guitarists for months, so it was only natural that I’d jump on it. Worst case, they’d just say no, right?

They glanced at each other for a few seconds. Then Tadashi looked at me and gave me his slow, gentle smile again.

“We’ve got all summer,” he said. “I don’t see why not.”


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Previous: Chapter 4

Next: Chapter 6

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 4)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5


We reached Katsumi’s vacation home roughly an hour later. It really was in the middle of nowhere. We’d spent the past thirty minutes taking narrow, deserted roads through vast fields and forests, and I hadn’t seen another human being since we’d left the town behind. It was almost like we were the last people on Earth… it was a strange feeling, and I loved it.

Softly humming a repetitive tune, Tadashi turned the car onto a side road and drove all the way to the end, where it turned into a kind of driveway for a large two-story brown-and-white house. It was pretty well-hidden in a lightly wooded area, and didn’t outwardly scream wealth with its simple design. Behind it, through the trees, I could see water.

“Is that the lake?” I asked, squinting out the window.

“That’s the lake,” Tadashi replied. He stopped the car in front of the house. “Here we are. Everybody out!”

I got out, stretched, breathed in a lungful of crisp, clean air, and then went to help carry the luggage. Katsumi had packed the least – everything he had was in a single standard size backpack – but all three of us had packed in a pretty minimal fashion. Carrying his bag and my laptop case in one hand, Tadashi dug the house keys out of his pocket and went to open the front door.

“This house is really big,” I remarked as I grabbed my duffel. “So much bigger than my apartment.”

“My mom’s successful in business,” Katsumi said in explanation.

“Oh, so your family is pretty wealthy?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

He closed the trunk and we trailed Tadashi to the door.

Tadashi was having trouble with the keys. “Hey, I don’t remember which one it is…”

Katsumi rolled his eyes. “It’s only been a year. Here, let me.”

“No, nevermind, I’ve got it.” He pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Welcome to our summer home, Chas. Get comfy.”

I followed him into a clean, spacious entryway where we took off our shoes and placed them by the wall. Tadashi launched immediately into a walking house tour.

“This way to the living area,” he announced, heading to the left. “Watch the step.”

Katsumi headed off to turn on the electricity, plug in appliances, and so on, breathing life into the house again. I followed Tadashi around in the meantime.

It turned out that the interior of the house was pretty simple as well. The living area was very large, but it wasn’t packed with expensive things like I would have expected. There were just some cabinets, a couple of bookshelves along the wall, and several couches and comfortable chairs arranged loosely around two low coffee tables. I noticed that all of the furniture had only wood-type or neutral colors, a theme that would continue throughout the house. I really liked it – it looked like a nice room to just sit around, have tea, play games, and talk. Tadashi slowly led me through the area and then moved on to the kitchen.

He pointed out the key features as we walked around the central island. “That deep sink is for washing vegetables and stuff, so no soap there. The other one is for washing hands and dishes. Dish rack, microwave, oven, fridge and freezer. This container is for garbage, this one for recycling, this one for compostable stuff – you know, food waste and such. Here’s a rice cooker. This thing is a water heater, and that stove is gas; you can use it whenever.”

He opened all the kitchen cabinets and drawers to show me where things were located – cups, plates, utensils, pots and pans. Then he opened up the fridge, which had absolutely nothing inside.

“We already brought a few groceries, but we’re also going to go to the market tomorrow,” Tadashi explained. “Then we’ll have more things to put in here.”

“I’m not used to such a big kitchen,” I said. “It’s so spacious it almost feels empty.”

He laughed. “That’s because it is pretty empty. I guess Katsu and I live a relatively simple life. We don’t go shopping often, and we don’t like filling the house with useless things. A smaller house would really suit us better, but, you know.” He shrugged a little and turned away. “Let’s go outside, come on.”

He opened some curtains and a sliding glass door and then led me out onto a wide wooden porch. There was a circular table and several chairs to one side. “We usually eat out here,” he explained.

I went to the edge of the porch and stared out towards the lake. It was easier to see from here, although many tall trees still obscured the view. The porch was surrounded by a variety of wild grasses and plants, and a worn dirt path led off in the direction of the water. I took in the sights and smiled. “It’s really pretty…”

“The lake is just a couple minutes’ walk. And the gardens are on the other side of the house.”

I looked at him with delighted satisfaction. “Hey Tadashi, thanks again for letting me stay with you guys. This is exactly the kind of place I wanted.”

He grinned back at me. “I know. Come on, let’s go back inside.”

I followed him back in and through the kitchen to a hallway that led to the stairs. Tadashi pointed out the doors on either side of the hallway.

“That one’s the bathroom – there’s another one upstairs – and that’s the laundry room. Oh, and that goes to the garage.”

“How come you didn’t park in the garage?” I asked.

“‘Cause Katsu’s car is in there.”

I glanced at him with surprise. “Katsumi keeps a car here?”

“Yeah. But look, he’s a bit of a crazy driver, and he’s obnoxious about his car, which is why I don’t park mine next to his even though there’s space… It’s a big thing for him, and it’s important, so don’t get mad if he says something about his car that you don’t like. And he probably won’t let you in it, but don’t take offense – you’re really better off with me. Let’s go upstairs.”

We headed to the second floor, which was just as clean and spacious as the first. Katsumi was going in and out of the rooms, busily opening windows.

Tadashi pointed. “This is our music studio. It’s not soundproof or anything, but we don’t do any of our professional recording here anyway. Just play for fun and arrange new music.”

“That’s neat.”

“This next one is our workout room. We just have some basic machines and stuff, but there’s a lot of space, and you’re free to use it.”

I scratched my head. “I haven’t really exercised recently…”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve never actually exercised much at all. I kind of hate macho guys for some reason… like, people who are so excessively masculine and flaunt it with their muscles and whatnot.”

He laughed. “I know what you mean. But working out isn’t just for macho guys. You’re a human being, Chas. You need to stay fit and healthy, and try to offset what sitting for eight hours a day does to your body.”

“Hm, maybe you’re right.”

“You can work out with us if you want,” he offered. “We can show you how to use the equipment.”

“Well, okay, sure. Maybe I’ll try it.”

We moved on.

Tadashi gestured at the next room. “This is the bathroom. You can shower and wash up here. The one downstairs is fine too. Do you have a towel?”

“Nope.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get you one. Now look – these last two rooms are the bedrooms. This is where Katsu and I sleep… and this one is the guest room, for you.”

I went into my assigned room. Like the rest of the house, the furnishing was sparse and there was a lot of empty space. It had a closet, a small dresser, and a bed across from the window, and that was about all. The bed was a little low, but I figured it wouldn’t bother me that much. I put down my duffel bag by the wall, and Tadashi gently lowered my laptop case to the floor next to it. He pointed out the outlets in the room where I could charge my electronics.

“Good enough for you?” Tadashi asked.

I laughed. “Plenty. Thank you.”

“Okay, well then, I’ll leave you here. I’m going to go unpack. If you need anything come find me or Katsu.”

“Sure, thanks.”

After he’d left, I spent some time walking around my new room, exploring. I emptied out my duffel bag, hung up my clothes, and put my toiletries in the bathroom. I tested out the lights, which were the kind that could be dimmed to one’s preference. Then I threw myself onto the bed on my stomach and closed my eyes, enveloped in the soft, light summer blanket.

What a house, I thought to myself. This summer is going to be so great…

I really had no idea.


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Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5

Taiga (Chapter 3)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 2

Next: Chapter 4


If Taiga hadn’t been there, I probably would have died within a month. No joke.

Like I said before, I really only went to this college for its parties. So from the start, I was a complete mess. I enrolled in the bare minimum of units required to remain a student there, and didn’t attend any of the classes after syllabus week. I spent my days wandering around town, drinking, doing drugs, and stealing anything I could get away with. And in my search for a fun gang to party with, I ended up falling in with a bad crowd.

It was a group of thirty-some guys, all of them my age or slightly older, and they were completely and utterly crazy. I didn’t recognize it then, but they were all pretty stupid. They chased after pure pleasure without ever coming close to happiness, and they were so reckless with their lives that they destroyed themselves in the process. If any of them are still alive right now, I’d be amazed.

When I first asked if I could join them, they said I needed to prove myself first. Not knowing what that meant, I followed them around town on dark nights, stealing drinks from stores that had closed, helping them harass any locals who were still awake. About a week into this strange night life, their leader had me break into the stables, and ten of us tacked horses and rode off in the direction of the mountains.

We reached the railroad sometime around midnight.

Small express trains frequently used this route to cut across the state. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, their engineers could hardly see a thing and neither could we. Several of the group had brought flashlights for the ride there, but once we reached the tracks they turned them off. We got off our horses and stood around in the pitch black night. I waited nervously for my eyes to adjust.

Somebody took my horse’s reins out of my hands. Then the group leader came over to me and said in a loud voice, “It’s time to have some fun.”

I wasn’t so sure what he meant by fun

“This is your one and only chance,” he explained. “If you succeed, you can join us. Come stand over here.”

Now able to see just vague outlines in the darkness, I carefully followed the leader onto the train tracks.

“Face this way,” he instructed. He oriented me so that I’d have my back to the oncoming train, though I didn’t know this yet.

“What are we doing?” I asked in a small voice. The other group members surrounding us laughed at how scared I was. In my head I thought: man up or they won’t let you in, idiot!

Sounding slightly annoyed, the leader said, “I told you already. Now take off your shirt and shoes.”

I did what I was told, hoping they wouldn’t make me take off my pants too. Thankfully, they didn’t. It wasn’t too cold, but there was a slight, sharp breeze, and the metal tracks stung beneath my bare feet. Someone gave me a little shove so that I stood up straight. I stared aimlessly into the night and tried to brace myself for whatever was to come.

“Wait here for the train,” the leader said. “And don’t move an inch until I tell you to. If you get scared and run off before I say so, it’s over.”

What?” I almost yelled out, dumbfounded and terrified all at once. I was here to seek pleasure, not to taunt death!

“What?” he replied fiercely. “Don’t you want to join us? Didn’t I hear you say you came to party?”

“Yeah, but –”

“But what? If you’re too much of a coward, get off the tracks and stop wasting my time.”

He was getting angrier by the second, and I thought, oh no, I’m blowing it!

“No, wait, I can do it,” I said quickly. “It’s fine, I’ll do it. I want it.”

He relaxed. “Good. Okay, well, while we’re waiting for the train, let’s have some drinks, everyone!”

Several group members had brought beer. For the next forty minutes they flooded me with alcohol, relaxing me to the point of sickness. I knew it was a bad idea, but at the time I couldn’t say no to a good beer, and I knew I had to get on the group’s good side. I think that was the night I got the most drunk in my entire life. I ended up in an awkward position on the tracks, sprawled out and sick, unable to form coherent sentences with all of my senses deteriorating. The group surrounded me, laughing and hooting. One of them kicked me in the ribs, and I vaguely remember a couple of them going off to make out in the bushes. They were also all thoroughly drunk, and the leader was himself pretty incapacitated. If the train had come then, I’m pretty sure more than one of us would have ended up dead.

As it was, Taiga got to us first.

I heard later that someone had tipped him about my whereabouts, someone who had seen me breaking into the stables that night. Once he’d figured out what had happened, he had grabbed a horse and headed after us. I was pretty much passed out by the time he reached the tracks, so I don’t remember too much of what happened next. I just have a dim memory of Taiga facing the group, speaking calmly to people who wouldn’t – or couldn’t – hear him.

Well, Taiga’s mere presence was enough to piss them off. The group leader tried to punch him, but because he was too drunk, he missed and ended up flat on his face. The other members found this hysterical. Then they too tried to put up a fight, but Taiga simply walked through them and came up to me. I was unconscious by then. He picked me up, somehow got me astride his horse, and took me home.

As a side note, I heard that the leader of that group was killed two months later. One of his members pushed him in front of an express train.


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