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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 17

Takara was aloof the next day. The thoughts from her flashback still clung to her mind. But what difference did it really make now? She was a prisoner.

What was more, Takara found she wasn’t in the mood to try to curry favor with Patty. And, quite frankly, she doubted there was even a real possibility of that anymore anyway.

Takara was concerned about how she would react if someone confronted her. Maybe Mr. Tyler would come around in order to take pleasure in Takara’s reaction to the lock on her door. How could she not glare at him — knowing what he did — knowing that he ran her father’s limo off the road and killed him?

No wonder Mr. Tyler hated her; no wonder he was always staring at her, seemingly trying to see what she was thinking. It had a whole new significance to her. She had seen him that night! And that one man— yes, that one guy Mr. Tyler introduced her to. He seemed to stare at her with even more intensity than Mr. Tyler did. And boy how relieved he had seemed when she didn’t recognize him!

But Takara wasn’t oblivious to the truth anymore, and there was no way she could hide it from them at this point. But there was something more pressing weighing on her mind. As Patty came to and from the room, Takara watched the way the lock worked. And after awhile, she formed a plan. Then, she waited …

“So, you went to the bathroom?” Patty asked in a condescending tone.

“Yes.” There was no point in refusing to answer. After all, Takara’s way of rebelling against their control of her was coming.

“If there’s anything else you need, you should let me know now. After all, you can’t leave this room after I’m gone.”

Takara looked up and stared at Patty. As if she didn’t already know that! Patty had a look on her face that suggested she knew she was just rubbing it in. It wasn’t as though Patty felt bad for what she said though; she merely appeared to be taken aback by Takara’s reaction to her words. Perhaps, it reminded her of the reaction someone whose feelings she did value would have had.

“Well.” Patty quickly remembered what Takara’s position was. “Good night then.”

Patty went to the door and headed out. Every time she left the room during the day, she would always pause at the door and retrieve the key to the room — probably from the small pocket she had on her skirt. Then slowly, she would turn the key. At no time did she ever check to make sure the bolt took. Maybe this last time before bed she would check, but Takara was counting on her not to. For by the time Patty retrieved the key, Takara had slipped her old school ID between the bolt and the door frame. She could hear the metal hit the plastic. The question was had Patty heard it? Takara held her breath and listened. What was the delay? It seemed to be taking a long time for Patty to turn and head down the hall. What was going on?

Then suddenly, she heard the woman’s footfall retreat softly. Takara allowed herself to breathe. It was done. Now Takara was free to do what she needed to do: find proof that Mr. Tyler had killed her father. After all, no one in authority would rely solely on the delayed recollections of a coma patient to convict Mr. Tyler. In the very least, even if Takara failed to find proof of Mr. Tyler’s guilt that night, maybe she could still find a way to get word to her mother about her incarceration and Mr. Tyler’s role in it.

Takara decided to remain in the room until every noise coming from the other side of the door had vanished. She had considered sneaking into the bathroom lest Patty come back to check on the door and discover it was unlocked. But she decided against it. After all, if Patty checked the door at that point and found it unlocked she would probably go looking for Takara anyway. So, Takara sat in a nearby chair and waited until the hallway was silent. Then, she forced herself to count to one hundred slowly. Finally, she roused her stiff legs and moved toward the door. For a moment, as Takara turned the knob, a wave of fear shot through her. But it was fortunately just a brief moment. For shortly afterward, as Takara stepped into the hall, she suddenly felt emboldened. In fact, she didn’t even bother to cower. Instead, she stood up straight and shut the door confidently behind her.

As she walked down the familiar halls, it was as though her father were still alive. She retraced a thousand different memories that took place in these spaces. Silent tears flowed from her eyes by the time she reached the atrium. She could visualize her father in that big chair — the one that Mr. Tyler had since claimed for himself.

Takara stood at the gateway to her and her father’s wing, staring for a moment, trying to say good-bye to the positive memories that still remained in that place. It did seem strange to Takara that she would feel the need to say good-bye to the place right then. After all, where would she be going? A chill went through her; somehow, it just seemed true that she wouldn’t be back. This was one of those moments when things were going to change one way or another.

Takara turned from the atrium and towards the door — to the parts of the building that had become forbidden to her. She sighed as she stepped forward toward her future. Takara wasn’t surprised that the doors to the rest of the complex weren’t locked this time. After all, the assumption was that Takara was safely stored away in her room. Though, the thought had occurred to her earlier that they might have locked the doors again out of habit. Then again, she thought coolly, if they had locked the doors it would have required Mr. Tyler to expend energy in order to unlock them again before embarking on his ongoing raid of her father’s office.

The hall right off the wing that Takara resided was familiar to her. She had traveled down it many times as she came and went from the Institute when her father was still alive. Yet, at that moment, the building as a whole seemed foreign to her somehow. It occurred to her how truly unusual it was that she actually lived at the Institute. While her father was alive, the building had always seemed like home. After he died, it had become this impersonal, intimidating building filled with dozens of dark passageways. Takara knew that most of these corridors would be unfamiliar to her. She sighed as she looked about her trying to decide which way she should go.

The halls were lit with dim accent lights, and she couldn’t see what was in the shadows. She decided it would be best to start looking for secrets somewhere she’d never been before. It seemed doubtful they’d be hidden in plain sight. Still, she had to remind herself that from there on out the bravado she had been recently experiencing would no longer be advisable. Somehow, she would have to strike a delicate balance between fear and carelessness. Mr. Tyler, or someone in his pocket, could be anywhere amongst these halls. There could also be monitoring being done by video relay. No, she would slowly inch along the shadows, even though something inside of her told her to rush since the night never lasted forever.

Since Takara usually headed left to get out of the building, she decided to start her quest by going to her right. She suddenly thought again about how Mr. Tyler had gone into her wing late at night and rooted around in her father’s belongings; now, it was her turn to do it to him. That thought filled her with a sudden jolt of enthusiasm, which was the very thing the necessity to exercise caution had robbed from her.

Takara tried many doors only to find most of them locked. She went down hall after hall and found nothing of particular note. Then, just as quickly as she had recaptured it, Takara felt her enthusiasm melting away.

Where was Mr. Tyler’s office? And even if she did end up finding it, it would probably be locked. Or worst yet, Mr. Tyler would be in it.

Takara sat down on the floor in a lump. She crossed her hands in front of her knees and stared into space. Some of the halls had clocks on the walls, and Takara could tell she was running out of time. Add to that the fact that she was tired, and there was a case that could be made for her returning to her room before she was missed. Maybe no one had spotted her on a surveillance camera. She felt silly for not thinking this whole thing through. Of course most of the doors were locked!

Takara stretched out her tired legs. As she did so, she crinkled her toes in order to work the tension out of them. And that’s when she felt it: the object she had stowed inside her shoe — the one she had grown so accustomed to that her mind hadn’t given it much thought — the key.

Takara proceeded to slowly pull off her shoe — as though the key might get lost if it fell out on its own. Then, she held the key in both her hands.

Certainly, it wasn’t the key to Mr. Tyler’s office. Her father wouldn’t have had the key to that room unless the room once belonged to her father. But whatever the key was used for, Takara was sure of one thing: it was important … important enough to bring a second man around to look for it! Takara hadn’t made the connection before that Mr. Tyler and that mystery man were probably hunting around for this key! They had seemed so worried that someone else would lay his or her hands on it … and it turned out someone had!

Takara grinned as she clutched the key in her right hand. Maybe it was foolish, but at that moment Takara completely dismissed thoughts of going back to her room. She was determined to find the lock that this key fit into that night.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 16

Fortunately, the following day had been set aside as an extra work day for Takara’s course. The local university was out for the semester, so there was a lot more time available for Takara’s class to work at the computer lab in the arcade. Initially, Takara was concerned that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to these more frequent field trips, but when she had found out that her mother was coming it seemed like less of a problem. In fact, maybe her mother would stay long enough, so that Takara could finish up the course. It would be nice to spend some extra time with Kenji before she left, especially without all the drama she had been experiencing lately.

Still, as hopeful as she was about how things would be when her mother got there, she couldn’t help but remember how strange her encounter with Mr. Tyler had been the night before. Things seemed to be deteriorating rapidly on that front. Takara feared that if she didn’t get out of the Institute soon, Mr. Tyler might end up striking her. She decided to lie low and try to avoid Mr. Tyler for the rest of her stay there.

It would be nice if she could go to the arcade that day, but she was prepared not to. If Mr. Tyler felt the need to take away Takara’s privileges before her mother arrived, so be it. In fact, Takara was so convinced that being grounded would be the punishment she would ultimately receive that she was shocked when Patty came in wanting to start Takara going on her day.

“Are you sure?” Takara stammered before she had a chance to think her words through.

Patty looked at her briefly.

“That’s what the schedule says.” Patty returned.

Maybe Patty just hadn’t spoken to Mr. Tyler that day.

“Oh well,” Takara decided. “I might as well go along with things.”

Letting her believe she’d be allowed to go might actually give Mr. Tyler more satisfaction when he finally did disappoint her.

After Patty took the breakfast tray away, Takara proceeded to dress and collect her belongings. Then, she sat at her computer chair and faced the door. Her eyes drifted toward the clock periodically. It was getting close to the time when she would need to leave. Apparently, Mr. Tyler was waiting until the last possible second to withdraw his consent. And then the time was upon her. Takara lifted an eyebrow as she stared at the clock. Next, she headed for the door … then down the hall. Nothing happened. She exited the Institute and nothing happened. Takara walked down the driveway. She still thought it was possible her permission would be revoked all the way up until the bus pulled up in front of her. The doors of the bus sprang open. She looked at the driver in a daze; then, she looked briefly behind her before slowly proceeding onto the bus.

 

***

 

“That’s great news about your mother.” Kenji offered.

“Uh-huh.” Takara uttered.

Kenji was taken aback for a moment. Takara seemed particularly distracted that day.

“So, is this the last time I’ll see you?” he ventured, wondering whether the thought of leaving the colony she had lived on for so long was the reason Takara was down.

Takara finally looked at him with her big brown eyes.

“No.” she concluded. “I think my mom will let me finish up here. After all, there’s still a ton of things we would need to do before departure; for example, I doubt we’ll get on a transport right away.”

“Then … well …”

“What is it?”

“I don’t want to pry, but what has you so down then?”

Takara looked away as she considered.

“Something … last night. I had another run-in with … well, you can guess.”

Kenji stiffened.

“What happened?”

“Oh, it’s not … that bad. He was in my father’s study again is all.” she whispered. “And he had my father’s personal work folder in his office.”

“Well, wouldn’t your father have wanted that?”

Takara thought for a moment.

“Possibly … so.” she concluded. “Maybe it just seems they don’t respect him enough to me. They just took what they wanted and threw out the rest … like me, I suppose. I mean, I have a room, but it feels more like a prison cell.”

“Heads up.” Erik said, returning to the cubicle. “The teacher’s making her rounds again.”

“Thank you.” Kenji responded.

It was nice to talk to Kenji if only for a little while, Takara thought. What was she saying? It wasn’t as though she wasn’t going to see him again. In fact, moments later, something happened to make Takara smile once more: an announcement was made. Apparently, this wasn’t going to be the only extra work day this week. A window of time two days later was available because of a last-minute cancellation. Though it would be very early in the morning, Takara was determined to try to make it. Even Kenji took notice of Takara’s enthusiasm.

 

***

 

Takara was surprised that the day had gone fairly well. Actually, she felt a wave of renewed optimism as the bus pulled away from the Institute’s driveway. It was a pretty nice day, she decided: the sun was shining, and it was pretty much the perfect temperature. Soon Takara’s mother would arrive. Takara would finish her class; and then, finally, she could start putting the pieces of her life back together. Maybe things could end up making sense again someday.

As soon as Takara was able to get away from the Institute, even her experiences there would not likely seem so bad. She’d be capable of viewing it as merely a personality conflict between her and Mr. Tyler. It was being forced together that was causing the trouble, she concluded. Mr. Tyler had obviously never wanted to be left with a thirteen-year-old girl as a dependent. The whole situation just wasn’t healthy for either of them. Takara wouldn’t tell him this before she left. No, that would be too awkward. Still, if she could only convey it to him — that there wouldn’t be any hard feelings, on her end at least, in the future. Then again, maybe it was less about him and more about her. She wanted to believe his animosity towards her was normal — that it wasn’t an indication of something worse, more sinister.

Yet, once she neared the door to her bedroom and saw the locksmith finishing the installation of a brand new deadbolt upon the outside of her door and then saw Mr. Tyler turn and smile at her — she knew the truth. It was staring her in the face. And while the memories weren’t there at that moment, it was as though some part of her brain was aware.

Takara stood stock-still. She racked her brain trying to come up with an answer — some way to make this right. How bad was this going to get? Did this mean her mother wasn’t coming for her? Her stomach dropped. Could it be that Mr. Tyler was going to lock her up and leave her in there?

“That’s great!” Mr. Tyler told the locksmith.

As the locksmith passed Takara, she just happened to utter, “How am I supposed to go to the bathroom?”

The man stopped; then, he laughed. “I don’t know, honey. You’ll have to ask your dad.”

“My dad is dead.” Takara said in a low tone.

And what was more, when Takara looked up at Mr. Tyler and saw the look on his face she knew the reason that her father was dead had something to do with him.

 

***

 

Patty came hourly to check on Takara and to supervise her visits to the restroom. Takara was told not to drink too much water before sleeping as she was to be locked in her room for the night; it was humiliating … at first.

Later, Takara found she was in too much of a daze to really notice. She felt nothing. She simply sat staring straight ahead as Patty sealed the door behind her for the final time that day. In fact, Patty had actually turned out the light, leaving Takara and the room in total darkness.

Takara’s eyes drifted to the side as she heard the last sounds of doors and footsteps fade. Then, there was silence. Takara breathed out, unaware that she’d been holding in her breath. Next, she lay on her side on her bed with her eyes still open.

What would she feel when the shock wore off, she wondered. There seemed little to do but sleep. They had even removed her computer; that action suggested her enrollment in her online classes was over. And there was no way to contact Kenji to tell him why she wouldn’t be talking with him again. Yet, even though she had nothing to do but lie there, Takara was loath to sleep. After all, the quiet was peaceful, and it seemed the days were now the things to fear.

It was a different type of dream that descended upon Takara that night. It actually seemed more like a home video — only her eyes were the lens of the camera.

A soft smattering of fresh snow had deposited upon the sidewalk outside. It was too soon for anyone to get to clearing it. But Takara wouldn’t have it any other way since the colony only created snow for special occasions. Still, it was slippery, and as her feet gave way underneath her she clutched onto her father’s arm — her father.

She looked up at him in a daze. That moment something inside her present mind told her that this wasn’t right — that he wasn’t here anymore.

Yet, even though her mind was partially roused from slumber, her heart clung on to him. And he smiled down at her. She quickly returned the sentiment. Then, just as quickly as the thought that she was in fact really in a different time and place appeared, it vanished.

Into the limo they went. She could see her breath upon the window, feel the cold pulling the heat away. She removed her right hand from the white muff she had been carrying and began etching her last name into the fog on the window. There was a jolt as the limo went forward, and Takara’s heart beat with just a little more force. It was almost as though something was troubling her, but then she remembered that at that moment nothing had happened … yet. So, the concern flitted away.

Her father asked the driver to go downtown past the shops and their displays.

Takara was thrilled. Her father had been too busy to take her there last year. The lights were even more spectacular than she remembered; they glistened like raindrops in the morning sun.

And then the driver made the turn down the dark road towards home.

“It’s been a great night, hasn’t it, Takara?”

“Yes.” She smiled at him.

“We’ll have to do our best to make it here again next year.”

“I …”

There were lights behind them now, only they were the high beams of an approaching car. Takara turned and looked back. The approaching car hit a dip in the road then, and the lights pointed downward briefly.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara uttered.

The car behind them jutted forward suddenly, right as the limo was taking a curve.

For an instant, Takara caught sight of her father as he was … as he had always been to her. Then, and for a few moments afterward, a montage of spinning, of jerking to and fro, and of blood filled her mind. And then there was just darkness: darkness in her mind and the darkness of her room at the Institute —the darkness which had swallowed her whole.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 15

“Takara, please sit down.”

Takara looked at the man for a moment; then, she looked at Mr. Tyler. Finally, she did as the other man, Mr. Connelly, requested. Takara instantly felt anxious upon entering the room. She decided to do her best to hide it. She crossed her hands in her lap. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder what Mr. Connelly could want. After all, it had been how long since she had seen him? It seemed like forever.

“I received an interesting message today.” Mr. Tyler began.

Takara glanced down slightly, considering.

“You don’t seem surprised.” he noted.

She looked up.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Takara replied in all earnestness.

“Your mother …”

Takara worried that her eyes had flashed recognition. Yet, she couldn’t help but want more details about her mother. Then, her heart sank. What if he was going to prevent her from leaving somehow? Takara could feel her heart begin to pound.

“It appears she’s coming here to visit with you.”

Mr. Tyler stood and began to pace.

“Apparently, she received word recently — from somewhere — that your father had died. Now I wonder what she could want. She hasn’t been in your life for years.” Mr. Tyler noted.

Takara could tell he was fishing for information. He obviously wanted to know what her mother knew. He probably already suspected that Takara had been the one who had gotten word to her mother. But he wasn’t the only one with suspicions; Takara had plenty against Mr. Tyler as well. And they all centered around what had happened with Kenji the day she gave him her letter. It seemed clear that Mr. Tyler had tried to stop her from telling others about what was going on in her life just as he now knew that he had failed at it.

“Is there anything you wish to say to me?” he suddenly asked her.

Takara looked at him with intensity.

“Why would you possibly care that I leave here? Assuming my mother is even coming here to get me, I would have thought you’d be happy to have me gone. I’m clearly in the way here.”

Mr. Tyler looked at Takara a moment.

“Hmm … do you think she’ll take you back with her?”

Takara’s brow furrowed. She wasn’t sure what he was getting at.

“Yes, I mean she probably will. Her work is on another colony.”

Mr. Tyler thought a moment.

“All right then. Make sure you have all your things together. Your mother should be arriving within the next couple of weeks.”

“Couple of weeks …” Takara repeated wistfully.

“Thank you.” she said. She started to stand up.

“Yeah … you’re welcome.” he responded. He waved her off dismissively.

Suddenly, Takara froze. She saw something on top of the file cabinet behind his desk. Her brow furrowed just slightly at the sight of her father’s folder, the one missing from his office. When she looked back at Mr. Tyler, he was just turning towards her again. She focused on the news about her mother in order to be capable of smiling at him. Then, she smiled at Mr. Connelly and left.

Takara paced around once she got back to her room. She also started to wring her hands. On the one hand, why should she be surprised that Mr. Tyler was the one who had taken her father’s folder? It stood to reason. He was the only one she had seen in her father’s office. Perhaps, she had just become so preoccupied with everything else that had been going on that she forgot about the folder. No … that wasn’t it. What had really happened was that Takara had assumed the staff had just been clearing out her father’s office in order to reuse it. Only they never did do that.

But what difference did it make? Of course, they would use her father’s research at the institute he founded. And yet, for some reason, she couldn’t stop it from bothering her. Takara sat upon her bed. Maybe, despite visiting her father’s grave, she still wasn’t capable of letting him go. She sighed. Maybe she was expecting too much of herself. She would always love her father, after all. And yet, she still felt as though she was letting them both down. Maybe it was the seemingly disrespectful way his memory had been treated since the accident. Not only would her father not have approved of the way Takara had been treated, but the people around here never talked about how much he had contributed to this place. And then to have his office rooted around in … it was as though they used him and tossed him aside. And Takara? It was almost as though she was a reminder of him that they wanted to get rid of.

“Well, I might as well try to sleep.” Takara concluded. “Nothing can be decided tonight.”

She went to switch off the light. Then, she got back into bed. Only, of course, she couldn’t sleep.

“It’s okay.” she told herself softly. “It doesn’t matter that they took his folder …”

Mr. Tyler couldn’t take her father’s memory away from her. Thinking of that did the trick. She could finally feel herself relax again, and she could feel her mind begin to drift …

Then suddenly, a noise brought her back to alertness. Maybe if a few more moments had passed, she would have sunk so deeply into sleep that she would not have noticed the noise or would have blown it off. Instead, it jolted her awake. Someone was in the hall.

“At this time of night?”

Could it be that Mr. Tyler was about to go back into her father’s office looking for more information? Takara went toward the door and began listening in.

“I don’t know why we’re bothering. I told you it wasn’t here.” a voice said. It sounded like Mr. Tyler’s voice.

“Well, then where is it? It doesn’t bother you that it’s missing? I mean, it could be problematic if someone were to stumble across it.”

“All right.”

Takara could hear a door open and close. Then, all she could hear was mumbling.

Takara leaned her back against the door and waited. She could hear things being jostled about inside her father’s study. Eventually, after what seemed like a long time, the two men re-entered the hall.

“I don’t get it. Are you sure no one else has been in here?”

“I told you I searched it right after …” Mr. Tyler responded. “I have no idea where he put it, but as I said I made a copy of it. No one is going to be allowed into the Institute that day, so what does it matter for all intents and purposes?”

“I guess. But we might have to move up the timetable.”

“What? Really?” Their voices became fainter as time progressed.

Takara breathed out. She had grown anxious when the men had questioned whether someone else had been inside her father’s office. Yet, Mr. Tyler didn’t seem to remember her having been in there.

After there were a few moments of silence, Takara reached for the doorknob. She slowly turned it; then, she waited. She breathed again. She considered just going back to sleep, but more than one thing was motivating Takara to leave the room. One part of it was anxiety. The noise from outside the door had upset her, and she wished to pace the halls. The other reason was that she wanted to see whether there was any evidence of what the two men had been up to in her father’s office. She had a feeling there wouldn’t be any evidence, and the door was most likely locked again. And yet, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from checking.

Takara slid out into the hallway as quietly as possible. It was strange, but she walked along in a sort of daze. It seemed unreal as she spied her father’s door in the dimly lit hall.

And then, could it be? Could it be that the door was left slightly ajar? Takara reached her hand out toward the knob. Her fingers barely grazed the metal when she heard a voice behind her startling her ears.

“I knew I forgot something.” Mr. Tyler said.

Takara whirled around toward him. Moments later, Mr. Tyler pulled her father’s door shut and locked it.

“Going to the bathroom again?” he asked her sarcastically.

Takara stood her ground this time and looked up at him defiantly.

“What difference does it make?” she countered. “It’s my father’s office. He even slept there on that sleeper sofa. Why shouldn’t I go in there? I’m his daughter.”

Mr. Tyler appeared to be taken aback by Takara’s sudden brazenness. He stood there a moment just staring at her.

“And you just happened down this hallway? You weren’t eavesdropping on me and my client?”

It was Takara’s turn to be stunned silent.

“I could hear voices.” she admitted. “But mostly I couldn’t understand what you were saying.”

“Because it’s none of your business!” Mr. Tyler relayed. “This whole institute is none of your business. This institute is my business. Your father’s effects are part of the Institute. I thought the lock would make it clear to you that I don’t want you in there. You’ll be leaving here soon thankfully. The least you can do is to try to stay out of my way until then.”

Takara was suddenly afraid that Mr. Tyler could become violent. There was an ominous air about him. His eyes seemed particularly dark.

“I suggest you go back to your room — now!”

Takara turned without hesitation and headed straight there.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 14

As it turned out, Erik wasn’t hard to find. On most afternoons, he was either in the virtual reality corridor or waiting to go in. During the waits, he spent time at a computer station learning the way the computer’s program interfaced with the program running in the virtual reality corridor. When he spotted Kenji at the arcade on a Tuesday afternoon, he assumed Kenji was there for a similar reason. Actually, Erik was sitting in a different spot than usual. So, when he saw Kenji heading toward the console they usually worked at, he called out to him. Kenji came right over.

“See this video on the latest advancements at the Virtual Reality Institute.” Erik pointed out to Kenji. “Apparently, they have created an interaction between robotics and the program. It also allows you to utilize simulated energy weapons instead of the real thing, but the program reacts to it just as though it were the real thing. And the rooms can be enhanced by the virtual reality. You see, the physical typography of the room might even have the capacity to be staged. That way, it could conform to the virtual reality setup. Of course, some of this is still in the planning stages.”

“Yeah.” Kenji stated in a dazed tone of voice.

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked. “You seem distracted. You weren’t kicked out of class after all, were you?”

Kenji looked around then sat down next to Erik.

“I’m actually worried about Takara.” Kenji admitted.

Erik raised an eyebrow. Kenji had thought a lot about whether or not to confide his concerns to Erik. After all, it wasn’t absolutely necessary for Takara and him to do this thing — to visit the spot where her father was buried. He spent many hours lying awake the last couple of days wondering whether he should try to do it and whether he could pull it off if he did try.

In the end, he concluded it was worth it to try. It was important to Takara, and he wanted to do this thing for her. It also gave him something to think about other than the fact that she would soon be moving far away.

“So, what is it?” Erik wondered.

“It’s that.” Kenji said while nodding toward the screen.

“The Institute?”

“Yes, she lives there.” Kenji whispered.

“Really?” Erik responded in an equally low tone. He looked at the screen again. “I mean, I knew she lived close by. But then, I guess there aren’t really any houses near there. Still, I didn’t know anyone actually lived there.”

“Her father was instrumental in the creation of the Institute, but he died not that long ago.”

“Yeah, I think I heard about that.”

“Anyway, she … is hardly ever allowed to leave that place.” Kenji confided. “What’s more, she was in a coma when he died. She never got to go to the funeral, so she never had a chance to see the place where he was buried. She thought he might be buried in a local cemetery. I stopped by the place, and I found the grave. I was hoping you could help me give her the opportunity to go there.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Erik asked.

Kenji smiled. Then, he considered.

“All I can think of is that we get our work done quickly; then, we all go to the virtual reality corridor. We’ll start the program then leave. Then, you could stand outside the chamber, and tell the teacher you’re waiting for us to be done, so you can go in.”

“All right.” Erik hesitated. “I guess that could work.”

“Well, obviously if Miss Harrington insists on going in to check up on us you could get into trouble.”

Erik shrugged.

“I don’t care. I’m more concerned about being bored that long.” Erik joked. “Just make sure you get back when you can.”

 

***

 

Takara thought it was possible that her mother would take her to her father’s grave. Maybe it was wrong to involve Kenji and Erik more than she already had. Still, what if she had to leave the colony quickly? How could she leave without visiting her father’s grave? Maybe it was selfish, but she needed to do it. She needed to out of respect for her father but also because she wanted to spend some more time alone with Kenji before she left. Takara tried to bury her guilt and just nodded when Kenji explained his plan to her. Both he and Erik seemed so willing to help her, but should she let them?

“Well, let’s get this work done!” Kenji exclaimed with enthusiasm.

The assignment was actually tough this time. For a while, it filled the three with anxiety. Takara realized how much she wanted to go to the cemetery when it occurred to her that Kenji’s plan might fall through after all. Even Erik started to bite the inside of his lip.

“There. I’ll turn it in; you two head out.” Erik announced hurriedly.

“Are you sure?” Takara asked.

“Yes, just don’t get caught.” Erik told them. “Oh, and get back soon. We’ll be cutting it close as it is.”

Perhaps it was wrong of her, but Takara didn’t think much about Erik after she stepped outside the arcade. The wind on her face was enough to make her forget all of her stress — if only for a little while. In fact, Takara was feeling so relieved to have this feeling of freedom back that she did something she probably never would have had the nerve to do otherwise: Takara reached out and grabbed Kenji’s hand.

Kenji looked over at his hand entwined in hers and smiled. This was turning out to be a good day after all.

It was getting hot. The temperature outside wasn’t too bad, but the pace Takara and Kenji were setting for their walk made it seem hotter. But there wasn’t any time to spare. As the church and its grounds came into view, Takara worried what would happen if they had trouble locating her father’s grave. What if Kenji forgot where it was? But he didn’t; he led her right to it.

Takara’s eyes began to water as she stood before her father’s tombstone.

“I miss him.” Takara admitted. “I wish I could talk to him one more time — have him hold me … You know, I feel as though I let him down somehow.” she added in a whisper.

Kenji looked over at Takara, unsure of what to say to her.

“There’s obviously nothing you could have done.” Kenji heard himself saying aloud.

Takara looked over at him through her tears; then, she smiled at him wanly.

“Thank you … for your sincerity.” Takara told him.

Takara looked down at her father’s simplistic tombstone.

“At least he’s in a better place.” she remarked.

She smiled softly. Kenji nodded.

As they looked at each other, the shared feeling became clear. They both leaned forward slowly, somewhat hesitatingly, and then they kissed. Their lips barely touched; they felt the pressure. A rush went through them. And then it ended — just as their nerve did. It was enough.

Takara’s eyes glanced downward briefly. She could feel her face redden a bit.

“Well …” Kenji started. “We should probably head back … if you’re ready.”

“Oh, yes, we should. I mean, I could probably stay the rest of the day, but that isn’t fair to Erik or to you. Not to mention the fact I can’t afford to get into trouble, especially now that my mom is coming.”

“I’ll give you a moment then.” Kenji backed away.

Takara stepped forward and placed her palm on the tombstone. She softly spoke a little prayer to God. In it, she thanked Jesus for taking care of her father. Then, she smiled and bit her lip. Finally, she forced herself to turn away.

“Kenji.” Takara spoke as she approached him.

“Yes?”

“I think I’m ready to go now.”

“All right.”

They walked off together hand in hand.

Takara still wasn’t in the best of shape, but she was going to walk as quickly as possible anyway. After all, the sooner they got back the better.

“What time are we looking at?” she asked Kenji as they reached the outskirts of the cemetery.

Out of the corner of her eye, Takara could see Kenji lift his wrist to look at the watch strapped on it. Suddenly, he stopped short. Takara stopped as well. She leaned forward to catch her breath.

“What is it?” she gasped.

Kenji looked ashen. For a moment, Takara wondered whether Kenji was going to pass out.

“We’re cutting it pretty close. We hurried to get here, but it must have taken longer than I realized.”

“What are we going to do?” Takara questioned.

Kenji’s brow furrowed.

“Wait! I have an idea.” Kenji sifted through his backpack. Finally, he pulled out his phone.

“Kenji, I’m not sure we can risk calling a cab.”

“That’s not whom I’m calling.” Kenji groaned. “Hey, Mom, it is I … Kenji. Yeah, I know you have only one son, and I didn’t need to finish that sentence. Umm … yeah … okay … yeah. Yes, I have a reason for calling. I was wondering whether you could give my friend and me a lift. No, I’m actually at the church on Willard. Thanks. But can you come right away? Oh, great! Thanks! Love you, too. Bye.”

Kenji hung up.

“Now I just hope she does come right away.” Kenji mentioned.

He and Takara sat nervously on the curb. Takara looked over at him questioningly.

“We never could have made it back on time if we had tried to make it there on foot.” Kenji noted. “Still, it is hard to just sit here and wait.”

Takara nodded.

Fortunately, it was not long after that statement that a familiar hover vehicle rounded the curve and came down the street. Kenji jumped to his feet.

“Here she comes!” he announced ecstatically.

Takara rose slowly and dusted herself off. She smiled when Kenji’s mom came into view.

Kenji held the car door open for Takara, and they climbed into the back seat. Mrs. Moto looked at them in the rearview mirror.

“Do I need to drive you home, dear?” she asked Takara.

“Umm … can you drop us off at the arcade?” Kenji asked.

“You mean, class isn’t over?”

Takara and Kenji looked at each other.

“Kenji … he walked me to the cemetery to see my father’s grave. I was in the hospital when my father was buried.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“We finished our homework, but if they call roll again …” Kenji began.

“No need to explain further, Kenji. I’m glad to help!”

“Thank you.” Takara responded.

“I’ll try to get you there as fast as I can … without risking being pulled over, of course.”

“Thanks, Mom!” Kenji exclaimed enthusiastically.

When they arrived back at the arcade, Takara and Kenji were relieved to see that the bus was still there, though parked some distance away. Still, it didn’t mean their absence hadn’t been noticed.

“Thanks again, Mom.” Kenji repeated as he and Takara exited the car.

“No problem. I hope it goes okay.”

Kenji and Takara forced themselves to walk slowly into the building. At least that way if they were caught re-entering the building the teacher might assume they’d been close by the arcade all along.

As they got off the elevator on the third floor and turned the corner, their eyes searched for Erik. He was standing right where they’d left him. The only way they could tell he was stressed was by the way he was staring at the clock. He was noticeably relieved when he saw them.

“Wow, you guys …” he stopped short.

His gaze had caught something above and beyond them. Takara and Kenji turned toward where he was looking and saw Miss Harrington.

“There you three are. We’re loading up the bus.” she announced.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 13

Kenji was very anxious. Waiting for Friday had begun to take its toll. He had worked with his father that week, an experience which was surprisingly enjoyable. His father as a parent made for a sometimes awkward adolescence, but as a boss he was surprisingly fun. Then again, since Kenji didn’t take his temporary job as seriously as he did his own daily life that might explain the difference in his feelings. On the other hand, maybe he should care what his father did for a living. It helped his family to eat and have a place to stay. Also, his father was actually really good at running his business of “Party Favors and Doodads.” Yes, that was the name of the company.

Kenji never really appreciated his father’s unusual talent for creating and selling random stuff before that week. It was a rare talent actually — one at which his father excelled. Actually, as Kenji found out, it was the only thing that his father did at the company. The rest of the work went to the accountant, to the custodian, or to the assistant … yes, that assistant. Well, his father said it was a small business, and Kenji couldn’t have agreed more.

The assistant’s job? Well, it pretty much entailed whatever his father thought that it did at any given moment. No wonder his usual assistant needed a break! Of course, every time Kenji found himself with a new task to complete he felt relief. After all, it made his absence from class seem more excusable. True, he didn’t have permission to take the time off. He thought about getting permission in advance, but what if he was denied? No, he couldn’t risk that. And he needed to talk to Takara in person before speaking with her over the online connection. The Friday field trip seemed like the only opportunity he’d have to be able to do that. Yet, it had occurred to him that he might be kicked out of the course altogether because of his absence. Then where would he be? Perhaps, he could hang out at the arcade and get word to Takara through Erik if he couldn’t do it himself. Regardless, the most important thing was for Kenji to get through the week, and then he could talk to both Takara and Erik. That way he could make sure they wouldn’t discuss anything to do with Takara’s letter online or in front of anyone else.

“Well, good news, Kenji. Miss Adams is coming back next week, so it looks as though you can go back to school then.”

Kenji looked at his father quizzically. Apparently, his father had forgotten that this scheme had merely been a way of giving Kenji an excuse to get out of class. Or, maybe his father really did need him around. Then again, his father could just be letting Kenji know that he’d be going back to class next week just in case he had other plans. After all, taking the class in the first place had been his parents’ idea. No matter what the case might be, Kenji was determined to be as reliable a student as possible from that point forward. After all, he wouldn’t be able to guarantee seeing Takara again otherwise.

Kenji had trouble sleeping Thursday night. He kept waking up over and over again fearing that he had slept through his alarm. Eventually, it did go off on its own.

Kenji was sort of in a daze as he began his day. He still had the adrenaline in him that had kept him up for most of the night. He had kept playing out in his dreams how this upcoming day would unfold; in fact, he’d been thinking about it all week. All he wanted to do was set things right with Takara and Erik. He didn’t want Takara worried about him. He also didn’t want to be kicked out of that class.

“Kenji, are you going to eat that breakfast or just stare at it?” his mother asked him.

Kenji looked up with a blank expression on his face at his mother.

“Oh, sorry.”

He began to eat the breakfast cereal.

“Seems you’re up early today.”

“Yes.” he replied after he finished chewing.

“I wonder though. I got the impression you didn’t like this course. You know … if it’s really that bad it’s not too late to drop it.”

“Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I love it there. There were just …”

How could he explain it?

“Oh, well, you’re like your father when he gets an idea. He just stops making sense. Actually, that happens a lot.” she laughed. “Anyway, you’d better get going to that class you love so much! You don’t want to miss the bus!”

“Yeah!” Kenji jumped up from his chair, a look of concern on his face.

“Kenji, I was kidding. You have plenty of time.”

“And a lot to make up for.” he said. “No point in taking chances.”

Kenji grabbed his bag and headed for the door. Then, he turned around and looked at his mother.

“Oh, by the way, if I need a ride later …”

“I’ll be here.” She smiled.

“All right, good-bye!”

“Good-bye, Kenji.”

 

Kenji’s nerves were frayed when he got on the bus. The first person he ran into was his teacher.

“Kenji? I thought you dropped the course.” she noted in a rather cold tone.

“Umm … I have a note from my dad.” Kenji began to get something out of his bag.

“No, don’t bother now. Later.” she said, waving him off.

It was strange to Kenji how different Miss Harrington was now in comparison to his first impression of her.

The next person Kenji saw was Erik, who gave Kenji a skeptical smile. Kenji was surprised Erik wasn’t already at the arcade. Maybe he ran out of things to do on his own, Kenji concluded.

“Hey, long time no see.” Erik mentioned.

Kenji turned a cautionary look toward the front of the bus where the teacher was seated. Sure enough, she was looking straight at him. She then turned forward again.

Kenji took the seat across from Erik. He then gave Erik a concerned look. Erik looked at Kenji quizzically for a moment; then, Erik began to fill Kenji in on the class discussions. Kenji was grateful for that.

As the bus rolled on, Kenji became aware that they were coming close to Takara’s address. At first he didn’t see her, but then she seemed to step out from behind a shrub. Her face was downcast. She barely looked up when the bus came to a stop in front of her.

Takara slowly walked toward the bus. When she stepped up onto the bus, her eyes just happened to glance up. Almost instantly, her eyes locked on to Kenji’s. At first, a look of surprise crossed her face. Then, she looked off to the side, and her brow furrowed as though she was confused. She looked at him again briefly then down. Finally, she walked forward as the bus moved on. She sat a couple of seats in front of and across from Kenji. Occasionally, she would glance back at him. Kenji was upset that she seemed hurt. Kenji sat back in his seat and sighed. He kept reminding himself that what he did was necessary. He told himself that she would understand once he had the chance to explain. Kenji wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime.

Once they arrived at the arcade, Kenji suddenly stood up from his spot. Maybe he could whisper something to Takara as he passed by her. But before he could even turn toward Takara, the teacher called out to him.

“Kenji, come here a moment.” she called forth.

Kenji glanced at Takara then headed forward.

“You can sit over there.” She directed him to the seat across from her. He did wonder whether she was going to talk with him in front of the other students while she kept them all waiting.

“All right.” The woman stood. “The rest of you can go inside and get on your computers. I’ll be up in the computer room shortly to start you on your assignments for today.”

After she finished speaking, the other students filed out one by one. Erik raised an eyebrow as he passed by Kenji. Takara looked at Kenji but said nothing.

“Well, it’s been awhile.” the teacher posed after only the bus driver remained on the bus with them.

This was what Kenji had been fearing would happen — Miss Harrington might bar him from class … and from Takara.

“Let’s see that note of yours.”

Kenji had fetched the note out of his bag during the bus ride. He handed it over to her then. The woman looked the note over.

“So, why exactly didn’t you ask for permission?” she asked Kenji pointedly.

When she stared at Kenji, he momentarily froze under her gaze.

“I was afraid you’d say no.” he muttered.

It was the first thing that came to mind. It was actually true in a lot of ways. Though the significance of why it was true wasn’t something he wanted to discuss. And he had to face the facts; it wasn’t exactly the best excuse ever. The teacher just stared at him as though she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Oh-kay.” she stammered.

She looked at the letter again and considered. She logged on to her tablet and seemed to be comparing the letter to something on the screen.

“Well, I believe this is your father’s signature.” she said aloud. “He did sign the checks after all.”

Kenji thought it was odd she would have taken that step to verify the authenticity of the note. He must be in real danger of being expelled, he thought. He bit his lip.

“All right.” she sighed. “I don’t need to deal with this. But let’s just say you are out of absences now. And you have a lot of work to do.”

“I did the work already.” Kenji offered.

He thought that would make her feel better about things. It didn’t.

“Well, under the circumstances I don’t think I can accept any work that is late. It wouldn’t be fair to the other students.”

She seemed to be waiting for a reaction. Kenji looked down and attempted to look shamefaced.

“All right. Get back with the others.”

“All right.” Kenji said.

He started to head off the bus.

“But I’m not sure what group you’ll be in …” Miss Harrington said in a parting shot.

Kenji froze. Then, he turned and looked at her.

“I mean, they might not want to accept you back.”

“Okay.” Kenji tried to sound uninterested.

The teacher sighed again. “Okay.”

She nodded toward the bus driver then waved Kenji inside. When Kenji got off the bus, he was shaken a bit. He had told himself before his encounter with Miss Harrington that despite his fears it probably wouldn’t end up being a big deal. He was glad he didn’t know how difficult it was going to be ahead of time. It wasn’t something he could have prepared for; in fact, it wasn’t something he would have wanted to prepare for. After all, it was clear Miss Harrington was watching his reaction while they spoke.

Kenji breathed out. Now he had to face Takara and Erik. At least the teacher hadn’t forbidden him to work with them. Still, he had to wonder how he was going to be received. Erik didn’t seem to be angry with him, but Takara … Would she feel as though he were playing games with her? Given that most of the people in her life seemed to be playing games with her, what if she didn’t trust him anymore?

Then, it was the moment of truth. He saw Erik and Takara in the foyer waiting for him. Erik seemed okay, but Takara was staring above Kenji’s head. Then, she slowly approached him. Right when she got to him, she whispered, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

She smiled softly. Kenji was stunned. He stood there agape. She wasn’t mad; she was only relieved that he was okay!

“Well, the teacher’s coming in. You’d better start working already, Kenji. You have a lot to catch up on!” Erik teased.

“Yes.” Kenji said. “Yes, I do.”

When they got to their computer unit on the second floor, Kenji apologized.

“I’m sorry that you guys are behind because of me.”

Takara looked at him blankly, but Erik looked at Kenji skeptically.

“Why? We haven’t met up without you.” Erik pointed out. “Any work you missed was individual work. I mean, I guess you did risk reducing our group to two people. Oh! And it seems the teacher has taken a particular interest in you now as well.”

Takara just sort of froze upon hearing those words as she was used to strange things happening, but Kenji couldn’t seem to keep himself from looking to see where the teacher was. He turned and glanced back. At that moment, he just happened to make eye contact with his teacher. Kenji then turned back right away. She did seem to be lurking around them.

“I wonder what her issue is.” Erik pondered. “I guess we’ll have to work very hard.”

“Yeah.” Kenji uttered.

“Oh, and by the way, I handled that thing you wanted me to do.” Erik added confidentially.

“Thanks.” Kenji said in a daze. Then, he realized what Erik was saying. “Oh, yeah, thanks!”

“No problem.”

Takara had no idea what they were talking about. As it turned out, it worked to Kenji’s advantage that Erik was unsure as to whether Kenji wanted Takara to know about the letter. Still, Kenji figured it was better to err on the side of caution.

“Only …” Kenji started. “There’s no point in discussing it.”

Erik, who was sitting at the monitor, looked over at Kenji with understanding.

“Of course.” Erik agreed.

“Especially online.” Kenji directed this to both Takara and Erik. “We can’t bring up anything other than school online.”

Takara got the meaning behind this last part of what Kenji was saying, but now it was Erik’s turn to be confused. Erik turned completely toward Kenji with a perplexed expression on his face. He then looked away and considered.

“Should we get to work?” Erik suggested in a suddenly serious tone.

“Yes.” Takara agreed.

Kenji was tempted to look back and see whether the teacher was still looming. Yet, if she was it might seem odd to her that he would look again. No, Erik was right. Kenji had to work, to act as normally as possible.

Erik certainly knew what he was doing; in fact, the work at that moment was far beneath his abilities. Still, he didn’t want to rush the group work too much lest his partners not know something contained in the assignment. But, as it turned out, they were all relieved when they seemed to be done early. Erik then decided to let Kenji or Takara turn in the assignment. So, he excused himself and headed for the part of the arcade that he was most interested in: the virtual reality corridor. He knew he was giving Kenji a chance to be alone with Takara. If Erik had turned the assignment in right away, he had a feeling the teacher would break Kenji and Takara apart. Then again, why wouldn’t Erik help them out when he could? It was not a big deal to him, after all. And if it were Erik who had a girl he was interested in, he’d want Kenji to do the same thing for him.

“So, are you all right?” Takara asked Kenji once they were alone.

“Sure. Oh, you mean before. Yes, I mean I got my dad to let me help him with work.”

Takara looked unsure but asked him nothing.

“You see …” Kenji looked around him nervously. “Someone was following me.” he whispered quickly. “And they broke into my home — at least I think they did. Maybe it’s nothing, but I was worried … about the letter.”

Takara pulled back slightly.

“I’m so sorry.” she stammered.

“No, no it’s fine.”

In an attempt to reassure her, he placed his hand on hers. Kenji reddened almost immediately.

“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, removing his hand swiftly.

“No, it’s fine.” Takara insisted.

She looked down.

“So, I hate to ask this, but was the letter sent out?” she put forth.

“Yes, it was. I mean, Erik handled it. I sort of felt bad for just giving something that important over to someone else. But it seems to have worked out for the best.”

Takara nodded slowly.

“Are you angry?” Kenji wondered.

“About what?” Takara questioned. “Oh, no. I’m grateful for your help.”

Takara smiled.

“Oh, you’re welcome.” he responded.

“What is it then?” he asked her when he saw that she had grown sad again.

“It’s just that I hadn’t really thought it through until recently. I mean, I guess I didn’t allow myself to believe it would happen. I haven’t seen … her in a long time — my mother.” she whispered the last part. “I’m glad, but I’m scared. I’m probably going to lose everything I have here …”

Takara did think of Kenji at that moment, and on some level Kenji realized it, too. She had begun having mixed feelings about leaving a few days before when she realized just how much she had come to rely on and actually care about Kenji. Still, there didn’t seem to be an alternative. After all, the way things were at the Institute, she probably wouldn’t be able to see Kenji again after this course was over anyway. Not to mention, the situation seemed to be getting increasingly tense for Takara where she was staying. It just felt wrong, and it felt as though it was getting worse. Still …

And there was also someone else who mattered to her — someone whom she dearly loved despite the fact that he was gone from this world. Still, his body remained somewhere on the colony. She had never had the opportunity to say good-bye to her father before he died. The last time she remembered seeing him was the night of that New Year’s Eve party. And then she had had the realization that she might not even have the opportunity to see where he had been buried. After all, leaving the colony might still not be an easy feat even after her mother came for her. Yet, Takara had to admit it was merely the Institute she wanted to escape from, not the colony as a whole.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

Takara found herself explaining to Kenji in hushed tones all about her father and what had happened to him — and to her as well — at least what she could piece together. Then, she expressed her sorrow over not being able to see where he had been laid to rest. Takara started to cry despite herself.

“That’s one of the things that still troubles me …” she explained, her lip quivering. “I was never able to attend my father’s funeral or to even see his grave.”

“And do you — well, do you have any idea where his gravesite might be?”

Takara was taken aback.

“No.” Takara started. “I mean, not for sure. There is this one place my father took me sometimes. It is a local Christian church. Do you think he asked to be buried there?”

Kenji considered.

“It’s worth finding out.”

“But I don’t think calling about it would work out well for me.”

“No.” Kenji considered.

“I just don’t trust very many people.” she added.

“I understand.” he assured her.

Kenji thought for a moment.

“I’ll see what I can find out.” he offered. “Still, we can go and look around there. Maybe there’s a way we can go there after we’re done with our assignment the next time.”

Takara was surprised.

“You think so, Kenji, but how can we arrange it? Someone always seems to know where I am. And I’m only allowed to leave the Institute during these school sessions. Once the session ends, I’m taken back.”

Kenji was silent for a moment. His first reaction was that he liked how she said his name. But what really got to him was that she finally admitted to him that she was basically being held against her will. Kenji wanted to do something, say something to help her — something more than he had been able to do so far.

“Maybe there is one way. I mean, he came through before.”

“You mean Erik?”

“Yes. I think he would cover for us without needing much of an explanation. I know it seems like a risk — maybe too much of a risk considering we’re so close to getting you out of here.”

“Yes, out of here …”

“So … Takara …”

She looked up at him.

“The question is how do you feel about it? Is it something you would want to do?”

“Yes.” she said without hesitation. “Do you think you could go with me?”

“Sure.” he responded with a smile.

She smiled, too.

But then, suddenly, his eyes shot to a movement he saw down below him underneath the transparent sides of the computer cube he was in. He had been keeping an eye on one person in particular. Every once and a while, he would glance down. He’d been startled more than once when he found that the teacher had moved unexpectedly. But thankfully, he just happened to look down this time as she was making her way toward the elevator.

“I’ll think of something. Maybe Erik can help me with that.” he said as he watched the woman disappear from his field of vision.

He then quickly turned toward the computer and started to ready the assignment for submission. Occasionally, he would glance over at Takara.

“I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put you at risk when you’re so close to being with your mother again.” he mentioned.

“I understand.” Takara told him.

“Still, you give it some thought, and I’ll give it some thought. I don’t think it is safe for us to talk about it — or even allude to it anymore.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“Still, if you need help …” Kenji could then hear someone say the teacher’s name from the main part of the computer room. “… with your assignments you’ll have to ask the teacher. I’m a bit behind I think, though I tried to catch up. I’m not even sure that I did everything right on this past week’s assignments yet.”

Kenji could see the faintest shadow of the teacher’s profile hovering past the threshold of the cube. Thankfully, without needing to be prompted, Takara followed suit.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m actually doing quite well in this course.”

“Oh. Well then, maybe you can help me if it turns out that I need it.” Kenji laughed.

Suddenly, the teacher stepped forward. Kenji was a bit surprised when she moved toward them, despite the fact that he had observed her presence. It probably turned out for the best that he reacted with surprise since it would make her less likely to suspect the topic of conversation had been changed for her benefit. And yet, Kenji could tell that Miss Harrington was wary of him at this point — perhaps just as wary of him as she seemed to be of Takara.

“Where’s Erik?” she demanded out of nowhere.

Takara sort of turned and looked at her then looked away.

“The virtual reality corridor.” Kenji answered.

“And where’s your assignment?”

“Already submitted!” Kenji declared.

Miss Harrington just stared at them for a moment; then, she spun around and left.

Kenji breathed out. Somehow, he found he was capable of keeping his composure better this past couple of weeks than he ever had before. And the more he was tested, the stronger he seemed to become. Still, how long would he be capable of keeping this up? During one of those times he lost track of Miss Harrington she could have sneaked up  on them and heard something she shouldn’t have. Still, it was a risk he felt he had to take. After all, he couldn’t talk to Takara anywhere else.

“Kenji? Are you all right?” Takara asked.

Apparently, Kenji’s staring off into space had distressed Takara.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” he stated, trying to sound reassuring.

Then again, maybe he didn’t need to reassure Takara after all. She didn’t appear too fazed by Miss Harrington’s latest behavior. In fact, Takara had become rather desensitized to people trying to shock her.

“Do you suppose we have to go to the bus?” Kenji then asked.

Takara took a look around her. Actually, her view of the other students was obstructed; still, she could hear someone typing away at the computer keys.

“I doubt it.” she responded. “We’d have probably heard an announcement telling us that we needed to go if we did need to go now.”

Takara looked back at Kenji. He seemed to be a bit anxious, as though he was unsure of what to do next.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” Takara asked him.

He looked at her directly.

“I don’t want to leave here really, but since it is inevitable I feel unsettled. I wish I could just stay, or at least choose when to go.” Kenji explained.

Takara nodded.

“Students it’s time to log off now.” the teacher announced from somewhere nearby.

“Well, I guess it’s time after all.” Kenji concluded.

Kenji had to get off the bus before Takara. He could see her look out the window of the bus at him. Kenji looked around him as the bus pulled away. No one seemed to be following him this time; that was good. The sky was overcast. The wind seemed to pick up; he braced himself against it. He imagined Takara standing in front of those dark metal gates then slowly walking up the driveway in this chilled air. How depressing it must be for her! And yet there was still hope, he reminded himself. Erik had mailed that letter. There was every reason to believe Takara’s mother would come for her.

But then there was still one more thing to do before that happened. He had offered to find a way to get Takara to her father’s grave, and he really wanted to pull that off. Yet, he was only thirteen. How would he be capable of making it happen? And if they were caught, it could ruin everything.

Well, one thing was for certain, he would have to get Erik’s help to pull off any plan. Kenji had decided against speaking to Erik after class. He figured skipping the bus ride home might draw undue attention to him, and Erik had lingered at the arcade. Still, unlike Takara, there would be an opportunity for Kenji to talk with Erik outside of class. Kenji knew Erik hung out at the arcade often. Kenji would just need to go on one of those days and find him.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 12

Being with his parents could sometimes be embarrassing for Kenji — but then that was probably true for most kids his age. The thing of it was his parents frequently teased him. And just like on this day, they also had a rather unconventional use of their free time. Assembling custom-made fishing lures wasn’t his father’s first strange hobby, nor was it the only one he tried to earn money from. But it certainly was the only one that Kenji had to actively participate in. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t look at his father’s next hobby in the same way.

What his parents wanted Kenji to do was playact at being an interested customer during his father’s selling time. His mother would do the same — only at different times. Since it wouldn’t work to have them linger around the booth the entire time, Kenji was allowed to wander around the market eating one of his mother’s cookies as he went. As it was, he began to relax in his parents’ presence. It was almost as though the incident in which he was followed never happened … almost.

Kenji became interested in a video game display. He looked down at his watch and sighed. He still had an hour left to go before his father would leave for the day. He bit his lip. Oh well, at least he had something to look at. Why not make the best of it?

Kenji shuddered suddenly. He wondered what that was about. Then, he looked to his left. Briefly, he made eye contact with a man, who was turned toward him, from a distance. The man then swiftly turned his face away from Kenji. Kenji’s brow furrowed. He looked forward again and bit his lip.

Kenji’s breathing started to quicken. Should he look to make sure this guy was in fact watching him? No, he decided against it; he didn’t want to confirm to the man that he had made him. Instead, Kenji chose to show an interest in the game display. He decided to pick up the most interesting game guide he could find and could afford with the money he had brought with him. He thanked the vendor and turned away. All of Kenji’s muscles were tense, and he could tell his face was flushed. Yet, he tried to look as casual as possible as he headed back to where his parents were. His mother had just finished her stint as an interested customer and happened to be heading in his direction.

“Kenji, what a great idea!” His mother pointed toward the magazine Kenji was holding in his hand. “That will make you look like a real shopper.”

“Is it working?” Kenji asked lowly.

“Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, I think there is interest. People do come around to see what I’m yelling about.”

“Yelling?”

“Well, exclaiming. I thought I’d add some more drama to it. Maybe next time I should buy a lure. I mean, I could always give one to my boss. He does like to fish. Hey, that’s not such a bad idea! All his friends might see it and want one.”

Kenji turned his head toward the back of the room while she was talking. He couldn’t help it. Now he was having that same feeling he had had before — only he didn’t see the man.

“Kenji, what’s wrong? You aren’t listening.”

“Sorry.” he said, turning back around. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“Well, we could go home if you’re not feeling well.”

His mother placed her hand on his shoulder.

“No, that’s okay.” he replied.

He was pleased that his mother gave him the option to decide for himself.

“Great! I was hoping you’d say that.” She beamed. “Here. Let me give you some more money, so you can buy a lure this time. Your dad can give it to his boss.”

“Couldn’t he anyway?”

She frowned.

“Yeah, but that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh — okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good.”

She handed him the money.

Kenji was surprised when he returned to find a crowd had gathered around his father’s booth. He was skeptical at first. He thought maybe his father had paid them to act interested, but it turned out they were students from the local high school heading out on a school wilderness trip. As he waited in line, Kenji cast a look around him. The only conspicuous-looking person that he saw was his mother peering out from the other side of a stack of books. She sort of waved at him then returned to reading the covers — presumably as a way to not draw attention to herself. Kenji sighed as he turned back toward his father. He was one part embarrassed and one part relieved. The relief was from seeing that his mother was all right while at the same time not seeing that strange man. It was pretty obvious where the embarrassment was coming from.

“I’m sorry, son, but we’re all out of my one-of-a-kind fishing lures.”

Kenji was deep in thought.

“Son, you’re going to have to come back next week …” his father stated. “Psst … Kenji.”

Kenji looked up. A phrase had caught his attention before the use of his name even had.

“Next week?” he stammered. “Are you serious?”

“We’re sold out. And why wouldn’t we be?” his father joined.

His father was missing his point badly. Then, his father whispered to Kenji, “The good news for you is we can leave early today.”

“Mom will be disappointed, I guess.” Kenji joked. “She wanted me to buy one for your boss.”

“Well, like I said. Next week.”

Kenji looked at his father quizzically. He was surprised to note that his father had taken him seriously.

“Let’s go get your mother and break the news to her. By the way, do you have any cookies left?”

Since his father had taken the bus to get to the flea market, it meant that the family could all ride back in the hover car together. Kenji sat in the back seat and stared out the window. He always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling, but these days he found he wished he had a dog — something to sit in the back seat with him; something that might understand him despite the language barrier; something that wouldn’t tease him just for fun.

Certainly having a pet might give him something to think on other than what his dad was talking about. His father unfortunately was giving a detailed account of his day at the flea market. Kenji guessed his father figured that since neither Kenji nor his mother had been there the entire day, there was much they had both missed out on. After all, there was bound to be some occurrence that one of them hadn’t seen.

As it turned out, it wasn’t all that difficult for Kenji’s mind to wander. And he thought about Takara, her letter, Erik taking it, and Kenji’s being possibly followed twice later. Still, as they pulled up to their apartment it all seemed rather surreal. Things like that just didn’t happen to him. That feeling of skepticism grew until the moment he and his parents reached their doorstep; then, it disappeared altogether. His mother let out a peculiar scream, and Kenji just kind of looked at her, unable to quite process what it was he was seeing.

“We’ve been robbed!” Kenji’s mother called out at the sight of the front door having been left cracked open.

“Robbed? Robbed of what?” Kenji’s dad countered.

“Well, how about Kenji’s computer?”

“Oh, yeah, right.”

“What do you mean?! We have lots of nice stuff.” Kenji’s mother retorted.

Kenji’s father scratched his head. “Well, should we go in?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we should call the local security force.” Kenji’s mom offered.

“Maybe …”

“If we had a dog, then it would know if someone was inside.” Kenji felt compelled to say.

They looked at him with accusatory expressions.

“Sorry.” he uttered self-consciously.

“Well, I guess I’ll take a look around.” Kenji’s father offered. “Maybe the apartment manager did an inspection and just forgot to shut the door.”

“Don’t try this at home …” Kenji muttered under his breath.

His father shot him a look before entering their abode. After a few surprisingly anxious moments, Kenji was glad to see his father returning.

“It’s all clear.”

“Thank goodness!” Kenji’s mom expressed.

Kenji and his mother took a step forward into the house.

“Yeah, the only room in the house that is messed up is yours, Kenji.” his father teased.

Kenji stopped short and looked at his father’s grin quizzically.

“What do you mean?” Kenji asked.

“It’s no big deal. I mean, when I was a boy it was much worse — if that could be imagined.”

Kenji headed into the house. Despite his father’s insistence, it did appear as though most of the drawers in the house had in fact been rifled through. The look on his mother’s face when he passed by her suggested that she realized the same thing.

But it was Kenji’s room that appeared as though someone had had a free-for-all. His backpack was particularly disassembled and the contents strewn about. Kenji’s mother appeared behind him. And when he looked up at her, he saw shock on her face. She had come to his door several times that day and knew his room didn’t look like this before.

“See, the computer’s still there.” his father consoled.

Kenji looked at him briefly. His father meant well, but he didn’t understand. They weren’t after the computer. That meant they were after something else of value to them — something that not everyone would even realize was valuable. All Kenji could think of was Takara’s letter, and he hoped they didn’t figure out that Erik had it — especially before it was mailed.

 

***

 

On Monday morning Kenji sat in front of his computer monitor pensively considering what course of action to take. Right before class, Kenji was stressed about Takara’s and Erik’s safety. But as much as he wanted to check on them, he decided to skip class that morning. He was afraid one or both of them would mention the letter. Someone might easily be monitoring the connection — particularly now. Kenji sighed and switched off his computer. He decided there was no point in waiting around feeling guilty about skipping class, so he ventured into the kitchen and sat down at the counter. His mother was busy baking muffins. When she saw him sitting there, she froze for a second.

“Oh, you scared me! Wait a minute, don’t you have a class?”

Kenji was staring into space.

“Kenji?”

“Yes.” He looked at her.

“Is something on your mind?”

Kenji considered for a moment.

“Just the break-in the other day.”

“But nothing was taken, was it?” she asked.

“No.”

“Kenji, I don’t mean to offend you, but you take everything so seriously.”

Kenji just looked off to the side and sighed.

“Well, since you’re being so ornery today I might as well put you to work. I have some baking to do. It’s my job to make the dessert for the brunch meeting today, and you’re going to help me.” his mother announced.

Kenji managed a smile. After all, he figured his mother was trying to be there for him. And at least this would be a way for him to keep his mind off his concern for Takara and Erik.

Kenji did try to log in right after class ended just to see whether Takara was there. She wasn’t. Afterward, he tried to convince himself it was for the best. He really couldn’t discuss anything with her online lest someone was watching, but he hated to think of her worrying about what had happened to her letter and maybe even to him. Still, how could it be avoided? He had to stay away from class until the next field trip. Kenji did breathe a sigh of relief when he saw the next field trip was scheduled for this week. Now he just had to hold out until Friday, avoiding the online class meetings until then. Fortunately, his regular school had already been dismissed for the summer.

Kenji made sure to check the assignment page. He thought the least he could do was make sure all of his online work was completed. That way, he hopefully wouldn’t be turned away from the field trip — for that at least. Still, how could he explain his absence if asked? Kenji was determined to find a verifiable excuse to miss the rest of this week’s online sessions; Kenji decided this part of the plan was something he could go to his parents with. They seemed to be really good at dealing with off-the-wall issues. So, while they were both sitting down, he asked, “I need to skip my online lectures this week, can you think of an excuse for me to do that?”

A strange look descended upon both of their faces. They appeared to be stunned silent. Kenji wasn’t really expecting this. Riotous laughter, yes — but this?

“Mom? Dad?”

“Kenji — are you serious?” his father asked him.

“Yes. It’s important.” He added the last part, hoping it would be enough information for them, so they wouldn’t feel the need to ask further questions.

“Oh, you know what?” his mother began. “I bet he just wants to skip class. Am I right? That is so rebellious of you! Of course, that you asked permission first kind of defeats the purpose!”

Kenji just looked at her blankly. Then, his parents looked at each other with confusion once again in their eyes.

“Umm … I suppose … well, my assistant is unexpectedly on vacation this week.” his father informed him. “I did try to find a temp but strangely none seemed to be available. I can have you fill in for her. It would actually be pretty helpful seeing as it’s a small business.”

“Great. I don’t even care whether I get docked points just as long as I can go to the field trip on Friday.”

His parents looked at each other again.

“Thanks, guys. You’re the best!” Kenji exclaimed before heading to his room.

At first, he just heard what seemed to be a muffled snicker. But then it quickly built until, once again, his parents had erupted into hysterical laughter. Kenji smiled to himself; it was worth it.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 11

Kenji knew the letter was important; he could just tell. Therefore, it was essential for him to mail it without anyone suspecting what he was up to. He decided to involve Erik as his unwitting accomplice. It would seem less suspicious if two friends headed out on an adventure than if he wandered around the streets alone. He had to make sure this letter wasn’t retrieved right after it was deposited in the postal box; therefore, he couldn’t tip off anyone to what he was doing.

On the one hand, he thought he was being paranoid; on the other hand, he noted Miss Harrington’s bizarre reaction to Takara leaving the building. People were watching Takara and controlling her movements. He just had to make sure this letter got to where it needed to be.

“Something going on?” Erik asked him.

Kenji had been standing outside the virtual reality corridor waiting for Erik. The question was how much should he say. Maybe Erik could point him in the direction of a postal box that was less conspicuous. The closest one might not be the best choice as it turned out. In his current frame of mind, Kenji resisted looking up the information online again lest someone saw him take the letter from Takara.

“I have to mail this letter …” Kenji stated.

“Okay.” Erik sounded confused.

“It’s sort of complicated.”

“Does it have something to do with that girl?” Erik asked.

“Yes.” Kenji wondered where Erik was going with that question.

“Why don’t you just give it to her then?”

“I can’t.”

“Oh …” Erik considered. “Oh, she left. Hey, they’re all gone!”

“Yes, the bus left a little while ago. I told them we weren’t needing a ride since we came here on our own.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Kenji considered.

“Like I said …”

“Listen, do you want me to mail it for you?”

“I … don’t know …”

“It’s not a big deal. There’s a box on the way to my house.”

Kenji found himself handing the letter over. His heart sank a little as he let it slip away from his grasp.

“You won’t forget?” Kenji asked.

“No.” Erik insisted. “I’ll do it. I know how hard it will be to work with you if I don’t.”

Erik placed the letter in his jacket pocket.

“Catch you later.” Erik said as he took off.

 

***

 

Kenji was concerned on his way home. He had decided to walk rather than call his parents for a ride, despite his home being pretty far away, in order to have some time to think through the things that were weighing on him. Had he betrayed Takara’s trust by giving the letter to Erik? It wasn’t as though he felt that Erik would purposefully let him down. But what if the letter fell out of Erik’s pocket? Kenji tried to tell himself that Takara could just write another one, but honestly her home life seemed really strange. Perhaps, it had something to do with her father’s death? Kenji had been afraid to ask about that. Not only did he not want to pry, but he felt it could also be potentially dangerous.

And to think he barely knew Takara before the course. He had liked her before; it wasn’t that. But she seemed so far away to him then. Now he was too worried about her to truly appreciate how great it was that they were actually spending time together.

Earlier that day, he had split his attention among looking for her to come into the arcade, exploring the computer programs, and talking to Erik. He had been worried what she might think when she found he wasn’t on the bus. His alarm clock hadn’t gone off in time for him to catch the bus, so his mother had offered to drive him. As his eyes drifted downward that last time, his eyes met hers. He was in awe of the brilliant smile Takara had given him; so much so that he was in a daze when he came down to the main floor.

Then, once again, it seemed as though her life had sneaked in on her. More than once before, she had alluded to being trapped at that place — that Institute. It was so bad apparently she didn’t even believe she’d be given the extra time to go to the arcade to complete her work.

Then, there was the way Miss Harrington had treated her. Kenji had never seen the teacher raise her voice before, but it was more than that. There was this venom to her words, as though she didn’t like Takara at all anymore. Kenji shook his head. What had Takara ever done to her? Nothing so far as Kenji could tell. Takara seemed to wilt like a blossom in the snow at that moment. Kenji sighed. He knew he wasn’t enough. She needed more support than he could give in the small amount of time they saw each other. And then, there was the letter. What would become of that?

Just then, Kenji noticed that the dull roar of a car engine, the awareness of which had entered into the back of his mind awhile ago, was still there. Kenji began to count the seconds of how long the sound remained. He began to wonder what its presence meant as time ticked by. As he stopped at the crosswalk, he could hear the hover car slowly approach. But instead of coming up to the line, it stopped just behind Kenji and idled there: he was being followed. Suddenly, Kenji’s concerns about Erik taking the letter from him were gone. As it turned out, Erik was the best chance that letter had of getting where it needed to go.

Kenji arrived home not long afterward. He had thought about going someplace else, so that those following him wouldn’t know where he lived. The only problem was he didn’t know where he could go nearby that would be safe. Not to mention, he was walking at such a clip by then that he was getting tired. He couldn’t seem to stop himself either. Ever since he realized he was being followed, he felt compelled to press forward and get home as quickly as possible.

Kenji ran up the stairs to his apartment, unlocked the door, and rushed inside. He’d made it! After removing his shoes and his bag, he yelled out, “I’m home!”

“Okay. No need to be so formal.” his mother returned.

Kenji sighed.

“I’m in the kitchen, by the way. I made some cookies if you’re interested.”

Kenji hesitated. It all depended on what type of cookies she was making. Some days they were great; other days his mother would try new recipes, new concoctions she created. Some of the combinations got to be bizarre.

Kenji entered the room then sat on a stool near the counter. He prepared himself for the worst.

“I made your favorite: peanut butter.”

“Is that all that’s in there?”

“Oh.” Her face fell. “Are you disappointed?”

“No, oh no! I can’t wait!”

“Good.” She smiled. “By the way, why were you out of breath? You usually say ‘I’m home’ with a lot more enthusiasm.”

Kenji looked at her skeptically.

“Some car seemed to be following me.” he admitted.

Kenji figured it was best someone else know just in case it was something. Still …

“But of course I can’t be sure.” he added.

“You know that wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Kenji was taken aback by her reaction.

“This city has gotten strange. I mean, they never did figure out where that robot went. Next time you’ll have to call me; I’ll drive you home.”

“All right.” He nodded.

“Still, it’s unfortunate a person can’t just wander the streets anymore. I’m not sure when that happened. This colony used to seem so peaceful.”

“I don’t know.” Kenji acknowledged.

His mother sighed. Then, she went to the oven to retrieve the cookies.

“Oh, by the way, your father has started a booth at the local flea market. He wants us to go help.”

“Today?”

“Yes.”

“What would I do?”

“We’re supposed to look interested in his collection of custom-made fishing lures just in case no one else is.”

Kenji was doubtful.

“What?”

“He doesn’t want to be embarrassed. And I’ve made plenty of cookies to keep you going.”

It only then became clear to Kenji that the cookies were a bribe to get him to help with his father’s latest money-making scheme. Oh, well. At least he’d have some cookies and something else to think about.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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