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Emilogue Finale: Tossing and Turning

mehkanik Aug 13th, 2012 7,696 Never
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  1. Part Four
  2. Tossing and Turning
  3.  
  4. It's hard to stay focused, nowadays.
  5.  
  6. Everything's tough to keep a grasp on. Nothing's really certain, you know?
  7.  
  8. You spend half your life asleep, lost, tucked away in some dream.
  9.  
  10. It's all intangible and fibrous, something that flows over your hands like a mix between sand and mist.
  11.  
  12. It guess it's sort of like fog.
  13.  
  14. Except it's made of memories.
  15.  
  16. And into it again I dive; a mess of dreams, memories and things I sometimes can't sort out from the real thing.
  17.  
  18. The mists come into one another, knitting together a scene.
  19.  
  20. Things like this are tough.
  21.  
  22. You're put somewhere you don't want to be -- but you can never quite turn away from it all.
  23.  
  24. You just accept it and play witness to it.
  25.  
  26. Why? Because it's terrible and beautiful all at the same time.
  27.  
  28. Everything pulls itself together in front of my eyes. Life on playback.
  29.  
  30. Although I want to resist, I'm just sucked right on into watching. Same as always.
  31.  
  32. "Hisao!" That same voice.
  33.  
  34. I watch from outside of it all as I turn towards her with a smile. There she is, holding our baby boy. Ryota. Ryota Nakai.
  35.  
  36. "Hey sweetheart." We've moved into our new home, a three bedroom house with a nice living room. It's a bit expensive, but I love it.
  37.  
  38. Emi and I have been battling lately over the third bedroom and whether we're going to turn it into a work out room or a study for my work.
  39.  
  40. Now, in the scope of things -- I don't see why it mattered to me so much then for it to be a study. Then again, it'd probably be worse now if I had given in to Emi.
  41.  
  42. The discussion unfolds in front of me. Technically, I'm the one unfolding it. I want to move, I want to experience this again. Unfortunately, all I can do is watch.
  43.  
  44. The seams of my vision begin to pull apart, threaded colors dissolving into strands of water. Soon, I'm drowning in water color, everything shifting and changing around me.
  45.  
  46. It pulls itself back together.
  47.  
  48. I wish I could do the same, sometimes.
  49.  
  50. When everything takes shape, I'm standing over our son's crib. He's sleeping soundly. Through everything, I can almost feel the heartfelt throb of happiness in my chest.
  51.  
  52. "Whatcha thinkin' about?" Lilts my spouse's voice.
  53.  
  54. "Oh, just that I'm glad he has your eyes." A lie, but I put on a good smile to go with it.
  55.  
  56. Emi sees through it like a champ. She's been an integral part of my life for long enough that it isn't hard for her to tell when I'm lying.
  57.  
  58. Instead of her usual accusations and playfulness, she strides over to me without much ado. My eyes watch as she enters the room from out in the hall.
  59.  
  60. The way she approaches me is a bit worrisome. It isn't the usual energetic way she carries herself but rather slow and methodical. Hands folded behind her back.
  61.  
  62. "What's the matter, Hisao?" Once she's in front of me, she takes hold of the tie I can't seem to find myself not wearing. Working nearly every day has that affect on you.
  63.  
  64. "Nothing."
  65.  
  66. "C'mon, don't lie."
  67.  
  68. She pushes a little against my chest. "C'mon, let out that big grumpy Hisao Nakai sigh."
  69.  
  70. "Ughhhhh."
  71.  
  72. "There you go."
  73. "Now, what's the matter?"
  74.  
  75. "I overheard the neighbors talking about us."
  76.  
  77. "Oh?"
  78.  
  79. "More specifically, you."
  80.  
  81. She's still wearing a smile. "Like what?"
  82.  
  83. "That we're not married. That I could go and 'mess' around or you could, or that our child might not even be mine."
  84.  
  85. Emi's smile folds quickly with her expression change to dismissiveness.
  86.  
  87. "Well that isn't the case, obvious-"
  88.  
  89. I have to cut her off. That isn't the important part at all. I know that much.
  90.  
  91. Hearing all this, I remember what happens clear as day. It lead me to a very important decision, one that I'm glad I made.
  92.  
  93. "Why don't we just get married?"
  94.  
  95. Then, it was a valid concern. I didn't like being looked down on by my neighbors, I'd fought like mad to get where I was. To stay alive all this time, to make the money I have.
  96.  
  97. I didn't want people looking down on the person who got me where I was, either. It was more insulting than anything.
  98.  
  99. And for the first time since I could remember, Emi actually yelled at me. It didn't happen right away, it was like watching a time lapse of someone become furious.
  100.  
  101. It's something I've tried talking to her about before, usually to no avail.
  102.  
  103. I guess this was breaking point.
  104.  
  105. "Absolutely not!"
  106.  
  107. I wanted to tear myself out of my body. I didn't want to experience this again. Hearing Emi shout at me, especially about marriage.
  108.  
  109. "I'm not going to have one of the best days of my life ruined because you feel obligated!"
  110.  
  111. I'm already frowning at her.
  112.  
  113. "I don't care what people think. I don't care if they think my child's illegitimate or what. We both know whose kid this is." I try and interject and get a word in, but she stomps her artificial legs.
  114.  
  115. "Fuck society! I've never been able to be a part of society because of how they look down on me, why should I conform to what they think is 'right'? Just so they can keep treating me terribly?"
  116.  
  117. She has to take in a breath because she's expelled so many words with a force I can't even describe. It's also one of the few times I've ever heard her swear.
  118.  
  119. "I don't have legs. People stare at me. My coworkers make fun of me. 'Legless girl doing physical rehabilitation? What a joke!' It chases me no matter how fast I run from it. I refuse to let them change how I live. And I will not get married to you because you feel like it would 'make everything better'."
  120.  
  121. I tried to respond, to just try and explain it to her. How I felt about it, why I wanted us to get married soon.
  122.  
  123. "No!" Emi practically pushed herself away from me.
  124.  
  125. "I don't care! This isn't up for discussion!" Storming out of the baby's room, Ryota started crying. I turned to him, resting my arms on the side while peering down at him.
  126.  
  127. "I should cry too, huh?" I pick up my little boy and cradle him against my chest, bobbing a little to calm him. I don't want to, though.
  128.  
  129. "Shhh. Look, daddy's got something." I reach into my pocket, fetching a little box.
  130.  
  131. "Shiny, isn't it?" I say softly, opening it. Inside, a little ring encrusted with sapphires. He starts calming down as he reaches for it.
  132.  
  133. Like the pent up sadness I felt then, the world explodes into a spray of color.
  134.  
  135. Quickly, it reforms into a familiar scene. I'm still standing over my son's crib, but it's been months since. We'd just gotten back from dinner with some friends. I'd reserved us a table at a really and we'd really had a nice evening.
  136.  
  137. For a second, I can place my hand to my forehead. Oh, I can move now? But shortly after, I begin moving again of my own accord. Of course.
  138.  
  139. I'm messing up my hair, grinning over my strategy. I hope it works, at least. I told Emi I'd check on Ryota, considering that we had Kenji babysit. He's plenty stable for all the ranting he does, but Emi still worries.  
  140.  
  141. I'm planning to throw her into a panic.
  142.  
  143. I come rushing out of the baby's room once I hear Kenji saying goodbye.
  144.  
  145. "Emi! Emi, oh god-"
  146.  
  147. She stumbles out of our room, her light green dress' straps half off. "What's the matter?!"
  148.  
  149. "It's Ryot-"
  150.  
  151. Before I can finish that sentence, Emi's already sprinting into the baby's room. I follow quickly after her, preparing myself. I have to do this perfectly.
  152.  
  153. Emi's staring into the crib, dumbfounded. I've been planning this all day. Everything was set up from the minute I woke up. I even had Kenji help me out.
  154.  
  155. I drop to one knee, reaching into my pocket.
  156.  
  157. Tied to our son's hand is a small but readable sign. It reads exactly what I'm about to say as Emi turns to me, a plethora of expressions playing across her face.
  158.  
  159. Worry, fear, excitement, confusion, frustration --
  160.  
  161. "Will you marry me?"
  162.  
  163. That's about when she punches me in the shoulder, a single happy sob breaking the silence between us. "Hisao Nakai, you pain. You scared me."
  164.  
  165. "I got your attention though. So?" I say as I stand up, bringing the ring closer to her.
  166.  
  167. She takes it into her hand. "It's beautiful..."
  168.  
  169. I smile while wrapping my arms around her. "So are you."
  170.  
  171. Before she can answer, it all melts away with the tears she sheds. It all runs into a massive lake beneath my feet, swirling and trying to take new forms.
  172.  
  173. I'm tired of this. Can it end yet?
  174.  
  175. As soon as I think that, the colors erupt upwards and as they fall, they coat shapes that quickly become people.
  176.  
  177. I'm sitting at a table, eating dinner with my family and Emi's. It's something that's long since been overdue, considering our child and everything.
  178.  
  179. Surprisingly, Emi's doing pretty well with Takeda. It's almost as if he were an actual part of her family.
  180.  
  181. That may be in part thanks to me, but also because of the fact that she started thinking about our child's future. 'I want Ryota to have a grandfather, even if he isn't my actual father.' It took her a while, but she finally came to terms with him.
  182.  
  183. My parents on the other hand weren't very happy with me. Emi was doing her best to be bubbly and every parent's dream girl for their son.
  184.  
  185. I can't really blame them for their displeasure, though.
  186.  
  187. I hadn't spoken to them very often. I mean, I'm really busy all the time. Once I started working on my own and paying all my bills on my own, I didn't need to keep in touch with them as much.
  188.  
  189. So they weren't aware of a lot of important things.
  190.  
  191. Like our son's birth until three days after the event.
  192.  
  193. Or what I do at work at A&M.
  194.  
  195. Or that I recently proposed to Emi.
  196.  
  197. My father, the bear of a man he is, slammed down his cup. "You really need to work on your communication or your marriage will end pretty quickly."
  198.  
  199. Takeda interjected rather tactfully. "I'm pretty sure they'll be fine. For being so young, Hisao's got a pretty good head on his shoulder. If it wasn't for him, Emi wouldn't visit on Saturdays like she usually does."
  200.  
  201. "Well, my dad only remembers me being an idiot who says all the wrong things. I learn from my mistakes, although he seems to think otherwise. Remember when you said I'd just wind up pissing away my tuition and failing out because my major was way over my head?"
  202.  
  203. "Hey, Hisao. Be quiet."
  204.  
  205. "Sorry, I can't hear you over the fact that I make more a year than you. What was that?"
  206.  
  207. My father 'hrmphs' at me.
  208.  
  209. "Just because you're twenty-something doesn't mean you can talk to me like that. Hell, you barely talk to me nowadays anymore in the first place. You have no right."
  210.  
  211. "Well, maybe if you weren't so pissy all the time I woul-"
  212.  
  213. "This curry is really good! What seasonings did you use?" My mom asks and Emi giggles a bit. "It's really nothing, just a little..."
  214.  
  215. Good derail, mom.
  216.  
  217. "Hey, don't change the topic."
  218.  
  219. A collective sigh from the table.
  220.  
  221. My dad grunts. "Look, I'm not trying to be the bad guy here." He pushes aside his plate. He doesn't eat when he's in a bad mood.
  222.  
  223. Directing his gaze and a finger, he addresses my fiancee. "I just want to ask you something."
  224.  
  225. "Not polite to point." My mom sips from her tea, smiling at my agitated father. He folds his hands instead, in a very annoyed manner.
  226.  
  227. "What is it?"
  228.  
  229. "In the common sense department, my son's about as sharp as a bag of cottonballs. He drowns himself in things he's interested in and forgets everything else."
  230.  
  231. He leans back in his seat. "You're going to be spending the rest of your life with him. I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with him not returning my calls or visiting his mother. She'll deny it up and down, but she misses him a lot."
  232.  
  233. He folds his hands on the table, focusing his eyes on them. He isn't one to ask for favors.
  234.  
  235. "Think you could get him to stay in touch more?"
  236.  
  237. Emi nods, a big smile on her face. "Of course."
  238.  
  239. Like wind blowing away dust, sand or some kind of particle -- everything just kind of floats away from me.
  240.  
  241. I'm tired of this all. I know what's coming next. It's always the same thing.
  242.  
  243. Intermittent scenes flicker before me, the dust of my mind reforming into shapes that speak for a few seconds before settling back into the corners of my brain.
  244.  
  245. Our wedding, Ryota growing up, Emi becoming pregnant with our next two children, their lives growing, our life together.
  246.  
  247. Then the same memory finally takes shape.
  248.  
  249. The one that my mind always leaves off on.
  250.  
  251. "I'm going for a run!"
  252.  
  253. I look to Emi and then out the window. "It's raining."
  254.  
  255. "No excuses! I have to run. Haven't in too long! It'll be refreshing."
  256.  
  257. I frown a bit.
  258.  
  259. Oh for the love of God, please stop her. Don't let her go.  I'm forced to watch this every damn time. I don't want to this time.
  260.  
  261. Hisao, come on. Please. Don't let her go.
  262.  
  263. I know there's something off, that it doesn't seem like a good idea.
  264.  
  265. PLEASE. Don't let her.
  266.  
  267. "I don't think it's a good idea." I never knew why I said it then, but I sometimes feel like I could hear myself, calling out.
  268.  
  269. Don't let her go.
  270.  
  271. I'm begging you.
  272.  
  273. The memory shakes, I'm trying my hardest to change or stop this scene. Its the one thing in my life that I wish I could change.
  274.  
  275. "Oh come on, you're just being a worrywart. It's just a little rain. I'll be fine." She walks forwards, kissing me on the lips with all her usual passion.
  276.  
  277. I sigh.
  278.  
  279. No!
  280.  
  281. "Alright, just don't be out there too long, okay? And call me if it starts raining too hard, I'll pick you up." She nods with a smile at my words and I kiss her back, patting her on the rear as she heads out the door.
  282.  
  283. Stop her, damn it!
  284.  
  285. I want to close my eyes, but they already are.
  286.  
  287. Things like this are tough.
  288.  
  289. You're put somewhere you don't want to be -- but you can never quite turn away from it all.
  290.  
  291. You just accept it and have to play witness to it.
  292.  
  293. The raindrops outside cause the scene to ripple, to slowly change. It's forcing me to see what I don't want to.
  294.  
  295. I'm sitting in the living room, checking my phone. It's been easily over a half hour since she left for her run. I think about calling her, but as I move my finger to her contact, the door opens.
  296.  
  297. "I'm baaaack!" A loud sneeze follows her statement with a laugh.
  298.  
  299. I walk to the front hall, giving her a weak smile. "You were out there for a while." I tell her.
  300.  
  301. "Pffft. The rain was so nice I decided to do a bit longer of a run than usual." Her voice sounds a bit off and she's soaked in rainwater.
  302.  
  303. I'm practically shouting at myself for letting her go, but I stop. It doesn't matter now, the damage has been done. The damage will always be done.
  304.  
  305. "How about we get you dried off, huh?" I ask. She nods. "I am pretty cold." She says with a triumphant smile. I smile as I sweep her off her feet and carry her into the bathroom.
  306.  
  307. This is especially why memories are so tough to deal with.
  308.  
  309. This is the most vivid memory I have of her; feeling her against my skin, soaked or not. She's straining to catch all the warmth my body has to offer and I'm glad to provide it for her.
  310.  
  311. And then I wake up, staring at the ceiling.
  312.  
  313. Placing a hand to my face, I slowly sit up.
  314.  
  315. Pneumonia.
  316.  
  317. Of all things to take her away from me.
  318.  
  319. She ignored how sick she was until one day she woke up, unable to breathe. 'I thought it was just a cold!'
  320.  
  321. Turns out it wasn't. It was the later stages of a bacterial pneumonia infection in her lungs. It'd filled her lungs and infected a lot of the tissue.
  322.  
  323. Slowly, it took hold of her body.
  324.  
  325. I held her hand when she passed.
  326.  
  327. That night, she asked me something during a short conversation.
  328.  
  329. "I'm sorry, sweetie."
  330.  
  331. I was more sorry that I couldn't hold myself together. It must've pained her so much to see me crying like a baby. Ryota didn't the entire time.
  332.  
  333. Our two daughters couldn't handle it and neither could I, so he tried to be our pillar of strength when I fell.
  334.  
  335. "Promise not to forget about me?"
  336.  
  337. I couldn't even if I wanted to. I relive my life with you every day I lay my head against the pillow.
  338.  
  339. I get out of bed, checking the time. One in the afternoon. Groaning, I stretch. Emi would be mad if she found out I was sleeping in.
  340.  
  341. Oh well. I'm retired. What else do I have to do nowadays?
  342.  
  343. I walk towards my window, pushing it open and looking down over my yard. Off in the distance, I can see Ryota and my youngest daughter running back up the road towards the house. In a nearby garden, my middle child is tending to some flowers. Looks like she already deweeded our vegetable garden.
  344.  
  345. Having heard my window creak open, she turns and looks towards me.
  346.  
  347. "Hey Dad! You should come down here and take a look at my tiger lilies! They just started blooming." I give her my usual weathered smile and nod.
  348.  
  349. "I'll be right down, Mayu."
  350.  
  351. I leave the window open, though. I could use some fresh air. That's most of why I came to live here around twenty or thirty years ago. I miss this fresh air. It reminds me of Emi, she was my breath of fresh air.
  352.  
  353. Plus, all my kids live in the city just outside of my little town. Mayu lives with me though. Doesn't want me being alone. The other two always visit, using my home as a running checkpoint.
  354.  
  355. I throw on some clothes. Just a pair of tan slacks, a plain tee and a white collared shirt over it. When I finally get down the stairs of my home, I move towards the little table in front of my porch's bench.
  356.  
  357. That's where my pipe box is. I open it, retrieving my pouch of tobacco, the pipe and a match. Without much thought, I fill and light it, moving towards her.
  358.  
  359. I kneel down in front of my twenty-five year old daughter, looking at the vibrant orange lilies. Reminds me of Emi's room at Yamaku.
  360.  
  361. "Don't you get tired of keeping an eye on me?" I ask, puffing smoke away from her.
  362.  
  363. "Nope."
  364.  
  365. "No men you wish you could bring home but can't? Shouldn't you be getting married soon?"
  366.  
  367. "Cut it out, dad."
  368.  
  369. I sigh. "You don't need to feel like you have to, you know." She pouts at me, reminiscent of Emi. I'm still wearing our wedding band. Could never take it off.
  370.  
  371. "I don't feel like I have to. I want to."
  372.  
  373. "If you say so. Very pretty, by the way."
  374.  
  375. She grins, placing her gloved hands to the undersides of the petals. "Aren't they?"
  376.  
  377. I scoff. "I was talking about you. Spitting image of your mother in that dress. I'm surprised you HAVEN'T brought a boy back home."
  378.  
  379. She pushes me and I laugh, having to catch my pipe as it nearly falls out of my mouth. "Ryota and Rena should be coming up the path in a little while, I saw them when I was in the window."
  380.  
  381. Mayu nods, taking off her gardening gloves. "I'll got get them some drinks. They'll be thirsty, I'm sure." She sprints off into the house. This family's usual mentality. Why walk when you can run?
  382.  
  383. As I walk into my house towards my kitchen, I hear a second pair of footsteps within.
  384.  
  385. "Who else is here, Mayu?"
  386.  
  387. "Oh, Aunt Aya came over while you were sleeping. She's been helping me tend to the gardens and yard."
  388.  
  389. Silence from myself.
  390.  
  391. "What, am I not allowed over?" Aya peeks out around the corner. She looks exactly as she did when I met her, except for the slight creases in her face and graying to her hair.
  392.  
  393. My hair is a bit grayer than hers though. Life's put me through my paces, for only being fifty-something. I forget, birthdays stopped mattering to me a while ago.
  394.  
  395. "I didn't say that." She's... been one of the only people to visit me consistently since my wife's passing. Rin had, Kenji had, my family had. Even Emi's family had from time to time.
  396.  
  397. Sometimes I used to wonder if it hurt Meiko to see her daughter buried more than it hurt me to watch her die in front of me.
  398.  
  399. "Hey, cut it out."
  400.  
  401. I puff smoke at her, somewhat annoyed. "You're too old to be depressed, so like I said: cut it out."
  402.  
  403. Nail on the head as always. I guess that's what happens when you have a friend who forces herself into every aspect of your life.
  404.  
  405. I turn out of the front room, sitting down on the cushioned bench. Once I'm comfortable, I see Ryota and Rena coming up the path. I wave to the both of them.
  406.  
  407. Rena's only in her early twenties, but Ryota's already in his mid thirties. He's married, has a kid. Does good for himself, makes good money.
  408.  
  409. "Hey dad! First, put out the pipe." My son commands, pointing at my face. I close my eyes defiantly, continuing to enjoy the flavor of the tobacco.
  410.  
  411. "Nope."
  412.  
  413. "We go through this every time. Why won't you just stop?" Rena asks, looking flustered.
  414.  
  415. Ryota has my hair, but Emi's eyes. Rena on the other hand, has her mother's hair, wavy and wild. Also what I suspect to be her grandfather's eyes; a deep blue.
  416.  
  417. "Because I'm a tired, grumpy old man. And whether you like it or not, this was a gift from Rin and I like it." I fold my arms defiantly and they give me that trademark family glare.
  418.  
  419. The 'C'mon, you can do better than that' glare. I swear, Emi had such an impression on these children before she passed away some twenty years ago. "Just because Rin has a bad habit and encourages it in you doesn't mean you should."
  420.  
  421. I tilt my eyes skywards. "Everything is bad unless in moderation. Stop worrying so much, I can take care of myself."
  422.  
  423. Twenty years, huh? I can feel the weight of my ring on my finger. It's been that long, yet I don't seem to feel like  that much time has really passed.
  424.  
  425. It might be because of all the time I spend in my dreams. My sense of time feels a bit skewed.
  426.  
  427. I close my eyes, letting my head tilt back until it rests against the reassuring wooden exterior of my house.
  428.  
  429. Ryota and Rena approach me, giving me hugs which I return tightly. These kids are my life. All I do nowadays is read and laze around the house.
  430.  
  431. As they enter the house, Aya exits. I turn forward again, closing my eyes like I had been doing before. The sun on my face was warm.
  432.  
  433. I can feel the weight of Aya sitting next to me.
  434.  
  435. And her hand intertwining with mine as she rests her head on my shoulder.
  436.  
  437. "It's nice out here." She says in a plain tone.
  438.  
  439. "Yeah, it is."
  440.  
  441. "You really shouldn't let things bother you so much, it upsets the kids."
  442.  
  443. "They're not really kids anymore, y'know."
  444.  
  445. "True... but still. There are people who love you and hate seeing you hurt and try to hide it."
  446.  
  447. At the word love, she squeezes my hand. I'm not resisting the gesture.
  448.  
  449. Aya and I have become a complicated existence.
  450.  
  451. She's been here for me in a way that I've needed since I've lost the love of my life. She provides a source of human contact that I can't really receive anymore.
  452.  
  453. It's not a relationship, although it's obvious how Aya feels. She's always felt this way. She's never been able to stick to a relationship. I never understood why. I don't see why I've been so lucky with people in my life by comparison.
  454.  
  455. The main reason why I'm okay with these little things is because she's never pushed for anything else.
  456.  
  457. It's always minor things. Hand holding. Sitting besides one another. Talking on the phone.
  458.  
  459. Aya's spent her life staying by me without ever asking anything of me. Only providing for me if I would ever need it.
  460.  
  461. For someone who Emi used to call so shameless, she's only ever loved and asked nothing of me.
  462.  
  463. And even now? She's content with this. Knowing that I can't love her. Knowing that Emi occupies all the space in my heart, living or dead. That this is just a poor man's medicine for a broken heart.
  464.  
  465. She's a good woman.
  466.  
  467. I wish she'd have done better than settling for me and this.
  468.  
  469. "Oh, Takashi called me earlier. He said he'll be coming by around three."
  470.  
  471. I groan, forcing my eyes open. Takashi. That good-for-nothing beret-wearing bum.
  472.  
  473. "Aside from Takashi coming by and me having no say in that, are you my new secretary now?"
  474.  
  475. Aya smiles, staring forward at the gardens she had been helping Mayu with. "He says you never answer his calls."
  476.  
  477. "Because he's an annoying jerk."
  478.  
  479. "Even if he is, you should be a little more considerate. Be the bigger person, you know?"
  480.  
  481. I yawn. "Nah. Sounds too much of a hassle for me. Too lazy for that." Aya prods me in the side.
  482.  
  483. "That's the truth. When was the last time you went running?"
  484.  
  485. "Probably over a decade ago."
  486.  
  487. "That's terrible, why not?"
  488.  
  489. "Don't have the spirit to. Don't have my running partner anymore." Aya practically flinches at my statement. I almost never mention that Emi's gone. It's not something I like acknowledging.
  490.  
  491. "Know why he's coming by?" I want to change the topic and I'm sure Aya does too.
  492.  
  493. "He didn't say so I have no idea."
  494.  
  495. Hmm. Well, I guess I'll find out when he gets here. Rena walks out onto the porch. "Hey, you. Why don't you get off of Dad? He's still married to Mom so long as he's wearing that ring."
  496.  
  497. Well, I take back that previous statement about my kids being okay with her. I guess Rena inherited that particular disdain.
  498.  
  499. Aya smiles softly, removing her hand from mine. "I know. But there's nothing wrong with two good friends being close, is there?"
  500.  
  501. Her almost... defeatist way of addressing us almost hurts me to listen to. I don't want to listen to this either.
  502.  
  503. "So, how was your run?"
  504.  
  505. My daughter beams. She's easy to redirect. "I practically beat Ryota during our initial sprint." I smile at her. "Good to hear. Keep that up, you'll beat him someday."
  506.  
  507. On cue, my eldest child walks out of the house, sipping a glass of chilled tea. "I doubt that unless you challenge me to a sprint when I'm elderly. I'll always beatcha." He says, messing up her hair like she was his child.
  508.  
  509. Considering her tiny stature, not like it's an unrealistic assumption to make.
  510.  
  511. "Yeah, yeah. Just wait! I'm going to start doing secret practice runs on my days off." Rena states, to which Ryota laughs. "Well, not so secret then, are they?"
  512.  
  513. "You know what, that doesn't really matter! What does is I'm going to make you eat those words. 'Can't beat me'. Just wait!" I can't help but smile, their energy is infectious.
  514.  
  515. What gets most of our attention is the sound of a vehicle coming up the dirt road slowly. It's a familiar olive sedan, beat up and well-worn from use.
  516.  
  517. Driving it is Takashi. There's a person in the passenger's seat, but I don't recognize them. They're wearing a  strangely designed bandanna, which throws me off a bit.
  518.  
  519. Arriving, Takashi exits out his side of the car. He doesn't look much different. Same messy blonde hair, face is a bit more rough.
  520.  
  521. He wears a dark green coat and a black collared shirt, as well as that stupid beret he always has. My eyes wander to his passenger... who pushes open their door with a foot?
  522.  
  523. Wait a minute.
  524.  
  525. The woman who steps out of the car, wearing the odd bandanna, deep red blouse and blue jeans --
  526.  
  527. Where's her eyebrows?
  528.  
  529. No.
  530.  
  531. "Rin, why are you wearing that bandanna?"
  532.  
  533. A lilted smile spreads across the paleness of her skin.
  534.  
  535. =====
  536.  
  537. I grab hold of Takashi's collar. Everyone else is inside and the door is closed.
  538.  
  539. "When the fuck did you plan on telling me she had cancer?"
  540.  
  541. "Calm dow-"
  542.  
  543. "I'm not going to calm down, Takashi. You're not good for her, I wish you would've stood away when I warned you before."
  544.  
  545. I don't even have the will to hit him. It wouldn't be worth it. When I let go of him though, I smack the beret off of his head.
  546.  
  547. I hate that damn pretentious thing.
  548.  
  549. "God, why are you such an ass to me? Actually, not just you -- why does everyone have this strange notion in their head that I'm some kind of irritating asshole?! I don't remember doing anything wrong to anyone, so get off my back!" He directs a finger at me, not even bothering to pick up his beret.
  550.  
  551. "I didn't talk to you about it because Rin asked me NOT to. She knows you're still suffering from your own loss and didn't want to burden you with this."
  552.  
  553. I grimace. "No. There's a difference between burdening me and letting me use my EXTENSIVE CAREER IN THE MEDICAL FIELD to provide her better care."
  554.  
  555. I pause.
  556.  
  557. "And I treat you like an asshole, because you are one. You divorced her, or did you forget? Do you know how many nights Rin spent crying in front of Emi and I? You hurt her. And why? Beca-"
  558.  
  559. Takashi cuts me off. "I swear to everything I love, I will hit you if you finish that sentence. I've said it time and time again. It wasn't because I was 'confused' about whether I loved her. It was because I didn't think I could provide her the kind of love she deserved."
  560.  
  561. "It still sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. Sure, she's strange, but she's never not been there when I've needed her. She's taken care of my kids when I couldn't or Emi couldn't- she deserves to have what she wants. And that was you and you decided that wasn't what she deserved."
  562.  
  563. "On top of that, you didn't stop her when she picked up that shitty habit of hers. Hell, you probably encouraged it. You're part of why she's so sick."
  564.  
  565. Takashi sighs, picking up his beret.
  566.  
  567. "Alright, crucify me for letting her smoke. I wanted her to be happy and I've done enough to mess that up. It's not like I don't hate myself enough for what's happening to her now."
  568.  
  569. There's a long silence between the two of us as he dons his beret again. "Can we just drop what stupid things I did in the past? We're married and have been happy, so what's does any of the past matter?"
  570.  
  571. I scowl. "It matters because I warned her that you're not good for her and you're still intent on ruining her life. If it isn't destroying her emotionally, it's you ignoring her smoking habits or encouraging them. Now she's dying of lung cancer. Stage three lung cancer."
  572.  
  573. I place my hand to my forehead, turning and staring at the trees. "For the love of- Takashi, that's a stage away from metastasizing to other organs. Hell, it could happen now. Even to her brain. If that happens, there's nothing you can do except be there when she dies."
  574.  
  575. Takashi's face crumples under these words. He knows as well as I do what could happen. I'm sure the doctors have told him. I just wish... fuck, I WISH he told me SOONER.
  576.  
  577. I still have a lot of medical connections. I could've gotten her under the care of a great oncologist and made sure the cancer went into remission while it was still early.
  578.  
  579. Whatever cheap treatments the starving artist duo struggled to pay for didn't work or even help, that much I could tell from taking a quick look at her. I've worked with enough oncologists, read enough about cancer when engineering new tools and treatments for cancer patients.
  580.  
  581. She's bad. I could hear it in her voice how hard it was to talk. I could see it in how feeble she was when she could barely walk. Mayu had to help her into the house.
  582.  
  583. Takashi looks like he's losing his composure.
  584.  
  585. "I don't want her to die, Hisao."
  586.  
  587. "Neither do I, but you let it get to this."
  588.  
  589. I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back.
  590.  
  591. He drops to his knees, dropping his head to the dirt, grabbing hold of the fabric of my slacks. "Please, please. Just save her. I don't want her to suffer."
  592.  
  593. I sigh, trying to shake him off of my leg.
  594.  
  595. "C'mon, get up. You don't need to beg. I'd do it even if you were the scum of the earth. Rin's one of my closest friends. Emi's best friend. I wouldn't let her die if I had the ability. I just don't have that ability."
  596.  
  597. Takashi clambers to his feet, his eyes glazed over with the prelude to tears.
  598.  
  599. "You can't do anything?"
  600.  
  601. "I can give you money and I can recommend some of the best doctors to treat her. At this point though, treatment would include very risky surgery. Considering age, some of the best won't even try it. I'm not seeing many options."
  602.  
  603. "No! Hisao, come on. I know you can treat her."
  604.  
  605. "No, I can't. I wish I c-"
  606.  
  607. "April 18th, ten years ago."
  608.  
  609. "What?"
  610.  
  611. "The news, Hisao. It was all over the news."
  612.  
  613. "What was?"
  614.  
  615. "The scandal! About A&M, the company you were a medical engineer for. Chief of Research? Remember the announcement your company made? About finding a more effective treatment for cancers? A quarter as expensive and triple the effectiveness? You and some of Japan's brightest minds were working on it."
  616.  
  617. "Okay, I'm not seeing where this is going."
  618.  
  619. "Your company made a public statement that the research had come to a dead-end and wound up inneffectual. Although there was information leaked to journalists that the real reason was pressure from the Diet to cease the research. That something groundbreaking like that would severely cut into the profits they make from repeated, expensive cancer treatments."
  620.  
  621. My flat expression has been progressively collapsing under his words.
  622.  
  623. "It's true, isn't it? You'd know."
  624.  
  625. "Even if I did, you think I could say?"
  626.  
  627. "You're retired! You don't work for them anymore."
  628.  
  629. "A&M is the reason I HAVE retirement. I'm not going to go around blabbing about research that was never finished just to try out an experimental treatment that could possibly kill your wife. I'd lose my retirement money and we'd both lose Rin."
  630.  
  631. "Hisao."
  632.  
  633. "What?"
  634.  
  635. "Please. Don't you wish someone could've saved Emi? Instead of just watching idly while she died? You felt helpless, didn't you? You know how I feel, so why can't you just bend a few rules to save h-"
  636.  
  637. I lunge forward, grabbing his coat with both fists, baring my teeth at him.
  638.  
  639. I want to say something, but my mind's momentarily shut down. I hate being reminded of how helpless I was. How nothing could be done, how the pneumonia spread to the rest of Emi's body and wound up becoming fatal.
  640.  
  641. I just toss him away and turn my back to him.
  642.  
  643. "So you want me to somehow break into my old workplace, procure some potentially discarded research, give it to some doctor I know and hope he can put together the experimental treatment that might not even work?"
  644.  
  645. Takashi nods.
  646.  
  647. "All risks included?"
  648.  
  649. "I want Rin to live. She's going to die if I do nothing. This is the best I can do. Is rely on someone who hates me."
  650.  
  651. I face Takashi. "I don't hate you. I just wish you'd treat her better. Though honestly, I respect how hard you're fighting for Rin now. A little too late, but I guess it's better late than never."
  652.  
  653. "So you're going to help?"
  654.  
  655. "I never said I wasn't going to."
  656.  
  657. "But you said you couldn-"
  658.  
  659. "I planned to from the beginning, even if I didn't tell you. You just pressured me. The research was true and so were the rumors. I just couldn't say anything or I'd be canned faster than you could say... well, something monosyllabic."
  660.  
  661. I sigh. I'm too old for this kind of crap. Maybe a few handful of years ago and I'd be all for this kind of life-risking tomfoolery. I just want to sit down and spend time with my family.
  662.  
  663. "So... there's hope?" Takashi looked on the verge of tears. I nod. Of course there was. I just couldn't stop thinking about how I've saved so many people, but wasn't able to do anything for Emi.
  664.  
  665. "Tomorrow in the morning, I'll see what I can do. I'll get into my old work building, I still know people who work there."
  666.  
  667. Takashi takes hold of my hands. "Are you serious?"
  668.  
  669. I nod, although it feels awkward to see him being so humble. As long as I've known him, he's come off as an arrogant, egocentric prick who barely cared for anyone besides himself and being better than others.
  670.  
  671. Now, he's on the verge of tears and looking desolated. It's strange looking at him. It's hard to see someone who I've known for so long looking so old and sad in front of me.
  672.  
  673. Is this what I look like to other people?
  674.  
  675. I wonder, sometimes.
  676.  
  677. "I'll help, I swear. But Rin's going to stay here for the period of time until I sort things out. I've been in this field long enough, I'll notice anything out of the ordinary."
  678.  
  679. Takashi nods slowly. "Until then?"
  680.  
  681. "...Just go home, relax. Keep it off of your mind. If you'd like, we have a guest room. You can stay here for a while."
  682.  
  683. Takashi nods a little. "I'd like to be here with her, just in case. You know? I'll go back home and grab us some clothes after I tell her what's happening.
  684.  
  685. He turns away from me, walking towards my home with renewed vigor. It's like he's been born anew, like he'd been given a new spirit.
  686.  
  687. I sigh, looking towards the woods, lifting my pipe back to my mouth. I tap some tobacco from my pouch into the opening, packing it in gently. With a strike of a match, I puff a bit on it, igniting the tobacco.
  688.  
  689. I can hear the door to my house opens and close as Takashi enters my home.
  690.  
  691. "Emi..."
  692. "Am I doing the right thing?"
  693. "What if this doesn't work?"
  694.  
  695. =====
  696.  
  697. I didn't dream last night, strangely enough. Days without dreams are rare for me. It might have something to do with how preoccupied and worried I am about what I'm planning to do.
  698.  
  699. I'm dusting off my old labcoat, grabbing my lanyard with nametag... and reciting the lines I'm planning to use to get into the facility.
  700.  
  701. Honestly, it shouldn't be difficult. The security is good at A&M, but dumb. They won't know that I'm retired. They'll see "Chief of Research" and be like "Whoa, okay. Let him through."
  702.  
  703. Or so, I'm hoping.
  704.  
  705. The drive to the city is going to be long. Takashi offered to come with, but I shook my head. I also declined offers from my son and daughters.
  706.  
  707. This was just a little something I was going to do on my own, whether or not I had to do it legally or illegally. While I drive, my mind recounts a conversation I had with Rin late at night.
  708.  
  709. 'Why are you going through all this effort, Hisao?' Because she didn't have her painting supplies with her, Rin was settling for paper and pencil to sketch out the ideas that flow through her sieve-like mind.
  710.  
  711. 'Because your family needs you.'
  712.  
  713. She smiles a little. 'I'm old enough, Hisao. My kids will be fine. Takashi would be fine.'
  714.  
  715. A pause. 'Well, maybe he wouldn't be. He's pretty hopeless. But still, you manage, don't you?'
  716.  
  717. 'That's different.'
  718.  
  719. 'How?'
  720.  
  721. 'It just is, alright? I don't want to talk about this.'
  722.  
  723. Rin leans back, staring at the ceiling with a grin.
  724.  
  725. 'You sound like you used to when we first met you. Grumpy. Distant. Emi dragged you out of that, I thought.'
  726.  
  727. 'Where are we going with this, Rin?' Not unusual that I have to remind her that she might've had a point at some time during our conversation.
  728.  
  729. Her expression focuses a little and folds a bit. 'Ah, right. Right.'
  730.  
  731. 'Why? But I guess why isn't as important as 'why bother'?'
  732.  
  733. I almost blanch at the statement.
  734.  
  735. 'Cancer isn't fun, Hisao. Some days I can't even get up, or I feel like existing makes me sick, or my lungs are the size of acorns and I can't breathe.'
  736.  
  737. 'What would be so bad about letting me die? Everything will just stop and I'll float away...'
  738.  
  739. Her eyes become a bit foggy.
  740.  
  741. 'I miss Emi, you know.'
  742.  
  743. 'So do I, but don't see me giving up on life.'
  744.  
  745. Her eyes remain akin to that of a misted morning but a smirk pulls at the corners of her mouth.
  746.  
  747. 'Hisao, I've always seen things differently and today isn't an exception. I've seen differently from you than what you just said.'
  748.  
  749. 'What's your proof that I have?'
  750.  
  751. 'Beard of sorrow.'
  752.  
  753. '...What?'
  754.  
  755. Rin chuckles a bit at me. 'People like you let go of everything when they lose their will. It just so happens Emi was yours. So you stopped shaving.'
  756.  
  757. I'm absolutely silent.
  758.  
  759. 'And you cultivated a beard of sorrow.'
  760.  
  761. I frown. She goes silent and returns to her drawing. It worries me that she's as strange as she's always been, but able to explain herself.
  762.  
  763. Maybe she was right. Maybe I had given up on living. What's there to do for me? I've furthered a lot of medical fields, I've lived this long, I've seen my children get to ages where they can take care of themselves.
  764.  
  765. Hell, almost all of them flew the coop when they were in their early twenties. Rena moved out when she was eighteen. Fastest of the group. My kids just don't like being lazy, which I'm glad for. I don't have that kind of effort anymore.
  766.  
  767. Oh well.
  768.  
  769. Although it's strange. Since last night, I felt a bit renewed.
  770.  
  771. As peculiar and terrible as it sounds, I guess it's because of the whole situation I've been dropped in. Either I succeed, or someone's life is at stake. I'm being relied on.
  772.  
  773. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm racing against the odds. This is my run to take alone. Even though I'm running this alone, I feel like there are people cheering me on.
  774.  
  775. It's because I know people are supporting me, despite doing this alone.
  776.  
  777. After a long time of driving in silence, I arrive at the main A&M building. It's a lone building set away from most other buildings, an hour or two from where I live.
  778.  
  779. I stride in through the front doors, like I had never left the place. I flash my badge at the first security person who glances my way, without even taking a look at him. I've done this for so many years, it feels like second nature to me.
  780.  
  781. Sure, it's going well enough. That doesn't mean my heart isn't racing. If I get caught by a familiar face who I can't sway or a savvy security member, I'm out of luck.
  782.  
  783. I can't settle for that.
  784.  
  785. I try and take less obvious routes, skirting around security personnel and ducking into breakrooms to look at vending machines when normal staff begin walking through halls.
  786.  
  787. Eventually, I reach the office of my former 'second-in-command' of the research department. Saku Wakama. He got promoted when I retired, so he'd be likely and able to help me.
  788.  
  789. I knock on the door a few times. He's a good worker, but he's always been one to run to his office and catch a quick nap whenever possible.
  790.  
  791. Hearing slight rustling from inside of his office, I smile a bit. He's definitely in there and I startled him a bit. I listen for a few seconds, knocking tentatively again.
  792.  
  793. Absolute silence. Complete stillness from inside the room.
  794.  
  795. So I turn the doorknob, opening it slowly. With a jump Saku practically falls out of his chair while trying to hide under his desk.
  796.  
  797. "C'mon out from under there, Saku. I'm not one of your interns who'll pretend he didn't see that." His head pokes up almost instantly from behind his desk.
  798.  
  799. "Hisao? I didn't recognize you behind that beard of yours."
  800.  
  801. I run a hand over the grayed beard of mine. "Well, I figured it made me look a bit classier." I don a grin to go with my beard.
  802.  
  803. "Before you ask why I'm here, I have a favor to ask."
  804.  
  805. "Is it to not ask why you're here?"
  806.  
  807. I laugh a little. "No, but remember that research we were part of before? The groundbreaking cancer treatment?" At this, Saku's face blanks. Before, friendly and curious is now professional and tight.
  808.  
  809. "Yes, why?"
  810.  
  811. "I have a friend who needs it. We both know how close the medicine was to being perfected."
  812.  
  813. "That'd cost me my job, Hisao."
  814.  
  815. "No one would have to know where it comes from. Hell, no one will want to say. I have a lot of pull, no one's going to want to step on my toes when it comes to the medical field. I still read and write papers about modern medicine, you know."
  816.  
  817. Saku grimaces a little. "Yeah, I do. I don't think I can, though. Still, what if in the off chance it gets out? What if someone tries banking on it? A&M owns the patent even if the project got curbed. They'll find out, sue, get down to where it originated and it'll come back to me."
  818.  
  819. "So what you're saying in short is 'no', huh?" My expression forms a solemn wall.
  820.  
  821. "Unfortunately, yes. We've been good friends and you're the reason I'm even in this seat... but I can't do something that risky."
  822.  
  823. "Eight million."
  824.  
  825. "Excuse me?"
  826.  
  827. "Eight million yen to get me the information that I need.
  828.  
  829. "Have you lost your mind?"
  830.  
  831. "Obviously, it won't be done all at once, but I have well over that. That's my starting price. I can go higher if you like."
  832.  
  833. "No, that's not what I'm talking ab-"
  834.  
  835. "It wouldn't be hard to withdraw the money and make payments regularly. I have at least a million in cash already saved up." Saku stops me.
  836.  
  837. "You've really lost it, Hisao. Who are you trying to save, anyways?"
  838.  
  839. There's a long silence between the two of us. I can't see any harm in telling him.
  840.  
  841. "...My wife's best friend. Stage three lung cancer."
  842.  
  843. Saku sits down, leaning his forehead into his palm. "Why? Why not just send her to one of your medical buddies?"
  844.  
  845. "Because she'll die."
  846.  
  847. "And you think the treatment we barely tested on a large scale would be better?"
  848.  
  849. My next statement catches him off guard.
  850.  
  851. "Have I ever been wrong?"
  852.  
  853. With a laugh, he places both hands on his desk. "Sixteen. If this comes back to me, I want to make sure I at least have a nice pile of money to sit on. Do you have enough to live off of if they cut off your retirement?"
  854.  
  855. I laugh. "My home is paid off and my kids would take care of me. If I go broke because I did what I thought was right, they'd support me."
  856.  
  857. Saku rustles his hair a bit. Unlike mine, his isn't thinning yet. He's still got a little while before that.
  858.  
  859. "Meet me at my home around ten tonight, alright? I'll have the documentation for you. I don't need up-front. I trust you."
  860.  
  861. I bow deeply towards him. "I really appreciate this."
  862.  
  863. "Yeah, yeah. How did you get by security, though?"
  864.  
  865. I smile a little. "Well, when you used to practically own the place, you just act the part. People believe you."
  866.  
  867. Saku leans on a closed fist, looking intently at me. "How used to playing the part are you?"
  868.  
  869. I narrow my eyes at him.
  870.  
  871. "Ah, don't worry about it. Just don't get caught on the way out."
  872.  
  873. I nod, waving him goodbye.
  874.  
  875. It's strange how simple all of this is turning out. It almost feels like I should be apprehended on the way out, but I take a shortcut and exit that is usually neglected.
  876.  
  877. I leave, reaching my car. Glancing around, nothing has yet to go wrong. I'm anticipating my car exploding or something when I sit down and turn the key in the ignition. Strangely enough, no such explosion.
  878.  
  879. I start heading towards the highway.
  880.  
  881. So that's it? No conflict?
  882.  
  883. Nothing wrong seems to be happening.
  884.  
  885. So that's it.
  886.  
  887. I win?
  888.  
  889. Well, then again it also depends on how well Rin reacts to the treatment. Few cases in the general studies have shown negative reactions to the treatment and alluded to the inevitable failure of the medicine.
  890.  
  891. It's always a possibility, however small.
  892.  
  893. I guess I just have to wait and see.
  894.  
  895. =====
  896.  
  897. This here is what's making up for how easy everything has seemed so far.
  898.  
  899. Sleepless nights and returning to my old field of work. Saku gave me the files and documents on a micro-drive and I gave it to one of the only doctors I'd trust enough to do this.
  900.  
  901. Likewise, he's probably the only doctor who'd trust me enough to practice medicine on a human without proper testing beforehand.
  902.  
  903. "Here's the recent symptoms resulting from the treatment. Please, make some sense of this to me. What's doing what, so I can remove them as comorbid with her cancer."
  904.  
  905. I pinch the corners of my eyes, sipping a mug of black coffee from the doctor's desk.
  906.  
  907. Well, director. He's the director of this hospital. Also one of the most brilliantly multi-talented doctors I've ever met.
  908.  
  909. And I'm sitting in his chair.
  910.  
  911. I'd think it rude to sit here if he didn't demand I did.
  912.  
  913. I stare at him for a moment. Defined face, tired as hell. A layer of stubble coats his jawline while he goes over the paperwork he needs to tend to.
  914.  
  915. Grabbing a pencil, I start circling things. One, two, three, four... there's a whole rap-sheet of strange symptoms. Her blood tests have come back with all sorts of outliers, too.
  916.  
  917. I start detailing how they can be counter-treated and what to watch out for. Unfortunately, I'm only the man who makes medicine. I don't know how to treat things in specific, so I only list the medicines and symptoms.
  918.  
  919. "You know, you have my head diagnostician and my oncologist pulling their hair out over this, right?" I smile a bit at him.
  920.  
  921. "They'll be fine so long as she lives. The frustration is always worth seeing someone live. How's corporate?"
  922.  
  923. The director heaves a sigh. "They're really trying to come down on me, now that they've noticed a very strange empty room and unauthorized uses of hospital machinery."
  924.  
  925. "And how's that going for you, Kobayashi?"
  926.  
  927. He smiles a bit. "Not really an issue." I nod, that's good. One less issue.
  928.  
  929. I keep going over the paperwork while Kobayashi leans against his desk, yawning. He's as tired as I am.
  930.  
  931. "How's your dad?"
  932.  
  933. A grunt from Kobayashi.
  934.  
  935. "Old as dirt."
  936.  
  937. "He's doing fine?" Kobayashi doesn't like talking about him, but I like to keep up on him. I visit him sometimes at the nursing home. He's up there now, in his late eighties or nineties. I remember asking him what kept him going.
  938.  
  939. 'I'm a scientist, Hisao. I need to observe and study changes in the world.' He was barely able to muster up.
  940.  
  941. Akio Mutou. Kobayashi Mutou. Father and son.
  942.  
  943. The two may have their past differences, but I think the fact that I was able to bring them back together was what earned me Kobayashi's respect.
  944.  
  945. It's awkward sometimes. He's older than I am, but treats me like his elder.
  946.  
  947. I finish going through the papers and leave them on his desk.
  948.  
  949. "You should go visit him sometime." I pat Kobayashi on the shoulder as I leave the room. I'm going to go check up on Rin.
  950.  
  951. Her room's out of the way, tucked away in a corner.
  952.  
  953. When I enter, it's to the sound of Rin groaning. Unfortunately, the kind of treatment we've been giving her is having a lot of adverse affects. Sickness, nausea, strange pains. Things that would couldn't have anticipated from animal testing to human testing.
  954.  
  955. "Hisao?" Rin glances towards me. It's been a couple weeks since we've started her on this treatment.
  956.  
  957. "Hey there, Rin." I sit down next to her.
  958.  
  959. "Is this worth it?" First thing she asks me. I sigh.
  960.  
  961. "It hurts." Rin's eyes are focused. One of the few times she's focused and it's because of the pain I'm putting her through.
  962.  
  963. I place my hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. Your breathing's gotten a bit better though, hasn't it?"
  964.  
  965. Rin doesn't say anything right away. "I've been told the cancer spread has slowed greatly, if not completely."
  966.  
  967. She laughs a little. "Maybe. Lots of liver damage, though." I frown. That's true. The medicine when given in larger amounts doesn't play well with the human anatomy's natural way of filtering poison.
  968.  
  969. Which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly what this medicine is. Poison to kill a poison.
  970.  
  971. "So I'm getting better?"
  972.  
  973. I nod, squeezing her shoulder a bit. "You are. You just have to hang in there. I'm so sorry I'm putting you through this. We haven't even tested the medicine. This is so illegal..."
  974.  
  975. "If I didn't want this, I would've said so."
  976.  
  977. "Well, you are in the habit of not exactly saying what you mean."
  978.  
  979. "True. I just couldn't stand seeing Takashi pretending for me that everything was going to be alright."
  980.  
  981. I look to her bandanna. It looks like she painted directly on it herself before she put it on. It was covered with watercolors of strange things I couldn't explain, erupting from the earth. I guess they were plants, but they looked like a mix between plants and creatures.
  982.  
  983. "How's your art lately?"
  984.  
  985. "I don't have a brachial artery because my arms are gone, so they put the IV in my leg." She shuffles a bit, moving the blankets from her legs, showing that the IV is trailing to her leg's major artery.
  986.  
  987. "Okay, so how's your art?"
  988.  
  989. "The IV tends to slip out or move, which hurts, so I can't move my legs as much as I'd like. So my art isn't doing very well. Considering I haven't been painting."
  990.  
  991. I nod at her.
  992.  
  993. "Takashi did bring me my painting supplies, though." She notions towards the side of the bed, where there's a small easel and a bin of paints. It's labeled "Rin's Bin", which causes me to grin a little.
  994.  
  995. "I can hold the easel steady and you can use your other foot to paint." I offer, to which she smiles gently.
  996.  
  997. "I think that'd be nice."
  998.  
  999. Setting out some brushes and some paint, I begin holding the easel. She takes hold of the palette herself, squeezing some of the paint onto it so she can mix them.
  1000.  
  1001. "Careful, the hospital might get mad if you get paint on the sheets."
  1002.  
  1003. That space-cadet spreads across Rin's face. "What about the walls? I could always paint them a nice mural on the walls." A bit of nostalgia surges over me.
  1004.  
  1005. "Like the one at Yamaku?"
  1006.  
  1007. She pauses as she dips her brush into the paint. "Yeah. And you could help me mix the paint like you did then."
  1008.  
  1009. Unfortunately, Emi wouldn't be able to help run the paint cans back and forth. I think Rin's thinking the same thing, because her face seems to fold a little.
  1010.  
  1011. Her painting begins in silence, slowly, methodically. As if there's an actual method to her abstract, near surreal style of artwork.
  1012.  
  1013. "Hisao."
  1014.  
  1015. "Yeah?"
  1016.  
  1017. "Do you think there's such thing as alternate universes?"
  1018.  
  1019. I squint a bit. "I guess there could be, but what does that matter?" She shrugs.
  1020.  
  1021. "I dunno. I just think it'd be interesting. Let's say for instance, you never wound up with Emi. What do you think would've happened?"
  1022.  
  1023. I pause. Honestly... I don't know.
  1024.  
  1025. "Maybe you would've wound up with some other girl at Yamaku?"
  1026.  
  1027. "...Probably. I mean, Shizune and Misha were always on my case, so I might've wound up with one of them."
  1028.  
  1029. "Or that crispy one."
  1030.  
  1031. "Hey."
  1032.  
  1033. She laughs a bit.
  1034.  
  1035. "You always talked to her in the library. She used to try and come up and hang out with us on the roof. I used to catch her but she'd get scared and run off."
  1036.  
  1037. "What about her friend? That polite one without eyes."
  1038.  
  1039. "She had eyes."
  1040.  
  1041. "Well, they weren't very good. Maybe she should've returned them."
  1042.  
  1043. The old Rin comes out when she's painting. Odd, a bit too blunt for her own good. Comes up with some thought-provoking conversations, too.
  1044.  
  1045. "You could've even ended up with me, probably. Like, if in an alternate universe, what if you and Emi wound up being best friends instead and you fell for me?"
  1046.  
  1047. "That's a little awkward to think about. You're like family to me."
  1048.  
  1049. "I know. It's just possible that in a different place, it could've happened."
  1050.  
  1051. "Okay, so what -- There's a bunch of parallel universes where everything happens differently?"
  1052.  
  1053. Rin pauses in her painting.
  1054.  
  1055. "That's the idea a lot of philosophers come up with. But what if that isn't the case? What if these alternate realities are all in the same place, just thought up and contained in one person's head?"
  1056.  
  1057. Okay, now you're losing me.
  1058.  
  1059. Rin focuses on her art for a moment. "Imagination is so powerful, Hisao. What if our imagination isn't just a little flicker of picture and color in our mind? What if we're building something in our mind just by thinking about it?"
  1060.  
  1061. I smirk a little. "Isn't there a myth about that?"
  1062.  
  1063. "Greek myth. Zeus. Athena jumped right out of his head."
  1064.  
  1065. "You're saying we can give birth to worlds with thought now? I might have to talk to the doctors about lowering your painkillers..."
  1066.  
  1067. "It's not the painkillers. We give birth to entire worlds in our heads just by thinking. They just can't escape, because we don't have that kind of power. But think about it -- what if we're all just one person's thoughts?"
  1068.  
  1069. I pause and think about it. That seems daunting. One person thinking all things involving us into existence?
  1070.  
  1071. "I guess it'd be interesting."
  1072.  
  1073. "So, lets say that's the case. We'll call the person thinking the 'Thinker'. That's easy to remember, right?"
  1074.  
  1075. I nod slowly.
  1076.  
  1077. "So the Thinker decides to think about you and Emi. Builds a small world around a small thought. What if he decides to stop thinking about you two? Does the world stop existing? Does it stop growing?"
  1078.  
  1079. "Well, if we're using the fact that we're still here, I would say no."
  1080.  
  1081. "So the thoughts take on life of their own and continue living and growing. I guess that'd be the only way the Thinker could keep thinking without having to focus on all things at once. The Thinker comes up with how we act and we play things out how we want."
  1082.  
  1083. "So, the Thinker is like a non-intrusive god?"
  1084.  
  1085. "Well, maybe. I guess the Thinker could just ignore us the minute he gets tired of a thought. Or the Thinker could focus on one or two thoughts and make them exactly how they want it."
  1086.  
  1087. Huh.
  1088.  
  1089. "So the Thinker's head is the playground of a universe, where all his thoughts combine and live on their own?"
  1090.  
  1091. Rin smiles. "Yes. Because we're all Thinkers, we're also able to hold those same kind of universes in our heads. Also, if you gave me a thought I liked, I could very well give birth to it in my mind."
  1092.  
  1093. My mind swims at the concept. Thoughts birthing thoughts endlessly and inwardly. Without end, exponentially.
  1094.  
  1095. "How do you even think things like this up?"
  1096.  
  1097. "I've spent a lot of time in doctor's offices and receiving cancer treatment."
  1098.  
  1099. I laugh. True enough. With a mind like hers, give her enough time and she'll come up with the most unusual thoughts.
  1100.  
  1101. Thoughts.
  1102.  
  1103. Our minds.
  1104.  
  1105. Imagination and thought is pretty powerful, isn't it?
  1106.  
  1107. Look at the things that Rin has created. Her work captures the mind, forces it to think. All because she has an amazing, if peculiar, mind.
  1108.  
  1109. Look at what I've done. I've created medicine and machines that have helped save or improve lives. Even Rin's, as risky as this has been.
  1110.  
  1111. It'd be nice if that was possible. If it was, then all I'd have to do is find a way to let my thoughts out. I could bring Emi back.
  1112.  
  1113. I smile derisively at myself. I wish I wasn't so hinged on her. I got so used to relying on her for giving meaning to everything. All I ever did was for her, all I did for myself was because she pushed me to do so. Because eventually, I felt like it'd make her happy for me to do so.
  1114.  
  1115. I guess I got lost in my own thoughts, because Rin completed the painting before I realized.
  1116.  
  1117. "Finished." Rin declared simply.
  1118.  
  1119. "I didn't want to draw something so abstract for once. Turn it around, tell me what you think."
  1120.  
  1121. Turning it around, I felt a lurch in my chest.
  1122.  
  1123. It was the three of us, on the rooftop of Yamaku, eating lunch together like we had so many times before. Emi leaning against me and holding out some food for Rin.
  1124.  
  1125. "It makes me sad sometimes."
  1126.  
  1127. "We both live in the past so much, because of how much our lives changed for the better then."
  1128.  
  1129. The picture looks so realistic. Like it was a window into the past.
  1130.  
  1131. "Now that we've done it all, what do we have left, Hisao? What can we dream about now?"
  1132.  
  1133. I lower my eyes. "I don't know, Rin."
  1134.  
  1135. "That makes two of us, then."
  1136.  
  1137. I place the small canvas on the easel and put it aside so that it can dry. Cleaning up the paint and putting everything back into the bin, I point towards the painting.
  1138.  
  1139. "Think when it dries and you're out of here, I can have that?"
  1140.  
  1141. Rin smiles. "Well, it'll cost you."
  1142.  
  1143. "How much?"
  1144.  
  1145. "How much do I owe you for all this? The treatment, the hush hush hospital room. Getting Akio's son to convince his underlings to treat me."
  1146.  
  1147. "Well, the research was about sixteen million yen to get my hands on, the hospital bill I'm going to 'pay' by donating to the hospital will probably come out to around twenty million yen..."
  1148.  
  1149. "Then the painting costs forty million yen. I'll ignore the two million you owe me because we're friends and call it even."
  1150.  
  1151. I laugh, leaning over and giving Rin a hug, to which she returns by burying her face in my shoulder.
  1152.  
  1153. "A hard bargain, but I'll take it. I think I'm going to leave. Get some rest, okay? Tell Takashi to get rid of that stupid beret for me next time you see him, too."
  1154.  
  1155. "I like the beret. It's cute."
  1156.  
  1157. I nod slowly. "Okay, Rin." I turn to leave, waving a little as I exit.
  1158.  
  1159. Rin's voice calls out after me. "Are you going to be poor when this is all over, Hisao?"
  1160.  
  1161. "Pretty close to it, yeah. I'll bounce back, though. I get a pretty good amount monthly to live off of. I'll just get a small job in town and make some extra money to put food on the table with until then."
  1162.  
  1163. "Maybe I'll make you dinner as thanks if I pull through this."
  1164.  
  1165. I think about her preparing and cooking food with her feet. Unsurprisingly, the concept doesn't appeal to me.
  1166.  
  1167. "You will, I'm sure. As for the food; it's alright, don't sweat it. Get some rest."
  1168.  
  1169. She nods, leaning back into her bed, distant eyes aimed at the television mounted to the wall.
  1170.  
  1171. =====
  1172.  
  1173. Three weeks later, Rin's released from the hospital. Feeble and still sick from the medicine, but alive and with most of her organs intact.
  1174.  
  1175. The cancer seems to be completely in remission. The smallest tumors that wouldn't go away were removed in operations.
  1176.  
  1177. Kobayashi is amazed at the medicine that I brought to him and the improvements I brought to it. He tells me a lot that I should come out of retirement, but I'm too old for that now. I just had one life I needed to save, was all.
  1178.  
  1179. Takashi won't stop thanking me, but it's gotten a bit annoying. I just tell them to come visit more often and to not thank me as much.
  1180.  
  1181. I've been working at a local flower store, as peculiar as that is. My daughter Mayu is the assistant manager and convinced her boss to give me a position there. It's helped supplement our hobbled financial funds and the smell of flowers reminds me of Emi.
  1182.  
  1183. Especially the hydrangeas. I remember the phone call and seeing the half dug up garden with the hydrangea bush sitting besides it when I got home from that whole ordeal.
  1184.  
  1185. I still can't believe I survived that car crash, back then.
  1186.  
  1187. My dreams have been calmer. I don't see Emi as often, or the memory where I let her go running into the rain.
  1188.  
  1189. "Hisao. C'mon Hisao! Lazy, wake up! Time for our morning run!"
  1190.  
  1191. I sit bolt upright from my bed.
  1192.  
  1193. Emi?
  1194.  
  1195. There's no one in the room. The door's slightly ajar and I can hear the patter of rain against my window. Glancing over to my bedstand, my clock reads 5:50 am.
  1196.  
  1197. As I'm gathering my bearings, I can hear the telltale sound of Emi's running prosthetics going down the stairs.
  1198.  
  1199. I leap out of bed, rushing towards the stairwell. All I see is a glimpse of blue turning the corner quickly.
  1200.  
  1201. Rushing back to my bedroom, I throw open my window, looking down into my front yard. There's no one there.
  1202.  
  1203. I must still be half asleep.
  1204.  
  1205. But still, the rain feels familiar.
  1206.  
  1207. The time, too. It's the same time we always used to wake up and go for our runs.
  1208.  
  1209. I think it's been long overdue for some morning exercise.
  1210.  
  1211. Emi, lets go for a run.
  1212.  
  1213. I throw on a pair of my old running shorts and a plain black tee, stretching a bit as I head downstairs.
  1214.  
  1215. Mayu's sitting at the kitchen counter, idly stirring a cup of coffee while watching television across the room. "Dad? What're you doing awake so early?" She looks perplexed at what I'm wearing. It's my running attire and it's raining. Plus, I haven't gone running in years.
  1216.  
  1217. "Going for a run, obviously!" There's energy to my voice. Like I'm completely awake for the first time since a long while.
  1218.  
  1219. "But, it's raining. Mom went running in the rain and..."
  1220.  
  1221. "I know!"
  1222.  
  1223. "You're not being reckless, are you?"
  1224.  
  1225. I laugh. "Absolutely not! I won't be out long. It'll be refreshing. I think I've been needing this for a while."
  1226.  
  1227. She's still in a morning gown, her hair pretty disheveled. "Call me if you want a ride, I doubt you'll be able to make it more than a mile into town."
  1228.  
  1229. I scoff at her. "Just because I haven't been running for a while doesn't mean I don't have the same strength. Doing that my entire life and stopping for a while doesn't erase all that."
  1230.  
  1231. "If you say so. Be safe out there." Although her tone is a bit dismissive, her smile is encouraging.
  1232.  
  1233. "Be back later!" I head out the door and onto the porch. I finish my stretches there, remembering the first thing Emi had taught me. To always limber up before a run.
  1234.  
  1235. The air's crisp. Fresh. New.
  1236.  
  1237. Today, I guess I am too.
  1238.  
  1239. I can see why Emi liked this.
  1240.  
  1241. Launching off into the rain, I begin at a familiar but slow pace. Rain clings to my skin, coating me in a slight chill. It quickly wears off as I jog down the slight hill that leads into town.
  1242.  
  1243. The buildup of lactic acid in my legs is like an old friend. Someone I haven't spoken to in ages but haven't forgotten about.
  1244.  
  1245. My lungs burn a little, but it's nothing. I can push myself more than this. This was just an initial test.
  1246.  
  1247. I start pouring more energy into my limbs, increasing the pace. The tempo of my steps along the earth, matching time with my old sprints.
  1248.  
  1249. I begin thinking.
  1250.  
  1251. Remembering Emi's voice, encouraging me along. Running backwards, just ahead of me while giving me tips, helping me sharpen my form.
  1252.  
  1253. Although my form hasn't loosened any, my spirit has since then. This rain though seems to be lifting it.
  1254.  
  1255. The rain might've taken her from me, but it feels like she's here with me in it while I run.
  1256.  
  1257. My memories superimpose silhouettes into the rainfall, like the rain can't touch them.
  1258.  
  1259. All of our morning runs together, our lunches together. Dreams we shared. Lives we lived. It all happened. Maybe not here, maybe not anymore, but it did.
  1260.  
  1261. I'm glad that it did.
  1262.  
  1263. I reach the town, my heart beating a bit faster than usual. Nothing worrying, either. My lungs are fine, I can still breathe. Even with the occasional pipe smoking, I'm still in good shape.
  1264.  
  1265. Dropping my sprint to a jog, I smile at people driving by, waving at them. They must think I'm crazy. Half of them don't even know who I am, probably.
  1266.  
  1267. Those who do are shopkeepers who I frequent for food, or miscellaneous items.
  1268.  
  1269. "Mr. Nakai! It's raining out, why are you running?" Some ask me from the safe awnings of their stores.
  1270.  
  1271. I shake the wet hair from my eyes. "Why aren't I? Rain's no excuse! I need to run more. It's great, maybe you should too." They look at me perplexed, but they're smiling.
  1272.  
  1273. I guess it's because I feel alive for the first time in a while. I'm doing something that gave me life. I suppose it only makes sense that I feel most alive when I'm running.
  1274.  
  1275. Plotting a path as I run, I aim for about three miles. I used to be able to run ten with Emi, but I don't think I could muster that up anymore. Starting with three should be fine to see where my limits are again.
  1276.  
  1277. Around two, my chest starts to hurt and I have to force myself to slow down. Just faintly, I can feel an old, familiar flutter.
  1278.  
  1279. My arrhythmia. Something I've equivocally conditioned myself to live with.
  1280.  
  1281. It's been a while, hasn't it?
  1282.  
  1283. "C'mon, you done already, Hisao?"
  1284.  
  1285. How I miss that playful, happy voice. I watch old home videos just so I don't forget it.
  1286.  
  1287. I'm afraid I am done for now though, Emi. I'm sure I'll run with you again soon, though.
  1288.  
  1289. I stop for a minute, leaning forward with my hands on my knees, panting a bit. The rain keeps falling, which is wonderfully refreshing.
  1290.  
  1291. "Hey! Old man, you look tired. Want a ride?"
  1292.  
  1293. I glance over and see a plain looking man smiling at me from the inside of his black sedan.
  1294.  
  1295. At first I find him suspicious, but I dispel it. We live in a small town with a bunch of nice people. Bad things don't really happen here and he looks kind enough.
  1296.  
  1297. "Yeah, I don't think I can make the run back home."
  1298.  
  1299. He pushes the door open, beckoning for me to enter. "C'mon in. Mind if I smoke?" He asks, pointing to a cigar that he has sitting in the ashtray of his car, unlit. I sit down.
  1300.  
  1301. "No, by all means. Go ahead."
  1302.  
  1303. He places it to his lips, lighting it with a match, puffing gently on it. "So, where to?"
  1304.  
  1305. "Ah, take the dirt road up to the countryside. There's a couple forks, I'll tell you which to take."
  1306.  
  1307. He nods, reaching up to his head, as if he were to tip a hat forward.
  1308.  
  1309. "Missing your hat?" I ask with a smile as we start driving through the town.
  1310.  
  1311. He chuckles softly. "Yeah. I usually wear one, but I gave my favorite to a good friend."
  1312.  
  1313. "So, what's up with the running? You look a bit too old for that kind of thing. Especially in the rain." His tone is surprisingly informal, for someone who carries himself pretty formally.
  1314.  
  1315. His sitting posture is straight, his hands are both on the wheel at ten and two. He's even wearing a button up shirt and slacks, although he isn't wearing a tie.
  1316.  
  1317. "Never too old. I got that thought into my head a while ago and forgot why I loved it so much."
  1318.  
  1319. "That's always good. Never give up on your hobbies, right?"
  1320.  
  1321. I nod.
  1322.  
  1323. "You're young. What kind of hobbies do you have? Any good dreams to share?" It's a bit strange to ask someone I've never met before, but I'm in that kind of mood. Energetic. I want to share and learn.
  1324.  
  1325. He's quiet for a while. I guess he's thinking about it. "I like to travel."
  1326.  
  1327. I nod. "See plenty of different places?"
  1328.  
  1329. "Oh, definitely. I've been across most of Japan. I think my travels are over though."
  1330.  
  1331. "Why? You've still got youth. How old are you, twenty five? Thirty?"
  1332.  
  1333. He laughs. "I feel a lot older than I look, I guess. And I feel like I've seen all I need to see. I think you can empathize a bit, couldn't you?"
  1334.  
  1335. I nod. I guess I could.
  1336.  
  1337. As the clouds part a bit, sunlight bathes the town. And something hanging from his rearview mirror catches my eye. A dull silver locket.
  1338.  
  1339. "What's that?" I ask, pointing to it as we near the road that leads into the countryside.
  1340.  
  1341. "Ah, it's a locket that someone dropped once. I've been holding onto it while I travel, hoping I could find who it belonged to."
  1342.  
  1343. "Any luck?"
  1344.  
  1345. "Nope. Not yet."
  1346.  
  1347. "Ah, that's a shame."
  1348.  
  1349. "Not too big of a deal, though. I'm sure it'll find a home one day."
  1350.  
  1351. The rest of the drive is in silence with the exception of me directing him to my home. The rain's let up, if not stopped.
  1352.  
  1353. We pull up to the front of my home and I'm feeling the chill of the rain setting in a bit more now.
  1354.  
  1355. "Thanks for the ride."
  1356.  
  1357. "Hey."
  1358.  
  1359. I'm halfway out of the car when he holds something out to me.
  1360.  
  1361. "I'm a little tired of holding onto this. Why don't you have it? I probably won't ever find who it belongs to, anyways. Why don't you give it a place?"
  1362.  
  1363. I frown a bit. I can't just accept something from a stranger.
  1364.  
  1365. "C'mon. Don't worry about it. It doesn't look really expensive. I'd just rather it see some use rather than me keep it as a car decoration. Maybe if you have a daughter or a wife, you could give it to them instead."
  1366.  
  1367. I put on an appreciative smile. Why not, what could be the harm?
  1368.  
  1369. "Thanks. Take care and thanks for the ride."
  1370.  
  1371. He waves away the notion. "Not a problem. Take it easy, friend."
  1372.  
  1373. With that, he backs up and drives away from my home. The weight of the locket feels familiar in my hand.
  1374.  
  1375. Looking at it, it has a small tab which I can use to open it.
  1376.  
  1377. It looks like a girl's locket. Maybe there's a picture of her and her significant other in it.
  1378.  
  1379. Opening it proves a slight task, but once I get it open, everything stops around me.
  1380.  
  1381. Emi.
  1382.  
  1383. And myself.
  1384.  
  1385. There's a picture of us together in it and then myself alone in the second one.
  1386.  
  1387. How...?
  1388.  
  1389. My mind rushes back to the day she freaked out on the phone, when her water broke with Ryota.
  1390.  
  1391. We didn't notice it until well after everything was taken care of, but she lost her locket somewhere between the yard and the hospital. It was one of the first real gifts I had gotten her when our relationship got serious.
  1392.  
  1393. She figured she just lost it somewhere along the line and it was gone for good.
  1394.  
  1395. That man's words are still echoing in my ears.
  1396.  
  1397. 'I probably won't ever find who it belongs to, anyways.'
  1398.  
  1399. He couldn't even if he tried. The owner's gone.
  1400.  
  1401. I whirl around towards the hill sloping away and towards town, watching the car drive away. Who was that?
  1402.  
  1403. "Hey, dad! Get inside already so you can change. You're soaked. Who gave you a ride from town? You should've called me instead."
  1404.  
  1405. Mayu places her hands on her hips, looking indignant.
  1406.  
  1407. "I have no idea, I didn't ask his name." I walk towards her with a strange kind of smile playing on my lips.
  1408.  
  1409. "Hm. Strange. Well, get inside and dry off. I made some breakfast. What's that, by the way?" She's pointing to the locket in my hand.
  1410.  
  1411. "Oh, uh. Your mom's locket. I took it with me for the run. Here, you have it." I put it in her hands.
  1412.  
  1413. "Mom had a locket? I never saw her wearing one." She's looking down at it in her hands, confused while we enter the house.
  1414.  
  1415. "She lost it before you were born."
  1416.  
  1417. Mayu looks at me strangely.
  1418.  
  1419. "Listen, don't worry about it! I'll go change and we can eat, okay?"
  1420.  
  1421. She nods and I motion for her to go inside ahead of me. Thinking about everything that's happened, I can't seem to find any words for what's happened.
  1422.  
  1423. So I close the door behind me.
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