SemisoftCheese

"Closing Time" (Ritsu Route Act 1-4)

Jun 13th, 2013
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  1. Closing Time
  2.  
  3.  
  4. "You know, Hisao, I'd never thought I'd spend the festival like this."
  5.  
  6. The lean figure next to me gives me a casual look, a deep smile on her face.
  7.  
  8. I give her a smile and give the stuffed monkey on her neck a tug.
  9.  
  10. "The monkey, or the festival?"
  11.  
  12. She just gives me a smile and looks up at the night sky.
  13.  
  14. The stars are out tonight. A full blown constellation of them, glittering in the dark sky.
  15.  
  16. I promised Ritsu I'd meet her by the class 3-3 booth.
  17.  
  18. The booth I was supposed to help out with… well I'm the new kid anyway. Shizune and Misha can cut me a little slack.
  19.  
  20. I think we visited every single booth the festival had to offer. On the ring-toss one, I have must have spent at least 5000 yen trying to win a giant dog.
  21.  
  22. I didn't get the dog, but I ended up with around five million little stuffed penguins, which I traded in for a reasonably sized giraffe.
  23.  
  24. Fucking carnival games.
  25.  
  26. Ritsu also enjoyed a mixed degree of success. She wanted to try the ballon-dart game, and after losing several rounds, she started throwing darts at the proprietor, and I had to drag her away.
  27.  
  28. But all in all, I think we made out pretty well in terms of loot.
  29.  
  30. Strangely enough, I don't seem to have any of my prizes. They've all migrated to Ritsu's arms, neck, and backpack, where they seem to be happy to stay.
  31.  
  32. Well, they're probably better off there. A loving home and whatnot.
  33.  
  34. Ritsu reaches into her bag and pulls out two power bars, one of which she offers to me.
  35.  
  36. I'm positively stuffed, but it seems rude to refuse.
  37.  
  38. "Thanks."
  39.  
  40. "No problem, Hisao."
  41.  
  42. Ritsu peers into her bag before scratching the bag of her head with her wrist-braces.
  43.  
  44. She reaches her hand in and pulls out a small, plushie batman.
  45.  
  46. "I don't remember winning a batman?"
  47.  
  48. I reach into my back pocket and pull out a blue-and-red caped plush. Superman.
  49.  
  50. "You won a superman. Then you insisted that we trade because 'Batman is way cooler.'"
  51.  
  52. She pulls a wry face before juggling the plush in her hands.
  53.  
  54. "Yeah, I guess so."
  55.  
  56. She brings her powerbar up to her face, tearing it open with her teeth. I do the same with my hands, and there's a pleasant silence, only interrupted by the crinkling of wrappers and the rustle of grass in the breeze.
  57.  
  58. Ritsu looks kind of pretty tonight. She's dressed in a loose fitting long-sleeved t-shirt, branded "Wildcat Tennis" and tight, dark, skinny jeans. On the back is "Tainaka" in bold type. A nice touch.
  59.  
  60. Most girls in our skill prefer skirts and dresses, but I think the look kind of suits her. Girly, but to the point.
  61.  
  62. As always, the yellow headband is keeping her hair in check, as she munches away contentedly.
  63.  
  64. Ritsu takes a look down at the Batman in her lap, and gives it a lazy flick with her finger.
  65.  
  66. "I wonder."
  67.  
  68. "Wonder what?"
  69.  
  70. She turns to me, juggling the caped crusader in her hands.
  71.  
  72. "What's it like being Batman?"
  73.  
  74. "I guess it involves kicking a lot of villain ass, I guess."
  75.  
  76. "And being superrich." She shoots me a sideways look.
  77.  
  78. "That too, I guess."
  79.  
  80. She gives Batman a toss before throwing him over her shoulders and hugging her knees up to her chest, crossing her arm-braces over them in a sort of self-hug.
  81.  
  82. She pauses for a second while she looks at me, then adopts a look of interest.
  83.  
  84. "So tell me, Hisao, your dreams, wildest fantasies, inspirations."
  85.  
  86. Wait, what?
  87.  
  88. "Wait, what?"
  89.  
  90. She shoots me another sideways look.
  91.  
  92. "Well, we've been up here on this hill for a while, and the moon's out, and it seems like a pensive time of day. So shoot."
  93.  
  94. I give her a puzzled look, but she seems insistent.
  95.  
  96. "I don't know, really, I haven't given it any thought."
  97.  
  98. She rolls her eyes and stretches out on the grass, all interest lost.
  99.  
  100. "Hisao Nakai. The philosopher."
  101.  
  102. Her eyes are turned to the sky, but I shoot her a look anyway.
  103.  
  104. "Hey. That question came out of the blue, you know. It's kinda of big one too."
  105.  
  106. She sits up, bringing her eyes together in a cross-eyed caricature of thought.
  107.  
  108. "Yeah, now that I think about it, it wasn't exactly fair."
  109.  
  110. She punches me on the shoulder.
  111.  
  112. "But you're still a loser for not having a witty answer on hand."
  113.  
  114. I attempt to give her a shove back, but she rolls out of the way.
  115.  
  116. She turns her head towards the festival, her short hair glimmering in the fading light.
  117.  
  118. I give a shot at continuing the conversation.
  119.  
  120. "Well, if you're so interested in my life, what are yours?"
  121.  
  122. She turns, half out of interest and half caught by my question.
  123.  
  124. "My what?"
  125.  
  126. "Your dreams. Aspirations. Inspirations. Everything."
  127.  
  128. She scratches her chin in though, before hugging her knees to her chest again.
  129.  
  130. "Huh."
  131.  
  132. She rocks a little bit before looking at the festival.
  133.  
  134. "I would have to go back. Way back."
  135.  
  136. She pulls at the band in her hair.
  137.  
  138. "Actually, maybe just a year ago will do the trick."
  139.  
  140. She looks at me carefully before she continues.
  141.  
  142. "I'm Japanese, but I'm not really Japanese in any sense Hisao. I was born in Hong Kong, and I've lived in Russia, the US, Romania, and of course Japan to name a few."
  143.  
  144. Ah. That explains a lot.
  145.  
  146. Not really.
  147.  
  148. "My parents have jobs that require them to move a lot, and on top of that, travel frequently. I don't think I've lived anywhere more than two years, and for the most part, I spent my summers and breaks on the road, to wherever city is calling my name."
  149.  
  150. She gives a little smile and tugs at her purse, pulling out her wallet and a red, worn, Japanese passport.
  151.  
  152. She tosses it over to me, and I catch it with a flick of my wrist.
  153.  
  154. Smooth, Hisao. Play it cool.
  155.  
  156. "Nice catch, Hisao."
  157.  
  158. I feel my cheeks burn a bit as she gives me a smarmy, knowing, grin.
  159.  
  160. She nods her head at the passport.
  161.  
  162. "Check it out."
  163.  
  164. I flick though it to my page.
  165.  
  166. Entry. Tokyo.
  167.  
  168. Exit. Los Angeles.
  169.  
  170. Entry. New York.
  171.  
  172. Entry. Moscow.
  173.  
  174. Exit. Seoul.
  175.  
  176. Entry. London.
  177.  
  178. Exit. O'Hare.
  179.  
  180. Barcelona. Madrid. Venice. Caracas. La Paz. Capetown. Quito.
  181.  
  182. The pages are practically littered with stamps, with an extra set of pages sewn in.
  183.  
  184. "You've really been around, huh."
  185.  
  186. She gives me a cheesy grin, pulling out a silver credit card from her wallet.
  187.  
  188. "Yeah, I've been around the world enough times that I can do one of those Amex commercials."
  189.  
  190. She pulls an extra-wide smile and holds the card next to her face, an imaginary mike in her hands.
  191.  
  192. "Hi, my name is Ritsu Tainaka, world traveler… and when I get in trouble… I just pull out one of these."
  193.  
  194. I chuckle, and she gives me a smile, the real thing this time.
  195.  
  196. "So what's it like be a seasoned traveler?"
  197.  
  198. She tucks her card and her passport back into her bag, and gives a shrug.
  199.  
  200. "To be honest, most of the time it's nothing but boring. When you fly, you live in a kind of artificial world, filled with fake sushi, recycled air, and concentrated orange juice."
  201.  
  202. Ritsu pulls a face.
  203.  
  204. "I guess it seems glamorous to a a lot of people. Roaming the world without a destination. No chains holding you down or anything."
  205.  
  206. She looks over at me, a solemn look on her face.
  207.  
  208. "But when you're home for the summer for two months, and you only see your parents for one week of that summer, maybe it's time for a change."
  209.  
  210. She pauses.
  211.  
  212. "I've been everywhere, Hisao, but I can't think of a single place I've called home. It's a foreign word, to me, home. As if it were a completely different language, an alien concept. Home. Family. What an idea."
  213.  
  214. Ritsu looks out at the festival and pauses. Just enough time for her words to make their way through her own brain, let alone mine.
  215.  
  216. "You know those around-the-world tickets they always talk about in movies, how you can just buy one and sail on sail?"
  217.  
  218. "Yeah, more or less."
  219.  
  220. She pulls a face.
  221.  
  222. "Well, one day, I was so bored, and my parents weren't home for another three weeks, so I just went. I packed my bags and went to the airport and just got on a flight. To Egypt. To see the camels."
  223.  
  224. She gives a shrug.
  225.  
  226. "I saw the camels, then I saw Greece, then the Blue Mosque, the Vatican, all of it. A eurotour if you will."
  227.  
  228. "All alone?"
  229.  
  230. She looks away again, a wry look on her face.
  231.  
  232. "Yup. Isn't that the kind of twisted part of it? Here are all these amazing trips people would die to take, and the kind of thing you travel with your family for, and I just took them alone on a whim."
  233.  
  234. I don't really know what to say. I think it's already been established that Ritsu is crazy rich. But there's something eerie about traveling the world alone. As if you had nothing better to do than just accomplish someone else's bucket list.
  235.  
  236. "Still, that's the kind of trip people would kill for."
  237.  
  238. She looks at me clearly, no anger, just clear acceptance of the fact.
  239.  
  240. "I know, Hisao. I know. What a problem, right?"
  241.  
  242. She crosses her braces again and exhales deeply, slowly.
  243.  
  244. "To answer your original question, I only have to go back a year."
  245.  
  246. "I was standing in Narita, you know, Toyko Inter, and my bags were at my sides per usual. I was staring at the departures and arrivals board again. Picking a place to go. Anywhere to go."
  247.  
  248. "And it struck me, Hisao, that I couldn't find out why I was going. Not where, or who, but why. Nothing more than to fill time. That it gave me some sort of twisted sense of purpose. As if giving myself a physical destination, with the humdrum bother of air travel, made it somehow worthwhile."
  249.  
  250. She gives me a smile and exhales slowly.
  251.  
  252. "I couldn't handle it anymore. I just grabbed my bags and started running. Out. Out of the terminal. I had to get out of there."
  253.  
  254. She gives a tiny laugh, rubbing her shoulders as I guess she imagines the weight of her luggage.
  255.  
  256. "I eventually ended up in some dumpy noodle shop meant for airport workers needing a quick meal. I had a bunch of noodles and pondered my destiny. And I decided I wanted to at least try normalcy for once."
  257.  
  258. Huh. What a disaster. Rich girl can't figure out where to go.
  259.  
  260. Cry me a river.
  261.  
  262. "So I applied to a bunch of boarding schools, and I eventually ended up here. It's not a bad place to be."
  263.  
  264. She sweeps her arms out over the hill, gesturing to some unknown collective.
  265.  
  266. I still don't get it. I sweep a hand over the less-than-majestic grounds of Yamaku.
  267.  
  268. "So this is your dream? To attend boarding school? Listen to Mutou drone about Heisenberg?"
  269.  
  270. She gives me a laugh and I laugh along too.
  271.  
  272. "Well, Hisao, when you live such a transient life, this is what you dream of. Conversations. School desks and homework and apples and pencils. The kind of stuff you see in the movies."
  273.  
  274. "But you didn't get that at your other schools?"
  275.  
  276. She shakes her head.
  277.  
  278. "That's for another time, Hisao. Let's just say my schools were for the gifted and leave it at that… I don't think I've ever sat down in a classroom before this."
  279.  
  280. Huh.
  281.  
  282. I want to hear more but I don't want to press her on it.
  283.  
  284. She heaves a sigh.
  285.  
  286. "It's kind of weird when you think about living the kind of life I live."
  287.  
  288. I think I should push the conversation along.
  289.  
  290. "How so?"
  291.  
  292. "I've got a time stamp when I enter a country. The longest my parents have ever stayed in one place is two years. Whenever I meet someone, I know I won't know them for more than two years. That's it."
  293.  
  294. "Well, two years is a long time."
  295.  
  296. She gives a shrug.
  297.  
  298. "It's not what you think. When you think of your friends, don't you think you'll keep them for a long time? Not that you'll see them every weekend, but when you turn forty, you'll get together and have a few beers and reminisce about the old times?"
  299.  
  300. "Yeah, sure."
  301.  
  302. She pulls a face and looks at me.
  303.  
  304. "I did a scientific study."
  305.  
  306. She gives a self-deprecating laugh, harsh and short.
  307.  
  308. "A personal one, done by me. And I've found out that two years is just enough time for you to get that close to someone, anyone, a group, a person, a whatever, so that you can picture a lifetime with them. Nights on the city, family vacations, the lot. They're a constant for once, and you can rely on them like you couldn't anyone else. It take about one year to get that close, and another year to make you take it for granted."
  309.  
  310. Ritsu heaves a sigh.
  311.  
  312. "But you have to move and you have to go, because there are planes to take and bags to check and taxis to hail and hotels to check in to, and luggage to unpack, and valets to tip, and there's the world and if you stop you're dead, and emotional luggage is the last thing a traveler needs, so you jettison it and you say goodbye, because it's time to go."
  313.  
  314. "So you don't keep in touch with your friends."
  315.  
  316. She pulls another face.
  317.  
  318. "I do. I send them greeting cards and we text a lot, but it's not the same. You never realize how important face to face interactions are until you don't see someone for a year. And when you come to visit, by the time you've already warmed up, the flight leaves in twenty minutes and you've got to go and say goodbye and hug and send a postcard later."
  319.  
  320. Ritsu looks lonely now. I can only picture.
  321.  
  322. A lifetime of goodbyes. The kind of life where your friends have a ticking clock on them, and you're reluctant to get close because you know goodbye will come all too soon.
  323.  
  324. "I don't think I've ever had a home. I see them in the movies all the time. A mother. A father. A dog. A porch. The kind of things I can only dream about. The kind of things that everyone else takes for granted."
  325.  
  326. "I see."
  327.  
  328. I try and lighten the mood a tiny bit.
  329.  
  330. "Well, I hope when you come to visit me, I get more than just a hug."
  331.  
  332. She swats me on the head.
  333.  
  334. "You dog, Hisao. Calm your teenage hormones."
  335.  
  336. I give her a smile and she smiles back. Look like it worked.
  337.  
  338. "You're a good kid, Hisao."
  339.  
  340. "Thanks."
  341.  
  342. She takes a look at the full moon, bright and white in the sky. A new moon. On the field beneath us, the crew are preparing to fire the first series of fireworks.
  343.  
  344. She opens her mouth to speak again.
  345.  
  346. "So that's how I lived my life. Day by day. Hour by hour. The hello's and goodbyes don't seem to hurt as much when you have to run to catch the next flight, or you need to learn an entirely new language just to purchase a sandwich."
  347.  
  348. She pauses once more.
  349.  
  350. "But there were some perks. You learn all kinds of stuff on the road. Like how to fix a flat with a match and a can of WD-40. Or how to pet a seal. Or how to tie a headscarf. The kinds of stuff that lasts for a lifetime."
  351.  
  352. A strange glint comes into her eyes.
  353.  
  354. "You know, Hisao, one of my friends taught me a trick you can do with a coin."
  355.  
  356. "Really?"
  357.  
  358. This sounds less exciting than the flat tire trick, but I'm game.
  359.  
  360. "Yeah, ready?" She looks at me as a visual check, sizing me up.
  361.  
  362. I'm kinda curious. However, knowing Ritsu, I hope this trick doesn't involve being electrocuted or being pushed down the hill.
  363.  
  364. Ritsu rummages in her bag for a coin and places it in my hand. A 2 Euro coin. Gold. Kinda cool.
  365.  
  366. "Okay, Hisao, now close your hand on the coin and close your eyes."
  367.  
  368. "Wait, why?"
  369.  
  370. I open one of my eyes to check she's not dragging a cattle prod out of her bag.
  371.  
  372. "Just trust me. I bet that in thirty seconds, I can make that coin disappear."
  373.  
  374. My hand is pretty securely closed on this coin.
  375.  
  376. I want to see how this works.
  377.  
  378. Ritsu's the kind of girl who knows a few magic tricks, so I'm sure this is actually going to be kind of cool.
  379.  
  380. I close my eyes and wait.
  381.  
  382. Ritsu's lips, effortlessly warm and soft, press against mine.
  383.  
  384. The surprise of it is more of a shock than anything.
  385.  
  386. I open my eyes and see Ritsu's golden ones staring calmly at me, as the night stars twinkle in the sky.
  387.  
  388. She looks down and picks up something from the dirt. A now-slightly dusty two euro coin.
  389.  
  390. She looks at me, a happy, mischievous gleam in her eyes.
  391.  
  392. "Looks like you lost something, Hisao."
  393.  
  394. My response is to pull her into a slower, longer kiss, one we can both enjoy completely this time.
  395.  
  396. Her braces wrap around my neck as the first of the fireworks go off, her breathing slowed as we share a conversation with no words, and seemingly no end.
  397.  
  398. Her hair, soft and smooth as silk, brushes against my face as the lights flash in the sky.
  399.  
  400. I pull away for a slight moment as she look at me in surprise, curious at the stop.
  401.  
  402. "Yes, Hisao?" she whispers, her voice breathy in the heart of the night.
  403.  
  404. I choose my next words carefully.
  405.  
  406. "Welcome Home, Ritsu."
  407.  
  408. She gives me a smart, brilliant, impossibly bright smile and pulls me closer, her head on my shoulder as we watch the fireworks flash and explode in the sky.
  409.  
  410. I think I've found a new home too.
  411.  
  412.  
  413. ======
  414.  
  415.  
  416. "Closing Time" is a song by Semisonic
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