I bite my lip. It's a delicate thing, I know, as are the straight little white teeth slowly coming closer and closer to piercing through the soft flesh, letting bright ruby red blood flow over bright ruby red lipstick. Biting one's lip is considered a common reaction to hurt, but this means more than that to me. I hate my lips right now, for never doing what I wanted them to do. They never released the words I wanted her to hear, they never pressed against the skin I wanted them to touch. It's an irrational hate, my lips are nothing more than a part of the coward I am inside, and I have nothing to blame for inaction but the craven whole.
That doesn't stop me, though, I savor the increasing pain as if it brings me some cleansing penance, wondering how much longer I can keep up the steady pressure before--
"Kikukawa-sama, are you okay?" A tenuous but anxious voice calls to me. My eyes snap open, and I remember where I am. I look first down, at the thin paper crinkled under the force of whitened knuckles, then up to a concerned young face staring at me. Building back my now-famous composure in an instant, I smile easily at my assistant.
"Yes, Christina-san, I'm fine."
"But Miss, you looked--"
"I'm fine, thank you." I said in a tone audibly as cheery as the first, but with that special quality that had made more vocal persons than my young assistant fall silent at my behest. That did not stop her from becoming worried, however, and I allowed a more honest smile to sneak out at the sight of her pouting with her head against the car window. I had not told her any more about this sudden trip than I was going to see a very old friend, and I am sure she was vexed my this unusual reticence on my part. But she still didn't say anything more. This is what I wanted, but I couldn't help but feel a pang in my heart, knowing that I'd been in her place before; sure that I should say something, but being too afraid. In my case, it was starting to appear as if I had been correct and should have spoken up, and I sincerely hoped that she was not this much like myself.
I looked down at the paper that I had been straightening automatically, always composing and organizing as I did everything outside of me, as if to make up for the unruliness within. I looked once more at the first words at the top.
Name: Suzushiro Haruka
Has it been that long?
Profession: Unemployed, most recently Tokyo Police Department.
Unemployed? It didn't fathom with the Haruka I remembered, to be doing nothing. And what was with that police employment? I scanned down to the area that followed her past high school. Apparently, during her second year at Fuuka University her performance had begun to decline. It had baffled the faculty and the other students. They might not have always enjoyed this student's overbearing personality, they all said, but she had been sharp and full of promise. For two years her performance declined, then even more sharply shot down during her fourth and final year. She had scraped by that far, and was slated for an at least above-average, if not special, graduation and life, but abysmally failed in her last year. The businesses she had interned with at various points over those years all closed their doors and promises to her. Then, she somehow managed to gravitate into the capital and start at the bottom rung of the Tokyo Police Department.
That in itself was not so unusual. Haruka might have been pushed by her family to get into the richer field of business, but it was not so hard to see Haruka having a rewarding career in law. It was a bit more of a stretch, but remembering her high-school antics I could even see her in officer blue, chasing down what criminals the city had to offer. Actually, the thought made my blood run cold, of Haruka lying in a dirty alleyway, riddled with gunshot wounds or knives. Of Haruka zealously pursuing her quarry regardless of the risk and finding herself outnumbered, of her being disarmed by a group of low-life thugs, forced into submission; beaten, killed, or worse…
I shook my head, that had obviously not happened, I didn't need to worry about it. So while her college performance was inexplicable, her career path in itself was not. What was still unknown was the inexorable decline in her life that seemed to follow her from school. At first, she'd apparently managed to be a fine example of the Japanese police officer. She did her job tirelessly and without complaint, and had achieved a few awards for that ethic, as well as a few accounts of bravery in the field. Her glory, though, as I read further, had been relatively short-lived. It was about four years into her position there, she was twenty-six . She started missing days and offering flimsy excuses, and her coworkers had reported an odd absence from the usually vibrant woman's personality. When she was there, she still did her job, and without complaint, but it was with none of the energy that had permeated her work, and the work of most everyone who had associated with her. That was one thing about Haruka I remembered, was that however people may have grumbled about her abrasive leadership, her drive was infectious and everybody found themselves working harder. Or perhaps it was just to keep from getting yelled at, but I preferred my original thought.
But she'd lost that, I read. The quality of her work had slipped, and nobody could stand to work with her any more. It had all culminated a short seven months ago, a decline that lasted nearly three years. She had wrecked a patrol car by running a red light on a busy intersection. Nobody was killed, but she'd caused severe damage to three vehicles and one building, and those who got her out of the vehicle found… found…
This part I still couldn't believe, but the police report included mention of several bottles of alcohol in the backseat. Under questioning, it was discovered that she had been nursing a tendency towards alcoholism for three years, and this had not been the first time she'd had a drink while on duty. There was a fine, of course, and a jail sentence. I saw that she was offered a lesser sentence if she agreed to counseling, particularly in light of her previously sterling record, but she refused out of pride and served five months in jail with those she had helped to put in there. She was released on good behavior, I imagined a drink was hard to find in there, and had been living off of unemployment for the past two months. Knowing Haruka as I did, that could only mean she had fallen back into bad habits. That was the only reason I could come up with for her inactivity.
I discovered that I was thinking much more clinically now. The first time I had read through this report I'd asked gathered I had done so in private, and had cried myself to sleep that night. The second time I had picked it up was during this car ride, and I had only felt disgusted with myself, and with her. I had found myself wondering what might have been, bur for my inactive lips controlled by an inactive me.
Now this third time, I only felt cold. It was an odd feeling, like the story you hear that fills you with righteous anger and indignation, before you think about it some more and doubt its veracity. That was it, somewhere inside I could not believe that this was true. I could not believe that my Haruka-chan had done such a thing. There must have been another Suzushiro Haruka fitting her description and personality that had gone to Fukka University… my own silent, bitter laughter filled my mind. Perhaps that was not the case, but I would be getting the truth soon.
I only knew my life after Haruka left. After Haruka had gone to college, and I had stayed behind at the Academy, I had of course started thinking of ways that I might be able to make her mine. The more I thought, however, the more I froze. Not so much just as far as cowardice were concerned, but inside and out I cultivated a layer of ice. During the beginning of my term as Council President, where I had found myself in my third year, I had been compared with former president Fujino. I was lauded for seeming to have all of her diplomacy, tact, composure, and organizational ability, but also having a degree of warmth, openness, and care for the students that the oft-vanishing Fujino had failed to express, even with her cheerful personality. By the end of my term, however, it was whispered that I was, in fact, one of the more distant, cold president's in recent history. I had gradually fallen out of contact with Haruka, gradually distanced myself from everybody I knew. I continued to fulfill the duties of my office, but the council meetings were business-only affairs, started quickly and ended even more so. I hadn't even noticed this change then, it was only in retrospect could I remember that I was not always like this. Not that anybody else saw me as such now. I'd mastered the political technique of hauling all of that unfeeling ice inside, and packing it ever-so-carefully around my heart, while allowing a superficial warmth to enter into my interactions with others. This was the kind of dishonest front that I remembered Haruka-chan found absolutely hateful, and this went so much further beyond any aloofness that Fujino had ever managed to achieve. Strange, how I still felt that guilt inside, how I could still hear Haruka talking after all this time, to "Be fair and square in everything you do." But the cutting edge of that guilt fell ineffectively against that thick, unforgiving layer of ice. I knew now that the shadow of Haruka's memory would never be able to cut through to my soul, and wondered if there would be anything in the real Haruka that could do the job now. I wondered if there was anything she might still feel for me that could melt me inside like she used to do so easily and obliviously. Because…
There was also one aspect of her life that I'd specifically requested information on. In all the time that she and I had parted ways, in all the time that I had fled away from her, she had not, to any one persona's knowledge, had any sort of intimate relationship with another person. I wondered about that, about how accurate that was. Truly, if somebody had requested information on myself, they would have found the same conclusion. It wouldn't be true, however. It had taken me a while to break through my natural reservations and Haruka's voice in my mind, but after that it was easy. It had not been hard at all to find what I wanted, what I needed, to find other women who would want my touch as much as I wanted theirs. Except that I had never actually wanted theirs. None of them ever knew that it was not them I was thinking of when we were together. None of them thatknew I imagined their hair golden, their eyes striking violet, their bodies strong and supple. But they gave me what I wanted, whatever I had to fantasize about to get it from them, and I would return the favor, no matter what I had to fantasize about to give it to them. I still had political aspirations, though, so I'd had to be careful. So far as I knew, I had been discreet. Certainly none of my opposition had pointed out any indiscretion as would have readily been done.
The Haruka I remembered would have been incapable of such subtlety. But then, the Haruka I knew would have been incapable of much she seemed to have done. I did not know why I suddenly felt like knowing what had become of her. I had very much expected to hear her name more in higher circles, after I had returned from my travels abroad. Yes, I had traveled extensively, I had not let anybody know. I had already dropped most contact with those close to me, and I wondered how Haruka might have felt when she learned I was out of the country and had not even told her. I heard she had come to the graduation ceremony for my year, but presidential privilege being what it was, I picked up my diploma that morning and left the school. I looked back plenty of times, but I know better than anybody that looking carries no meaning. It's what you do that will ultimately mean something, and I only ever looked back.
But being out of the country, that probably helped hide my indiscretions with various women. Haruka, however, wouldn't have had any such opportunity, so then maybe…
And my mind kept coming back to that. Was there really still something inside that made me want her so much, even now? Something kept turning my mind to my Haruka-chan after I'd given up and pushed her behind me so many years ago.
Then again, if I had pushed her behind me and gone so far, how is it that I felt like I were traveling forward to see her now? The fires inside my icy heart had never really stopped raging, I knew. That conflict was still there, had been feeding on itself the entire time. There was hate and love, disgust and hope, with everything negative slowly eating away everything positive until I couldn't believe my heart didn't just burn away one night and leave me, finally, at peace in the morning. I tried to think of what that would be like. The only person I could consider being the most upset, why… she was right in front of me. I didn't like to think that my weakness going on twenty or so years now would hurt anybody else.
"Christina-san, I need to ask you something." She popped her head up from the window, and she instantly transformed her sulk into a face that indicated her always-present eagerness to please, "Have you ever been in love, do you have anybody you love right now?" I asked her, no doubt my serious and cold expression unnerving in combination with those traditionally hot and dramatic words.
"Er, ah, well, I don't, that is…" I watched her bumble and flush for a few moments. I wasn't surprised by this, I had selected her as my assistant after a good deal of observation. She reminded me quite a bit of me when I was closer to her age. I saw the people she looked at most closely, and I saw how she looked at me. I knew what those looks meant like my Haruka never had been able to.
"I know," I said simply, "But do yourself a favor and stop. I fell in love with a dream when I was your age, and I poured all I had into it. I poured all of my happiness and hope into that dream, and then I had to wake up. The dream was gone, and it took everything with it. Don't let that happen to you, dear. Wake up now, before it's too late." I looked away to let her know the conversation was over. Somewhere deep, deep inside, I hoped that she mightwould disregard that. I hoped she would prove me wrong, she would speak up. Perhaps she would cup my cheek in her hand and try to kiss me, she would do something. She would stand up tall, would try and become so intertwined with her dream that it would be the same as her reality; she would try and make it her reality. But she stayed silent, just as I always had, and I knew it had been best to cleanly cut her heart now than allow her to be tugged along by it until it were ripped out.
And the car kept going forward. Strangely, despite my apprehension, I began feeling calmer. I still had my attachments after everything that happened, it seemed, and they had been stretched all over the world. Now I was coming back to my Haruka-chan, and the tension was lessening.