Jennifer Alice Chandler

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

Patty looked at her briefly.

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

“Uh-huh.” Takara uttered.

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

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

Takara finally looked at him with her big brown eyes.

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

“Then … well …”

“What is it?”

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

Takara looked away as she considered.

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

Kenji stiffened.

“What happened?”

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

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

Takara thought for a moment.

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

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

“Thank you.” Kenji responded.

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.” She smiled at him.

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

“I …”

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

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara uttered.

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

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

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 15

“Takara, please sit down.”

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

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

Takara glanced down slightly, considering.

“You don’t seem surprised.” he noted.

She looked up.

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

“Your mother …”

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

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

Mr. Tyler stood and began to pace.

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

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

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

Takara looked at him with intensity.

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

Mr. Tyler looked at Takara a moment.

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

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

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

Mr. Tyler thought a moment.

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

“Couple of weeks …” Takara repeated wistfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At this time of night?”

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

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

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

“All right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Takara’s turn to be stunned silent.

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

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

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

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

Takara turned without hesitation and headed straight there.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Chapters 14-15 below. For chapters 1-13 press button. The book is now available on Amazon Kindle and print formats!

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

Kenji looked around then sat down next to Erik.

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

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

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

“So, what is it?” Erik wondered.

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

“The Institute?”

“Yes, she lives there.” Kenji whispered.

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

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

“Yeah, I think I heard about that.”

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

“So, what’s the plan?” Erik asked.

Kenji smiled. Then, he considered.

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

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

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

Erik shrugged.

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” Takara asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takara looked down at her father’s simplistic tombstone.

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

She smiled softly. Kenji nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kenji.” Takara spoke as she approached him.

“Yes?”

“I think I’m ready to go now.”

“All right.”

They walked off together hand in hand.

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

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

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

“What is it?” she gasped.

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

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

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

Kenji’s brow furrowed.

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

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

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

Kenji hung up.

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

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

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

Takara nodded.

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

“Here she comes!” he announced ecstatically.

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

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

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

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

“You mean, class isn’t over?”

Takara and Kenji looked at each other.

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

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

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

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

“Thank you.” Takara responded.

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

“Thanks, Mom!” Kenji exclaimed enthusiastically.

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

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

“No problem. I hope it goes okay.”

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

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

“Wow, you guys …” he stopped short.

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

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

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019