Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #YA, #Carly
A couple of
hours later, as I meet Hideo in a private car, I still haven’t shaken off my conversation with Ren.
He could’ve been speaking literally.
But that music track was no accident. He knows I was in the Dark World tracking him—or, at the very least, he knows I was also there in the Pirate’s Den during the same time.
If Hideo notices my troubled thoughts, he doesn’t mention it. He seems distracted, too. Even without our Links connected, I sense a certain unease in him, something that turns his eyes distant, the same thing that made him break away from me that night at his home. I debate telling him about my conversation with Ren, but then decide against it. It’s too vague. I need to dig deeper.
It’s a slow drive through the rain. A couple of hours later, we arrive in the wooded outskirts of Tokyo, where the city gives way to gently rolling hills and narrow streets of neat, three-story buildings, their elegantly curved roofs painted black and red. Pines line both sides of the road. A single pedestrian wanders
down the sidewalk, and a gardener is carefully trimming a nearby hedge—but aside from the faint
sound of his shears, it’s quiet. The car finally pulls up to a house at the end of a street, where round bushes and rocks adorn the front path. Pots of flowers line the pathway in neat rows. The porch light is on, even though it’s still late afternoon.
Hideo rings the doorbell. Someone’s voice comes from the other side, muffled and female. A moment later, the door opens to reveal a woman dressed in a tidy sweater, pants, and slippers. She blinks up at us through glasses that magnify her eyes. Then her face crinkles in delight at the sight of Hideo—she utters a small laugh, calls out to someone over her shoulder in Japanese, and then holds her arms out at him.
Hideo bows, lower than I’ve seen him bow to anyone. “
” he says, before wrapping her in a warm hug. He gives me a sheepish smile as she stretches up to pat both his cheeks like he’s a small boy. “This is my mother.”
His mother! A warm feeling overwhelms me, bringing with it a flutter of emotions. I blush and follow Hideo’s example, bowing as low as I can. Hideo nods at me. “
” he says to his mother. “
Kochira wa Emika-san desu.
“This is Emika,” my translation reads.
I murmur a bashful hello and bob my head respectfully. She smiles warmly at me, pats my cheeks, too, and exclaims something about my hair. Then she ushers us both inside, away from the world.
We remove our shoes by the door and put on slippers that Hideo’s mother offers us. Inside, the home is sunny, cozy, and absolutely immaculate, lined with framed photos and green potted plants, clay pots, and odd, metallic sculptures. A bamboo mat and rug cover the living room’s floor, cushioning a low table with
a teapot and teacups. An open sliding door reveals a lush Zen garden. Now I see why Hideo designed his house in Tokyo the way he did; it must remind him of
his true home. I’m about to comment on how lovely their home is when an automated voice comes on over speakers somewhere in the ceiling.
“Welcome home, Hideo-san,” the voice says. In the kitchen, the stove turns on under a teakettle without anyone touching it.
His father comes out to greet us moments later. I look on, fighting down a tide of envy, as the couple fusses over their son with all the enthusiasm of parents who don’t get to see their children nearly as often as they would like.
Hideo’s mother exclaims something about making us a snack and bustles off, leaving her glasses on the table. Without missing a beat, Hideo picks up the glasses, follows his mother into the kitchen, and gently reminds her to put them on. Then he opens the refrigerator door to see that there aren’t any groceries in the fridge to make a snack with, either. Hideo’s mother frowns in confusion, telling him that she was sure there was something. Hideo talks to her in a low, affectionate voice, his hands on her shoulders, reassuring her that he will send for groceries right away. His father looks on from the hallway, coughing a little, the sound indicative of something chronic. I shift at the sound. Neither of his parents is old, but they seem frailer than they should be at their age. It stirs unpleasant memories of my own.
When Hideo returns to my side and sees me watching him, he just shrugs. “If I don’t remind her, the house system will,” he says. “It watches out for them when I’m not here. They refuse to accept a servant.” His voice is light, but I’ve heard him enough times now to detect a deep sadness running underneath it.
“Have your parents always lived here?” I decide to ask.
“Ever since we moved back from London.” Hideo points out
the decorations on the side tables. “My mother has been learning how to make clay pots since she retired from her neuroscience work. The metallic sculptures are my father’s, welded together with leftover computer parts from his repair shop.”
I pause to admire a sculpture. Only now do I see that each piece, although geometric and abstract, seems representative of their personal lives. A couple walking arm in arm. Family scenes. Some of the sculptures depict his parents with
boys. I think back to the portrait I’d seen in Hideo’s own home. “They’re beautiful.”
Hideo looks pleased, but I can sense the quiet, dark side of him returning the longer we stand here, as if coming home had given that side of him the fuel it needs to exist. He stares out the window for a moment. Then he nods at me. “So, Emika,” he says, giving me a small smile. “Have you tried an
yet since you’ve been in Japan?”
“A hot spring.”
“Oh.” I clear my throat, my cheeks turning pink. “Not yet.”
Hideo nods toward the door. “Want to?”
S THE SUN
starts to set, Hideo takes me to a place overlooking a set of mountains, where a bathhouse sits encircled by cherry trees in full bloom. I watch him carefully. His mood has improved since our arrival, but it hasn’t rebounded completely back to his usual self. Now I walk quietly beside him as we approach the entrance to the bathhouse, wondering how I can cheer him up.
“You come here often?” I say as we approach the entrance to the bathhouse.
Hideo nods. “This is my private
The waters of the hot spring are still and calm, a cloud of steam hovering over it. Smooth rocks encircle the edge of the spring, while cherry blossoms drift down from the trees, coming to rest on the water’s surface. One side of the spring overlooks a mountain range, where the ridges are just now catching the last rays of the sun. The other side overlooks a river.
By the time I step toward the spring in a robe, Hideo is already in the water. I’m glad for the heat; maybe it can cover some of my blush, which is already threatening to burn up my face as I study his damp hair and bared muscles. I clear my throat, and Hideo looks politely away, giving me time to remove my robe and sink into the hot water. I close my eyes and let out a small moan of relief.
“I’m never leaving,” I murmur as Hideo comes to join me.
He brushes damp locks of my hair behind my shoulders, then pushes us to a corner, where his hands grip the edge of the spring on either side of me. My face feels as hot as the water now, and I become keenly aware of our bare skin brushing together.
“What do these mean?” Hideo murmurs, running one of his hands along the length of my tattooed arm. His fingers trace wet lines along my skin.
In a contented daze, I look down and straighten my arm so that we can see the full length of my tattoos. “Well,” I whisper, “the flower is a peony, my father’s favorite.” My fingers drift away from my wrist, and Hideo’s fingers follow. “The ocean wave reminds me of California, because I was born in San Francisco.”
Hideo’s hand stops near my elbow, on an elaborate, geometric sculpture rising out of the waves. “And?”
“An Escher structure,” I reply. “I’m a fan.”
Hideo smiles. “Good choice.”
I smile, too, keenly aware of his warm touch against my arm.
My hand travels higher along my tattoo, pausing briefly on a series of stylized feathers floating up into the sky, then on that sky transitioning into a field of planets, their rings tilted like a vintage vinyl record, which then transform into stripes of sheet music, upon which a melody is written.
“Mozart’s ‘Queen of the Night’ aria,” I finish. “Because, well, I fancied myself as one.”
“Mmm.” Hideo leans in to plant kisses along my neck, and I shiver. “A bounty hunter wandering the Dark World,” he murmurs. “Very appropriate.”
I close my eyes, my lips parted, and soak in the warmth of his arms wrapped around me, his kisses trailing along my damp skin. The rough scars of his knuckles brush past my waist as his hands pull me close. There is a shyness in his eyes now that makes him look so young, an expression that tugs my heart closer to him. I can’t remember when we start kissing or when we stop, or when he leans against me, made weak, whispering my name. We seem to exist in a fog of heat and dusk, and I don’t know where the time goes, but it seems that night falls in the blink of an eye, and soon the evening has swallowed us. We’re quiet now, leaning our heads against the stones lining the spring and watching the hanging lanterns illuminate the water with gold. Overhead, stars are winking one by one into existence—
stars, not a virtual simulation. It’s barely after dusk, but already I can see more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life, blanketing the sky in a sheet of light.
Hideo has his face turned up to the stars, too. “Sasuke was playing in the park,” he finally says, his words quiet in the empty space. I shift my head against the stones to hear him better. He seems thoughtful now, his mind somewhere far from here.
This is why we came here. This is the secret that weighs on
him. I turn my head slightly toward him, waiting for him to continue. He seems to struggle in silence, wondering whether letting me into his world will be a huge mistake.
“What happened?” I whisper.
He sighs, closes his eyes for a moment, and then makes a subtle motion with one hand. A screen appears between us. Hideo is sharing one of his Memories with me.
I accept it without a word. In the next instant, the
and nightfall and view around us vanish, and both Hideo and I find ourselves standing at the edge of a park, surrounded by a golden, autumn afternoon, where the sun outlines the trees in a haze of light. A few auto-cars are parked along the sidewalk. Red and orange leaves drift lazily to the ground, dotting the green grass with warm color. A short distance from us, two young boys are heading into the park. I immediately recognize one of them as a young Hideo; the other must be his brother.
“You hadn’t invented the NeuroLink yet when this happened, did you?” I say as we watch the boys enter the park. “How did you create this Memory?”
“I remember every last detail about that day,” Hideo replies. “I was nine. Sasuke was seven.” He nods at the image of the brothers. “The park’s layout, the placement of every tree, the golden leaves, the temperature, the angle of the light . . . I remember it all as if it had happened only minutes ago. So I reconstructed this moment for myself as a Memory, in its entirety, adding new details to it every year.”
We now follow the point of view of young Hideo as he walks calmly, leaves crunching under his boots, his coat’s collar pulled up high against the chilly day. He’s yanking a bright blue scarf out of his backpack. Running a few feet in front of him is Sasuke—clearly the younger of the two—all grins and laughs, his boots
crunching in the leaves as he sprints forward. When the boys speak, it is in Japanese.
” the young Hideo shouts at his brother, waving the blue scarf in the air. I read the English translations in my view as he continues. “Slow down, Sasuke! Put on your scarf. Mom’s going to kill me if you don’t wear it.”
Sasuke ignores him. He’s carrying a basket full of plastic eggs, all colored blue. “Okay, this time you’re red,” he calls back at Hideo over his shoulder. “I’m blue. If I snatch all of yours before the sun hits that tree over there”—he pauses to point—“I get to have your favorite model car.”
Hideo rolls his eyes and lets out an annoyed sigh as they reached the park’s central clearing. “But it’s part of a
!” he argues, even though he doesn’t say no. He finally catches up to his brother. Despite Sasuke’s protests, Hideo forces him to stand still while he wraps the blue scarf around his brother’s neck and tugs his collar up higher. “We can’t stay out for long. Dad needs our help at the shop before dinner, and Mom needs to be at the lab until late.”
Sasuke pouts like a little brother would. “Fine,” he mutters.
The boys separate and head off to opposite ends of the park. As they go, Hideo pulls out a bag of plastic red eggs from his backpack. They both start tossing them all over the place, each one taking great pains to hide them properly from the other.
A blue egg comes tumbling into view, and Hideo looks up to see Sasuke wearing a goofy grin. “Threw it too hard!” he shouts. “Can you toss it back?”
Hideo grabs the egg and flings it back at his brother. The egg flies far past the clearing and disappears into the thick of the park’s trees, where they line the banks of a tiny stream overgrown with bamboo. He laughs as Sasuke’s grin changes into an
exasperated frown. “Wait for me, Hideo,” he calls over his shoulder, and then he stomps off into the trees to fetch the egg. Hideo turns his back and keeps setting out the other eggs. A few minutes later, he glances over his shoulder.
“Are you done yet?” he calls out.
Hideo stands up straight and stretches, savoring the warm glow of the afternoon sun. “Sasuke!” he calls again at the thicket of trees. The only sounds that answer him are the faint trickle of the stream’s water and the hush of golden leaves drifting in the air. The breeze whispers through the swaying bamboo stalks.