Hiko had returned to bed and laid with her for a couple of hours. There was not much time before they needed to return to Sofore, just a few days in fact so he knew they could not stay there all day. Eventually, they pulled themselves from each other, showered, and dressed for the day. First stop a trip to the Kari Foundation, per his father’s request. There was no knowing what it was all about as they sat in his father’s office and waited for his arrival. “Are you feeling alright? I noticed you have not said much since we got up this morning.” He wanted to ask her if she was thinking about her father, but he told himself to just bite his tongue.
“Just tired really. Started my period so I am feeling a little blah.”
“Well that explains why you closed the bathroom door. I thought maybe you were upset or something. It is the first time you have actually shut it since you became my girl.”
“Sorry, I thought you might be uncomfortable.”
Considering her words a moment he responded, “No. I was actually getting use to you leaving the door open when you do everything. It makes me very aware of how comfortable you are with me and that makes me really happy, but I understand if you need your privacy during that time of the month. You said that you feel blah, does it hurt? Are you sick?”
Her expression softened some, “It doesn’t hurt. Sometimes I have cramps, but nothing too serious. Mostly it is just a general feeling of malaise.”
“Is that why you are not very talkative this morning?”
“That has a lot to do with it, but mostly I am thinking about the entrance exam and heading back to Sofore.”
They had not had the opportunity to really discuss the decision to go back to school. It was not a lot of time. The summer festival would start on Monday and a week later they would be taking their term finals. It seemed appropriate that they, at the very least, finish out what time remained before summer break started. He doubted there would be many from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes that would stick around though. “We do not have to be back until Sunday, but we should probably head there as soon as possible. We have stuff in storage that we need to get and we have no idea where we were even relocated to.”
She nodded her head sagely as she added, “I need to find out what I will need to do for the Disciplinary Committee seeing the cafe was closed as well.”
“Do you think you want to head back there today? Tomorrow is Friday and we have to go to Aslann University for the entrance exam. That will just leave Saturday to get everything situated if we push going back any longer.”
“I hate to say it, but yeah we probably should head back today.”
There was a moment where he thought he saw something in her eyes, but there was little opportunity to address it. The voice of his father drew his attention away from her, “Forgive the delay, I was not expecting the two of you until later today.”
“We could come back…”
Tadayoshi took a seat as he halted his son from continuing, “That is not necessary. What I wanted to discuss will not take long and I have a bit of time before my next meeting.” There was a brief pause as he collected himself and Hiko noticed that there seemed to be a subtle heaviness around his father. He could not help wondering if something was happening, “I overheard a bit of your discussion, can I assume the two of you will indeed be heading back to Sofore today?”
“Ahh, unless there is reason we shouldn’t,” Hiko responded.
“Actually, it is probably a wise decision. I spoke with Chilè this morning and we have come to a mutual agreement regarding that contract.”
Tationy spoke, “I hope that whatever price you had to pay to deal with it was not too high, Mr. Kari.”
“It is nothing I cannot handle. The money she gave you does not need to be returned and there is no longer any nefarious strings attached.”
Hiko frowned as he responded, “That seems unlike her, just letting us walk away. What was the price?”
His father’s head hung slightly and a somber expression adorned his features, “Chilè wants to be seen on the arm of Tadayoshi Kari. It is that simple. Money and power are important things to a woman like her, but just being on the arm of a particular man can open important doors. I am sure she has another agenda, but I will not be seduced by her sex or manipulated by her words. As of an hour ago, the Kari Foundation is out of her reach.”
“What do you mean?”
“For appearances, I will remain CEO. As far as anyone needs to know the company is still in my hands. However, I have transferred complete control to Zen until such time as you can take your place as CEO.”
Hiko realized that he was not the only one shocked by the words of his father, “I am so sorry….”
Tadayoshi waved his hand, “It is a price worth paying to protect my son, my future daughter, and our family legacy.”
“Still…” Hiko went to argue, but was halted by his fathers words.
“It is done. Now let us discuss more important things. The two of you need to start talking about what school you want to attend. The entrance exam is just the first step and applying the second. Once you have those results you will have some idea which schools here in Aslann you will be able to attend. Each university requirements are different. If you decide you want to attend school overseas, there is some requisites that need completed and the process can be a bit more daunting.”
Inwardly, Hiko had sighed. They had not really discussed which school. Were they just making a lot of plans without actually solidifying anything? Tationy’s soft voice caught his attention, “Neither of us has talked about attending a university overseas. I think we both just assumed we would attend school here and be close to home.”
“There are many fine universities here in Aslann. I attended school in America, but my first choice was actually to attend Aslann University. My exam score gave me the option of attending anywhere I wanted, but my father insisted that Harvard was where I should be.”
Tationy asked, “Do you regret it?”
“Sometimes,” Despite his fathers words he refused to elaborate. “After you finish out your time at Sofore, there will be a couple of months before you can attend a university. That is, of course, if you get everything approved to attend in the fall. During those free months, I would like for the two of you to spend your time here at the Kari Foundation. It will be good experience.”
“Both of us?”
“Yes. I need to instruct Hiko in the finer details of running the company and I think that you might also benefit from the experience. Zen goes through a new assistant at least ten times a month. He does not trust anyone and is a perfectionist. You seem to have a gentle hand capable of dealing with Kari men. I thought you might be able to make yourself indispensable. He is in need.”
“His assistant, I don’t like the sound of that,” Hiko responded.
“It is an important job. An assistant makes his or her boss look good. Anticipating and catering to needs, making sure things get done to very specific detail. It is their job to make certain that their boss is in the know about everything and anything. I am not diminishing her capabilities or intelligence. In fact, it is those things that make me think she is exactly what Zen needs. He is difficult. Prefers to do it all on his own. Not only does he keep track of his own work he is on top of everyone else. He has difficulty relinquishing control, because the people that have worked for him have been incapable of meeting and handling his demanding nature. He is an asset that the Kari cannot afford to lose, but if he continues the way he is that is exactly what is going to happen. When you are CEO, you are going to need him. He will most certainly burn himself out if he continues the path he is on.”
“Thank you for your confidence in me, Mr. Kari.”
Hiko pursed his lips as he sighed. He was not ready to spend every waking moment at the Kari Foundation, but he understood that he did not really have much of a choice in the matter. “Alright, but we are not doing it until the term at Sofore is over and when fall comes around, if we have all of our stuff in order we will be heading off to attend a university. We won’t have the time to make the trip to Thacian City to work at the Kari Foundation.”
Tadayoshi interrupted, “I understand. I only ask that you work here during the summer break.”
Glancing toward Tationy she nodded her head to acknowledged that she agreed, “I guess that is a yes. We will work here then for summer break.”
“Good, I am glad to hear that.” Tadayoshi shuffled things around on his desk as he gathered up what he needed for his meeting, “On your way out, I would like for you to speak with my secretary. She is expecting you.”
“About?” There was a momentary pause as Tadayoshi stopped what he was doing and faced Tationy and Hiko. He could not read his fathers face, “Is something wrong?”
“No, I was just thinking.” With a softened voice his father added, “I like having the two of you around.” Hiko had failed miserably at hiding the shocked expression. He even managed to open his mouth to say something, but no sound came out. “I want the two of you to know that my home will always be yours. With that said, you are not children. The two of you are going to have a life together, start a family, and living with your father is just going to hinder that. When my brother died his assets went to the Kari Foundation. That included an apartment. It is not much, but you will need someplace to live when you are finished at Sofore. I had my secretary make all of the arrangements this week to transfer it to the two of you. You can get the information and key from her.”
Hiko was bewildered and unable to offer a response. He was grateful when Tationy spoke, “Thank you Mr. Kari.”
He noticed how his father waved his hand again to dismiss any acknowledgement. It was not the first time he had done that and Hiko realized, far to late that his father was overcome by emotion. This was hard on him. Why though he really could not comprehend. “I want the two of you to take the Escalade with you. If I recall right you mentioned that your stuff was put in storage. It will be beneficial to have a means of transportation and moving your stuff to your new residence.” He looked at the clock, “I hate to rush off, but I have a meeting I must get to. Stop in and introduce Tationy to Zen and text me when you make it to Sofore.”
“Of course,” Was all Hiko managed to say before his father wandered out of the office. He felt Tationy’s hand rest on his which eased some of the tension, but the questions were still swirling around his mind. Way too many for him to even single in on just one. He took a breath as he stood and offered his hand to her.
As they left his father’s office, Hiko became acutely aware that all eyes appeared to be on them as they stopped briefly and spoke with the secretary for a moment before continuing on toward Zen’s office. Tationy had called it nepotism. The thought of being the CEO of the Kari Foundation when there were others better suited was a heavy feeling he could not describe. He never wanted to be the future of the company and yet here he was taking the first steps toward that future. He could hear the whispers. It was not an uncommon thing, but he noticed that the topic of discussion was less about him and more about Tationy.
Some were wondering why a Tylo would be interested in him. Others talked about her appearance. Whispers about what her name might be and people responding, it does not matter she is ‘Hiko’s girlfriend’. He was annoyed and almost tempted to say something until she laughed, “What is so funny?”
“Nothing really, just amused.”
He squeezed her hand as he talked in a hushed voice, “Does it bother you?”
“I am assuming you are referring to the fact that I seem to be the topic of discussion.”
“Not really. You tell me all the time you are Kari, some things just are and there is no changing them. The same could be said about the Tylo. People whisper because they are curious. There is probably not a soul in Aslann that has not heard of the eyes of the Tylo. Even if they might not understand what that means, they are certainly aware of the trepidation it brings about in others. People would like to think that they want to know their future, but when faced with the possibility of knowing they are overcome with fear. No one, no matter the strength is capable of handling the unforeseen events of their lives. People see me and they whisper. It is something I am accustomed to.”
Hiko wanted to protect her; shield her from the eyes of those that would scrutinize, callously gossip, and spread rumors, it was difficult, but he understood that with her at his side he was simply making her a target for those that liked to discuss him. He did not know how he was going to protect her from the eyes of the world or even if he could.
He tried not to allow his mind to focus on it too much as he knocked on the office door of Zen and was told to enter. He released Tationy’s hand, pulling something from his pocket as he offered it to Zen, “Sorry, it got a little wrinkled.” Hiko noticed an odd look from Tationy which drew his attention, “What?”
“Nothing,” She responded quickly, but he could definitely tell it was something.
Glancing toward Zen he watched as he scrutinized the little paper bird, “The detail is just remarkable. The lines are so crisp and the technique the best I have ever seen. Thank you.” Hiko really did not understand the fascination Zen had with cranes, but he understood even less his love of the little paper birds made by Kuro. Art he had called them. All Hiko saw was a piece of paper folded into an oddly shaped crane. “Have you met with your father?”
“Ahh, we just finished up and he headed off to his meeting. Don’t you usually attend the meetings as well?”
“Yes, I am running a little behind.”
Hiko stared, “I think this is the first time I have ever heard of you being late before.”
“It is unusual, but Tsuna’s wife went into labor this morning and the sketches that were needed he took home the night before. I had to send someone to get them.”
Nodding his head in understanding he directed his attention toward Tationy, “My father said we should stop in so I could introduce you and Tationy.”
Zen allowed his eyes to fix upon her, “Tadayoshi speaks highly of you, Miss Tylo. He seems to think that you will be quite an asset to my department.” He paused as he offered her his hand, “Zen Kari.”
“Tationy Tylo,” She introduced, “I am humbled to hear that and look forward to the opportunity to work with you.” Tationy took a moment and she seemed to understand that Zen needed to depart as she said, “Forgive us, we should not keep you any longer. It was really nice to meet you.”
Grabbing up the sketches from a nearby table Zen responded, “We will see if you still feel that way after you have worked for me, Miss Tylo. Hiko it was good to see you again. Now if you will excuse me.” Zen wandered out of his office and for a moment Hiko stood staring at Tationy. He wanted to ask her about the odd expression she had given him, but instead he took her hand and left the Kari Foundation.
They stopped at his fathers house, packed up the Escalade, before making their way through the city. He did not plan on it, but he changed directions and headed toward the apartment that would soon be their home. Surprisingly, the doorman knew exactly who they were and greeted them as Mr. Kari and Miss Tylo. Squeezing her hand, he used the key to open the door and allowed the two of them in. There was no furniture and the apartment smelled like it had been sealed up for a while so the first thing he did was open the doors to the balcony.
Hiko noticed she was looking out over the skyline of Thacian City and asked, “What do you think?”
“I think it is the most beautiful view I ever laid my eyes upon.”
He was hardly looking at the scenery when he responded, “I think so as well.” Hiko was slightly anxious and nervous as he released the air from his lungs, “This is the start of our future together. I don’t even know where to begin.”
She smiled, “Our future started long ago, this is just one of many major steps in strengthening it. After we finish our finals we can move in officially.”
“At least until we have to head off to school again.” Pausing he glanced away, “Does it bother you that my father just expects you to work at the Kari Foundation?”
“No. I understand his reasoning. It will be hard on you to leave my side and at least this way I am close.”
It was the same sort of thinking that Kuro had when he had asked her to be the manager of the basketball team, “Zen can be…”
Tationy chuckled, “It will not be an issue. I can handle difficult Kari. I am more worried about you.”
“You just need to have a bit more confidence in yourself and right now I don’t think you have enough of it to understand how important it is for you to stand as the head of the Kari Foundation.”
Hiko stared at her face. The last time she had said something about him being the CEO of the Kari Foundation he had gotten annoyed with her. Asked her if that was all she was interested in, but now that he knew what she was capable of he had to wonder what it was she was seeing to force those words from her mouth.
It was almost as though she had read his mind, “Asking is not going to help you. What is most important in this is learning to build on the foundation you already have laid for your self-esteem. Doing what you think is right, even if others mock and criticize. Going outside your comfort zone by taking risk. Admitting your mistakes and learning from them. Showing humility, never boasting, and being able to accept a compliment gracefully and respectfully. You have many strengths, but the thing that holds you back is how you defeat yourself in your own mind. It is easier to be negative; our ancestors had to be acutely aware of danger to survive. It is ingrained within ever fiber of our beings to seek out what may damage us. This is normal.”
“Tationy, do you ever feel insecure? Has there ever been a single time when you were not confident?”
She was suddenly rather quiet. Hiko waited patiently for her to respond. “I stand nearly six feet tall. Most of the guys I went to school with were shorter than I was. By the time puberty hit I had the biggest breast in my class with a huge butt and wide hips. I prayed I would look like my mother. Guys were always staring at my chest instead of my face and those that were brave enough to even talk to me thought I was strange because of these eyes. Reality was that I was Yamada and that made me a cock tease without even trying. Men expect me to spread my legs. They look at me like I am a sex object and there is not a man I have encountered that has not thought about fucking me. I don’t know what it is about the Yamada that makes it this way, but for the longest time I could not look in the mirror at my body without thinking how slutty and indecent it was. I hate how I look.”
He blurted it out before he could stop himself, “I love your body. Sorry, that is probably not what you want to hear after saying all of that. It pisses me off even thinking about another guy staring at you and thinking about you, but when I look at you I cannot help thinking how lucky I am. It is not just because you are beautiful or have a great body, it is everything. You just have this way about you that teases and entices me. It makes me unable to think straight and it is not just limited to your body. You are amazing and intelligent and you make me feel like I am a king.”
There was a subtle smile that graced her lips briefly, “We should probably get on the road.”
Reluctantly he nodded his head. There were moments that he felt like she was running away from sharing all of herself completely with him. Maybe it was something else entirely, but he was certain he would not know which until she was good and ready to share it with him.
Driving to Sofore took less time then traveling by train, still by the time they got there they were both pretty exhausted. They had stopped in and got their new residential assignments and the key to their storage lockers. They made the stop first to pick up their stuff before heading toward the housing area where they were assigned. Greeted almost immediately by Kyo, “I was starting to think the two of you were not coming back.”
Hiko took Tationy’s hand as they moved toward the gate, “And miss out on all of this excitement?”
Kyo chuckled, “You have no idea. It has been insane around here lately.”
“I can imagine, isn’t this one of the houses used for guest speakers or something?”
Nodding his head Kyo responded, “Contractors condemned over fifty structures and the school started running out of places to put students. They opened this place up a few days ago and assigned me to watch over it. I saw you and Tationy on the list of students who had not checked in, hope you don’t mind I had you put on the list for this location. Figured you would want to stick together.”
There were no words for how thankful he had been when he found out they were in the same location. He thought it was just luck, not that he believed in that sort of thing. Seemed Kyo was watching over them, “Thanks.”
“Come on, I will give you the grand tour.”
Kyo walked ahead, “How many people are staying here?”
“Including the two of you we are now up to twenty-five. Most rooms have at least three people.”
“Is it always loud like this?”
“Unfortunately,” He responded as he led them through the house showing them all the conveniences of their new temporary home before leading the way down some stairs. “I put the two of you on the first floor. It tends to be a bit quieter.” Kyo stopped outside a room, “This is it.”
They had stepped inside and were almost instantly greeted by Eri Maiba, “There you are.”
Kyo questioned, “Were you looking for me?”
“Of course, we have to finish the little details for the festival.”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
She made a sound that Hiko could not recognize as she tucked her hair behind her ear, “That is unlike you Kyo Kari. Since when do you forget your meetings with me?”
“I apologize. What do you need me to do?”
“Go over to the park and make certain that everything is in order. I had some of the freshmen pull the stuff out of storage, but I swear they were distracted and need far more supervision, then I can give them at the moment. I need to speak with the Dance Committee about the preparations for the gala and the Disciplinary Committee to make certain they will be able to work security. I simply do not have the time.”
He nodded his head, “I will head over there after I am finished with Tationy and Hiko.”
Eri’s eyes almost instantly switched off of Kyo and focused in on the two of them.
“I have a bad feeling,” Hiko said under his breath.
Tationy laughed nervously, “You and me both.”
“Yay! Two more bodies. Due to the unfortunate events here at Sofore we are forgoing our usually class competition. Normally, each class is assigned a series of events and the student body votes which events they liked the most. It is a shame we simply do not have enough people in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes to particulate against the freshmen. Not to mention the competition for king and queen of the gala has completely been hampered. I am so frustrated.”
“That is a shame. Sorry to hear that,” Tationy responded politely.
Eri continued without missing a step, “I need the two of you to work events at the festival. Hiko you will be the target for the pie throwing contest and Tationy I am going to assign you to the kissing booth.”
“Not happening…” Hiko realized rather quickly he was being ignored.
“So, glad we have two more bodies. Alright, I need to go. I will drop off information later for the two of you. Kyo don’t forget to go and oversee the festival setup. Bye now.”
“What just happened?”
“Hurricane Eri,” Kyo responded. “Sorry about that she is a little intense when it comes to school spirit. I will talk with her later about dragging the two of you into the festival stuff. For now, I got to go and check on the festival grounds.”
Hiko noticed that Kyo set the key on a nearby dresser before disappearing out of the room. He sighed, “I don’t want other guys kissing you.”
“School spirit is fucked up.”
She chuckled softly, “Don’t think about it. Let’s just get our stuff and go to bed….you know come to think of it, we should probably thank Kyo. I am sure he has a lot to do with us sharing a room.”
His arms wrapped around her, “I am glad about that. I was worried we would be in different dorms, separated by distance, and my mind would have been working overtime wondering what you were doing.” Hiko leaned in and kissed her lightly as his forehead pressed to hers. It was a moment of content before he groaned, “Alright, I need to pull away and unpack the car.”
It took them the better part of the day to fill their room with stuff. Hiko did the majority of the heavy lifting and moving things around, while he left the decorating to Tationy. By the time they were finished, they both showered and changed. They had to be on the road the next day to head to Aslann University for the entrance exam so he knew the two of them needed to get to sleep early; at least try. It seemed an impossible feat with the amount of noise in the house. He lay upon the bed, smoking a cigarette, and watching her.
“The design department seems like it might be a good fit for you.”
“Why is that?”
Hiko responded, “Your love of painting.”
She laughed, “That is a mighty big assumption.”
He stared quietly before asking, “What do you mean? I can think of a few times I have watched you paint. I don’t know much about art, but you seem pretty good at it and I guess I don’t understand why that would be a big assumption.”
“The assumption is that I love painting. Honestly, it is something I just do. Idle hands and all of that.”
“Wait….” He paused a moment as he mauled it over, “Are you saying you don’t like painting?”
“I hate it.”
He laughed, “Then why the fuck are you doing it?”
“When I was little, with all of the dreaming I could never really focus enough to enjoy anything. Other people had hobbies they liked doing, but I would just sit there. Sometimes, I would read to distract my thoughts, but I lacked the concentration that was required for most task. When I was finally put on the medication it helped so much. I still dream, but not to the excessive level it was before. Having that freedom just opened up the world to me and I wanted to learn how to do things. So, I started teaching myself. Painting was one of the first things I learned how to do and really the reason I still do it is because it is a skill that needs to be neutered and encouraged or it can be lost.”
“Are you regretting being on the medication?”
Her body stilled, “I think if I was off it I would be able to see more clearly what is transpiring around us. Sometimes things are as much of a surprise to me as they are to you and I worry what that means for us.”
Hiko had stood quickly. It was his intent to hold her tightly and tell her that it would all be alright, but the knock on the door hindered that from happening. He groaned as he responded, “Enter.”
Eri stepped inside the room her voice practically singsong. She was full of pep and spirit, “Very sorry for rushing off like I did. I had to take a week off from all of the planning to help my grandmother so I lost out on valuable time to ensure that everything was in proper order.” She stopped talking suddenly as she looked around, “Goodness you two work swiftly. I thought for certain your stuff would still be in boxes.” Hiko thought the chuckle that followed was the most fake he had ever heard. “Anyway, Hiko all you have to do is take pies to the face….well provided they can actually throw. For the five days of the festival, the pie throwing is on Wednesday and runs from noon to three. Taunting people to get them to buy a throw is perfectly acceptable, just nothing derogatory. The better you are at getting people to toss pies at you the less time you will have to be there. We are expecting to have at least three hundred baked by Wednesday.”
Hiko could care less about the festival as he eyed Eri, “About Tationy and the kissing booth.”
“Kyo already talked to me. I get it, you are the jealous sort that does not trust your girlfriend.”
Was that how he was coming off? He felt slightly annoyed as he stared at Eri, “It is not that. I trust her. I just don’t want another guy’s lips on her.”
“Oh, I see. Possessive and jealous.” Growling he turned away, “Look if Tationy does not want to do it she only has to speak up. The kissing booth is the crème de la crème of the festival. It is the event that attracts the most attention. I assigned Kyo to it as well and believe me he is protesting a lot more than you are. Honestly, I would have assigned you instead of Kyo….”
“Why didn’t you?” The words left his mouth and out of the corner of his eye he saw the expression upon Tationy’s face. Turning his attention fully upon her he allowed his eyes to wash over her features. What was that look?
Eri glanced between the two of them, “Look, I cannot do it myself. I have hundreds of things I have to oversee in a single day for the festival. I asked Tsubaki to do it and she is not returning to school. Some sort of family drama. I don’t know if I have the time to find a replacement by Monday. The rules are simple, though you may get a few that try to break them. It is a kiss on the cheek only and it is just for an hour each day from noon to one. I am sure the two of you can handle a little innocent fun and if you cannot, then there are some serious cracks in whatever this relationship is supposed to be. Now if you will excuse me, I have more important things to attend to then standing here and being caught in the middle of patriarchal Kari possessive bullshit.”
Hiko and Tationy stared at her as she wandered out of their room, “She is a little intense.”
Sighing, “Sorry Tationy. I don’t mean to make such a huge deal out of this kissing booth thing. I just … I’m scared some guy is going to come along and sweep you off your feet. What if you like being kissed by other guys? What if you find someone more attractive than me? I know I am being petty, I just don’t want to lose you.”
“That isn’t going to happen,” She responded as she snuggled into him. “Come on, let’s get some sleep.” He found her words to be comforting as he allowed her to lead him to their bed. There was still fear and panic over losing her even if it might be irrational. He kept telling himself to relax and sleep, but the tension in his body just would not allow that to happen.
To Be Continued