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They had arrived promptly enough, only to have to wait in a somewhat slow moving line for them to show their identification. Hiko understood the importance of why they were there, but when they were assigned to their testing rooms and were separated he felt an unwanted heaviness. As he listened to the proctor go over the instructions he could not help thinking about the journey he had taken thus far. Tationy and Hiko had officially been together for two weeks. It was almost unbelievable to him. He never thought he would ever have a girlfriend let alone find the woman he was going to marry. If he was honest with himself, he felt like they were moving too slowly. He wanted to marry her and see her belly swelled with their child.

Even as he took the first portion of a seven hour exam he found that he was distracted. His eyes closed and his mind wander. He was still not happy about the kissing booth nonsense, but he did not want to come off as an overbearing boyfriend. Even though he was. Losing track of time, he nearly forgot about the exam as he catnapped between moments of fantasy driven daydreams.

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He was grateful for the breaks between test. It gave him an opportunity to see Tationy. His eyes almost instantly sought her out as she walked up the path, dropped her backpack, and found a cozy spot in his lap. She did not even give him an opportunity to say he had gotten soda and grabbed a box of crackers from the car. He moaned against her mouth, “Hello.”

She smiled as his arms tightened around her, “Hiko Kari, did you miss me?”

“I was going to ask you the same question.” He liked how she snuggled into him. It encouraged him to lean in and kiss her again though this time he did not hold back, “When we get home can I have you?”

It was a nervous giggle, “I am still on my period.”

“I don’t care. Let me touch you a bit and kiss you. It feels like forever.”

“You are insatiable.”

“That is not true. I am more hungry then insatiable. Sometimes, I just want to have you. You definitely quench that hunger in me when you give me permission to touch and kiss you.”

Tationy seemed pensive a moment, “We have talked about waiting to have sex. Are we still going to?”

Hiko quietly consider her question, “I know that us living together is going to test our willpower. Most Kari are married and have consummated their union before even moving in together. The two of us move at a pace we are comfortable with and other people tell us we are moving too quickly. If nothing else, we should abstain from the ….” He stumbled over his words as he looked at her, “I really want to be in you. It is so hard, but I just think it is really important that we hold tightly to one thing. That way when we get married, the moment is truly special. I definitely intend to know every part of your body, mind, and soul by the time we get married, but that single act of bonding I want us to save.” Her lips laid a tentative kiss upon his, “Does that kiss mean you are still okay with waiting?”

“It does.”

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Even though Tationy had indicated she was okay with waiting, he still could not help wondering if she meant it. Hiko hoped she was not just saying it to make him happy. He sighed as he looked down at the test booklet laid before him. His mind was too preoccupied with thoughts of her that everything on the page looked like a bunch of jumbled numbers and letters. Did she want to have sex? He definitely wanted to have sex with her and only was insisting that they wait because he thought it was important for them to hold something sacred after all they were not really the perfect example set by society for what a healthy and respectable relationship would look like.

Additionally, he was Kari and he would be lying if he said he did not feel some pressure due to his upbringing to abstain. It was not as though he was religious or cared at all what anyone thought, but he had noticed recently that he cared a considerable amount about what people thought of Tationy. He was alright with people talking negatively about him, but he did not want to be the reason they talked badly about her. He groaned inwardly, there would come a point where the two of them would be out front. The position of CEO of the Kari Foundation, ultimately meant that not a single person in Aslann would not know who he was.

Him being the son of Tadayoshi Kari he was rather use to it, but was it fair for him to bring Tationy into such a fishbowl lifestyle? He leaned his head back and stared up at the ceiling. Why did he feel like he was being selfish?

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Those little moments with her seemed to ease all of his tension and chaotic thoughts. How he wished the breaks were longer as he laid upon the ground staring at her face. He was content as he sighed and smiled, “I was thinking that we would live off campus. Rent a little place for just the two of us…”

She interrupted him, “Three of us.”

He peered at her, “Three?”

“Semei will be with us.” He groaned. “Hiko are you not happy about Semei joining us?”

“Kuro told me something. I have been trying not to think about it, but I cannot help it.”

“What did he say?”

Hiko was uncertain he even wanted to answer the question as he closed his eyes, “I guess everyone noticed you right away, but me. I feel really stupid. I was told we walked by each other all the time and I did not notice you until you were standing next to Abe. It makes me feel shitty. Kuro said that he and Semei noticed you just after you arrived. They both instantly were interested and Semei said he was going to ask you out. Did he ask you Tationy?”

His eyes opened and he realized she was staring down at him rather intently. Hiko was certain she was thinking he was an asshole as he sighed and went to apologize, “He didn’t ask me. I am sure he tried, but he is a pretty slow moving guy. It would probably take him four years to even work up the courage to ask me on a date and even then I probably would not even known it was date.” Hiko tried desperately not to laugh, but had failed. “Semei is a good man, Hiko. As the years progress it will be difficult to know who you can trust. Trust in him, he will never let you down.”

Tationy’s words were unexpected and resonated deeply with him. They were similar. Both having terrible dispositions and short tempers, but Semei was always capable of something that Hiko had never been able to master; restraint. Part of him always admired the way Semei had found balance between his bad boy attitude and the Kari way of life. He took a breath, “So, we get a little place for the three of us.”

“Sounds perfect.”

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Was he really okay with it being the three of them? Even though he understood that Semei would be there to help protect Tationy he still felt jealousy. Semei had seen her first. Had wanted to ask her out. They had not had a moment to speak so Hiko could clear the air and hopefully ease some of his troubled thoughts. He told himself just focus on his test

Question: How do you prove the equivalence of the rotational symmetry group of a regular icosahedron with the alternating group of five elements?

Hiko sighed as he thought, ‘Nobody in their right fucking mind knows the answer to this question.’ He looked toward the clock on the wall staring rather intently. This was the last exam, he just had to make it through it and then he could wrap his arms around Tationy. The one thing he seemed to be certain of was that the finals they would take in just over a week would be a heck of a lot easier. Grumbling under his breath he laid his head down on the table and thought, ‘Tationy would know the answer.’

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He was dragging his entire body along as he moved to the spot that he and Tationy had met up multiply times that day. He could see her, reading a book and waiting for him. He cut it close on that test, finishing the final essay within the last fifteen minutes. Dropping his bag and then his body he leaned into her. Hiko was exhausted. With eyes closed and his body relaxed enough to nap he said her name, “Tationy.”

“Hmm?”

“How do you prove the equivalence of the rotational symmetry group of a regular icosahedron with the alternating group of five elements.”

She laughed, “View the centrums of the faces of the icosahedron as the vertices of five interlocking tetrahedra.”

Sighing he responded, “I knew you would know.”

“It is an unimportant question.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is a control question. Mathematicians are highly sought after in Aslann, so in every entrance exam they add in a graduate level math or physics question. Those that are capable of answering it are usually recruited by some of the more advanced curriculum schools and these people go on to become physicist and engineers, but it has no baring on your overall score.”

“Oh, glad I wasted twenty minutes of my time trying to answer it then.”

Tationy’s soft chuckle made him smile, but at the same time he worried that he was holding her back. If she could answer such a question that meant she was smart enough to be whatever she wanted to be. She could be a physicist or an engineer, would probably be recruited by some crazy university, and then what? What about them? What about him? Would she accept and leave him behind? He hated this feeling of holding her back and at the same time it felt even worse that he might be left behind. Hiko’s body stiffened when she spoke, “The ability of the Kari should actually make mathematics quite easy for you. Of course you would need to see someone actually do the equations, but in theory there is no reason you should not be able to replicate it after all solving a problem is as much an action as breathing. It would require you to stay awake during class though.”

He considered her words. Classes were boring and uninteresting so he would often fall asleep. The teachers talked endlessly about things he never cared about and despite sleeping through most of his classes he still passed. If he applied himself would it make a difference?

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Hiko did not allow himself time to dwell on it. With the testing concluded he simply wanted to head back to Sofore and relax with his girl. Though he realized he was a bit too tired to be driving and stayed cozily with her in that spot. For a time he even catnapped until she woke him and told him that they should be getting back. The trip still took a couple of hours and by the time they entered their room he dropped the stuff and fell upon the bed. She chuckled softly, “Are you tired Hiko Kari?”

“Completely.”

The items in her hand she set upon the desk before moving to join him, “I am sorry I slept on you. The ride must have been lonely without someone to talk with.”

“It was. I think you should make it up to me.”

She softly laughed, “Have something in mind?”

He smiled, there were plenty of things that came to mind lately in regard to Tationy. The long ride back to Sofore gave him time to think about them. “Ahh, actually…” He paused a moment considering which one he wanted to mention first.

“This is your fault.”

A voice broke through the momentary silence. Hiko wanted to just ignore it after all this place was like a zoo with all of the sounds going off nonstop. A few loud voices seemed practically normal, other than the fact that he recognized it as the voice of Eri Maiba.

“How exactly is this my fault?”

Hiko’s body stilled when a man’s heated tone responded to Eri’s words, “Isn’t that Kyo?”

“Sounds like it,” Hiko responded. “It is not our business, so where were we?”

“I believe you were just about to kiss me.”

“Eri, I am going to tell you once more. You push me again and you will regret it.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Kyo Kari.”

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Pulling away from Tationy was not something he wanted to do as he moved toward the door that led outside. He leaned against it as he listened. Their voices were heated. Hiko never knew Kyo to be the type of guy that got worked up. Sometimes he seemed serious, but most of the time he was joking. Kyo had always said that he was more of a joker because the people around him were always too tense. Which was ultimately his way of saying that the Kari got too hung up on stuff that did not matter. It seemed out of character for him to be in such a heated argument, especially one that was definitely out in public. Tationy moved to stand next to him, “You are worried.”

“This is not really his style.”

“How dare you oppress my body.”
“I told you not to put your hands upon me again and I meant it Eri. I am quickly losing my patience with you. I was not the only one there that night.”

Hiko glanced at Tationy, “We should probably stop this.”

She seemed hesitant, but agreed by stepping back so that he might be able to open the door.

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Just as the two of them stepped out they witnessed Kyo grab onto Eri’s arms and give her a forceful shake, “I told you not to push me again. I listen to you spout all of that bullshit about respecting your body and equality, but you are not doing the same with me. It is not okay for you to put your hands upon me without my permission, no matter how angry you are. If you do it again, I will definitely lose my cool.” He released her rather quickly and stepped back when he realized that the two of them were no longer alone.

Hiko explained, “We do not mean to interrupt, but the two of you are pretty loud.”

There it was again that fake smile of Eri Maiba. “Forgive us, we were just having a disagreement over the festival details. If you will excuse me.” Hiko did not believe that for a moment as she collected herself and wandered off. Looking toward Tationy she practically rolled her eyes as she turned to follow. In a way he could sympathize after all he would not want to be the one to make sure that Eri was really alright.

When the two of them were safety out of earshot Hiko asked, “What is going on?”

Not surprising Kyo did not respond as he began walking. Kari men were not the best at talking about their personal issues. Eventually, Kyo finally spoke, “I made a joke about her waistline increasing and it sort of escalated from there.”

“I am not knowledgeable about women, but even I know it is a bad idea to make a comment about a woman’s weight.”

“Yeah, well. Turns out I was right.” Hiko might have been a little slow putting two and two together, “She is pregnant.”

“Wow, her and Agito…” Hiko stopped talking suddenly. No there was no way it was Agito’s. The anger the two of them were exhibiting when Tationy and Hiko stepped out of the room was rather telling, “When did the two of you get together? I had no idea you were a couple.”

“Were not. That party that Abe threw a couple of months ago I was invited to. I normally don’t attend things like that, but I figured why not. I had no other plans. She was there and pretty much by herself the entire evening. I had plenty of liquid courage in me so I went and stood with her. Talked for a bit. Woke up the next morning with her naked body pressed into mine. She hates me. Eri believes I am a misogynist from a patriarchal family. These are her words, ‘I objectified her body by using it as a sperm receptacle while she was drunk and only a Kari would oppress her body in such a demeaning and disrespectful fashion.’ It is alright to laugh, I did.”

“I take it the conversation did not go well.”

“Eri blames me. Apparently in all her wisdom, her being drunk means she was incapable of making any coherent decision and I, who was also drunk should have known better. Logic at its finest.”

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The annoyance in the voice of Kyo was clearly evident, “So, what will you do?”

“I told her I thought that we should get married and I would take care of her. It only served to irritate her more. How dare I offer to take responsibility for contributing to her current condition. She told me to stop being patronizing and asked what gave me the right to think that I could assert control over her.” He sighed, “If I don’t take responsibility I am an asshole and if I do I am a bigger asshole.”

The fact that his uncle had sworn was not lost on Hiko. It said a lot about his emotional state that he was using profanity when in reality, Kyo was one of those goody-two-shoes guys that never did anything wrong and behaved like the overly nice guy that he was. They were probably night and day, the good boy and the bad boy of the Kari, “What if she decides to have an abortion?”

Hiko realized he asked the wrong question as Kyo stopped walking, “I need to be alone for a little bit. Don’t mention this to anyone, not even my dad or brother.”

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Kicking himself as he walked around looking for Tationy he sighed. He had never been very good at saying the right thing. Most of the time he just stayed out of other people’s business unless for some reason he was dragged into it. Hearing the two of them argue, set something off inside of him and even though it was probably not the right decision he felt it necessary to interject.

As he rounded the corner, Eri and Tationy came in to view. Even though they appeared to not be talking, he was hesitant about moving forward. Eri’s voice finally caught his attention, “Would you be happy? I don’t know why I am asking you that, of course you would be. You willingly submit to the Kari and their male dominated society. I hate girls like you.”

Hiko nearly said something, “Of course you do because you cannot understand why an intelligent and independent woman would stand at the side of a Kari man. Honestly, you are so narrow-minded. I think your reaction to the Kari shows what little knowledge you truly have regarding them. It is true that they are by definition a patriarch, but you are mistaken when you assume that women have no power. Kari men make the decisions in most matters as far as the public is concerned. However, this is not the case. They simply do not share the details of their private lives with society. For a Kari man, the woman in his life is as important as breathing. The fact that we can bring life into this world means we are valuable, not because we can give them hundreds of little Kari. This is because we are capable of doing something that they cannot. Believe me, if they could they definitely would. The god Kazuma loved his queen so much that when she begged him to allow her to bring life into this world her request was granted. From that day forward, the Kari held women above even men. It is not the Kari that limit the autonomy of women, it is women who choose to see themselves as victims of society and men that put limitations upon themselves.”

“You are such a bitch.”

“There are some that might think that of me, but truly I couldn’t care less. You are just mad because I will not let you blame this situation upon Kyo. The two of you were both drunk and both responsible, end of story. Despite your argument, he is Kari and they are loyal. Even if you do not want him to be there for you he is going to be. I do not think you understand how lucky you are.”

“Lucky? Seriously, having some disease overtaking my body. How exactly am I lucky.”

“How cruel you are.” Hiko noticed that Tationy’s voice was soft and yet he could hear a harsh quality to it as Eri finally looked at her, “If it was a plant or an animal you would show loving care to it, but the seed of life between a man and a woman, you consider oppression to your womb.”

“I don’t want to be stuck at home, raising some child I never wanted, and doing all of the work. I don’t want to be his servant.”

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“You wouldn’t be,” Hiko responded as he stepped out from where he was standing. “The majority of women that marry into the Kari are educated. Many of them make the decision whether or not they will work or stay at home. It is not uncommon for both a Kari man and the woman in his life to work. When children are brought into the relationship there is a discussion that generally takes place and an agreement is made on whom will continue working and who will stay home with the children. It is not uncommon for men of the Kari to tend to the well-being of their sons and daughters while their wife is working. It is a misconception regarding the Kari. Even things like household duties never fall on just one person. Kari men are taught to cook and the entire family makes dinner together. Staying home, tending to house and family, is the responsibility of both parties and you would only be stuck if you wanted to be.”

Her attitude seemed to change slightly as she asked, “Is that really true?”

“Ahh. The family dynamic of the Kari is not at all how it appears to outsiders.” Hiko wanted to bite his tongue, but he rather directly asked, “Are you going to have an abortion?”

She was not surprised by his question, “I was thinking about it.”

“Did you say that to Kyo?”

“Yeah, why?”

Hiko shook his head, “That explains his reaction.” There was a moment of pause as he offered his hand to Tationy and she gladly accepted, “Look, it is not our business. The Kari don’t believe in abortion, but Kyo is not going to tell you what you should or should not do with your own body no matter how he feels about it. I am not going to presume to understand the struggles you are experiencing. I can only speak to you from a Kari perspective. If Tationy told me she was pregnant, I would be beyond happy. Any Kari man would be. There is nothing more beautiful or amazing and the loss would be devastating if she had an abortion.”

“I would never do that to you,” Tationy said as she gave his hand a squeeze.

With a nod of his head he responded, “I know.” This topic was far to emotional for him as he looked upon Eri and added, “If you do not want to raise the child at least consider having him or her. No one would have to know. I am sure if you told Kyo you would have the child, but only if no one ever found out you were pregnant he would gladly take you anywhere in the world to give birth. He would be a good father and if nothing else he deserves the opportunity to be one even if you do not want to be with him. Just think about it.”

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Hiko did not want to give Eri a chance to say anything as he quickly began walking away. Admittedly he was slightly on edge. No Kari man would be happy hearing the word abortion come up in any conversation. A woman’s ability to bring life into the world was a remarkable thing and the Kari, both boys and girls, were taught about the value and importance of such a wonderful gift from their god Kazuma. He wasn’t religious, but like any boy or girl brought up among the Kari he did not believe in abortion. He found the entire situation troubling as they made their way through the place they were staying. By the time he closed the door to their room, he realized he had not said a word to Tationy. Turning he caught sight of her sitting upon the bed. Rather quickly and without hesitation he moved toward her.

Standing before her she smiled, “Kiss me, Hiko Kari.”

“I would love to,” He responded as he leaned down and laid a tentative kiss upon her lips. With a contented sigh he responded, “Sorry, I … keep thinking about how I would feel if you told me you were pregnant and then said you wanted to have an abortion. I know you said you would never say that, but what if I did something that made you hate me? Would you punish our baby for my mistake?”

Her fingers teased along his neck, “No. Even if you did something really terrible. There is nothing in this world that would ever make me kill our baby. I am sure like any woman I would go through stages of doubt and worry. Wondering what I should do or maybe even considering it, but the feeling of him or her growing inside of me would just wash all of that way.” He took a seat next to her on the bed. Hiko had not realized he sighed until she took his hand and said, “We have no control over the paths that others take. We can intervene and make things happen a particular way, but will it be better or worse? In this situation there is no easy path and it is still quite unclear how it will turn out. The only thing I can say for certain is, Kyo will still be the same man at the end of the journey that he is at the beginning. He is Kari, a defeat will not break him.”

Oddly enough, even when there was uncertainty her words always brought comfort. He wished he was not burdened with the knowledge of their secret. Kicking himself for going to the door to listen, he wrapped his arms tightly around Tationy, “If we have a baby, what would you want to name him or her?”

She laughed, “Getting a little ahead of yourself Hiko Kari.”

“It is never too soon to think about our future.”

Tationy smiled, “I like the name Kazuma for a boy. It means true harmony and is quite symbolic among the Kari, but really I like it mostly because only Hiko Kari would be so bold as to name his son after the King of the Gods.”

Hiko chuckled as he asked, “For a girl?” She was somber. He was aware she did not wish to have a girl, but it was not as though either of them had any control over the sex of their child. He kissed her lightly, “Tationy, someday when we both have clear heads and have reached a point where we are not brought down by the negative words of those around us, we are going to have a child together. Whether we have a boy or a girl, you are going to be a great mother. You are the most amazing woman in the world and if we are blessed with a daughter she is going to grow up to love and admire her very strong and beautiful mother. Now, tell me what name do you want our daughter to have.”

She spoke softly, “Amarice, it means given by god.”

The name was beautiful and fitting for any entirely different reason. Kazuma for a boy was a bold statement. Kari men needed to be confident and strong and their names were carefully chosen to reflect that strength. To a Kari man, a daughter was a blessed child given by the god Kazuma. He could not find the words to say, but Tationy seemed to anticipate and understand that he was Kari even though he rebelled sometimes violently against their ways.

To Be Continued

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