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It seemed almost surreal being back at Sofore. With their entrance exams done on Friday, Tationy and Hiko spent Saturday and Sunday hole up in their little tiny room. Most of it was spent snuggling and just enjoying each other’s company. They really only left to eat or use the facilities. On Monday, they were back to class.

The morning announcements did not transpire as they normally did, instead students began to be shuffled around to different classrooms. As Hiko wandered the halls with the four people that were remaining in his class, he realized that the school was being packed up. Despite there being no announcement regarding its closing it seemed that the inevitable was just around the corner.

The door opened to one of the study halls and his class was instructed to enter and find a seat. Instantly his eyes fell upon her and he smiled. He set his notebook down and pulled a chair to her table which was occupied by her and a couple of other sophomores. Their attention was quickly drawn toward him as his fingers reached out and teased along her arm. Her head lifted for a just a moment as her eyes fixed on him, “I see you are sleeping in class already.”

“Someone kept me awake all night.”

He chuckled, “Wish I could take credit for that.”

Hiko’s fingers continued to rub lightly along her arm as he watched her. He wasn’t certain why they were in the same place, but he was glad to be able to see her. The room itself was rather buzzing with whispers about what was going on and the unusual makeup of the study hall. Another group of juniors entered the room and the sophomore girl next to Tationy got up to join her friends near the front of the class. That freed up the space next to his girl that he quickly claimed.

“Why did you stop?” She asked as she lifted her head and looked at him. He wanted to respond by kissing her, but that was hardly appropriate in the current environment, so he simply reached out and took her hand.

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Any opportunity to speak was halted by a teacher entering the room. “Please situate yourselves and be quiet.” Standing at the podium the teacher waited until the students settled themselves in before introducing herself. “I am Arya Zo, freshmen language teacher here at Sofore. As you can see our current classroom structures have changed considerably. Students and teachers have been reassigned to different rooms due to the recent structural evaluations here at Sofore Academy. I have been tasked with overseeing this class, which you may have noticed is not made up of freshmen,” She chuckled softly.

“With the recent restructuring our lovely establishment has been going through there have been many unexpected changes. The first and most noticeable is that our student body has significantly decreased. Final exams for this term will be held on Monday and Tuesday,” She responded as she turned and wrote on the chalkboard. “Students, even those currently not attending are expected to be there. If you fail to take your final exams you will be given an additional opportunity to finish any work not handed in by next week and take your finals. The dates assigned for making up any outstanding work and the exams is July 1st through July 15th.”

“Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have taken the university entrance exam are exempt from attending classes this week. However, that does mean that you will not be allowed to participate in club activities, the festival, and the dance.” The teacher quickly grabbed up some papers and moved to the first person on each side of the room. “Please pass these around,” She responded and then quickly added,”Club leaders and team coaches were asked to evaluate and relay their status so that the student body may be informed. The first page is clubs that will continue on as normal and the second page is those that have officially been cancelled due to the current state of Sofore. Please make certain that you consult the list for your particular club.”

The teacher spoke hurriedly as she continued, “We have a time schedule change. This week we will no longer be starting class at seven and having lunch at eleven. Instead, students will be expected to be in their seats at six in the morning. You will be dismissed for lunch at ten. Classroom time is used to finish up outstanding work and study for exams. You can do this in your newly assigned study hall or in the library, with permission from your assigned teacher. For those wondering, the students that are in this room are assigned to this class and I will be your overseer,” She responded as she laughed, obviously amused by her own little joke. “The Festival runs from noon to three and club activities have been pushed to four.”

Their teacher paused a moment to write on the board all of the information she just relayed before turning back to the class and addressing them once more, “I have a quick announcement from the festival committee. Due to the limited amount of students remaining here at Sofore there has been one significant change. This week the festival committee will have a booth setup in the hallway as well as at the festival grounds for the student body to nominate candidates for the king and queen. Normally, the festival committee has a bit more time to allow for candidates to be nominated, but unforeseen circumstances have played a part in changing that. You have until Wednesday to nominate someone for king and queen and the top three individuals in each category will be announced as the candidates on Thursday. So, please take the time to participate and vote for this years Spring Fling King and Queen. The final announcement will be made on Friday at the school dance which will be held from seven to eleven with the king and queen crowning at nine.”

She paused a moment and there was a subtle heaviness that overtook her, “It is with a heavy heart that I make this announcement. At six on Friday morning, there will be a united student assembly which will discuss the future of Sofore Academy. All of the teachers have been tasked with preparing all of you for this heavy news. Sofore will be closing after this term. It is uncertain at this point if it will be temporary or permanent. At the assembly it will be discussed what steps will be taken to ensure that students are capable of transitioning properly to their future destinations. Sometime this week we encourage every student to please meet with your academic adviser. They will be available, all this week from eight to four to assist you. With Friday being Assembly Day, students are not required to attend class due to club activities. However, those who do not have active clubs are welcome to meet in the library for study sessions in which I will oversee.”

“Lastly, students are required to have their dorms packed up by Sunday, June 28th. For those students who still have outstanding work or have not completed their final exams by Tuesday, you will be required to move to Salmarta Hall. Which will be your final home at Sofore Academy.” She paused as she smiled, “That is it. Now feel free to stick around here and get some studying done or you may head to the library. If you have any questions at all you can find me at my desk.”

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After the teacher finished speaking Tationy glanced toward Hiko, “Are you alright?”

He knew that she was asking because of the club information they had been given. The basketball team was officially no more. Hiko raised his hand which brought the teachers attention toward them, “The teams that are closed, it does not say where we go to turn in any equipment or uniforms. Do you know where we might find that information?”

“I believe, when you meet with your academic adviser they will inform you about any outstanding items that need to be returned to your club leaders and coaches as well as things like unpaid balances and outstanding library books. So, it is very important that you meet with your advisers, sometime this week. You can do that during festival hours or if you wish to attend during classroom time you can simply ask me for a slip to see your adviser.”

With the answer he needed he directed his attention upon Tationy, “I am okay. It was not unexpected. With the little bit you mentioned and the fact that Agito had been acting so oddly I have been thinking about this moment a lot and had resigned myself to the fact that the season was probably over before it even began.”

“I am sorry. I know you wanted to play.”

Hiko shrugged his shoulders, “I could always try out for a university team.”

She smiled, “That is true. I would like to see you in your uniform at least once.”

“What about you? Disappointed you do not get to be the team manager.”

Her head tilted as she responded, “Maybe a university team needs one. Of course that would mean we would be spending so much time together. You would probably get tired of me.”

“That won’t ever happen.” Her soft laugh drew the attention of other students toward them. It was obvious to anyone that was looking that they were in love. “I was thinking about this kissing booth thing.” He noticeably sighed, “Seeing you have to do that for an hour each day, I thought I might do a few things like meeting with my adviser and finishing up some outstanding work. That way there is nothing keeping us from moving on after next week.”

“That sounds like a really good idea. I will do the same on Wednesday while you are taking pies to the face,” She chuckled softly.

Hiko groaned, “Not looking forward to that at all.”

“I am sure you will do great. Do you know who you will be nominating for king and queen?”

Shrugging his shoulders he responded, “No idea. What about you?”

“I don’t really know too many people. Eri and Kyo are probably the most appropriate nominations. They both do so much for the school and have plenty of spirit. Of course, all things considering I doubt they would want to stand next to each other.”

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With a single nod, Hiko agreed. As the silence overtook them he realized that the classroom was pretty empty. While they were talking, others had left for the library leaving just a handful of them remaining. He noticed when Tationy stood and grabbed up her stuff and assumed at first she was going to head to the library until she switched seats. “Should we get some studying done?”

She wanted to study with him? Hiko had never really been the type and yet they cozily set in the back of the room studying. He was aware she was smart, but this was the first time he actually got to sit down and work with her. Completely off the top of her head she could answer any question and he realized that after a while he was so enthralled with just listening to her talk that he was not really studying any longer. Tationy was amazing. To say it did not eat away at his own confidence would be a lie. Hiko could not help wondering why a girl like her that was so obviously above him, would even take the time to tolerate his intellectual shortcomings.

Stretching as she spoke, “I was thinking that we are probably going to have to do a little shopping for the house. I do not know about you, but I really don’t have any furniture.”

He looked up from the math problem he was working on, “You are probably right. I don’t really have anything myself. Just a bed really…” Her nose wrinkled before he could finish, “You don’t like my bed?”

“It is too small. I do not know about you, but my legs cannot really stretch out with how enclosed it is.”

Hiko considered her words. He liked being close to her, but the bed in all reality was probably a bit small for the two of them after all it was only a twin size mattress. “I might just be used to it,” He finally responded. “We could probably get a full-size or a queen. When we get back to our room we could do some shopping online and have it delivered. I can let the doorman know so he can open the apartment up for any deliveries between now and the time we move in. We have the money to get whatever we want.”

“I think we should probably consider what we will keep and get rid of as well. I have stuff I never use.”

“I probably have plenty that does not fit,” He responded.

“We could donate it. Maybe there is a charity in Aslann that helps those in need; like clothing for the homeless or items for those that lose everything in a fire.”

He smiled. Even as they considered their future she was still thoughtfully thinking about others, “That sounds like a good idea.”

“I know we have the money, but I think we should try to do it on a budget.” He stared at her, but allowed her a moment to continue, “We do not want to get used to just spending ridiculous amounts of money on stuff. If something happens and we need that money, then we do not have it. So, I was thinking we could do some pricing on the things that we are certain we need to buy which will give us an idea of what our budget should be and anything else we could do some second hand store shopping at some of the places that give to charity. That way any money we spend on accents and miscellaneous decor for the house, will give back to Aslann.”

“You have been thinking about this a lot I see.”

“Are you mad?”

“Not at all. I am really glad to hear it actually. I was a little worried you might not be entirely happy that my father gave us that place.”

“I understand why he did. Honestly, I think he would prefer the two of us to just stay with him, but you are a man of the Kari. He knows he cannot expect you to stay at home forever. Eventually, you and I are going to get married and have children. Your father understands that to do that he has to let you be a man,” She grabbed up a list she had been making and handed it to Hiko. “It is a shopping list. I wrote down things I think we need for the house and food we should shop for. I want you to add the things you think we should get as well. It is just a list, but I think it will help us organize everything a little. I am not certain even what salad dressing is your favorite.”

“It is a good idea,” He responded as he picked up his pen and began to write a few things down that he noticed were not on the list. Out of the corner of his eye, she was smiling as she watched him. Hiko liked seeing her happy. She was practically glowing which told him that the start of their new life together was exciting for her as much as it was him. There was some trepidation and he could not help wondering if she was feeling it as well. It was the unknown. It was easier when he was at his dads, now it would just be the two of them. She would be his responsibility to care for. Everything they did could affect their future. He hoped and prayed he did not fail her.

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After class they arrived back to their room, but took little time to enjoy each other’s company until they were showered and changed. Tationy had to go to the festival to work her shift at the kissing booth. He wanted to walk her, but she insisted it was probably for the best that he stayed away while she was working. He understood why, it was not as though he would be able to control his temper if another mans lips were on her. His arms wrapped tightly around her as he pulled her in for a kiss, “I hate you doing this.”

“I know, but it will be alright. It is just for an hour a day and Kyo will be at the other booth. He will protect me, I am sure.”

He sighed, “It is my job though.”

“Just for an hour each day this week, let it be his job alright?”

Kissing her again he sighed against her mouth. He hated this. Pulling away from her was difficult and done with force as he made his way toward the door, “I will meet you back here in an hour then.” It was all going to be alright he told himself he tried to reassure himself.

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Hiko walked briskly toward the school not even stopping to speak to anyone. He tried to calm the tension that was putting him on edge, but he could not help wondering about Tationy and if she was going to be alright. How many guys would kiss her? Would she enjoy it? He groaned inwardly as he stepped into the school and moved through the halls toward the room that housed the academic advisers. He knocked before stepping inside and looking around. The four desk on the far side of the room were all packed up with boxes upon them. Only those closet to the door appeared to still be in use.

The only person in the room was a little old man that he recognized as his adviser or at least the one he visited with his first day at Sofore. He turned swiftly and spoke, “Who do you belong to?”

Stumbling over his words he responded, “You, sir.”

He thoughtfully hmm’d as he turned to his desk, “Name?”

“Hiko Kari.”

“Ohh, yes I remember. I saw you during your freshmen year. Sit,” He stated digging through a box on the floor. Casually he looked over the information rather quickly before setting what Hiko believed to be his academic history upon his desk. “I do not see in your file that you have taken the entrance exam.”

“I took it on Friday.”

“I see, then we probably do not have the information yet. Another week or so.” Glancing at the file again he added, “There was some concern about your grades, but you appeared to have brought those up. Still, they are a little low. You will just be scrapping by if your intention is to truly attend a university.” He nearly forgot that his adviser was pretty much a straight-shooter. “Tell me what are your plans.”

“Well, my father wants me to take his place as the head of the Kari Foundation. It is not really what I want to do, but I am not given a choice in the matter. My girlfriend and I are going to attend school together. I will work toward a business degree….”

The little old man interrupted, “Are you doing this for yourself or your girlfriend?”

“It is for both of us. She and I are going to get married and have children someday. I need to be able to provide for my family and I really want to do this for us, me and Tationy.”

“Tationy?” He said her name with question as he dug through the box on the floor looking for a file, “Tationy Tylo?”

“Ahh, she is my girlfriend.”

The adviser scanned over the information and Hiko found himself curious of what was in it, “You should be more realistic.” Hiko choked, “It is unlikely that you and Miss Tylo will attend the same school. I should not even be saying this, but every test she has ever taken she has scored in the 99 percentile. Her abilities are far above yours academically and she will most likely be approached by some of the best schools in the world. It would be a shame for love to hold her back, keep that in mind.”

It was almost a crushing blow as he stared at his academic adviser who was searching through his desk for something, “No outstanding library books, no required fees, and you just need to turn in your basketball uniform. You can do that any time this week, by just stopping into my office.” There was a moment of pause as he used a highlighter on a piece of paper before handing it to Hiko, “These universities with your grades are currently your only options. You would have to score above the 75 percentile on your entrance exam to even be considered for any of the other schools on this list. The ten down at the bottom, it would be a perfect score, which I am afraid to say is probably outside of your ability. Any questions?”

Hiko found himself just staring at the old man, “No sir.”

“Good, show yourself out.” Hiko told himself to just bite his tongue and walk away and much to his surprise that was exactly what he did. Just a little bit longer and he could leave this place with Tationy. Even though he told himself that he could not help wondering if he was really holding her back.

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He made it to his room and mostly paced as he waited for her arrival. There was a relief when she stepped into the room and turned to face him. He tried to keep his annoyance and tension from being evident as he leaned against the bed, crossing his arms, but the smile he tried to force never reached his eyes.

“What is wrong?”

“Nothing,” He lied.

“No secrets and no lying, Hiko Kari.”

“It is nothing, really. I met with my academic adviser and just forgot he is a pretty direct guy.” He failed at hiding his unhappiness as his head hung slightly while he contemplated the words of the little old man, “Why are you with me?”

She sighed, “What do I have to do so you understand the answer to this question? At every turn someone says something to you and we go straight back to the beginning. Tell me what I need to do, Hiko Kari to make you understand. I will do anything.”

“It is not about doing anything. I am not smart. The only reason I am going to be the head of the Kari Foundation is because it is my legacy. It has nothing to do with me being the right person. I am just holding you back.”

It was with a sharp tone she said, “Stop insulting us.” The expression upon her face was not anger, but sadness. Heavily his heart pounded as he stared into those eyes of hers, “Every time you say things like that you degrade yourself and me. You are telling me that I picked a man that is beneath me and you are putting me on a pedestal so high that when I fall off, it will be a crushing blow for both of our egos. I am not compromising. I chose you because only when I am with you do I feel whole. This has nothing to do with being held back. I am where I am meant to be. Honestly, you are so selfish when you say shit like that. There is no such thing as equality when it comes to what people are capable of doing. There will always be someone better and stronger, smarter or faster. Sometimes that person is your mate. There are things you can easily do that I cannot. We are not equals because of social status, gender, education, intelligence, or all of that petty stuff that people consider important. You and I, Hiko Kari are equals because when we are with one another we are complete. You fill the void within me and I fill the void within you. Now tell me what that adviser said.”

Hiko tried to keep the emotion in check, “He said I needed to be realistic. That every test you have taken you have scored in the 99 percentile. He told me that you are far above me and that it would be a shame if loved held you back.”

She sighed as she spoke with a subtle amount of annoyance, “Some people, I swear.” There was a momentary pause, “I am going to give that adviser a piece of my mind. Who does he think he is talking down to you like that?” Why it surprised him he could not say, but here was this beautiful and intelligent woman defending some lowly guy like him. In his current state he simply could not wrap himself around it enough to understand. Then, she stepped forward and kissed him, “The Kari have to be strong, confident, and never show weakness. When you are with me, Hiko, it is alright to be insecure. Just don’t give up on us. I can be strong for both of us, but not if you are looking for ways to push me away.”

“I am not.”

“Aren’t you?” She asked as she turned away.

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Was that what he was doing? Was he looking for excuses to put a distance between them? He grabbed her arm roughly, forcing her to face him. She seemed unmoved by this as his hand touched her face and his forehead rested against hers. His eyes closed as he took a breath, “I just don’t want to be the one holding you back. I want … I want us to succeed together and when people tell me how smart you are and that you could do anything or be anyone, it makes me feel inferior. How am I going to take care of you?”

“You assume that I want to do anything or be anyone. Did you ever stop to think that maybe I just want to be Tationy, wife of Hiko Kari, mother to his children?” She paused a moment, “In the world we live in, people look down so much on women that stay home and take care of house and family. It is as though, people believe that it is some sort of slap in the face toward women if this is the path they want. How they have to be under the thumb of some man. They do not have a  brain in their head. No woman in her right mind would want to stay home and subject herself to the whims of some man. It is as though they see housewives as voiceless. That is not who I am, Hiko.”

“If that is all you want, then why did you take the entrance exam? Why are we even talking about going to school together?”

“Sometimes, you are so slow to realize your own feelings. If I don’t go, you won’t go.” He stammered as he tried to protest, but he couldn’t. She was not wrong. “The years at a university are important for you. It will be a time for you to build your confidence and move out of the shadows of your father and other Kari. It will be a single step on the path toward the man you will become.”

“But you could go anywhere and I…”

“That is why you are going to use me.”

“What?”

“Pick the school and when they come to recruit me, I will tell them that I will only go if you are allowed in as well. If they truly want me they will not refuse.”

He shook his head, “No, if I cannot get in on my own merit, then I am not deserving. I am not going to use you like that.”

Shrugging her shoulders she responded casually, “I guess when they come I will simply tell them no and send them on their way.”

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Hiko stared rather intently at her face, “Are you using emotional blackmail on me?”

“Not intentionally. Your guilt is ultimately the catalyst. I am simply speaking the truth. When they come, I will send them away. You do not want to use this opportunity, I cannot force your hand. However, it is obvious you feel as though you are holding me back and the resulting emotion is guilt. Thus, when I say I will turn them away you feel intensely because of some misguided thinking that you are keeping me from becoming some noble prize winner instead of considering the possibility that they might take you, simply because you are Hiko Kari.”

“What do you mean?”

“The son of Tadayoshi Kari; the future head of the Kari Foundation, those are things that get a university noticed. They can brag and say, we were the facility that led to the success of this man. I would simply be the door to that opportunity.”

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It was always the same with Tationy, no matter how many times he protested and said he was not capable of doing something or that he was not good enough she was right there talking him up again. He noticed how she began to move around the room. At first she appeared to be looking for something, but eventually she gave up and began to pull her clothing off. His body stilled as he watched her. Piece by piece dropping to the floor. She had no idea how much he liked looking at her body. In a single moment she glanced over her shoulder, which was telling because it indicated she was acutely aware that his eyes were on her. “Do you like my body, Hiko?”

He only managed to stammer, “Ahh.”

“I was thinking about getting a tattoo…”

Hiko cut her off suddenly, “No.” When he realized he just told her what to do he bit his lip, “Sorry, I just think you look amazing without all of that.”

She chuckled, “Good, I was not really thinking about getting one.”

“Then why did you say that?”

“I wanted to see that assertive side come out. The strong one that knows what he likes and wants. Being timid doesn’t suit you.”

“Do you really like me like that?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Considering her words he took a breath before saying, “There is no reason to get back at Abe or your mother any longer. I want to see the girl with the long hair and legs. The one that I get glimpses of now and again. The one you are hiding from.”

This time it was her body that stilled, “What makes you think I am hiding?”

“I am no expert on these sorts of things, but embracing that girl I imagine puts you a step closer to your mother and it was part of what Abe liked right? You could fit so easily in his world, not just because you are Yamada. When you switch from tomboy to classy woman, I find myself wondering which one is the real you. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that you not wanting to become your mother extends far beyond having a daughter.”

There was something wrong. Her body was not exactly tense, but there was something he could not really identified as she wandered toward the bed and took a seat. What secret was she hiding?

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It was obvious by the way she looked she had something on her mind. The room had an eerie feeling as she spoke, “I was thirteen when I first met Abe. My mother didn’t generally take me along on her personal outings, but this time was special. We were going to see an old friend. We traveled to Mount Celiabei to the biggest manor I had ever seen. Servants everywhere you looked. Other than my grandmother’s house it was the only other time I had been treated like I was someone important.”

Hiko took a seat next to Tationy not wishing to interrupt her, “We were greeted by a man, introduced as Emitoya Sosa. As we sat in his living room, my mother explained that the Sosa were extremely picky about who their family mated with, but they would make an exception. I really didn’t understand what she meant or why we were there. Emitoya, scrutinized every little detail about me. How I sat, how I looked, and boldly asked my mother if I was virgin.”

“I was just expected to sit there, like a doll. Yamada women are taught to be delicate, allowing the man in their life to do whatever he pleases. She is just a very expensive accessory. The banter back and forth between my mother and Emitoya told me that, despite him being a married man there was something, which made me wonder why it was she was showing me to this man. There had been men that came around that joked about having me as well. My mother would laugh it off and say they couldn’t afford me. Like I was some piece of valuable property to be sold.”

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“When Abe entered the room, I realized that I was exactly that. I wasn’t a daughter to my mother, I was money. Abe was pretty disinterested in the whole situation. He was only there because his father forced him to be. He barely even gave me a second look. For a while it was mostly talk between my mother and his father about a betrothal. Emitoya explained that Sosa men have certain predilections. I couldn’t comprehend those words. My mother simply told him that a Yamada woman was not the type of doll to be broken. He seemed to appreciate this and the two disappeared to discuss the uniting of our families. Of course, I knew what that meant. They were going to have sex.”

“Emitoya told Abe to keep me entertained and my mother told him that for the right price that he could do whatever he wanted to me. Abe boldly told her that he did not need to buy me.” Hiko bowed his head as she talked, “I think it was about a week later we moved in with them. My mother said we would not be there forever that it was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Can you imagine seeing a family like the Sosa as a stepping stone?”

“I don’t know much about my mother or her life. It was never my business. I know that there were a lot of rich men that came and went and that she and my grandmother had some sort of massive falling out which got her disowned. We spent most of my life in crappy little apartments and many days I was alone while she was off sleeping with whichever rich man was the flavor of the month. Sometimes they would even ask us to move in. I really think they thought she loved them. Maybe in some way she did.”

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“Abe thought I was just like her. One night after we moved in, he came into my room and when I told him to leave he tossed me to the bed. Pinned me to it. My body stilled. I was Yamada and betrothed to him which meant I was just suppose to lie there and take it, pretend like I enjoyed it, and beg him to do it to me again. I couldn’t do that. So, I just closed my eyes and resigned myself to the fact that he was going to take my virginity by force.”

Hiko finally braved speaking, “He didn’t though.”

“No, he laughed and told me that I could at least fight him back a little. That it wasn’t any fun if I just laid there. When I didn’t open my eyes or struggle, he just rolled away and wrapped his arms around me. He told me I was the first girl that didn’t even bother to pretend and he liked that about me. Truth was though, I was pretending. That girl you see sometimes is a lie. When I was with Abe, I still felt fake. Everything I did and said was for my mother, his father, or him. I was playing a role and going through the motions. Abe….” She paused a moment the emotion obvious, “Scared me. There was no limit to what he could do and yet I didn’t fight being with him. It felt normal and natural. I could see a life with him, but it was the life he wanted; one filled with fame, fortune, sexual deviance, and no children. Even if I begged, he would always tell me no and if by some chance I got pregnant, he would expect me to have an abortion. Despite all of that, I still promised myself to him.”

“He would have taken care of you though that is what you are telling me?” Hiko asked, trying to hold back the anger.

She nodded her head, “Yes, but I would always have been playing a role. The girl with the long legs and hair is a product of circumstances. She isn’t real. I feel guilty because I was never honest with him. I always just played the part I was given and disrespected our relationship and friendship. When I think about that girl, I hate myself.”

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His arm wrapped around her waist, “Do you fake it when you are with me?”

“No, never,” She protested.

“Then wouldn’t it be alright to show me that girl I get glimpses of now and again?”

Hiko watched her hang her head. He did not want to force her to do something she was not ready or capable of doing, but it seemed obvious to him that if there was any chance for her to feel whole she needed to accept that part of her. “Alright,” She said and then added, “You have to do something for me though.”

“Just name it.”

“Grow your hair out.”

His nose wrinkled. It was a long standing tradition that Kari men had long hair. It was considered disrespectful if one kept it short, though there were circumstances where they would be allowed to do so such as their schooling days or if they were in a very public position like Zen Kari which forced modernizing upon them. There were stories of Kari men having their hair grabbed that would cut it off or rip it from the disgraceful hands of the person clutching it. Only a small percentage of Kari kept their hair short and did so for a variety of reasons. Hiko’s reason was always sticking it to his father and his family. He groaned, “I don’t really want to, but for you I will do it.”

Hiko knew she was only agreeing to what he asked because it was for him, so the least he could do was what she asked. Certainly, they were both doing it under unspoken protest. The truth was, being Kari was something he hid from as much as you hid from being the girl with the long hair and legs. They both had things they were running from and until they confronted those things, neither of them would be able to move forward unhindered by the past.

To Be Continued

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