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It would be a lie if Eri said she was enjoying herself. Practically kidnapped and forced to go and get something to eat. It might have been a tolerable experience if it was just Tationy and Hiko, but no they had to invite Kyo as well. Additionally, they did not pick anyplace close. Forty-five minutes of setting next to Kyo in the back seat as they made their way to a little restaurant, known primarily for its desserts. It was a very uncomfortable silence as they all looked over their menus, ordered food and drinks, and before the waitress left Tationy had asked for an appetizer she called Bread Chips with Strawberry Dip. Eri had never heard of it before, “Is this spot alright, Eri?”

She could not fathom why it mattered, “Yeah it is fine, why do you ask?”

“I wanted to make sure we got a seat outside and as far away from any kitchen windows or doors, so the food would not bother you.”

What a thoughtful and considerate person she was. Honestly, it only made Eri dislike her more, “Oh, well this spot is fine. I did what you suggested and used lemons to help with the nausea.”

“That is great, I am glad it helped. If you do not mind me asking, have you applied to any schools?”

School, she almost forgot. How was she supposed to go to a university like this? “Tsubaki and I always talked about going to America. So, I only applied there. She wanted to go to New York for fashion and Hofstra University is home to 9-time UCA College National Champions in cheer. So, I applied there and was accepted. I have not heard from my second or third choices yet, but I got my first so it is pretty exciting,” She said casually. Though it was not really all that exciting. She could not cheer and be a mother. Eri tried to keep it positive, but she knew she was failing at it. “What about you and Hiko?”

“We have not applied anyplace yet. It is not really a concern.”

“Why not?”

Eri noticed that Tationy seemed rather hesitant about answering it or maybe she was just not certain what to say. Either way it took her a bit before she finally said, “Getting into a university is not really an issue for me. I don’t have to apply, they will simply seek me out.”

“What an arrogant bitch,” Eri thought. “That is very impressive. So, how does that affect you and Hiko? Will you be going to the same place?”

“Of course, it is an important time for both of us. I would not want to do it without him.” Eri drew her attention toward Hiko and realized that his eyes were fixed completely on Tationy. Was that what it was like to have a guy only see you? “What degree do you plan on working toward?”

Why was she asking these questions? This girl who seemed so cold when Eri mentioned having an abortion was going out of her way to ask about a future without a child. Why was she being so presumptuous? Regardless Eri responded rather casually, “Well, I would actually like to be a cheer coach, but I understand that this might not be an option for quite a while. Schools are not always looking for coaches, so it is my plan to work toward a teaching degree in physical education, sports and fitness instruction, but I want to make sure that I have other options so I am going to work on a minor in health education. Originally I had intended to major in women’s studies, but I feel that I can help young girls better by encouraging them at a time when they are most vulnerable to body imagine, self-esteem issues, and peer pressure.”

“That is quite admirable. There are many young girls, ourselves included that could certainly use a role-model during such a time.”

Was that a compliment or an insult? Eri smiled, “Yes, I think so as well. What about you and Hiko?”

Hiko finally spoke, despite having been relatively quiet, “Business.”

Eri blinked, “Just business?”

Tationy chuckled softly, “He is going double major in business management and international business with a minor in finance.”

“Since when?”

She smiled, “Trust me. I know what is good for you.”

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Kyo laughed, “What a good Kari woman you have Hiko.”

Eri had to refrain from rolling her eyes as she looked across the table at Tationy. What was it about her that Kari men liked? Her big boobs? Her fat ass? That old fashioned style? It was almost annoying that she could not figure it out. Tationy softly laughed and the delicate nature of it was irritating, “Anyway, I intend to major in engineering physics with a double minor in nanotechnology and energy technology and management.” Eri almost choked on her tea. How smart was this girl?

“So, you will be working toward a graduate degree?”

“Well, we will see. That ultimately depends on a lot of factors. Someday, Hiko and I would like to have children and get married. Those are priorities for me, school is just something to pass the time until our journey into married life and parenthood begins.” Something to just pass the time that is what she said. Eri could almost not believe that an obviously intelligent young woman would be content doing nothing with her life. What was so special about getting married and having children? “Kyo,” Tationy said his name, “Did I hear you correctly that you got accepted to Keio University in Japan and the Hong Kong Polytehnic University. Those are really good design schools. Is that what you intend to major in?”

“I do. I plan on majoring in engineering design with a minor in aerospace engineering.”

“Sounds exciting,” Tationy responded.

Chuckling Kyo stated, “I don’t know about that, but someday I will take my place at the Kari Foundation in the design department. This is just my role in the bigger picture. I enjoy every aspect of it so there are no complaints on my part.” Eri thought it was not really surprising that he would pick something that sounded boring.

There was a moment of quiet in the conversation as their waitress found her way around to freshen up drinks. Their appetizer had been brought long ago and it was the first thing in days that Eri had smelled that did not make her completely ill. Tationy spoke to the waitress, “Could you bring her a glass of orange juice when you get a moment.” Eri had wanted to protest, but the woman wandered off far too quickly, “It is high in vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium. Do not drink it every day or in large quantities though because it is bad for the teeth when pregnant and may give you heartburn. However, it has many vitamins that are essential during pregnancy and seeing you have not been eating well a glass will be good for you.”

She was so casual about it all. Eri deduced that Tationy had probably read tons of books about pregnancy.

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Hiko spoke, “You read a lot huh?”

“I knew you two were eavesdropping.”

“It is not fair. When you get pregnant you are going to know everything and I am going to be running around a big bundle of nervous energy with no idea what I am doing?”

She laughed softly, “Trust me that is not going to be an issue. I can remain calm because it is not me pregnant. When I am, I will not know whether I am coming or going.”

“Is that so?” He questioned and she sagely nodded as he added, “Something to look forward to.”

Eri noticed how Tationy’s nose wrinkled as though she was slightly putout by his ending words. Was their relationship not as perfect as it seemed?

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Kyo spoke up, “Tadayoshi told me that wherever the two of you go, Semei will be with you. How are you feeling about that Hiko?”

There seemed to be some agitation or at least unhappiness as Hiko finally said, “It cannot be helped. I would rather it just be the two of us, but that shit with Kuro and Mikio is too close to home.” Eri glanced between the two of them, oblivious to what was being discussed. It sounded like fairly decent gossip if she knew the particulars.

“Semei is probably a good choice. The two of you have always acted more like brothers than cousins. Your dispositions are similar and he had a perfect exam score so he can go anywhere he wants. I imagine he is probably just happy to actually be able to attend a university. The position of Osoma is important, but this experience might be good for him.”

Eri cleared her throat, “What is an Osoma?” There was a subtle exchange of looks between Kyo and Hiko, “What? Did I ask something wrong?”

Hiko was quick to explain, “Traditions of the Kari are generally protected and not shared with outsiders.”

There was a moment of awkward silence that followed his words. Eri was not certain what to say after all she was the ‘outsider’ in this group. Much to her surprise Kyo had chuckled and responded, “The Osoma, is an important figure among the Kari who oversees the trials and then adorns potential Kari with the God Kazuma’s Marks of Power. These marks signify that those individuals among all others will have powerful voices within the Kari and are granted the gift of becoming the vessel for Kazuma if he ever again walks the earth.”

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She was rather silent as she stared at him wondering why it was he shared that information with her. After a moment, she realized that her hand was resting upon her stomach and she understood why he had told her. To him, she was not an outsider because she was carrying his child. There was suddenly a wave of unwanted emotion that washed over her and she was thankful when Tationy changed the topic, “Hiko is more concerned that he will have to compete for my attention after all Semei is quite the looker.”

“He is a dead man,” Hiko responded which made Kyo laugh.

For a moment, Eri thought she might understand what it was about Tationy that attracted these Kari boys. Unfortunately for her she had vocalized her thoughts aloud, “Why are these Kari men so attracted to you?”

The table was oddly silent and Eri realized that everyone was looking at her. She did not mean to vocalize her thoughts and was almost quick to apologize, but Tationy was quicker with a soft laugh. “The things you must think about me. It is alright. All of those things people say about me behind my back, some people have actually been brave enough to say to my face. They point out I have a slutty body. That I seem submissive to men like the Kari. There are hundreds of things people say about me, but for the Kari the ‘why’ is an easy answer. It has nothing at all to do with me submitting to them. Nor does it have anything to do with my indecent figure. Kari men need a gentle hand. There is nothing to it other than that.” What did she mean by a gentle hand? Eri was certain she was not talking about touch. Was she saying that Kari men were delicate? “You seem confused.”

“I am a little.”

“The Kari are very easily broken. Physically, spiritually, and mentally they are quite powerful, but emotionally they are fragile. Protectively they guard themselves and their kin. Very few outsiders are capable of entering their inner circle. The Kari are loyal to their own. They are taught from the time they are small to harness body, mind, soul, and to sacrifice emotion. Steal it away where it can never be found. Mastering the beast that is feeling is a trial not easily overcome by the Kari. There comes a time in every Kari man and woman’s life that they give themselves to another. This connection is important because only with them can they truly be free of the burden of being Kari. They can feel and share all of themselves, but giving such a power to another is dangerous. In the right hands a Kari can soar, but in the wrong hands the spirit can be crushed and a beast will be released. That is why they need a gentle hand.”

Eri noticed that Hiko was looking at Tationy. His features were softer than she had ever seen them. Tationy’s words must have resonated deeply with him and she noticed that neither him nor Kyo objected to what she said. Was that how it was? She did not know if she believed Tationy’s words after all could misogynist like the Kari even feel for anyone other than themselves? There was plenty of time to think about it all as they ate a light dinner and Tationy and the Kari men did most of the talking as she quietly listened.

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After dinner, they had traveled to a nearby park and walked around for a bit. Eri felt that perhaps this was some manipulation on Tationy and Hiko’s part as they tried to play matchmaker. After all, why would they ask both of them to come. As they walked, the boys had slowed down and walked together leaving Eri and Tationy. It was not as though they were friends. She did not even like girls like Tationy, despite how nice she had been to her. “Why haven’t you and Hiko had sex?” She asked rather directly which halted Tationy from drinking her soda. Eri felt a bit triumphant seeing it was usually Tationy being direct with her.

“We are waiting.”

“Why are you really waiting?”

Tationy’s shoulders shrugged, “The short answer is that we move so quickly doing everything else we decided to hold one thing sacred. So, seeing we are both being direct, do you find Kyo attractive at all?”

“He is not really my type.”

“What is your type?”

“I like them big all over. Sure he is tall, but ….” She paused a moment trying to consider her words, “Hiko’s build is actually more to my liking.” There seemed a moment where Eri thought she had sensed something from Tationy. What could only be described as a ‘killer intent’. “I am not interested in Hiko though or anything like that. Agito was tall like Kyo, but built like Hiko. Very broad shoulders, big strong arms, and the rest of him was just to die for. He broke up with me though. Guess I was not his type.” Eri wanted to ask about Tationy and Abe, but she decided it was probably better not to bring him up. “I have been thinking about what you said to me; you know about showing more compassion to a seed or an animal. I guess I always thought my life would be different. Children were not even something I considered nor was getting married. I don’t know if Kyo or Hiko told you or not, but the Maiba and Kari have a long bitter history. During the historical days of Aslann they were mortal enemies. My parents, my father especially, is never going to accept this.”

“I don’t think that would matter to Kyo. He seems the type of guy to at least try if you decided to accept him as your future husband. There is probably nothing in this world he would not do for you even braving the wraith of your father. Hiko stood before mine and had strength when I had none. That is how Kari men are.”

“Kyo and I don’t really get along though. He asked me out a couple of times and I always told him no. At Sofore we were always having to work together on different projects and both being in the same class we would see each other often. He just would try to talk to me and I found him so boring. I just cannot see myself with a guy like him; tall and goofy.”

Tationy chuckled softly, “Perhaps, what the two of you need is just a little time to talk and get to know each other.” She gasped excitedly, “Ohh, I know we could play a game like the Awkward Questions game. That would be fun. Then again we are all probably pretty tame. Need someone like Sadamitsu and Tsubaki to spice up a game like that.”

Eri tried not to laugh, but it slipped out, “You know that does sound like it might be fun. Though I cannot imagine either of those Kari actually participating.”

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She had not been wrong as they returned to their residence the boys managed to avoid the Awkward Questions game, but the night was not a complete loss. With a minor adjustment to the room to make it a bit more companionable for the group, Eri hesitantly took a seat next to Kyo. Her eyes were fixed on Tationy and Hiko as they sat upon the bed talking in hushed voices and kissing, “They really seem to be in love.”

Eri realized that Kyo was watching them as well as he said, “They are.” Was there a hint of something in his tone? As her eyes settled on him she realized that his way of watching them was rather telling. Kyo Kari was envious. Her eyes drifted toward the snuggling couple, “My brother always thought Hiko would bring home a different sort of girl. Someone of low character only looking for sex and money.”

“What do you think of her?”

“I think she is the perfect type of woman for a Kari man. She has beauty and brains, knows what she wants and is not afraid to obtain it, and more importantly she is far more dangerous than Hiko. With the right words she can calm him or even set the beast upon the world. In the Kari religion of Osog, Kazuma’s queen Tearra is only mentioned as his flower. Her beauty was said to be beyond the comprehension of mortals, but it was her power that was coveted. She was the only being capable of commanding the King of the Gods. Which ultimately made her the most powerful of all the deities. For each Kari man there is only one queen who can command him. Once he has given himself to her, no others can tame him.”

Her attention shifted to Kyo, “Kari men see their women as queens?”

“They do. She is above all others even her king. Whatever Tationy ask of Hiko, he will do without hesitation. The only time this is not the case is if it goes against his pride or his kin. Every Kari man is prideful, but what they consider the basis of their pride is often very different. For Hiko, his pride is probably Tationy. If she asked him to do something that could potentially hurt her, he would most likely refuse. Damaging a Kari man’s pride is a massive blow that sometimes they are not capable of recovering from.”

Eri thought that asking was probably not a good idea, but she did so anyway. “What is yours?”

“Family; my brothers, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts, my parents, my nephew, my grandparents, and …” Despite not looking at her she could hear the emotion in his voice, “My son or my daughter. I am not going to tell you what to do, but I would love our baby. Care for him or her. Sacrifice anything I had just to ensure that you both were taken care of. Maybe it would not be a perfect relationship, none is, but I think we could learn to love each other if you would just give me a chance.” He stopped talking suddenly, “Anyway, I don’t want to pressure you. I just have not had the chance to tell you without us exchanging heated words.”

“We should probably give them some privacy,” She responded as she stood and began moving toward the door. It must have seemed to him like she was avoiding, but she really did not want to have this conversation with others around.

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Even as they left the room and then the residence neither of them spoke. They saw each other naked and had sex. If she was being brutally honest with herself, Kyo Kari probably had seen her at her worst that night. Not only was she overtly intoxicated, she allowed herself to be used by a man she did not love simply because she was hurting from her breakup with Agito. “I should apologize to you for that night. When you came over to talk to me, all I wanted was for you to go away. I did not want to be the loser girl standing all by herself. So, I drank a lot and after a while standing next to you no longer mattered. I am not really a nice person and honestly, I never really cared much.”

“Until now,” He responded.

“Yeah,” She said with a pause. “If you do not mind me asking, are you attracted to Tationy? You said that you thought she was the perfect type of woman for a Kari man which would suggest that there might be some attraction. Is she your type?”

“Kari men do not have a type. There are some that might say, this person is my type or that person is my type, but the majority would never limit themselves. Tationy is perfect for a Kari man because she understands they need a gentle hand. It goes far beyond the superficial. There are many Kari men that would gravitate toward her, simply because she is aware of her role. You might not be able to understand because you think so little of men in general, but she brings peace to a Kari man’s heart and makes the burden of being Kari feel lighter.” Eri made note that he paused a moment before adding, “Tationy is lovely, but physically I do not find her attractive. There is something that happens though when she talks that rather tantalizes my senses, but she is not the first woman to manage that.”

He was right, she did not really understand how another person could unburden someone, “Do you find me attractive?”

“I do, but you have an ugly personality.”

Kyo had made his comment so lightly that it was difficult to tell if he was being serious or joking. So, she tried not to snap, “Then why would you want to marry me?”

“Sometimes, people have preconceived notions about others.  When you look at me all you see is a Kari man and the feminist in you instantly goes on the defensive. Most of the time you cut me off, ignore me, or tell me you cannot talk now and rush off. I am never given an opportunity to show you that I am not going to oppress or rape you. That I am not some misogynist that is going to make you stay home, cook me dinner, and have my babies. Unless of course you want to because it is not my place to say you can or cannot do that.”

Eri told herself not to laugh, but he was a little funny, even so she did manage to suppress the desire. “I guess I should apologize for judging you without knowing you.”

“I probably should do the same.”

She laughed, “Yet here we are neither of us saying that we are sorry.”

“I was waiting for you to say it first.”

Even as they talked she could hear her voice becoming lighter, “You might be a little funny.”

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They stopped at the swings and continued their talk, “I really cannot believe that Tationy and Hiko are waiting, but Tationy said that the Kari generally wait for marriage.”

Kyo seemed to take a moment before he responded, “They do. The time courting is really important for the Kari. It is an opportunity to get to know the person we intend to share our lives. We make preparations together for our future.”

“Like what?”

“Everything. Tationy and Hiko are actually quite a good example in a lot of ways. They are doing a few things that are little out of the ordinary when it comes to Kari traditions, but for the most part the decisions they are making together during this time are usually things discussed during courting; school, where they will live, do they want children, so on and so forth. Of course they would not be living together before they were married, but cannot expect Hiko to follow all traditions.”

“When you asked me to marry you, it made me quite angry. I thought it was insulting even though you were being really supportive. It felt like you were saying I could not do it on my own; you know raise the baby and all.”

“Eri, you are carrying our child. Women are amazing; every little thing they go through just makes them stronger. I never for a moment thought you could not handle raising our baby on your own, but he or she is ours. I would not be a very good Kari man if I stood on the sidelines while you did all of the work. Until you decide what you will do, even if you are being a horrible bitch to me, I am still go to try to be there for you. I asked you to marry me because I think we could learn to love each other and give our child a wonderful life. I am definitely not saying it will be perfect or easy, but I would not have asked if I was not sincere.”

“I should sock you for calling me a bitch, but somehow I think you might like it.”

He laughed, “I might, want to find out?”

She rolled her eyes as she ignored his question, “Are you really going to school in Hong Kong or Japan?”

“Why? Planning on applying to a school there to join me?”

He was just about the cheekiest guy she had ever met. She thought, “Don’t smile Eri. Ugh, failure you dumb cow you smiled. Now he is going to think he is charming.” She sighed, “I don’t even know what to do. How am I going to go to a university when I am pregnant? What are people going to think? How am I going to go to school and take care of a baby? I don’t think school and a baby are really two things that go well together.”

“You won’t be alone.”

“Won’t I be? In most relationships the woman always ends up being the primary caregiver for children. Everything I ever wanted to do, I would have to give up.”

There was a silence that followed and she expected him to say something about the Kari sharing that responsibility, but instead he said something that took her completely by surprise. “I will stay home after the baby is born and you can finish school.”

“Why….why would you do that?”

He smiled, “No Kari man would want the woman in his life to sacrifice so much. With or without a degree I will always have a place at the Kari Foundation. School is an opportunity for you to fulfill your dreams and if you allowed me to be your man, then I would gladly stay home and care for our children. Of course, they would probably get my bad sense of humor, but you would only have yourself to blame for that.”

Alright, she hated to admit it, but his humor was starting to grow on her a little. Was he always this charming or was it the hormones? She honestly could not be certain.

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They played on the swings a bit and by the time it was dark she thought it was best that they head back, but instead he grabbed her hand to stop her. She had not expected him to take a seat on the ground and look expectantly at her. Why her body complied she had no idea as she sat down next to him. The night sky was lovely, but the air was a little chilly. “Are you going with Agito to the dance,” He asked her.

She nervously stumbled over her words, “No. He hasn’t returned to Sofore. What about you, did you ask anyone?”

“Moochie asked me.” Inwardly she thought what a bitch Moochie was for asking Kyo when she knew they had hooked up, “If you tell me you do not want me to go with her, I won’t go.”

Eri wanted to scream. It was not as though she had some claim on him, why was she getting upset? His arm wrapped around her shoulder pulling her in closer to him and she felt his hand rest upon her stomach. Her body surprisingly relaxed, “I don’t want you to go with her, but you did agree.”

“Are you going to be mad if I keep my word?”

“Probably.”

His fingers were lightly rubbing her stomach, “Marry me Eri. I will even ask your dad for permission if that is what you need, just tell me that we can be a family.”

She wanted to ignore him, but she felt an unexpected wave of emotion wash over her and before she could stop herself her hand had reached for his. She changed the topic, “Look a shooting star, should we make a wish?”

“Eri,” He said her name again, this time a bit softer. “Please.”

“It would never work between us. You are Kari and I am Maiba, we might as well be the Capulets and Montagues and if I recall right that story ended in a double suicide.”

“Here I am purposing and you are turning this romantic moment under the stars into something morbid.”

Laughing she apologized. She thought that being there with him was rather nice, but they didn’t know each other and up until a few hours ago had never even liked each other. At least that was her perspective on it. Could they really get married? “I will give you an answer. I just need a little time, but I would like it if you came to my doctor’s appointment with me.”

Kyo seemed surprised, “You made one?”

“Yeah. I figured I needed to otherwise Tationy would nag me until I did.”

His voice was soft as he tightened his hold on her, “I am glad you asked me.”

In his voice she could hear a calm and light tone. He was happy. Why did that make her so emotional? She felt waves of intense feelings dragging her down and she was certain if he said anything else to her she would definitely start crying. Eri would be lying if she said she was not tempted to tell him yes, but she wasn’t even certain she wanted to keep the baby. Tying him down, tying herself down, seemed more like dooming them. Even if it all went to hell, at least in that moment she did not feel so alone.

To Be Continued

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