Tanaka says Shibasaki-chan had another omiai meeting with his cousin, Takei. It went well. The news should quell my nerves, but no such luck. As we approach the white plaster building with its contrasting wood and black roof tiles, my fists clench and unclench. How did they talk me into this?
True to their word, they scout ahead, and we move as a tactical unit. No sight of her.
We arrive in our tatami floored room, switch to the cotton yukata robes provided by the onsen, and gather at the low table. Drinking the green tea left for us allows me to unwind. When the lattice screen door slides open, I scramble over to take in the view from the balcony, hiding my face. The voice isn’t hers, allowing me to breathe again.
What am I doing hiding from a girl? Man up.
As a group, we devour the warm, delicious food brought to us. The simple act shifts my mind to partake in the mood of the gathering. Tonight might be our last outing before Tanaka ventures south to Tokyo University on the main island in April. It took him a year to pass the entrance exam.
Late into the evening, I’m the final one to leave the stone communal soaking tub. An attendant reminds me the baths are about to close. I loathe leaving, but everyone else had the sense to return to their rooms for sleep. As I wrap myself in a yukata, I hear a disturbance—HER voice, pitched in staccato squeaky tones that I can’t make out.
Booking it out of the bath, I half tie my obi belt and dash toward the voices. Several closed doors in the hall taunt me. How can I be sure which one it is? Putting an ear to the wall, I hear her muffled speaking attempts and a man hissing, “Stay still, girl.”
To stop the bastard, I slam the sliding door open so hard it rebounds as I sail through, tackling him. The man grips her throat, dragging her limp form with us. Matching the rhythm of the pounding in my ears, my meaty fists bash his face. His hand releases her as he passes out. In my rage I burn ki for a spell, flicking my fingers to toss the offender behind the massage table away from the girl. There’s a loud thud against the wall. What kind of barbarian treats a woman like that?
To check on Shibasaki-chan, I scoop her into my arms while I push life energy into her body. “C-come on. Wake up!”
The pounding of feet in the hall precedes a man slamming the door open. “Yukiko!” His look turns dark, sending a chill through me. “What have you done with my daughter?” He’s shaking so hard he generates a red aura.
I gulp. “Sir! It w-wasn’t me! I came to her rescue!”
He grabs the collar of my yukata, twisting, as I release Shibasaki-chan. “Choke marks mar her neck and your yukata was gaping open. GET OUT NOW!”
“But I didn’t do it! There was th-this guy—”
“Don’t show your face here again, worthless octopus!” He thrusts me through the door into the gathered crowd as if my bulky form weighs nothing. My friends arrive to witness my shame.
Nodding, Tanaka beats it back to our room to gather our things, as the group keeps me out of view for a quick exit. When my best friend slides into the driver’s seat, he’s still slipping his wallet into his jacket pocket. I’ll have to pay him back. He demands, “Yasu, what the hell happened?”
The turmoil steals my voice, so I shake my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Shibasaki-chan shouting something and pointing, but I can’t hear her words as my gaze lowers and I fight the urge to punch something. Tanaka drives like a demon, tearing out of the parking lot—so uncharacteristic. He’s usually the epitome of level-headed.
Screeching to a stop at my house we pile out, to my parent’s surprise. Everyone changes out of the hot spring’s garb.
“I’ll w-wash them for you guys since I’m th-the one that messed things up tonight.”
“We know you, Ohno. Two and two aren’t adding up. Tell us what went down.” Minowa requests.
So I regurgitate the wretched story.
As I return after an errand, a trio of girls recognizes me from the onsen and they give a wide berth, whispering among themselves. It takes effort to pretend I don’t hear.
At home, bile burns my throat over the cards fate dealt. With a vengeance, I scrub the bloodstains from the yukata mom soaked, then wash the others. Not much pattern remains on the printed cotton where the spots were. At least the blood’s gone.