“Dudes, an A+!” Morita saw the grade for Saya and Takashi’s paper.
“What did you expect?” Saya said airily, though nowhere near as strongly as she once would have. Morita have proven himself to be a friend in deed to her Takashi, as had Khota Hirano.
“True,” Khota nodded, looking at the paper he and Morita had teamed on. “We’ll take a regular ‘A’ and be happy,” he grinned. They had done a paper on post WW2 industry in Japan, looking especially at the period known to the rest of the world as ‘occupied Japan’, denoting the American military occupation.
“Very well, class!” the teacher raised his voice to draw attention. “I must compliment you all on fine work. Some of your papers showed a maturity to your writing that I would not have expected even from upper classmen. Well done!”
There were cheers and rounds of clapping.
“Now then, as today is our last day of class, and since returning your papers was the last thing we had to do, I have decided to allow you to leave class early, so long as-”
He stopped there since he was already speaking to an empty classroom.
“Ah, youth,” he smiled.
“So what are your plans for the summer Takashi?” Morita asked.
“Well, I have to continue my lessons, so whatever I do will have to be around that. I’m supposed to be working at the grocery store around the block from my house three days a week, though. That will be nice,” he grinned.
“Yeah, he needs money to go out on,” Khota laughed. “Good for you, man.”
“What are you doing, Khota?” Takashi asked, and the other young man grew quieter.
“I, ah, plan on going to America for most of the summer,” he said quietly. “My folks will be gone a lot this summer so it’s not like I’ll be missing any family time. There are some schools there I want to look into, and this summer will be my chance to do it.”
“Thinking about college in America?” Morita asked.
“Well, we’ll see,” Khota shrugged.
“Man, that’s a long way all by yourself,” Takashi observed.
“Ah, I’ve had to travel alone to Europe before to see my parents,” he waved the comment away. “This won’t be any different except that I won’t be seeing them when I get there. And I’ll be in America,” he grinned.
“Dude, I hope you have a rocking summer then!” Morita did a high-five with the chubby teen. “I got a job at the Super Home Mart just down the road from my house, working four or five days a week! First summer I’ve had where I wasn’t working in my dad’s garage. By the time school starts back, I’ll either have every game I ever wanted, or a bike, one or the other.”
“That’s a wide range, dude,” Khota observed.
“Haven’t decided which is more important yet,” Morita said sagely. “Figured the bike would help me get girls, but. . .well, you can play a video game no matter what mood it’s in.”
“You are hopeless,” Takashi shook his head, laughing. “You guys take care. And keep in touch. Khota I know it’s a long way to call, but e-mail is free, so let us know how you’re doing, okay?”
“I will, Takashi,” Khota promised. “You two are my best and only friends, man.” The target of bullying, Khota valued their friendship a great deal.
“Cool man, we’ll do the same for you,” Morita nodded. “I’ll send pics of the bike, or of the games,” he laughed.
Takashi was on his way across the plaza when he happened to look up and see Hisashi and Rei in his path. Changing course, he walked a wider path, only to have them move to intercept him. Sighing, he decided to confront them, though the last thing he wanted today was a confrontation.
“Tak-“ Rei began.
“It’s Komuro,” he told her coldly. “Please step aside, or else don’t move to block my path again,” he said to both of them. “I need to be somewhere.”
“This will only take a minute,” Hisashi told him.
“It won’t take any time at all, because whatever it is, isn’t happening,” Takashi shook his head, moving again, back the way he came.
“Dammit, Takashi, you owe it to us to hear us out!” Rei snapped.
“How the hell do you figure I owe the two of you jack shit!” Takashi almost snapped, but caught himself at the last minute. “Work your way through the last six months and tell me that, why don’t you. While you think on it, I have places to be.”
“Takashi-kun, is everything all right?” a new voice called. He turned to see Saeko Busujima walking toward them.
“Saeko-senpai, everything is fine,” he told her. “Are you ready to go?”
“Go?” Rei sounded mad. “Go where?”
“I cannot for the life of me see how that is your business, Miyamoto-san,” Saeko replied calmly. “And yes, Takashi-kun, I am ready. Saya-chan will be here momentarily.”
“So you are still with Takagi?” Rei asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Are you still here?” Takashi asked, turning to face them again. “What does it take to get through to you two. I. Don’t. Want. To. Talk. To. You.” He bit the words off. “Either of you. Preferably ever again. I’ve done my best these last months to avoid you both, but I’m not going to keep using the other door and avoiding my old hangouts just so the two of you can corner me here.”
“We just wanted to say-” Hisashi started again, only to be cut off by another new voice.
“What the hell do you two want?” Saya Takagi’s voice snapped across the plaza like a lightning bolt. Rei Miyamoto’s eyes bored in on her like a laser.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay away from Takashi?” she said before she thought.
“You don’t get to decide who gets close to me, Miyamoto!” Takashi snarled.
“You what?” Hisashi said at the same time. Rei’s face reddened as she realized what she had said.
“Well now,” Saeko purred. “Looks like you two have something new to talk about, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be in your way, so. . .” she turned to Saya and Takashi.
“By all means,” Saya growled, glaring at Miyamoto. “You two need to get a hobby,” she snarled as she walked by. “Preferably one that doesn’t include us.”
“You-” Rei started by Hisahi but her off.
“Why do you care if she’s with Takashi?” he demanded. “What difference does it make to you, especially now?”
“You wouldn’t understand!” was the last thing Takashi heard before they left earshot of the arguing couple. He shook his head.
“What is it?” Saya asked.
“I heard that one before,” he admitted. “You may be right, Saya. Rei may be unhinged.”
“If she doesn’t stay out of our business, I’ll fix her hinges,” Saya muttered, and Takashi took her hand and squeezed it.
“Easy Honey Badger,” he teased. “It’s summer. Don’t let them ruin it.”
“Well said,” Saeko nodded, then grinned evilly. “Leave that to me!”
Both underclassmen groaned at the implied threat as they got to Saya’s car.
“Where to Lady Saya?” Hari asked, smiling.
“Mall?” she looked at Saeko.
“Mall,” the older girl nodded firmly.
“Do I get a say, here?” Takashi asked.
“No,” both replied together, then laughed.
“Figures,” he muttered, but winked at Hari, who hid a smile until he was on his way around the car. He liked young Mister Komuro. And Miss Busujima.
Between working, kendo lessons, and his time with Saya, Takashi’s summer was pretty full. He spent one day a week with his mom, usually with Saya visiting for supper that evening. His mother was very good to let him do mostly as he pleased, and he figured that spending that time with her was only right. Saya agreed, and usually spent that day with her mother when she was available, and even twice with her father when he happened to be home for the day.
They went out with Saeko Busujima at least once a week, usually on Saturday. Sometimes to the mall for a movie and ice cream, sometimes to the park, and once in a while to a museum or other pursuit. Saeko asked them to attend a tournament where her father was competing, something he did less and less of each year, and both were delighted to get to see ‘Kage-sama’ in action. He won handily against a younger opponent, and then the four of them went out to eat and celebrate that evening.
Saya and Saeko became life long friends over the summer, Saeko usually spending the time that Takashi worked with Saya. Sometimes Saya would go to the dojo while Saeko was teaching a class, and even helped with a class of younger kids once in a while.
Takashi and Saya continued to train with Saeko, who lived up to her threat and ‘treated’ them horribly all summer, forcing them to work harder and harder in order to keep up their training regimen. Saya complained the first two weeks until she passed the mirror in her room one afternoon in nothing but her underwear. Glancing at herself, she continued past, but was back in a flash as what she had seen dawned on her.
“I. . .I’ve got abs!” she exclaimed, looking at herself in the mirror. “I’VE GOT ABS!”
“Saya, what in the world?” her mother was at the door and entered after knocking to see her daughter standing in front of the mirror, jumping in excitement.
“Is that a new workout Saeko-chan has you doing?” Yuriko laughed.
“I’ve got abs!” Saya turned to her excitedly. “LOOK!” she demanded, modeling her flat and toned tummy.
“Goodness, Saya,” Yuriko raised an eyebrow. “All that over some abs?”
“I never had them before!” she told her mother, looking back at the mirror.
“Everyone has them, Saya,” Yuriko had to laugh. “Yours are just much more defined, now. Have Takashi’s abs filled out like that?” she asked innocently.
“His did this almost as soon as we star. . .ted,” she tried to stop herself, but was too late.
“Bus-ted,” Yuriko almost sang, then laughed.
“Momma!” Saya almost whined. “It’s not like. . .I mean, I’ve seen them of course, but it’s more like I can feel them through his shirt when he hugs me. . .” she trailed off again. “I’m really not making this better, am I?”
“It’s all right, dear,” Yuriko smiled happily. “I trust you and Takashi-kun both, you know that. And if you weren’t hugging him regularly by now I would fear something was amiss. I suppose you kiss him regularly too,” she sighed.
“I. . .I’m not doing this,” Saya’s face was as red as if she’d been in the sun all day. “Not. Doing. This.”
“I’m only teasing you, my darling daughter,” her mother hugged her. “I’m so very happy for you, Saya.”
“I am too,” Saya nodded. “He makes me feel like I’m the most special girl in the world, Momma.”
“That’s his job, darling,” Yuriko nodded her approval. “Make sure you return the favor and let him know how special he is to you.”
“I do. I promise.”
“Well, I’ll let you enjoy your abs,” her mother hugged her once more and then left.
“I’ve got abs!”
“I don’t get it,” Takashi didn’t quite complain. What guy would complain about going to the beach with two beautiful women, anyway. “Why so determined to get to the beach all of a sudden?”
“It’s a surprise,” Saya told him primly. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“She hasn’t told me either,” Saeko raised a hand. “Not that I was going to pass up a trip to the beach, either,” she added.
“Why are you complaining, baka!” Saya pinned him with stare.
“I am not complaining,” he assured her. “I have never, once, complained about spending time with you. I’d pick garbage up from the side of the road, Saya, as long as it was with you.”
“Baka,” she murmured, her face heating.
“My, Saya-chan,” Saeko purred softly. “You have Takashi-kun well and truly hooked.”
Takashi got to carry all their things while Saya and Saeko went to change. Takashi simply slid out of his shorts and pulled off his shirt, already wearing his trunks beneath. Spreading their blanket out, he set the radio they had brought up and then popped the umbrella into the ground. He was just finishing up when Saya called.
He turned and his mouth dropped open.
Saya was standing there in a very brief pink two-piece, her arms up and out, up on her toes, turning to model for him.
The workouts that Saeko had put them through had left Saya lean and hard in some truly wonderful areas, but her curves were still there too. She finished her turn, facing him again.
“Saya, you’re. . .gorgeous,” he managed to blurt out. “Look at your abs!”
“YES!” Saya ran to him, practically jumping into his arms. “I hoped you’d notice!”
“Notice?” he exclaimed. “How could I miss them?”
“Some men don’t notice changes, Takashi-kun,” Saeko pointed out as she dropped her bag and Saya’s on the blanket.
“Well, I do,” he told her, still hugging an ecstatic Saya.
“Yes, because you’re the most wonderfulest boyfriend ever!” she beamed.
“I don’t think that’s a real word, Saya-chan,” Saeko pointed out, smirking.
“It is today!” she declared. “Best day ever!”
The three settled onto the blanket, Takashi having the enviable task of rubbing oil on both beauties.
“You know, Takashi, she must really trust you,” Saeko said as she lay on her stomach, Takashi rubbing oil on her back.
“Why do you say that, Saeko-chan?” Saya grinned.
“Not every woman would allow her man to put oil on another woman,” Saeko wiggled her behind a bit.
“Not nice to tease,” Takashi told her, picking up a towel to wipe his hands. “Not nice at. . .all!” he repeated as he popped Saeko’s butt with it, eliciting a squeal.
“Hey!” Saya mock scowled. “My butt better be the only one you’re popping, buster!” Her face went beet red as she realized what she had said, but the look in Takashi’s eyes made her forget her slip.
“Takashi, you better no-AHH!” she shrieked as he popped her butt with the same towel, grinning madly.
“I do love your butt, my little honey badger,” he told her, laughing.
“Where does that come from, anyway?” Saeko asked. The two spent the next little bit telling their friend how it was they had come to be together, and the result of his altercation with Hisashi.
“You know, I’ve known him most of a year or so,” she spoke up later. “He may end up being the Captain of the karate team next year, even. At least he might have before all this. I never pegged him for someone that would do something like that.”
“Neither did I, and I’ve known him a lot longer than a year,” Takashi said darkly. “Doesn’t matter though,” he put his hands behind his head and soaked up the sun. “I’m better off by far than I was this time last year. That’s what matters.”
“Right,” Saya mimicked him, her own hands behind her head.
Saeko looked at her friends and felt a tinge of jealousy. Not of them directly, but for the closeness they shared. She would have liked to have known that, too. Perhaps one day she would, but for now, she was just glad for their presence in her life.
“Takashi, I spoke with Master Busujima yesterday, briefly. He is very pleased with your and Saya’s progress in the dojo,” Souichiro said over dinner later that next Thursday.
“It’s due to Saeko-chan,” Takashi said at once. “She’s trying to kill us both.” He delivered it straight faced, and Yuriko almost choked on her wine at his delivery.
“Stop that!” she scolded playfully.
“Seriously, she has put us through the paces this summer like never before,” Saya agreed though. “It’s grueling trying to keep up with her.”
“She is among the best in Japan, even outside her age group,” Souichiro nodded. “The reason I mentioned it, however, is because Master Busujima feels that the two of you are approaching the time when you could take up the sword itself, were you so inclined.”
Takashi blinked at that. Handle a real sword? He looked at Saya, who was looking equally stunned.
“Ah. . .” Takashi tried to speak but couldn’t seem to get a word out. “That’s quite a compliment,” he finally managed. “One of the highest.”
“Yes, it is,” the elder Takagi agreed. “He is not prone to exaggeration, however. If he feels you can do it, then I am sure you can. However, that is a decision you two must make for yourselves. The art of the sword is a wonderful thing, but it is a demanding mistress. It is not a wooden training blade. It is a lot to consider.”
“Perhaps we should talk to Saeko-chan about it,” Saya mentioned, and Takashi nodded.
“Okay,” he agreed. “If you want to, I’m game. I won’t do it without you, though,” he added, and Saya blushed prettily but merely looked at her plate.
“Let me know what you decide,” was all Souichiro said.
“I think both of you would do well,” Saeko said at once when they spoke to her about it the next day. “Father asked me for my opinion in fact, not long ago.”
“But. . .we’ve been doing this so short a time,” Takashi protested. “Saeko, you trained for years!”
“I still train, Takashi,” Saeko smiled. “Every day. And yes, I did start early, but my father is a sword master. I teach children certain disciplines at a young age now, but Takashi, no one transitions to a sword as a child. It’s dangerous, and impractical.”
“But their experience would be much greater than our own,” Saya shook her head.
“Yes and no,” Saeko replied. “Using a real blade is similar to the bokken, in that the moves, the muscle groups, are the same. But moving to the real sword is night and day from what you have been doing. Does it help prepare you for it? Absolutely. But there is no set time of ‘learning’ before picking up the blade. Everyone learns at their own pace. Well, except for you two,” she teased. “You two learn side by side.”
“And you really think we could do it,” Takashi was clearly considering it.
“If I didn’t, Takashi, I promise I would tell you,” Saeko said seriously. “I would never allow either of you to endanger yourselves or each other. You are dearer to me than anyone else, outside my father.”
“We feel similarly about you,” Saya told her. “Do you know, we have a great deal to thank you father for.”
“Were it not for him, we would not have met you outside of school,” Saya nodded. “And were it not for his telling us that you considered us worthy of friendship, we might never have approached you to become so. He told us not to allow the fact that you were above us in rank to keep us from doing so. Had he not, we probably wouldn’t have.”
“Then I, too, must thank my father,” Saeko smiled. “For had you not extended your friendship to me, I would be the poorer for it.”
“We love you,” Saya told her flatly. “If I had a sister, I would hope she was just like you,” she said plainly.
Saeko looked stunned by the simple admission, and the young couple were startled to see her eyes water.
“I. . .I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “I care deeply for both of you as well. As if you were my family.”
“We are family,” Takashi said firmly. “Saeko nee-san,” he grinned.
“Family,” Saya nodded just as firmly.
“Family indeed,” Saeko nodded as well. “So, will my brother and sister learn to use the sword?”
“Will our sister teach us?” Saya asked her.
“I would be honored,” Saeko assured her.
“Then so would we,” Takashi told her. “Scared, but honored.”
“Do not be afraid of the blade, Takashi,” Saeko told him gently. “Let others be afraid of you.”
“It pleases me to see you two take this step,” Kage said as Takashi and Saya stood before him. “Neither of you desire to compete, but you both have great potential. I hope that you will pursue that potential, if for no other reason than to see it passed to your children some day.” Saya blushed crimson at that but didn’t look away. Takashi turned a little red himself, but likewise maintained his eye contact.
“School starts back in three weeks,” Saeko told them when Kage fell silent. “I would be honored to see the two of you go out for the kendo club, should you so desire. I have no doubt in my mind that you would make the team. But do so only if you have the drive to compete. If you wish to train and nothing more, it will not make a difference to me.”
“We will consider it,” Saya spoke for them both. “But if we are to do this, and do it properly, then. . .it may be that pursuing the kendo club would interfere. Having chosen to learn the blade, we are determined to succeed. It will be our primary focus, outside maintaining our grades.”
“Then that is what you should do,” Saeko nodded at once. “I will, however, expect to see you in the stands, supporting you nee-san,” her eyes twinkled.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Takashi grinned.
“Nee-san, is it?” Kage raised an eyebrow.
“Hai, Busujima-dono,” Saya bowed respectfully. “Your daughter is like family to us. We treat her as such.”
“Then my daughter is most fortunate indeed, Saya-chan,” the older man smiled. “As such, I expect that you will no longer address me as ‘dono’,” he said imperiously.
“You will call me oji-san!” his laughter boomed across the dojo. “I will only answer to oji-san from now on!”