Kizuko was certainly an unlikely candidate for best friend, but nonetheless that's what he ended up becoming. Blunt, not particularly well educated (though not at all unintelligent, as I was to find), and definitely lacking in "couth," he had the supreme virtue of wearing no masks, and of being exactly who he claimed to be. With "Kiz," as I ended up calling him, I always knew where I stood. In some ways he reminded me of a big, burly, warm-hearted teddy bear.
Before long he was visiting whenever his work schedule allowed, which was typically every few weeks. He'd been offered a job as a trackwork supervisor on the very same railroad division on which he'd been serving his community service sentence, so good had his record there been. I eventually wound up looking forward to his visits the way many Earth children look forward to Christmas. We'd go sight-seeing, sword train in the back yard, or just watch movies together.
It was in fact with Kizuko that I watched the news reports of the second annual Deshtiran Freedom Celebration, if anything more festive than the first. "That Empress, she's really somethin' else," he marveled after Kiri had opened the festivities with a particularly moving speech. Of course, the fact that she'd been wearing her ceremonial attire (a few scraps of decorative cloth held together with bits of wire, and which did virtually nothing to hide her slender figure) hadn't exactly put him off either.
"She's my big sister," I proudly informed him.
"She's everybody's big sister," he responded, still awestruck.
"No, I mean really," I insisted. "She used to live with my mother and me when she was in exile here on Qozernon. In this very house, in fact."
He looked at me suspiciously. "You pullin' my leg, Sen?" In response I called up some of the home video files my mother had taken over the years, and we spent the rest of the evening watching family movies of her in birthday celebrations, vacation trips, and all the other everyday things that find their way into such collections. I realized later that if I'd watched them on my own I would have ended up in another bottomless depression, but somehow sharing them with Kizuko left me filled instead with memories of the affection and happiness we'd all shared together. He was so child-like, and so warm-hearted, that in an ideal world we should have just fallen in love and lived happily forever after.
In fact, we tried. It was two months after his first visit, when he'd accumulated enough leave time to stay for a full week, that we ended up in bed together. By the end of that same week we both sadly realized it wasn't going to work.
More than one friendship has crashed onto the rocks after such an episode, but we were lucky. We agreed to let things go back to the way they'd been, and rather to our surprise we succeeded. If anything we were closer than before, though I shuddered at how near I'd come to wrecking one of the best friendships I'd ever had.
I made sure that Kizuko was among the invitees when my mother began making arrangements for my twenty-fourth birthday a couple months later. Naturally she was a little surprised when I explained who he was, but considering that the head of Will's and Kiri's bodyguard was also an ex-Brizal (that being Rann) she wasn't particularly perturbed.
Speaking of Rann, she mentioned in passing that Kiri was away for several days fixing the Futaba; it seemed that Rann had taken it to Earth and gotten himself marooned there, of all things. "According to Kiri, he met quite a nice young woman there, too."
"So is he bringing her back?" I asked. She shrugged her shoulders.
"I have no idea. I suppose that depends on her." I heard later that he hadn't; apparently she'd turned him down. Too bad, I thought. I didn't ask him about her when he arrived for the birthday party, thinking it might be a sensitive subject, nor did he bring it up himself. He did seem unusually preoccupied though, and I suspected that he wasn't too happy about the way things had turned out.
By now I had plenty of stories to tell about some of my more interesting experiences. I noticed that Alan turned distinctly pale at several of my tales, once asking if it wasn't a rather dangerous profession to be in. "Of course it is," I said lightly. "But dangerous situations happen, and someone has to deal with them. I'd just as soon I was one of them." So far, though, the exercises had been more hazardous than any actual calls I'd answered, much to my disappointment.
"Sen, why are you doing this?" Alan said to me later, catching me alone in the kitchen.
"Doing what?" I asked. "My job? It's what I do, Alan, just like you do your physics stuff. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Is that really it?" he pressed.
"I'm not sure what you're trying to get at, Alan," I said, feeling unexpectedly tense. "But I like my job, and that's why I'm in it." I deftly slid past him and retreated to the living room, leaving him staring at me with an odd expression.
"Anythin' wrong, Sen?" I turned to find Kizuko watching me.
"Just Alan being strange," I grumbled. "He probably thinks I'm trying to get myself killed or something. I just don't understand that man."
"No, I guess not," he observed.
"He's such a jerk, sometimes," I added. "I don't know why I even put up with him." I looked up to see him smiling to himself. "Now what's with you?" I said in exasperation.
Speaking of Kizuko, it was about two months after the party that I got a telecom call from him. "Hey, Sen, turn on the 'Merican news. You gotta see this." I did as he suggested, leaving him in a corner of the screen, and after switching through several networks found myself looking at what was unmistakably the Futaba, apparently filmed somewhere in one of the southwestern U.S. deserts. It was a grainy black and white image, and not terribly easy to make out, but a moment later the scene shifted to a much better picture, now in color, and I realized I was staring at Rann, of all people, who was staring back directly into the lens. With him were two women, one quite young and one a little older. Then Rann made a rude gesture that I'd seen more than once in Kiri's Japanese anime, and I broke out laughing so hard my sides hurt.
"Oh, Rann, you've really done it this time," I gasped. "Whatever were you thinking?" I was finally able to glean from the voice-over that he'd allegedly "kidnapped" the two women, who were involved in some kind of custody dispute with a divorced father. I noticed Kizuko silently saying something in his corner of the screen, waving his hands to get my attention. "Sorry, Kiz," I managed, switching the audio to his channel. "I almost forgot you."
"Weren't that the Empress' ship?" he demanded, obviously bursting with curiosity.
"It sure was," I confirmed. "I'll bet there's a fascinating story behind all this. I heard something about Rann falling for an Earth girl when he was there a few months ago. I wonder if one of them was her?"
"Yeah," he said. "I noticed he was kinda out of it at the party." You don't miss anything, do you, Kiz, I thought, and grinned.
I called my mother a few days later to get the scoop, and found that Rann and the girl were about as inseparable as you can get. She was also some kind of physics whiz and was already starting studies with Alan. "He doesn't waste any time, does he?" I observed in some alarm.
"Daughter, please," my mother scolded me. "It's nothing like that. You're really being rather cruel to him, you know."
"Sorry," I said. "But I'd hate to see Rann get hurt again."
"He can take care of himself these days," she informed me. "You know, just because you've sealed yourself away for two years doesn't mean everyone here has become frozen in time. People change. You really ought to try reestablish some communication with your friends. These are people that really care about you."
"I have been," I said defensively. "Weren't we all together just a couple months ago?"
"Nobody said anything about anything," she said in evident disgust. "You talk to everyone as though they were your co-workers instead of your friends. And in return they all resort to small talk." Stunned, I digested this for a while. My mother waited patiently; one of her many conversational skills is to know when not to say anything, and not to be intimidated by the long silences that result.
"I know it's all small talk," I said finally. "Is it really my fault?"
"People take their cues from each other," she said. "People are treating you the way they think you want to be treated. Everyone knows what you went through, and nobody wants to intentionally hurt you. But that was two years ago, girl. How long are you going to wallow in this?" Her voice softened. "I'm not trying to be harsh. But you are my daughter, and as your mother I think I have to say something. You really need to start dealing with it, not hiding from it."
I do want to deal with it, I told myself after we broke the connection. I know things aren't right, somehow. But I just don't know where to start.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|