Cover by A. R. Shellnut
Here is the second chapter of The Dreams! I’ve been struggling with low word counts lately so I decided to try focusing on getting this chapter posted instead. I hope you enjoy. If you are enjoying my novel so far please consider supporting me on Patreon.
Going to bed early turned out to be a successful endeavor for Rina. She arrived early for her first class of the day with a thermos full of hot, but not scalding coffee and a banana nut muffin. Compared to most of the bleary eyed students she had passed along the way she felt wide awake and ready for the day ahead.
She could not decide if her rest the night before would qualify as a good night’s sleep or not. She certainly woke up feeling refreshed and well rested, but her dream had somehow managed to stick around her mind well past the usual dream expiration date. Usually a dream faded away to the subconscious part of her mind by the time she was able to open her eyes but this one stuck with her.
As she ate her muffin at her desk she found herself musing over the dream a bit. It was not a typical dream, at least not for her. Normally her dreams were about falling or running but never seeming to get anywhere. This dream had been an anomaly. She had not even featured in this dream. Instead she had been halfway inside the head of some timid girl who had hated gardening.
Her musing was interrupted by a pen cap being poked into her shoulder blade. She turned around already knowing exactly who to expect to see seated in the desk behind her.
Corine had been her friend since high school and possessed a near magical ability to always end up in classes with her friends. They had shared at least one class every semester since their freshmen year of high school. Even now with different majors Rina and Corine still shared one class in common.
“I have a surprise for you,” Corine announced in a sing song tone.
“Good morning to you too, Corine,” Rina replied, making a point to not even acknowledge the surprise statement.
Compared to Corine’s bubbly attitude Rina felt just as drab and worn down as the half asleep students who barely managed to drag themselves to the early classes. All of the room’s energy seemed to flow directly to Corine and become immediately converted into enthusiasm for something of little or no use to anyone.
“Don’t you want to know what your surprise is?” she teased.
Rina sighed. There was no telling what the surprise might be, but now there was no hope of escaping the big reveal.
“It’s too early for surprises so why don’t you just tell me about it so I can decide how surprised to act before class starts?”
“Come on! It’s a good surprise. I promise. Don’t you want to guess what it is?”
“Really, really not. Come on, Corine. I can tell you’re dying to tell me whatever it is so why don’t you just get on with the reveal.”
“Fine, but it would be a lot more exciting if you tried to guess it first.”
“I’m sure it would, but I’m a terrible guesser and we’re almost out of time unless you want to wait until after class.”
Corine quickly glanced up at the clock before taking a deep breath and starting her big surprise. “My cousin is throwing a party this Friday and we’re totally going to go! And that’s not all! He’s got this friend that’s coming to the party who’s just perfect for you. All he ever wants to do is study too.”
“You know I don’t like going to big, crazy parties.”
“It’s not going to be a big party. Just like twenty friends getting together for food, music and some booze.”
“I don’t know… getting set up with a strange guy in a room full of people I don’t know doesn’t sound like my kind of fun.”
“Please? I promise I won’t make you come to any other parties this semester.”
“Fine, but do you really need to set me up with some guy?”
“Yes! You know matchmaking is my secret calling.”
“I know. I know. Denise and Derek are still together after three years so I need to have faith in your skills.”
“Exactly. And if you really don’t like him we can have a signal and I’ll help you ditch him.”
“On my honor as a match maker.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at six.”
Professor Billet walked into the room and Rina turned around and prepared her notebook for the start of class. The whole time she could sense Corine’s victorious grin as an active reminder of just why she always ended up dreading the weekend.
As per her usual routine Yuzuki went to the gardens to be a contributing member of the community. Once this had been a chore like any other, but now that she knew she could see Souma there she found at least a small something to look forward to with this particular activity. She tried her best to not make it too obvious to her family that she had a new found enjoyment of the “art” of gardening.
It might seem harmless to her, and she was sure that it was in fact as harmless as it seemed, but her family really did think that talking to Souma would somehow have a negative effect on her. She hid the fact that she was speaking to him from her family, and she liked to think that she did quite a good job of it. Nothing had changed at home since she had her first conversation with him, and certainly if they knew she would suffer severe consequences from her mother, and she shuddered to think what her father’s reaction would be if he had any reason to even suspect that she had acted against her mother’s wishes. He was hard on them all, and more often than not the rules put in place by her mother existed only to stave off the wrath of her father.
As far as she could guess there was no such need behind the prohibition on associating with Souma. There was no way she could envision her father even caring to know who Souma might be. He was the sort of person who considered himself to be above pretty much everyone else in the village. They had no officially designated headman, but her father took the position for himself and no one cared or dared to oppose him. For reasons she did not quite understand Souma and his mother resided squarely at the bottom of the social hierarchy and therefore were just about impossible for her father to even see. He could not be expected to care about what he could not even imagine as worthy of notice.
Her skills in the garden were improving with every visit now. She now knew that the main difference between her abilities with the plants and the abilities of the others charged with care of the garden was her lack of knowledge and her previous lack of initiative in obtaining knowledge. Now she was motivated to learn. She was not likely to ever reach the innate skill possessed by some, but she could actually grow plants with a decent rate of success and she considered that to be good enough for her. Not having a real knack for plants already put her at a disadvantage in her opinion and aspiring to perfection would only lead to disappointment.
She had a feeling she should probably keep her thoughts about her improvement in relation to her natural inability to herself. Souma would probably laugh at her, maybe even tell her that she was just making excuses to not try as hard as everyone else. If she gave it too much thought she might start to see it that way too. It was easier to just think that she was innately less talented than most others and just allow herself to be less useful than the those with more skill. It might just be an excuse to keep her from working harder than before, or it might have some grain of truth to it. There was just no way she could imagine being anywhere near as talented at anything as so many of the people she saw on a daily basis.
Today Souma had beaten her to the garden and gave her a smile when she walked by. She smiled back distractedly, but did not have time to stop and talk just yet as she still needed to get her assigned task for the day.
She was given the less than thrilling job of weeding some of the garden rows out in the direct sunlight. Within moments her dark hair was burning hot and her skin was breaking out in a sheen of sweat. She bore it with as much dignity as she could muster. After all, she wanted to at least be capable of doing a respectably decent job in the garden and part of the was being knowledgeable in the ways and methods of all aspects of gardening. It might not always be fun, really she did not think of much of the actual maintenance of the plants as fun at all, but she did appreciate the fruits of such labors greatly.
About a third of the way down her first row she paused and looked up to see how everyone else was doing, and felt her stomach do a somersault when she saw her father heading her way. He never came to the gardens. He was too important to be playing around in the dirt.
She did not want to be caught watching him so she quickly dove into her work so she could act surprised as soon as he said anything or came her way. She hoped he had another reason for being here so he would just ignore her. If she had done something to make him come to the garden for her she would be in a world of trouble.
He did not so much as give her a passing glance as he made his way through the garden. He walked with single minded purpose across garden rows as though he did not even need to acknowledge the existence of the plants that everyone else so carefully hopped over.
Yuzuki’s heart was racing and she could not rightly understand why. Her father was ignoring her, but she was still in a state of panic just watching him in this place she had so recently considered to be a sanctuary from her family. She was so entranced that she did not realize he was going for Souma until she had no hope of intervening.
She glanced around desperately, hoping that someone was close by and would intervene. Everyone kept their heads down and worked with much less noise than usual. No one seemed inclined to butt in on this particular situation. She stood up and openly watched to see what would happen next. She was too absorbed in what might happen to bother with shielding her interest in the situation from those around her.
Apparently her father was not concerned with keeping this out of the public eye either. He was making good time on his way over to Souma when he practically roared his name at him.
Souma did not even react at all until he heard his name called out, and even then he looked up from his work calmly and rose from his place crouched position. He seemed so unconcerned and calm. Her father’s wrath was not even directed at her for once and she was still in a state of panic.
“I want you to stay away from my daughter,” her father said and pointed right at her.
The eyes of all of the onlookers shifted from her father over to her. Their stares left her frozen on the spot and blushing red with mortification. She looked around trying to find a way to escape from the unwanted attention.
The options presented to her were all but nonexistent, and then it no longer mattered. While she might be the cause that spurred this confrontation she was not an active participant and the others’ attention shifted away from her once more when her father continued to speak.
“She’s not to see or speak to you ever again,” he said in a slightly quieter voice, but one that still easily carried through the utterly silent garden as though he was using a bull horn.
Souma spoke in much quieter tones so that everyone that was eavesdropping on this altercation was forced to almost lean in to hear what he had to say in reply.
“I don’t think you have any right to tell Yuzuki who she speaks to in a public space where she is expected to work with and cooperate with everyone around her. And I know that you do not dictate to me who I choose to associate with.”
“Yuzuki is my daughter and I won’t have you going around undermining my authority in my own family,” at this point her father was increasing the volume of his speaking again.
She could not help noticing even from this distance that his expression was also growing darker. Any sort of resistance to his will always resulted in his temper starting to flare even more. No one in her family bothered to even try to disagree with him anymore, and even in the wider community arguments of any sort with him were typically avoided whenever possible. The word tyrant would probably be thrown around if everyone else did not live in utter fear of the consequences that would result if such a word ever made it back to his ears. Souma was showing more nerve than anyone had in years.
“As much as you hate to hear it, Takeshi, your daughter is not your property. She is old enough to decide whose company she will keep without your intervention. Ask around. No one here would describe her as being anything other than cautious and courteous. You should be proud.”
Takeshi turned and gave her the blackest of glares. Proud was certainly not any where near what he was feeling at the moment. Yuzuki could not remember a time when he had looked at her with so much rage plainly showing on her face. She knew he did not want her to be associating with Souma, and she had at least a basic understanding of why thanks to the community rumor mill, but she could not comprehend why it would cause this amount of bad feeling in her father.
“She is my daughter. She lives by my rules. I shouldn’t be surprised your whore of a mother could not even bother to teach you about real family life.”
So far Souma had kept his cool, but at the mention of his own mother he winced and he shifted his weight on his feet and crossed his arms.
Yuzuki found it strange to see him on the defensive when his usual behavior was so playful and teasing. With his temper flaring a bit he was starting to evoke the same feelings of dread that came to the forefront when Yuzuki’s father lost his temper, but not to the same extreme degree of course. It was still an almost surreal sensation for her to even be in the presence of someone who was not immediately cowed by her father.
The tension in the garden was rising by the minute. For so long the community was dominated and badgered into submission by Takeshi that now with someone expressing even a slight resistance to his will a ripple of panic and insecurity washed over all those present. They might not always be happy with the state of affairs living under this sort of tyranny, but rocking the boat threw everything into disorder.
Disorder could be interpreted as weakness. They were only safe from harassment from other beings from the great, wide, outside world because they always appeared so well ordered and regimented. There was safety in appearing prepared and strong. Takeshi was their strength and because of that his iron will had turned into their law.
No one would take Souma’s side in this disagreement. He could not insure the protection of the community the way Takeshi did. There was no one else in this village that could rival Takeshi’s strength.
Yuzuki realized if she did not do something to break this tension Souma would end up beaten and bloody, or worse exiled from their village. She thought, in a panic herself, if she could just get her father to shift his anger from Souma to her she could stop this from escalating. Even if Takeshi was livid with her he would not exile her. She was his own daughter after all, and as of recently the oldest of his children still at home. Her older sisters all had mates now and lived far away with them. Without Yuzuki her mother would be all alone with no one to help care for the younger children. He might hurt her but her life and her home would not be in danger as Souma’s would be.
“Father!” she called out and she hurried over with a panicked disregard for the well being of the neat garden rows she tripped over along the way.
He looked away from Souma and once again that dark expression was fixed upon her and her alone. It was a most unpleasant sensation, but she endured it for the sake of sparing them all from something far, far worse.
“I talked to him, father. You can’t blame him for something I did. It’s my fault.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Yuzuki. Don’t let him bully you like he bullies everyone else here.”
That was all it took for Takeshi to turn on Souma again.
“She is my daughter. This is my village. Both will follow my rule.”
“You don’t own anyone here. We’re all free to decide for ourselves what we will and won’t do.”
“Out!” he roared.
Everyone scattered. Even Souma took a few steps back in reaction to the sheer volume of the exclamation.
Yuzuki was terrified, absolutely frozen on the spot. Everyone else was now out of immediate range of her father’s wrath. Time seemed to slow down during her moment of complete fear. Nothing made much sense. There might have been more arguing, or perhaps not. There might not have been enough time for that, but so was stuck in a place where her faculties were malfunctioning until she felt her father grab her by the shoulder and shake her hard. Unprepared as she was to be handled in such a way, her head was flung back and forth by the shake and she bit her tongue. One of the first sensations that came back to her was the taste of blood.
His fingers were digging into her shoulders.
“You will obey me.”
His voice was eerily calm now, but it was hard and sharp like the edge of a blade.
He shook her again. This time she was a bit more prepared and spared her tongue another nasty bite.
“Do not speak to him. Do not look at him again, or I will end you both. No daughter of mine is going to associate with that whore’s son. I won’t let him taint you the way that bastard tainted her.”