Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I finally have the third chapter of this story put together and posted! I don’t know what it is about this chapter that made it such a pain for me. I can’t write the chemistry between two of the characters in the chapter in a way that satisfies me so that part is rather bare-bones. Any advice about this would be greatly appreciated. Hopefully it will be more enjoyable to read than it was to write. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this chapter.
As always, if you enjoy my writing please consider visiting my Patreon!
She went to the party just as she had promised, and just as she expected Corine immediately became a social butterfly and left her to fend for herself along the wall. The only person she really knew in this crowd had already abandoned her, and she could not imagine striking up a conversation with any of the strangers here.
Most of these people knew each other that much was obvious. Corine’s cousin had graduated in the spring and his friends for the most part were out of school as well. The age difference might only be a few short years, but college graduates were more interested in their own lives than socializing with a sophomore they had no reason to know. If she had thought she could get away with it under Corine’s careful gaze she would have brought along a book to read.
She needed to settle in for the long haul so she scanned the room for an acceptable location as far out of the crowd as possible. She spotted a seat situated almost perfectly in the corner of the room. From that position she could effectively people watch the rest of the room with almost no risk of anyone managing to sneak up on her. The last thing she wanted was to be surprised by strangers. She might do something foolish in front of a room full of people and be stranded here mortified for the rest of the night. This small preventative measure would take a load off her mind tonight.
For a while she managed to survive the party in relative peace. No one knew her so no one really bothered her. It was a convenient little loophole to the whole attending the party agreement. She was in attendance and could not be faulted for not knowing most of the other people. Then Corine brought over the real reason she had been dreading this party since the moment she heard about it. For a moment she was almost able to pretend that this party would not involve an attempt to set her up with a complete stranger.
Corine was convinced that she had a knack for match making and she had been itching to try out her skills on Rina for months. She had managed to dodge the matchmaking bullet up until this week. She had been distracted and let her guard down, and now she was stuck dealing with the consequences.
She did not have it in her to be rude to the poor guy. Corine had been her friend for years and she could not even bring herself to put an end to her matchmaking attempts for fear of hurting her feelings. This guy had done nothing wrong, and in all likelihood he was not exactly thrilled to be getting set up with her. She hoped at least that he was a decent person, and not a guy looking to take advantage of a girl who might be more vulnerable than average based on her willingness to be set up on a blind date.
“Rina,” Corine called out in a tone that was far too cheerful for one that was about to condemn her friend to a set up with a random man she had never met.
She looked up and smiled. With no way out of this now there seemed to be no point in making this be any more unpleasant than it had to be. The last thing she needed was her friend upset with her when she was her only way out of this party tonight. She just hoped she would not need to make a hasty retreat from this introduction.
“What are you doing hiding in a corner? I’ve been waiting to introduce you to Hibiki,” Corine teased with her hands on her hips.
Rina stood up. She decided being rude would be pointless even if she was unhappy with this set-up situation. She could at least put on a show of being a pleasant person, although she was having some serious doubts as to whether or not she actually considered herself to be very pleasant at the moment.
“This is Hibiki,” Corine announced. “Hibiki, this is Rina.”
She smiled at the man who had followed her friend over. She was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was not bad looking. He had dark hair, dark eyes, and the smile he gave her was actually enough to get her stomach to do a quick flip flop. She could not yet speak for his personality, but that self-assured, but not cocky smile of his made her feel a bit better about this set up.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rina. When Marc told me his cousin would be bringing someone to the party for me to meet I didn’t expect to be so pleasantly surprised.”
Rina continued to smile, but crossed her arms over her chest. He seemed nice enough, but she was not quite convinced she could trust this first impression. She had met enough people trying to fake a new personality after leaving home for college to be skeptical of anyone who felt too good to be true during a first meeting.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect myself when Corine decided to set me up with a complete stranger,” she admitted.
“Well, since I’m certain we won’t hear the end of it unless we try to get to know one another.”
She nodded. In just the span of a few exchanged sentences Corine has managed to back away and disappear into the crowd. As much as having her friend close might serve as a bit of a buffer between her and any and all strange, new people she might encounter at this party, she knew she would fare better without worrying about Corine watching her every move for evidence of fate at work.
“Would you like to go somewhere a little quieter so we can talk?” Hibiki asked.
She had been expecting that. There was the veiled, but creepy proposition to get her away from the safety of the group that would inevitably come when a guy seemed to be to good to be true. Now she was stuck coming up with a way to get out of this without irritating her friend.
She hesitated as she tried to come up with a way to let him down that set firm boundaries so he would not try again. This particular skill did not get much practice while she tried her best to shun such social situations.
Her apprehension must have been easily read on her face as Hibiki quickly jumped in to correct his misstep. “I wasn’t suggesting we go off on our own. Perhaps we can just step out onto the porch where it is a little less crowded so we can talk?”
The clarification came as a relief. She nodded in agreement to this plan and together they navigated their way through the room. Things were a lot better out on the porch. Without the sounds of the party pounding in her ears she found that she could think more clearly, and she found herself more capable of thinking well of her companion for the evening. The stress from the noise and the crowd had made her more than a little paranoid.
She perched herself on the railing of the porch while Hibiki sat on the wooden porch swing. Outside the sounds of the party were much more subdued. Here they were able to fall into something resembling a comfortable silence. Rina imagined she could make it through the rest of the party with little effort on her part if this pattern would hold. She had a book with her in hopes of finding a quiet location such as this to pass the time, but she did not dare bring it out now as it would almost definitely be rude to just start reading in front of Hibiki. Instead she was left with the external world as her sole source of amusement.
Hibiki cleared his throat. “So, how long have you been friends with Corine?”
“Oh. We’ve known each other for years. We really started to hang out in eighth grade. What about you? Have you known Marc very long?”
“Well, we met in a class my sophomore year, so we’ve known each other about two years now.”
She was a little surprised. For some reason she had not expected to be set up with someone two years ahead of her. She knew it was silly to be worrying about such a thing. Past high school age stopped mattering almost entirely, but at the same time she still found herself acutely aware that she was still a teenager at nineteen and her twenties seemed so very far away. She found it to be a little embarrassing that she was still hung up on something a trivial as a few year’s age difference.
“So you’re a senior,” she said for lack of anything better to say.
“Yeah. It’s not all that great when you can’t go out drinking with everyone your classes.”
“Yeah. I’m graduating early so I’m pretty much the only one in my classes still under twenty one.”
He shrugged and cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean for that to come out like I’m bragging or anything.”
She smiled. “It’s okay. I’m just a little jealous.”
They fell into another stretch of silence.
“So, are you stuck getting set up on blind dates because your friends think there’s something wrong with you being alone?”
He laughed. “I suppose you could say that. Though, I’m not complaining this time.”
“Yeah. Tonight has been a pleasant surprise, even if this isn’t exactly my first choice for places to have fun.”
“Maybe we could go out and do something that aligns with your interests a bit more sometime?”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
She never did find out what her father meant by his final statements in the garden. It was not as though she could really ask anyone about it. The people she was seeing every day now either would not or could not tell her what she wanted to know anyway. Souma would have told her if she would ever see him again, and she could gather up the courage to ask such a personal thing of him. That would never happen anyway. Her father would kill them both if she ever saw him again.
The safest place for her now was at home, and she could not help but feel that it was also the most dangerous place for her.
Ever since the garden Takeshi was much more confrontational towards her. The threat of physical violence was always lurking just beneath the surface. Before she could usually operate beneath her father’s radar and get by day by day by just going unnoticed, but now she seemed to be the center of his attention. He was always there, always watching her. It was almost as though he had eyes for no one else.
They rarely said a word to one another, for that at least she was grateful. She was injured by his treatment of her both physically and emotionally. Whatever faith she had in him to do right by her was utterly shattered and most likely could never be repair.
He was not unkind to her when they did interact. In fact, he was too kind towards her. At first she thought that he was trying to make up for his treatment of her earlier and she was determined to not allow it to work. As the days went by though she started to think that he might have some other motivation behind his kind actions.
She did not understand what that motivation might be, but she knew it made her uncomfortable. She also knew that it made her mother angry. It was not all that strange for her mother to be frustrated with her for some reason or another, but before now it was always because of something she did to annoy her mother. This time she had done nothing at all, but she was still the one receiving the brunt of her mother’s disapproval.
She was trapped at home, and she was trapped inside herself with no one to express her worries to. Sometimes she thought about running away, but she knew she could not survive out in the world alone. She had none of the skills that would be needed. She could not even grow food in a garden without finding some way to mess it up and require help from someone with more sense than her.
Each day she spent more and more of her time away from her siblings and just trying to find some time to be alone. She needed to think. Fortunately no one asked her what she needed to think about because she was sure that she would not have an answer for them if that question ever presented itself.
Something was very wrong at home, and if she did not separate herself from it she would become a part of it, and even with an incomplete understanding she knew if she became too deeply involved in this she would never escape.
She started to think this must have happened to her older sisters and that was why they all found mates so suddenly and moved away. They sensed the danger too, and maybe understood more than she did. They had had each other, her three older sisters. She was younger than them, too young to be part of their little group, but older than the little ones she was always babysitting this days. If they hadn’t moved away one of them might have explained all of this to her, but they had all moved away and never came back to visit.
She wanted to move away too, which made her think it might be the only solution available to her. It was a drastic action that all three of them had chosen to take in short succession. They only made it out because they found mate — mates from outside the village. She did not have any idea how they did that. She knew no one from anywhere but this village and didn’t even know which way to start walking to find another bit of civilization. If she tried she would probably end up running into humans and be in even worse trouble than she was in now.
The longer she thought about things the more it gave her the creeps. She had heard things whispered years ago when people still thought she was too small to understand or be at all worthy of notice. Those things made her feel sick to her stomach, and she desperately wanted to avoid thinking about them ever again, but something about this half remembered whispers rang true in her heart. Rumor had it that Takeshi was the way he was because his love left him and broke his heart. That part was tragic. It would not be so bad if her father was part of a tragedy, but the rumor did not really care about his broken heart. The rumor was about what he did once his heart was broken into pieces. It was whispered that he did not want to risk losing his love again so he stole away his own sister and made her his wife. It did not even end there as awful as it was. This happened many hundreds of years ago, and when his sister gave up hope of ever being able to break free from his grasp she climbed one of the high bluffs not too far from the village and jumped.
Takeshi did not take that well, and he went even more mad than he had probably been before. One of his daughters looked just like her mother, and in his damaged mind that was all he needed to justify his next course of action. That daughter became his next mate.
If this was true it meant Takeshi had a serious interest in the women of his own blood. It was easy enough to dismiss. Calling it impossible was probably the only way to keep hold on her sanity.
Now Yuzuki felt her sanity slipping away no matter what she told herself, and such an awful story would not ring true unless on some level there were subtle subliminal signs that this was at least a possibility. It was maddening to think that her father could be her mother’s father as well, and that he was also her uncle.
She wanted to scream. Her stomach was twisted up in knots and she did not eat for two days. She hid from her family every chance she got — even from her little brothers and sisters. Still, whenever she did not manage to avoid them well enough she would feel her father’s eyes fall on her and she felt the bile rise up in her throat as she wondered if he intended for her to be next. Just the thought of that was nearly intolerable.
It was not the sort of thing she wanted to wait around to verify. As long as this hung even in the darkest back corner of her mind she would not be able to feel comfortable and safe in her own family. There was a secret threat there now. A threat that if she stayed she might find out just how true it might be.
With no one else to turn to she knew she would have to risk her own life as well as his and go to Souma. He was the only one who would listen. He was the only one who was brave enough to maybe help her.