|A Year and Change|
|Along the Charles|
KAYAMA MIKA or Mika Kayama, as her MIT student body card read, walked along a few steps behind Tsukino Shingo (or Shingo Tsukino, to Americans) looking at him and his wife together. After quick, guilty looks at photographs, here she was, the mother of his child. They were strolling along the Charles, enjoying the last day before classes would start, and the last day Hotaru would be with him for awhile. Shingo's oldest nieces had also come to visit; they were walking or running ahead, roughhousing--like regular American girls, really . . .
Kayama Mika had not really considered romance with Tsukino Shingo; it surprised her. Shingo had been her schoolmate, her friend, who had remained her friend even when he moved away to America, ten years before they both came to the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston. They had written lots of letters, even after Mika began to suspect Shingo had discovered other girls, and then another girl . . . and then, the letters almost stopped, for two years, and they had a more polite tone than suited Shingo.
Not that he wasn't honest. He said he had fallen in love with someone named Hotaru. But he didn't write much about her. That was being sensitive, Mika knew, at least as Shingo understood it, but it would have been better for her if he had written more about the mysterious girl who had taken his love.
Mika thought of herself as a sensible girl, and she had not brooded much about losing Shingo. She had all the dates she cared for through Senior High, which weren't many. She didn't fall in love with anyone. That was silly; falling in love was silly for a schoolgirl. Even though she had still been a child when Shingo had been with her in Japan, she already knew enough to know that Shingo's sister Usagi and her friends, except for Mizuno-san, seemed to be boy-crazy, and really not as grown-up as herself. And Mika's early judgments seemed to have been right . . . Usagi's oldest daughter was a love child, and she must have had her very young, perhaps even before Mika had met Shingo. From Shingo's stories, some of his sister's boy-crazy friends must have had love children at young ages. No wonder they had all left Japan . . .
But Shingo's wife was anything but a silly little girl. She was slightly built, even delicate-looking. But Hotaru was no weakling, and there was nothing silly about her. She didn't babble on like Usagi or even Shingo. She was quiet. In fact, she had uncanny stealth; several times over the past three days, Mika had found Hotaru right next to her without realizing she had approached. Even her child was an unusually quiet one.
Hotaru had asked her no important questions at all. None in words. But her eyes were difficult to meet. Mika had no doubt that Hotaru knew there was something between her and Shingo after her first real look into those eyes . . .
Mika was shaken from her lonely reverie by the realization that Shingo and Hotaru had stopped. Two young women were speaking with them; one of them had a camera. The nieces came back. Then one of them, the little one, Kimi, ran back to her and said, "They want to take our picture. Come on."
"No, I shouldn't be in it."
"Don't be like that. Come on, you are our friend."
"Oh . . . all right, Kimi." The older niece was, if anything, worse than she remembered her mother being, but Kimi was a sweet child, if a little more direct than Mika felt comfortable with. Mika put on her best face, and went with Kimi to pose with the others.
Mika begged off going to the airport with Shingo's family. She told them she was not feeling well. She wasn't; she was heartsick.
Mika had already made the really important decision before Shingo had left. What she thought about was whether to tell Shingo that night. If she called, he would be sure to come over . . . if she went over, that could be worse. But Mika just could not let it go . . . after trying to sleep for awhile, she dressed, and made her way to Shingo's dorm.
She knocked softly on the door, until the light showed from the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door, and it opened. Shingo was in his pajamas.
"Mika?" he asked.
She stepped inside, rubbing against him, and closed the door. "Where is George?"
"George is not here. His flight was cancelled. He will not be able to come before tomorrow."
"Then he will miss his first day."
"Yes. But we have mostly the same classes. Between you and me, I think we have all his classes."
"Yes . . . Shingo, I must tell you something."
"I have been watching your wife with you. She knows what is between us. I should not be with you. I am ashamed, now, very much ashamed."
"You do not have much to be ashamed of, Mika. We have done not much more than kiss. Only two times, really . . . It is not wrong to feel love, I think. Not just to feel it." He gestured. "Sit on George's bed. I will sit on mine."
Mika did sit down, carefully, on the very edge of the bed. Then Shingo sat, and began talking again. "We are friends. And we are going to be working together a lot."
"No. No, I think we should find different study partners, and different partners for our projects. If we are together too much . . . You have a fine wife, Shingo. She is sensible. More sensible than myself, I am afraid . . . To hurt her would be a great wrong."
Shingo sighed. After what seemed a long silence, he said, "Perhaps you are right."
She got up, and went to the door, and began to open it. But then she closed it, and went back, and kissed his forehead. "Sayonara, Shingo-chan," she said. And then she began to cry.
Shingo reached up to put one comforting hand on her cheeks.
Mika grabbed his hand. In a few more seconds, all her resolutions were forgotten . . .
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