CHAPTER TWO




It was unbelievably beautiful.

That a sight like this, or like Tokyo at night, or what I saw in Bosnia, could actually exist, was almost impossible to imagine.

The sight that greeted me as I got out of Madoka's father's car made my eyes turn to little dots.

This was the Woodmark Hotel, on the other side of Lake Washington, across the Floating Bridge opposite Seattle.

The hotel, which was still new, sat on the lake, colored auburn by the setting sun. There was an elegant terrace-style Italian restaurant on the first floor, and nearby, a small harbor, owned by the hotel.

"How do you like it? It's beautiful, isn't it?" Madoka's father said from inside the car. His white-streaked hair moved slightly in the wind; he was smiling.

I had seen this man once, as he conducted an orchestra.

When I saw him up there at the podium, he seemed somehow unapproachable, at least for someone like me.

And after the concert, when Madoka introduced him to me, he seemed not to look directly at me.

"Yes, it's 'unbelievable,'" I replied, using the English word.

"What?"

"Er, it's really beautiful. Ha ha..."

Don't be such a fool!

"I thought you'd like it. This is your first trip to Seattle, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"It's rare to see such a beautiful sunset in the winter."

"Really?"

"If you asked me to describe winter in Seattle, I would say it was usually drizzling and cloudy."

"The weather is bad?"

Madoka's father laughed and shook his head. "If you think of the weather here as 'bad' then you won't be able to make it through one winter. Rain is a good thing -- quiet and romantic."

My breath caught for a moment when he said 'romantic.' How many middle-aged men of my own father's generation can use a word like 'romantic' so freely?

"Seattle is the safest city in all of America. But it also has the most suicides."

"Suicides?"

"For people who have peace in their lives, or who have loved ones near them, there is no better environment than this place. But depressed people or those who seek artificial stimulation in their lives can't handle living here."

"Ah, I see."

"This is America. You have to make your own world around you, or you'll get weary of life."

I thought of Hikaru-chan, in New York.

It occurred to me now that, like Hikaru-chan, Madoka's father must have had an incredibly active youth (14).

"I'll park the car in the underground lot. Why don't you take a walk or something?" he said, and handed over my beloved Canon that I had left on the seat of the car.

He winked at me.

It seemed like such a casual thing to do, but he did it with so much self-confidence.

It was natural, of course, that a man who had stood, holding his conductor's baton on the greatest cities of the world would be like this.

It seemed like he had everything he wanted in life.

This style permeated the air around him.

I knew then that he had seen through our charade, Madoka and mine, and knew everything about us.

I felt my body getting tense, nervous.

As his Mercedes Benz SL6000 disappeared into the underground garage, I was finally able to let the air out of my lungs. Then, still looking at the customers eating dinner at the restaurant, I went down to the yacht harbor.

I arrived at Seattle's SEA-TAC airport that morning.

Madoka was waiting for me at the airport. We immediately headed for a hotel near the airport, and had made love ravenously to each other.

It was...a desperate thing.

Even though we had only been separated a few days, we couldn't help ourselves.

It was as if a chasm had opened between us, and we were working as hard as we could to close it.

Violently.

Fiercely, we searched for each other.

As I melted into her flesh, so deeply that I couldn't go any further, I focused my mind on one point and entrusted myself to that warm, good feeling, and then it was over.

Below the level of my face, Madoka's ample breast moved up and down with her breath. It was like a great and raging wave.

But it filled me with a mysterious sense of calm. Like children exhausted from play, we slept.


The sun set quickly on Lake Washington.

The harbor was speckled with many small lights belonging to luxurious yachts.

But far more beautiful than this sight was downtown Seattle, sparkling on the far shore of the lake.

I had left Japan on the 25th, so tonight was still Christmas, here in America.

Many people were at restaurants or on harbor cruise ships to have dinner parties. I had been invited to come here and have dinner with Madoka and her parents.

Otosan said that Madoka and Okasan would take a long time to get ready, and suggested that he and I come early, so that he could give me a tour of the city.

Speaking as a person who did what I did with Madoka this afternoon...the more Otosan is nice to me...I feel like...well, like a criminal.

"Kasuga-kun, I'm up here."

Over by the water, Madoka's father was waving to me. He was on the deck of a fabulous, luxurious cruiser. I could see people who looked like serving boys boarding the ship.

The boat was covered with tiny lights, like a Christmas tree.

It looked like a picture on a postcard.

Madoka had said to me, "Papa and Mama suggested we eat on board the ship," but I didn't think that this is what she had meant--it was unbelievable.

Forgetting to use my favorite camera, which I had gone to all the trouble of bringing, I walked towards the ship like a little boy.

"I have to admit, I'm quite proud of this ship," Madoka's father said, escorting me to his cabin.

The room looked like the super high-class restaurant that appeared in the movie _The Godfather_, and was decorated like a VIP room.

The servants, dressed in black, were busy preparing the meal.

I thought, wow, there are really people who live like this.

I was Kyosuke Kasuga, twenty-two years old.

Was it okay for me to be dating the daughter of a family like this?

I mean, the differences between us were overwhelming.

"Well, let's start with some champagne."

"Ah, okay," I said.

After seeing such wonders as this, it was natural that my throat would be parched.

I took the glass that Madoka's father offered me, and drank it dry in one gulp.

"It would be almost impossible to keep a boat like this in Japan. When we said we were all going to live in Seattle, we thought Madoka wouldn't talk to us ever again," he said to me, and winked.

Now that he mentioned it, Madoka had lived alone a long time back in Tokyo. Her older sister had been living with Madoka until she got married, when Madoka was in the tenth grade (14). After that, Madoka had been alone.

Of course, her parents had worried about her, and had asked her to come live with them in America many times.

But in the end, Madoka stayed in Tokyo.

She never attempted to tell me the reason for this. When she was in elementary school, she had lived in America for about three years, and could speak English without any problems, so I knew that language was not the reason.

But I don't like to pester my kimagure angel about things she doesn't like to talk about.

So...

I had decided to not stick my neck into matters regarding Madoka and her parents.

"Ah, she's here, she's here. The princess has arrived."

"What?" I said.

Madoka's father pointed towards the underground parking lot. A valet parking attendant was signaling with his penlight.

Valet parking is a parking system in which the attendant parks your car for you, for a tip, and is always found at large theatres, hotels and restaurants.

Madoka's father must have handed the parking attendant a tip ahead of time with instructions to signal when Madoka and her mother arrived.

"Go meet the ladies, Kasuga-kun," he said to me.

"Um, sure."

Feeling more than a little out of my element, I went off to meet Madoka and her mother.

Madoka was wearing the light blue half-coat she had gotten for Christmas. It caught the light reflecting off the harbor, and shined like the wings enfolding an angel.

"I didn't know you brought it with you," I said to her.

"I did," Madoka said.

"Brought what?" Madoka's mother asked as she tipped the parking attendant. She looked at me, and I could see that Madoka had inherited her mother's eyes, slightly sexy.

"Nevermind, it's a secret," Madoka said.

The realization that Madoka and I shared a secret welled up inside me.

After I escorted them onto the boat, I played the role of gentleman and took their coats.

Under her coat, Madoka was wearing a bold cocktail dress.

I had not seen it before. It had either been hurriedly prepared by her mother after hearing that Madoka was coming to Seattle for Christmas, or else had been a present for her from their last trip to Europe.

The neck made a sharp V, and below it was Madoka's...her full breasts...

I'm sorry, but I started thinking about them.

"Hey, watch where you're looking!" Madoka said to me in a low voice as I took her coat. "We're with my parents, and your eyes are having sex with me."

"_Baka_!" I said to her.

Madoka just laughed.

"What's wrong?" her father asked.

"Nothing, nothing. Oh, will you give some champagne to mother and me?"

"Ah, dinner's here."

The dinner that night was the best I had ever eaten.

I could see that Madoka was trying her best to forget about Hikaru-chan while in front of her parents, who were so happy at having her back with them.

She drank champagne and teased her father, laughed and talked about the fashions in Tokyo.

This was the first time I had seen this side of her.

The Madoka whose coat I had just taken seemed incredibly grown up to me a moment ago, but now, in front of her parents, she had the face of a young child.

Just then, the cruiser returned from the harbor to the dock. A wave came, rocking us slightly.

"Woah," I said.

I grabbed onto the edge of the table to get my balance.

Just then, Madoka put her hand over mine. I quickly turned to look at Madoka's father's face.

He was talking with Madoka's mother. As if she saw through my anxiety, Madoka looked at me and whispered, "Don't look so shocked, Kyosuke."

I interlocked my fingers with Madoka's, keeping our hands so that her father coundn't see.

Madoka laughed. I loved her. The slow rocking of the boat, aided by my jet-lag, gave me a comfortable, almost drunken, feeling.

But the next morning, some information regarding the real reason we had come to America--to find out whether Hikaru-chan was safe or not--came to us.

Hikaru-chan's beloved pet cat had been found electrocuted in her apartment in New York.




Hikaru awoke to a light so bright the only word to describe it was 'violent.'

It was so bright that she couldn't tell what was on the other side of it at first. She did, however, understand that she had gotten into quite a dangerous situation.

With all her might, she tried to focus her eyes ahead of her.

The light she had thought was so bright turned out to be normal. A door was opened noisily, and the lights to the warehouse were switched on. This had pulled Hikaru from her sleep.

Three men were standing in the doorway. They were wearing black sheepskin pants. Hikaru couldn't have forgotten this fact if she had wanted to.

Now, the ski masks that had been covering their faces were gone.

The men seemed to be slightly older than Hikaru, but their races were each different. One was South American, another was white, and the third was black. All three were wearing smiles that were somehow evil.

The white man was holding a bag from a hamburger shop. That was probably to fill Hikaru's empty stomach. But Hikaru knew that the men were not here to bring her food.

Hikaru lived in New York, but had never been in a situation like this before. For a place with many rapes and robberies like New York, she was fortunate.

Hikaru had decided long ago she would do if faced with a situation like that.

If her "self" was going to be stolen away from her, she would choose to die, instead.

Suddenly she called to herself.

Wake up!

It's time to fight, Hikaru!

Feeling the anger boil up inside her body, she said in fast English, "Don't come near me! Who the hell are you? Why did you kidnap me? Untie these ropes! Let go of me! Or you'll be sorry."

But the man of South American descent just yelled at her in a language she didn't know. He took the hamburger bag away from the white man and threw it at Hikaru.

The bag stuck to Hikaru's cheek for a moment, then fell onto the floor. The bag tore open, and Hikaru could see that a hamburger, french fries and Coke had been inside.

As if the bag falling to the floor had been a signal, the two men suddenly threw themselves at Hikaru.

Hikaru kicked out at the South American with her bound legs.

At that same instant, however, she received a shock on the back of her head. The black man was behind her, holding her arms.

Once again there was a glistening knife held inches from her nose.

The white man flashed a cruel smile, sitting on Hikaru's bound legs.

Hikaru had been filled with wild rage, but now she was robbed of the means to do anything about it.

"Go ahead and kill me! Kill me!" Hikaru said right in the white man's face.

But he just laughed, and wiped away some hamburger sauce that had stuck to her forehead with his finger. He licked his finger slowly. Then he said, in Southern-accented that Hikaru had trouble understanding, "No one's going to hear you from in here, no matter how loudly you yell. Go ahead and indulge yourself."

Rip!

With an experienced hand, the man cut the sweater that Hikaru was wearing from the throat region down.

Hikaru's abundant cleavage, covered by her bra, suddenly lay open.

Like hungry Dobermans watching their prey, the men gazed at Hikaru's milk-white skin. The white man slid the knife under the bra's front fastener.

Hikaru prepared herself. If her "self" was going to be stolen from her, she would end her own life herself. She prepared to bite her tongue off.

But at that moment, several shots from a pistol sounded.

Hikaru and the men went instantly stiff, and the men looked at the holes in the floor.

"Monica!" The white man let out, looking behind him at the doorway.

A young woman with a "bobcut" hairstyle was standing there, holding a gun. Almond skin. Her eyes were shining green. She left a fiery impression typical of Latinos.

"I thought you guys would be up to something like this. What a bunch of loafers!"

The woman who had been called Monica spoke English that was easy for Hikaru to understand. Either she had spent a long time in New York, or, like Hikaru, had worked desperately to learn to speak the language of the city.

"Shall I dump the three of you in the Hudson River?"

Monica's tone had an overwhelming effect on the three men.

One said, "Hey, Monica, it was just a joke."

"Look at her, she's shivering with cold. Sex when the body is cold is the best," another said, but he moved away from Hikaru. Pointing the gun at him, Monica motioned for him to hurry.

During this exchange, Hikaru kept her eyes on Monica.

With the men gone, Monica looked down at Hikaru. She said, "The stuff we gave you to make you sleep worked a little too well, I guess. If you had slept all the way to Christmas Eve I was going to slap you awake."

"What day is it?"

"The twenty-third," Monica answered.

"I won't say thank you."

"I don't mind. This is all business to me."

"Business?"

"Yes...Star-chan."

Hikaru felt her body stiffen with fear once again.




They found out about the death of Hikaru's cat the day after the boat party.

Five days had passed since Madoka saw the mysterious message "Bye Bye, <STAR*>."

This information was discovered when Madoka accessed the Fame BBS from her Mac, which she had brought with her.

Mixed in with useless information of all kinds was the following message:

"An electrocuted cat was found in the room of a Japanese girl living in the Village. Japanese, you're going to be targeted by animal protection groups if you don't start being fair to animals. Signed 'Whale.'"

Madoka immediately sent email to that user.

The person was one of those nerd-types who use their computers all day long, and the reply came back with surprising speed.

Madoka's face turned pale when she read the English message:

"Across from this girl's apartment lived an old couple. They were supposed to keep the cat while the girl was away, but she just left suddenly. They heard the cat meowing every day, but the door was locked, so there was no way to save the cat. Then one day they heard the cat's meow cut off suddenly. So they called an animal protection group, and got the police involved. But by then they were too late."

Madoka asked if the person had the address to the apartment. He sent it to us through email.

As we had feared, the address was the same one that Madoka had for Hikaru-chan.

We asked Madoka's father to get us tickets to New York right away. Madoka and I took the suitcases which we had just unpacked back into the car's trunk.

We arrived at New York's La Guardia airport that evening. The line of skyscrapers on Manhattan Island was still buried under the illumination of Christmas.







John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" was playing at the old radio again.

How many times was that today? Hikaru muttered to herself. It had been one of her favorite songs. She had even heard Madoka play it once on the piano. Ever since that time, whenever Christmas drew near, she had listened to the song on CD.

For a moment, Hikaru recalled this song playing in her room back in Japan, so very long ago. But she shook her head, unwilling to remember. Try not to brode over old memories, that was the first thing she had promised herself before coming to live in New York.

"I don't really care if you thank me or not." Monica had said this earlier, when she brought the lamp and radio for Hikaru.

Inside the large warehouse, where one didn't know night from day, they were a nice Christmas present for Hikaru.

Hikaru had tried her best to smile when Monica gave her the present, but the more she tried to move her face into that position, the more it refused to move.

Baka, Hikaru!

Don't act friendly towards Monica, not even a little! What will being nice to her get you?

After the near-rape at the hands of the three men, Monica had started bringing Hikaru three meals a day.

At first she just left the food and left, but more and more she was affected by Hikaru's dauntless attitude, and began to talk to the girl.

But whenever Hikaru asked questions like, why was I kidnapped, or what do you hope to gain, Monica would always say, "I told you, just put up with it, and everything will be okay."

Then Hikaru would be left alone once again.

With the radio and the light from the lamp, Hikaru's mood improved, but her heart was still heavy. Since beginning her little talks with Monica, Hikaru had for the most part stopped fearing that she would be killed.

But there was one line that she could not get out of her head, no matter how hard she tried.

It was a line spoken by the Island Daughter in the musical "Legend of Atlantis." It had been because of stress over her inability to read the line correctly that Hikaru had decided to go to Mexico in the first place.

In the musical, she plays a goddess who rules an island. She falls in love, and says the following line to goddess Era, the fiancee of the man she loves:

"Blessed Era, please forgive me. I have committed a sin so great that, even if I were to bury myself for all eternity in the soil of this beautiful country, it would not be erased...And yet I continue to commit this sin every day. Even if it meant I would turn into the seaweed that washes onto the shore, I could not stop loving Atlas."

To Hikaru, the goddess Era was Madoka Ayukawa, and Atlas, the man she was doomed to love forever, was Kyosuke Kasuga.




The legendary continent of Atlantis...

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about it.

According to him, the sea-god Posseidon created a continent either in the center of the Atlantic, or the Pacific, nine thousand years ago.

Posseidon married the island daughter, and she bore him five sets of twin boys. He then divided his continent into ten sections, and made each of his sons king of each.

He gave the largest section to his oldest son, born before all the others, and made him king of the whole mass.

This child's name was Atlas.

From his name, the continent came to be called Atlantis.

It was a land overflowing with abundance. But gods and men are corrupt in their hearts.

One day, the all-powerful god Zeus grew angry, and sunk the continent beneath the sea over the course of one day and one night.

The musical "The Legend of Atlantis" was making use of motifs from this famous myth.

The role Hikaru was aiming for was the role of the beautiful island daughter, who meets Atlas suddenly in a mysterious forest. The two fall in love and receive the blessing of the fairies in the forest.

The girl's name was Sofina. It was the name of the most vividly beautiful flower on the island.

But the love of the two people was doomed to fail. In order to calm a sea monster that hid on the bottom of the sea, a girl was offered up as a sacrifice each year. Sofina is chosen for this sacrifice.

Being sacrificed so that everyone in Atlantis could maintain their happy lives was important.

The sea-god Posseidon himself went along with the practice, and the gods as well as humans had come to take it for granted.

But Atlas and Sofina fell in love.

They spent every moment submerged in a sweet world where only the other existed, as if it were a waste to spend any time apart.

Atlas had a fiancee that had been chosen for him by his father.

She was the daughter of his uncle's, the goddess of beauty, Era.

When Era smiled, the waves would suddenly become calm. When she gazed at the sea, the fiercest gale would become a gentle breeze.

Era was the treasure of the gods, and strove to be better than humans at everything--especially in beauty. Her ideal was to be the object of admiration by all.

For that reason, Era was understanding at first while dealing with Atlas.

Her smile never changed; everyone around her loved and respected her all the more for her tolerance.

But Atlas didn't come back to her.

So the goddess of beauty Era plotted her revenge (17).

This was not something directed at Sofina herself. She first caused a plague to spread among the girls of the island. Soon the skin of all young girls on the island swelled up, and they became ugly.

The people on the island turned against the one person they could blame. That was Sofina, and no other.

There was no sin in the fact that she had fallen in love with Atlas. Nor was it a sin that Atlas felt the same about her.

But when people are faced with a disaster, they change. Whereas they had been rejoicing for her up until that point, now they prepared to forsake her.

One day while Atlas was sleeping, the people came and took Sofina away, and dropped her at the beginning of the sea where the sun rises from.

But just then, Era appeared. With tears in her beautiful eyes she said, "If only I could have been you. If only I could have loved Atlas dearly, as you did. I'm sorry, Sofina."

Sofina suddenly realized that the Goddess had known real love just as she did. She decided to sacrafice herself by throwing herself into the sea.

Up to this point, the role of Sofina had not said a single line to Atlas, who was a god himself, but had expressed her love through dance. Now, it was time for her to speak:

"Blessed Era, please forgive me. I have committed a sin so great that, even if I were to bury myself for all eternity in the soil of this beautiful country, it would not be erased...And yet I continue to commit this sin every day. Even if it meant I would turn into the seaweed that washes onto the shore, I could not stop loving Atlas."

Then Era says, "I have lost."

As Era said this, the island-daughter threw herself into the sea and perished.

Hikaru was envious of Madoka Ayukawa in the same was that Sofina was envious of the goddess. Even though she knew it would be wrong to betray Madoka, she was still unable to let go of Kyosuke Kasuga.

These feelings had gotten stronger and stronger ever since her reunion with Kyosuke in Tokyo, in the summer, six months ago.

That time, Kyosuke and Hikaru had spent the night together.

Nothing had happened between them, but it wouldn't have been strange if it had. Perhaps for the very reason that nothing had happened that night, Hikaru's feelings for Kyosuke had built up more and more.

After the incident, Hikaru had returned to New York and submerged herself in her dance lessons, trying to forget about Kyosuke once again.

Thanks to that extra effort, she had been able to get an audition for "The Legend of Atlantis."

It seemed kind of cynical that the very first speaking role she might get would be as a result of a situation she didn't want to remember.

In the middle of practice, when it was time to speak her lines, she felt herself to be speaking a lie, and this has gotten in the way of her delivery. The tension had gotten worse and worse.

That was why Shuri had recommended that she go to Mexico.

The continent of Atlantis was sent to the bottom of the sea by the Great God Zeus. But its culture supposedly passed itself on to the continents of South America and Europe.

There were three pyramids found at the Teotihuacan ruins in Mexico, the most famous of which was known of as the "Pyramid of the Sun. The remains of the ancient Teotihuacans were said to be sleeping inside it. These three pyramids were something that also appeared in the Atlantis legend.

There were many interesting similarities between the Teotihuacan pyramids and the legend of Atlantis.

Trying to cheer Hikaru up, Shuri Anzai had said, "Why don't you try standing on the top of that pyramid and confess your love for the god Atlas. I think you'll be the old Hikaru-chan again."




"Confess my love for the god..." Hikaru repeated now.

John Lennon's song had stopped some time earlier. Because of the silence, Hikaru's words, which had been intended as a joke to cheer herself up, echoed mysteriously inside the empty warehouse.

Hikaru felt the cold wind again, and pulled the sleeping bag over her head.

Just then, there was the sound of knocking at the door to the entrance. Three knocks: Monica's signal. The sound of a several locks being turned.

"I'll just be happy if those men aren't with her," she muttered to hersef. Ever since Monica had said she would knock as a signal before entering, this had been Hikaru's excuse for being happy to see her.

Hikaru noticed now that Monica was almost the same age as her.

"It's a turkey sandwich," Monica said in fast English as she entered the room. "And clam chowder. I'm sorry it's not much. At the very least, I wanted to feed you turkey on Christmas."

Hikaru shrugged.

She had no intention of saying thank you for the Christmas dinner, but at the same time she didn't want to return kindness with sarcasm. She also didn't want Monica to leave right away.

"Monica...you were born here, were you?"

Hikaru had picked an unimportant topic on purpose.

"Why do you ask?"

"Your accent is New York, but its feels...different."

If she had been a pure New Yorker, her speech would have been more "dry" somehow. Hikaru started to say this, but stopped herself.

"I sound like an a country girl?" Monica asked. "Is that what you're saying?"

Still with a blank expression on her face, Monica put the clam chowder down in front of Hikaru. She must have just bought it: when Monica took off the plastic lid, steam poured out of the container.

"No, that's not it. It just seems like you must have worked hard to learn to pronounce English like a local."

"Well, that's true."

"What?"

"I studied English."

"Why?"

Regardless of the fact that America was a country built by immigrants, and that English was the language that everyone used, there were some people from other countries that formed mini-societies in which they could use their native languages, without learning English or inter-mingling with American culture.

But for people who wanted to live at the center of American society, English was an indispensable asset. To speak not only English, but the cosmopolitan dialect of New Yorkers was, for Hikaru, not something she could do without a lot of work.

"What do you mean, 'why'?" Monica repeated Hikaru's question back to her, with a slightly confused smile on her face. "Well, I think my reason was pretty much the same as yours."

Hikaru was surprised at this.

"In your room, I looked at the Fame BBS. It reminded me of myself when I was young."

"You mean you wanted to be in a musical before?"

"Something like that." She added bitterly, "But that was a long time ago. With skin the color of mine, there were a limited number of roles I could get."

"But that's the same with me," Hikaru said. "It's probably even harder for me to get roles. It's only been recently that roles for Asians have appeared at all."

Monica had never considered this before. She stood, silent.

Being of South American-descent, Monica had no doubt run into various forms of discrimination in her life. But Hikaru, as a Japanese, had endured the same, no, even more of a feeling of being excluded from American life.

Monica felt closer than ever to Hikaru. She allowed the following words to slip from her mouth:

"I'm sorry, Hikaru. After you worked so hard to get that audition and everything..."

"What?" Hikaru was shocked, as if something had hit her hard in the chest. "You know about my audition?"

Monica's face looked confused for a moment, but her eyes immediately recovered their hardness. She stood up and said, "Merry Christmas, Hikaru. At least taste the turkey. It's all I can do for you now."

She turned and walked towards the door.

"Wait, Monica! Tell me! Why do you know about my audition? Is that why you've kidnapped me? It has something to do with the musical, doesn't it? Monica!"

But Monica closed the door with a loud noise, as if it had been pulled closed by Hikaru's words. Then the sound of several locks being turned, echoing throughout the empty warehouse.

Hikaru felt her body assaulted by cold once more, and with it, a new sense of unrest.

If the reason they kidnapped me had something to do with my upcoming audition...

Then maybe Shuri is also in danger!

Hikaru was still bound by the rope, but Monica had re-tied it so that it was a little looser. This enabled her to bring the soup to her mouth and drink even while both hands remained tied.

Hikaru put the container of clam chowder to her mouth, but steam was no longer rising from the top.

Shuri!

From the radio, a Fred Astair Christmas tune started playing. But to Hikaru, that voice seemed to be coming from very far away.




"Here we are. This is the place."

Shuri Anzai opened the door to Hikaru-chan's apartment in a casual manner, almost as if going into her own room.

I was following behind Madoka and Shuri, feeling as if I were intruding in a place I had no right to enter.

Well, that wasn't quite right...

I was thing thinking about Hikaru-chan...or rather, the night the "me" that came from three years in the past spent with her, six months ago.

For some reason, I couldn't stop thinking about that night.

Her room.

It was filled with the smell of Hikaru-chan.

I didn't want to just barge into that room. It would have been rude, somehow.

"Kyosuke?" It was Madoka.

"What?"

"What's wrong? Why are you standing there with a flustered expression on your face?"

"Huh? What are you talking about? I'm not flustered!"

"Then stop acting like it. Or are you thinking of Hikaru's underwear?"

"Cut it out," I said.

Madoka looked at Shuri and chuckled.

"Kyosuke can't stand up to Madoka," Shuri said.

Shuri sat down on the old windowseat and crossed her legs. She extended her finger and switched on the CD/radio unit.

Christmas music flowed out of the radio. It filled me with memories of Christmases gone past.

"Hey, it's Fred Astair!" Shuri said, and started singing.

Madoka and I had gone to see Shuri right after landing at La Guardia, and had her bring us to Hikaru's apartment.

Madoka had said, "We're really sorry to be disturbing you on Christmas Day."

Shuri had answered, "It's okay. I went all around with my boyfriend yesterday. I was just planning on listening to some music tonight."

Shuri-san and Madoka were the same age. But Shuri-san was almost as tall as me.

She has a sort of 'rough' feeling to her that could only have come from being in America a long time.

So that she seems to be much more mature than me.

But Shuri had apparently been heard a lot about Madoka from Hikaru-chan, and when she met her for the first time, she said, "Oh, Madoka-chan, you look just like I pictured."

That sort of thing.

The two of them became instant friends.

But both had a completely different idea of what had happened to Hikaru-chan. When Madoka first told Shuri about her theory that Hikaru-chan had gotten caught up in some kind of trouble, Shuri had looked surprised at first, but then she laughed, her mouth wide open, like Julia Roberts.

"You're a musician, right?" she had said. "You sound like a person who can't stop reading mystery novels in your spare time."

It appeared she was convinced that Hikaru-chan had gone to Mexico after all.

"Take a look at this room," Shuri said now, removing the CD from the CD player to check its title. "I mean, it's just Hikaru's room. There's no way anything happened here."

Madoka made no reply. She looked around the room.

"I mean, it's really sad, what happened to JG (18) and all, but... Oh, JG was the name of the cat Hikaru was keeping."

"Ah, yes. We know," I said for Madoka.

"Where did the cat die?" Madoka asked.

"Over there. It's a really old toaster oven. You usually can't even make a pizza in it. Hikaru had asked the owner of the building to come and repair the broken cord many times, but..."

Shuri said how happy she was that Hikaru hadn't seen the body of the dead cat. It had apparently been wrapped up in the cord almost as if it had been strangled. Members of an animal protection group had taken the cat away to be buried.

There did seem to be nothing out of order in Hikaru-chan's room.

The bed and sofa seemed quite old. She must have bought them used at a flea market or something.

But Hikaru-chan always liked things to be clean.

The bed had freshly washed sheets on it, and there was a blanket with an ethnic touch to it on the bed.

It was so like Hikaru-chan to decorate her personal space in her own way.

I found myself respecting her again.

Alone, all alone in this exciting city of New York.

I, who went off to Bosnia without so much as a second thought, then returned, stupidly allowing myself to get depressed about what I saw there.

I thought...I thought that I was nothing compared to Hikaru-chan.

_Kacha kacha_

Madoka had sat herself on the bed and started typing on the computer that had been left there.

I was sure she was calling the Fame BBS again.

It suddenly occurred to me that Madoka seemed...how can I say it? Upset because she hadn't been able to be at Hikaru-chan's side while she was doing her best to make it in America.

This must have been very hard for her.

"Madoka..."

Madoka had become silent as she looked at the computer's monitor. I put my hand on her shoulder.

She was trembling.

"Kyosuke..."

"Mm?"

"Hikaru...I wonder what she thought about in here?"

"I wonder."

Madoka let out a little squeal. Then she returned to the computer screen.

"Okay, I'll leave my key here," Shuri said, as if she didn't want to interrupt us. "If you find out anything, please let me know." She stood up. We looked at each other, and she smiled, but she seemed upset.

"Hikaru has quite a lot of sense," she said. "I'm sure she's okay."

She put the CD back into the CD player, switched the unit from radio to CD, then left the room.

The Christmas music that had been playing from the speakers was now replaced by a soprano fusion jazz sax number.

I walked over to Madoka's side and held her, putting her face against my body. I could feel her tears.

There was nothing I could say to Madoka. There was nothing I could do but stare dumbly at 'it.'

Ever since coming into the room, Madoka had been quite careful to avoid looking at it.

"It" was the teddy bear alarm clock.

As we had expected, it had been left in her room. I once again sensed that Madoka might have been right in thinking that something had happened to Hikaru-chan.

Madoka sat quietly for a moment, then started tapping the keys once again, as if she had had a new idea.

The following appeared on the Fame BBS:

"Does anyone know where H. Hikaru is? By Teddy Bear."




That was when I learned that Madoka had been using "Teddy Bear" as her own handle name. I discovered that Madoka and Hikaru-chan had been connected by this tight bond all this time.

Outside, through the window, snow began to fall.

It wouldn't do for Madoka and I to spend the night in this room. We turned the CD player and the computer off and left.

It was bitter cold outside.

Just then, I remembered something Madoka's father had said to me:

"This is America. You have to make your own world around you, or you'll get weary of life."

Why I chose that time to recall his words just then, I can't say.

Perhaps it was because I was thinking of Hikaru-chan, working hard to make her dreams come true, all alone.

America is the place where, anything can happen, if you work hard; but at the same time, a terrible life awaits weak-minded people... I was sure I had figured out what was so special about New York.

A yellow cab that had come from Greenwich Village stopped in front of us, and we got in.

We told the driver the name of our hotel, but the driver, who had brownish red skin, rattled on to us in a language with trilled R's that couldn't possibly have been English.

When Madoka gave him the address of the hotel, he finally stopped talking and got the car underway.

It appeared that, in this giant city, numbers and addresses were the only things that were universally understood.

The next morning, I was awoken by a phone call from a Japanese girl who said she was a friend of Shuri's. This girl was on the verge of tears as she said:

"Shuri was attacked last night!"

I jumped up and looked out the window. Everything was white from the snow that fell the night before.