A New Beginning
Here I am...alone on a hot summer night sitting on the old stump by the lake. I'm not far from the Doctor's vacation house.
So many memories here.
I can hear the locusts buzzing their lazy summer serenade. The waves lap gently at the shore near my feet and I see the faint lights of dancing lightning bugs in the distance. It's as if the stars have fallen from the sky and are twinkling all around me. The moon is bright tonight, and I can't help but wonder if anyone else is looking up at it with me, meditating on what might have been.
I can still remember the first moment I laid eyes upon the girl that would steal my heart.
We took a trip to an orphanage in the Himalayas. It was a long trip, and Joe and I had become grumpy from the long ride. I could see the frustration on the doctor's face as we fought over the last bag of chips. Of course, before we were finished, the bag had ripped open and the back of Doctor Nambu's car was covered in tiny chip bits. After a swift reprimand, Joe and I scooped up as much of the pieces as we could...and the rest of the trip was quiet.
Joe and I respected that man...not only because he was our "father" and he demanded respect, but because he was a visionary. He saw Galactor coming when no one else did, and when everyone else laughed at his warnings, he was busy concocting a solution to the problem that loomed over mankind.
This "solution" of his came in the form of the Science Ninja Team.
Joe and I knew from an early age that we were going to be a part of the doctor's big plan. We had been thoroughly prepared for our positions on the team.
I couldn't help but wonder how prepared our new recruits had been. How much did they know? Had they volunteered for this?
The answers came when I saw their faces.
Jun, the eldest of the two was petite and pretty. However, she looked like the kind of girl who would rather do her nails than do katas. Her little brother, Jinpei, was small and thin. I imagined him breaking like a match stick the moment we started sparring.
They didn't appear shocked or surprised when Dr. Nambu drove up. They had been waiting for us at the front of the orphanage. Obediently, the picked up their meager belongings and bowed humbly.
The doctor introduced us. They nodded but didn't really say much.
I had been in their shoes.
I remember being handed over to my new "father" after my dad disappeared and my mom fell ill. I know Joe had similar circumstances.
We helped them into the car as the doctor finalized the paperwork inside.
"Joe, you can sit up front," I said.
For some reason I felt the need to shelter and protect them. They both seemed so...fragile...especially the girl.
I climbed into the back seat with them. Jinpei sat in the middle, and Jun and I took the two window seats. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Jun and Jinpei grasped each other's hands for comfort.
"The mountains are beautiful," I began.
Joe read my mind. He jumped in. "You two must've really loved living here."
"It was okay..." Jinpei mumbled.
I could feel the tension in the air. "How do you feel about coming to live with Dr. Nambu?" I asked.
Jun peered at me over her brother's messy brown hair. Her green eyes glistened with tears, but she put up a brave front. "We're looking at this as an opportunity. It's a new beginning...and a chance to help others."
She looked down at her brother and elbowed him. "Right, Jinpei?"
Jinpei nodded. "But I'll miss my friends..."
"Don't worry, Jinpei..." Jun smiled. "You'll make new friends...and I'll always be here for you." She winked at him, and then looked at me. Her eyes wore an expression that pleaded for me to comfort the little guy.
"Jinpei, you're going to love living with the doctor," I said. "He lives in a beautiful villa overlooking mountains very much like these."
"And there's a lake nearby..." Joe added. "You can fish or go camping there. When it's really hot, Ken and I sometimes jump in and spend the day swimming."
The whole time, I could tell that the kid was listening, but he was also looking us over.
The little guy suddenly lit up as he looked at Joe and me. He then grinned a devilish grin.
"I have a question."
"Yes, Jinpei?" I answered.
"Do you guys eat your potato chips or just wear them where you're from?" he drawled sarcastically.
Joe and I looked down. We were still covered in chip confetti.
Jun reprimanded her brother. "Jinpei! Don't be rude!"
Everyone burst into laughter.
"It's okay, Jun!" I chuckled. "Joe and I got into a fight with our snacks on the way here...and the chips won!"
It seemed that the little guy was good for breaking the ice at least.
We continued to comfort Jinpei and his big sister on the remainder of the trip back to Utoland. We talked about the city, the countryside and their hopes and dreams. We also talked about the team and the training that was involved.
My heart felt full as the sun set. There was something about Jun...she was warm and kind...and beautiful. I was happy to have our new recruits and hoped that everything would work out well for the budding Science Ninja Team.
I remember soon after Jun and Jinpei moved in...it was a tough transition. They argued a lot...not unlike Joe and me. It was a little irritating sometimes; especially when we were training together. They were both better than I imagined they'd be. Joe was surprised, too. As small and fragile as they seemed, they both had great speed and endurance. I learned quickly that I had to stay on Jinpei, as he liked to goof off at any chance he got. Jun, on the other hand, was a perfectionist.
I felt like she and I were cut out of the same cloth.
She and I would sometimes hang back after practice and talk. She was quiet at first, but she had a quick wit and a soft heart. She didn't talk much about the past, and neither did I. I guess it was just too painful for both of us. We talked about the team a lot, and Jinpei ...and Joe...and even Doctor Nambu.
I found myself preferring to be with her. I genuinely enjoyed her company, and I could see that she enjoyed mine.
Sometimes, she would blush when we were close.
Jinpei, of course, would take notice and tease her...like any pesky little brother would.
Most of the time it left him with bruises.
One summer evening, in particular, after dinner, we were working on one of our special tactics, called Twin Somersault. It required a lot of upper body strength, as we had to fling each other up and out of a deep canyon. Jun tried...but she just couldn't get the momentum going to lift me into the air.
She was mortified.
I guess she felt like she had something to prove.
She ran away from the rest of us, and an audible sob escaped as she scurried past me.
I held up my hand to the others. "Let's call it a night," I ordered.
Joe knew what was on my mind. He nodded in agreement and hurried Jinpei back to the house.
I ran after Jun. As much as I knew that she probably wanted to be alone, I felt like she needed me.
I finally caught up with her at the lake. The stars had come out and the moon shone down on her as she sat on the old log by the lake. A proud, green oak nearby stretched out its branches over her, as if it was protecting her. She sat there with her hands over her face... crying.
I walked up quietly and sat down next to her.
"Wanna talk?" I saw her hands slip down from her eyes where she had been wiping her tears.
She glanced sidelong at me and whispered hoarsely. "I'm so sorry I let you down. I'm letting the team down."
"Jun..." I placed my arm around her shoulders. "I only ask that you do your best. We'll keep working on it. You'll get it right. I promise."
"I'm afraid, Ken." Jun's voice quavered. "I don't want to mess this up...for Jinpei...and for me. We like it here. Dr. Nambu, and Joe and the staff...and you...have all been so good to us. But most of all, Ken, I don't want to disappoint you."
She took a deep breath. "You mean everything to me, Ken...I ..."
I don't know what she was going to say and I don't know what came over me. I'm not sure if it was the magic of a warm summer evening, or the fact that she was so pretty and so vulnerable, but I kissed her right then and there. It was a long, deep hard kiss. One of those that releases so much pent up emotion all at once, that you can feel yourself tingle all the way down to your toes.
Immediately, I knew I had crossed a line.
Not good. I was supposed to be her commander. I was supposed to work with her...to fight next to her.
I couldn't do this...not now, anyway.
It was time to back track. I pulled away from her and explained the situation.
"Jun, I'm sorry..." I muttered. "I acted before thinking it through. You know, in the situation we are in...working together...and..."
Jun held her dainty finger up to my lips to quiet me.
"Stop it, Ken...I know what you're going to say..."
She then swallowed hard and whispered, "It's okay..."
I felt like she wanted to say more, but she didn't trust herself. She tried mightily to protect her dignity.
She didn't like the circumstances we were in, and neither did I, but she understood them.
And though I could see her eyes still glistening with tears, I could also see in those same eyes hope for the future.
But now I'm sitting here by that same lake and I've let her down. That future never happened.
I don't know why it never happened with her.
Maybe it was the war that changed us.
We've both lost so much.
At least Joe came back to us. Still...he wasn't the same.
After we finally rid ourselves of the Galactor menace, we all seemed to go our separate ways.
Of course, we saw each other from time to time, but we didn't really "hang out" together like we used to.
Maybe we just wanted to forget.
I know I did. I wanted to rid myself of every bad memory. I wished that there was a device that could wipe my mind clean and I could start all over again...fresh and new and...not jaded.
But there were some memories I wanted to keep.
Like that kiss Jun and I shared so many years ago in the same spot where I sit tonight.
I miss her. I want to cry, but the tears won't come.
That big, strong oak can't shield me now. It died a few years ago in one of Galactor's attacks.
Oh, it still stands there, but the branches are bare. Sort of like my heart...devoid of life.
I hate being so melancholy, but I feel so alone. I'd give anything for one of those talks with Jun right now.
I wonder what she's doing?
The lapping of the water is growing louder around me as I sit here under the plum colored night sky. In the distance, I see a shadow playing against the shimmering moonlight on the water.
I jump up, not knowing quite what to expect. Is it an animal or is it human? Does it need rescuing?
As it grows closer, I see that it is indeed a human, and I can also see that it doesn't appear to be in any danger.
The form has finally reached the shore nearby and I can see a silhouette picking up a towel and drying off.
I walk over to the person out of sheer curiosity (and maybe a tinge of loneliness).
My eyes grow wide as I see who it is. She still looks amazing in that bikini.
My captivating comrade is still pulling her pink shirt over her head.
"Ken? What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question."
I feel giddy, but then my old, protective self kicks in. "What are you doing swimming out here all alone at night?"
"Well, Jinpei went with Ryu to visit his family, and the air conditioner went out at home, so..."
"You should've called me..." I reprimand.
"I..." Jun's mouth is still hanging open as she searches for an answer." I...didn't want to bother you."
"Since when have you been a bother to me?"
She turns away. "I thought maybe you needed some time...that maybe I reminded you of the war...and...maybe you didn't want to remember..."
"Jun...when I look at you, I don't see the war." I clasp my hands over her shoulders and turn her back so that I can see her face. Those bright green eyes sparkle at me in the moonlight. "I see a friend...my best friend...a beautiful person both inside and out...someone who has stood by my side through thick and thin...someone I love..."
I try to sound confident, but I choke up as I finish my speech. "I've missed you so much."
I pull her close to me and embrace her for a long time, not wanting to let go for fear that she will see the tears in my eyes.
Once again, we stand here, by that old tree. This place is different, yet it feels the same. The locusts are still humming their summertime tune, little bug-lights blink all around us, and the waves gently clap against the shore.
I can't help it...I move my hands up around her face, and pull her in so that I can taste those lips once again.
I'm not disappointed.
It's so invigorating and yet so familiar, a kiss with such passion that we can hardly come up for air.
Only it's Jun who pulls back this time.
I'll admit it. I'm frustrated.
I need this too much for it to come to a screeching halt.
We've been kept apart for so long...
I can feel my body temperature rising. I pull off my shirt and throw it down to the ground in frustration.
Then, I turn my back to her and draw in some deep, cleansing breaths. I gain my composure quickly and turn around.
"Jun, what's wrong?" I ask. My heart pounds audibly in my chest.
Does she not have feelings for me anymore? Has the war changed her that much?
The raven-haired beauty looks back at me with a sad expression on her face.
"I just have to know...is it okay this time? Are you going to pull away from me like you did before?"
I feel the weight of the world melting off of my shoulders.
She's just scared. That's something I can fix.
I smile and wrap my arms around her waist and lift her, pinning her against that old, solid oak.
"You couldn't get rid of me if you tried." I'm holding her close as I look deeply into her eyes. "It's different now. The war is finally over. My heart belongs to you."
Once again, I lean in for another kiss. I feel her legs wrap around me in response and I know it's going to be a really good night... and an even better life.
Yes, we'll finally have that future together.
I'm ready, Jun.
Let love begin.