The tai chi had been a good idea. The class was at a lower level of difficulty, and Jun had a chance to stretch her under-used muscles, without looking out of place. She closed her eyes and remembered learning the forms so long ago. She had not been whole then, either. She had still been recovering from that brutal attack at the orphanage, yet she had had Jinpei to motivate her and keep her going. And Ken had patiently showed her the moves, and helped her when she couldn’t quite master some techniques.
And here he was again. She opened her eyes and saw him moving, effortlessly gliding across the grass next to her. She remembered his polished movements, and how he could fly gracefully through the air. She remembered the feeling of flying herself, and the way it took her breath away.
She wanted that back.
After the class, she stretched out under an old oak tree. Ken sat next to her with a bemused look on his face.
“I guess you haven’t forgotten much.” he said. “You looked pretty good out there.”
“So did you.” She smiled back at him.
She looked peaceful and serene. It was a look he had not seen on Jun’s face for a long time. He reached out and brushed away a lock of hair that had fallen over her eyes. She looked up at him and her emerald eyes shone.
Ken couldn’t help himself. He kissed her.
Jun seemed to come alive at the contact. She responded and the kiss grew deeper, more ardent. As it ended she opened her eyes and looked at Ken.
Her face went pale and she turned away.
Ken cursed himself for a fool. It had been going so well. But it was too soon. All he had done was remind her of Joe again.
He took her home and she seemed fine, but he knew that something was still broken inside of her.
Everyone noticed the change in her. After being the Swan for so much of her life, she was starting to find her place in the world as just Jun.
She began attending practice, and Ryu, Jinpei and Ken were amazed at how quickly she returned to full strength. She took an interest in running the Snack J again, and the club bustled with excitement at night. Most significantly, she started to spend a lot more time with Ken.
It was this last change that excited Jinpei the most. He craved a proper family, and the inclusive feeling that brought. But even he could see that while Jun spent more time with Ken, she wasn’t any closer to him. Whenever he asked her about it, she would just shrug and say,
“Ken’s a wonderful friend.”
A friend. Jinpei knew she wasn’t serious about him. But, he also wasn’t sure how he could change that, except to give them more time alone.
Ken knew it too. Jun seemed to enjoy his company, but the relationship was purely platonic. Once or twice he had tried to kiss her again, and she had let him, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her lips, her heart, her mind were unresponsive to him. Ken still felt that if he gave her enough time, enough patience, enough understanding, she might come around. But he was starting to get impatient. Joe had been dead for almost ten months. When was she going to move on?
One night, Ken arrived at the Snack J to take Jun to dinner. To his surprise, she had asked him out, and for the first time in months, he felt a ray of hope. He decided to push his luck by bringing her a small bouquet of flowers.
But when he got to the Snack J she was nowhere to be found. The door was unlocked, but she wasn’t downstairs.
“Jun!” Ken called. But she didn’t answer.
Concerned, Ken went upstairs and saw that the door to Jun’s room was open. He looked inside.
It was almost as if he had been transported back to that day months ago, only this time, instead of wearing the Number 2 shirt, Jun was just holding it. But the vacant look on her face was the one that haunted his dreams.
She looked up at him, tears glistening in her emerald eyes.
“I’m sorry, Ken.” she said quietly. “I know we had plans… I made them for tonight hoping that I could forget…”
“I should have known better.” she finished.
“What are you trying to forget?” Ken asked gently. He was surprised at this sudden backsliding in her emotional state.
“Joe and I… it’s our anniversary. We had our first date, one year ago tonight.”
Ken’s head spun and his knees nearly gave way. The memories of that night came back to him in a rush: Jun wearing that unbelievable red dress… learning that she had planned on wearing it for him… Jun telling him, ‘I’m over it. You don’t have to apologize.’… watching her return from her date glowing with happiness, her shoes in her hand and her hair tumbling down her shoulders and back…
It was too much. Ken sank down onto the bed next to Jun. He knew how poorly he had handled himself back then, and how he was still paying for those mistakes.
Jun’s voice interrupted his train of thought. “I just keep thinking of the way he looked at me, and the joy I felt just being with him… and somehow I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way again…” she buried her face in Joe’s shirt, shoulders heaving with her sobs.
Ken awkwardly put his arm around her. Of course, this night would be difficult for Jun. In fact, it was difficult for him as well. As Jun relaxed, he gently brought her head to her pillow.
Ken searched for the right words.
“I know this is difficult for you, Jun.” he began, “And I’m here for you. I can only imagine… I know… how painful it must be for you, to think of that night. But I promise, if you let this go, if you let these wounds heal, things will get better. I’ll… I’ll make sure of that.”
He took a deep breath and continued, staring down at his hands. “I know I’ve been too insistent with you, but I promise I won’t be any more. No pressure, just… friendship. I’ll help you through this Jun, whatever it takes. And I don’t expect anything in return.”
It was a difficult speech to make, laying himself bare like that. But he meant it. He would do anything, to get her through this depression that seemed to keep tightening its hold on her.
He wondered if he should leave her to her sorrow, just this once. He felt almost guilty, intruding on her privacy this night.
He suddenly realized that Jun had been completely silent. She had not responded to his words. Looking over at her, he saw that she was asleep. She fitfully clutched the Number 2 shirt, as if it could save her from a lifetime of pain.
Ken felt his blood boil. That damned shirt. His rage was directed towards an inanimate object that merely represented its former owner. But it was a satisfying target for his wrath.
Angrily, Ken pried the shirt loose from Jun’s grasp and threw it across the room. Being only a shirt, it didn’t make the satisfying crash he would have liked, but merely sank to the floor with a soft hiss.
Jun stirred restlessly. Her lips were slightly parted, and her eyelids fluttered. On the outside, she looked like the Sleeping Beauty, but Ken knew that she was tormented inside. Gently, he pulled up the blanket around her shoulders and tucked her in, preparing to leave her to her rest.
But, despite his well-intended speech a moment earlier, he found that he couldn’t help himself. He leaned down and kissed her.
To his surprise, Jun kissed him back. Her mouth was eager… her lips passionate. She pulled Ken down, thrusting her body against his. Ken sensed her letting go, as she gave herself over to him completely.
Ken was amazed. Her passion inflamed him, and ignited his bood. Her body, her scent, the feel of her skin… they overwhelmed him. He was consumed by his need for her.
A nagging voice in his mind struggled to make itself heard. Logic and control, usually so paramount in his mind, were weakening against the onslaught of his senses.
‘This isn’t right… she’s grieving for Joe… she’s not ready…’ the voice whispered.
Jun moaned. “Make love to me….”
‘I can make her forget Joe.’ Ken thought, and the voice was banished from his mind.
Their love-making was incredible. Ken had had no idea that he could feel like this: that two people could give and take of each other so much. He finally felt complete as a man, and understood that this woman was his soulmate.
He knew that he could never have these feelings, this intensity, with anyone else.
They finished together in a burst of passion that left them spent. Ken collapsed on top of Jun, burying his face in her shoulder. Her fingers wound themselves through his hair, caressing his scalp and neck.
Jun’s lips pressed against his ear. His entire body tingled at their touch. She sighed contentedly and whispered in his ear.
“I’ve missed you so much, Joe…”
Ken angrily threw open the door to his small house at the airstrip. He reveled in the satisfying crash it made, as it banged against the wall.
How could he have been so reckless? So arrogant? So… blind. He had dived headlong, to grab what he so desperately wanted, only to find that it was an illusion, and had never been his to begin with.
He had left Jun sleeping in her bed.
‘She can never know.’ he thought. He could at least spare her that shame. Let her believe it was a dream. He didn’t think he could deal with it, if she knew what he’d done.
He practically ripped off his clothes, as he walked into the bathroom. He could smell her on his skin, on his hands… Turning on the water he stepped into the stinging spray. The water mingled with tears, as it ran down his cheeks.
Jun awoke, finding Joe’s shirt next to her on the bed. Her ache of longing for him was almost physical. She had had an unbelievable dream about him… almost as if he had really been with her. She had felt as if her soul were flying out of her body, and reaching out to him on a spiritual level.
Deep down, she knew she had connected with him. Somewhere, in some form, she knew Joe was alive.
Joe sat up with a start. He had been dreaming of Jun, in her incredible red dress. The one that she had worn a year ago tonight. And then, suddenly, he felt her… reaching out to him. It was almost as if she were in the room with him. He had sensed her passion and love stretching across the miles, to where he lay. He had reached back to her, and for a brief moment, it felt like their souls had touched…
It was enough. Enough to keep him going on, as this shell of a man Dr. Rafael had created. To get better. If only so he could see her again.