By Joseph Palmer
The four stood frozen before the open door of Ranma’s room. Akane was flushed and flustered, and far to surprised to say anything. Ranma looked sheepishly at Akane, then back into his room. Huge drops of sweat soaked through the fur of the panda, and he began to pant nervously. Nodoka just smiled sweetly.
On the floor of Ranma’s room were two futons.
“O- Ofukoro...” Ranma began. [Mother...]
“Ch- choto ma-te...” Akane added. [Wait a moment...]
The hall clock clicked off the seconds, it seemed impossibly loud.
“I said, off to bed you two!” Nodoka pushed Ranma into his room. “You too!” she said, and pushed his father-panda after him. “Akane and I have some girl-talk to do,” she said sliding the door closed behind them. She put her arm around Akane and led her to the other bedroom.
Ranma cracked open his door in time to see the door to his parents room slide closed. The clock ticked off ten full seconds of silence, then his mother’s laughter pierced the door. He turned to his father-panda. “I suppose you think that was funny.” The panda shrugged and began to laugh. Ranma bopped him half-heartedly on the head.
Akane’s laugh soon joined his mother’s. It was a little nervous at first, but then soon settled into the laugh that always set his heart racing.
He lay awake late into the night, the whispers and giggles from the other room just audible over his father’s snoring. Her voice found him again and again, he squeezed his pillow, hugging and rocking it as if it were her. He relived the night they had fallen asleep together, her warmth against his shoulder, the scent of her freshly washed hair on his pillow. Hearing her now made his chest ache with longing.
In the morning they stole a hurried but passionate kiss while Ranma’s mother was in the kitchen.
“Mmm... What was that for?” Akane asked.
“No reason.” Ranma lied.
“What are you two up to?” Ranma’s mother came in suddenly.
“Nothing, really.” Akane answered guiltily.
“Yeah, nothing.” Ranma examined a pair of chopsticks as if he had never seen chopsticks before.
“Good, then Akane, you can help me with breakfast, and Ranma, you can get this room ready.”
“Aw mom, but that’s girl’s work.”
“There’s cold water in the bathroom if you need it dear.” Nodoka took a giggling Akane by the arm to the kitchen.
“Kawaii ku n.....”
“Ranma!” Genma leaned casually against the doorway.
“What’s up pop? ‘wana do some training?”
“That’s exactly what I want to do.” He sat cross legged on the floor, pushed up his glasses, the crossed his arms. “Soutome secret technique, Okasan variation” [Mother’s variation]
Ranma knelt before him. “Ready”
“When faced with this sort of situation...” Genma tilted his head, his glasses filling with light. Ranma leaned forward in anticipation. “Do what your mother says.”
Ranma took his usual place atop the fence, Akane carried her overnight bag over one shoulder, and a bag of Nodoka’s freshly pickled vegetables in her other hand.
“What did you two talk about last night?”
“It was just girl talk.”
“I suppose I’ll have to jump into the creek before you tell me.”
“Hee hee. Good idea.” They walked quietly together for a time. “Your mother is really special you know.”
“Hmmm?” Ranma jumped to the sidewalk beside her.
“Last night... Sometimes it was just like talking to one of my friends, like we were the same age.” She giggled. “She told me a lot of stories about when she was dating your father. Things weren’t really all that different then.” She walked along quietly smiling. “Other times... it was just like having another sister.” She took Ranma’s hand. “And sometimes... sometimes it was like talking to my mother.”
They took the JR out to Nerima, and threaded through the maze of temporary hallways the construction crew had put up through the new station.
“Ahh, shimata!* we came out the wrong way!” Ranma looked up and down the busy street. (* Shimata can be accurately translated as “‘Doh!”)
“It’s no wonder, that place is such a mess inside. Let’s go around this way.” She lead him past the tiny shops that filled the front of the station. They passed under the JR tracks, and the signal bell began to ring as they crossed over the surface tracks for the local route. The crossing arm dropped behind them, and in moments the train appeared. Something caught Ranma’s attention and he stopped to watch the train.
“What is it?” Concern showed in Akane’s voice. She’d seen that look before, it usually meant trouble.
“I don’t know, something about the sound the train was making...”
The crossing bell stopped ringing, and the warning lights went out.
“That’s weird, the signal stopped.” Akane pointed at the crossing. The train began to slow, then coasted to a stop in the crossing.
“That’s not good.” Ranma watched as the passengers began to look around and question each other in the train.
Akane squeezed Ranma’s arm, “Do you think they... hit someone?”
“No, I don’t think so, listen.” Ranma looked up and down the street.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Right, no fans, no air conditioners, nothing. I think the power went out.”
“Whew. That explains the train, too.” Her grip on his arm became less urgent, more friendly. She tugged him towards home. “Good thing we got off that train before it got stuck somewhere.”
“Aw, they’ll get power back in no time.” At that moment the lights flicked on in the hardware shop on their right. “See, what did I tell you?” Then they dimmed and went back out.
“Well, they tried.” Akane shrugged.
Shop keepers mixed into the street with the shoppers to discuss the situation. Some of the shops were already rolling their doors partly down, but the yakitoriya was doing a brisk business, the owner smiled smugly as he worked out the prices on a tiny brass abacus. He’d never seen the need for a cash register, and his grill was gas.
They walked together through the clumps of people, catching snatches of news and speculation. Up and down the street streetlights were decorated with springtime decorations of blue, red and silver foil fireworks, adding to the carnival feel.
“Lucky! Hey, Ranma, Akane!” Nabiki waved at them from a shop. “Ranma, could you carry this?” She lifted a large brown tub in her arms. He took it from her.
“Oooh, it’s cold! What is this?”
“Ice cream!” Nabiki was beaming.
“Nabiki, what are you so excited about? It’s only ice cream.”
“Two words Akane, chocolate and wholesale!”
“Wholesale? how did you swing that?”
“Haven’t you heard, the power is out.”
“No, It’s really out. All the way from here to Tokyo Station.” She waved her hand towards downtown, then patted the tub. “This one was half empty and anyway it didn’t fit in the shops deep freeze, so it was either sell it or loose it.” She turned back to the shopkeeper, “Thank You, Bye-bye!” They walked off with Ranma in the middle.
“Sis, there’s a lot if ice cream here...” Akane thumped the top of the tub.
“I was a little worried about that, but not anymore now that Ranma’s here.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Akane agreed with her sister.
“They just announced Narita airport is out.” A shop keeper called out to anyone listening. He held a tiny radio to his ear.
“Oh oh.” Nabiki lost some enthusiasm. They walked together towards the doujo. The narrow streets were full of neighbors talking over fences, and with children playing.
Kasumi met them at the front door. “It’s awful, it’s too dark inside to do any cleaning!”
“I guess you get the day off, sis.” Akane slipped out of her street shoes.
“Is it too dark to find some bowls and spoons?” Nabiki patted the tub.
“What is it?”
“Chocolate ice cream!” Nabiki’s spirits returned.
“For chocolate? I think I can find something.” Kasumi swept off to the kitchen.
They found Soun in the living room, listening to a little portable radio.
“They have reports from all over, Yokohama is out, it goes from there all the way around the bay to Makuhari. Tokyo electric still don’t know what started it.” The others looked at Ranma and Akane.
“You two didn’t... you know...” Kasumi entered with bowls and spoons.
“NO!” Akane tried to put an end to the speculation.
Nabiki giggled. “You must admit, a little damage in the right place could have started this.”
Ranma shook his head, “No way!”
“Well, they did start the reconstruction of the local JR station a few years ahead of schedule due to ‘damage’.” Nabiki pointed out.
“But that wasn’t my fault!” Akane protested.
“Shh-Shh! Listen!” Soun turned up the radio.
...outage began just before noon in the Ueno district and spread within moments to from there to Tokyo...
“See, we weren’t anywhere near there...” Ranma began.
“SHHHH!” Soun, Kasumi, Nabiki and Akane shushed him as one.
... from Tokyo electric likened it to a piece of old cloth, he said; "Once it began to tear there was no stoping it."
The exact cause of the outage is still not known, and officials report that power will be restored promptly...
Kasumi dished out the softening ice cream while the radio reminded listeners that the subways and trains cannot run without power, and that the best thing to do was to stay at home.
“Good thing it’s Sunday, if this were a working day it would be a real mess.” Soun noted.
“Oh daddy, it’s not like you need power to give lessons.” Nabiki observed.
“No, I mean all the people who ride into Tokyo to work. Can you imagine what it would be like to be stuck in town with a million or two other folks?”
“What if they can’t fix it?” Kasumi asked.
“Huh? of course they can fix it.” Ranma replied confidently.
“What if it is like old cloth, and when they try to pick it up, it just rips again? You’ve seen all the messy wires and those yucky big can things on the poles, they all look so old and messy, what if they break?” The others looked at Kasumi. There was no denying that the power poles in town looked like those cartoons where they have 30 plugs attached to one extension cord. “What if they have to start all over and put up new wires every where? It could take days!”
“Try years.” Nabiki looked out of the yard to the power poles across the street.
“Mah!..., years? really?”
“That’s how long it took the first time.”
“You mean this happened before?”
“No, when they first put them in.”
Akane finished her ice cream, and put down her bowl. “Don’t worry, Kasumi, they’ll just bring it back a little bit at a time, that’s all, when they find a bad area they’ll leave it off until they can fix it.”
Kasumi looked unconvinced, but she nodded to Akane. “I see, It’s more like a quilt than a broad piece of cloth.”
They listened to the radio a while longer, all of the greater Tokyo area was out, but most of the rest of the country was still unaffected. They sat together and talked, soon forgetting the power and the mess that was the rest of Tokyo. Kasumi left to make tea just as the front door slid open.
“Gomen kudasai!” an old man called into the house. [Pardon me]
“Hai!” Kasumi ran for the door. [Coming]
“Ah, Kasumi-chan, can I meet with your father?”
Kasumi covered her mouth and giggled. “Tanaka-san, I haven’t been called that in years!”
The old man slipped out of his shoes and into guest slippers. “What’s that? but you’re just... a... little...” he pushed up his glasses and looked at her. “Kasumi, when did you grow up?”
“Hee hee. Please come with me, daddy is just through here.”
“But you were just this big!” Tanaka held out his hand at his waist as he followed her into the living room.
“Ah, Tanaka-san, what a pleasant surprise!” Soun stood and bowed to his guest. “Please, take a seat, Kasumi is just making tea.”
“Thank you Tendou-san, tea sounds wonderful. I’m afraid we have an all electric kitchen at home.”
“You remember my daughters Nabiki and Akane, and this is her fiancé Ranma.”
“Nice seeing you again, nice to meet you, Ranma.”
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Ranma replied, his mother’s influence showing.
“Tendo San,” Tanaka began. “You know that I have been part of the neighborhood fire watch since...” The old man scratched the back of his head, “...since I can’t remember. It was before you were born, I think. It’s been a honorary position for years now, one week out of the year we get together for the traditional patrol and calling to put the fires out for the night.”
“A very welcome tradition.” Soun said. Each year the patrol had come past shouting their admonishments, it was a powerful and comforting tie to his childhood.
“Well, tonight it’s not just honorary. With the power out we will need to warn the whole town. People don’t use candles and fires as much as they used to, and they get careless.”
Soun nodded in agreement. Kasumi returned from the kitchen with a thermos for tea. She poured some for the old man, he took it and sipped quietly.
“Thank you Kasumi, the tea is delicious”, he bowed formally to her, she returned the bow, then poured tea for her father.
“Now where was I... Oh yes, the patrols. Tendou-san, I’m not as young as I once was, and the little parade we do each year is about as much as these old legs can handle. My sons and son in law have all moved away, so I’d like to name you as my successor on the Nerima patrol, to one day take my place when I can no longer do my duty, and to substitute for me in emergencies, like tonight.”
Soun bowed deeply. “I am honored, old friend.” He sat up, tears pouring from his eyes.
Nabiki shook her head at her father.
“Daddy, you don’t need to drown the fires out, just warn people.”
Tanaka smiled and got up to leave. “Thank you Tendou-san. I’ll come by later to walk with you a while to introduce you to the others, and to show you the ropes.” When he reached the doorway he paused.
“Oh yes, I almost forgot, there was one more thing. The road is blocked by the local train down by the station, we’re getting some of the merchants together to move the cars out of the way. Could you and your son in law come down to help?”
“I’m not...” Ranma began, Akane shot him a glance. He panicked, looking around. He found the answer before him. “I’m not through with my tea.” He said, then gulped it down. “Okay, I’m ready to go now.”
Nabiki smiled. “Nice recovery, Ranma.”
“Daddy, I’ll come too.” Akane volunteered.
“Okay, it’s settled then.” Soun rubbed his hands together. “Let’s go move a train.”
Akane and Ranma walked together behind Tanaka and her father. “Are you mad at me again?” Ranma asked.
“You were going to tell Tanaka-san that you weren’t daddy’s son in law.”
“But I’m not.”
“I know you’re not, and I know we’re not...” Akane nearly shouted, then her voice fell quiet. “but I still don’t like hearing about it.”
Ranma walked on in silence. They hadn’t spoken about the disastrous wedding attempt. Shouted, yes. Spoken, no. In time they had gotten past it, and had begun to quietly court each other. He wrote himself a mental note to not bring up the subject accidentally.
Akane was watching him. “Sorry,” she said quietly.
“I talked to your mom about it last night.”
“I told her things were working out better without all the pressure.”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
“She wasn’t very happy about that, she wanted to set another date.”
Akane grabbed and snuggled his arm. “Oh, Ranma! I’ve been waiting so long to hear that question!”
Ranma stopped in mid stride. “Huh?”
Akane put her finger to his lips. “Shhh. I was just joking.”
Ranma’s panic subsided, but there was something new here, an unspoken agreement to ignore the inevitable, at least for a while, and enjoy what they have.
Their shadows were lanky giants as they reached the station. It was already getting hard to see, and it was very strange to not see the shop lights.
The engineer had finally gotten permission to split up the train to move it, and he was working the couplings as the man from the bike shop held a flashlight. Someone had brought a stout rope and they had decided to try to pull the cars, tug of war style. Ranma grabbed in the middle with a number of other younger men, while the women and older men stood around pointing and supervising.
The engineer paced off enough distance so that the cars would clear the road, raised his arm and let it fall, calling “PULL!” The rope pulled taught, but the car refused to move. He pulled off his cap and scratched his head. The elders and women taunted and encouraged the rope men, Akane shouting to her father and Ranma to work harder.
“WAIT!, WAIT!” the engineer shouted, waving his arms. He ran for the car, climbed into the cab and worked a handle. He leaned out of the door and called, “OKAY, TRY AGAIN!”
All were silent as once more the rope came taught, but this time the car rolled easily forwards, dumping the rope men to the rail bed.
“SORRY!” The conductor called from the cab. The women and elders laughed and clapped as the younger men scrambled to get back up and out of the way. The engineer let the car coast smoothly to a stop as the elders clapped and smiled. The task had taken on a party atmosphere with the shouting and clapping, and a couple of the younger men struck up a traditional work song, soon joined by the others. The rope was untied from the front, and the rope team carried it like a dragon float over their heads back to the second car.
They were intercepted by a delegation of older women who insisted that they would move the next car, and that if they knew what was good for them that the young men had better remain out of their way. A friendly argument ensued, but in the end the women had their way and took positions behind and along side the car. The engineer climbed into the open end of the second car and released the brakes. Akane joined the other women at the back of the car, and found herself a good position.
The engineer called out again, and slowly the car began to move. It was clear to Ranma that Akane was doing most of the work, but the older women were enjoying their little victory. He joined in the shouts and calls from the sidelines as the car cleared the intersection and the engineer brought it to a stop. They all lined the sides of the street and clapped as the first automobile passed over the tracks.
Akane found Ranma. “That was really fun, but it was harder than I thought it would be.” She said, then stopped for breath.
“You were doing most of the pushing, you know.”
“Really?” She beamed.
“What would you have done if you couldn’t have moved it?”
“I wasn’t worried, help was only a splash away.”
“Hmph.” Ranma laughed. They found Soun with a group of old men.
“Akane, Ranma, please tell Kasumi I won’t be back till late tonight, I’m going to meet with the patrol now, then we’ll be making our rounds. Ranma, what with the trains and since I’ll be out late, I was wondering if you will be staying tonight?”
“Sure, if it’s Okay...”
“Of course it’s okay...” He put his hand on Ranma’s shoulder,“...son in law.”
Ranma stiffened, but kept his mouth shut.
“See you later.” Soun waved and ran to catch up with the patrol.
“Maybe you should have a boys-talk with my father.”
“Yeah, maybe I should.”
Some of the merchants had put lanterns outside on the street, and they passed a restaurant that was serving dinner by candlelight.
“Oh! Doesn’t that look romantic?” Akane took his hand again.
“Mmm.” Ranma checked the change in his pocket. “Umm... I might have enough for an appetizer or dessert...”
Akane noticed his hesitation. “That would be nice, but anyway, I’m too full of ice cream, and besides, I spent too much money shopping yesterday with your mom.”
“Hmm. You two were gone long enough.”
“Hey, I don’t get to go to Ginza every day you know. You should come along next time.”
“Your mom wants to make it a regular thing.”
“You mean staying over and all?”
“Mmm,” she stopped and turned to Ranma. “That’s okay isn’t it?”
“Yeah... I just hadn’t thought about it, that’s all.”
“If you don’t want me saying over, just say so,” She walked on, leaving Ranma behind.
“Wait, I didn’t say that, I’m just surprised mom didn’t say anything.” He ran to catch up. They walked quietly for a block. “How about we trade off, one weekend at my place, the next at yours.”
“Your mother thought you might want to spend more time at the doujo, so she suggested once a month at your place, the rest of the time here.”
“Really. I think our parents are plotting something again. What do you think?”
“I think we should play along, ‘till we can figure out what they’re doing..”
“I was really hoping you’d say that.”
“Okay, it’s settled then.” Ranma walked with his hands behind his head.
“So it’s okay if next time I really do sleep in your room then?”
Ranma tripped, his arms wrapped around his head. “What?”
“That’s what your mom suggested.” Akane giggled. “You get the living room.”
“Jeez.” He began breathing again.
Akane paused and looked up. “Wow! Look at the stars!”
“Yeah, it’s almost like being out in the country.”
“I wish we could see more of the sky.”
“I know just the spot.” Ranma paused and looked around to the East. “This way!” he took her hand and headed up a narrow side street.
“Wait, where are we going?”
“It’s just up here.”
“But the soccer field is the other way.”
“Not soccer, golf!”
“You don’t mean the driving range. They’d be closed anyway, we can’t get in.”
They reached the range at the top of the hill. “Not in, on!” Ranma jumped to the top of the fence and pointed up one of the steel poles that held the netting. He helped Akane to the top of the fence, then pointed to the staggered rungs that ran up both sides of the pole. “You go first, watch out for bent rungs, Ryouga and I had a... disagreement here once.”
“Why should I go first?”
“Because I’ll be right behind in case you slip.”
Akane sneered, and stuck out her tongue, but she did climb first.
In moments they were above the nearby houses. They continued to the top of the pole, where it met a framework of light tubing and that ran all the way around the top of the driving range.
“What now?” Akane asked as she reached the top rungs.
“Climb up on top.” Ranma slapped the tubing.
“Are you sure this is safe?”
“Stay close to the tower, the cross frames wiggle a little in the middle.”
“You’ve been up here before?”
“Oh yeah, lots of times.”
Akane climbed up and straddled the frame, holding the narrow tubing tight with both hands.
Ranma followed and sat facing her. “Like the view?”
Akane cautiously looked up from her grip. A police car passed below, its headlights painting the narrow street. It turned the corner, and the next block filled with light as the block below went red in the tail lights, then black. From horizon to horizon windows glowed dimly in candle light, and here and there she could make out the shape of a building from the glow of passing cars.
“It’s so dark, I don’t see anyone with light anywhere.”
“There’s one building behind you, I think it’s the hospital.”
She turned cautiously. “Oh yeah, just that one.”
“And look over that way, other shoulder.”
“Where? what is it?” Akane turned, “Oh! Sugoi” [wow]
Low in the northwestern sky a stranger outshone the familiar stars.
“It’s the first one I’ve ever seen.” Akane began to turn around.
“Be careful!” Ranma moved closer, locked his legs around the frame and held his arms out, ready to catch her.
“I’m okay.” She slowly flipped her legs around one by one, carefully moving her grip only when it was safe. When she finished her heart was pounding. Ranma slid close behind her and put his arms around her.
The comet watched over them while they hugged quietly together, the familiar sounds of their home town drifting up from below. Snippets of conversation were mixed with bursts of laughter, music and the tinny voice of radio newscasts. Occasionally the shriek of children at play could be heard, followed by the shouts of parents calling them in for dinner.
Akane’s whisper broke the silence. “Ne, Ranma. What if Kasumi’s right?”
“You know, about the power, what if they really can’t fix it and they need to start over?”
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“No... Maybe... I don’t know. I was just thinking about what it would be like to live without electricity. No lights, just candles and lanterns. No TV. No refrigerator. No rice cooker. Nothing.”
“Well, everyone lived without it not so long ago. I’ll bet Tanaka-san could tell us stories about when he first got power. Anyway, It wouldn’t be so bad, The important things in life don’t need electricity.”
“Well, there’s this...” Ranma hugged her tighter and kissed her ear.
“Oh yeah, there’s that.” She giggled. “I’ll bet there’s a _lot_ of that going on tonight.” She swept her gaze over the darkened houses.
“You think so?”
“Yeah, once they had a big outage in the US, then nine months later...”
“Nine months later...”
“Blackout babies. It happens in snowstorms too.”
“Just from hugging in the dark? Oh oh.” Ranma loosened his hug and leaned away from his fiancée.
“Baka.” Akane giggled and elbowed Ranma in the ribs. “There’s more to it than that.”
“Oh yeah...” Ranma snuggled closer again. “...I knew that.”
“Hmmph. Right. Still, I’m surprised though. I’d have thought you would have mentioned martial arts first.”
“Oh yeah,” he paused, “My mind was on other things,” he answered weakly. Over the next few weeks he was often bothered by that answer.
An old couple passed in the street below, the man with a cane and the woman carrying a flashlight, they bickered back and forth about the wisdom of taking their evening walk in the blackout, he insistent on the exercise, she fretting over and illuminating each crack in the pavement. Most of the conversation was lost in the cool evening breeze, but Ranma and Akane both had to stifle giggles because the one thing they heard clearly was the woman calling her husband “Baka”.
“Maybe we should get going,” Akane said after a time. “I hate to go, it’s so pretty up here, but it’s getting a little cold.”
Ranma climbed off the frame and waited while Akane worked her way onto the rungs between him and the pole. They worked their way down, Ranma warning of bent and missing rungs as they went. Near the bottom they stepped over to the fence, and Ranma jumped to the street below. He held out his arms as Akane jumped down. He caught her, then held and kissed her. A policeman on a bicycle caught them in his light as he turned onto the street, the ‘ching-ching’ of his bell partly masked his chuckle as he passed.
They walked home through the black streets, sometimes guessing and feeling their way when no windows or lanterns were near. As they neared the Tendou home, talking and laughing could be heard from inside the wall. When they turned the corner they could see the gate and path to the house was lit by paper lanterns. Knots of neighbors stood around talking and laughing. A half dozen children were playing a game of tag around the koi pond. Kasumi passed through the party with a huge teapot, refilling cups and sharing a smile at each group. Her kimono swirled gracefully in the lantern light. Groups of men stood about smoking and drinking from bottles of beer. The stone lantern, lit up for the first time Ranma had seen, stood guard over a large cooler filled with ice and bottles.
“Ara! Ranma, Akane, welcome home!” Kasumi called cheerfully. [Oh! (look)]
“Kasumi, what’s all this?” Akane asked.
“Oh, it all just sort of happened. I went to bring Mrs. Tanaka some hot water for tea, and a few minutes later she came by with Mrs. Takagi, and well one thing lead to another, pretty soon all the ladies from the neighborhood were here, then their husbands came looking for them, and they found that some had beer but no ice, and others had ice but no beer, and anyway they all ended up here.”
“Great party sis!” Nabiki glided by in a flowered kimono. Some of the neighbors had brought their single sons, and four were following Nabiki like her personal guard. One eyed Akane as he passed, but Ranma gave him the look, and he hurried to catch up with the others. Nabiki lit in the open doorway before the pond, and they gathered around her as if she were holding court.
“Oh! I left some water on for more tea,” Kasumi said. “Akane, could you fill in while I go get it?”
“Sure!” Akane took the kettle from her older sister and she and Ranma headed for the closest group of women to refill the cups. The women were far more interested in Akane and her fiancé then they were in the tea, and Ranma had to endure all sorts of questions before they broke away to refill another group.
“Maybe I’ll go see what the men are talking about...” Ranma began.
“Hee hee, I suppose you don’t want to go through the third degree with every group.”
Ranma gave her a look of silent hopefulness.
“Okay, I’ll come find you later.” She put her hand on his arm.“ Oh, and Ranma...”
“Please don’t practice that look, you’re already too good at it.”
Ranma headed for a group of men congregated around the cooler.
“Ahh Ranma-kun, here, have one of these.” Dr. Toufu handed
him a soda from the cooler, then found another for himself.
“Aww, com’mon give him one of these!” said a man holding out a bottled beer.
“No, No, he’s too young, and as a martial artist, he must keep his mind clear.” Toufu protested.
The group broke into boisterous laughter, one even spitting out his beer. “Yes, yes, you must keep your mind clear!” he cried, cupping his hand on Toufu’s shoulder. This caused an even larger laugh.
“Don’t tell me. Every time Ka...” Ranma began.
“SHHHHH! Don’t even say the name!” One of the men stopped him.
“She’s been by four times, and each time he...” Said another.
“I get the picture,” Ranma imagined the effect while he snapped open the top of his soda.
The conversation resumed, each man seemed to have a differing opinion as to the cause and possible duration of the blackout, and each seemed to remember a radio report that backed their position. Later the discussion
drifted to the upcoming sumo basho, some of the older men nostalgic for the great matches of their youth.
Ranma caught a flash of color from the corner of his eye and saw that Akane had also changed into a kimono. He watched her from across the yard, splitting his attention between the discussion and his fiancée as she drifted from group to group, catching up on the neighborhood gossip.
Soon Kasumi returned, and Toufu reacted on cue. Ranma managed to keep him out of the pond, but he was too late to prevent him from asking the lantern to dance. Most of the other men laughed at his antics, but a couple of the older men watched wistfully, recalling that feeling.
A call from outside the gate heralded the arrival of the fire patrol. The neighborhood revelers gathered into a a line to watch as the patrol entered the gates and stood in formation. Soun as the junior member stood in the back holding a banner on a bamboo pole. They bowed to the group in unison, the eldest announced that this was the last stop of the night, then they called out the warning to douse the fires. The neighbors clapped in appreciation, and Kasumi stepped forward to blow out the candle in the lantern that hung over the front door, which started another round of polite applause. The patrol broke up and joined with the others, the last of the cold beers were quickly distributed, and toasts made to the patrol and to the safety of the town. Those with the youngest children sought out Kasumi to thank her and she walked with them to the gate. Nabiki joined Kasumi at the gate and Akane sought out her father and Ranma and all five of them thanked their guests as they began their short journeys home. A couple of men promised solemnly and drunkenly to see Toufu home safely, but it was Toufu who had the most trouble with his balance after Kasumi had lain her hand on his arm as she said good night.
The last to leave were the Tanakas, Mr. Tanaka bowing and thanking Soun while his wife fussed over Kasumi and the other girls.
Akane took Ranma’s arm and they walked silently through the yard, blowing out candles in the lanterns one by one. Akane reached for the last one, Ranma stopped her, and held her hands in his. They stood with the lantern between them, the paper shade softening the warm glow of the candle flame.
Ranma had never seen Akane look so beautiful. Her smile was peaceful and contented, and there was something about the way she was looking at him. There was no anticipation, no question, it was as if there was nothing else in the world for her to do but to be there with him. Ranma’s heart pounded in his chest. It was so perfect, the dark night, the party, the neighbors, the backyard, her kimono, the lanterns, her soft, warm hands in his, the comet, the light in her eyes...
Ranma felt as if he was leaping from a great height, but this time he was sure of himself, and he leapt without hesitation or doubt.
“...I love you.”
Akane blinked twice, then feared her heart might explode from the emotion that hit her. She crushed herself to Ranma’s chest and held him, feeling the beating of his heart against her cheek. She’d daydreamed a thousand times of hearing those words from him, but not one of those perfect daydreams came close to this. He tilted the lantern and blew out the candle, then there was only his touch. He kissed the top of her head, she turned her face upwards to meet his lips. They fumbled a moment, he tasted her tears, then her mouth in an urgent kiss.
“I love you too, Ranma,” she whispered. “I’ve always loved you.”
“Black” (Version 1.1) 1997 Joseph Palmer
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