It had been decided that they would meet at a cafe in town and then set about their plans to spend time together. Particularly, there were expecting to window shop and chat.
'They' meaning, of course, Tohru, Arisa, Saki, and Akito.
Akito was not so sure about the window shopping, or about how much she might enjoy a cafe. She wasn't sure there was much she'd like about the outing at all. But she agreed to it.
What she was sure of was that she'd be able to get there on her own. The others had offered to meet her at the Main House gates so they could traverse together and she had declined. Self sufficiency was something she was working on, something she'd been working on, though the strength to stick to it sometimes evaded her.
No servants had been allowed within her personal quarters in the past two weeks, as a part of this exercise in self-sufficiency.
Their prolonged absence was obvious.
It wasn't that her living space was egregiously bad, but the clutter cropped up much more. She considered herself a neat person (she had hardly ever allowed anybody to touch her bedroom or move anything, and it had been kept just fine). But it would seem when she extended her unlimited control to her other personal rooms, it was harder to maintain order. Considering dirty clothes, the dishes she used, paperwork and official files which she was taking under her own personal workload more and more frequently, and the numerous miscellaneous things she just found herself using...it resulted in numerous variables she'd ever considered. Things had their places, but sometimes it was hard to even bring herself to move things to those places (or determine the multiple steps that would get those things to their appropriate places in some cases).
Self-sufficiency was a harder lesson to learn than she would like to admit. But then, that is what life seemed to be in general. More difficult and challenging than she'd hoped or expected.
But still: surely she could make it to a cafe in the town. She'd simply have to use the public transportation system. That couldn't possibly be too difficult.
It was still difficult some days to decide what was the right thing to wear for an outing. If she dressed comfortably, people often referred to her as a man, which would often get corrected, and transform the air to something alienating and awkward. If she dressed more femininely, she'd spend too long preoccupied with the wrongness of it, her guts inside her twisting and her nerves growing frayed.
It would help if she grew her hair out, but she couldn't yet tolerate the idea. Long, black hair was beautiful on Saki, but on her it would feel like that woman's.
In the end, she settles on the ordinary: a button up, a pullover, slacks. As she idles her living area, considering whatever she might have forgotten, a knock sounds on her door.
"Enter," she grants, straightening the collar and fiddling with the top button.
Hatori does so. She glances at him out of the corner of her eye, then lowers her hands to her sides.
"You're going to see Tohru and her friends today, aren't you?" he asks as he surveys the room, eyes landing on a half-full cup of tea from the previous day resting on her coffee table. He bends to pick it up. She chooses not to mind, and walks over to where she has her blasted mobile charging. She hates it, has never been terribly comfortable with technology or found it familiar. She makes a noise of confirmation.
"You haven't left yet," he observes.
"I'm just on my way out," Akito responds, just slightly testy. There's plenty of time, they aren't set to meet for about an hour and a half. She understand though, Hatori isn't trying to needle her. She wouldn't have been as certain of that, once.
"I can give you a lift if you'd like," Hatori offers, ever helpful.
This grates on Akito significantly. "I can get there myself." The tone snaps out of her seemingly without her even willing it so, harsh and irritable. Petulant and childish. Hatori isn't fazed. Akito clears her throat. "I want to go there on my own," she begins again. "I told them I would meet them at the cafe. So I'm meeting them there myself." A tension twists and curls in her gut.
This is another thing that that is difficult. It's easy to be angry, it's easy to lose her patience and let wrath fill her. It's less difficult now to quiet it than it ever has been before, but she still struggles. How someone like Tohru can exist without imploding with the sheer pressure is something she hasn't figured out yet. Akito would have snapped--did snap--a long time ago. Now she's still picking up the pieces from it.
Despite her brief slip, the only emotion she can glean from Hatori's expression is something like very restrained fondness. "I understand, I didn't mean to overstep."
Just with that, some of the tense energy within her seemed to release. She wasn't sure where it went when it did that, but it wasn't inside of her anymore.
"It's alright," she murmurs, a little under her breath. Stupid cell phone, wallet, keys to let herself back in. She turns toward Hatori. "Right. I'm off."
Hatori gets the door for her. She brushes past him, not in an unkind way, just a familiar one.
It wasn't until the surroundings outside the train window were looking remarkably rural that she began to wonder if maybe she was going the wrong direction. On the wrong train. There wasn't much to be done, though. It was traveling, and she couldn't stop it.
Something inside her that had unravelled earlier coiled up tight and tense. It had been coiling tighter and tighter since she found herself beyond the gates of the Sohma estate. The feeling had worsened as she worked out her route, and worsened more as she realized how many options there were to choose from at a train station.
If she dwelled on it, she knew she'd been lost from the beginning. Probably it was a miracle that she even found the train station.
She got off at the next stop, feeling defeated and wound tighter than ever. This whole venture was one big lie to convince herself that she was capable of doing anything correctly on her own.
At the train station, the denial had set in and she'd assured herself that it would all be fine - how hard could it be? And look where it had gotten her! She was supposed to be meeting Tohru and the others in twenty minutes and instead she was almost an hour in the wrong direction.
Stupid, stupid, idiot child. The beratement circled deafeningly in her head, and her feet chose a direction as she began to walk. It occurred to her, after she'd been walking for a few moments, that the correct thing to do would be to wait for a train returning from the way she had come. But somehow, that meant more blatantly admitting her defeat, so instead it seemed she was going to pretend the direction she was heading now would take her anywhere.
This seemed, she thought, like the exact kind of thing she was so guilty of doing all the time. She was never so foolish as to be completely ignorant to the fact that she tended to wind up doing the wrong thing. But she was still enough of an idiot to persevere in it anyway. To take the path as far as it would take her, even if it only made everything worse. She was so good at making everything worse. She squandered time and other people's patience like they were resources which would never expire or run out.
And now look at her: a twenty-two-year-old acting as if she only pretend she knows how the public transit system works it will bend to her will and somehow this wrong turn will make itself a right one.
Akito is nauseated and trembling and angry. She feels on the verge of a meltdown. Somehow, it's ten minutes now past the time she was supposed to meet Tohru and the others. How long has she been walking?
In a sudden moment of clarity, she thinks to herself: I can stop.
She can stop. She can turn around and walk back the other direction. She feels humiliated at having to go all the way back. She can't undo this stupid mistake. But she can turn back instead of keep making it anyway.
Tohru wouldn't ridicule her for it. Not the way she's ridiculing herself.
Akito stops walking. She realizes she's been walking with her arms wrapped tight around herself. A few passersby cast her a glance, but they don't stop.
She feels for her mobile phone in her pocket. She can at least call Tohru and let her know that she's...well, she's already late. But she can explain, and they can stop waiting on her. Looking at the notifications, she realizes Tohru has been trying to get ahold of her.
The phone only rings once before there's an answer. "Hello? Akito-san! Are you okay?"
Akito waits perhaps a beat longer than she should to answer, because Tohru nearly starts into her nervous rambling. Akito gathers herself and cuts into it. "I took the wrong train. Everything is fine. But I took the wrong train." Everything didn't feel fine, exactly, but she knew that all her faculties were in order and her present feelings of sickness were more out of frustration than any serious problem, so 'fine,' she supposed, was the correct word.
"Oh! That explains everything!" Tohru exclaims. Akito wonders what 'everything' means. With Tohru on the line with her, it's easier to turn on her heel and start walking back the way she'd come. "Hana-chan told us that we should get on the train, because it seemed that our plans had changed! But she wasn't really explaining much, so we just went with it. And then I was trying to call you to make sure you were okay and you wouldn't answer, but it makes sense now! Because Hana-chan must have figured out you were going the wrong way!"
She hears the murmuring of the other girls in the background on Tohru's end, but it's hard to make out the shapes of the words. There's some shuffling and then Saki's voice comes through clear and mild as ever. "There was something about your waves that seemed distressed and far away." And then, a little bit further from the receiver: "Oh, this is our stop."
Akito's mind was reeling. They had gotten on a train? They were on their way? Part of her catastrophized: there was no clear way for them to know where she wound up or how she got there, what if they just wound up in some other rural area and had gone out of their way for nothing?
And yet a part of her basked. They'd come to find her when she was lost. They weren't mad at her or ridiculing her. They were worried about her and wanted to find her.
She hated that she needed help, but at the same time, she loved that it was offered at all.
As she walked, she saw ahead at the train station that was now in sight, a cluster of three familiar-seeming girls. It was hard to tell from this distance, but was that really...
"Akito-san!" The shout was most prominent via the phone still against her ear, but she also heard it from ahead of her, far away.
One of the girls surged forward, and it didn't take long for her to know without a single doubt that it was Tohru. Akito's chest felt tight, but not in an awful way. She hung up her phone and put it away. Tohru reached her and, unsolicited, unfearful, threw her arms around her in a hug.
Akito still wasn't sure how to handle this particular brand of affection, but for now she simply accepted it.
"I'm so glad you're okay! We were so worried! I had no idea what was going on but I was worried something bad happened! Being lost is really scary, I hope you weren't scared!"
Feelilng a little coddled, she gently extracted herself from the embrace. Despite that, warmth washed over her. Saki and Arisa came up at a slower pace than Tohru had.
"Like I said," Akito intoned, feeling sheepish still from the noisy display and even more so embarrassed at the attention called to her foolishness. Though, it didn't burn like the earlier humiliation she'd felt did. "Everything is fine."
"At least you went on an adventure," Tohru observed brightly. "I don't think I've ever been to this train station before. The route was so pretty!"
The three of them ambled back to the train station together, while Arisa took it upon herself to describe a misadventure she and Tohru had once in middle school and how Tohru's late mother had been called to rescue them.
Nobody told her she was a fool. None of them needled or ridiculed her or suggested that this was an accident that never should have happened. Even her own vicious mind had quieted at this point.
Sometimes needing a little help, Akito thought, wasn't so bad.