Though her father is not a tall man, he would have to bend to step through the little wooden door in the wall. Not so Mayumi, though her ears do brush the frame as she steps through.
It is early spring, and the plum tree is in bloom. A chilly breeze carries with it a reminder of winter. The cherry tree is starting to put forth buds, but none have yet opened. Between them, a man kneels, weeding, preparing the ground for planting. Around the edges of the garden, tsubaki – called Rose of Winter in Urbian – bloom white, though they are fading as spring establishes itself, while the ajisai bushes bear only green leaves, their glorious globes of hydrangea flowers months away from appearing.
He always planted some flowers around the edges, but the center of the garden was reserved for herbs. He loved to cook, but he’d never been good with growing vegetables. Most herbs were easier to care for, however, and the smell, especially to Mayumi’s sensitive nose, was divine. She flashes back to her childhood, soon after she awoke into this dream for the first time: the birds singing in the trees, the grass under her back, the warm sun on her face, the beauty of the flowering bushes and trees, the smell of the sage, basil, chilis, savory – this place, this sanctum, was the most wonderful place in the world.
She lets go of the door and steps fully into the garden. The door clacks closed behind her, and the man glances back, then pauses, and slowly stands and turns to look at her more fully. He looks stunned, almost afraid to speak.
His iron-gray hair is slightly long, framing a weather-beaten, sun-browned face. Though not old, he has deep crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, from a life outdoors, squinting in the sun as he walked his beat and later investigated crimes as a detective. Eventually he was made Inspector of the station. And all along, he had taught her what it was to have honor, and to protect herself and others.
Mayumi whispers, “Otō-san?” using the formal word for Father from her youngest days. Then as he takes a step forward and holds out his arms, she covers the ground between them with a single spring and throws her arms around him, taking in the smell of him, the sweat and slight smell of tobacco, and when his arms enclose her she feels truly at home.
“Mayu-chan,” he says, his voice gravelly but warm. “Where did you go? You disappeared without warning. I’ve been...so worried.” His voice almost breaks with emotion.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She has to fight to keep from weeping, her face pressed against his chest. “I’ve missed you so much. I want to explain but...I don’t think I have time.”
He releases her, allowing her to step back, and takes her hands, looking down at her. She glances at his hands, hard and rough, the knuckles covered with raised callouses from punching a wooden board for decades, bare-fisted. She looks back up at his face and feels her heart nearly burst with joy that she is here, and pain that she must soon leave. She can already feel it: a tug at the edge of her mind. The hypnotic command that will soon wake her.
“Chichi,” she says, a more adult, less formal mode of address, “I live in another world now. This place...it’s only a dream to me. But I’ll find my way back!” Tears really do start to flow now.
“A dream?” he says, as his eyes seem to fill with realization and sorrow. “Yes...yes, this is a dream, isn’t it? But here in dreams I have you, my daughter, the only child I have ever had…”
Mayumi is stunned. “You...you are dreaming?”
He nods. “But I have always imagined, always hoped, that you were more than just a dream.”
Mayumi laughs in astonishment. “I am! I am! And you are too! I will find you! I will find you in the waking world! I swear it!”
But color is seeping out of their surroundings, and her father’s hands feel far less substantial. “Oh no!” Mayumi moans. “Tell me, where are you? I’m waking up! I don’t want to lose you! What ward are you in? Oyafukōdōri Station? Where is that?”
But she can only watch as he fades, as it all fades, and she is pierced with the terror of returning to that void, and then...
Mayumi opens her eyes to see Meng hovering over her like a mother hen. For a brief moment, the act that Meng had put on is brushed aside, the young woman’s eyes right there and then full of worry, anxiety and loneliness. All of which, Mayumi realises with a jolt, she herself had been facing before coming here. Before the Bunny can comment on it, however, the curtain is pulled shut again.
“You okay?” asks Meng, all business. “No missing memories? Still know who you are?”
“Yes. I am fine,” says Mayumi.
“Right then. If there’s nothing else, please pay and leave. I’ve got to prepare for the next customer.” Meng rises up to leave.
Perhaps it is the drugs, the hypnosis, or the emotional turmoil brought on by the terror and bliss she has just experienced, but Mayumi blurts out, “You don’t have anybody, do you?” Meng freezes on the spot, as if the statement pierces right through her armor into her heart. “You’ve been living on the edge, alone and afraid for ages,” continues May, watching the young woman turn around to face her slowly. “You’ve never let anyone close to you. I’m not sure why.” The Bunny gets up and straightens her tunic. “Would you...would you like to change that?” she asks, softly.
Mayumi waits for a moment, watching the girl, who hesitates, not speaking, but with a look of longing in her eye, a desire to say something that she can’t quite bring herself to speak aloud. So Mayumi does the only thing she can think of: she steps closer and puts her arms gently around Meng, who stiffens in surprise but awkwardly returns the gesture. Mayumi smiles and stretches up to press her cheek against Meng’s, embracing her more firmly.
“This… I’ll admit, it’s a first,” says Meng. “Then again,” she adds hastily, “it’ll probably be weird going around giving hugs to customers, and I don’t wanna know what that mentor of mine would dream up in response!”
“Mentor?” asks Mayumi, curious.
“‘Course!” says Meng. “Gotta learn those fancy parlour tricks from somewhere, you know. Though I wouldn’t exactly call her a mentor… More like… Ah, nevermind. Another story for another day. But seriously though…” Here Meng pulls away, grabs Mayumi by the shoulders and begins shaking her like a leaf. “Girl, don’t you even dare think about trying that stunt again!” she warns. “I honestly didn’t know if the hypnotic suggestion would pull you out of that weird void!”
“It didn’t,” says Mayumi, trying not to laugh at Meng’s over-the-top response. “Someone found me…” Her voice trails off. “I can’t remember who. But he helped me, and I found my father. I found him, Meng!”
“Oh…” Meng says, finally letting go and leaning back slightly. “Thank goodness for that, huh? So, you got your closure, then? Otherwise I might have a lawsuit on my hands,” she adds with a grin.
Mayumi shakes her head, also smiling. “No. I found something new. I found it wasn’t all a dream.” At Meng’s skeptical look, Mayumi laughs and says, “No, I’m not crazy! I’ll explain. But first...would you like to have a drink with me? I know a bar...it’s run by my a couple of members of my family.”
Meng laughs, all the tension she had been carrying now gone. “How about we have some tea first? I promise, it isn’t going to be drugged this time,” she adds with a wink.