Jun watched him picking up his bags and throwing them into the trunk of his new car.
“It looks like I have everything.” Joe forced a smile, pulling his sunglasses out of his top pocket and placing them onto his face, the underlying tension between them hadn’t fully extinguished. Hiding his eyes so she couldn’t see into them.
“Looks like it.” Jun responded holding back tears. Sighing heavily as he leaned against the car, arms folded, hanging his head.
“Where’s you first destination?” She said, trying to break through the silence.
“Where ever I end up. From there I’ll drive and stop when I’m running out of fuel.” He answered vaguely. He’d become distant, barely speaking, the apartment they shared together in the last few weeks had become unbearable from the weight of it, like air had turned to water.
Forcing a smile herself she tried to embrace him, woodenly returning her affections, both of them choking on pent up deep emotions.
Joe had in that time made his choice to leave Utoland and find his home elsewhere. Not once had he asked her to go with him. She waited for him to come around, try and work on their rocky on again off again relationship.
But he’d withdrawn more than ever since the war came to an end with their narrow escape from the poison apple, he was more lost than Ken was in some ways. He was trying to find a way out of it, even though he’d barely left his shack in two weeks, even to fly his new plane.
Leaping into his car, starting the engine, their eyes met for a brief moment. Searching for something that spoke of his feelings she found him shutting her out again. Every time he hit a wall in his life, she was the last person he turned too. A part of their problems over the five years they’d been together.
This time, he told her he had to escape for a while, and think about his life. Handing her a white envelope through the open window, he requested she wait a while before opening. Unable to read his facial expression, she waited for one word from him. One that would have her packing her bags and leaving with him.
Heart pounding from her thoughts about the contents she accepted it, her insides trembling.
“Take care.” He said. “I’ll be in touch.”
Then he was gone with the low hum of an engine and powered by acceleration, as he left her standing there on the curb, outside of their rented home since the war ended and Galactor disbanded for good.
Torn inside, she slowly walked back inside, pictures of them together still sat on the mantle. He’d left a few personal items around the place. She half expected him to come running back in a few days apologising for being a bastard. It’s what normally happened when they argued.
Flopping onto the sofa, staring at the envelope she wondered what was inside of it.
Could it be a surprise invitation to meet him somewhere in his travels? Surely Joe wouldn’t be gone forever. They’d have another go at working their problems.
She loved him, even though he was shutting her out again. Instead of a wedding like he promised her, he was fleeing.
Joe had proposed to her in the hours after Dr Nambu’s death. Accepting him with pure joy, swept up in the thoughts of future together, she had accepted him.
Then it all fell apart like crumbling clay in the last month.
Looking at the photo of the five of them together, she wondered where the years had vanished. It had been a tough year watching Ken going through extensive Chemo and recovery.
He’d been in a state of depression since he had gone into remission. Doctors ensuring him he was able to start his life again- Eagle was left with being unsure of where to go next.
His team disbanded, and the ISO had moved onto new projects not needing ninjas- Ken was lost.
Jinpei had left for university studying bugs and insects and enjoying an active social life on campus. He had a new girlfriend every week, and parties. Ryu was finding his dreams on his home island, with a new fishing trawler.
What was she doing? Waiting for him to come back and say he was sorry like always.
She thought she had a plan, marry Joe and settle down with a baby on the way in a year. In an instant, it was all unsettled.
At first, he asked to put their engagement on hold, he had to sort out a few things in his life before he could move forward again. After all they’d been through, and he still had doubts.
Then in the last week, it all soured, he called it off completely.
Taking the envelope turning it over in staring at the seal, and closing her eyes, she waited until she got herself a glass of wine before finally ripping it open.
Putting the letter down, she couldn’t past the first words. His answer to everything was simply to say he was sorry. Then expected it all to go back to the way it was. Each time she’d forgiven him, thinking he’d change.
The war ended and I thought I knew what I wanted. Not sure of how to say what my feelings are, but something is missing for me. I wanted to marry you, but settling down and the thought of kids and I become restless…. I hope you’ll understand one day….
“What Joe?” She threw the it across the room at the photo of them. ” After all we’ve been though.”
Ken’s illness had affected all of them, watching him suffering through chemo was draining. She had put his mood down to the distraction of his best friend’s deadly illness.
She remembered the night he dropped the bombshell. Kissing her lightly on the lips he proceeded to serve out his speciality Italian pasta, the aroma sent her taste buds into over drive. Commenting on the meal, he was silent throughout it.
“Its not working.” Joe blurted out.
“What’s not working? You’re car?” Raising a curious brow, she thought it related to the workshop he was planning to start up. Silence again, long drawn out minutes passed.
“We aren’t working. I can’t be--” He confessed. “I can’t do it… I tried but- “
“What.” Sitting back in her seat like he’d punched her in the face, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Where is this coming from.” Frozen- Lifting his intense grey eyes met hers, searching them for why he was talking like he was breaking off their relationship.
“When we were at war, it was different. We had passion…” He said.” Now, there’s no sparks… we’re like an old married couple before we’re even married.”
“That’s not good enough.” Jun pushed her chair away, standing up she’d been through this before not long before Cross Karakorum. He broke her heart, and vanished for two years. Then he broke her heart again, keeping her at arm’s length hiding his transformation.
“What’s happening to you that you’re not tell me.” Knowing the pattern.” I’ll stand by you, you know that Joe, we can go to counselling, work it out… we don’t have to rush- “
“Stop it.” He stood up, angry.” It’s not you, it’s me. The wedding is off…”
The whole its-not-you-its-me, tactic again.
“We can delay it for a while, if you need more time.” She offered reaching for him, he shoved her hand away.
“I don’t, I’ve thought about it.” He roughly walked away from her. Tears running down her cheeks, mixed emotions coursed through her.
“You bastard.” She hissed. “Be a man-“
“I’m a man sweetheart.” He shouted. “What if I don’t want the same things you do. We’re not teenagers anymore. We were kids when we started dating, it was exciting back then for us- things change.”
“You don’t change.” She snarled.
Watching him walk into their bedroom she stood with her feet transfixed to the floor. Surely, he was having a depressing few weeks and wasn’t thinking clearly.
Emerging a minute later with his car keys and jacket, he headed out the door not even looking back at her.
Their romantic evening together ended in tears, she was left with a pile of dirty dishes and a broken heart.
He came back in the early hours of the morning, she heard him opening the fridge and the sounds of twist top beer. Grumbling and kicking a chair. Tempted to get out of bed, in her nightie, they could have make up sex and he’d get over it, he couldn’t resist her in satin.
Pulling back the sheets, she walked into the dark loungeroom.
“Joe,” She said softly, he was standing by the window. “Want to talk about what’s bothering you-“
He turned his back on her. Walled-out completely, brick by brick she knew better than to try and touch him in this state. He was drinking again, and hard.
Storming back to bed she barely slept.
Hoping it was simply a case of ‘cold feet’ Jun waited until the next morning after he slept in the spare room to try and talk again. Walking to the bedroom door, she discovered he locked her out.
Rising a few hours later from the spare room, hung over. He grumbled when saw her in her lingerie, told her it wasn’t going to work. Rejected she raced back into their bedroom, slamming the door crying.
He proceeded to tell her through the door to cancel everything, he wasn’t changing his mind.
He left the apartment again, coming back later in the day drunker than he left.
She had made all the arrangements and spent a week cancelling everything from the venue to the flowers, suit hire, and invitations. Sending a message to Jinpei he didn’t have to work around his holidays to come home from Ameris.
The Jinpei called her several times and even abused Joe over the phone. As usual he clashed with him and it ended badly.
She came home late one evening to find Ken there talking quietly with Joe in their living room. Catching his eye momentarily, she saw sadness in them. Hesitating, for a moment she was going to join them, a slight shake of his head indicated he wanted time to talk with Joe.
He was going to be best man at their wedding… Maybe Ken could get through to him he was making a big mistake.
Joe spent the week brooding in the apartment and moving into the spare room, drinking beer and sometimes going to a local pub playing pool. Packing a few things into a suitcase, barely making eye contact with her. Unable to stand the tension she’d gone back to her tiny apartment above the Snack J for a few days.
That’s the place she ended at later in the day after he drove off. Reluctantly she stood up, walking over to the letter she’d thrown onto the dusty counter, forcing herself to finish reading it.
….. I tried to want a normal life. I think that’s the problem, wanting something, but inside it was like a… decay. I’m a cyborg, and I know you accepted me, but it’s not about that. See I can’t describe it.
Please understand, I love you, and always will. But the life of a married man, with children isn’t for me. I’m breaking off our engagement, and our relationship. Peace time isn’t what I expected it to be… I’m not good with words and talking about my feelings. I’m a loner, always have been always will be.
Don’t wait around for me. You deserve better than I can give you.
I’m sorry I hurt you, please, try and understand.
“You love me?” Crumpling the letter, bitterness lingering inside her like swallowing a cup of vinegar. “Liar Asakura… you’re a liar, how could you say you love me.” She didn’t know if she wanted to throw it or tear it up in anger. Instead she drained the wine glass, soaking up its warm peppery flavours and tannins sliding down her throat.
“Gutting me was more like it. You have a good aim Joe Asakura… shot through the heart by you again- dead on target.” Hot tears stung her eyes, running down her cheeks like a river, she crumbled onto the sofa sobbing. The wine glass shattering on the floor. Praying for numbness to take the place of the agony churning inside.
It was over for good this time, how could they come back from it? How could she trust his word again? He wasn’t coming back, but at least he was alive in the world somewhere.
If she couldn’t commit to her by now he never would. There would always be something holding him back from it.
Reflecting over the years, she’d spent more time agonising over fights and walls of silence than being simply happy with him. There were good times too, the things that kept her coming back into his arms for more.
The way he made love to her passionately and intimately, and date nights. The things she longed for again even now had been ripped away. Then there was, the silences, the lies and Joe’s refusal to work things out together when they argued.
Gradually the pain eased enough for her to draw herself to up, stumbling into the bathroom, turning the tap on the bath and running the hot water, steam eloped her like a warming embrace. A soothing bath to ease her broken heart, at least for a little while.