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Breaking Free

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She was tired of holding up the illusion of being the perfect daughter.

For as long as Michiru could remember, her parents had expected her to be the best at everything she tried. An A-minus was never good enough, a "good job" considered settling when she could have done "great," or even "fantastic." The phrase "second-best" was akin to the naughty words Michiru liked to indulge in using when out of earshot of her parents or tutors. She had to be the prettiest, the smartest, and the most talented at all times, and she hated it.

Why couldn't she be like the other girls her age, so happy and carefree even with the high school entrance exams approaching like the coming of the Apocalypse? Somehow, they managed to balance their school life with their social life; Michiru had no social life at all, unless she counted the boring society parties her parents forced her to attend. In fact, if asked who her friends were, Michiru wouldn't be able to give a single name. She didn't have friends; she had "acquaintances."

"It's not fair, it's just not fair," she muttered to herself after school one day as she changed out of her school shoes and into a pair of flats.

Mentally, Michiru ran through her schedule for the rest of the day. She was expected to come home straight after school, of course; there was no time for joining any school clubs in the busy life of Kaioh Michiru. At four o'clock, she had violin practice, followed at six by a private tutor who was preparing her for the entrance exams. Dinner was served promptly at seven and usually lasted until eight or so. Afterwards, it was time to finish up any homework she had left after her tutoring session, as well as read at least a chapter of an "enrichment" novel of her father's choice. If she managed to finish before ten, she was granted a bit of free time to do whatever she liked, a rare occurrence. Come ten o'clock, though, Michiru was expected to prepare for bed, following the stringent beauty routine her mother had set out for her, which included brushing her hair a hundred times each night for maximum shine and putting on a horrid-smelling face mask.

It was all just so…dull. Even her violin lessons, something she used to take such pleasure in, had become a chore for her. Michiru longed for excitement, something to break the monotony of her boring life. For once, she wanted to do something wild and crazy, something the perfect daughter of her parents would never do.

Michiru sighed and shook her head as she exited the S.S. Private School for Girls. Like that would ever happen. She always thought about the scandalous things she would do if she had the chance, but, in the end, she never did them, too cowardly to ever disobey her parents that way.

On her walk home from school, Michiru decided to take the scenic route, which took her right past Tokyo Bay, instead of her normal way home. It was about as rebellious as she ever allowed herself to get. Taking the longer route meant she would arrive home ten minutes later than usual, cutting it close for her violin lessons, but there was something about the water that always managed to calm her.

That day was different, though. It almost felt as if the sea was calling out to her. For once crazy second, Michiru actually considered stripping off all her clothes and jumping into the water for a swim, but she quickly came to her senses, realizing that getting arrested for indecent exposure would be going a little too far in her quest for rebellion, even though seeing the look on her parents' faces would have been priceless. With some reluctance, she pulled herself away from the beauty of the bay and continued on home.

When she finally arrived, Michiru was surprised to hear her mother talking - actually, more like yelling - to somebody on the phone. Normally, her mother would be upstairs in her room, taking a mid-afternoon nap. Michiru set her book bag on the couch and gave her mother a quizzical look, wondering what was going on.

"Yes, see that you do that. Good-bye," her mother said at the end of her conversation, setting the phone back in its cradle with all the force of a sumo wrestler. "Honestly, why I even bother using them… Oh, Michiru, dear. You're home."

"Okaa-sama, who was that on the phone?" Michiru asked.

"Oh, the agency." Her mother sighed and rubbed at her right temple. "I had to fire Ayu-san today. That girl was no good, no good at all. Unfortunately, the agency can't send me another maid until tomorrow, so it looks like we'll be going out to dinner tonight. Oh, I do hope we can still get a reservation at Umi's at such late notice."

Michiru resisted the urge to roll her eyes as her mother again reached for the phone to call the restaurant. She should have known. Her mother changed maids more often than most people changed their underwear. If a maid lasted more than a week at the Kaioh residence, it was considered a miracle. Poor Ayu had only lasted three days.

"Oh, by the way, Michiru, you got a letter in the mail today," her mother said, waving her free hand toward the pile of mail sitting on the coffee table. "From a Watanabe-san, I bel- Oh, yes, this is Kaioh Mariko. I'd like to make a reservation tonight for seven?"

Taking the letter, Michiru left her mother and headed upstairs to change out of her school uniform and warm up for her lessons. Since her teacher would be arriving soon, she left the letter unread on her desk to read later at her leisure.

Her lessons were as dull as always. Not for the first time, Michiru felt as if her violin teacher was holding her back. She was far more advanced than the music he kept giving her to play, and, indeed, the teacher found little to critique, but he still kept assigning her the easier pieces anyway, frustrating her. Her school tutoring wasn't much better. She had always been a good student, so Michiru never understood why her parents felt the need to keep paying ridiculous amounts of money to have somebody come over after school to teach her things she already knew.

Luckily, though, since they were going out for dinner, her mother dismissed the tutor earlier than usual so that Michiru would have time to dress. Heading back upstairs to change, Michiru remembered the letter from earlier and opened it as soon as she entered her bedroom.

Michiru had expected it to be a fan letter from one of her admirers, but her eyes widened in shock as she sat down on her bed and read. Mr. Watanabe, as it turned out, was a wealthy elderly gentleman who had taken an acute interest in her budding career as a concert violinist. In fact, he was so interested that he wanted to become her patron, to provide her with all her living expenses, including her own apartment, as well as to help advance her career. As a major contributor to the Tokyo Philharmonic, he felt he had the right connections to ensure she had a bright future ahead of her.

Michiru couldn't believe her eyes, reading the letter a second and third time before it truly sunk in. Though logically she knew she should be a little suspicious of the offer - for all she knew, he could be a mass murderer or a child molester - she somehow knew the letter was the key to her destiny, and her heart leapt for joy. Finally, she could step out from underneath her parents' well-meaning, but stifling, expectations and live her life on her own terms. It was like a dream come true!

A knock on the door brought Michiru back down to Earth. "Michiru, dear, are you ready to go?" her mother called out.

Quickly, Michiru stuffed the letter back into the envelope and hid it underneath one of her pillows. What was she thinking? Her parents would never in a million years allow her to live on her own, not when she wasn't even fifteen years old.

Yet…

Almost as if possessed by somebody else, Michiru reached for her bathrobe and threw it on over her clothes. She then opened the door, grimacing and clutching her side as if it pain.

"Michiru, why aren't you dressed yet?" her mother asked, tapping the face of her elegant diamond watch. "Our reservation at Umi's is at seven. After the strings I had to pull to get it, I don't want to be late."

"I don't think I can go out tonight, okaa-sama," Michiru said, letting out a low moan for extra effect. "It's my time of the month, and the cramps are really bad this time. I can barely walk. You and otou-sama go on without me."

Her mother frowned. "I don't think that is such a good idea. What will you do for dinner? Ayu-san is no longer here."

"I'll make myself a sandwich or something. I'll manage."

"Well, I suppose that will be fine," her mother acquiesced, though she didn't look too happy about it. Her parents never liked leaving her alone in the house, especially when they were in between maids to spy on her and make sure she was doing what she was supposed to be doing. "Your father and I should be home by eight-thirty, so I expect you to be done with most of your homework by the time we get back. No fooling around while we're gone, young lady."

"Yes, okaa-sama."

With that, her mother headed back downstairs, and Michiru closed her bedroom door, taking a deep breath to calm down her pounding heart. She couldn't believe what she had done! What was she thinking? Never in her life had she so blatantly lied to one of her parents, yet she felt surprisingly…light.

Before she could lose her courage, Michiru lugged out her largest suitcase and began tossing in whatever she could fit inside with little rhyme or reason. Other than her violin, she couldn't care less about her other things. She packed a few changes of clothes, her textbooks, and her sheet music, but decided the rest she could live without. She then grabbed the letter, her violin, and her cosmetics case and headed downstairs.

The house was incredibly silent. Even though she knew her parents had already left for the restaurant, Michiru found herself tip-toeing down the stairs, being as quiet as possible. When she got to the living room, she called a cab service to order a taxi to come pick her up, then took a seat on the leather couch, anxiously drumming her fingers against the armrest as she waited.

I can't believe I'm really doing this, Michiru thought. It wasn't like her at all, yet, somehow, it felt right, like it was destiny or something. She felt the same kind of feeling she experienced earlier that day, when she had felt herself being pulled toward Tokyo Bay.

However, as she looked around the room and her eyes landed a picture of her mother, her father, and herself on the end table beside her, some of Michiru's excitement ebbed, and she sighed, reaching for the solid gold picture frame. No matter how much she hated the expectations they put on her shoulders, Michiru had always loved her parents, knowing that, at heart, they only wanted what was best for her. How could she leave them without even a proper good-bye? She could just imagine how frantic they would be if they came home from the restaurant and found her gone with no explanation.

Michiru couldn't do that to them. She just couldn't.

So, grabbing the pad beside the phone used to take down messages, Michiru jotted down a short note to her parents, explaining about the letter and assuring them that she would be fine. She wanted to say more, to tell them how much she appreciated everything they had done for her, even if she didn't always act like it, but the cab arrived before she could finish. Ending the note with a quick "I love you," she propped it up against the picture frame where she was certain her parents would find it.

"Good-bye, otou-sama, okaa-sama," she said, kissing the tips of her fingers and pressing them against their faces in the family portrait.

Michiru then grabbed her suitcase and left.

She had broken free.