Dr. Azumi Fujita did not have time to mess around with pointless things. Sure she had hobbies, friends, and ways to relax, but they all did not impede on her work. She was able to schedule them all in ways that would allow her maximum time for research. Neberdine was her top priority, and nothing was going to get in her way.
Well, maybe one thing.
It was difficult to pinpoint why exactly she was so enamored with Dr. James Mantleray. He was a strange man, but less interestingly strange and more erratically strange. He was a loose cannon that Fujita knew would eventually explode. The question was, when would it?
She always believed that it would be during a failed test, one of many that resulted in the volunteer becoming little more than a vegetable in the eyes of the world. However, it was someplace quite different; her own apartment. Well, technically it was some seedy bar tucked away in an equally seedy alleyway, but she doesn’t want to think about that for a while.
Azumi was the first to awaken the morning afterwards. She turned to the alarm clock to her right. 12:32. “Shit,” she muttered. She was planning on coming into the labs today to work on some kinks in the phase one tests, but now it was far too late to even consider that. She turned to James, who was still snoozing away. His stupid toupee was still completely in tact and in place. Azumi sighed.
She spotted something on James’ body that she could not recall the night before. Although faded, presumably from years of age, two outlines accentuated James’ chest. Azumi was shocked; how did she just notice this now? Then again, the two of them were not exactly the most sober people on earth last night. Nevertheless, she found herself somehow drawn to them. Her hand was raised slightly above the right one, just barely touching the skin and gliding her finger along it.
That’s when she felt her wrist being held like a man gripping to the edge of a window.
“Mom, mom, please don’t do this,” she heard James repeat in his sleep, squeezing Azumi’s wrist with a death grip. “I am begging you PLEASE don’t do this.” He sounded choked up, like he was about to cry even. She knew some details about his relationship with the infamous Dr. Greta Handleray, but was his relationship with his mother this bad? That he feared just her contact?
Azumi raised her free hand and held it underneath his chin. “JAMES,” she yelled as he continued to repeat his pleas, “IT’S ME. IT’S AZUMI.” Both of her hands were shaking with uncertainty and fear until the doctor finally awoke, his face dripping in sweat and his hand slowly detaching itself from his companion’s wrist.
“Dr. Fujita,” he said as calmly as he could.
“Dr. Mantleray,” she said in the same tone.
He was sixteen when his mother finally had enough.
They were sitting at their comically long dinner table, the kind someone would use for large family get togethers. It was Steak Thursday. His least favorite day.
“Honey,” he remembers his mother saying, “you’re barely touching the ribeye.”
“I’m not hungry,” he responded.
She huffed. “Well, you’re going to have to finish it. You do understand that reheated steak is horrible for you.”
“Oh, as if you have any idea what’s actually good for me,” he snapped back.
She put down her fork and sat back in her chair. “Jennifer Katherine Mantleray,” she said in that tone she used to purposefully get underneath her son’s skin. “Are you honestly still upset over that shopping trip? You know it’s not professional to buy those baggy t-shirts.”
“I already told you, mother,” he said as he stared right in her eyes, refusing to once again give into her. “I want you to call me James.”
She had the audacity to laugh at this. “Oh please, nobody is going to take a woman with as long of hair as yours wearing one of multiple pantsuits as somebody named James,” she chuckled out.
“Well, if you actually let me make my own choices on how to fucking present myself, maybe they would take me more seriously,” he snapped back.
All twisted enjoyment that his mother was gaining from this conversation quickly faded away. Never once breaking each other’s gaze, Greta picked up her steak knife, carefully wiping away all traces of food with her napkin. He felt his heart beating more nervously and his breathing hitched. His mother now stood right above him, twirling that fucking knife with her fingers. “Perhaps you’re right, sweetheart. Perhaps I should listen to what you want,” she said.
And that’s when she grabbed his hair and smashed his face into the table. He already knew that his nose was broken and could taste the iron laced blood that seeped into his mouth. All he could hear was the ringing in his ears and the soft sawing of the knife against thin strands of hair. They were the only sounds he heard before passing out.
“So, you never really got through to her, huh?” Azumi asked. The two of them had ordered a medium sized pepperoni pizza with some soda. She was standing by the kitchen island, while he found himself sitting on one of the stools laid out around it.
“Nope,” he sighed, taking a sip of the slightly decarbonated soda. “If she didn’t bother to visit me after my phalloplasty, I don’t think she’ll ever really bother.”
The female doctor reached over to fix a loose strand of his toupee. “I understand,” she said. “Well, perhaps not entirely. My older sister, she went through a similar procedure, but instead of adding a phallic device, she had it removed.” Azumi began remembering how happy the two of them were after the surgery was a success; her sister was in hysterics over it for days. “Then again, we were all incredibly supportive of her. Even my father got around to it,” she continued.
“It’s not that, exactly,” he said as he took a bite of his pizza slice. “Everybody but her was fine with it. She just has complete control over what’s left of our bloodline. Nobody has the balls or guts to tell her that she’s wrong.”
Azumi took another swig of soda. “So that’s why your dad had to leave,” she said after a moment of contemplation, “he didn’t leave, she forced him out.”
“Exactly,” James said somberly.
The tension between them was soft, yet stuck out like a sore thumb. It was like if the elephant in the room was covered with a tarp and sent to the back. Both of them knew that they had to say something, anything really, to reassure the other that the situation was handled.
“James,” Azumi finally said. “When we get to Newfoundland, you’re not gonna have to worry about whether she gives a fuck or not. Think of it as your third life.”
The doctor scrunched his nose in confusion. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed “Oh! I get it! Good one, Fujita,” chuckling and raising his hand for a hi-five. The other doctor reluctantly connected her hand with his, the touch lingering for a few silent seconds.
It turns out, she was right.
She was right about everything. James was on his third life in Newfoundland, halfway through constructing a log cabin with the help of the love of his life. It was the most at peace he had ever felt. It was far from Azumi’s entire presence that had made him so happy, but she did have a significant impact.
Upon arrival to the country, the two of them found their way to the nearest lake and threw their phones into the water. His mother always had a way to get back into his life, but not anymore. For the first time in his existence, he was free.
And he simply couldn’t help but thank Azumi for it.