Chapter One: Where My Life Really Begins, 哪里我的生活真正开始

Author's Note: Hey everybody! I'm back with the first chapter of "Samsara", the sequel to "Held Loosely", after tons of planning, writing, and beating up my computer in frustration (but mostly the last one). Please enjoy and try to keep in mind that the story might seem to get off on a slow start.

-AutumnXMidnight

"God grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." -The Serenity Prayer

I carefully poured the test tube's contents into a beaker on the hot plate sat at my desk, allowing the solution to slowly dribble in. I've gotta make sure it's just the right amount…"Taro! You're going to be late for school!" Mom yelled from the kitchen over the clinking and clanking of coffee cups and cereal bowls. "It doesn't kill you to be a little late!" I yelled back, returning my attention back to my beaker and test tubes.

"You'll have to do whatever you're doing when you get home. Your breakfast's getting cold!" Mom yelled back. I sighed heavily and unplugged the hot plate that was boiling the mixture. "I'll have to re-heat it when I get back, and that'll take an hour…" I grumbled to myself while I clumsily slipped on my tie, half-tripping down the stairs.

"What're you doing up there?" Mom asked suspiciously as I snarfed down a biscuit and gathered my books into my backpack.

"Um…nuffing." I mumbled through a mouthful of biscuit, slinging my backpack straps over my shoulders.

"Sure didn't sound like nothing…" Dad mumbled behind the newspaper from his seat at the table.

"Does it have anything to do with stuff that can explode?" Mom asked tiredly.

"…Only if it's heated over ninety-three degrees Celsius. The experiment asks that it's at precisely eighty." I grumbled and brusquely strode out the front door before she could ask any other incriminating questions. Tomo sat on the steps staring up blankly at the cloudless sky. "Hey Tomo, sorry I'm late…" I took a seat next to him on the steps.

"Where's Nozomi at?" I asked, noticing the empty spot on the steps to his left.

"Last I saw she was fussing over her hair," Tomo crinkled his nose, "I suppose she won't ever learn that she always looks the same no matter how she puts it up."

"Not really…" I blushed, looking down at the steps.

"I still think it's funny how you swoon over her. She's definitely no prize."

"She's your sister. And um, you guys are twins, so when you say she's ugly…"

"At least I can admit that I won't be entering any beauty contests in my lifetime."

"You got that right." Nozomi chuckled from behind us.

"N-Nozomi!" I stuttered. I hope she didn't hear-!

"Are you two coming or not?" she raised her eyebrow and started walking down the sidewalk. Tomo and I looked at each other, gave the other an indifferent shrug, and ran to catch up with Nozomi.

Study Hall, 研究大厅

'Let me be the first to congratulate you on purchasing your very own personal journal! So how do you feel? Excited? Anxious?'

Neither, since I only bought this journal to get some extra credit in English class.

'Let's get to know you better: tell us all about yourself!'

I'm Taro Yamamoto, a senior at Takashima High School and I can already see that I'm going to hate doing this assignment.

'Great! Now tell us your hobbies!'

RPGs, drawing, riding my motorcycle, and pretty much anything that can explode, fizz, or burble.

'How interesting! How do others describe you?'

Lanky, unusual, brainy.

'Do you have any siblings?'

I'm fortunate enough to be an only child.

'What are your parents like?'

My father is Japanese and my mother's a Japanese-American hybrid, so to speak. Dad's a genetic researcher and he also likes a good fencing match every now and then. Mom is very musically inclined and writes songs and jingles for commercials, that sort of thing. Fortunately I inherited my father's knack for science rather than nimble guitar-strumming fingers.

'Let's hear about your best friend!'

His name's Tomo Matsu and right now he's hovering over me while laughing his head off that I'm actually this desperate for extra credit. We've known each other our entire lives since our parents were buds in high school and also live next door to each other.

'Name an interesting fact about your best friend.'

There are quite a few 'interesting' things about Tomo, most of which end him (and me) up in the hospital or detention.

'Does your best friend have any siblings?'

He has a twin sister, Nozomi. She's ultra-popular and most people can't believe that she and Tomo are even related. We don't really hang out that much but I kinda' wish we did…Although I'm sure her boyfriend wouldn't like it.

'Now let's dive a little deeper. Do you have any secret crushes?'

Do you honestly expect me to answer that? I can't believe I actually PAID for this book…

'C'mon! You know you do!'

I know I do, I'm just not going to tell some creepy book something like that. Especially a creepy book that my teacher's going to be reading…

'Don't worry, I won't tell anyone! Speaking of which, do you have any secrets?'

Yes, I secretly like to dress up like a koi fish and jump out of dark alleys and scare little children before I devour their spleens.

"Taro eats little kids' spleens!" Tomo yelled at the top of his lungs so every person in study hall turned their head in our direction.

"Tomo, shut up! You're going to get us kicked out of study hall! …Again!" I whispered harshly to Tomo, who was leisurely leaning back in his seat staring at the ceiling.

"I'm trying to get banned." He grinned. It was pretty hard to get kicked out of study hall since the teacher that ran it was either never there or taking a nap at his desk.

"And I'm trying to work on something, so could you go pester someone else with your shenanigans? I have to get this done by Wednesday or Mrs. Hagasawa will fail me for the semester!" I hissed over my shoulder. Tomo waved his hand lazily.

"I'm making a 98 in there; how can 'Taro the Supercomputer' be failing? I'm supposed to be the nitwit; you're making me look bad. Next thing I know people'll start giving me geeky nicknames!"

"So if you don't want that to happen you'd better let me finish this idiotic assignment."

"I still don't get it though." Tomo sighed.

"Science and math are my strong points; English is a completely different story."

"But your Mom's American, so shouldn't you -?"

"In my seventeen years I've only heard her speak English when she's on the phone with my grandparents. Any other time she speaks Japanese."

"Oh…..I'm bored." Tomo yawned.

"Great. Take a nap or something…" I mumbled, returning to my journal.

"I'll choose the 'or something' option…" Tomo giggled and stealthily crept toward the teacher's desk where the teacher was busily napping. Tomo rose off the floor, grinning menacingly. I shook my head and prepared myself for the utter chaos that was sure to follow.

He tapped the teacher's neck swiftly, then withdrew under the desk. The teacher snorted and jumped awake, looking around bewildered. He grumbled something under his breath then leaned back in his chair, falling fast asleep. Tomo snaked from the desk and poked him on the chin, rapidly retreating. The teacher flinched awake, glancing around, knowing something was fishy. He sunk back into false sleep and waited for his hunter to strike again. Sure enough, Tomo went for a third strike, this time getting his arm caught by the teacher. "TOMO!" the teacher bellowed as he yanked Tomo out from under the desk.

"Hey teach." Tomo smiled coolly.

"WHAT IN HEAVEN'S NAME ARE YOU DOING?"

"Oh, it's not in the name of heaven-."

"What are you doing?" the teacher grumbled.

"Well, to put it eloquently: as a student I felt that you, as a teacher, were lacking in something, so I came to investigate to find out what that something is."

"And…?"

"I found out that that something is a brain." Tomo stated. "Out in the hall. Now!" the teacher yelled. I tried to cover my smile at Tomo's demise. Tomo's such an idiot…"You think this is funny? Fine! You, too, Mr. Yamamoto!" the teacher roared.

"Gee, Tomo. Thanks for getting me permanently banned from study hall." I grunted while trying to walk down the sidewalk and write in my journal at the same time.

"Any time, buddy." Tomo patted my shoulder. Nozomi followed closely behind Tomo shaking her head sadly.

"How do you get kicked out of study hall? I thought the teacher in there was a major pushover."

"It took the guy long enough! I've been trying to get banned since I was a freshman." Tomo crossed his arms at his chest.

"What did you do, exactly?" Nozomi crinkled her brow.

"He hid under the teacher's desk and kept poking him. I laughed so the teacher thought we were in it together." I grunted; Tomo beamed proudly. Nozomi shook her head again.

"Only you would come up with something so asinine. So what are Laverne and Shirley going to do instead of study hall?"

"Probably sit outside or something…that is, if Tomo can behave himself." I glared at Tomo's mischievous sneer.

"You should've entertained me. Bad things happen when I get bored."

"That's really hard to do when you have the attention span of a squirrel!"

"Tish tosh applesauce." Tomo waved his hand. "Hey! That reminds me! There's a race tonight over in that field by the playground!"

"What do squirrels have to do with-?"

"Taro! We should enter! It would be so awesome!" Tomo smiled brightly with a frightening glint in his eye.

"What kind of race is it?"

"A car race, what else?"

"No thanks. I'm more of a motorcycle guy."

"That's just it! We could enter you in the race with your motorcycle!"

"A few problems. One: My motorcycle's in the shop until tomorrow. Two: Even if it weren't in the shop, there's no way that I'd enter it in a race."

"Why not?"

"There's a strong probability that it'd crash and end up in the shop…again."

"No it wouldn't; you're an awesome driver… Which is exactly why we should enter you and take the prize money!"

"Ohhhh. You want the money. Wait—Tomo, you're not thinking about entering the race, are you?" I grabbed his shoulder.

"Yeah, why?"

"Well…"

"What?"

"You're a sucky driver." Nozomi blurted.

"Am not!" he argued.

"Yes you are." Nozomi and I said together.

"Am I really? Then why don't you come to the race tonight and see me dominate the competition! That ought to make you both shut up."

"Is this even a legitimate race?" Nozomi asked.

"Yeah, it's a race, all right."

"Let me rephrase the question: is the race legal?"

"…Not really."

"Tomo …" I groaned.

"What? You're acting like everyone there is going to be a drug dealer!"

"No, it's just that these kinds of races are really risky. People don't tend to play fair…" I bit my lip.

"Whatever," Tomo put his hand in my face, "This conversation is over. Come if you're in. Midnight."

"And no telling any parents!" He added after seeing Nozomi's oh-I'm-gonna-tell-on-you expression. With that he strode farther down the sidewalk refusing to look back at us. Nozomi held her books to her chest and looked down at the sidewalk in worry. Should I say something? What if I stutter again…? What to do…What to do…

"Taro." I snapped out of my daze and faced her, trying my hardest not to blush like an idiot. "This has trouble written all over it…I don't want to go, but I'm afraid Tomo's going to get himself into trouble. If I go, will you go with me? He actually listens to you." Nozomi asked, her eyes wide and pleading.

How can I say no when she makes that face?

Midnight, 午夜

I perilously teetered on the windowsill, looking down at the damp concrete and swallowing the ball of fear building in my throat. Okay…If I slowly climb down the bricks maybe I won't snap my spine… I swung myself down and began to clumsily climb down the slippery brick wall. Halfway there…

"Taro! Over here!" Nozomi called from the dark depths of the alleyway, catching me completely off guard. "GAAH!" My hand slipped on the wall's moist surface and fell down, landing flat on my face, narrowly missing some garbage cans. Nozomi couldn't help but laugh and jogged to my painful position on the sidewalk.

"Are you okay?" she giggled, grabbing my arm and hoisting me up.

"I-I'm f-f-f-fine." I stuttered, brushing myself off and silently thanking the darkness for hiding my blushing cheeks.

"Tomo left a little while ago; we'll have to hurry if we want to get there on time." Nozomi glanced at her watch and started to run towards the park, motioning for me to follow. After not even five minutes of running around in the shadows behind Nozomi, I deeply regretted my sedentary lifestyle. I was both relieved and worried at the sight of the field. Nozomi squinted her eyes and scanned the thick crowd of rowdy teenagers for Tomo. "Even when we find him, I doubt he's going to listen to a thing we have to say." I muttered as she led me through the crowd to a car parked amidst the flock of shouting people. Tomo leaned against the car's driver side door, calm as ever as he carried on a conversation with a girl in an unusually short skirt. Nozomi shoved the girl out of the way and put her hands on her hips as she glared at Tomo.

"You're going to break your neck if you go through with this!"

"Shows what you guys know." Tomo muttered coolly. The crowd began to back away and formed a semi-circle around the cars.

"There's a strong likelihood that you'll have an accident! Please, just listen to us for once." I tried to persuade him; Tomo ruffled my brown hair and shook his head sadly.

"Back off from the car, losers." Tomo waved us back as he climbed into the driver's seat and gave us a thumbs-up.

"Tomo!" Nozomi screamed while I tried to drag her into the crowd to keep from getting run over. Tomo revved the engine as a girl strutted in front of the line of cars with a checkered flag in her right hand. She raised the flag with a flourish and brought it down swiftly, shouting, "GO!"

Nozomi put her face in her hands and moaned. I placed my hand on her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry." I tried to smile, even though I knew full well that something bad was bound to happen. The cars rocketed away, their headlights like buzzing swarms of fireflies in the dark. "I can't tell which one is Tomo…" I muttered to Nozomi.

"The one that's weaving side to side." Nozomi observed, shaking her head and biting her lip anxiously. An orange Mustang behind the weaving car thrusted forward and began ramming it in the side.

"Tomo!" Nozomi screamed. The Mustang plunged again and somehow managed to tip Tomo's car onto its side; the sickening sound of peeling metal rang through the air, eliciting wild roars from the crowd around us. Nozomi clung onto my arm with a death grip as she stared at the car in transfixed horror.

Hospital, 医院

"Can we see him now?" I asked the receptionist quietly. Nozomi stood next to me, blankly staring at the receptionist's desk and breathing heavily. The receptionist considered it for a moment, and then solemnly nodded.

"He's unconscious right now, but go on ahead if you want." She shooed us away impatiently. I gently took Nozomi's arm and led her down the long bleach-white hallway leading from the Waiting Room. "He should be at the end of the hall." I said to her; she nodded slowly. We came to the door with a clipboard hanging on it that had 'Matsu, Tomo' written on it. I turned the knob and walked in, trying to hold in a terrified gasp at the sight of Tomo. He was covered in blood from head to foot and had all sorts of wires and contraptions had been hooked up to him. It looked as if he'd cracked his skull and the doctors had just stapled his head together for a quick fix; small droplets of blood trickled from the wound and stained his pillow. Nozomi let out a discordant wail as she flung herself at his side and began to sob as she put her hand on his. I shut my eyes to block out the nightmare playing before me, wanting to rewind everything back to this morning. "Tomo…" Nozomi whispered, her tears dropping onto Tomo's hand. I reached for her and tenderly helped her up into a chair sitting in the room's corner. "This is all my fault!" Nozomi wailed, her shoulders shaking with each heavy sob.

"Nozomi," I shook her back to reality, "This isn't your fault. It isn't anyone's fault. It was all just an accident. All right?" Nozomi lowered her head and looked at the floor in shame. "All right?" I repeated, forcing her to look up. She nodded sadly and tried to swallow back the hurricane of tears brewing behind her eyes. "Your Mom and Dad should be here pretty soon." I added, taking a seat next to her and trying to smile, even though it was a pretty inappropriate time to be happy. I looked back at Tomo in his pitifully horrendous state. He had been knocked unconscious immediately when his car tipped and the doctors said he'd suffered massive damage to the head (you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out after taking one look at him). If he did make it through this he'd probably lose a large amount of memory, and possibly wouldn't remember anything about himself: Nozomi, his parents…or me. No. Tomo will remember me… He just has to. I mean, we're best friends… The realization that Tomo might not know who I was was too much to think about. Stop. Stop thinking like that. Just focus on what's happening right now.

The door banged open as four people rushed in, one of which was crying hysterically. "Mom! Dad!" Nozomi cried, rushing to her parents and embracing them.

"Taro!" Mom said with relief overflowing in her voice as she and Dad rushed to me.

"What are you guys doing here?"

"What else could we have done after hearing what happened to Tomo and found you missing?" Dad pulled me into a hug.

"What happened?" Tomo's Dad remarked, looking over Tomo

"He was racing. His car flipped." Nozomi sniffled.

"Why…Why didn't you try to stop him?" Tomo's Mom trembled as stroked Tomo's cheek with the back of her hand.

"We did, Mrs. Matsu…He just…didn't listen." I sighed. "Well there's nothing we can do right now. We might as well try to rest until he wakes up." Mr. Matsu said, taking his wife's hand and gently settling her into a seat.

The six of us sat in uneasy silence, desperate for some sign that Tomo would be waking up soon. A doctor walked in, breaking the silence and bringing hope into the room with him. He read the clipboard from the door and creased his brow in thought.

"O-kay… Let's see what we have here." The doctor said cheerfully, walking to where Tomo laid, viewing his statistics on the machines.

"How is he?" Nozomi asked him quietly. The doctor looked up and slapped his head.

"I've forgotten my manners! I'm Haru Ishikawa; I specialize in vehicle-related injuries. As for how he's doing, we're about to find out…" Dr. Ishikawa tinkered with several of the machines and shook his head several times.

"Are you his family?" Dr. Ishikawa asked suddenly.

"Yes." Mr. Matsu stood.

"I see. Well…his condition isn't that good. It looks like in addition to that head injury and broken leg, he's got some internal bleeding as well. I'll call my team to come stabilize the bleeding." He said, reaching for a cellphone from his pocket. "Hey, it's me. We've got medium internal bleeding in Room 166…I don't care if it's your break time, get down here!" Dr. Ishikawa turned to us, "They'll be here in a few minutes. I wouldn't worry too much; he's not bleeding that heavily."

In a few minutes a crowd of people pushing a cart full of equipment came in and started to attach all sorts of gadgets to Tomo. We were pushed out of the way and were unable to see Tomo through the crowd of people fussing over him. An IV was hooked up and he was administered about three shots into his arm, for what, I couldn't guess.

"The shots should take about a little less than an hour to repair his veins." Dr. Ishikawa told us. We all breathed a little easier knowing that Tomo would live through this ordeal. The team loaded their gear onto the cart again and left as swiftly as they had come. Dr. Ishikawa flashed a smile at us and followed his team out the door. I sighed and went to Tomo's side, just to watch him. His eyelids flickered slightly; I held my breath. His eyelids lifted sleepily and Tomo stared at me. Please remember me. Please remember me. "Hey Tomo." I smiled awkwardly. Everyone sprung from their chairs and crowded around the now-conscious Tomo. Tomo seemed confused as he looked from one face to another. His mouth parted slightly and he grunted, "That must've been one heck of a party; I've got the biggest headache…"

Nozomi and her mother started to cry and spoke comforting words to Tomo. "You scared us to death!" Nozomi said, half happily and half angrily, crying over Tomo. Tomo grinned crookedly and laughed airily. "You should've listened to us." I scolded him, trying to hold back my tears of relief.