“Kimi to kekkon shitai (君と結婚したい, I want to marry you). Hontō ni (本当に, really).”

The girl grins. “Look at me. I’ve got braces on my teeth.”

Peter is disconcerted — not at the braces but at her refusal to ma ni ukeru (真に受ける, take him seriously).

“How old are we, Peter?”

“I’ll be 15 in April.” He sighs. “I don’t mean I want to marry you now, Yukino. I mean . . . someday.”

“I’m never getting married.”

Peter gapes at her. He is bikkuri shite kuchi ga kikenai (びっくりして口が利けない, speechless). “You’re not?”

“Why so surprised? Lots of people nowadays are shōgai dokushin (生涯独身, lifelong singles), and nearly a third of those who do get married rikon suru (離婚する, divorce) — or didn’t you hear Sawamoto-sensei say so on Monday in shakaigaku no jugyō (社会学の授業, sociology class)?”

“I heard. But . . . my parents aren’t divorced. Your parents aren’t divorced.”

“My parents aren’t happy. They stay together for my sake.”

“You’re imagining it.”

Itsumo sōiuyone! (いつもそう言うよね You always say that!).? Anything you don’t want to know, you say, ‘You’re imagining it!’ I’m not imagining it! I know what’s going on in my own family! The day after I leave home they’ll wakareru (別れる split up), and they let me know that they hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

“You’re dreaming! I know your parents. They’re nice people.”

“Sure they are! I didn’t say they aren’t nice, I said they aren’t happy. What about your parents? Are they happy?”

“I don’t know. Shall I go home and ask them for you?”

Hiniku (皮肉, sarcasm)! When you live in a house with people you don’t have to ask, you know.”

“Things were pretty kinchō shita (緊張した, tense) for a while. My dad was out of work and mom was a saibanin (裁判員, lay judge) in a murder trial. But dad’s working now, and the trial’s over, so things have ochitsuita (落ち着いた, settled down) some.

“But . . . I don’t know. I said you’re dreaming, but . . . I know most marriages are fukō (不幸, unhappy). I suppose everybody knows it. And I suppose if I didn’t know you I’d say the same thing: I’ll stay single.”

“Oh, you’re so romantic!”

“Now who’s being 皮肉!”

“Not me!”

“Is it bad, to be romantic?”

“It’s stupid, because it’s not the way the world is.”

“Maybe it’s the world that’s stupid.”

This is too much for Yukino. She fukidasu (噴出す, bursts out laughing).

Glumly he watches her. He kao wo akarameru (顔を赤らめる, blushes) and fidgets. Her laughter, he thinks, is childish, silly — not, he has to admit, very attractive. But suddenly, as though reading his thoughts, she breaks off.?

“All right, Peter, let’s be majime (まじめ, serious). You were planning on Amerika ni ryūgaku suru (アメリカに留学する, going to school in the United States) for a year.”

Peter me wo somukeru (目をそむけるlowers his eyes). This is a delicate subject.

“Then you started saying you didn’t want to go because you would be sabishī (寂しい, lonesome) without me. No 皮肉 now — I’m kandō shita (感動した, touched). Honestly. Listen to me now. I want you to go. Wait, don’t say anything yet. Go. It’ll be good for you — ii keiken (いい経験, a good experience). If I could speak English I’d want to go too. You have the chance, and if you don’t take it, you’ll kōkai suru (後悔する, regret it), and maybe you’ll even watashi wo semeru (私を責める, blame me). Damattete yo! (黙っててよ!Be quiet!) Don’t say anything yet, I said. It’s easy to say you’ve kesshin shita (決心した, made up your mind), but people change, especially at our age. Don’t you know even that much?”

“Listen, Yukino. That school I’m going to in the States — if I go — is a pretty good school, with pretty high standards. It’s known all over the world. If I was as stupid as you think I am . . . “

Hairenai (入れない , you wouldn’t get in). Good. So you’re not stupid, and you can understand what I’m saying to you. Go. We’ll meiru wo yaritori suru? (メールをやり取りする, keep in touch by e-mail). You’ll come back in a year, and . . . “

“And . . . what?”?

Yukino flares up. “How do I know? A year is forever! We’ll see. But I want you to go. If you don’t I’ll never speak to you again.”

Neither speaks for a time. Finally Peter nods. “You’re right,” he says.

“Of course I’m right. I’m 10 times smarter than you, and if we marry I’ll spend the rest of my life looking down on you!”

This concludes the “Keyes’ Point” fiction series. Michael Hoffman’s latest book is “Little Pieces: This Side of Japan” (VBW, 2010).

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