- Hiro -
Class had already ended and together with the President and the girl, Hiro walked with them to the entrance of the school. The three of them stood there for a minute and stared at the other classmates leaving for the weekends.
“So there’s no Student Council work today?” she asked, ready for the blessed weekend.
“There is, but I decided to give us a good break before stuffing ourselves with work again,” the President answered, sighing loudly.
The girl took Hiro’s hand and wrote, “Can I join the club with you?”
“I’m afraid not, the positions are all filled in since freshmen year, I’m sorry. I can see you during class and lunch time though!”
“Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Well, I might be busy helping my mother out, but if you give me your number I can message you if I’m available,” she said, pulling out her phone.
“Really? My number is-”
“Wow, you guys are on such friendly terms after just meeting!” the President commented as he watched Hiro punch in the numbers.
“I feel a certain connection with her,” Hiro muttered, smiling. “Ah! How could I forget! I haven’t even gotten her name yet!”
The girl smiled and scribbled, “My name’s Akari.”
“Akari? What a nice name! Wah! Are you leaving now?”
Akari nodded her head and turned to leave. She looked over her shoulder and gave a wave, then continued on. Hiro and the President stood together and watched the departing figure.
“She’s a strange person, but I’m sure if you get to know her, she’ll be a very nice person,” the President said, turning in the direction of their neighborhood.
“I couldn’t agree more, let’s go home,” she agreed, following his lead and walking towards the general direction of their home.
The trek to get there was silent and awkward as the pair strode side by side down the empty sidewalk. The sun was setting and a cold wind blew by, rattling the last leaves that clung to the branches for dear life.
“So,” the President spoke, breaking the silence. “What are you going to be doing tomorrow?”
“Didn’t I explain while we were at the school?” Hiro questioned, crossing her arms against her chest, hugging herself to warm up from the cold.
“Right, you did. Sorry, this lack of conversation made the atmosphere a bit oppressing,” he commented, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.
She laughed. “It’s fine.”
Before the silence could sink in again, her cellphone burst into its merry ring tone. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the President, nudging her head at her phone. He nodded in return and walked a little ways away to give her privacy.
She flipped open her phone and answered, “Hello? Mom, is that you?”
“Hey, Hiroyuki, I told you this morning, but I don’t think you heard me. I won’t be home for a few weeks,” her mother’s voice called, apologetically, over the receiver.
Hiro stopped at the front of her gate and stared at the forlorn house before her in shock.
“What did you say?!”
“Now, now Hir-”
“You even took the key with you!” she shouted. “How am I supposed to open the door to the house? Where am I going to stay?”
The voice replied, simply, “Stay at that boy’s house.”
“What?! I don’t even know him that well and you want me to live with him for… how many days?” she shouted furiously.
The boy approached her, concern etched into his forehead, and was about to reach out to comfort her when her mother’s voice responded in the receiver, “It’ll only be a few weeks, at the most, a month. If he tries to lay a hand on you, just beat him up like you did to that boy across the street. Besides, I’ll make it up to you when I get back.”
Both of them stood there and looked at each other with their eyes wide open. Hiro was the first to look away, her face beet red in embarrassment. Because the President saw her this way, he turned away as well, his own cheeks blushing.
“Hello? Hiroyuki? Are you there? Oh well, I’ll take it that you’re cool with this. I’ll see you in a few weeks then!” the voice called out merrily before the line went dead.
“What?!” Hiro snapped to attention. “Wait a minute, mom!” she cried, but the line was already gone.
She stared at the cellphone in her hand, aghast, but replaced it into her pocket before turning to the President with a resigned look on her face.
“Can I,” she hesitated. “Stay at your house for a while?”
He looked at her then quickly looked away.
“Um, I could ask my mother. Let’s go to my house.”
He led the way to the house next to hers and walked up to the door as she waited hesitantly by the gate. He knocked on the door and turned to beckon to her to come forward. She nodded her head and smiled shyly, but remained where she was.
The door opened and the women she saw at the window appeared.
“Welcome home, son,” her voice greeted sweetly.
“Hey mom, um, I’d like for you to meet Hiroyuki. She’s my associate in the Student Council,” he announced, waving her forward.
Hiro stepped out from behind the gate and shuffled her way toward the President’s mother. She bowed her head in greeting and smiled shyly.
“She’s,” the mother said, hesitantly. “She’s cute. Is she you, girlfriend?”
The two stood there shaking their heads while their faces turned pink.
“We’re just partners, ma’am,” Hiro tried to explain.
“Yes mother, merely coworkers,” the President agreed.
“Don’t friend zone her in front of her face like that,” his mother cooed, jokingly.
‘What! I did not!”
“Ah! My child is just so cute! Come on inside you two,” she exclaimed, smiling broadly.
She held the door wide open as her son and his friend stepped inside. Hiro politely took off her shoes at the entrance and stepped aside and waited patiently for the President to do the same. As she waited for him, she looked around her surroundings and noticed a picture in an encased silver frame. She walked over to it and touched it lightly with her fingertips, examining the picture with her brows furrowed.
“Ah, don’t touch that please,” a voice called.
She turned around and watched as the President fell to the floor in his haste to stop her, his feet still tangled in halfway untied shoes.
She rushed forward to help him up, but was brushed aside gently.
“I’m fine,” he said, avoiding her look. “Please don’t look at that picture.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, standing up. “I didn’t know it was that important to you.”
“Ah, please don’t apologize, it was my fault. I overreacted,” he exclaimed hurriedly.
“Come on you two,” his mother called.
As his mother led the way to the kitchen, Hiro saw, from the corner of her eyes, the President flip the photograph down.
“Have a seat,” his mother offered, pulling out a chair for her.
“Thank you very much ma’am. I’m sorry for the intrusion!” Hiro thanked, sheepishly.
“It’s no big deal. It’s so rare for my son to bring home a friend. And a girl too for that matter,” his mother joked, laughing loudly.
“Please, stop mother, you’re embarrassing me!” he said, turning away.
“Isn’t that what all mothers do?” Hiro questioned, laughing alongside the President’s mother. “Like what my mother did yesterday, how embarrassing.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, remembering that the almost exact conversation had happened yesterday as well.
“Oh! So you were the girl Kei went to see yesterday,” his mother said, surprised.
“Eh? Kei?” Hiro asked in surprise. “What a cool name.”
“It’s nothing special,” he replied, smiling.
“What’s this? You don’t even know each other’s names?” his mother asked, incredulous.
“I didn’t bother to ask, ma’am. It was simpler to call the President, President,” Hiro explained, tilting her head downwards.
“Well, if it’s easier for you,” his mother agreed, slowly. “Well, anyhow, what brings you here today?”
“Um, I know this is very sudden, but,” she hesitated and looked around her for a way to explain.
“Can she stay here for a while, is what she wants to ask, mom,” Kei finished for her.
“Stay here? What about your place?”
“My mother left for an out of town business appointment and forgot to tell me. She took our only house key with her,” Hiro explained, slapping her forehead with the palm of her hand.
“So, you’re locked out of your own house,” his mother pointed out.
“Basically,” Kei ended.
His mother pursed her lips in thought. “Well, there’s no harm in her staying, but I don’t know what will happen when he comes home,” she said, looking pointedly at him.
“Oh! If it’s a problem, then I’ll go look for another place to stay,” Hiro interjected hurriedly.
“Don’t worry about it! You’re welcome to stay,” the mother said, bringing her a plate of cold leftovers. “I wasn’t expecting a guest, but do eat up.”
“Thank you so much,” she exclaimed, dipping the silverware into the plate.
As she indulged herself, Kei and his mom left the room to prepare a makeshift bed in his mother’s room. They spread out covers and blankets onto the floor and tossed down two fluffy pillows from the endless piles on the grand bed that overshadowed the lame one on the floor.
“Kei, show your friend over to the room,” his mother suggested.
He nodded his head and trekked back to the kitchen. Hiro had finished eating her dinner and was washing the dishes in the sink. She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled.
“I’m just finishing the dishes that were left in here before I came,” she explained, stacking the last plate into the dry rack.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” he started.
“It’s the least I could do. After all, I’ll be staying here for a while,” she told him, rolling her eyes to the ceiling.
“Come on, I’ll show you to your room,” he told her, leading the way. “Our house has one guest room, but it’s all packed with old boxes and ones we haven’t even opened yet. You’ll be sharing a room with my mom, if you don’t mind.”
As they approached the room, Hiro asked, “What about your father, isn’t he coming home soon? It’s quite late.”
“Oh no, he has an out of town meeting, he’ll be back tomorrow evening,” Kei’s mom answered, getting up from rearranging the sheets on the floor. “Until then, this is where you’ll stay.”
“Thank you very much ma’am,” Hiro started, bowing her head low in gratitude.
“Don’t mention it! And if we’re going to be living together for a while, please stop with the honorifics, it makes me feel rather old,” the mother told her, smiling mischievously and then winking. “Just call me what Kei calls me.”
“Oh no, I cannot possibly call you that!” Hiro exclaimed in horror.
“It’s fine!” came the response with a light pat on the back. “We’ll get to know each other even more and then one day, we’ll be a family. You’ll get used to calling me Mommy.”
“Uh, no, I don’t think I ever will,” Hiro mumbled to herself, looking away.
The mother chuckled softly before saying, “Kei, keep her company as I get the young lady some bathroom necessities.”
“Yes mother,” he answered, just as the doorbell rang with a jolting toll.
“Oh, I guess I’ll go get the door then,” his mother said, changing her path direction.
Kei eyed Hiro as they stood in silence. The doorbell rang again, this time, repetitively.
“Alright, alright! I’m coming!” his mother’s voice called to the unknown person behind the door.
For one reason or another, Kei doubled over, breathing irregularly. He sank to the ground in pain and clutched at his chest and head with either hands, rocking back and forth.
“What’s wrong President?” Hiro exclaimed, worriedly.
She crouched down beside him and reached out, touching his shoulders. She felt his muscles give an involuntary shudder.
“He’s back,” he whispered, saying the same words again and again.
“Who, President, who is back?” she asked, concern etched deep into her forehead.
“Him,” he answered, looking through the crevices of his fingers at the figure that stood in the doorway.
She looked up in surprise and stumbled onto her back at the sudden appearance of the man. He was tall and made burly by the multiple layers he had on. He removed a fedora hat to reveal an unruly wave of black, wispy hair. His piercing, black eyes penetrated hers as he stared down at her as a vulture would its prey.
“Hello, sir,” she greeted, standing up. “It’s a pleasure to meet.”
“Who are you,” the man rumbled deeply.
“I’m the Pres-” she stopped and thought it better that she used his given name. “I’m Kei’s friend, Hiroyuki.”
“Whoever you are, leave. Now,” he demanded, pointing a gloved finger in the direction of the front door.
“But I,” she started to say, before she was rudely interrupted.
“You don’t belong here, get out.”
“I know I don’t belong here, but I was welcomed here by your wife and s-,” she protested, biting her lips to refrain from saying anything more.
“Who is my son?” he yelled, ferociously. “Who did you say was my son?!”
“Kei, he’s your son, is he not?” she asked lamely.
In a few quick strides the man was in front of her and before she knew it, he slapped her hard across the right cheek. Her head jerked violently to the left and she fell to the ground from the impact.
“What do you think you’re doing Seizuru?” Kei roared furiously, standing up shakily.
“Who do you think you’re addressing, you incompetent boy?” Seizuru returned, turning on Kei.
“Stop!” his mother screamed, tears streaking down her face. “Please stop! Honey, I let her stay with us, so please stop!”
“Don’t you think calling me sweet names like that will calm me down,” he yelled hotly. “If I remember closely, it’s your fault he’s even here with us.”
She sobbed quietly in her hands and sank to her knees in agony.
“Mother,” Kei called out, reaching towards her with shaking fingers.
“Don’t you dare touch her with your soiled hands,” the man demanded.
Immediately the hand recoiled and Kei sank back down into oblivion, remembering things he wished he had forgotten.
Hiro had sat there paralyzed with pain, but gradually, feeling came back to her and she stood up.
She turned her head to look at the man and pondered, “The question is, sir, who do you think you are? Entering the home of these two lovely people and causing them both pain at the same instant.”
“What did you say?” the man questioned, seething so much that his face turned beet red. “I own this house. If I own the place, I own whatever resides inside it.”
She clenched her hands by her side and retorted, “Own? I beg pardon, sir, but being rich won’t grant you anything but the satisfactory of being rich over those who aren’t.”
The man took a step toward her, but she was unfazed.
He returned, “Then I am overjoyed beyond belief that I stand over such a lowly, disgusting piece of trash like you. You think your words will hurt me? Your words mean nothing to me.”
She continued, ignoring him, “How dare you anger yourself and froth your mouth in fury when it is they that should be doing so? It doesn’t matter to me my status, let alone yours. To me, we are equals. You and I, we are both common, ordinary human beings, no one more special than the other. Using such profane words will not work on me, just as my reasoning will not work on you.”
The man raised a hand to slap her, but she ranted on, “You are nothing. In the eyes of the society you do not know, you are even lower than I am.”
As the hand lowered for the attack, she ducked between the man’s legs and crawled to the other side. She smirked as the man whirled around in surprise.
“Being small is an advantage against such a clumsy bear such as yourself.”
The man charged toward her in anger, but skidded to a stop when she held up a hand and snapped, “I’m leaving. I won’t trouble you anymore. But if you mess with them and make them unhappy, I will come back. I’ll tear you down. I’ll start by taking down your position in this society. Then I will finish with you by ripping your innards apart and watching gleefully as they drip to the floor in a wonderfully gory pool. That last part was just for fun, but do we have ourselves a deal?”
She took out a hand for him to shake in agreement. He looked at it in disgust and slapped it away.
Her smirk grew broader as she said, “Then that means you don’t fully agree on my terms and I can come back anytime.”
She turned her back to the man as he opened his mouth to agree with her conditions.
“Too late,” she called, picking up her sling backpack and throwing it across her shoulder. “See you later Kei, Mommy. And you as well, sir.”
She opened the door and walked into the chilly night, never looking behind her.