Small Things

chapter two

第二章 |

new life

... take a chance, take your shoes off, dance in the rain
I'd like it a lot more than you think
if the sun would come out and sing with me

When the days of February are done and dusted, March heaves itself onto her calendar with a heavy heart. Each passing day reminds her that Keigo hasn't called her yet—though he does send her occasional text messages to let her know that he's still alive. She hasn't seen him since their unsuccessful rendezvous at the Quiescent, and she's starting to miss their infrequent meetings. She misses having salty chats with him over a pleasant cup of tea (for him) and a coffee (for her).

On a more reassuring note, this isn't the first time that Keigo has decided to isolate himself from the rest of the world. Whether or not she is the reason for his poor mood (sometimes, after all, the strain of overwork kills his desire to partake in pleasant conversation), he sometimes initiates a random cooling period between the two of them. After a satisfactory and in-depth consultation with time and distance he'll come back to her like nothing ever happened.

She's not sure if he's still mad at her from their last encounter at the Quiescent or not, so she decides keeps quiet about Ireland. She decides to keep quiet about all her prospective plans for the future, which she has thought about in great depth since getting off the phone with . She decides not to tell him that, since their conversation on New Year's Day, her desire to leave the Quiescent is getting stronger with every passing day, and she's not sure she can hold it back anymore. As much as she likes the tiny café, she doesn't know how much longer she can picture herself working there, for her heart belongs elsewhere.

Briefly, she wonders what would happen if she ever did tell Keigo what is on her mind. She wonders if he'll even care that much, or if he'll be too busy to notice. Maybe it won't even bother him; if ever he chances upon the overwhelming desire to see her, he can easily hop into one of his private jets and visit her. She wonders if he'll even make the effort.

As she closes up after another day of work at the sleepy café, she gets a phone call from Keigo. He invites her out to a White Day dinner, perhaps as compensation for all the meetings at the Quiescent that he missed out on.

"Are you sure?" She asks, uneager to take more time out of his day than he can afford to give away. "Won't the office miss you?"

His response is rather blasé, but it sounds like the Keigo she's always known, which—on some level—is reassuring: "A day when the office won't miss me doesn't exist on the calendar."

She smiles. Of course not.

"Dinner?" He prompts.

"I'd love to." She says. "Where?"

"Anywhere you want to go."

"I don't really mind..."

But he knows her too well. "You pick."

They settle on a small Italian restaurant that she likes—the one that she and usually go to when he turns up at her apartment without warning, and she doesn't have enough ingredients in her fridge to cook for two. She has gone there with Keigo a couple of times, and although she doesn't doubt his tongue has tasted far greater Italian food, he doesn't question her choice.

He tells her that he'll finish work at seven, and that he can pick her up afterwards. She assures him to take his time—she can find her own way there after the Quiescent closes for the night—and he is too tired to argue with her. He leaves her with the words, "Call me if you need a ride."

"Okay—see you tonight."

Keigo tells her that he has to go. So they hang up.

They meet out the front of the Italian place later that evening, at around eight. She doesn't hurry to get there, but still manages to be earlier than Keigo. Just before she can text him and ask where he is, his car pulls up in front of the restaurant. He steps out, and instead of greeting her, he tells her to close her eyes. Despite her curiosity, she does as she is told.

She almost jumps when she feels his fingers graze her wrist. He drapes something that feels cool and smooth across her wrist before telling her to open her eyes. She does as she is told, and her gaze drops instinctively to where the memory of his touch lingers.

Her stare is caught.

Keigo looks rather smug, as though he expected such a reaction. "Happy White Day."

She slowly raises her head to show him her disbelieving eyes, but he doesn't seem so fazed. "How much did this cost you?" She asks, motioning to the string of white pearls around her wrist. She guesses that it's probably worthless to him, but anything that's over eight thousand yen is amazing to her.

"That's none of your concern." He says, promptly ending the conversation.

He drapes an arm around her shoulder and guides her into the restaurant. The front of house attendant recognises her, and with a smile, he says, "Reservation for , no?"

She acknowledges the declaration with a smile. The attendant shows them to a booth in the corner of the restaurant, propped up against the window. Although the view of the Chiyoda streets is quiet and unremarkable, she reminds herself that she comes here to enjoy good food and pleasant company.

After they settle themselves into the booth, Keigo makes an attempt to capture her wandering attention by starting a conversation. "How have you been?"

"Okay." She says. She doesn't mention Ireland just yet. "What about you?"

"Busy." He says, and lapses into silence. She guesses that he doesn't want to talk about work right now, so she tries to distract him with more pleasant talk. She tells him about a customer who came to the Quiescent the other day and introduced her to the works of a poet named Henry Vaughan; he tells her about how much of a headache the receding economy is giving him. They manage to have a brief debate on whether hanami or umemi is more appropriate for their age (now that they're getting older and therefore less tolerant of stupid people) before the waiter comes to take their order.

It's not long before their food comes, and they eat over a bout of small talk. When it's time for sobremesa (as Keigo likes to call it) she decides that now is a better time than any to bring up Ireland. She's still not sure just how she should tell Keigo, and it's been tormenting her for weeks: should she slip it into the conversation? Bring it straight out? Build up to it?

There are far too many approaches she can take, and not enough time to rationalise which is her best option—so, in the end, she decides to wing it.

"So... you have two hundred and nine-two days left in the year." She begins. Keigo quirks an eyebrow at her—a gesture insisting that continue. "Have you thought about how you'll spend them yet?"

He pauses, and leans back in his chair, trying to detach himself from the conversation. "Do you have a reason for bringing this up again?"

"I just... I had a thought." She says simply. "I thought you might have had one, too."

Instead of antagonising him, her words draw his interest. The look on his face change, and looks... almost enamoured by her prospective words. "You've thought about what you want to do with your life?"

"... Sort of."

"Go on."

She steels herself. "Its never been a secret that I plan to leave the Quiescent one day—and this thought I had... well, I have yet to expand on how and when it's going to happen, but it's a dream that I've had for a long time and I've recently been inspired to fulfil it."

When she pauses, he decides to fill the silence. "You're finally going to be a writer?"

Something dies in her throat. No less than twenty-nine days ago, he scorned her dreams of being a writer—and now, here he is, giving her an expectant look, waiting for her to confirm his suspicion that she's finally conceded to letting writing take over her life. She wants to ask if he even knows her at all, but she doesn't: she's afraid that the answer will hit closer to him than she wants to it.

She tries to find a way to kindly tell Keigo that his guess is completely off. "I still like writing—and I can still do it as a hobby—but it's not the dream that I want to fulfil."

He looks at her like he doesn't believe her. Maybe he's right to.

She shrugs. "I can't see myself writing full time. What I meant to say when I brought this conversation up was that I want to move forward—onto something bigger, you know? I want to do more than waste my days away in that tiny café on minimum wage and minimum soul."

"So?" He prompts. "Why the big introduction? You want to widen the scope on your future. All you need to secure your so-called dreams are a CV and an interview. Almost any restaurant or café in this place will take you on board, I'm sure."

Here goes, she thinks. "I... was thinking about trying somewhere new."

He pauses, like he's not sure what sure means. "You... want to try in a different ward?"

She takes a sip of wine to save herself from having to answer.

He is growing anxious. "Another city?"

She doesn't look at him directly. It seems to finally click for him.

"Another country?" He doesn't sound shocked, but his words are noticeably distant. "Where?"

Keigo is blissfully unaware of her connection Ireland. Despite having been friends for three years, they don't talk much about their personal lives, because Keigo likes to think he doesn't have one—and they don't talk about their families, because Keigo doesn't like the one he was born into. If he had just been curious enough to ask, she might have told him all about Ireland, her homeland—she would have told him all about her mother and her father and her immature twin brother, but he never asked, so she never told.

"You'll leave Japan?" Keigo prompts her.

"I don't know." She says. "Maybe, maybe not. I don't even know how I'll get away from here."

But she knows, deep down, that moving back to Ireland won't be so hard. She has family over there; she can speak English well enough to get back, and she'll get better if she decides to settle down there. She doesn't expect work will be so hard to find, because she's already accustomed to the humble life of a waitress. The only obstacle that she can think of standing between her and moving to Ireland permanently is her financial status, which she hopes she can overcome with 's help.

Reluctant though she is to admit it, she's given moving to Ireland a great deal of thought. For now, though, she keeps this thought to herself; the last thing Keigo needs is to be thrown into a premature state of panic.

"Relax." She says, hoping that her empty words will provide some comfort for Keigo. "I'm not saying that this will happen within the next year—it could be decades from now before I can up and move. It's not like I'm going to leave tomorrow, you know?"

He mumbles agreement, but says nothing more. He doesn't even try to continue the conversation. He's not in the mood to talk anymore, much to her dismay. It's not like she can blame him.

When they finish eating, he pays for them both and drives her home. He says he'll call her later, but he doesn't say when.

She doesn't know if she should believe him.

- x -

Her week is made infinitely brighter when she gets an unexpected all from her brother. He greets her with cheer, "Hey, kumquat." He makes kissing noises, and she laughs so hard that he almost manages to con from her a tear for his non-existent dignity from her eyes. "How's the weather up north?"

"It's been nothing but cherry blossoms and rainbows for the past week." She says. "You know what the spring weather's like—speaking of which, has it come very close to killing you yet?"

Almost as if on cue, he sneezes. "I know you love the spring, , but if it ruins my life any more that it already has, I may have to annihilate it."

She laughs. Ever since they were young, 's hay-fever has never been kind to him. "And how are your children surviving, knowing that their daddy's on his deathbed?"

He mumbles something that she can't catch, and then follows up with a more audible, "They're Satan's little angels. I could do with a break, though—and that's exactly what I called to talk to you about. I have all the details of our trip right here with me. Don't get up though, kumquat: I'll text it all to you later."

There's never been a moment where she's regretted being related to . "You're the best."

"I know." He says shamelessly. "We're on the 9:10 AM flight from Narita to Dublin of April twenty-ninth. I'll crash at yours the night before, and we can catch a taxi to the airport—maybe pick up some breakfast on the way. Sound good?"

has always been something of a ringleader figurehead, and she's never minded so much, since it means she doesn't have to be the organised one. When the two first started living apart from each other, he would often be the one to organise weekly sleepovers, which normally started off with all-night video game marathons and ended with phone calls from 's then-girlfriend. Though his premature marriage and messy divorce threw off their regular weekly sleepover schedule, he still manages to throw an irregular sibling get-togethers from time to time.

"Sounds good." She says.

They talk until tells her that he's going to be late for work, but he promises to call her again at the end of the week—and she trusts that he really will. He's always been a keeper of his word. She lets him go, and when she hangs up, the loneliness starts to creep up on her again. She misses the days when would call her unexpectedly just to talk—to unload all his worries and fears onto her, to vent about his problems with his then-wife, or even to fill the silence on the days that his kids were with Kagura. While he hasn't properly recovered from his divorce, he's recovered enough to manage on his own emotionally; he's become less inclined to use her as his emotional crutch and more inclined to treat her like his sister again.

He's told her countless times that, whenever she needs to, she can call him and talk to him, but she's never taken him up on his offer. As the (technically) older sibling, she's always felt the need to be stronger than her little brother. She's always felt the need to stifle her grief when their parents slowly trickled out of existence; she's always felt the need to be his shoulder to cry on, all the way through his premature marriage; she's always felt the need to hide what she thinks and feels every step of their journey into adulthood, to prevent him from ever having to be her emotional crutch. It's times like these that reminds herself why she, more than anyone, understands why Keigo feels the need to don his suit of armour, and why—more than anyone—hates that he has to.

By the time she wakes up the next morning, she finds a text from waiting for her. She guesses that he's finished with his shift at the museum, and is already back at home, preparing to sleep. His text contains all their flight information, and it's signed off with a heart-warming, 'Good night, dear kumquat!' and a smiley face.

- x -

Somewhere in between his mammoth to-do list and the hours he finds to get some sleep, Keigo manages to organise a time that the two of them can go to view the cherry blossoms. He informs her that, as much as he would have preferred to see the plum blossoms, it's already well into spring—so they don't really have much of a choice. He organises to pick her up after he finishes work, and he drives them to the Meguro River. Although Keigo is reluctant to spend longer than he needs to in a crowded place, even his splitting headache can't argue with the beauty of the river at the height of spring. She tells him time and time again that she's content to postpone the viewing until he feels better, but he merely replies, "If you were to postpone this event based on my health, you would never see the cherry blossoms, . Would that not be a shame?"

They search for a bench to sit on that is within the near vicinity of the river, and a pleasurable distance away from the crowd on the main bridge. Keigo stretches his arms out over the back of the park bench, curling an arm around her shoulder. He looks peaceful, despite the complaints he makes about his headache.

She looks at him, amused. "You should have gotten your private helicopter to fly us over the park. We would have seen the whole city's cherry blossoms in a couple of minutes, and you'd be back at your penthouse by now, fast asleep."

"Don't be stupid." Keigo says. "How is anyone supposed to sleep over the noise of that beast?"

She spares him a glance, and she watches as his eyes start to flutter shut. Though she would be more than content to just let him fall asleep, he's determine to remain awake.

"I assume that the Quiescent will be giving you time off for Golden Week?"

"Some." She says. "My boss is going up north to visit her family, so she's giving everyone at the café two weeks off. Are there any conceivable breaks in your hectic schedule, Your Highness?"

"A day or two, perhaps. A nationally declared holiday isn't going to change the fact that there is work to be done." He says, almost regrettably. "Woe is me."

She smiles.

"Since you don't seem to have plans, there's no need for me to ask you for your time—no?" He states.

"That depends. How much time are you asking for?"

"Just an evening. That's all I'm asking for."

"You're always asking me for evenings." She says, gesturing to the scene before them to prove her point. "Is there a special occasion that you wish to celebrate?"

He considers this. "The celebration of my existence."

"Nice try, but I know that your birthday's in October."

"It should be a national holiday."

She laughs. "You don't change, do you, Keigo?"

"Would you have me change?"

His tone isn't accusing, nor is it bitter. She knows never to take what Keigo says at face value, but this time, she recognises that his words are genuine: he simply wishes to know what she thinks. Initially, she's reluctant to say anything, fearing that anything she says will cause the night to prematurely end.

"Well, let me think..." Her tale is slow to the uptake, but she senses that she's managed to capture Keigo's attention. "I'll tell you a story, shall I? Three years ago, I went to the engagement party of a dear friend. You might think it to be a night quite like this: warm, dimly lit, and only somewhat crowded. Loneliness, my date for the night, persuaded me to share a drink or two with myself in the corner of the party—told me to take my mind off of things for a while—so I did. While revelling in own my company, I was chanced upon by a man, who stood haughty and proud over me. The very first words that left his mouth were: Perhaps you've had too much to drink—and lo! He confiscated my beloved glass of wine, he did—his arrogance knew no bounds. But his arrogance, I think, is what set him apart from the other characters at that party. Gaudy though his colours may have been, they nonetheless set him apart from all the white noise around us. At the heart of the matter, I would never wish to see his colours fade away—but I would be lying if I said I was content with him as he is. At present, his colours are... an unsuitable shade for a man such as himself."

Keigo is silent. At first, she wonders if her roundabout recount managed to offend him—but when she finds the courage to sneak a glance at him, she finds chance upon him sleeping. His eyes are closed, and his chest rises and falls with each breath. She can't help but smile, gratified to bear witness to the rare and beautiful sight of Atobe Keigo at peace.

"It's a shame. But... whatever his colours," she says under her breath, "I'm glad we met."

She wants to stay awake, and be the responsible one that stays awake, but he put her in a situation that makes it so easy for her to reject consciousness. His head slips onto her shoulder, trapping her beneath his touch, and his arms are so much warmer than she'd ever care to admit aloud.


... I don't love you, I'm just passing the time
You would love me if I knew how to lie
But who could love me? I am out of my mind
Throwing a line out to sea to see if I can catch a dream

It's still weeks away before she and her brother can hop a flight to Dublin, but her mind never strays too far from thoughts of Ireland. Try though she may on a hapless work day or a weekly time-out at that park bench on the Meguro River to conjure up images of her homeland in her mind, her efforts are tiresome and rather fruitless. Its been far too long since she last tried to reacquaint herself with her childhood memories, so it's not like she can blame herself for forgetting what Ireland looks like, or smells like, or feels like—but she keeps trying anyway. Any day now, she expects forgetfulness to lay down its arms and give up.

As well as preoccupying itself with thoughts of Ireland, her mind likes to play with thoughts of Keigo. She sometimes wonders how he'll react if she ever finds the courage to confront him, and tell him that she might permanently leave Japan for her home country. It's difficult for her to imagine a single reaction, for Keigo changes with the seasons—but as of late, she finds herself inclined to believe that Keigo will meet her bold words with silent treatment and a mournful look. She might just be imagining it, but she gets the feeling that Keigo's mood has stabilised a bit over the past couple of months. He is slightly more forward than she remembers him being—not that she's complaining, of course; on the contrary, conversations with him have become a much more amicable affair. She finds herself spending far less time trying to second guess, and far more time laughing at his remarks.

She likes that she actually sees him these days. She's not sure if he's changing his disposition towards her (somewhat) temperamental company, or if he's just trying to make up for lost time—but privately, she doesn't care so much. He's starting to make regular visits to the Quiescent again, and she's pleased that she gets to see him enough to verify that work isn't slowly killing him. After enjoying a cup of tea with her one fateful day, he goes so far as to leave her with a spare key to his penthouse in Minato, telling her to make herself at home in the event that she discovers she has no home to return to. He tells her that the penthouse has become something akin to his home lately, what with work forcing him to wake up at obscene hours of the morning and throwing him out of the office at obscene hours of the night. His honesty takes her by surprise, but it's pleasantly surprising. She's a little flattered that he would permit her to infiltrate his sacred place of rest, but she doesn't say this aloud; he doesn't need any more of an ego boost. Not from her.

Slowly but surely, she falls into the habit of going to the penthouse every night after work. Keigo refrains from working so late when he knows that she's at home, waiting up for him. He seems to enjoy having someone to return home to every night, and she has to admit: his gradual efforts to value companionship over work is an incredibly praiseworthy endeavour. When nine o'clock comes and Keigo still isn't home, she calls him in an attempt to persuade him to come home, and it's never very hard.

"Keigo," she'll say, "it's nine o'clock. Come home."

"Oh? I'd hardly noticed. From here, the night still appears to be young."

"Alas, you're getting old. Come home and have some dinner."

"Hm, if you insist. I'll be there shortly."

She will always try to have a home-cooked meal ready for when he returns, no matter how many times he insists that she just order room service. Mediocre though it is, her home-cooking pressures him to come home without much delay. There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing Keigo walk through the door at nine-thirty sharp, smirking as he says, "I hath returned home."

"Welcome back." She says, throwing a quick smile in her direction as she sets the table.

He comes over to stand next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing it gently. "Dinner?"

"Perhaps for a pauper." She quips, and he sighs. She knows that his tongue is fondest of European food, but she doesn't know how to cook anything that can sate his taste. She doesn't even know where she would begin looking for the right ingredients. "This is the reason that personal chefs exist."

"You'll not speak of such things in my presence."

"Yes, Your Highness. Now sit—thy throne awaits."

"You would speak to your king in such a manner?" He resigns to his throne, resting upon it with as much grace and poise as one can muster after a day's worth of chaos.

She sets dinner out before them. She tells him that, although her cooking may sate his hunger, she has no assurance for the taste—though perhaps the only one who will be able to tell the tale is he who takes the first taste. He claims that if she cannot assure his life with certainty, she can provide it before his eyes. To humour him, she samples the food, and hence assures him that a couple of spoonfuls should be safe.

He stares at the basic meal. "Perhaps you could do with a lesson in European cuisine, ."

She tries not to take him too seriously. Learning how to cook European cuisine is one thing, but being able to continuously afford ingredients to cook with is a game that's out of her league. She tells Keigo this.

He responds with a raised eyebrow. "Then, I give you permission to take what you need from the hotel kitchen."

Eager though he is to volunteer his hotel's supplies, she doesn't feel comfortable accepting his offer. It's a habit of hers, not to take, regardless of whether or not she's been given permission—not to take, regardless of whether or not someone's offered something to her.

Keigo is considerate enough not to pressure her into accepting, but the look he gives her suggests that she is welcome to do as pleases her. He eats dinner without further complaint, and after they both finish dinner and sobremesa, they wash the dishes together—she washes, and he wipes. Keigo reminds her countless times that she doesn't need to wash up—there are people here to do that for him—but she figures that he could do with a lesson in humility. If she doesn't keep his ego in check, who else is going to?

The apartment is quiet as they put the dishes away. As much as she wants to tell Keigo that, very soon, she'll be making a quick trip to Ireland, she's reluctant to spoil the good mood he's been in ever since she started coming regularly to his penthouse. She's sure that he'll take her declaration the wrong way, and he has enough to worry about it as it is. So she stays quiet it about it as they enjoy a glass of wine together, swaying to the Chet Baker record that she brought over and forced Keigo to listen to—classical music isn't the only way to be cultured, she tells him. At the end of a long night, she rises and makes a motion to leave, eager to get home and sleep, but before she gets too far, something stops her—an uneasy grip, a pair of uncertain eyes, a few ambiguous words:

"Stay a while."

It's not something she can really refuse.

When the morning comes, she gets out of bed and finds that Keigo has already left for work. The door to his bedroom is open, and there are dishes in the sink. She guesses that he must have gotten up quite early; after all, she doesn't remember hearing him leave. She tidies up the guest room before she leaves his penthouse to return to her own dilapidated apartment, trusting that today, perhaps, he'll swing by the café for a spot of lunch.

- x -

Work lets out at the end of April. She is glad that, soon, they will be rid of the strange April chill and be able to embrace the glory of the approaching summer. She is glad to lock up the Quiescent on the twenty-first, and glad to leave the café behind for the first time in too long. Two weeks, she thinks to herself, will be a welcome rest. As the X's on her calendar home approach the twenty-eighth, she has a hard time stemming her exuberance. Over dinner one night, Keigo is quick to notice her strangely positive mood, and notes aloud that her bitter remarks have hit an all-time low. "It seems that something has happened to put you in this good of a mood, ." He says.

She can't bring herself to look at him directly. "I—was just—thinking."

He raises an eyebrow at her inability to make eye contact. "About?"

"You know... Golden Week." She says, hoping that her answer is as vague as possible. "It's been a while since I've had this much time off work."

He smirks. "So much time, and no clue what to do with it, ahn?"

She's reluctant to respond directly to his claim. "Time's a scary thing, don't you think?"

"Allow me to spare you the burden of having to plan an itinerary for your lonely break." Keigo says. "What are you doing on the twenty-eighth?"

There's an awkward pause. "Actually, I have plans on the twenty-eighth. I'll be occupied for at least a week thereafter."

It takes a while for him to realise that she's actually not joking. "How surprising it is that one so bitter as yourself is in possession of legitimate friends." He says. He means it as a joke, and she understands that, but the discomforting atmosphere makes it hard for her to laugh. "Where is milady bound for?"

She's silent for a moment. For weeks now, she's been rehearsing this conversation over and over in her head. Even though they've been eating at Keigo's penthouse almost every night since he gave her a spare key to the penthouse, she's always imagined that she would break the news to Keigo while they were out strolling on the river, or when they were at that Italian place that she likes. She's never considered, even once, that the topic of Ireland might just come up naturally over dinner on a sleepy weekday night. As surprised as she is, though, she's far from ungrateful for the opportunity to speak her mind.

"Ireland." She tells him. "My brother and I are going back for a visit."

Keigo opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

Silence or no silence, she can almost predict what he was about to say:

'I was not aware that you had a brother.'

The words remain unspoken, of course, and they say nothing more to each other for the rest of the evening. When, at the end of the night, she finally makes a motion to leave, no one stops her from going.

- x -

At the close of April, shows up at her apartment. When she opens the door and sees his grinning face, she barely has any time to react before he pulls her into a giant bear hug. "Kumquat, I can't even remember the last time I saw your face! You just wouldn't believe me if I told you how much I've missed you."

When she pulls away, she can't help but note how much has changed physically. In only a few short months, he's grown an inch or two, and his panda eyes are almost non-existent. He looks much stronger, like he's been eating balanced meals, and he doesn't look quite like the emotionally exhausted wreck she remembers him being the last time she saw him.

"That makes two of us, little brother." She says, squeezing his shoulders. "You look really good. It's nice to see you've been eating actual meals lately."

He wipes a proud tear from his eyes as he begins to brag about his eldest child. "Takato's become such a wonderful cook, would you believe? He takes after his Aunty ." invites himself into her apartment and wanders through her apartment, perhaps trying to re-familiarise himself with the place after having been absent from it so long. If she recalls correctly, the last time she saw 's face was when he brought his children to visit her, and they all celebrated Christmas together. She remembers how he told her to put a mistletoe in the entryway before they came, so that when he and his children all walked in together, he cooed, "Mistletoe! Everybody give Papa a kiss!" and offered his cheek up to each child expectantly. She remembers how they decorated the place from head to toe in tinsel, and she spent fifteen minutes trying to disentangle Yuuki, 's youngest, from the tinsel trap that his two older siblings had set for him. She remembers how wide Takato's eyes were the first time that they made the sponge cake together. She remembers the laughter in the air as the five of them ate fried chicken in front of her tiny television and watched reruns of Leave The Room!, 's favourite show. Although not much has changed about her apartment (save for the decorations), spends a solid twenty minutes ooh-ing and aah-ing over the most mundane things, from her cramped kitchen counters to her grimy windows. She watches him, amused, almost having forgotten how refreshing it is to observe a human being that has fewer cares than a hamster running an endless wheel.

The both of them know that they have to be up early tomorrow morning, but they spend hours just sitting around and talking about nothing in particular. Although she took pains to set up a futon for on her bedroom floor, he discovers that he'd fallen asleep on the couch and she'd fallen asleep on the floor when morning comes.

When the both of them are awake, packed and cleaned up, they check the apartment one last time to make sure that everything is in order before they leave. surveys the place theatrically from the entryway, and he says proudly, "Today's the day, sunshine. Is this the way you would like to leave the apartment?" He makes a very particular gesture to her grimy kitchen window, but all she offers in response is a smile and a couple of nonchalant words.

"Perfectly sure." She says.

He clicks his fingers in disappointment. For some reason, she founds the sound faintly nostalgic.

When the both of them are ready, calls for a cab, and she takes the time to survey her apartment one last time. In one week, she would be returning to this cramped apartment with its grimy windows—she would fall back into the embrace of her nearly-empty refrigerator, her unkempt balcony garden and her tiny television. For some reason, the thought of leaving her apartment doesn't leave her the slightest bit emotional. Perhaps it's merely because she's used to being absent from her apartment.

She looks down at the pearls on her wrist, and they wink back up her.

Perhaps it's because she already has everything she needs with her.

Once gets off the phone, they transport their luggage downstairs and wait in front of the apartment complex for the taxi. 's suitcase, she remarks, is incredibly light, despite its size. When she asks about it, he assures her that he wishes to bring back as many gifts as possible for his little angels. She can't help but smile, a little guiltily, knowing that her suitcase is packed to the brim. At what point, she wonders, did she and swap roles as the light packer and the heavier packer? At what point did her brother start developing more attachments than she could find? At what point had her brother become so much more inclined to let people in and get to know him? She's not sure when exactly he got to be so brave, but as much as it hurts to admit it, she's not surprised that has an easier time letting people in—after all, he doesn't fear people the way she does.

- x -

They make it to Ireland relatively unscathed. It's dark when they arrive in Dublin, so they resist the urge to dilly-dally and high-tail to an inexpensive hotel that booked a few weeks ago. She has a restful (albeit dreamless) sleep, and wakes up the next morning to find her brother gone. For a moment, she's clued into thinking that he's vanished without a trace—but before she has the chance to initiate a search party, she gets a call.

The minute she picks up, she hears 's voice on the other end of the line, telling her to look out the hotel window. When she does, she finds him leaning against a rental car, waving up at her vigorously. He's drawing unwanted attention to himself, and she can't help but smile: he's always been a tiny bit of an exhibitionist.

Once they check out of the Arlington, they hit the road in the rental car. Calmly and collectedly, sets off along Bachelors Walk: he is either driving with the intention of getting them hopelessly lost (a notion that she briefly considered, and a notion that briefly made her panic), or he has spent far too many sleepless nights memorising the route to their destination, some one and a half hundred miles away. As he turns off onto O'Connell Street, batting naught more than an eyelid, she comments inwardly that perhaps he is deserving off her trust. With a lighter heart, she makes herself comfortable in the passenger seat and leans back, bracing herself for the drive north.

When they break free from the weathered (but charming) city, they are greeted by sparse flats—vast expanses of green, dotted by the occasional tree. Some way into their road trip, they pass an empty patch of land, outlined by a weathered brick fence and marked with a sign that says, 'For Sale.'

"Hey," she says to , pointing to where they'd passed the sign, "we should buy that patch of land."

"Mmm?" He spares a glance at the disappearing sign in the rear-view mirror. "Hmm... we could build a house here, if that's what you want."

"What would you do for a job, ?"

For a while, he considers this. "I'll retire and become a farmer. Can't say I've ever enjoyed being a security guard. I'll bring the kids, we'll buy a plot of land, and maybe I can settle down and find an Irish partner. You, my dear, can live in the attic, free of charge. You can spend your days, penning down your thoughts and musings."

She gives him an amused look and applauds his attempt at a spiel.

"But really, are you so fond of Ireland?" asks, dropping the conversational topic of choice. "It hasn't even been twenty-four hours yet."

"Alright." She says. "Convince me that I have something left in Japan."

For a split second, she swears that 's shoots a look at her pearl bracelet—but when she blinks, she only finds smiling at the road. He spares her the words, "That's a good point."

early rice-planting

... I want to know what everyone knows
I want to go where everyone feels the same
I never said I'd leave this city
I never said I'd leave this town
A falling out we won't tiptoe about

Before she and return to Japan that Sunday, they agree to reach out to their last living relatives in Ireland. Mere days before she and her brother are bound for a trip to Sligo, picks up the phone in their room at Castle Dargan and dials the number that he prays and prays belong to the Reagans. He sits on the bed, and the closer she listens, the more she swears she can hear his heart beating from across the room. She watches as his hands go white as he grips the receiver more and more tightly, and her heart jumps a little when she hears him take a sharp breath.

Silence. Then, "Hello—is this the Reagan household?"

He looks at her in the pause that succeeds his venture. The only solace that she can offer him in return is a quick, tepid smile.

"You, ah, might not remember me at all, but my name is... —" As soon as the words leave his mouth, stops talking. She can see unspoken words still on the tip of his tongue, but he's making the effort to listen intently to the voice on the other end of the line. "Yes, Saoirse's son—that's right. I know that it's been... perhaps decades since you last heard from us, but my sister and I are actually in Ireland right now, and—"

Once again, he stops speaking abruptly and listen to what he's being told. It takes a few minutes, but she can't help but hope for the best when the ghost of a smile starts to touch her brother's face.

"Yes, I think we would both like that very much." He says. "... Yes, please, if you don't mind."

He seizes a pen and the notebook that the hotel has kindly provided and jots something down. Once he's scrawled something down, he repeats what he's written back to the person on the other end of the line and then asks, "Is that correct? ... Alright, then—we'll see you this Friday. Yes, at five. ... Indeed, we share your sentiments." There's another pause, and smiles. It's the first time she's seen him really smile in years. "See you then."

He hangs up the phone, and the look he gives her tells her all she needs to know.

When Thursday finally comes, she and say goodbye to Mullaghmore and climb into the rental car, bound for Sligo. The drive along the N15 is uncomfortably silent, but she's too tense to want to start a conversation, and he's too nervous to concentrate on keeping one. Neither of them can bring themselves to speak a word until turns off onto the R291, and the view of the sea is too charming to let pass without acknowledgement.

"They live by the sea?" She finds herself asking as pulls up on a cul-de-sac.

"So it seems." He says, checking and double-checking the address to make sure he's pulled up in front of the right house. She follows his line of sight to a house close to the end of the cul-de-sac, with ochre walls and a tiny white car parked in the driveway. The colour of car is akin to that of 's face as he sucks in a nervous breath and exhales noisily. He looks at her bashfully and asks, "Ready to go, kumquat?"

She opens her mouth to respond, but he steps out of the car without a moment's notice. Ah, a rhetorical question.

They fall in step beside one another as they walk up to the front door and knock. She can hear her heart beating in her ears when they notice the sound of shuffling feet growing closer, and a sharp click as someone unlocks and pulls it back. She finds herself staring into the eyes of a woman who bears the physical marks of aging, but the heart of someone much, much younger.

There's no need for introductions. Aoife Reagan invites them inside, and they graciously take off their shoes before stepping inside.

Aoife's leads them through the house, which is small, cosy, and has far too many bedrooms for Aoife to be living by herself. She sits them down at the kitchen table, each with a cup of Barry's, and gets comfortable herself before launching right into conversation.

"You took me by surprise." Aoife says. "The last time I'd heard anything about either of you two was many, many years back. What brings the two of you to Ireland? Are you still living in Nagoya? And what of your father? We haven't heard from him since God knows when."

From the corner of her eye, sees look away. As much as she wants to soften the blow of the acknowledgement that their father is well and truly gone, she recognises that Aoife has every right to know what became of her brother-in-law. So she says, "He passed—quite a few years ago, actually. He..."

She stops when she sees the look on 's face.

Aoife casts a mournful look into her cup. "His last letter to us was so final—I'd considered that maybe your father didn't want anything to do with us anymore. You know... after he and Saoirse eloped, my parents gave him a lot of grief—enough for the both of them to want to leave Ireland and go elsewhere." She says wistfully. "He wrote to us twice, in total. With the exception of my parents, our family always loved reading his letters. ... True to his career, he was an eloquent writer."

She smiles fondly as she recounts stories from the bank of her memory.

"The first time he wrote to us, he told us about how you moved into a tiny apartment in Nagoya, with the royals that he'd made from his latest book." She starts to laugh a bit. "Then he gushed about Saoirse's pregnancy. 'Twins, Aoife!' he exclaimed, before he went on and on about what he should name them."

Then the mood fell sombre.

"The next time he wrote to us," she began more slowly, and more heavily, "he told us about how Saoirse's passed. He told us every single detail, feeling as though we had a right to know and... well, you know the rest, I'm sure. We insisted that he come back to Ireland, but he refused without giving us a reason why—he just said he'd be fine, and not to worry about him or the kids. He never wrote back again."

looks between Aoife and , and both of them are wearing morbidity like suits. They both of them look so affected that she doesn't know whether to continue the conversation, or let them all wither away in the painful silence. Aoife spares her the burden of having the choose.

"I never thought I'd hear from either of you again." Aoife says. "Of course, we did what we had to in order to move on. My husband and I had kids of our own—they live in England now—nd every step of the way, we always stopped to wonder how Keiichi's beloved twins were doing."

There's a painful silence.

"To be honest with you," begins slowly, "we... weren't told very much about our family here. I expect that it was hard for my father to talk about it, but the mystery surrounding where we came from was too much for us to bear. We came here partly to reconcile that, and..."

She trails off. Aoife knows the rest.

"It's a miracle we were able to find you at all." goes on. "But it's certainly a relief. This might be a premature thing to say but..."

She spares her brother a glance. He hasn't looked up from his cup of tea since she brought up the matter of their father, and she takes this as a sign that he's not about to disagree with whatever she brings up.

"But?" Aoife gently reminds them.

pauses. "Realistically speaking, there's not much left for us in Japan—for either or myself. In part, my brother and I came to Ireland because... well, we thought that it might be time to start a new life somewhere else."

It strikes a chord with her, the way Aoife lights up like a chandelier. can only watch in bemusement as her aunt lets loose a slew of dreams—about how and can move somewhere nearby, about how they can be like a family again (especially when her children in England visit them from time to time), and about how they can celebrate Christmases with genuine spirit from now on. For the first time since setting foot into the house, she watches as lifts his head and starts to smile at warm thoughts like family and being together. Not once does he look her in the eyes, but seeing his spirits lift puts her at ease a little bit more. jokes that they can have family dinners once a week, and talks about how shocked his children will be when they discover that they actually have family in a foreign country. The conversation devolves into a spirited discussion about 's ex-wife and his three children, and even though it's a conversation about the woman he playfully claims "destroyed him", he seems lighter—Kagura, after all, is a cupcake of a topic when compared to death.

When excuses himself to go to the bathroom, Aoife smiles gently in 's direction and says, "You won't regret it if you move here—I promise you."

With vacant ease, can't help but believe her aunt.

Aoife's eyes move to the route took to the bathroom only minutes ago. "You've very close."

blinks. "He's all I have left."

When they return to Japan, their limbs are sore and their minds are weary—but despite their exhaustion, only spends a night at her apartment before returning to Kobe on three hours of sleep. His absence is painfully noticeable; she is quickly reminded of just how lonely living by oneself can be. She is reminded what it's like to only have to cook for one person; she's reminded what it's like to set the table for two and not realise until much later that she's the only one here; she's reminded what her place sounds like at night when her brother is not around to fill the room with his gentle snoring. It's a stark contrast, she thinks, to their evening at Aoife's household. Although the memory is faint in her mind, she can stay in her self-crafted dream long enough to hear the sound of four clinking cutlery, stories being swapped around the table, and the booming laughter of Aoife's husband. She doesn't notice the fond smile that's tugging the corners of her lips until she breaks from her reverie and (with a heavy heart) remembers where she is.

How nice it must be, she thinks, to wake up on a lazy Sunday morning to the house already stirring. How nice it must be to hear the kettle already on the boil when she wakes up—a cup filled with coffee and cream powder waiting for—and a family of early-risers chattering quickly over a full breakfast. How nice it must be to share her life with a family again.

- x -

She makes the effort to reach out to Keigo, but each time dials his number, it goes straight to voice mail. She doesn't doubt that he's busy, so she decides to leave him a short message, notifying him that she has returned to Japan. She doesn't hear back from him until a couple of days later, when she returns home from grocery shopping to find a missed call from Keigo. Curious, she sets down her groceries in the kitchen and plays the voice message.

"Ah, ." For a moment, the world stops. "Your return was rather badly timed. I'm working with a partner company in Spain at the moment. Now that you're back in Japan, I assume you're also keeping yourself busy at the café. Tell me about your day."

When the recording finishes, the phone prompts her to take action, and she presses to call back. She hears the ringing tone, but she is once again greeted by Keigo's voice mail message, with which she is all too familiar. Once she hears the familiar message tone, she speaks: "Hi Keigo." There's a strange new sentiment she feels when she says his name. "I don't resume work until next week—my boss is still up north, visiting her family—but my days remain exciting nonetheless: today I left the apartment to get groceries."

She's sitting around the following day, reading a book on the couch when her phone goes off. It takes her a while to realise that, rather than it being a notification for her voice mail, it's actually call from Keigo. She picks it up in a hurry. "Hello? Keigo?"

"How weak, ." He says, amusement in his voice. "Your trip to the grocery store is but a cupcake to my current work load."

"Oh, I don't doubt you." She says. "Is Spain finally beginning to take its toll on you?"

"Not quite. The food is redemptive, as are the general populace." He muses.

"And the partner company?"

"We shall not speak of it." He says, and immediately changes the subject. "Are you terribly jet-lagged, ?"

She's beginning to think that he's deriving some sort of pleasure by calling her so freely again. "In part. I haven't completely recovered from the nine hour time difference, but I'm getting there."

"I see." He considers this. "And your luggage?"

"Still packed." She says, laughing at the suitcase that's been sitting by her door for the past few days. Any day now, she'll find the motivation to unpack it.

"Good." He said. "I'll send a car in the morning, then."

"Excuse me?"

He clicks his tongue in disappointment. "The car pool's arrived. I'm needed at the office now, but Yanai will give you the details for your flight tomorrow morning."


"See you soon, ."

All she can think when he hangs up is: Oh, no.

- x -

She's hardly awake when, the following morning, she hears a knock at the door. When she opens it, she finds Yanai standing in the doorway: as usual, his uniform is immaculate, his expression is immovable, and he bows deeply when he greets her: "Good morning, -sama. I trust that you had a restful sleep." He eyes her luggage, which has been (unbeknownst to him) sitting by the front door since her return from Ireland. "I will load your luggage presently. Perhaps it would be best if you made preparations for your departure."

"Leave for where, exactly?" She's a little unamused that Keigo organised a ride to the airport and a flight to Spain by himself. She would have preferred to have a say in the matter—the chance to decline his offer—but it's been and done now.

Yanai frowns. "For Spain, -sama—that's what Atobe-sama would have you do. He instructed me to drive you to the airport and ensure that you board one of the earlier flights to Spain." He checks his watch. "Speaking of which, we'd best hurry—if we leave in, perhaps... fifteen minutes, we will be just ahead of schedule. You should be able to make it to Barcelona for dinner."

In time for dinner? he opens her mouth to argue, but Yanai is already halfway out of the door with her luggage, telling her that he'll be waiting for her outside. She is left with little choice other than to say goodbye to her tiny apartment, after only a few days of having returned to it, and goes downstairs to meet with Yanai. True to his word, she finds him holding open the back door of a Rolls Royce; holding back a sigh, she slips into the vehicle, and they set off for the airport.

They drive to a building far from Narita Airport, which she quickly discovers is home to a series of private jets. Yanai remains with her until they reach security, at which point he bids her a safe flight and informs her that she will soon be in the care of an attendant over in Spain. She bids him farewell, and by the time she's passed through all the security checkpoints, all the preparations for her to fly out are ready. A nameless employee escorts her to a Bentley and drives her to the very foot of the aeroplane. She steps out onto a (rather gaudy) red carpet, and she hurriedly steps onto the plane to avoid having to look at any more of Keigo's superfluous bragging. She is comfortably seated on the plane, and before long, she's leaving Japan once again.

She should, of course, be delighted that Keigo's given her to chance to see a little bit more of the world, but for some reason, she's having trouble ignoring whatever it is that's weighing down on her heart. Something about this experience doesn't feel right: the ease of passing through the FBO, the comfort and space she has all to herself, and only the hum of the plane to disturb her thoughtful silence. The flight attendant offers her a number of refreshments to loosen the tenseness from her shoulders, but she can't find it in her to relax. She has no right to be at home in a place like this. None of this belongs to her: not the plane, not the luxurious (but gaudy) interior—not even the smiles of the attendants on-board. None of this is hers, and the thought sits uncomfortably with her all the way to Spain.

A little less than fourteen hours later, they land in Barcelona. After customs checks her luggage, they permit her to disembark the plane; when she steps out of the plane, she's greeted by a temperate evening, and yet another (gaudy) carpet, edged by attendants in nice clothes. Each of them bow as they welcome her, and she tries not to think too deeply at how embarrassingly formal the ordeal is as she hurries to the end of the walkway. She sidles into the Maserati, and the car takes off.

Ildefonds, the driver, informs her that they'll be stopping off at the hotel Keigo's staying at to drop off her luggage and have her change for dinner. She's getting presentiments about the ordeal, and uneasiness sits in the pit of her stomach all the way to the hotel. In time, they pull up onto the Passeig de Colom, and the car slows down in from of the The Serras. She's halfway there to opening the door herself, but Ildefonds hurries out of the driver seat and opens the door for her, gesturing grandly for her to step out.

"Su Excelencia will return presently." He gently informs her that Keigo was likely to return around nine-thirty, and from there, we would eat dinner on the rooftop restaurant. With a smile, he says, "Nine-thirty is unusually early for one such as himself."


"Yes, quite." Ildefonds replies. "Normally, one such as he eats dinner at around eleven o'clock. Perhaps, after such a long flight, you are already peckish? Shall I have the kitchen prepare something for you in the meantime?"

"N-no, that's alright. I'll wait for Keigo." She says. Ildefonds acknowledges her wishes with a bow of his head.

The bellboy takes over as her escort. He takes her luggage and shows her to Keigo's suite on the top floor of the hotel. He places her luggage in the unoccupied bedroom, which apparently belongs to her: it's warm and spacious; there's an adjoining bathroom; the bed is nicely made, and a box unapologetically bearing the name of Adolfo Dominguez.

She almost doesn't notice that the bellboy is still standing there, smiling pleasantly. When she notices him, he asks, "Do you require anything else, Su Excelencia?"

She winces. "No, thank you. I'll be alright."

Dismissing an attendant is kind of unsettling, but she tries to shake away the lingering power from her hands when she hears the door to her bedroom, and then the door to the suite click shut. Ordering people around doesn't suit her. In the time it takes for Keigo to return to the suite, she decides to melt her exhaustion with a long bath. After the warmth takes all the weariness from her bones, she gets out and dries off. For a very real moment, she considers wearing a nice enough dress from her own luggage—but she knows that doing so will displease Keigo. She's not eager to press his buttons so early into their vacation.

She removes the lid from the box sitting on the bed and dons the Adolfo Dominguez dress. It's dark, simple and not too eye-catching, so it's safe to assume that Keigo had nothing to do with choosing it. She dons it just as she hears someone unlock the door the suite and enter. She hears the sound of keys crumpling in a pile on the table, and then a light knock at the door.


Her breath catches. "Come in, Keigo."

She watches as the handle slowly turns, and she sees Keigo's weary face in the doorway. There are lines of exhaustion drawn across his face, but there is something gentle in the way he looks at her—he looks like he's returned home after a long vacation, and he's seeing familiar things after such a long time abroad. It's only moments, however, before the softness vanishes, and she's faced with his ungracious smirk. "You're wearing a dress."

"So it would seem." She spares the girl in the mirror a pitiful glance.

Keigo doesn't seem fazed. "Do a twirl."

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Not enough." He says, motioning with an index finger for her to twirl.

She looks at him, unimpressed. "Would you like to try it on?"

"I wouldn't fit." He keeps motioning, so she has no choice but to slowly turn around. She finishes her turn facing the mirror, so he takes the opportunity to step up behind her and place his hands on her shoulders, squeezing gently. "It's a bit plain."

"On the contrary, whoever chose this has good taste." She disagrees. "Better than you, anyway."

"How quaint. My taste is unmatched, ."

"For unfavourable reasons." She eyes his suit. "I hope you're not dressing like that tonight."

He holds out his arm. "And if I am?"

She has no choice but to take it.

He leads them to the rooftop restaurant, where he orders plates of fine foods that she's never even heard of, let alone tasted before. Care, thought, and precaution have gone into preparing and serving the food; the wine is like nothing she's tasted before; Keigo's voice is even more pleasant that she remembers it last being; but despite how perfect everything should be, there's something strangely unsettling and impersonal about the whole affair. The fancy dress, the fancy meals, the fancy hotel and its view of the city at night—none of it is her. She can't disregard the fact that everything from the private jet to the personal drivers and the fancy hotel suites were all a luxury, but perhaps they were too much of a luxury. Everything about this Spain trip is just so... Keigo—and not in a good way. Pizza in a low-end diner would be a little more her: they'd be sitting a lot closer to each other in a cramped booth overlooking the empty street; they'd be laughing over a quick dose of champagne, and talking about nothing of great importance.

After their meal, they return to their hotel room to rest. Keigo is tired, so they don't stay up long to talk—they chatter in the main quarter just long enough for her to work out what's on the agenda tomorrow.

"Be prepared for an early start." Keigo tells her. "Now that the ordeal with our Spanish partners are sorted out, there's no longer any reason to stay in Barcelona. How does lunch in Paris sound, ?"

At this rate, she thinks, they'll be having lunch in Paris, afternoon tea in Belgium, dinner in Germany and supper in the Netherlands—maybe Keigo will even fly them to Greece for a midnight snack. The very thought of being in transit again makes her weary, but she masks it with a sleepy smile. "Anything you want."

If Keigo notices that she's trying to hide her thoughts from him, he doesn't say anything about it. Perhaps he's too tired. Hands on her shoulders, he draws her in and presses a chaste kiss to her forehead. She murmurs good night, and they retreat to their respective rooms. She sinks into the bed, which is much softer than her mattress at home, and before long, she's fast asleep.

- x -

They fly out in no hurry the next morning, and—true to Keigo's word—they arrive in Paris by lunch. He takes her to a café on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and although it's not quite as quaint as the Quiescent, it's ten times better than dinner the previous evening. After filling themselves up, they check in at Hôtel Fouquet's Barrière. They're shown to the presidential suite, and not long after they settle down, Keigo leaves to meet with some business partners.

"It is quite likely—and quite unfortunate—that I'll be dining with members from our French branch." Keigo tells her as he buttons his cuffs and slips into a blazer. He tosses a credit card onto the table. "If you don't want to order anything from room service, take that—you should know what it is."

She picks it up. "Is it 0001?"

He confirms her question with a swift kiss to the cheek. "I'll see you later tonight."

And then he's gone.

They stay in Paris for a couple more nights before Keigo says that they're moving on. She asks him where he has business next, but he shakes his head, telling her that he needs a quick vacation in Greece before returning to Japan. They make a one-night stopover in Crete before finally concluding their trip at the FBO near Narita Airport. In a lot of ways, her trip to Ireland didn't compare with her sojourn in Europe: she'd gotten the chance to spend nights in rooms she could never have dreamed of staying in before; she saw sides of Barcelona, Paris and Heraklion that the ordinary traveler would have died to see; she'd been able to drink some of the finest wines and dine in some of the finest restaurants that Europe has to offer. Perhaps the greatest honour of all was being able to survey Keigo in his natural environment.

That being said, when she returns home after a long trip overseas for the second time that month, she feels warmer... and lighter. She feels comforted as she steps into her tiny apartment and boils some water in her cramped kitchen; she feels comforted by the rows of family photos lined up on the cabinet; even the sound of the ticking clock, which used to irritate her to no end on the nights that she couldn't sleep, is a solace. She suddenly realises that being alone doesn't really bother her as much as it used to. When she looks at the photos, she can just imagine the light of laughter in Takato's eyes, and Hiyori teasing her little brother, and Yuuki crying about a toy he'd lose, and wiping tears from the eyes of his youngest child, saying "It'll be okay" and "Don't worry, Papa will find him for you" and "Be strong, my little man!".

For the first time in a while, she isn't so opposed to calling this little apartment home.

Princo & Ribbon

December 23, 2015.


Two days until Christmas!

Hanami and umemi: So I'm sure most of you will know that hanami (花見) is where you go and look at cherry blossoms and have parties underneath them and whatnot. Umemi (梅見) is a slightly more ancient form of hanami. From what I read, it's basically the same thing, only you admire the plum blossoms instead, and you tend to do it in the late winter/early spring. It's more popular among old people, because there are less young kids around and therefore less noise (apparently).

Sobremesa: Sobremesa, I believe, is a Spanish word that refers to post-dinner conversation (I think). I expect that Atobe, who's so damn cultured, would know a word like this.

Chet Baker: This one's a bit of an inside joke. To tell you the round-about way, Chet Baker (no, not Chet Faker) is an American jazz musician who played the flugelhorn and trumpet, and sang He did a cover of a song called But Not For Me (originally by George and Ira Gershwin), which was featured in a jazz anime called Sakamichi no Apollon (坂道のアポロン). There's a character in the anime, Junichi, who does a cover of Chet Baker's cover of But Not For Me, and the joke here is that Junichi has the same voice actor as Atobe (Suwabe Junichi).

Kumquat: I think I forgot to mention this in the previous chapter, but kumquats are fruit. They look kind of like small, slightly elliptical oranges. The idea to use them as a nickname came from a series of books written by Susan Meissner, in which the friend of the main character's husband likes to call her kumquat.

Leave The Room!: So a long time ago, Princo sent me a novel (called Nelly, for the sake of Princo's memory), which she draw a picture of a cute character holding a pencil. While I don't believe that Princo actually captioned it with "Leave the room!", I began to (somehow) associate that picture with the aforementioned text, and I've been using it throughout our dream novels as a tribute to Nelly LOL. I seriously doubt that Leave The Room! is a thing that even really exists.

Irish names: According to the internet, the correct pronunciation for the names mentioned in this chapter are: "sear-sha" for Saoirse, "ee-fah" for Aoife, and "deer-mid" for Diarmuid.

Barry's: It's a brand of tea LOL. I hear that there's an ongoing debate about whether Barry's or Lyons is better, but since Lyons is apparently packed in England for a Dutch company, I decided to go with Barry's, since (I THINK) it's packed in Ireland.

Aeroplane: For all you Americans, here's a distinction between British English and American English. I know you guys say airplane, but we say aeroplane LOL.

FBO: Fixed box operator. There's this whole protocol that comes with having and boarding a private jet, so if you want to know more about private jets just look at this thread (that's what we did): link

Passeig de Colom: So, I don't know a lot about Spain, but according to Wikipedia, it's a "wide avenue lined with palm trees in the city of Barcelona [... ] in the Ciutat Vella district." If we happen to have any Spanish readers that want to correct us, please feel free to do so!

Su Excelencia: Okay, I don't have a single clue how to even with Spanish honorifics, but one of my current roommates is Spanish and I asked her how a hotel bellboy would address the CEO of an international company (even though that's not quite what Atobe is just yet). She told me that she had three honorifics in mind, and that Su Excelencia (which I think is like His Excellency or Her Excellency) was probably the highest of the three, so I just went with that.
I also asked how the hotel staff would refer to Atobe's wife, if he had one, and she said that it would probably still be Su Excelencia. If we have any Spanish readers who are morally offended by my lack of cultural awareness, then please please PLEASE recommend an alternative for me LOL. I will happily take up any suggestions.

0001: This is a joke in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Manfred von Karma's pin number (apparently) is 0001, because he claims that there's no one greater than himself.

Ribbon: So, I don't know very much about foreign countries at all, so if there are any cultural inconsistencies PLS FORGIVE ME LOL (I DON'T KNOW A THING ABOUT EUROPE I'M SORRY). I'm sorry you guys had to wait this long to literally get that tiny bit of May.

Princo: I'm going to cry at all these references oh my goodness. I'm 80% positive I captioned that little drawing something, but I can't recall if it's "Leave the room!" or not. I think the drawing was an upset little girl, so I wouldn't completely dismiss the possibility of her yelling "Leave the room!" I'M MAKING IT SOUND LIKE SUCH A MORBID UPSET GIRL BUT I SWEAR SHE'S JUST LIKE, A SIMPLIFIED CHIBI VERSION OF SHUGO CHARA'S YAYA (I sent this nearly 3 years ago I want to say, but if my memory is correct she has Yaya's hair). Anyways, I personally feel this chapter is better than the first, so I hope you enjoyed it thoroughly!

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