第三章 | 夏
THREE | SUMMER
... slow—leave walking to the world
give your feet a chance,
they'll do all the thinking
toast high until they find less pathetic wine
until they get a better blend
then we'll drink it for them
She's not quite sure why, but Keigo seems lighter these days. When he comes by the café to have lunch almost every single day, the muscles in his shoulders are loose, and he looks content—almost relaxed (well, as close to being relaxed as one such as himself can get). He carries around fewer burdens with himself these days, and although she can still trace the signs of premature wrinkling on his forehead (which he refuses to acknowledge the existence of), he rarely looks as exhausted as he did in spring.
When she brings up his recent devil-may-care stance over brunch one day, he just looks at her, faintly surprised. It's a rather rare treat for her eyes.
"Has something particularly pleasant happened to you recently?" She asks curiously.
"Something pleasant, ahn?" He leans forward to peer curiously at her. "Such as?"
"I don't know." She says. "Something must have happened to make you change like this, no?"
He props up an elbow and rests his chin on a loosely-constructed fist. "How do you believe I've changed, ?"
"The sharpness in your humour has abandoned you."
"You're less bitter about humanity."
"In what way?"
She stares at him. "The last time I tried to roast humanity, you defended another human being."
He feigns innocence. "I don't recall. What begets your curiosity?"
"You seem... lighter these days."
He spares himself a quick once-over in the shop window that they're sitting beside. "Lighter, ahn? Perhaps I've lost weight."
She reaches out to brush at the dark circles beneath his eyes. Lighter though he may be, he is eons away from becoming completely weightless. "Coming from you, I'm not sure that's a good thing."
He murmurs agreement.
As well as being lighter, Keigo seems much more responsive to honesty these days; it's not such a foreign concept to him, which she is grateful for—frankly, she's a little tired of foreign concepts. The more time that he spends around her, the less inclined he feels to don his suit of armour in her present; it does wonders for their relationship, now that she doesn't have to spend so much time trying to read the patterns in his pursed lips or in the lines of exhaustion on his face. He, too, seems to be less inclined to regard her with such scrutiny; he spends less time using his insight on her and far more time regarding the heart that she wears on her sleeve. It's not as if their relationship is a one-way street; rather, it's mutually beneficial.
Given their recent closeness, she begins to spend more of her time at Keigo's penthouse. She goes there most nights after work and often spends days at a time there. She's migrated a sizeable amount of clothes from her apartment to his, and she's brought one of her favourite photos of her and on their first day of elementary school to adorn her bedside table. If the ingredients are running low in their fridge, she waits for Keigo to come home from work early on a weekend and makes him go grocery shopping with her. If he's up to it, they'll cook dinner together and eat together. After sobremesa, they'll wash the dishes together (it's the only way that she knows how to keep him humble and domestic—well, as humble and domestic as something like Keigo can be), enjoy a glass of wine, and dance to Chet Baker (she, however, has yet to become as great a dancer as Keigo has demonstrated himself to be). They retire to their respective rooms in due time, exhausted after their long day at work, but sometimes they'll fall asleep together on the couch after a late night European flick of Keigo's choice.
Sometimes, if Keigo comes back late, she'll wait for him: if he comes back at ten or eleven, looking exhausted; he'll extract a welcome home hug from her before taking a brisk shower and then retiring immediately to bed. If he comes home later, she'll fall asleep on the cough waiting for him; when she wakes up in the morning, she'll find herself tucked under an eiderdown, and her empty coffee mug from last night washed and draining in the dish rack. It brings a smile to her face every time she reminds herself that, for all the luxury his life bears, the great Atobe Keigo retains some (extremely faint) traces of domesticity.
At some point between when Keigo first started inviting her over to his penthouse and now, she's started thinking of his place as home. She doubts that it's because the apartment is ten times more luxurious than her own, or because room service is at her very fingertips whenever she wants it, or even because she spends so much time here that her own apartment is starting to become little more than a figment of her imagination. Part of her believes that this place is home to her because it is the semi-permanent address of more than one person—because at night, she hears more than just the faint ticking of the clock and the distant rush of the cars on the street outside; there's always food in the fridge for more than one; there's laundry in the dryer for more than just one. The magic that exists here is created by more than just the exotic hardwood flooring or the million dollar view of the Minato ward: privately, she thinks that if she or Keigo were to ever leave this place, the magic would be lost, and it would stop being a home for either of them. It would become nothing more than another empty shell of a penthouse.
She's on her way home to the penthouse from work today when she gets a call from Keigo out of the blue. It catches her by surprise: it's not usual to get calls from Keigo earlier than seven o'clock at night. A little perturbed, she answers the phone. "Keigo? What's wrong?"
"Ah, —I won't be home this evening." For some reason, he sounds rather sour. "It seems that my parents require my presence at home this evening. Something about a family dinner."
Her mind wanders to the empty penthouse, which suddenly seems a lot bigger and a lot more lonelier in her fevered imagination. "Oh."
He misinterprets the disappointment in her voice. "By all means, come along."
She can't help but laugh at the thought. Her? Having dinner with Keigo's parents? She imagines sitting in a room twice the size of her apartment, at a dining table longer than the Meguro River itself. She imagines sitting at one end of the table, squinting to see Keigo and his parents sitting at the other side. She imagines his mother taking a generous sip of wine, staining her pristine and pearly teeth, as his father takes forks another bite-sized portion of the finest European cuisine into his mouth. She imagines being asked by the both of them what she does for a living in this day and age, and how she fares for herself in this rotting economy; she imagines the look on all their faces when she tells them what she does for a living. She imagines Keigo sparing her a face that faintly resembles an apologetic look, and the thought hurts so much that it's almost funny. "Oh, no, Keigo—I couldn't possibly interfere with your family affairs."
"I agree—it will be a rather dull affair." He sounds unmistakeably bitter. "Whether or not I am present, however, the apartment is yours to use as you see fit."
She falls short of a step. "Okay, thanks for telling me about tonight. I'll see you tomorrow, Keigo."
"We'll talk again soon, ."
When they hang up, she turns around and goes back to her own apartment. If she doesn't think about it too deeply, she can almost feel the comforting embrace of home as she walks into her tiny, cramped apartment.
The following day, Keigo comes by the Quiescent to have lunch with her—it's a habit that they've fallen into these days, and it's a habit that the both of them have come to treasure. After his so-called family dinner from last night, he seems remarkably tense—much more so than she remembers him being the last time she saw him a couple of days ago, anyway. When they sit down at a table just outside the shop, each of them with their respective drink of choice, she asks, "How was dinner last night?
He tries to maintain his composure. "The food was generously portioned."
"I hardly expect that they'll let the company president and his wife starve." She points out. "Speaking of which—how was the company?"
The look on his face goes sour. "Tepid, at best." He says. "Family gatherings have never quite been my cup of tea. The three of us having a silent mutual agreement to stay out of one another's hair."
She blinks. It's not the first time that Keigo has spoken of his family with such a low opinion, but it's always been a little hard to get used to. Whereas Keigo despises his flesh and blood, she can't imagine living without hers. "That seems so sad."
"Perhaps." He takes a sip of his tea.
Trying to evoke a look of faint contentedness from him, she says, "How about I introduce you to a family dinner that you won't regret going to? A home-cooked meal, a bit of cheery company—it'll be fun."
The proposition intrigues Keigo. She watches as the expression on his face changes from faint surprise to unmistakeable smugness. "I look forward to it." He says simply, raising his cup to drain the last of his cup.
- x -
The last time talked to , she reflects, was little more than a week ago. He usually called at least once every couple of weeks to brag about the fact that he would soon, once again, be in custody of his three beloved angels. He would talk for hours about all the things he had planned for them—they would make a blanket fort in the living room and have a sleepover; they would bake all morning and be allowed to eat cake for lunch; they would drink hot chocolate in front of the television and watch Leave the Room! until midnight. It brought a smile to her face, and they'd reminisce for hours about all the things that they used to do as kids.
She checks the time before calling . She knows that he has custody of the kids for the next couple of weeks, so he's unlikely to be assigned a night shift. The dial tone rings in her ear for a few moments, and then she hears pick up on the other of the line.
There is no background noise, meaning that the kids have probably gone to bed—so why is it that he sounds so weary? Usually, when she calls him at a time like this, he'll breathe a long sigh of a relief and say, "Kumquat, have I got a story for you." He'll then proceed to talk on and on about the exhausting day he's had, and she'll easily be able to picture the smile on his face when he fondly recalls Takato learning a new recipe, or Hiyori's new hobby, or what Yuuki was crying about today. Today, there aren't even remnants of cheeriness in his voice.
"What happened to you?" She asks, bewildered. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine." He's never been very good at lying. "I've just had a really long couple of weeks. Listen—you won't believe what I've been up to."
He then goes on and on about something completely unrelated, and although his behaviour disturbs her, she listens in complete silence. It's amazing, she thinks, how he can talk about something for so long and not mean a single thing he says. Both of them know that he's not fooling her, but neither of them want to acknowledge the truth. , it seems, isn't ready to tell her what's really on his mind, and she's not the kind of person to back him into the corner. She's not like his ex-wife; she knows what backing him into a corner does to his head.
After he's finished recalling a tale about a strange happening at work the other day, he says, "Anyway, I'm deeply sorry, my dear kumquat, but I'm within a hairbreadth of falling asleep on you. I know I haven't gone up to see you since last month, but it's nearly summer. When the kids get of school, I was thinking of bringing them up for a bit of the summer—actually, can I leave them with you for a little bit? I'm running behind on my bills this month, and Kagura has a big trial coming up..."
Everything about 's voice and what he's saying brings her grave concern. He is never careless when it comes to money: he always has savings; he knows how to get more hours at work if he needs them; in the event that he's strapped for cash, he'll always borrow the smallest possible amount that he can from either her or from Kagura, and pays them back to the cent as soon as he makes up the money.
Of course, she refuses to say anything of this out loud; the last thing she wants to do is make her brother upset. In the end, all she says to him is: "Of course I can. I'm here for you no matter what you need, okay?"
He gives her a tiny "okay" in response.
Silence descends upon them, but neither party wants to be the first to hang up. She keeps hearing sounds on the other end of the line, like 's starting to say something, but stops himself before any sounds come out. Although it's frustrating to listen to, she can't bring herself to hang up on him when he's like this.
Finally, just as she's about to give up and say goodbye, she hears his voice on the other end of the line.
A pause. "Yes?"
"We'll always be together, right?"
"Of course we will. You're all I've got left, little brother."
"... Yeah, okay." He says finally, seemingly regaining a bit of a zest. "Okay, I'm going to go now. Love you."
"Love you, too. Take care of yourself."
There's another pause, and then he hangs up.
The call with her brother disturbs her for days afterwards, and Keigo is quick to pick up on it. While sharing a glass of wine, he catches her staring into her glass for a few seconds too long. The arm that he has wrapped around her shoulder squeezes her in a comforting gesture, and she can't help but smile in response. "I'm okay." She says.
He raises an eyebrow at her. "Are you?"
She sighs. She's reluctant to talk about family in the presence of Keigo, but knows what he's like: he's so adamant that there's really no point in playing ruses with him. "I called my brother the other night to see how he was doing, but there was something... incredibly off about him." She recounts the conversation that she had with her brother, and Keigo listens in careful silence.
Keigo seems thoughtful. "With the bond that you two have, it's hard to think that he'll keep it quiet from you for long." He says. You'll see."
It's those few, simple words that lift the worried thoughts of from her mind. She can't help but smile at the rare display of his Keigo-esque sensitivity. "You're right."
"Indeed I am." He agrees, and she laughs in response.
But the more she starts to think about again, the more her smile begins to fade. Keigo isn't keen on her silence and tells her to speak what's on her mind, and although she is hesitant to speak about her little brother's uncensored past, she just can't refuse. "He's... a little co-dependent." A smile invites itself onto her face and she begins to reminisce the days that they were friends. "He's always been like that—he used to be a lot shier when we were younger, so he'd cling to me whenever I strayed too far. He was very cute as a young child."
Absent-mindedly, Keigo brushes a few stray strands of her hair behind her ear. "Is he not still so?"
"For better or for worse." She says, bringing the beginnings of a smirk to Keigo's face. "He's getting better all the time—if you compared who he is today to who he was before, you wouldn't recognise him. These days he seems so extroverted—I suppose it's something that comes from having kids."
At the very mention of kids, the absent look on Keigo's face turns sour.
With an amused look on her face, she goes on: "It's a milestone for , though. You can't really tell from his personality, but he's really grown. His anxiety used to be much worse when we were kids, but he's learned how to handle it better the older he's grown."
"Anxiety?" Keigo echoes.
She doesn't realise what she's said to him until the words are already out of her mouth and in his ears; she's gotten so used to speaking her mind that she's forgotten how to censor out things she's not sure she's ready to talk about. The way he's looking at her with carefully veiled concern seems to suggest that he wants her to elaborate and talk more about 's past, but she's not ready to disclose that to Keigo just yet. The two of them haven't even met—who is she to disclose her little brother's past to, from his perspective, a complete stranger?
Shaking her head, she says, "I'll be certain to tell you about it someday—but now isn't the time."
If he's disappointed, he doesn't show it. He just leans in, presses a good night kiss to her forehead, and retreats to his room after cleaning up their wine glasses. It's not until his door closes that she realises just how late it is into the morning. For a few moments, she lingers in the gentle embrace of Chet Baker's voice; in time, she slowly rises to turn off the radio. The only sounds that populate the apartment are the ticking of the clock, the distant rush of cars on the street, and the faint snores of a sleeping Keigo.
At the end of June, she retreats to her own room, unable to shake off her troubled thoughts of her little brother. But as worried as she is for him, she has to remind herself that he's six and a half hours away from him; right now, there's nothing that she can do for him.
Be strong, my little brother.
... I know it's sad that I never gave a damn about the weather, and it never gave a damn about me
I know it's mad, but if I could go to hell would you come with me or just leave me
clouds are singing a song, marching along, just like they do
And if the clouds were laying a song, I'd play along
wouldn't you too, if you just knew what they could do?
and if words are just hollow birds, flying along, singing a song
what would they do, if they just knew what we could do—oh, if they just knew
When she calls again at the start of July, he picks up with a chipper, "Hello, kumquat!" He sounds much better than he did the last time he talked to about a week ago, which puts her heart a little more at ease. "How are you doing this fine July day?"
"Not as well as you, it seems." She says, amused.
He sighs dreamily and says in a sing-song voice, "Kagura is absolutely swamped work—she has a messy murder case on her hands, and it doesn't look like it's going to be an easy one for the prosecution—so she's given me custody over our darling children over the summer holidays."
She blinks, a bit surprised that 's talking so much about Kagura. The last time he talked about her in such depth, he was a broken wreck of a human being. "I had no idea that you and Kagura were still so close."
There's a long pause. Then, responds (a little sketchily), "We're not."
She raises an eyebrow. "I don't believe you."
"Oh, how cruel!" He tries to laugh off the discomfort threatening to dominate the atmosphere. "Anyway, my darling kiddies finish on Marine Day, so they get an early mark off school this year. When, my dear kumquat, will it be convenient for you to receive our company?"
"Are you asking me?"
"Sure! What am I going to do if I bring the kids over and you're still at work?"
"Wednesdays are usually on my day off. Come over then—we'll have a big family dinner." She pauses for a moment. "Speaking of family, do you mind at all if I invite a friend over? Good company is a bit of a foreign concept to them."
"The more, the merrier!" He says. They chat a bit about a suitable time for everyone, and after they've agreed on an acceptable time for him and his kids to barge in on her life, he leaves her with an extravagant goodbye. When he hangs up, she's cheered by the thought that he's not doing as badly as she thought he'd been these past few days.
Keigo comes home the same time he normally does that evening, and she greats him with a kiss on each cheek. It's how she always greets him when she has a favour to ask of him, and he knows that all too well. A knowing look spreads across his weary face. "Very well, my dear harbinger: what is it that you require of me?"
"Why, the celebration of your existence, Keigo." She smiles.
"Hmm. That's not an offer I can refuse." He says, pretend to look thoughtful. "Why the lead-up?"
She laughs, and the pretence drops. "My brother is bringing his kids up to visit for a few weeks. They're on summer break, and his ex-wife is swamped with work, so he has custody over them for a little while. They'd be quite keen to meet you if you only gave them the chance."
Keigo looks disgusted at the thought of sharing a meal with a human that isn't simply her on her own.
With an amused look, she says, "It won't be anything over the top—it'll just be a simple family dinner that won't worsen your apparent bitterness for human company. What do you say?"
He looks like he wants to decline her offer, but perhaps in an effort to please her, he agrees to make time for her family dinner. The smile on her face widens in response.
On the day of the family dinner, Keigo finishes work earlier than usual and comes over to her apartment. He comes knocking at her door not long after seven o'clock, and when she opens in the door, she isn't too surprised to see Keigo standing in the door, bearing a bottle of wine and dressed up a little too much for a mere family dinner in the household. She notes with a smile that he's come dressed in the outfit she picked from his cupboards before she left his apartment this morning (she didn't trust him enough to do it himself). To make him feel better about not having any casual clothes (well, casual clothes by a 's definition), she made the effort to dress up a little more than usual. She's certain that the clothes she's wearing will make stare at her in confusion, and proceed to say something that will trigger a blasphemous look on Keigo's face.
True to her speculation, when strolls into apartment later that evening with three children at his heels, he takes one look at her dress and asks, "So are we eating dinner here or are we going to Kitchou?" He looks down at his pair of shorts and the Best Dad shirt that Hiyori made for him on his birthday last year. "Wait—I have an Armani suit in the back of my Bugatti. I'll just go and get it."
Amused, she says, "We're not going to Kitchou." She looks at Keigo. "I'd say we'd be kicked out of there if we wore clothes as raggedy as this—don't you agree?"
Just as Keigo opens his mouth to respond, pulls her into a tight bear hug and presents to sob dramatically into her shoulder. "Where, oh where, did my darling sister go?"
"We're just pulling your leg." She says, hugging him back. When he pulls away from her, his children take her place: Takato and Hiyori hug her around her waist, and Yuuki is just tall enough to hug her legs. She gives each and every one of them hugs in return as they chorus, "Aunty ! Aunty !" over and over again.
Keigo looks discomforted in the presence of so many children. He tries to excuse himself in favour of setting the table, but she stops him.
"Hang on." She says, securing him by the arm. "Keigo, this is my brother—. And , this..." For a moment, she and Keigo look at each other peculiarly; despite how they've been interacting with one another these past few months, neither of them are sure what they are to one another. "This is Keigo."
sticks out a hand, and a brilliant beam stretches across his face. "You must be the friend that mentioned. Pleasure to meet you!"
As he shakes 's hand, Keigo raises an eyebrow in her direction. She smiles sheepishly.
Once everyone is acquainted, she retreats to the kitchen to finish preparing dinner, and Takato faithfully serves as her assistant. Keigo gets roped into watching reruns of Leave The Room! with , Hiyori and Yuuki, and she's relieved to note that the two of them are having a discussion. She's been envisioning for months now and Keigo's first meeting, and more times than not, she imagines them getting off on the wrong foot. She's always thought that would greet Keigo by saying something mildly insensitive, and Keigo would naturally retaliate—but seeing them on the couch having a laid-back discussion as Hiyori and Yuuki sit right in front of the television brings a smile to her face.
She can't help but laugh as beckons for Hiyori and Yuuki to come and sit on the couch. "Papa doesn't have the money to buy you glasses if you ruin your eyes, Piyori-chan!" He pats the space in between him and Keigo, and reluctantly, Hiyori and Yuuki retreat to the couch.
Hiyori snuggles up to her father, but just before Yuuki can reach out with his tiny arms and do the same to his sister, she squeals, "Ewww, Yuuki's cuddling me!"
Yuuki, looking positively heart-broken, draws his hands back. Before he can start to cry, does some quick thinking and exclaims, "Yukki-chan, don't you think Uncle Keigo looks sad and lonely?" As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Keigo tenses. "Why don't you give him a hug to cheer him up?"
With wide, tear-filled eyes, Yuuki looks up at Keigo. It's taking all of Keigo's might to hide his disdain for children. For moments on end, the two of them stare at each other wordlessly. It's not until whispers his encouragement that Yuuki shuffles closer to Keigo and hesitantly latches onto him. Awkwardly, Keigo pats the teary boy on the head, and stiffens when Yuuki buries his face into Keigo's shirt.
laughs from the kitchen. "I think you're in for some competition, ."
But is too busy cooing over his beloved child to care.
Somehow, she thinks, being a father doesn't really suit Keigo the way it suits . To begin with, Keigo doesn't really like children: he doesn't have the patience for them, and it's not like him to simplify information for the unintelligible. He takes great pride in himself, and would never be able to embarrass himself in front of his children the way (and his mortifying lack of dignity) does in front of his. Perhaps most of all, Keigo isn't the vulnerable type: whereas is the type who can talk about his greatest fears and worries to a complete stranger, Keigo guards himself well. Part of her thinks it's a miracle that she's broken down his walls at all.
When it's time for dinner, Takato calls everyone to the table, and the six of them enjoy a relaxed, home-cooked meal with plenty of wine (for Keigo and ), apple juice (for the remaining s) and banter to go around. When the food is all gone, allows his children to go and watch television after they politely excuse themselves; since Keigo states that he'll help her clean up and wash the dishes, – with nothing else left to do—decides to chaperon the kids. After she collects all the plates from the table, Keigo takes washing duty and she takes drying duty, since she's the only one who knows where everything goes. They pass most of the time by listening to talk with his kids, but after a long bout of comfortable silence between himself and , Keigo nods at the s in the living room and says with a blank look on his face, "I suppose this is what you call a family."
"In part." She says. "Families come in all shapes and sizes. This particular family is of the eccentric variety."
At some point in the evening, Keigo is dragged over to the living room area with the children, where they ask him strange questions as they watch more Leave The Room! reruns. and sit at the dining table and watch fondly from afar as they discuss sleeping arrangements for the night. At some point in time, their conversational train derails, and by the end of the night, they're having in-depth conversations about who the true protagonist of Leave The Room! is. By the time that they've noticed how carried away they've gotten, they realise that Keigo has fallen asleep on the couch, surrounded on all sides by slumbering children. For a very small brief moment, it doesn't seem so unlikely that Keigo could be a good father.
She doesn't realise that that he's caught her gaze until nods at Keigo and the children. "Is that what you call a friend? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"That's my line." She says—and before she realises that she's said it, her words are already out on the air. Her little brother stiffens in response, and hastens to rectify the situation. ", I'm sorry—that didn't come out right—"
"No, you're right." He says, his voice more quiet than usual. She's a little bit startled when he looks her square in the eyes and says, "But I can't talk about it just yet."
She watches in silence as he moves up and leaves the room to retrieve a futon. As she watches him set it up on the floor in front of the television (which he switches off), she begins to wonder when he grew up. Part of her thinks that, while growing up, she spent so much time trying to take the lead and protect him that she never stopped to throw a glance over her shoulder and really look at . She watches as he flattens out on the futon and mumbles a "good night, kumquat" to her.
"Good night." She murmurs in response before retreating to the silence of her own bedroom and closing the door.
- x -
Although Keigo isn't late for work the next morning, he's cutting it very close. He doesn't have time to stop for breakfast, but before he leaves, he announces to everyone in the room that he'll see them later. He announces it so grandly that all the s in the room look at him expectantly, waiting for him to go on—but he doesn't. He just clears his throat, adjusts his blazer, and leaves in a composed hurry.
"Is he for real?" asks when the door shuts behind him. He looks at his children, and they all shrug back at him in response.
doesn't manage to get work off that day, but her boss allows her to clock off once the lunch rush is over. She meets in Harajuku, and they walk around with the kids until the sun sets. They return home at the end of the day, waiting for Keigo to return from work before they start to cook dinner—but to their surprise (and her mild horror), it's not him that's waiting in the doorway when there is a knock on the door later that evening.
Yanai bows as she opens the door.
"Oh no." She says.
"-sama, your presence has been requested at the Atobe manor." He says, gesturing to the hallway. "If you would please allow me to escort you all this way..."
The children ( inclined) look positively exuberant when Yanai escorts them to the front of the apartment building. In a couple of strides, he situates himself beside the limousine parked there and holds the door open as Hiyori and throw themselves in, followed much more cautiously by Takato and his baby brother—and finally, herself.
When they're comfortably seated, Yanai closes the door. He climbs into the driver's seat, fires up the ignition, adjusts his rear-view mirror, and then they're off.
The first thing that says to her is, "You mentioned that he was a Keigo. You didn't mention that he was an Atobe."
"Was it that important to you?" She asks, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. Her brother is the last person she wants to be having a conversation like this with.
"I must admit, I'm a little surprised that Atobe Keigo is so good with children." He says, sporting a cheeky grin. She sighs, and proceeds to look out the window for the rest of the journey.
They arrive at a destination that is completely unfamiliar to her; she recalls that Yanai referred to this place as the Atobe manor, allowing her to insinuate that this is the residence of Keigo's parents. He's brought it up a couple of times in conversation to talk about how much he despises going there, and how resentful he is about being dragged into the passive aggressive conflict between his mother and father. That's why it surprises her when Yanai escorts her and her awe-struck family members to the front doors, where they are greeted by a row of bowing butlers. Uncomfortably, she follows Yanai into the first room of the living room, which looks like something straight out of the house in The Sound of Music: it's a wide, open, spacious room with twin staircases tracing the outline of the room, all the way up to the second story. The decorations are lavish, the rooms are spotless—if she thought Keigo's penthouse was impressive, then his parents' house is a whole new ball game.
Keigo strolls into the room and welcomes them to his humble abode. The first question she has for him is, "Are you sure your parents don't mind that we're here?"
He blinks, clearly not anticipating that to be her first question of choice, but clearly not about to broadcast his surprise. "They're in Belgium at the moment. They won't know if we borrow the house for a night."
For a night. With the exception of her and little Yuuki, the s exchange enthusiastic looks at the very prospect of being permitted to stay over in Atobe's manor. They chatter excitably as a man dressed in an immaculate suit—most likely a butler—escorts them to the dining room. It's a huge room bearing residence to a huge dining table, and a row of French doors separates it from an outdoor pool. A maid shows each and every to the seat (with the exception of , who is shown to her seat by Keigo personally), and after settling himself down at the head of the table, Keigo motions to his staff for dinner to be served. and his two eldest children ooh and aah as his the catering serve dinner from under silver-plated domes. The dishes that are placed before them are like none she's ever seen before: the head caterer recites tonight's menu off without catching on his words even once, and it takes her a while to realise that the reason she can't understand what he's talking about is because the dishes are all French.
When the caterers are no longer required, Keigo dismisses them. The awkward silence that is ensued is broken only by , who gestures wildly at Keigo as he asks his sister, "Is he for real?"
She catches sight of 's bewildered look and sighs. She asks her brother, "Are you twelve?"
, Takato and Hiyori don't hold back. Once they receive the signal from Keigo, the shout, "Thanks for the meal!" and gleefully tuck into the food. Yuuki, like her, is a little more reluctant to receive the gracious will of another person and fumbles to tuck into his hachis Parmentier. He comes dangerously close to dropping piping hot meat onto his lap, so she leans over to assist him in eating.
With an eyebrow raised, Keigo poses the question, "Shall I call for a maid?"
She shakes her head. "I'll help him."
"Your food is getting cold."
"It's alright." She insists. "What kind of aunty would I be if I didn't spoon feed my nephew?"
She looks directly at , whose gaze wanders off and conveniently catches a glimpse of a grandiose painting on the wall. "Oh my—is that a Rembrandt?"
Dinner draws to a close at around the same time and Keigo conclude their (surprisingly intelligent) conversation about Baroque painters. After enjoying a lavish dessert, they relocate to the outdoor pool. After Keigo's maids find them some swimwear to change into, the children (including ) are forced to wait until their stomachs settle before she allows them to swim. is the first in: he gets a running start and bomb dives into the pool, and when he bobs to the surface, he encourages his children to jump in. She's reminded that all three of his children have private swimming lessons (at Kagura's expense); she watches with faint pride as Takato and Hiyori dive into the pool and kick their way over to their father. Yuuki is far more too reluctant; he does little more than dip a tentative toe in the water until his sister paddles over to the edge of the pool and pulls him in.
The (relatively) modest s look out of place against such a grandiose backdrop. The manor isn’t the most welcoming place for commoners such as themselves: seeing her ordinary brother and his ordinary children paddling in a swimming pool that is probably twice the size of the apartment is deluding; seeing them against a scene of neatly-trimmed hedges and summer flowers bursting in summer colours is deluding; it’s like watching something from a strange dream.
She doesn’t even realise that she’s staring at her brother and his children in disbelief until she hears Keigo’s voice beside her. “Ahn? It’s not like you to pass up the occasion to party, .”
He’s clearly pulling her leg, but today she’s having trouble finding the right comebacks. “I’m just... observing the pleasantries, Your Highness.” She says, shifting uncomfortably on the spot.
He raises an eyebrow at her. “You were never a good liar, .” But his voice is laced with fondness as well as humour, and she finds it in her to relax. He wraps an arm around her shoulder, and gently tugs at her to follow him. “Come.”
She follows him silently as he leads her through the garden by the pool. The sounds of and his kids splashing in the pool grow increasingly distant, and the lights grow dimmer as they head deeper into the little labyrinth. Keigo begins to loosen his grip on her shoulders, and when they’re so far into the garden that the only sounds they can hear are the wind through the leaves and the pebbles crunching beneath their feet, he draws his arm back.
“Your brother seems to be enjoying himself.” Keigo says lightly.
She sighs exasperatedly. “I’m sorry—he’s not usually this insensitive.” It takes her a moment to realise that she’s completely lying.
To her surprise, Keigo doesn’t appear to be too bothered. “You’re the only one who seems to feel that way, .”
“I just...” She’s not quite sure how to convey to Keigo that ’s only enjoying himself this much because, until now, riches have only ever been a concept to him. She’s not sure how to convey to him that, despite his humble beginnings, and despite how openly he enjoys basking in the fruits of riches, isn’t the type to use other people. In the end, all she has to say to him is, “You do know that I’m not around you for this, right?”
She gestures grandly around at the labyrinth that towers over them.
Keigo raises an eyebrow at her. “It’s difficult not to be aware when you seem to oppose a life like this with such zeal.”
“I’m not... opposed to it.” She says slowly. The look on his face suggests that he believes her to be lying, so she fights to correct him. “If you knew me when I was growing up, you would understand why all of... this makes me uncomfortable—I won’t deny that. But I don’t despise this; I don’t despise your way of life, and I don’t despise you. I’m just... not used to living like this, and I don’t know if I could ever find it in myself to change my mind.”
There’s a strained silence. She tries with all her might to read the look on Keigo’s face, but she’s never seen him look at her this way before. Before she has the time to decipher the lines of exhaustion on his face and the look in his eyes, he turns his gaze away from her. He drapes his arm around her shoulder, and they resume their walk through the garden. It’s not until they return to the pool, where and his children are sitting on the edge of the pool, towels on their heads and wrinkled like prunes. In a motion that was clearly planned, her brother and his offspring surge forward in an attempt to ambush and throw her into the pool—but with a loud snap of his fingers, she is given the chance to watch a horde of butlers stream into the courtyard and seize by whatever limb they can get hold of; they say in unison, “Forgive us, -sama” before throwing him back into the pool in one clean motion.
“You’ve done this before.” She says, looking directly at Keigo.
“Perhaps.” He says, snapping his fingers again. The butlers immediately commence a rescue operation to retrieve from the pool.
After they manage to haul her brother out of the pool, a handful of maids and butlers escort him and his children to a bathroom where they can separately bathe and change into suitable night-time apparel. She and Keigo linger in the courtyard for a little while longer, dipping their feet into the pool from the edge. She rests a tentative hand on his shoulder, and he slowly wraps an arm around her waist. She loses track of the time they spend by the poolside, but all the while, she finds herself thinking. As her eyes rove over the gardens and outdoor pool and the parts of the manor that she sees from the corner of her eyes, she wonders if she could ever bring herself to live in a place like this. She doesn’t imagine that she can get used to a life of calling and dismissing her waiting staff the way Keigo does; she doesn’t imagine that she can get used to eating such extravagant food every single day, and she doesn’t imagine that she can get used to living in such a large house, with too many rooms and too many people around her at all times.
Then she finds herself reminded of the arm Keigo has around her waist. She finds herself reminded of how warm his shoulder is; she finds herself reminded of how calming the scent of his cologne has become; she finds herself reminded of how far he’s let her into his life in such a short amount of time.
Before they retire for the night, Keigo surprises her by pressing a chaste kiss to her lips and murmuring, “Good night.”
The warmth tingles on her lips as she is escorted to her room by a maid experiencing second-hand embarrassment from witnessing the moment. She’s hoping that it’ll die with her when she passes out for the night, but when she wakes up the following morning, she finds that it’s still there.
- x -
Claim though he may to be difficult with children, Keigo doesn’t stop sending cars to pick the s up after he finishes work. She is thankful that, instead of driving them out to the manor, he brings them to his Minato penthouse, which she is far more comfortable being in. Contrary to her knowledge, the building is home to both a rooftop pool and a bar, the former of which , Hiyori and Takato are quick to abuse. They ooh and aah over the view of the skyline from the edge of the pool while watches them in amusement, and Keigo awkwardly tries to console Yuuki’s fear of heights.
“He’s very attached to you.” She comments, unable to help the smile on her face as Yuuki buries his face in a sighing Keigo’s shirt.
“For better or for worse.” Keigo says, more to himself than anyone else. He decides to try reaching out to ruffle Yuuki’s hair, and although it’s hard to tell, the youngest seems chuffed.
Before summer has barely begun, they are lucky enough to witness a fireworks display from Keigo’s penthouse. They’re just entering the sobremesa phase of the evening when they hear exploding noises coming from somewhere in the city. Takato and Hiyori are the first to run out to the balcony, and Keigo follows suit in an attempt to accommodate the wishes of Yuuki, who is clinging to his back like a tiny koala. She and follow their companions at a much slower and more sombre pace, and are the only two who can't manage to produce a look of faint enthusiasm to match the other four.
The booms of the fireworks echo throughout the city and rain coloured lights down onto the harbour. When it's all over, the world is quiet—or, as quiet as Tokyo can be. Upon realising that the fireworks display is officially over, Takato and Hiyori leave the balcony in favour of Keigo's air-conditioned apartment, having a long argument about which fireworks were the best. Yuuki wriggles around until Keigo relents and lets the youngest down with his new-found freedom, the littlest toddles off after his brother and sister.
After that, it's just , Keigo and on the balcony. Although the three of them aren't sharing words, a single glance at tells her that they're both thinking about the exact same thing. The two of them hold their breath in the moment of silence that follows the fireworks, and as Tokyo regains its former level of noise, she listens to exhale slowly. His need to drown out his problems with noise always has been much more compulsive than hers. He's always been the type to run from his problems—the type who would sooner sleep than confront his nightmares. He's the kind of person who, after a long journey, doesn't look back, for fear of what he might see catching up to him.
But at the crux of the matter, she knows she's not so different from him. It's one of the few things that they've always had in common.
As she watches the lights and sounds of the ever-moving Tokyo, she reminds herself why it is that she chose this city—of all the cities in Japan—try come and bury her past. As she lists off all the reasons in her head, interrupts her train of thought with an abrupt declaration: "I've never believed that the dead could come back from the grave until now." He smiles wryly. "The fireworks reminded me."
The song and usual sweetness in his voice vanishes with cynicism much blacker and more bitter than her daily cup of coffee. It's not the first time that she's heard it, but it reminds her all too well of the last time that they went to see the fireworks together.
She wants to spite him for reminder of something that she's spent years trying to forget, but she can't bring herself to. For better or for worse, she's all he has left.
...innocence, sunk the glow and drowned in covers
send for all your absent lover's things
accidents, let the evening in the back door
filled the room ceiling to the floor
jealous orchard, the sky is falling of the ceiling
while I'm tucking fibs into a cooking jar
bombed reverie, it's useless searching in the cupboards
when everything you have is on your back
At the start of August, returns to Kobe without his children, just like he said he would. He leaves early in the morning, so when she wakes his children up and asks them to say goodbye to him, they came to the doorway dressed in their pyjamas and drone an exhausted "Bye-bye, Papa" as they rub the sleep from their eyes. She tries to convince him for the umpteenth time that he should sleep a little more, lest he crash and die on the road ("You don't work until the evening, right? Is it really necessary to leave this early?"), but he brushes her suggestion aside with a beam and the vague words, "There's something I need to do before work—but I'll be back in three days, so just hold tight until then."
"Don't worry." She says, drawing him into a tight hug. "Your children are much more bearable than you are."
Theatrically, he pulls away from her and pretends to conceal his tears with an arm. "That's it—we can't be together anymore, —I'm leaving you and never coming back!"
"Okay." She says, watching in amusement as he tears from the room and (gently) slams the door behind him. Only moments later, he re-enters the room as if nothing ever happened; he showers his children in goodbye kisses and gives her a proper goodbye before he really leaves for Kobe.
When he's gone, the children retreat back to their futons that are set up in front of the TV. They don't wake up for a couple of hours, but when they do, they're fully refreshed and bursting with energy. Rather than wallowing in the wake of their father's absence, they pester her (each in their own individual way) to take them to Keigo's penthouse.
Hiyori cheers, "Let's go to Uncle Keigo's!"
Takato asks hopefully, "Can we go to Uncle Keigo's?"
Yuuki, tears in her eyes, tugs at the hem of her shirt and stammers out, "U-Uncle Keigo..."
She obliges their desire with a sigh. When all of them have their gear packed and are ready to go, she takes them to the penthouse on the condition that they behave themselves while on the train. They do a remarkable job of containing their excitement all the way to Minato, she thinks to herself as she unlocks the penthouse and lets the children in.
Keigo, of course, is not home—there are a few unwashed dishes in the sink, a blanket casually tossed over the sofa, and his bedroom door is wide open. While the children scatter to separate areas of the apartment, bickering across rooms as they change into their swimwear, she decides to tidy up the little signs of domestic life that Keigo's left behind in his haste to get to work.
It's miraculous, but the children are quite content to spend the day in and around the penthouse. They spend most of their time swimming in the rooftop pool, watching variety shows on Keigo's giant television, and ordering desserts from the kitchen when she's not looking. Their energy doesn't waver all day long, and when Keigo comes home from work after (what appears to have been) a long and exhausting day, he gets a shock when the kids jump up off the couch and run towards him with their arms outstretched, screeching, "Uncle Keigo!"
The look on his face when he's assaulted by Kotarou's three children is priceless.
"Is this your doing, ?" He asks her when she rises from the couch and joins the party, looking amused.
"Not quite." She says in response, sparing the children clinging to his legs a glance. "They couldn't wait to see you again, so I brought them over a little before lunch time. They've been waiting for you to come home ever since."
Hiyori tugs insistently on one of Keigo's sleeves. "Hey, Uncle Keigo!"
She takes a step closer to the door and knocks on it before singing sweetly, "Do you wanna watch a movie?"
Keigo looks at her with vacant disbelief, but his attention is quickly drawn elsewhere when Takato begins to tug on his other sleeve, saying, "Uncle Keigo, Uncle Keigo! Will you help me and Aunty cook dinner?"
"No, Uncle Keigo's gonna watch a movie with me!" Hiyori says stubbornly, clutching at Keigo's arm. She starts to squabble with her older brother about who Keigo is going to choose, and neither of them release their iron grip of him until Yuuki toddles up to Keigo with arms outstretched, his round eyes practically begging for Keigo to pick him up.
"U-Uncle Keigo..." Yuuki stammers out, stretching his tiny arms out as far as they'll go.
Acting on a signal from , Keigo slowly reaches out and picks Yuuki up. It's an awkward affair: Keigo doesn't really have much experience with children, so after he secures the youngest under his armpits and lifts him up, he's not really sure what to do afterwards. For a little while, he simply holds Yuuki in mid-air, mirroring the toddler's look of absolute confusion.
He looks to her for guidance, but before she can tell him what to do, Hiyori and Takato explode in protest.
"No fair!" Hiyori begins to pout. "Uncle Keigo, give me a piggyback!"
"I want one, too!" Takato exclaims, stretching up his arms. Within seconds, Keigo vanishes beneath a writhing mass of children. As she watches the events unfold from afar (laughing all the while), she begins to think that she might have been wrong about Keigo. Seeing him around Kotarou's kids these past few days has changed her mind about him being unsuited for fatherhood: she thinks that, if he tries hard enough, he really might be a good dad—if not a complete pushover of one.
When Keigo begins to look like he's in desperate need of assistance, steps in to calm down the rowdy kids and tells them to go and watch television with Uncle Keigo while she makes dinner. Keigo gives her a pointed look before (rather unwillingly) migrating to the couch and sitting down. He stiffens as Hiyori and Yuuki cuddle up to him, but slowly forces himself to relax.
Takato casts a few uncertain looks at his brother and sister, curled up next to Keigo, but ultimately resolves to join her in the kitchen with a conflicted look on his face.
"I don't mind at all if you want to join them, Takato." She nods over at the entrepreneur sitting in the living room, attempting to watch variety shows from beneath a blanket of children. "You shouldn't have to miss out on quality time with Uncle Keigo to help me cook dinner."
He shakes his head. "I want to."
Despite the uncertain look on his face, his firm words are enough to bring a smile to her face.
While they're in the kitchen, Hiyori starts to whine about something. proceeds to turn a blind eye to the matter until her niece shouts out, "I miss Papa!"
Realising that he hasn't seen his father in over twelve hours, Yuuki begins to tear up. "P-Papa..."
Suddenly, Hiyori jolts. Then, she jumps up from the couch and comes running over to . "Aunty ! Can we call Papa?"
Abandoning the pot on the stove, turns around, crouches down to Hiyori's level and looks at her thoughtfully. "I think your Papa might be at work now, Hiyori. We can leave him messages, but if you want to talk to him, we might have to wait until tomorrow morning."
Takato and Hiyori exchange a look with each other.
It catches her off guard. "What's wrong?"
"Papa's going to be at Mama's trial in the morning." Hiyori said with a tilt of her head.
The words of Kotarou's middle child are, quite possibly, the last words she expects to hear—but the more she thinks about it, the more it makes sense to her: why Kotarou talked about Kagura's trial in such a suspicious amount of detail, why he'd been so sketchy about his return to Kobe, and why he'd left the kids with her in the first place. "Why would he do that?"
Takato shrugs. "Papa said that he wants to support Mama at her trial because she's been really stressed lately."
His words get under her skin, and she can't quite manage to shake the thought that her brother has gotten himself tangled up in something that he won't be able to get himself out of.
Once dinner is served, the five of them sit down to eat. Hiyori complains that their simple meal bears no culinary resemblance to the food that Uncle Keigo had served at his manor, earning herself a rebuke from her older brother. She eats without complaint until her plate is clean and empty. When everyone is finished eating, Takato offers to wash and tries to force his younger siblings into helping out. Initially, is grateful for the eldest 's maturity, but she can't help regret her decision to let the children do as they please when Yuuki drops and breaks his third plate for that evening.
When it's time for sobremesa, Keigo tries to pour them two glasses of wine, but she manages to stop him before he gets the cork out of the bottle. She convinces him to put it back into the cabinet with a stern, "Children and alcohol dependency aren't a favourable combination."
He raises an eyebrow at her—a look that suggests he would happily beg to differ—but grudgingly agrees to put the wine back when the children start to tug at his arms and legs, insisting that they all want to watch a movie together.
"Very well, commoners." He says. "We shall watch a film together."
She watches in amusement as his little subjects follow him to the wine cabinet—where Keigo replaces the bottle of wine—and then into the living area, where he puts on a new European film that she hasn't seen before. They sit up until late watching it; by the time it finishes, Yuuki is fast asleep, and his two siblings start to argue over who gets to sleep with Uncle Keigo.
"I'm sleeping with Uncle Keigo." Takato says, cuddling Keigo's arms and refusing to let go.
"Eww, but I don't want to sleep next to you!" Hiyori protests, wrinkling her nose.
"Then sleep with Aunty !"
"Fine, I will!" Hiyori shoots back, throwing her nose up into the air and turning to latch onto her aunt's arm.
Before they go to bed, allows the three children to leave messages on Kotarou's phone. They spam him with a flurry of good night messages—"I love you, Papa!" and "Hiyori loves Papa more than Takato does!" and "Yuuki, wake up and say good night to Papa!"—before they all retire to bed. Much to her amusement, Keigo looks positively exhausted, and she hears him mumble a good night and feels him lazily press a kiss to her forehead before he retires to his room with Takato at his heels and Yuuki on his back, slumbering like a tiny koala bear.
She and Hiyori retire to their own room, and although it takes some time for the middle child to rest her chattering mouth and realise how tired they both are, they settle beneath the covers. finds herself falling asleep some time before midnight to the gentle snoring of her little niece.
- x -
The days leading up to Kotarou's return are surprisingly busy. From dawn until dusk, finds herself leading her brother's ragtag bunch of kids (with Hiyori as the usual ringleader) through Tokyo. She takes them to every place that they might consider entertaining, and it delights her to see them marvel at every little thing on the streets. When night starts to settle, they return home to find Keigo already there, tch-ing at something on the international news over a cup of his favourite tea. He takes care not to spill its piping hot contents onto the children as the run over to cuddle up to him. While and Takato prepare dinner, Hiyori rants about their day, and her recount of everything they did goes all the way through to the end of dinner, by which point Keigo can barely seem to keep his eyes open. He retires to bed every night with Yuuki on his back and Takato by his side. He's a weary mess of a working man.
He finally gets some leeway when shows up at their doorstep three days later, donning a smile and the darkest eye bags she's ever seen. It's a miracle that he's even managed to drive up from Kobe without falling asleep at the wheel and perishing in a fiery pile-up of twelve cars on the side of the highway. Usually she greets him with an equally brilliant smile or words of welcome, but curiosity and concern get the better of her this time. "Are you okay?"
"Hm? Why do you ask?"
"Your eye bags are worse than Keigo's."
"... Is this a momentous comparison, or...?"
"Have you ever seen Keigo's eye bags?"
Before their conversation can proceed much further, they hear screeches of, "Papa! Papa!" coming from the living room. Three tiny people rush past her and leap on the legs of their father, who forgets about the existence of his sister in the wake of his beloved offspring. He coddles and coos at them until they've had their fill of affection—then he remembers that she exists. "Thank you for looking after them, my dear kumquat."
He ruffles the hair of each child in turn.
"Well—shall we say goodbye to Auntie and go back to Kobe?" He asked them.
"Are you sure you don't want to take a quick nap?" She asks, trying to keep her attention on her brother's face as his children hug her legs in farewell and mumble 'bye-bye, Auntie ' into the folds of her skirt. Her brother shakes his head, causing her to grimace. "At least come in for some coffee—please?"
He reluctantly agrees, and while the children fight over the remote on the couch, she forces a long black onto him, and he leans against the kitchen counter to drink it. She's reluctant to press him for the information she's been itching to relieve him of ever since Hiyori let the words "he's going to be at Mama's trial" slip. But she hates to push him when he's like this: he's a meek little mouse, and she's the cat that's circling him, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. The two of them spend the entire twenty minutes that it takes for Kotarou to finish his coffee in absolute silence. He doesn't make eye contact once. When he's drained his cup, he rounds up his children and makes a second attempt to leave.
"Are you sure you don't want to take a nap?" She asks again—just in case.
"Not with all this caffeine in my system." He jokes. Then he speaks with a seriousness so sudden that she's not really sure how to respond: "Really, though—thanks for looking after them. You're a real lifesaver, ."
He turns to leave, but she finds herself calling him back.
Blinking, he looks over his shoulder at her. "What's wrong?"
For a moment, she's stuck opening and closing her mouth, torn between blurting out "Tell me what's been bothering you so much" and finding a more eloquent way of phrasing it. In the end, the only words she can bring herself to say to her fragile brother are, "I'm here for you. Always."
He falls silent. She can't bear to look him in the eye as the air fills with a thick and suffocating sombreness. "I know, just... not now, okay?"
There's an awkward silence between the two of them—then, "Okay. I can wait."
He's halfway out the door when she thinks she hears him say, "I love you, ."
And when the door shuts behind him, she finds herself murmuring back, "I love you too, little brother."
- x -
By mid-August, she and Keigo have returned to their domestic routine of a long-established couple. Keigo wakes her up at the same time every day with kisses to her face and some early morning wit. He leaves for work shortly after breakfast, by which point she begins to get ready for work herself and locks the apartment on her way out. Sometimes he'll visit her for lunch, but on occasion he finds himself caught up with meetings or impromptu work, and although she can't help but be a little bit disappointed, she understands that he's a busy man.
He makes up for it by trying to come home consistently at seven o'clock each night. When he walks through the door, she makes sure that she's there to welcome him back. He'll greet her with a gentle kiss, and they'll eat dinner together. They talk until late over a glass of wine, dance to records of Chet Baker, and then they'll retire to Keigo's bedroom. Sometimes they stay up for a while, just talking, but she never manages to remember falling asleep and always wakes up in his embrace.
She notes that, for a little while after the departure of all four children, Keigo's spirits are a little damper than she remembers them being. She supposes that, like herself, he's so used to the energy and hype in the air when he comes home that he's not sure what do when he walks into the door these days. She would be lying if she said that she doesn't miss the kids, but she has a motive for not missing them as much as Keigo does—because now, Keigo kisses her like he did by the pool that one summer's eve again.
It does get quiet when she gets a day off and she spends her free time alone in Keigo's apartment—but she gets by when she thinks about how Keigo will be back in another six hours, five hours, four hours... There is, of course, the option for her to return to her own apartment and check up on things, but lately it's begun to feel less and less like home. The place is so small and so lonely that she can't stifle her disappointment every time she walks through that door—like something is missing. She used to prefer her apartment far more than their house in Nagoya, or 's apartment in Kobe, or even Keigo's penthouse, and for a while she's not quite sure why.
Over sobremesa one day, Keigo asks her, "What of your apartment?"
She looks at him curiously. "What of my apartment, Keigo?"
"Have you been back lately?"
She wonders if there's a reason behind him asking—Keigo is not a man of small talk. "Now and again. I go back to check the mail, pay the bills, make sure everything is in order—that sort of thing."
He wears a look of reserved judgement. "It doesn't seem to hold your fancy the way it once did."
Her shoulders sag, as if relinquishing the weight of a sigh never sighed. "Lately I feel as if there's something missing there." She says. There was a time when she had been content to return to her humble apartment after finishing up at the humble Quiescent every evening, yet at some point between then and now, that had stopped being enough for her. She tells this to Keigo, and he assumes a rather pensive look.
"Perhaps you could move here." He says.
She almost drops her glass of wine.
"You can have a suite to yourself in the building." He says. "It will be a much quicker commute to my penthouse from the tenth floor than it would be from Sumida."
"Keigo, there's no way I can afford rent here."
"Sell your current apartment." Keigo suggested.
"That might make up half of my monthly rent."
"Your stay here is free. Your suite shall be no different."
"This is a direct request from me." And those are the last words Keigo says before he takes both of their empty wine glasses to the sink.
A smile twitches at the corner of her lips—a request, he says.
Despite claiming to be very busy with work and his children (and perhaps something else that he doesn't choose to admit), drives up to Tokyo the moment that he hears is moving, adamant on letting his car be the vehicle to move her belongings. He gushes about how nostalgic it would be—one helping the other sibling move—and as he babbles about it on the other end of the phone, she just smiles. "Okay, grandma—start your engine and get over here."
comes up on her day off in a pick-up truck that he claims to have borrowed from a co-worker. Together, they help move and stack her belongings—of which there are few—and clean up before depositing the keys and leaving behind the sleepy Sumida neighbourhood that, in a distant past, she would have called home.
The suite that Keigo has reserved for her, of course, is already furnished—and she finds that the furniture there is surprisingly not as gaudy as she expected it to be. volunteers to keep the furniture that she doesn't need at his place in Kobe—he could really do with a new couch—and, amusedly, she agrees to let him take it. "I know you two have a lot of memories together." She says.
sniffed and dramatically pressed his cheek to the side of the couch. "This couch has sheltered me from nights out on the street of Tokyo..."
"You wouldn't have been on the streets." She says. "You have a spare key."
"Had a spare key." He corrected. "I'm a good citizen."
With his beloved couch and a new spare key to her new suite in tow, says goodbye to her and returns to Kobe in high spirits. She's pleased to have seen in him in person, so that she could personally verify how well he'd really been these past couple of weeks.
Despite having her new suite, she still spends most of her time in the penthouse. The layout of her new suite is different and unfamiliar, and the atmosphere in that room isn't quite what she's used to. She prefers being in the penthouse to welcome Keigo home from a long day at work. She likes the way there is food in the fridge, dishes drying in the rack, laundry on the line outside, beds that are unmade—all the mundane little things that make the apartment look and feel like people are living in it.
Over sobremesa one evening, Keigo asks her what she thinks of her new apartment. She looks at him thoughtfully.
"You were right, Keigo." She says. "It is a much shorter commute to your penthouse from the tenth floor."
His eyes are alive with laughter.
Princo & Ribbon
June 19, 2017.
It took two years, but I hope you'll forgive us.
Perhaps I've lost weight: It's a reference to Final Fantasy VII LOL. In the Advent Children movie, Cloud says something like, "I feel lighter. Maybe I lost weight", and I really remember liking that line because it's very... it's very Cloud HAHAHA.
Roasting: I'm 60% sure this isn't just Australian slang, but for those of you that don't use this term, roasting is basically like paying someone out. So, if I wrote a DN that roasted Atobe, I'd basically spend my entire time making fun of Atobe with mean (but good-humoured) jokes about him and such.
Insight: Atobe apparently likes to use his insights on this other than tennis. His hobby is apparently fly-fishing, and I think he uses his insight a lot to catch fish LOL.
Marine Day: Marine Day (海の日), according to Wikipedia, is a "Japanese national holiday celebrated on the third Monday in July. The purpose of the holiday is to give thanks to the ocean's bounty and to consider the importance of the ocean to apan as an island nation. Many people take advantage of the holiday and summer weather to take a beach trip. Other ocean-related festivities are observed as well." Basically, it's Rokkaku's favourite day of the year. If you want more information about it, ask Princo. (Princo: good enough)
Kitchou: Kitchou (吉兆) is a kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine (the cuisine of "high level establishments, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels; it's characterised by meticulous preparation and careful food presentation of food, at a high price level, accompanied by expensive wines (I'm so done with high society tbh))) restaurant chain group. Currently, I think, there are five branches which are located in Osaka (specifically in Koraibashi), Kyoto (specifically in Arashiyama), Kobe, Fukuoka and Tokyo (specifically in Ginza).
Lunch in the Koraibashi restaurant apparently costs over USD $300, and dinner costs over USD $400 per person.
I hear in Arashiyama, the price of dinner per person costs about USD $600.
DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY MONTHS OF GROCERIES THAT IS.
All of the above information is, of course, mostly likely completely factual taken from Wikipedia LOL.
Piyori-chan: I mean... "Hiyori" looks pretty similar to "Hiyoshi", right? LMAO Princo's totally going to kill me. (Princo: Ribbon and I aren't friends anymore bye. Lmao jk love all Piyo-chans /sunglass emoji dude/)
Tako-chan: Tako (たこ or 蛸, but usually the first one I think) means octopus LOL. BLAME PRINCO.
Hachis Parmentier: A layer of mashed potatoes and a layer of ground beef, according to BuzzFeed. It's often described as the French version of Shepherd's Pie, i.e. the ultimate meal for kids to play with their food.
Do you wanna watch a movie: So the Spanish roommate that I talked about in the last chapter really likes to watch movies, so when she comes home, she'll often walk in and start singing, "Do you wanna watch a movie?" to the tune of Frozen's "Do you wanna build a snowman?" (to which I usually respond, "Not really, but okay"). This is a reference to that LOL.
Long black: I've been told that only Australians (and I guess, by extension, New Zealenders) use this terminology, so I thought I'd explain it to save you guys having to Google it. It's basically just an espresso (or a ristretto, I guess) and hot water. Like, there's a short black, which is basically just the espresso, but a long back has added hot water to "lengthen" it. To keep the espresso and hot water proportional, a long black usually has a double shot of espresso with hot water. According to Google, I think it's similar to a Caffe Americano?
Saori's moving process: I sincerely doubt that it would be so easy just to pack up and move if you're on a lease, but hey, it's a dream novel. If you were looking for realism you came to the wrong place.
Ribbon: I'm so sorry.
Princo: I'm also extremely sorry because I guess I forgot Ribbon finished this ages ago and just didn't code it.