Oikawa was in a predicament.
You see, Oikawa loved only few things. His family, milk bread, volleyball, and on most days, Iwaizumi. Sure, Oikawa dated more girls than his fingers can count, but it was never serious! He hated disappointing people, so when girls asked him to go out with them, he did. He did everything they asked-he held their hand, took them on dates, bought them trinkets, etc. But somehow, something was always missing, and everything he did was never enough, and the girls always departed from him in tears. How could he become serious with someone who gets disillusioned by their own expectations?
Friends are the same too-they expected him to be always be cheerful, doling out helpful advice, and hooking them up with cute girls. Only outside of school was he allowed to shed his skin and just breathe.
At first he was apprehensive at seeing Nanoka, a schoolmate, in one of his safe spaces, but he couldn't exactly blame her as he was the one who taught Chiharu the existence of the Community Center. Nanoka was naturally subdued so he was easily able to ignore her and continue on his lessons, so he hadn't noticed in the beginning, but watching her talk to Takeru, he learned something vital.
Nanoka had a mask of her own.
He knew Nanoka was hiding something the moment he met her, glowering at him beside Chiharu. Chiharu surrounded herself with sheep, but the friend she kept close to her bosom was her confidante, equally sharp and Oikawa suspected, equally fake.
But Nanoka's mask wasn't to protect herself, like Oikawa, or to get what they want, like Chiharu.
Nanoka's mask was a damper. It muffled her opinions and withheld her thoughts. It let her seamlessly blend in with the masses, protecting her from society's disdain of outliers. Nanoka was purposely hiding the parts that made her interesting.
Oikawa loved puzzles.
If Nanoka noticed Oikawa's change in attitude and staring, she mentioned nothing of it. She chatted with Takeru about mundane topics, her speech stilted from choosing her words carefully. Oikawa could tell she did not have much experience with children. Oikawa knew Nanoka did not think too fondly of him, his childish attitude towards her boyfriend playing a large role in her impression of him. He wondered if he could foster a relationship with her without Tobio in between them. Oikawa had a pretty good feeling he and Nanoka were actually pretty compatible friendship wise if all other variables were taken decided that he would take it slow, as Nanoka was still wary of him, and he would now see her every week for the foreseeable future.
Feeling optimistic, his positivity was apparently leaking out as Nanoka and Takeru both stopped talking to stare at him oddly. Only Takeru was brave (or dumb) enough to open his mouth.
"Why do you have a stupid smile on your face?" Nanoka immediately covered her smirk with her hand and looked away when Oikawa glared at her.
"I don't have a stupid smile." He pouted. Takeru harrumphed, crossing his arms. For a second he looked like his childhood friend. Takeru is hanging out with Iwa-chan too much…
"You have the same smile as when you're watching DVDs of volleyball games." Takeru's mouth broke out in a grin. "Or porn." Oikawa's eyes bugged out of his head.
"What?! Wait, when did this happen?!" Oikawa panicked, imagining his sister strangling him, or worse, castrating him for tainting her son. Suddenly he remembered Nanoka's existence and turned to her to defend himself, only to find her backing away from him with clear disdain written on her face. "No! Nana-chan don't misunderstand!" He begged dramatically. Nanoka looked down at him, raising her handkerchief to her mouth as if breathing the same air as him was toxic.
"There's nothing to misunderstand here, senpai. I think need to go…" She spoke behind the fabric, continuing her path to the door. Oikawa wailed before turning on his nephew and proceeded to chase him around the gym. Nanoka watched them for a few seconds by the door before closing it and leaving them be, a small smile on her face.
She flipped open her phone as she walked down the hallway, her borrowed slippers slapping the tiled floor loudly. She had messages from Chiharu and Tobio.
Want to go shopping this Saturday? I need new clothes. -C
Practicing volleyball. -T
Eating lunch. [Photo attached] -T
My jersey ripped. -T
Nanoka scrolled through a few more messages before rolling her eyes. Tobio has obviously yet to understand how to properly text. All his messages are just status reports. Maybe he doesn't know how to start a conversation and was throwing prompts her way?
Nanoka quickly texted a response to both people and exited the Community Center after swapping her shoes. She took a detour and bought some ice cream to commemorate her first day at the Community Center and made it home in under thirty minutes.
"I'm home." Nanoka called out as she took off her shoes. No one responded to her, and Nanoka immediately became suspicious as she knew her mother should have been home, and her mother almost never deviated from her schedule. Feeling apprehension building in her bones, Nanoka slowly put her bag down, cradling her ice cream as she edged her way to the living room. Nanoka flinched at her mother's shrill voice.
"How can you talk to me like that? I raised you!"
"Hahh? There's nothing wrong with the way I talk! Maybe you should stop trying to make me into your perfect son because it's not happening!"
"How dare you-"
Nanoka heard a chair hall to the ground.
"I'm never getting recruited with this arm now! Just accept that-"
"The doctor said that with extensive physical therapy you can regain 85% of motor function in your-"
"That's not enough if I want to get recruited by a major league team! How is that so hard to understand?!"
Nanoka could not move fast enough to disappear from the hallway when she heard stomping come her way. She instead cowered against the shoe cabinet, looking up at the towering figure who slammed open the living room door.
Yasutomo's thin eyebrows were furrowed, casting an ominous shadow over his eyes. His mouth was pulled back into the famous Arakita grimace, summoned by their mother's stubbornness. His sharp eyes quickly found Nanoka, the only oddity in the hallway, and his frown deepened. He jolted towards her as if he would pounce on her and Nanoka squeaked in terror, closed her eyes and raised her arms feebly. He scoffed at her cowardice.
"No one in this damn family changed at all." He groused. He thankfully left her be, stomping up to his room. Nanoka waited a few seconds before letting out a shaky sigh of relief. Nanoka shakily lowered her arms and repeatedly fisted her sweaty hands, trying to get some feeling back into them. Nanoka noticed belatedly that she had dropped her ice cream and it was most likely all melted by now, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
Her brother was home.
Not courageous enough to confront her mother when she was obviously in a bad mood, Nanoka slunk up to her room after making sure Yasutomo was also in his own room and wasn't about to come out.
Nanoka threw the melted ice cream on her desk and collapsed onto her bed. She dug out her phone from her shortalls and texted Chiharu. She had earlier made plans to hang out with Chiharu in her room but now plans had to change if she still wanted a best friend.
Chiharu and Yasutomo were both volatile personalities; they commanded attention and weren't afraid to start a fight. The first time Nanoka brought Chiharu home, Yasutomo was still a middle schooler and commuted from home. She had let them be in the living room for a few minutes to grab snacks and returned to Chiharu holding her arm, tears threatening to spill over her lashes, Yasutomo nowhere to be found. Nanoka never found out what happened, but she was astute enough to keep the two clashing personalities separated if she wanted to avoid bloodshed.
Don't come, Y is home. -7
Only a few seconds passed before her phone vibrated, indicating an incoming call. Nanoka glanced at the wall separating her room and Yasutomo's before flipping open her phone.
"Are you okay? Did he hurt you?" Chiharu's voice frantically asked.
"I'm okay, I just saw him in passing." Nanoka reassured. "Also Yasutomo has never hurt me before other than the usual sibling scuffle, Haru, don't make him sound so abusive." Chiharu doesn't reply, and Nanoka can basically see her chewing her lip in thought.
"Okay, my bad. I was just worried." Chiharu whispered. Nanoka's heart warmed. Her best friend was such a worrywart, even if she jumped to conclusions a lot.
"I know. Thanks." Silence fell on the line, but it was comfortable. Nanoka quietly listened to Chiharu breath. She instinctively tensed when she heard her mother's footsteps pitter pattering up the stairs. "My mother is coming up, I might need to hang up." Nanoka hid her phone under her pillow as Chiharu's affirmation was muffled by the cushion. Nanoka listened to her mother walk past her room and pause by her brother's door. Her mother didn't knock, hesitating for some reason.
"Yasutomo, mom is sorry she raised her voice at you. You didn't deserve it." Her mother's voice vibrated through the door. "You were already working so hard. Didn't you get 11th place in calculus this year? Mom is proud of you." Nanoka heard the creak of Yasutomo's bed as he got up and he opened his door. They started whispering so Nanoka couldn't hear what they were saying, not that she was trying. She was too busy staring at the ceiling.
I got 1st place in Geometry and History, and 3rd in Classic Literature this midterm. Her mother didn't say anything about her grades. Her mood soured even further. She couldn't bring herself to get up when her mother opened her door without knocking, again.
"Nanoka, help me prepare dinner." Not waiting for acknowledgement, her mother started for the stairs. Nanoka felt a flare of ire at the difference in tone, at the favoritism, at the unfairness of treatment, but she suppressed it.
After all, she was just the daughter.
"Aaaand the Ebisumi libero saves the ball just in time! #4 Mashiro passes to #12 Kayoi for a spike-it is countered by Hachiwa's ace Nagisa! What a close call."
Tobio stabbed the rewind button with his index finger, eyes still glued to the DVD player screen.
"-Mashiro passes to #12 Kayoi for a spike, it is countered by Hachiwa's-"
"-ace Nagisa! What a close call." Tobio lowered his eyebrows in concentration. Was that sound from the footage? It sounded benign though, so Tobio didn't give it much thought.
"-the Ebisumi coach calls for a time out! This is their second time out, will Ebisumi be able to regain their momentum?" Tobio paused the DVD and took off his headphones. It was bothering him, but that sound from before wasn't from the DVD. He looked around his dark room for anything that might have made that noise but nothing was misplaced. Only he and his mother was home tonight as their father was out on a business trip again. Slowly a bad feeling grew in his stomach. He slowly got up and opened his bedroom door into the equally dark hallway.
"Mom?" Tobio called out tentatively. Last he saw her she was folding laundry in the living room. Wanting to continue watching the volleyball DVD, but unable to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut, Tobio shuffled out of his room and went down the stairs. He immediately felt relieved at the sight of the light on in the living room. Sighing, Tobio opened the door to check on his mother. "Mom, it's-mom!"
Tobio's mother was collapsed on the floor, a pile of laundry knocked over beside her. She was cradling her swollen belly, her breath heavy. Tobio rushed to her side but froze, unsure what to do to help. His hands hovered over her uselessly.
"M-mom!" Tobio's call came out as a whimper. His mother didn't respond, either unconscious or too focused on something else. Tobio jumped when his mother moved one of her hands away from her abdomen, and he briefly saw the red stain on the carpet below her. Blood. His mother was bleeding. "I-I'm going to call the ambulance! Stay here!" Tobio stammered, scrambling to his feet. He ran back up to his room where his phone was charging and grabbed the flip phone with trembling hands. Quickly dialing 119, he leapt back down the stairs to be by his mother's side. Was it his fault? Was his mother bleeding because he didn't check on her sooner? His mind spun as he opened the door for the paramedics.
Why didn't he go downstairs when he first heard the sound?
His mother was carried away in a stretcher and Tobio was ushered into the ambulance also.
Could he have prevented this?
Tobio watched his mother get wheeled through doors he couldn't follow.
Was this his fault?
Sorry for the cliffhanger, but hey look! The chapter is longer! And was updated in a timely manner! Woo!
This chapter was meaty, with Oikawa, Nanoka, Chiharu, and Tobio. I apologize for reverting Tooru back to Oikawa, as his name is pretty close to Tobio it got confusing while writing.
Thank you Guest, Miryam Clarus, Tora3, and Riv errr for your reviews! And a special thank you for DeidaraWalker and Meilinfan for always supporting me despite my inconsistent writing style and lack of updates. I cannot express how much I appreciate you guys.
Happy Lunar New Year!