By : Naki
The hammering of moderate rainfall against the windowsill caught the attention of a certain young boy who was sitting at his dining room table doing homework.
He looked up from his notebook and stared out the window. He frowned and made his way over to the large picture window in between the kitchen and the living room. There was a cushioned bench placed in front of the large window with blue drapes, and the bench seemed to beckon the boy over to it.
Masaru Komyoji climbed up on the bench and sat up on his knees. He stared out the window with a depressed look on his face. He rested his chin on the heel of his hand and rested his elbow on the back of the bench.
"Why does it hafta rain so much?" He complained loudly. He didn't hear his sister walk into the room.
"Because it does," Mitsuko Komyoji answered. She walked up behind him.
"But it rains too much," Masaru said. "If it didn't rain so much, I'd be outside right now, instead of being stuck in here."
"It's because it's spring," Mitskuo put her hands on her brother's shoulders. "That's why it's raining so much. Now, go finish your homework."
Mitsuko left the room and Masaru made a face at her retreating back. He turned back to the window, wishing he could go outside. He sat there and sulked a bit before a furry, four-legged friend jumped into his lap.
The cat was black with a white nose, white stomach, and white paws. The cat purred as Masaru stroked his back.
"Hey Shadow," he said. shadow sniffed the windowpane and attacked the glass with his front paws as if trying to get at the raindrops that beaded across the window. Masaru sat there, on the bench, watching his cat play.
Well, he thought, at least someonw thinks the rain's fun.
He vaguely heard footsteps clicking down the wooden floor of the hallway. Mitsuko reentered the kitchen. She saw her brother still sitting by the window instead of doing what she'd asked him to do.
"Masaru," she said with a warning edge on her voice.
"Okay, okay, I'll do my homework," he grumbled, letting the cat down and trudging over to his seat at the dining room table. He picked up his pencil and tried valiantly to concentrate on his math.
Mitsuko stood at the sink and was peeling potatoes for dinner when she heard him slam his book closed with a sound of frustration. Maybe the rain wasn't the only thing on his mind after all...
She placed a peeled potato into a pot she had sitting next to her on the counter and put the vegetable peeler next to the sink. She turned to face Masaru. He still sat at the table, but with sour, almost sad, looks on his face.
Mitsuko shook her head a bit, almost to herself. "Masaru," she said, "what's wrong?"
"Nothing," came his terse reply. He looked past Mitsuko and glared daggers at the wall behind the sink.
"I don't believe you," she said and pulled out the chair right across from Masaru and sat in it. "Come on, Masaru. I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on inside that head of yours." When he didn't say anything, she continued. "It's not just the rain, is it?"
Masaru frowned and looked genuinely sad. "No..." he muttered.
"Then what is it?" Mitsuko hated to prod, but she knew from experience that any emotion or problem, not matter how trivial, if kept bottled up inside, would lead to an even greater problem. Her only guess was that Masaru's problem might have been founded by the onset of puberty. In actuality, his answer came as a total surprise to her.
"When is Jiro-niichan coming back?" He demanded. "You said that he promised to come back and that was a year ago! When's he coming back, Mitsuko-neechan? When?" Tears found their way out of his eyes and flowed down his cheeks.
Mitsuko hated to see her little brother cry. She stood, walked around the table, squatted down and hugged him. She ran her hands through his black hair in an attempt to soothe him. "I don't know," she said finally. "I really don't know, Masaru. I'd like to think that he'd come walking up to the front door right now, but I know that's likely not going to happen."
"What not?" Masaru asked. He pulled himself free from his sister's grasp and looked her in the face. "Why wouldn't he come back to us?"
"Maybe he thinks he'd put us in danger," Mitsuko answered, returning to the sink. "You know how prone to trouble Jiro is." She winced inwardly; both at the sound of her own voice, so thick with fake joy, and the sound of Jiro's name as it left her lips. She missed him so much that the mere thought of him made her want to cry, but the sound of his name almost made her break down into tears right there in the kitchen. It wasn't often that Mitsuko let her emotions slip like that. She was grateful that her back was to Masaru; she didn't want to have to explain the sequence of expressions that passed over her face. Mitsuko knew that she would practically give anything to hear the sound of Jiro's voice, to see him smile, or to have him in the same room with her. She dropped the vegetable peeler in the sink when she reached the conclusion that she was to off-focus to even peel potatoes. She hung her head.
"Masaru," she said, not turning to him. "Could you...could you please finish peeling the potatoes for me? I'm not feeling very well righ tnow, so I'm going to lie down for a little while, okay?" She shuffled out and down the hall. Masaru could hear her slowly make her way up the stairs. He felt somewhat guilty as he started to peel the potatoes.
"I'm sorry, Mitsuko-neechan," he said aloud to himself. "I'm sorry for bringing up Jiro-niichan. I know he meant more to you than he did to the rest of us. I'm sorry for making you sad..."
By the time Mitsuko made it to her bedroom she was crying so hard she could barely see in focus. Once in her room she simply swung the door closed and collapsed on her bed. She buried her face in her pillow.
She cried even though it felt foreign to her to allow herself to cry this much. After a while the tears tapered off, leaving her shoulders heaving.
Mitsuko eventually calmed down, but she remained on her bed, lying on her side. She stared blankly out her bedroom window, lost in her own thoughts.
She wondered if Jiro had ever managed to stop Gill. Well, it seemed he had, considering there was no more weird accients or trouble of that sort on the news anymore. She wondered if Jiro was still alive...well, as alive as he could get. As she reflected back on their times together, good and bad, she lost track of time. It seemed all to soon when she was startled back into reality by a timid knock on her door.
"Mitsuko-neechan?" It was her brother. His voice sounded muffled through the door.
"I'm finished with the potatoes." This announcement was followed by a short silence. "Are you feeling better?"
Mitsuko sat up. "Yes, I am, Masaru. I'm feeling much better."
"Good." For a brief moment, Mitsuko thought Masaru was going to mention you-know-who again. She braced herself. Instead, he said, "I'm hungry."
Mitsuko stood and walked into her bathroom. She turned on the light and assessed herself by looking in the mirror over the sink. In her opinion she looked horrible. She had never been a fan of long hair, but hers had grown out to the point that it was long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were still red and puffy. She turned the faucet on and splashed cold water on her face. She hung her head over the sink and watched the dripping water fall back onto the white porcelain.
All of a sudden something brushed up against her leg. Mitsuko screeched and fell backwards into the wall behind her. She held her chest with a hand and tried to get her breathing under control when she heard a long string of contented purrs. She looked over and saw the family cat sitting on the toilet seat cover looking at her. "Oh, it's just you, Shadow," Mitsuko patted the cat's head with a slightly shaking hand.
Shadow nuzzled her hand with his face and playfully batted at it as Mitsuko drew her hand back.
She heard Masaru calling the cat through the air vent in the floor of the bathroom next to the door. The cat meowed and jumped off the toilet seat cover and the tiny jingle bell on the collar around his neck jingled continuously with each move the cat made. Shadow stopped at the closed bedroom door, sat, and turned his head to look at Mitsuko.
She smiled a bit as she turned off the bathroom light. Shadow was giving her the type of wide-eyed stare that only cats can manage. She opened the door and the cat hurried out, his collar jingling all the way down the hall and down the stairs.
Well, Mitsuko thought, I might as well go start dinner before Masaru starts complaining again...
Morning came as it usually came: dark, cold, and lonely. This was how it was and she was used to it. No shame in being a creature of habit.
Mitsuko opened her eyes and rolled over to check the time on her alarm clock. Arg. The clock read six-thirty. She really didn't have a set time that she inadvertently woke up every morning, but it was usually sometime around six.
Mitsuko felt unusually exhausted this morning so she rolled back over and closed her eyes. She lay there for what seemed like a good while but sleep eluded her. Rolling over she checked the clock again. Six forty-five. She groaned softly when she realized that she wasn't going to get anymore sleep this morning.
She sat up, yawned, and kicked the sheets off. Standing she staggered into the bathroom for a shower. She felt around for the light switch and when she found it, she nearly blinded herself by turning on the light. Rubbing her eyes and walking up to the mirror, Mitsuko gave her reflection a cynical look. Her dark hair stuck out in almost every direction. Seeing as bed hair isn't the most attractive thing in the world and she needed to brush the tangles out for her shower anyway, Mitsuko picked up her hairbrush and began to brush her hair.
After getting out the tangles and one particularly stubborn rat's nest, she decided she looked halfway decent and began to run water in the tub for her shower.
The warm shower water almost made her want to go crawl back into bed again. Oh well. Mitsuko yawned as she lathered her hair with shampoo.
As she let the conditioner set in her hair, she let her mind wander.
Amazingly her father had not only made a full recovery, but a speedy one, too. Already he was out of town, seeking prospective jobs. It was just yesterday afternoon he phoned that a university in the city wanted to hire him to teach robotics courses. Mitsuko doubted that teaching was her father's strong suit, and as he readily agreed with her, he was willing to give it a try. He was due back home either today or tomorrow, Mitsuko couldn't remember which. She wrapped a towel about herself as she stepped out of the shower. As she dried her hair and brushed it out, she though about the day's agenda.
First she'll go downstairs and start making coffee so she should wake up completely. Then came the task of dragging Masaru out of bed. Her father hadn't been kind to the idea of Masaru attending a public school, but he gave in when Mitsuko kept insisting that Masaru needed to be around children his own age.
Once dressed Mitsuko made her way downstairs quietly and into the kitchen. Just as she entered and turned on the light, the coffee maker kicked on and began to percolate. Just like every morning, the coffee maker was set to turn on at seven.
Mitsuko sat down at the kitchen table as she waited for the coffee to brew. Her eyes drifted over to the calendar that was stuck to the front of the fridge with several brightly colored magnets. Masaru had taken to crossing out every square at the end of each day. Mitsuko's eyes slid from the last red X to the adjacent square. Then it hit her. The day was Saturday. Masaru didn't have school today. Well then, that was one less thing she had to do this morning.
Coffee mug in hand, Mitsuko opened the front door and leaned against the doorframe. If she weren't still half-asleep, she would have fully enjoyed the cool dawn air. She couldn't see the sun rising over the horizon because of all the trees that surrounded her home, but the sky lightened gradually and gave the trees a slightly dusty appearance in the early morning fog.
She barely heard the jingle as the cat sped out the open door. Mitsuko saw the tiny black blur disappear off the porch and into the trees before she could react. Grumbling to herself she placed her coffee mug on the porch and, after slipping on a pair of shoes that were sitting just inside the door, she followed the cat.
Mitsuko picked her way carefully through the undergrowth, calling the cat's name and listening for the tell-tale jingle of the collar. She actually heard the jingle faintly and followed it. She came to a small clearing and said, "Shadow, come here..." The last word tapered off when she saw a man standing there, with his back to her. He held the cat in his arms and Mitsuko could see the cat's tail flick lazily over the man's shoulder. From what she could tell in the semi-dim light the man was wearing blue pants and a blue jacket or shirt, she couldn't tell which.
The man's head turned at the sound of her voice. He smiled and let the cat go. "Mitsuko?" he asked.
She gasped. She couldn't believe her eyes. "Jiro!" She ran up and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder.
He slung his arms around her, letting them hang there loosely. "It's good to see you too, Mitsuko." He felt her shoulders shake. Wait...is she crying?
Jiro stepped away from her, a feeling of panic rising in him. What have I done now? He looked at Mitsuko's face and found tears streaming down her cheeks. This saddened him even though she wore a smile.
"You're crying," he said. "What have I done wrong to make you cry?"
To his surprise she laughed. "Jiro, I'm not sad. Not all tears are bad. I'm crying because I'm happy."
Now he was thoroughly confused. This showed on his face to a great extent; Mitsuko swore she could almost see a question mark floating above his head.
"People cry when they are very sad, but they can also cry when they are very happy. Do you understand?"
Jiro appeared thoughtful for a moment. "Yeah, I guess. As long as I know you're happy and not sad."
Although she rarely acted on impulse, Mitsuko looped her arm around his and began to lead them back to the house. Shadow appeared from the undergrowth, meowed, and rubbed up against Jiro's leg. He bent over and scooped the cat up with his free arm.
"That's Shadow. He's Masaru's," Mitsuko said.
"I know," Jiro answered. "It says so on the tag."
Shadow purred and attempted to bat playfully at the goggles Jiro wore.
"Speaking of which," Mitsuko said as the approached the front steps. "Masaru's going to go ape when he sees you. He was asking about you just last night."
Again came the confused look. "Go ape? Masaru is going to turn into an ape?"
"Oh, it's just a figure of speech," Mitsuko laughed, closing the front door behind them. "I wasn't being literal. It means he's going to be very excited."
Jiro nodded and sat down on the couch and ran his hand along the cat's back. Mitsuko disappeared into the kitchen with her coffee mug so she could get a fresh cup of coffee. Jiro relaxed as the cat purred louder. It felt good to be home. Which is why what happened next didn't surprise him in the least.
The door that led into the hallway opened slowly with a creak. He looked over at the door. There was a brief moment of stunned silence followed quickly by an excited shout that could have easily raised the dead. Well, it sure did scare the cat, which hissed and sprung off his lap.