"You made me feel safe—safer than my own father—and all you did was hold my hand."
Miss Parker—The Pretender, episode 2.8: "Hazards"
(Note from the author: Dedicated to Menos, Pop-pop, Grandma, and Grandpa: the best in the world)
It was another one of those fights, Minamoto Kouji realized as he placed his right foot back in order to regain his balance. The odds were seven on one, and again they had the upper hand. It was always the same thing: Classmates didn't want the "new kid" to be stealing the spotlight, so they dealt with it the only way they knew possible—with their fists. It had been this way the past few moves, the past few "new schools" Kouji had attended. His father told him that it was his recluse attitude that got him into this kind of trouble all the time, but Kouji had refused to change. As far as he was concerned, the world was not his problem, and never would be. He never asked anything of the world other than to leave him alone, and it had done no more than shoot him in the back in return. What more did everyone expect him to do? Show up in some ridiculously hyped-up suit of armor with a laser and other sci-fi gadgets and save the world?
He darted through the crowd of fifth grade boys as they threw punches at him. One of the punches hit its target, striking his back, but he refused to acknowledge it. Rather, he ran toward his makeshift weapon—a bamboo pole turned staff—and turned to them in a fighting stance. Blood ran down from his nose courtesy of an earlier hit, but he would not wipe it away. It was forbidden to show pain in front of an enemy, and Kouji lived by that law day by day. The memory, or at least the knowledge of her death hurt him everyday, and he could not allow himself to be consumed by that. Better to avoid attaching himself to anyone than to do so and only lose that person, he reasoned.
He used the staff to block and strike, all the while using as little energy as possible. Though he wouldn't admit it, he was exhausted, and he hoped the others were too. True, there would be bruises left on the other boys from the staff blows, and Kouji would have to answer to both their parents and his own, but later punishment was better than dying. He didn't think these boys would kill him, but there was always the possibility that just one of them could go crazy and over the edge. It was improbable but not impossible, and one should always be aware of the possibilities. The one comforting thought about that was that there was the chance he could see his mother again—if the slightly atheistic part of his brain didn't prove to be right in assuming there was no life after death or reincarnation.
"Isn't it time for you boys to be heading home?" the voice of an elderly woman asked. The eight froze in action, turning to see a woman with gray hair watching them critically. Kouji wouldn't allow the relief to show on his face, but he permitted some of it to be visible in his eyes.
"You got lucky this time, Minamoto," the leader decided, "but there won't always be old ladies around to save you." Once they were gone, Kouji breathed a long overdue sigh of relief and used the pole to limp over to the woman.
"Thanks, Aunt Shigeyo," he commented.
"Your nose is bleeding," she observed, handing him a handkerchief. "Let's find a place to sit down."
Shigeyo. That was all Kouji knew about her—her name. She really wasn't his aunt, but an elderly lady that had watched over him for as long as he could remember. Being the cold and lonely person he was, he refused to allow himself to attach to her, but he did show his gratitude by calling her "Aunt." And she gave even more to him by telling him little scraps of information on his family—most notably, his mother. She had once given him a picture of her—one that he'd thought was lost forever. It was the first time he realized just how much he looked like her, and just how much it had to have hurt his widower father to see such a resemblance in his son. The picture was the most important thing Kouji owned, and it was delicately placed in the opposite side of a frame featuring a photo of his new family. From time to time, he'd flip the frame over just to see his mother once again. It wasn't the same as having her alive, but at least he knew what she looked like; he'd been too young to remember her face when she died.
He sat on a park bench, leaning over and keeping his head low as he held his nose with the handkerchief. He hoped the blood flow would stop soon as his injured back was beginning to trouble him, but he remained as he was.
"Your father and stepmother won't be pleased when they see what happened to you," Shigeyo commented. It was another thing Kouji appreciated about her: She always said "your stepmother," and not "your mother." She was the only one, other than him, that made the clear and obvious distinction. "And I doubt they will any happier after receiving calls from the parents of all those other boys."
Had Kouji not been trying to stop a nosebleed, he might have snorted in reply. "It's not like I care about what they say. Dad will just ground me again, take away my cell phone privileges, and all the usual stuff while Satomi wonders where she went wrong. Thinking she could take Mom's place was where she went wrong."
"Your stepmother doesn't want to take your mother's place…"
"How would you know?" Kouji tried to keep his voice within a respectful tone, but it was just getting to be too hard. "You haven't heard how many times Dad has told me to call her 'mom' and just forget my real mother." He let out a sigh and let go of his nose. No more blood came out. He wiped the remaining blood off his face and sat upright. "I just miss her so much."
"No one can replace a blood relative," Shigeyo reasoned. "Your stepmother knows this. She loves you, and I doubt she'd want to take the place of your real mother. You should at least try to be friends with her."
"Their anniversary is coming up," Kouji commented. "Dad wants me to get flowers—roses. He's been having me save up for weeks. It's getting to be too much for me." Shigeyo was silent. "I haven't even seen Mom's grave. Dad says it's because it's too painful for him, but he got married after—what, seven years? It didn't seem to hurt him then. And he won't even tell me where it is so I can go alone because I'm apparently too young to be going off on my own."
"But, Kouji, you are too young. You're only eleven."
"And yet I'm still trusted to take the train, go to school, and wander around the city—alone. If I'm old enough to do that, then why can't I at least visit my mother's grave? I don't even know if I was at the funeral."
"Kouji," Shigeyo reasoned, but she never got much further than saying his name. She covered her mouth quickly as she began choking and losing the ability to breathe.
"Aunt Shigeyo, are you all right?" Kouji checked.
"It's nothing," she answered once she was able to breathe. "It's something all of us must get used to when we reach this age." Her face still looked ashen, actually causing the normally emotionless Kouji to feel a tinge of guilt.
"Aunt Shigeyo, do you remember the day Dad and Satomi got married?" She nodded her head softly. "I was so angry about it; I even pretended I was sick so I couldn't go. But Dad wouldn't let me stay home alone sick or not, so I had to come. But you were there. You held my hand while I was seething in my own anger. For the first time in my life, I felt safe, and all because you held my hand." Carefully, he took her hand into his. "Aunt Shigeyo, is there something wrong?"
She hugged him briefly, unable to answer him. "I need to be going now. If I don't see you after this…" The fear of causing him any more pain prevented her from saying anything more. "Remember what I said."
As he watched her walk off to reunite with her real family, he knew it would be the last he'd see of her. It was one of those things that he just knew without any reason for it. Part of him—a very small part—felt numb from the attempt to keep himself distant from the world. But he knew he'd failed in that because of the other part of him, the part that raged in anger and grief. He was about to lose someone else close to him.
Shigeyo looked once more at Kouji's most recent school photo. She would have loved to tell him the truth, but it would not be possible. It pained her to have to visit him in private for fear of violating the strict customs of Japan. She knew her daughter and grandson would love nothing more than to see him.
"Grandma?" her grandson addressed, stepping in.
"Oh, omago-chan," she recognized, placing away the photo. "Come in."
"Who's that?" he questioned.
"No one for you to be concerned with right now," she answered. "How is she?" Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with an ulcer, and her stressful job and smoking habits made it worse.
"She's doing better, but her boss won't let her have time off to recover."
"Are the nicotine patches helping any?"
"Yes, but she still seems to be a bit…stressed, in my opinion." He tried hard not to let his face become hardened as his words became bitter. "I think it's because of what Dad did to her. I still can't believe I'm spawned from someone who left Mom for some other woman."
"Omago-chan, as far as I know, he didn't even meet his new wife until long after you were born," she explained. "It always seemed to be that neither one of your parents was happy in the relationship."
"It still doesn't make it right," he replied.
"Omago-chan, nothing will make a divorce right," she reasoned. "I once told someone who lost his mother that nothing could ever make that loss right. 'No one can ever replace a blood relative'—that's what I told him."
"Blood is thicker than water," her grandson recited, quoting the old proverb.
"Exactly. And you must remember that, no matter what you find later on in life." He nodded in understanding. "Good. Tell your mother I send my love."
"Remember what I said, omago-chan."
It was barely six days later when Shigeyo ended up in the hospital. Like her daughter, she had been a chain smoker for years, quitting only when her husband died of emphysema due to second-hand smoke. Unfortunately, it had been too late to save her own life, as lung cancer rapidly spread throughout her respiratory system. By the time it was finally diagnosed, it was too late.
Her daughter stood outside the hospital room, talking with the doctor about how long Shigeyo had left. The prognosis wasn't good; these would be her final days. She had avoided telling them of her disease in order to prevent her family from having any more heartbreak, but it seemed that she was unable to hide it any longer. She was dying.
Inside, the grandson held her hand, wondering how he'd be able to say his final goodbyes when the time came. The dying woman called out his name, and so he listened carefully, knowing it had to be important if she wasn't calling him "omago-chan."
"Kouichi… You have a brother. His name is Kouji."
Kimura Kouichi was taken aback. He had a brother? How could it be? There had been another boy, one that his—their—father had taken during the divorce? It made no sense.
But in an instant, it did. The photograph had to have been of Kouji, and those times Shigeyo had been in another district or city had to be because she was visiting her other grandson. She motioned to the drawer beside her bed, where Kouichi found the address of a boy named Minamoto Kouji in Yokohama. He didn't know whether to be excited or angry; his whole life, he had wondered what it was like to have a sibling—older or younger—to confide in, but it seemed Kouji's whole existence had been a huge conspiracy kept from him. Why was it so?
A single tear ran down Kouichi's face as he continued holding his grandmother's hand. The feeling of calm that came from the handhold allowed him to think clearly and made him realize that it was his duty to find his newly discovered twin.
He wasn't even aware of the sound of the heart monitor releasing a long and dreadful beep. But he did see the look of serenity on his grandmother's face as she passed. It seemed, just like with him, she had no longer felt afraid once she held his hand.
Though I had this crazy idea that Grandma Kimura had actually visited Kouji a couple of times, leading to the fact that Kouichi was able to find his address, the entire story was actually inspired by Miss Parker. I looked up a name for Grandma because I didn't know if she was ever named officially—sometimes Digimon names a few characters without naming others. Part of this had to come from KarenSedai's translated script of episode 30 because I don't have it in Japanese. I think the part that I got from there will be pretty easy to spot.
Coincidentally, not only is September 7 Grandparent's Day, but it's also my grandmother Menos's birthday. Naturally, part of Grandma Kimura came from her.
Well, now that this is all over, I'd like to see some good quality reviews to this. It's not fair if an author works her or his butt off only to receive a review like many I've seen.