Disclaimer: I do not own Read or Die or any of the characters. Junior, Nancy, Yomiko, Drake, Anita and her sisters, Tohru, Joker, and Maggie Anderson are the property of Kurata Hideyuki and his collaborators, Sony, Shueisha, Manga Entertainment, Aniplex, Geneon, Jcstaff, and I don't know who else. A number of the characters in the following story are my own creations, however. The fact that most of them have the surnames of Japanese admirals and generals is entirely coincidental.
"We're here, dear." Nancy stopped the car and turned to face her son. "I'm glad I could drive you today. I wish I could do it more often."
"Thanks, N…Mother," Junior said. "I'm glad you could, too."
Oddly enough, he did feel glad. It was an unusual feeling and he wanted to enjoy it. He had grown used to being driven to school by Michelle. He liked that because he got to see Michelle and he got to say hello to Anita every day before they both went off to class. But there was something new and strange about going to school with this tall, blue-haired woman who called herself his mother.
He was a nice boy to Michelle and a friend to Anita, but something altogether different, something higher, to Nancy. She really did seem happy driving him, and her happiness made him happy. He couldn't quite say why.
They got out of the car and walked toward the school gate. It was close to the opening bell and the last kids to arrive were hurrying in. Junior could see a gaggle of his acquaintances (he couldn't quite call them friends yet) hanging out just inside the gate: Kobayashi and the two Suzukis, Yamagata (they called him "The Field Marshal", of course), Kano, and Okahara.
His mother squeezed his hand and gave him a brown paper bag.
"I made your lunch English style, dear, just the way you like it. There's a corned beef and mustard sandwich, a packet of crisps, a bottle of Ribena, and some McVitie's biscuits."
"Thanks. That is the way I like it."
Nancy let go of his hand and looked at him without speaking for a moment. Her expression reminded him of the way she looked at Yomiko sometimes.
"I'd better hurry, mother," Junior said. "They'll ring the bell in a minute."
His mother bent down and embraced him. Her grip was soft and tight all at once. "I love you, Junior. Please be happy today."
He felt both embarrassed and strangely flattered. He didn't know what to do, so he kissed her quickly on the cheek and hoped that was the right thing. "I will," he said.
She let him go. Junior went to the gate to join his schoolmates. He waved at his mother, and she at him. Then she turned and walked slowly back to the car.
Okahara let out a long, low whistle. "What…knockers."
"Brother, she looks as good going as coming," Yamagata said. "Some babysitter you got, Makuhari."
"Who…is…THAT," Big Suzuki asked.
"Umm…that's my mother, actually," Junior said.
"That's your MOTHER, Makuhari? You've got to be kidding. No mom on Earth looks like that," Kobayashi said.
"Mine does," Junior said proudly.
Nancy got into the car and drove past, giving Junior a final big wave out of the window. He gave her a small one in return.
"Honest, Makuhari, was that really your mom," Little Suzuki asked. "You say you're British but you sort of look Japanese. She doesn't look very Japanese at all."
"She's partly Japanese," Junior said, "But mostly British. Oh, yes, and partly Dutch, too."
"And all hotness," Kobayashi added.
"Yes, she is quite attractive," Junior said.
"You must be British for sure," Kano said. "You got that understatement thing down."
"There's more to her than looks," Junior said. "I think she's becoming quite a good mother. I'm pretty satisfied with her so far."
His acquaintances looked at each other and laughed. As usual, he couldn't understand why.
He was about to ask them what they found so amusing when the bell rang. Mr. Yawata stuck his head out of the second floor window and yelled jovially at them:
"Get on up here, you dirty-minded little punks, before I have to drag you."
Junior had many questions about the past, and he spent a lot of time trying to get the answers. It was only natural that history would be his favorite class. Sometimes it was difficult, though, because what he had learned and what other people had learned didn't seem to be the same thing. Today was one of those times.
Mr. Yawata was just finishing up. "…And so we see, then, that both the China Incident and the Pacific War had complex cultural, economic, and diplomatic causes, all of which have to be put in context. Now, we've spent a lot of time on these issues in the last few days, both in class and with the textbook. I know all this material is difficult, and I expect you have some questions about it. It's important that you start asking them. I want to make sure you're all clear before we move on. So, speak up, raise your hands. Now is your chance."
There was silence. The clock had a lot to do with that. There were only a few minutes before the bell, and nobody wanted to get Yawata rolling again. He was a popular teacher, but notorious for his insistence on dealing with student questions no matter what the bell did.
Junior glanced around the room. Kano liked history, as he liked all his subjects. Normally his hand would have shot up automatically. Now it stayed down.
Anita was resting her chin on her book bag and staring straight ahead, her face a stone mask.
Junior caught her eye. She frowned at him and mouthed a silent threat.
"Come on, people," Yawata said. "Class participation, remember? I know you have questions, pay no mind to the time. We're here to learn."
Junior looked at Anita again. Her glare was fiercer than ever, but Junior had made up his mind. Yawata was right, after all.
Junior raised his hand.
"Who is that? Oh, Makuhari. Yes, what did you want to ask?"
A sigh passed around the room as Junior stood up. Several students shifted noisily in their seats.
Anita had hidden her face in her hands and was slowly shaking her head back and forth. Kano seemed to be trying hard not to laugh.
"Well, sir, are you sure it's right to call the war in China an incident? According to our dictionary, an incident is 'something dependent on or subordinate to something else of greater importance.' Now, for the Chinese nothing was of greater importance than the war, so for them it wasn't an incident."
"For the Japanese who actually fought in China, the war was also of the greatest possible importance since they could get killed in it, so it couldn't have been an incident for them either. The dictionary says that an incident is also 'an occurrence of an action or situation that is a separate unit of experience.' Now, something that goes on for eight years can't be a separate unit of experience, can it, sir?"
"The dictionary does say that an incident can be 'something that occurs merely by chance or without calculation.' I know the textbook says the war started by chance in 1937, but I read a lot of other authors that said that's not true."
"Oh, really? What other authors are those?"
"I was thinking about this last night, sir, so I made a list of them." Junior took a neatly folded sheet of paper from his pocket. He unfolded it and began to read. "H.P. Willmott, Saburo Ienaga, Barbara Tuchman, John Costello…"
Anita and Junior were in the library, hunting frantically for the books they needed.
"I could have killed you after history class," Anita almost yelled. "You're so stupid!"
"I'm sorry you're upset," Junior said. "But Mr. Yawata did say that participation was important and we were there to learn. He's right, you know. And I really did want to know the answer."
"Who cares if he's right or not? Don't you have any brains at all? The rest of us just sat in there for eight minutes after the bell rang, listening to you two idiots babble. You threw everybody's schedule off. We were both late for English class and Miss Kuroki gave us hell for it, besides this extra homework."
Junior found the Joseph Conrad he wanted and pulled it from the shelf. "I'm sorry."
"You already said that! You always say that after you screw up, and then you go do something else just as dumb the next time! I swear you're just as bad as that Yomiko woman."
The comparison with Yomiko made Junior uncomfortable, but he had to speak his mind.
"But the textbook isn't true, you know. Nancy says that people shouldn't believe things that aren't true."
"Oh, phooey. People are going to believe whatever they want anyway, you know that. All you did was get some kids mad at you for talking like a Gaijin and a showoff. And since when did your mom become an expert on anything?"
"She's an expert on some things," Junior said stubbornly.
Anita paid no attention. She pulled a massive book from the shelf and stared at it. "Oh gosh. Moby Dick, for Pete's sake. Just look at how fat it is; I'll never get through it in time." She opened the volume and flipped through some of the pages. "And it's dull, too, I can just tell. This looks like one of those pompous things that Nenene likes. This book report is going to be a nightmare."
She turned towards Junior again. "And it's all your fault! Oooh, I should just hit you!"
"AHHHH!" Anita raised her hand.
Junior and Anita looked up to see Hisami standing at the end of the aisle, an upraised finger pressed to her lips. She looked as close to angry as it was possible for someone like Hisami to look.
Junior liked lunchtime. It gave him some flexibility. He could sit by himself and read or think; or he could spend some time getting to know the other kids. Or trying to know them, anyway
He had lunch from home today, so he sat outside under a tree and ate. It was nice to have British food again, even just a little. He ate the biscuits and drank the Ribena first. McVitie's and Ribena weren't common in Japan, and it occurred to him that his mother must have gone to a lot of trouble to find them.
He had just finished the biscuits and was about to start on the sandwich when he looked up to see Okahara standing in front of him.
"Hello," Junior said.
"I just wanted to say thanks for the laughs this morning."
"I don't know what you mean."
Okahara grinned. "You know, your little seminar with Mr. Yawata. I thought it was pretty funny, myself. So did a lot of the other kids."
"Oh," Junior said. "I see. I thought everyone was cross with me. Anyway, that's what Anita said."
Okahara shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't mind missing a few minutes of my English section, though we didn't get any extra homework in mine. Maybe some kids were annoyed, but who around here is going to stay mad at our star soccer player very long?"
Junior didn't like being called a star, but he felt relieved. Okahara rarely smiled and seemed depressed much of the time, so he was glad he'd given him a laugh, too.
"Thanks, Okahara. That's good news."
"What did you get for lunch?"
"A corned beef sandwich. And I have some crisps—potato chips—in my bag still."
"Wow, you're lucky. I'm not even allowed near that stuff. All my mom gives me is sushi, every damn day. As if I'd get fat or something. I mean, just because my mom has a weight problem doesn't mean I do. What does your mom usually give you for lunch?"
"Whatever I want, pretty much. I like pizza and I like her cake, so yesterday that's what she gave me for lunch. I asked her if I could have some beer, too, but she said I'd have to wait until I'm older."
"Man, your mom is the coolest."
"Look, I'm sorry I said what I said earlier about her…you know."
"Oh, that's all right," Junior said. "Almost everybody says something like that, she doesn't mind. Her breasts really are very large."
Okahara laughed. "Man, you crack me up, you really do. That's the third time you did it to me today."
Okahara was fumbling in his lunch bag. "Yep, sushi again. Squid, that's the worst. Now, let's see…All right, chocolate! Thank God for my dad!"
"Your dad packs your lunch as well?"
"My mom doesn't know it, but he slips something inside every day. Dads rule, man. If it wasn't for him, I think I'd go nuts. Hey, you didn't see Hisami around anywhere here yet, did you?"
"There she goes now," Junior said, pointing across the schoolyard. Anita was with her, of course.
"Thanks. Well, nice talking to you, I'll see you in a while."
Okahara headed off, far in Hisami's wake.
Junior wished Okahara wouldn't do that. Now, Junior knew, he'd spend the rest of the lunch hour brooding and worshipping from afar.
Junior opened his book bag and took out a letter his mother had given to him that morning. The envelope bore an American postmark. He'd been looking forward to reading it.
Well, a big hello from your Uncle Drake. As you can see by the postmark, I'm still in the States, but I'm back in Pennsylvania this time. Yes, sir, my old home town. I brought Maggie here to visit with her grandparents, and I hadn't seen my folks in a while either.
That first photograph is the four of us at my folks' place. The guy who looks like me only without hair is my dad. He says he wasn't worried about me at all during the big mess because I had 'The Luck of the Andersons.' Cole sent some jerk out here to bug him, but he just shot the guy in the leg and he never came back. So, you see it runs in the family.
That tall chick who looks like Geena Davis is my mom. She's a better shot than either of us (though not as good as YOUR mom, of course). She shot the tires on the jerk's car out, and he had to get away on foot. (Just one foot, too—what a shame, huhh?)
We'd just come back from Pittsburgh when that picture was taken. My folks met at us at the airport there and we stayed in town overnight to see a Pirates double-header. What a blast! Ichiro was playing for the bad guys (he had a great night), but the Pirates beat 'em both times.
Hey, man, as far as I'm concerned baseball and pottery are the things I like best in Japan. Oh, yeah, and some people I know there, too.
The cute young babe that looks like Britney is my daughter. That's the two of us in the second photo (I didn't know she had her fingers up behind my head like that) and the third one (in the bikini) is just her of course. She INSISTED that I send you a copy of that one.
She saw the photos of you and boy was she impressed. She said you were 'too dreamy to be in middle school.' She also used the word 'hot' and said you looked like a rock star in the shot with the long hair.
So, anyway, grow up fast, kiddo. I think you definitely have a fan here in PA, so stop by if you ever visit the States (which I hope you do anyway). Of course, I'm hoping to get over to Japan soon myself, and I'd promised the Magster that I'd give her a vacation, so who knows.
Glad you and your mom liked the pots. Things are going pretty good for me now. What with the cash grant I got from the Queen and all the publicity, I've got money in my pocket, lots of good job offers, and all kinds of possibilities. I sent a letter to your mom, too, 'cause I thought she might be interested in some of them.
I never said this to you, but your mom is a heck of a woman. Maybe you can't see that now, but I hope you will. She stayed focused beautifully, right when it counted most. We'd all have been toast without her.
I always thought it was kind of a shame that she and I never got to know each other better back in the day. Oh, well, you can't be lucky all the time.
So listen to her, kid, she's paid her dues. Keep an eye on her for me, and don't let her break her heart too badly over that girl in the glasses. I know it's easy to do that, but your mom's heart is awfully valuable. And awfully big, too.
Man, women just keep on doing it to me.
OK, I'll shut up before I get even mushier.
Your Pal, Anderson, D., 1st Sgt., Alpha Co., 1st of the 13th, USA
xxxxxxx VISIT ME YOUR FAN, MAGGIE A.
Junior looked at the photo of Maggie Anderson for several minutes. He decided that she really was very pretty, much prettier than the Japanese girls he knew. As he thought about this, he began to feel funny. He wasn't surprised. That had been happening more and more often now when he looked at girls or thought about them. He knew it was normal, and he was happy about that.
His reactions had been getting stronger and stronger lately, however, and this time it got so strong so fast that it frightened him. He knew what was likely to happen—he'd read about it, and Nancy had told him—but he didn't think it would do to have it happen right here and now.
He stood up hastily, folded the letter around the photographs, and slipped it back into the envelope. He slung his book bag in front of his trousers and waited a few moments until he was safe again.
It had been a narrow escape. Still, he felt pleased. Everything was developing right on schedule. It was a comforting thought.
He looked around the schoolyard. Okahara, Kobayashi, and Yamagata were sitting together nearby. Anita and Hisami were under their favorite tree.
It wouldn't do to interrupt Anita and Hisami. He'd already learned that. So he decided to join the other boys.
Kobayashi and Yamagata were nearly done with their lunches, but Okahara hardly seemed interested in his. He was staring moodily at Hisami.
"Do you mind if I join you," Junior asked them.
"Heck, no," Yamagata said. "You got a date for the dance yet, Makuhari?"
"Oh," Junior said. "No, I'd forgotten about that."
"I'm going with Akiko Aizawa," Kobaysahi said. "I now she ain't gorgeous, but she's always nice to me and she dances pretty well."
"Makuhari here will have all the hotties to choose from," Yamagata said, grinning. "All those soccer groupies that cheer for you."
Junior felt himself blushing. "I might not go," he muttered. "I'll have to ask my mother first."
Kobayashi raised an eyebrow and grinned even more broadly than Yamagata.
"I mean, ask her if it's OK for me to go. To the dance, I mean. With someone else," Junior said, furious with himself.
"What spring sport you gonna chose, Makuhari?" Yamagata asked. "Today's the last day you can pick."
"Don't do spring soccer," Kobayashi said. "You do that in the fall anyway. You're real strong; we could really use you on rugby."
"You have to hurt people a lot in that, don't you?"
"Sure do, that's the whole point."
"I don't think my mother wants me to hurt people anymore. I don't think I want to, either."
"What about spring track? You're fast as hell."
"Well, I saw some cricket in England. It's traditionally British and I was told that I should know all the British traditions. But I was never allowed to play."
"There's no cricket here, man," Yamagata said. "And it's dull as hell, too."
"Yes, I thought it was rather slow myself. I did like some parts of it, though."
"I think I'll try baseball. It's somewhat similar to cricket."
"No, but I read the rules and it all seems pretty simple. An American I know explained them to me. And Anita can help me learn."
"Anita! I wish she was a guy," Yamagata said. "If she played hardball, we'd never lose. Our softball has kicked ass ever since she went out for it."
"That's one weird little broad," Kobayashi said. He giggled slightly. "Maybe she IS a guy."
"I wouldn't mind it so much if she was one," Okahara said, almost to himself. "That I could understand."
Yamagata and Kobayashi exchanged glances. They followed Okahara's stare across the schoolyard. Anita and Hisami were in close conversation, their backs to the rest of the world.
Kobayashi shook his head and took a bite out of his sandwich. "Like, totally lesbians, dude," he said.
Okahara turned on his friend, his face brick red. "You want a knuckle sandwich, stupid? You shut up about Hisami, or I'll…"
"Well, geez, I was just joking…"
"Yeah? Well, don't, if you know what's good for you!"
Yamagata sighed and took Kobayashi by the arm. "Come on, don't get him started. Let's beat it." They got up and turned to go. "Glad you're coming out for baseball, Makuhari," Yamagata said. "If anybody else who'd never played before tried to I'd say they were nuts, but I know you'll pick it up pretty fast." They left.
Okahara sighed. "Look, Makuhari, I'm sorry I blew my cool."
"That's all right," Junior said. "I understand."
"Do you? I know I'm a laughing stock and all because of this, but I don't care what they say about me. All I know is that I hate it when they get on Hisami's case. She's an orphan and she doesn't have anybody. Lots of girls fake being nice, but she's nice for real. She may be all wrong, but she's still…Oh, heck, I can't explain it."
Junior tried to think of something to say. He liked Okahara.
"It might not be as bad as you think, Okahara," Junior finally said. "Statistically, it's not very likely that they're really what Kobayashi said. According to what I've read, it's pretty common for girls to be like that with other girls at this age. Even if they do…you know, go a bit further, about ninety-five percent of them grow out of it within a few years. And in this country most women like that wind up marrying and having children anyway. So the odds are in your favor."
Okahara looked at Junior with a sour expression. "In my favor, huh? Where do you get all that stuff? How long do I have to wait? And what if Hisami turns out to be one of those five percent or whatever? Sometimes you just talk too much like a book."
"I'm sorry," Junior said. "I was just trying to be positive."
"Look, Makuhari, I didn't mean to snap at you either. You're a pretty decent kid, and I appreciate the thought. But this whole thing stinks, and if you were in my shoes you'd say so, too. You just don't understand."
Junior wanted to cheer Okahara up, but he wasn't used to cheering people up. Apparently it was quite hard.
Friends could cheer each other up. Anita always cheered him up when he was depressed or sad. But he and Okahara weren't friends yet.
He'd noticed one thing about friends. They seemed to trust each other. They could say anything to one another and know that it would be all right. So, to make a friend, perhaps you needed to trust them with something, tell them something important about yourself.
That sounded risky. Mister Joker would have called it violating security.
He didn't like thinking such a thought. If there was one thing Junior didn't want to do, it was to live his life as Mister Joker lived his. He decided to try an experiment.
He sat down next to Okahara. "I think I do understand, a little."
"My mother's in love with a girl," Junior said.
Okahara turned and stared, his mouth half open.
"A woman, really," Junior said, "Though she acts like a girl a lot of the time. She's in love with my mother, too."
"You're not making this up," Okahara said solemnly.
"Oh, man" Okahara said. "Oh, man, I just can't…what a heavy deal."
"It's pretty complicated," Junior said. "The woman my mother loves is also in love with another woman at the same time."
Okahara shook his head. "Wow, that's…wow…what do you think about it?"
"I was angry at first. I thought it meant my mother didn't care for me, but I don't think that way now. This woman's really nice, and she makes my mother very happy when they're together. I wish she wasn't in love with somebody else as well as my mother, though. I'm not angry with her or my mother or anyone anymore. It all just makes me feel rather sad sometimes."
"Just doesn't…feel right somehow, does it?"
"No. But I still care about my mother."
"Yeah," Okahara said. "That's how I feel about Hisami. What about your father?"
"He's dead. He died before I was born."
"Oh, God, man, I'm sorry."
"I'm not. He was a bad man, and very cruel to my mother."
The two boys sat unspeaking for a moment.
"You've had a hard life," Okahara said finally.
"It hasn't been that bad," Junior said. "My guardians didn't really care about me, but they looked after me pretty well in some ways. They fed me well and I got to read a lot."
"You had guardians, like Hisami? You weren't raised by your mom?"
"No. My guardians took me from her. She didn't even know I was still alive."
"I don't know, Makuhari. I thought I had it tough, but my problems are pretty small compared to yours."
"I wouldn't say that, Okahara."
"Look, call me Tohru, OK?"
"Thanks. I prefer Makuhari, but you can call me Junior, if you like."
"You are kind of the formal type, but maybe I will call you Junu…Junyuruu…Junior, there! Damn, my English pronunciation stinks. That name's kind of hard to say in Japanese, though, isn't it?"
"Yes, I may have to change it. Tohru?"
"Don't tell anyone else, please."
"'Course not. And your mom is still cool."
"Thanks, Tohru. Does this mean we're friends?"
Tohru smiled. "Heck, I thought we already were. But if it'll make you feel better…" He held his hand out to Junior. They shook.