She rushes home to find that the doorbell doesn't ring and she has no key, it has been too long since she has come home to nobody being there and hasn't needed a key in ages. When she begins to despair, the door opens silently to reveal a boy who is decidedly not her son. The boy is rather tall but too gangly to look big; the kind who has suddenly stretched out and doesn't really fit in his uniform so well anymore. He has glasses with heavy black rims and he looks harried and scared and fragile, even if she suspect he really is not.
"I took the batteries out of the doorbell," he whispers and moves to give her room to step in. "So it wouldn't wake him up. But I was trying to keep watch on the window if somebody came home. I'm sorry if you had to wait to get in."
She takes off her shoes, quietly, and he goes on: "I took him home; they said it was alright and he had just a small concussion and should be fine after he gets some rest. And it seemed as if maybe he didn't want to be there. It's always nicer to be in your own bed if you're sick. I called a cab, but I had some money and I have a job, so it's no trouble."
She sets her bag down and he leads her away from the hall.
"I put him in his room and he's sleeping now. He threw up twice, in the kitchen and then in the upstairs hall, I didn't have time to get him to the bathroom. But I cleaned it up and washed him the best I could." He blushes a little and turns away. She smiles, but makes sure the smile is gone before he looks at her again. "I aired out his room and changed his sheets; I thought it would feel more comfortable if they were fresh and cool. And, ah, I took out new pajamas for him and I just finished washing the ones he'd been using."
In the distance, she can make out the rumble of the dryer.
"I put some other laundry in as well, since they were the same color."
They pass the kitchen and she pauses to look in. The room is spotless and there's not even a trace of smell; he has indeed cleaned up, even washed the dishes left from breakfast, wiped away the breadcrumbs from the table, and done something to the floor and the cupboards, they never before shined like that. An ancient spot of sauce that has adorned the wall next to the oven for longer than she can remember has also disappeared.
"I made some soup, it's cooling now. It's very light and I'm sure he'll be able to keep it down if he feels like eating. I was just arranging the tea box, I wasn't sure if tea would suit his stomach now, but I was looking through what kinds you have, maybe something that's not too spicy. Fresh bread isn't good but dry might be, I thought at first that I would go buy some but I didn't want to leave him alone."
They move towards the stairs, it's colder here and the smell of freshly cut grass flows in from an open window. It's so quiet and dim inside the house, she has almost forgotten it's bright and warm outside, just a few days until May.
"I dusted the hallway and his room," he goes on and is starting to look a bit miserable, wringing his hands. "I mean, not that it was dirty, I just thought that perhaps, if there was dust, his breathing might become more difficult and he wouldn't be able to sleep peacefully."
They pause in front of a dark room, the door only slightly ajar. He looks ever more pained now, and nervous, and in the faint sunlight streaming in from the small window on the other side of the hallway, his eyes seem rather red and puffy.
"I also vacuumed and cleaned the downstairs living room. And then the guestroom."
"What on earth for?" She asks, very kindly.
"Um, they are the furthest away from his room and I didn't want to wake him. I just… needed something to do."
"Well, that was all very sweet. But, may I ask, who exactly are you?"
The crushed, desolate look on the boy's face makes her feel very sorry and she quickly continues, putting her hand softly on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Kimihiro-kun, of course I know who you are," she says and smiles. "I was just playing a little prank you. He talks about you all the time, or most of those times he does talk are about you. We both know he is a very quiet boy, isn't he?
Kimihiro nods a little and keeps on looking so small and injured she doesn't even try to resist the temptation to pat his head.
"Sometimes I even set the plate for you by accident because it feels as if you really were here with Shizuka, when he tells me about you. I am happy to finally meet you for real. And thank you for taking care of my son. And also for doing the dishes." She winks at him a little and finally he smiles back, even if only a little.
"I should have known you would be here, and I should not have been worried. Now, I assume the doctor told you that he needs to be woken up every now and then because of his concussion?"
"Yes," the boy nods. "I did that last about half an hour ago."
"Well, that's not very long ago, but I think I will still take a look." It amuses her how for a moment she can plainly see he wants to tell her not to wake him up, to let the patient get as much rest as possible, but he is too polite to.
"Yes, yes, of course, " he says. " I'm sorry for intruding on your home. Maybe I should go now when you've come."
"Nonsense. Shizuka would be furious if he knew I let you leave without him getting to thank you."
"Oh, but he did, many times, and it's not as if he even needs to, I …"
She cuts him off with a smile and says: "Please stay." The smile turns a bit more teasing, even if inside she feels a bit wistful for finally coming to a place where she needs to realize her son is truly growing up and preparing his wings to fly away from home. "I always knew I would have to share him with that special person one day."
Kimihiro flushes adorably and she carefully opens the door to his son's room. Shizuka is sleeping on his futon and opens his eyes slowly as she gently taps him on the shoulder. He looks a bit pale but other than that, there seems to be no problem visible. But she is his mother and cannot help but worry.
"Mom," he says, his voice a bit raspy.
"So what happened, hmm?" she asks. "The teacher who called me said you had an accident at school and you have a small concussion?"
"I fell," Shizuka says. " It was an accident."
She wants to say don't lie to your mother, but knows that his son is a good boy and everything he does is important and for a very good reason, so she lets it go.
"How are you feeling now? Is there something you need?"
"Water, please?" he asks and she takes the cup Kimihiro has apparently left on the floor and helps her son to drink. "And don't let him leave," Shizuka goes on, glancing behind her to the thin black figure outlined in the doorway.
"Don't worry," she says and presses a very careful kiss to his forehead. "I wouldn't do that. He's very useful. Even did the laundry."
Shizuka smiles then, and it warms her heart and the worry eases a bit. Certainly, he will be fine.
"He does that."
"Yes. He'll make a good wife," she has to tease, very quietly and gently. He closes his eyes, still smiling and she gets up.
Kimihiro looks endearingly relieved when she tells him Shizuka will be fine and just needs to sleep it off. Shizuka has always been the kind of boy to get all sorts of bumps and bruises and has a very thick head, she tells him, and he wants to agree but is still to afraid to say anything negative. And when he tries to leave again, she kisses him on the forehead as well, and says: "I may have to share Shizuka with you, but Shizuka also has to share you with me. You stay."
He blushes again but doesn't really try to deny anything and she kisses him again, as warmly as she can, remembering what his son told her about a mother that can no longer be there to kiss her son and comfort him.
She takes him to the living room and sits him down, takes out two teacups and forces him to eat a little. He tells her about school and a bit about his eccentric employer and she tells him a few embarrassing stories about Shizuka's childhood that she is sure he will very much enjoy later when he's not so tired and worried. It is too bad the baby pictures are up in the attic; she is sure a certain picture of baby Shizuka dancing naked with a frog umbrella would cheer up Kimihiro even now.
In an hour, she goes up to check on Shizuka and when she returns, Kimihiro has fallen asleep on the couch, his cheeks a little wet, and eyes crunched up. She looks at him, and smiles when she smoothes his hair away from his face. Her husband chooses the perfect moment to come home and help her carry the sleeping boy upstairs and place him on the spare futon on Shizuka's room.
They return downstairs and after a moment of consoling, he agrees to go buy groceries and swing by the drugstore, and she begins to prepare for dinner. Later, she sneaks up to her son's room again and finds it very hard to wake him up when the two of them are sleeping so peacefully, Kimihiro curled up on his side and Shizuka sprawled on his back, gently snoring and clutching a pale hand in his. She shakes him only a little and he smiles when he wakes up.
"How are you feeling?" she whispers.
"Better," he says.
She gets up to leave and catches a glimpse before closing the door, his son bringing Kimihiro's fingers to his lips and Kimihiro murmuring something in his sleep. She feels a bit old and foolish and teary through her smile.
Certainly, they will be fine.