Home on the Range

by Q42

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After finally graduating from college, Hideki Motosuwa is ready for a life of his own, starting with his long-overdue marriage to Chi. But ...

What will his parents think?

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Chapter 1:

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

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It's hard to believe that I only moved to Tokyo four years ago. I was nineteen at the time, a real country bumpkin, the first Motosuwa ever to even attempt going to college. I lost count of how many times I thought I'd have to repeat prep school before I ever got into college, and then all the times I thought I would be expelled from college before graduation.

So, when I finally got my cap and gown, I was more surprised than anyone.

After four years in the big city, the big moment finally arrived. I sat in the stands with the rest of the class of '36, trying to keep from tapping my feet and annoying my classmates - did I mention that I have a bad habit of getting stressed under pressure?

Well, anyway, my name was eventually called, so I got up - narrowly avoiding tripping on my own gown - and made my way up to the podium. From there, everything went pretty smoothly; my class principal handed me my diploma and shook my hand. Cameras flashed, and I looked out into the auditorium. I knew my parents were somewhere in there, and I caught sight of my old prep-school buddy Shinbo and his wife, Takako - who, three years ago, was also our teacher.

And, of course, I could never forget where she was sitting: right up in the front row, smiling happily, waving as I came up to accept my bachelor's degree..

I guess you could say that Chi and I have had one of the longest and most ... uh ... interesting courtships in history. We met during my first year at prep school, and we've been going steady ever since. Of course, considering that Chi happens to be a persocom, we've had quite a few hurdles to overcome. When we first met, Chi had lost nearly all of her memories, so I had to teach her a lot of things - how to talk, how to walk around town, and all kinds of other simple stuff. Also, there used to be this major corporate syndicate out to get rid of Chi, but ever since they went belly-up, we haven't had any attacks from killer persocoms. At this point, our only real problems pop up when we try to help people understand that Chi is my girlfriend, not a computer.

Luckily, we've got quite a few friends who understand just how deeply in love we are, so lately, life has been pretty good. Chi's mom, Miss Hibiya, runs the apartment building where we live, and I'm convinced that ever since I got into college, she's actually been charging us a reduced rate, so I've (barely) been able to afford tuition. Chi has helped out a lot in the financial department, too; she works at a bakery downtown, run by two of our friends, Mister Ueda and his wife, Yumi, who used to be one of my co-workers at the restaurant where I worked before I got my internship. All of our friends are well aware of the fact that Chi and I are an item - in fact, Shinbo's been after me for a while now to go ahead and tie the knot.

So, just three weeks before graduation, I took Chi out to the park, and I proposed to her.

She said "Yes" without even a second's hesitation.

Then, of course, she just about snapped my neck with one of her trademark flying hugs.

Just to look at her, you wouldn't think that Chi is of marriageable age. She doesn't grow older, and when she was made, she looked about sixteen, so nowadays, she looks to be about seven years younger than me. I'm sure her mom could probably find some way to help her age artificially, but really, I doubt I'll ever ask her to unless Chi says she wants it. I love Chi for who she is as a person - for her sweet personality, her innocent smile, her insatiable curiosity and her love of life. Besides, she's plenty cute as-is; with that beautiful china-doll face, perfect petite build, that long platinum-blonde hair and those cute little persocom ears, it would be pretty hard to improve on her looks. I'd hate to ask her to get any of that changed just to appease other people's prejudices.

Which brings me to the biggest problem that I had left after graduation:

Explaining all of this to my parents.

Mom and Dad are your basic country folk; their grandparents' grandparents were farmers, and every generation since has just gone right along the same way, carrying on the family business. In fact, when I told them I wanted to go to college and start a new career, Dad really flipped out. He thought that I'd go into the big city and turn into some snotty playboy type. To my father, a break with tradition is a declaration of war on the Motosuwa name itself. Plus, when I asked him to help me pay for my education, he nearly had a heart attack.

He didn't disown me, thank God, but he came darn close.

Which isn't to say that I didn't try to stay in touch with my family. Ever since my first week of prep school, I sent home letters telling them about life in Tokyo and how well - or, sometimes, how badly - I was doing in school. The replies I got back were always nice, encouraging, and sympathetic, but given how I'd left things, I had always wondered if my family was really as gung-ho about my decision as their letters made it sound.

So, as soon as the ceremony was over and I had picked my badly-trampled cap up off the auditorium floor, I walked over to give Chi a hug, then tried to find my parents. It took about three seconds. In a room full of soft, cushy city folk, my father stood out like a bear at a dog show. Even in his rented suit and tie, you could practically smell the odor of hay and cow manure rolling off the guy.

Mom didn't look nearly as out-of-place; she wore a hand-knitted shawl and a blue ankle-length dress. Next to Dad, I guess she looks pretty tiny, but she's got a heart the size of a watermelon.

Graduation day was also the first time I'd seen my little brother since I'd left home. When I first moved out, Aki was eight years old, but now, seeing him standing just a head shorter than Mom, it made me realize how much time had passed since I'd seen my family.

As I started toward them, it was Mom who saw me first. "Hideki!" she cried, and ran over to meet me. We hugged just like always, as though I'd only been gone a day instead of four years.

Aki came next, not running, but still grinning at me. "Hey, Big Brother!" he called. We did our old secret handshake, then gave each other a pat on the back. "Man!" I said. "Aki, you're huge!" He just shrugged and said, "Don't blame me; I get it from Dad."

By this time, my father had made his way over to us, and I took a deep breath, steeling myself for whatever he might say. Was he still angry at me for leaving home? Did he approve of my major?

He just smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. "Son," he said, "I'm proud of you."

I blinked. "Huh?"

Dad just wrapped those big arms of his around me and squeezed. Now, Chi can give pretty powerful hugs, especially if she gets a running start, but a real Masao Motosuwa bear hug is like getting crushed in a trash compactor. After four years away from home, I was totally unprepared for it, and I think half the people in the auditorium heard the "WHUFF!" sound I made as all the air got pumped from my lungs.

Dad laughed as he set me down. "See?" he said good-naturedly, "I told you living in the city would make you go soft!"

"Uh ... yeah," I said. "Well, you see, Dad, most guys here in Tokyo don't walk up and try to smush you like a beer can."

Dad just laughed some more, and suddenly, all my fears seemed to melt away. This was what I had been dreading for the last month? A happy reunion with my family?

"Hideki?"

I turned to look behind me, and there was Chi, wearing her prettiest pink-and-white dress. Her head was tilted to one side, her usual sign for confusion. "Hideki, who is this?" she asked.

Just hearing her voice made me smile. "Oh! Hi, Chi!" I said. "Remember when I said that my family was coming today? Well, this is my dad, that's my mom, and over there is my little brother, Aki."

Chi took a second to register everything I'd just said, then she straightened up and smiled. "Pleased to meet you!" she said. "Chi has heard lots of nice things about Hideki's family."

In typical Mom fashion, my mother clapped her hands and smiled. "Well, it's very nice to meet you, too, Chi! Are you one of Hideki's classmates?"

"Uh, Mom?" Aki said, "She's not a real girl. She's a persocom. See the ears?"

I had an urge to say something to Aki about how Chi was as real as anyone, but in the end I kept quiet. Thankfully, Chi doesn't get offended about that sort of thing, and I knew that Aki didn't know any better. To my little brother, Chi was just like one of the persocoms he had seen being advertised on TV, marketed to the masses as human-shaped computers. After all, how could he - or my parents, for that matter - understand that persocoms have thoughts and feelings just like humans do?

Mom did a double-take. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Well ... ah ... it's still very nice to meet you, Chi."

Dad put his hands on his hips and looked Chi over. "Huh!" he said. "So, this is that persocom you wrote home about? The one you found in the trash?"

"Well, uh, yeah," I said, scratching my head. "She's been staying in my apartment since then."

Dad looked at Chi for another couple of seconds, then nodded in approval. "Well, it doesn't look too beat-up," he said. "I'd always assumed that it would look more ... I don't know ... mechanical, I guess." He held up one of Chi's forearms and examined it, clearly unaware of the perplexed look she was giving me. "Doesn't look like it's much good for manual labor, though." He let go of Chi, then shrugged. "Still, considering you got it for free, it's not a bad deal. I think you mentioned that it can cook?"

"Yeah, Dad. Chi can do all kinds of things. She can cook and clean and stuff, but she's also --" my girlfriend, I tried to say, but what came out instead was, "she's also got a job in town. While I go to classes, Chii's been working at a bakery to help pay the rent."

Dad's eyes just about popped out of his head. "Let me get this straight," he said. "There's a bakery in town - a place that needs skilled workers - and they gave a job to a robot?"

I had a bad feeling that I knew where this was going. "Uh, yeah," I said.

"Well, what about all the poor saps out there looking for jobs? For crying out loud, we're in the middle of a recession, and somebody chooses a household computer over a human being who needs money to eat? What an insensitive clod!"

I felt my teeth clench. Hiroyasu Ueda has been a close friend for years, and to hear Dad call him names that way ...

"But Dad," I said, "it's only because Chi's been working there that I've been able to afford college!"

That seemed to take some of the wind out of his sails. He thought about it for a second, then sighed. "Well, I suppose I should be glad for that much," he conceded. "But once you find a new job, I want you to promise that you'll keep your computer at home, so that that job at the bakery can go to someone who needs it."

I could feel Chi's shock from five feet away. Chi's job means a lot to her; even though she doesn't need to pay for food and she already has a good-sized wardrobe, she still likes to feel that she's contributing her fair share. To arbitrarily take that away from her would be cruel.

I should have stood up for her then and there. I should have told my father that Chi's job was hers to quit, but only if she wanted to. I should have told him that Chi was a real person, with real hopes and dreams and feelings. I should have told them all, right at that moment, that I loved her, and that we were going to be married soon.

Instead, I stalled for time. "Uh, listen, Dad, can we talk about this later? If you'd like, we could all go someplace and discuss it over dinner..."

"Actually," Mom said, "we were wondering if you wouldn't mind coming home for a few days. I'm afraid that your room isn't quite as you left it, but the guest house is empty right now, and we'd all love to have you spend some time with us." She beamed at me. "Won't it be nice to be a family again, Hideki? Even for a week?"

At that, I relaxed a bit. A whole week? I thought, Great! It would give Mom and Dad time to get to know Chi - and, hopefully, to get used to seeing her as a person, not a thing. It would also give me some time to work up the nerve to tell them about our engagement. Besides, I had been missing my family, especially Aki, for a long time, and I was really looking forward to spending some time with them again.

"That sounds great!" I said, then turned to Chi. "Chi, what do you think? Would you like to head out to my parents' place in the country?"

She looked at me with that expression of bewilderment in her eyes, then at my family, then back at me. "Chi doesn't know ... does Hideki want to go to Hideki's parents' house?"

"Well yeah, I would, but I'm asking what you want."

Chi put a finger to her chin for a second, looking thoughtful, and I could tell that she was still a bit shell-shocked from Dad's comment about her job. Then, a bit hesitantly, she said, "If Hideki wants to go, then Chi will go with Hideki."

I gave her the best, most reassuring smile I could muster and put a hand on her shoulder. "Thanks, Chi." Then I looked at my parents and forced a grin. "Well, I guess it's settled, then. When would you like us to come over?"

"Why, as soon as you can, of course!" said Dad with a huge smile. "We've been waiting to see you for the last four years, Son!"

"Yeah, and you should check out all the new Transformers I've got in my collection!" Aki added. "It'll be great!"

I felt my smile go from an act to a genuine grin. It would be great!

"Sounds good," I said. "Chi and I will probably spend the evening getting packed, but in the morning, we'll catch a train and head on over."

"Perfect!" Mom said, giving me another big hug. "Oh, Hideki, we're all so proud of you! It will be wonderful to see you again."

"Thanks, Mom. I'm glad to get to see you guys, too."

Once everything was settled, I took Chi by the hand, and as my family made their way out of the auditorium, we caught a bus back to the apartment. On the way, I could tell that Chi was still upset over what my dad had said. "Chi," I said, "is there anything I can do for you?"

She looked up at me with those big, brown eyes, and I saw that she was on the verge of crying. "Hideki," she asked me, "is it really so bad for Chi to have a job? Should Chi just stay at home now that Hideki is out of school? Does Hideki want Chi to quit?"

I put an arm around her shoulder. "Only if you want to, Chi," I replied. "If you want to stay home, or if you want to keep working, that's your choice to make."

"But Hideki's papa said that it was bad for Chi to take a job that a human could do. Shouldn't Chi do what Hideki's parents know is best?"

I sighed. "Chi ... parents don't always know what's best. Sure, my dad is older than me, and he knows more about some things than I do, but he's still only human. To be honest, I'm not sure he even knows that persocoms have real feelings, let alone how you feel about going to work."

"Hideki's papa doesn't know things that Hideki knows? But didn't Hideki's papa teach Hideki everything that Hideki knows?"

"Not really. I mean, remember when you figured out how to swim when I almost drowned? Sometimes, people just learn things from their own experiences, not from other people teaching them. Because I've spent time getting to know who you are, I know that you're a real person, persocom or not. But my Dad hasn't had that kind of experience with persocoms, so this week, I've got to try and convince him that you're not just some machine. Then we can tell my family about the wedding."

Comprehension dawned. "Is that why Hideki is going to spend time with Hideki's family? To help Hideki's family like Chi, too?"

I had to smile. Chi may talk like a three-year-old at times, but she's smarter than a lot of humans I know. "Yeah, Chi, that's why we're going. This way, my family can get to know you, so they won't mind when you and I get married."

Chi's eyes lit up. "Oh, Hideki, thank you!" She threw her arms around me and gave me a big, mushy kiss. "Now Chi is looking forward to spending time with Hideki's family!" I returned the kiss and hugged her back, ignoring all the other passengers who were staring at us.

This is going to work out perfectly, I thought to myself. Chi likes meeting new people, so she'll have a great time. My parents will love Chi once they get to know her, and we'll all have a wonderful week together. Then, when I tell them Chi and I are getting married, they'll all be okay with it, and everyone will be happy..

Unfortunately, as I was going to find out very soon, I had no idea what I had just gotten us into.

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