How Sweet It Is
Signing her young son up for football seemed like a good idea at the time. And then she met his coach. And now she's wondering what she's gotten herself into. AU
Author's Note: Shoot me.
Disclaimer: Don't own.
Miscellaneous Blah: If anyone of you have read "City of Kings," you might recognize a certain original character of mine. Also, this short story is loosely based on the Scottish film Dear Frankie. The title comes from the old song, "How Sweet It Is" and has absolutely no relation to the 1960s movie of the same name.
She promised herself it wouldn't happen again. Seeing the look on Keitaro's face—how he'd tried to mask his disappointment just so she wouldn't feel too bad—she swore right then and there that this would never, ever happen again.
But it did.
Again and again.
She was starting to wonder if maybe something was wrong with her.
Walking quickly up the stairs, jacket pulled tight around her slender body, zipped up to the chin, she did nothing but silently scream at herself, furious and frustrated and ashamed. She should know better than this. She was supposed to be his mother, for Christ's sake. She was supposed to be there for him, always.
But no matter how hard she tried, the world just seemed determined to screw her over.
Coming to the apartment door finally, she pulled off her wool glove and knocked rapidly on the door.
It took a minute, but her friend finally answered.
Hikari smiled sweetly up at her, sympathetic. "Mimi, so good to see you."
"Sorry about this," she began to apologize, but the younger brunette wouldn't hear of it.
"Things happen," she dismissed easily. "And besides, Kei is welcome here anytime, and so are you. Come in for some tea, will you?"
It was tempting, and she knew Hikari's tea was legendary throughout their small circle of friends, but she wouldn't let herself give in. She deserved some kind of punishment for making this mistake again.
So she shook her head, smiling lightly. "Thanks, but it's getting late."
Hikari sighed. "If you're sure—,"
She was interrupted by her husband, "Mimi! Hey," Takeru grinned at her, blond hair a mess, as usual. "Hungry? I made dinner."
She smiled again.
"No, thanks," she said politely. "I just came to pick up Kei."
"Sure," he said, turning away. He yelled into the apartment, "Keitaro! Let's go!"
She returned her attentions back to Hikari, "Again, 'Kari, thank you so much for looking after him."
"No trouble at all, Mimi. He loves it here."
And then the subject in question appeared, toting a navy blue schoolbag behind him. With honey brown curls and a cheerful disposition, ten-year-old Tachikawa Keitaro was already growing up to be like his mother. Except for the striking green eyes. It was the only thing she was glad his father had given him. Everything else—the bicycle, the clothes, the books, the money—she either donated to charity or returned. She didn't want them to have anything to do with that man anymore.
She leaned forward with a wink. "Hey, ready to go?"
"Yeah," said Kei, shouldering his abnormally large schoolbag. He didn't say anything else and she studied him for a minute, hesitating. With a sigh, she straightened and told him to say goodbye to Hikari and Takeru. He did, then quietly slipped past her and into the hallway.
Hikari offered her a sympathetic smile, and she nodded her gratitude again.
Kei was already inside the lift by the time she got to the end of the hall. She was about to make him take the stairs, believing it was a healthier workout, but took another look at him and changed her mind. Biting her lip, she pressed the button to the lobby and glanced at her son again.
He was leaning on the side of the lift, staring at the lighted numbers flashing as they passed each floor.
She sighed, shutting her eyes. "Kei, I'm sorry. There was—,"
"—a thing at the restaurant," he answered, but not in a bitter tone. Just a wistful one.
She flinched, hating herself even more. Some days she wished he would fight back, be angry, rebel like normal adolescent kids. She deserved it, after all. But he never even raised his voice, showed any resentment.
"Hey, look at me," she said.
He did, glancing up unblinkingly.
She ran a hand through his curly hair, pulling him closer affectionately. "I'm going to make this up to you."
Keitaro smiled through his long bangs. "Mum, I'm fine. I like hanging out with Ms. Takaishi. I help her clean up the classroom and organize assignments for the next day. And Mr. Takaishi plays basketball with me—indoors sometimes, too," he added with a grin. "I'm not upset."
She knew he wasn't; it took a lot to get Kei riled up about anything. Unfortunately, she broke at the slightest hint of a strain. But she'd gotten much better, much more independent. If her old college friends saw her now, they wouldn't have recognized her. A divorced single mother—
She shook her head, refusing to fall into that mental rut again.
She brushed his bangs aside, making a mental note to give him a trim soon.
"Well, I'm glad you had fun, but I like it better when you're having fun with me. So name anything, and we'll do it."
Kei rolled his eyes, "Mum, I'm fine."
"Anything," she insisted, wanting to please him.
He traced the glass buttons with a small finger, still smiling. "Well…."
"I knew it," she laughed. "Something's on your mind, isn't it? I know you've had an eye on that new bike in the store for a while—,"
"I want to play football."
She stopped, caught off guard.
He was still poking the buttons, careful not to press too hard.
"Football?" she repeated blankly.
"Yeah…." He glanced at her, hopeful but cautious. "I've been meaning to ask you about it for a while. There's a sports club that a friend of mine plays for. He said the coach is holding tryouts on Saturday."
She stared. "Saturday. As in, the day after tomorrow?"
He nodded sheepishly, grinning.
She shook her head, a sly smile spreading across her face. "Why do I feel like you just tricked me?"
He kept grinning, green eyes twinkling mischievously.
She grabbed his arm, pulling him into a headlock and tickling him. "I can't believe you!"
"I had to!" he protested, laughing. "Mum, I know you love me, but you get so worried about everything that I didn't think you'd let me tryout unless you felt you owed it to me…."
She groaned, "Oh, my God, I'm raising the world's next dictator—,"
He craned his neck to meet her gaze. "So can I?"
She hesitated. "You promise not to break anything?"
"I promise," he wrinkled his nose, amused.
She kissed his forehead, hugging him tightly.
The lift's doors opened, reaching the lobby. A tall man with unkempt brown hair chatting into a cell phone was standing outside, attention completely distracted.
Keitaro had entered the age of embarrassment, and quickly pushed his mother's arm off him shyly. She just rolled her eyes, making a face at him, which he made right back, just as the man on the cell phone looked towards the lift. He stared, pausing in his conversation, eyebrow raised.
She paid him no attention, no longer bothered by those kinds of looks, even though a bit of her was miffed; after all, it was none of the stranger's business and he certainly didn't need to stare so openly.
Keitaro, on the other hand, quickly walked out of the lift, heading to the doors.
She sighed, amused, wondering what her son would be like once the teenage rebellious state hit, imaging all the embarrassing ploys she could torture him with in front of his friends. Well, maybe that was a bit harsh. But she always did like a bit of fun.
She glanced at the stranger as they passed each other, him entering and her exiting.
He looked her up and down and then winked openly, hiding nothing of his thoughts.
Her mouth dropped open, too shocked to be offended.
He smirked, turning his attentions away as he resumed his phone conversation.
"Mum!" Keitaro was whining now, impatient to leave.
She blinked out of her stunned trance, annoyed again. She glared at the closed doors of the lift, coming to the conclusion that nothing would ever change about pathetically desperate men. Or rather, the entire male sex was idiotic, but that was just the law of nature. Take her ex as an example.
Convincing herself of this, she turned and marched to the doors, clasping Kei by the hand to walk him home.