Yuuta.

VEILED CHILD.

He tries to get a word in sometimes during these family dinners and succeeds . And then he doesn't, not anymore, with Aniki gone. – YUUTA.

--

Yuuta used to love Saturday family dinners.

They would sit around at home in the dining room around a small round table and talk about alot of things. Sometimes, it's about how lovely it would be if they could spend the next week out at the beach flying kites or doing normal things that happy families would, and Yuuta loved telling his fair share of fairytales, too. Gradually, their topics would shift towards tennis, because his older brother was just learning to pick up the new sport, and honestly, Yuuta didn't mind. Seldom – he idolized his older brother to a crippling extent – to which he would think sometimes that no Gods exist when there is one standing right before him. Everything pales beside Syuusuke.

He also tries to put his two pence worth of opinion of his older brother during family dinners—how Syuusuke will definitely win this tournament, how Syuusuke is versatile in both doubles and singles – this and that.

Overtime, he notices it doesn't get any harder doing so – but things seem to have changed. He reminisces on old times where his older brother will shoot him a grateful look, something that says "thanks, Yuuta, for looking up to me. I respect you alot, too. Know that always." – and Syuusuke, to prove it, always takes Yuuta's hand and squeezes it under the dining table, returning him his smile. He thinks about how his parents will laugh at the funny jokes Yuuta crack – "Aniki will kick this and that's butt", "Aniki will perform his swerve so hard, he'll Ace-out all the opponents to planet Pluto!". Nothing he says ever make sense – but they laugh anyway.

Yuuta liked family dinners like that.

Until he gradually notices things change– and it isn't him that is the actor to his part.

His jokes remain stagnantly awful and border on crack. It's supposed to make them laugh like they used to on Saturdays. He still says the same old things – random, spontaneous, and very Yuuta.

But Okaa-san doesn't smile and ruffle his hair anymore.

Otto-san shouldn't smoke so much and puff them into his, their faces.

And he doesn't know why Aniki likes to take interest in his shoes so much when his eyes , his jokes are so much more interesting.

It is the third year running and they still sit down for family dinners.

Only there is a tangible change this time – Aniki's gone.

"Tennis competition." Okaa-san explains.

"Oh." Yuuta nods.

And realizes his jokes don't just not make sense—they are invalid at this point of time.

When conversations around the dining table used to center on Syuusuke, even Yuuta had learnt to adjust his social skills around his family to ensure he always managed to get a word edgewise when all they talked about was Syuusuke this, Syuusuke that. He was used to interrupting their conversations so much about his older brother – Aniki this, Aniki that. . .

That now, when Aniki's gone – their heart of conversation is deemed invalid. . .

. . . and when there is no Aniki to talk about, Yuuta suddenly finds himself mute.

And realizes the family – his father, his mother – they don't know what else to talk about.

He wonders inwardly if it's true their entire family is built carefully around one pillar – Aniki.

Yuuta lifts up his chopsticks, and forces a chuckle. He attempts a knock-knock joke – just so there's that perfect excuse to involve his parents. He wants to lighten the atmosphere, he wants to make them happy. . .

. . . but most of all, he knows he's selfish –

He wants to know personally, that the family can still go on even without Aniki.

He can keep this family running.

"Otto-san!" He vainly captures his attention. He pokes his Okaa-san in the shoulder with his chopsticks, only to receive a warning glare in return telling him not to play with his food. His words of "Okaa-san" trail away like a wisp, dried under his throat where it's supposed to elicit.

He stares at the vacant seat by his side, and matches it to the gnaw clawing at his heart.

There is an awkward silence. Sometimes Yuuta wonders if those silent spaces used to be appropriately filled in with words like "Syuusuke, how was tennis today?" "Syuusuke, please help your Otouto perfect his Ace shot tomorrow morning if you have the time – he still has trouble with it" "Syuusuke, are you having problems with your new tennis racket?"

And now—the source of every little sentence, every syllable, every imaginable alphabet translating into phrases sputtering conversations into life – was gone.

What were they to talk about?

Yuuta realizes dimly (his heart sinking hollow) – that he is only eight year old, and his existence in the family is already validated by someone else.

He does not know whether he should thank Aniki for this: for giving him a reason to continue taking his place in the family dining room (always beside Syuusuke, unchangingly) , for granting him the constant position to secure his place by being the joker of everything ---

Or for completely destroying him as a child – precisely giving him all that, only when he's right beside him to support his role.

Yuuta is only eight: and he no longer mistakes that family dinners on Saturdays are no longer the same.

There is no difficulty getting a word edgewise in their familial conversations, never, ever.

But he is no fool to see, even as a little boy, that they don't see him (nobody does) --- when they don't see Syuusuke.

Syuusuke this, Syuusuke that.

. . . Yuuta, who?

Owari .