A/N: Here's where we meet Komori's parents. Also, I hope you like the special little cliffie I've put in at the bottom. Hehehe.

Kanae

"All right! My baby girl finally made a friend!"

"Yeah! And Kumi's real nice and she does magic and stuff! Can she stay here?" Komori begged her dad as he bounded around the main hall in a traditional robe and slippers. His stringy brown hair and blue eyes definitely reminded me of his daughter. They were even similar in personalities.

"By all means!" Mr. Miyazaki bellowed. He gathered Komori and myself up into a huge bear hug that about broke my ribs and then dropped us, Komori laughing. He then held out his hand to me as though he hadn't just horrendously invaded my personal space.

"The name's Renmaru Miyazaki. Just call me Ren. Everyone else does." He said cheerfully. I shook his head somewhat cautiously and he noticed this and started to chuckle.

"I see Komori told you about my little quirk." He said.

"No, no, I mean…uh," I tried to say, knowing it was hopeless and that any excuse I made would be shoddy and pathetic.

"Don't worry, I'm not insulted, Kumi. Most everyone knows about it and I don't mind in the slightest. Why should you be any different?"

He smiled probably the most winning smile I'd ever seen. I wondered if that's how he met his wife. I nodded and swallowed uncomfortably.

"Well, I'll start cleaning, then. Komori, why don't you take Kumiko to the guest room?"

"Right!" Komori declared. She grabbed my hand and tugged me toward the stairs. "Lets' go!" she cried.

I felt like I was in a daze as she almost literally dragged me up the stairs and toward a room at the far end of the hall.

"This is going to be your room, Kumi." She said. She opened the fine oak door and ushered me in. I made my way in slowly, taking in the details. It was a beautifully decorated room with a dresser and desk in the corner, a closet and a bed covered in lavender coverlets and pillows. I glanced at Kumi.

"I don't feel comfortable here." I told her.

"Why not?" she asked. She didn't get it. I wasn't used to this. She'd grown up around this type of atmosphere so it was all normal to her.

But before I could answer, she suddenly grinned and grabbed my hands.

"No time to rest! I got a great idea of where we can hang out for the next few days!"

"H-huh?" again my brilliant answers.

"Well," she said, putting a finger to her forehead, "Not for the next few days. When I get my allowance, I'll treat you to the best ramen you've ever tasted down at Shiitake's! Whadoyasay!?"

I blinked and made a strange noise. "Um, sure, I guess."

Komori gasped and pulled away. "Oh no. Don't tell you me you don't like ramen!" she cried.

"No, no, I love ramen. But why are you going to treat me? I just made a bunch of money today so I can buy for you, if you'd let me."

Komori hesitated. It was the first time I'd seen her speechless.

"I just want to buy you ramen. To make up for my plowing into you earlier." She said with a tilt of her head.

"But I—"

Somewhere in the house, a clock started to ring and Komori whined.

"Aw, dang it. I'm late for cram school." She mumbled.

"Cram school?" I questioned. Komori nodded. "Yeah. Mom makes me. My grades really aren't all that good."

With that, she turned and hurried off into another room which I assumed belonged to her. She stuck her head out the doorway.

"If you're hungry, help yourself to anything in the fridge. Once I change, I've gotta get going." She said.

I felt immensely more uncomfortable as I stood there in the hallway after she'd shut the door. This was way too much to dwell on, but I was hungry and since she'd given me permission, I decided to try to find my way to the kitchen.

Easier said than done.

//ooo//

After three wrong turns both leading to the back door and one confusing hallway leading to what appeared to be a bathroom, I wound up back in the front hall.

"Yeah, I'm lost." I mumbled. I hadn't seen Komori for over an hour and I figured she'd already left assuming I'd found my way to the kitchen like she told me.

As I stood stupidly in the middle of the room trying to figure out what to do next, I jumped when the front door clicked. Someone was coming in. I frantically searched for a place to hide as the thought that it would do no good popped into my head.

The door opened and a middle-aged woman with blonde hair wearing a business suit stepped inside and closed the door. She sighed, looked up and stared directly at me.

"Um, who are you and what are you doing in my house?" she asked, more curiously than angrily. I mentally slapped myself out of my frozen reflex and bowed.

"S-Sorry, my name is Kumiko Ichibana. Your daughter, Komori invited me to stay with your family. I assume you're Mrs. Miyazaki." I said clumsily.

"Hm." The lady said. She took her shoes off by the door and undid her little ponytail. "That's interesting."

I just watched as she wandered across the hall and into another room. A few minutes later, she came back wearing blue jeans and a fluffy red sweater. She glanced at me blankly.

"So, you're Kumiko Ichibana." She said. "I must say, it's a little unusual that Komori would invite you over to stay with us, seeing as I've never seen you before in my life."

"Well, ma'am, I'm sort of new to town. I travel, putting on puppet shows for children."

She actually smiled a little at me when I said this.

"I see." She said. What exactly did she see?

"I won't be any trouble." I told her, bowing again.

"No, don't worry about it. Have you met my husband already?"

I immediately went back to the hyperactive father and daughter and compared Komori to her somewhat emotionless mother.

"Yes." I said quickly. "He's very nice."

Her expression darkened slightly. "I suppose. Well, follow me and I'll make you some tea."

She led me to the kitchen, only a few hallways away from where I'd taken the first wrong turn. She bade me sit down at the table and I did so, afraid to disobey her.

"So you're new to town. How long have you been here?" she asked me.

"Only about half a day. I met Komori at the train station." I said, watching as she moved about the spotless white kitchen, boiling water and searching out tea bags.

"Not to be rude, but how old are you, Kumiko?" she asked.

"I'm only nineteen." I said.

She sort of smiled again. "Such a nice age. Oh, forgive me, but I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Kanae."

"That's a nice name." I told her.

"Thank you."

She brought a tray with two steaming bugs of boiling water and a small selection of tea bags. She offered me an oolong tea and I accepted it, placing it into the mug and stirring it around. She chose a lavender tea and did the same. She sat down across from me at the little table.

"I'm guessing Komori already left for cram school." Kanae remarked.

"Yes. She told me to get something to eat if I was hungry. But I sort of got lost and she left before I could notice."

Kanae chuckled slightly. "Komori." She said fondly. "She's so absentminded."

She sipped her tea and then fixed me with a piercing stare, like she was seeing right into my innermost thoughts. "So," she said. "Are you planning on staying for awhile?"

I stared at my hands.

"I had wanted to get a hotel. But Komori insisted on bringing me here. I couldn't really talk her out of it."

Kanae nodded solemnly. "I understand. I should try to warn you, Kumiko, Komori isn't exactly what I'd call normal. She's got a few issues."

"Like what?"

Kanae sighed, looking away. "We've had to hospitalize her seven times over the past year. And that was just this year, too."

I gasped without meaning to. "Why? Has she been sick?"

Kanae sipped her tea. "I wouldn't say she's sick. I'd say something was definitely wrong with her, yes, but not sick. Both she and Nanami are a little off, but she's definitely the worst of the two."

"Nanami is her cousin, right?" I ventured. Kanae nodded. "Yes. She lives with us because my little sister is too drugged up to care for her and her father was just a stupid dealer who made a little mistake with one of his clients."

"…Oh." I said, looking away. "But, Komori told me something different. She made it seem like Nanami doesn't live here."

"I know. She and Nanami don't get along at all. They live in separate wings and Nanami is so reclusive, I doubt you'll see her before you decide to move on. But if you do, try to keep your distance. Nanami's a little unpredictable."

"Uh…oh." I said—again.

Kanae stared up at the ceiling. "It's nothing to worry about. Just keep your eyes open, okay?"

I nodded and Kanae got up, pouring the rest of her tea down the sink and heading for the door.

"You're welcome to walk around the grounds, if you'd like. But be sure not to stay out past sundown. Even private properties are dangerous around here."

"All right." I said. She left then, and I was alone.

//ooo//

That night, Kanae showed me back to the guest room and then left to go work in her study somewhere on the ground floor. As I tried to go to sleep in the soft bed, I thought about Kanae had told me about Komori and Nanami. It only made me more curious than ever about Nanami's presence in the house and why she and Komori didn't get along.

Sometime ago, I'd heard Komori return and head into her room. I knew she'd gone to sleep, already. But not too long after that, I heard someone else walking around. I didn't recognize the footsteps, something I usually was pretty good at even around strangers. I got up to check it out.

When I opened my door, I saw someone standing at the top of the stairs motionless. It was too dark to see, but I could tell I hadn't met this person before. Was this Nanami, the reclusive cousin Kanae had warned me about?"

Without a word, the shadowy figure turned and descended down the stairs, footsteps gradually fading away. Slightly puzzled, I returned to bed after shutting my door and closed my eyes, trying to sleep despite all this weirdness I'd somehow gotten myself into.

A/N: Well, could that have been Nanami? Or somebody else? Only I know. (insert evil laughter) Hehehe. Please drop a review if you can. Thanks!!