The New Papa

by Rob Morris

THE 2000'S, KAMAKURA

It had been three months since Nyu and Nana had returned from a hard night neither would talk about. On that night, a girl named Mariko Kurama had given up being a monster and gave her life to defend Nana and their father Kurama from the vicious being that once dwelt inside of Nyu, and might still be hidden there. It was a time of progress-at least on some fronts.

Mayu heard her bedroom door slide open, and looked over to see that Nana was no longer there. It was pitch-black, yet she could make out the face of the one who had entered.

"Kouta-San?"

His was not the tired, confused face of someone who had heard a noise, and nor was it the reassuring, supportive face of one who always stood ready to help, even if he rarely could.

"You can't just freeload forever, you know."

His face a giant leer, his hand a claw reaching for her pajama top buttons, Mayu saw a light come on.

"Yuka-San!"

Whether he was drunk, insane, or had been hit in the head, Yuka would surely straighten him out with a punch or a kick. But this was not to be.

"So you're the reason he won't pay any attention to me! Well, I'll just watch the two of you before I throw you out on your ear, you little homewrecker!"

"Please, No! I-"

Kouta, still on top of her, started to make strange noises.

"Woof! Woof!"

Slowly, he brought his face close and began to cheerfully lick her nose, all while still making barking sounds. She seized him by the head.

"What kind of sick game are you playing?"

Waking up from the nightmare, Mayu saw the small figure in her hands look quizzically at her.

"Woof!"

"Wanta-Chan?"

The dog leaned his face forward and licked anew. Nana shook her head.

"Wow, you had some kind of nightmare. What happened in it?"

"Nothing."

"Hmph! Mayu-Chan always gets to hear what Nana dreams about, but her nightmares she keeps to herself. That's hardly fair. Was it about a boy?"

"You could-say that."

"One you like?"

Mayu closed her eyes again.

"I haven't figured that out yet."

When Wanta roused her again, Nana was already dressed.

"Nana-Chan? Do you trust Kouta-San?"

"Well, he can be mean-"

"That's not what I asked."

"-but he always means well. Wait-did he steal one of Nana's roasted peppers at dinner?"

Mayu sighed.

"No-that was Nyu. And I don't mean about stealing stuff. Just-trust. You know?"

"Ummmm-No."

Mayu whispered to Nana, who blushed.

"Kouta wants to make babies with Nana? But-what would Papa and Yuka-San think-or would they make babies, and then each of us makes babies with the other-and all our babies are brothers and sisters, and they play together! How wonderful! Does Mayu want in on this?"

"Baka! I don't want to make babies with Kouta!"

"Why? Don't you like babies? They're cute and cuddly, and they laugh at your jokes even when they're not funny."

"Nana- I meant-"

"Do you mean trust him with something important?"

Mayu went with the flow.

"Yes-exactly that."

"Oh-sure. He kept a secret for Nana that I'll tell you about right now. See-Kouta-San saw me naked."

Mayu felt her worst suspicions confirmed.

"When?"

Nana looked around.

"Well- I was in the bath when he saw me."

"He walked in on you? Peeped on you?"

"He had to."

Mayu felt the pressure build in her head, but kept calm.

"What was his excuse for saying he had to?"

"He had to rescue me."

"From what?"

"Drowning."

"And you fell for that?"

Nana seemed as confused as Mayu was beginning to feel enraged.

"But I really was drowning."

Mayu felt herself having a Nana moment, and pulled back.

"Nana-Chan-start at the beginning of how Kouta-San saw you naked."

Nana nodded.

"Well, I was taking a bath all alone, and it was so comfortable, I just sat there forever. Before I knew it, all my muscles were so relaxed, I couldn't make my arms or legs work right, and I began to slip just so the water got in my mouth. I got scared, and more water kept coming in."

"Nana, it's just not that deep."

"When Nana's arms and legs don't work, they really don't work at all! You all were out, and when I called Kouta, he called to you, only like I said, all the ladies were out, even Nozomi, and she's always here. So he came in with a towel, pulled me out, wrapped me up and put me in my futon, after putting a towel on my hair, and closed the door. Later, I went out to him to thank him, and I asked him how I looked, and he blushed a lot, and I blushed a lot, and then I went to bed for the night."

"Did he come into our room?"

"No-but someone did."

"And what did this-someone-do?"

Mayu knew she was taking a leap, but before settling the doubts she had felt about Kouta since finding him in the bath with Nyu, she had to pursue every last possibility. If he ever turned out to be like her stepfather, she would be ready to expose him.

"They snored."

Mayu stared at Nana with narrowing eyes.

"I do not snore!"

Nana got up and shrugged.

"You always say that."

"Doesn't it bother you that Kouta-San saw you naked?"

Nana bit down.

"I guess. But it wasn't like when Mariko-beat me up and took my clothes. He only saw me for a second or two, he covered me up, and he even showed he thought I was pretty that way."

Mayu felt her leap go flat.

"How-did he show that?"

"He bumped himself trying to get out of my room, and so he turned around, and errrr-he showed he thought I was pretty. You know."

"He-he showed it to you?"

"No! His pants did. I think he needed to adjust them after that."

"Did he get naked?"

"No-he wasn't the one taking a bath. Why would he get naked?"

Mayu needed to relax after this bout.

"I'm-going to take a bath."

Nana nodded.

"With Kouta-San?"

"NO! NOT WITH-not with Kouta-San."

"Good. Yuka-San would probably get upset if you did."

"Nana!"

"But then, she's pretty easy to upset."

Mayu got away from her dearest but easily most infuriating friend. It was a long weekend, and everyone being around each other meant being up against each other as well.

"I want to trust you, Kouta-San-I want to trust anyone again."

In the bath was not Kouta or Yuka, but the other person who had figured in her doubts.

"Hiya, Mayu-Chan! Nyu's taking a bath, just like you! Nyu!"

In three months' time, she had gone from monosyllabic to full sentences; three months more and she would seem an ordinary young girl. For then and there, though, she was still a handful-and still apt to grab a handful.

"Nyu-don't touch me there."

"But Mayu's Hiney is so cute! Pinch the cheeks!"

While this beat the disappointment following her early breast-groping, Mayu was in no mood.

"Do not pinch-anything on me. You take your bath, and I'll take mine."

Which, of course, led to exactly what Mayu didn't want.

"Nyuuuuuuuu!"

The splash did nothing for Mayu's sour mood, but did make her more sympathetic to Kouta's predicament some months ago.

"She really doesn't leave you with a choice, does she?"

"Wash Nyu's back?"

Mayu sighed. She was pretty-if exasperating, and soon, hair and back were washed.

"Now Nyu clean Mayu!"

"No, there's really no need for..."

"Hiney-Cheeky!"

"NYU! Stop this right now-"

Yuka burst in, but was unable to drag the friendly molester off Mayu, and reluctantly called for back-up.

"Kouta! I can't stop her!"

"Kouta can't come in here!"

"Mayu-just throw your towel on."

"It'll get wet!"

Yuka threw the towel in the water.

"Just put it on."

With the now-damp towel clinging to her, and Nozomi signaling, Mayu saw Kouta walk in, hauling the naked Nyu out, doing what he had to in order to make it quick, instead of being concerned with modesty and propriety. Yuka showed she was also beyond this.

"Drag her out boob-first if you have to! Just get her off of Mayu!"

As if to prove she was a force of cosmic chaos no matter what name she was called by, Nyu lurched and grabbed Mayu's towel out of the water. This time, Kouta did blush, but used this shock to finally force Nyu out into the hallway. Yuka got out as well, apologizing to Mayu, who had forgotten her sore rear cheeks.

"He-saw me. He saw-everything. OOOooh-I even turned around a few times-and he-his-it got all-he saw me!"

The last person to see her in such a way used it to hurt her as badly as a father could hurt a daughter. As she sat and stewed, an arm-only an arm-reached in and dropped two new fresh towels, just before an argument erupted. Mayu heard it through the walls.

"Nyu, you cannot go in there again!"

"But Mayu Hiney so cute!"

"Yuka! Please take this sex fiend out of here!"

"C'mon, Nyu-oh you're worse than he is!"

"How am I bad?"

"Weeeellll-you did show an interesting reaction to poor Mayu-Chan losing her towel."

"Don't tease me about that kind of thing!"

"You're such a guy!"

"Nyu take bath with Kouta now?"

"NO!"

"NO!"

When they looked back on this day during much sadder times to come, they would realize this had been the last full-on attack Nyu had ever engaged in, with only minor outbreaks to follow. But for Mayu, it already felt like the last battle at the end of a war.

She emerged after a half an hour, moved for her room like lightning, and had her back to the wall at all times. Only when dressed and secure did she come out. Kouta was resting in the living area.

"I am soooo sorry. Except for Nozomi-Chan, who went to singing practice, they took her to take Wanta for a walk. Figured maybe running with him could wear her out."

Mayu held back a dire thought : Horny Bitch better not try and molest my dog.

"Are you all right?"

"Don't worry about me, Kouta-San. She just took me by surprise."

He had that inquisitive/concerned look on his face. That meant trouble.

"Nana-Chan says you've been upset since yesterday."

It occurred to Mayu that she could cut him off with a partial truth.

"When I was at the market yesterday morning, I thought I saw my mother's husband. I never liked him. He-would scold me for things I hadn't done, and my mother-"

Mayu fought back a choke.

"-she would always defend him and denounce me. So you understand that I didn't want to see him, whether that was him or not. Seeing him-always makes me feel so angry, so betrayed."

It was a lie that contained the truth-which, depending on who you talked with, was likely the worst lie of all. She had been suspicious of this man, yet here she was lying through her teeth. She had in fact seen a man she thought might be her stepfather the prior morning, and it had begun her cycle of upset. But telling the rest was not yet in her.

"Mayu-Chan-it wasn't him. I know it wasn't him."

"Kouta-San, I know you want to calm me, but you can't know that for certain. There is no reason it could not have been him, and the thought of maybe seeing him upsets me."

Kouta breathed in. He had secrets of his own.

"If I could guarantee to you that not only was it not him, but that it could never be him again, will that help you find peace?"

She smiled. He was trying so hard.

"Yes. But you can't do that."

He got up and went to his room.

"Please don't hate me after this."

He walked out with a yellowed newspaper in hand. Gingerly, he gave it to her. Mayu saw the circled article-about how a train molester wanted for suspicion in several attacks on young women had been gunned down in the police station by an angry member of the SAT, upset about something unrelated, pushed too far when the molester made a snide remark. The article also spoke of the shrill reaction of the man's wife-and the names of these two people. Mayu looked at her host of almost a year's time.

"You-you knew?"

Kouta nodded.

"Yes. That was printed not too long after you moved in. Your mother also moved out of Kamakura, though where I don't know. So you see, the odds of you seeing either of them again..."

Her slap snapped across the empty house like cannon-fire. It was the summation of a girl's fury at her innocence taken and then shattered forever by selfish children wearing the skins of grown-ups.

"You bastard! I was worried about you seeing me naked? Why? This article told you everything you ever needed to know. Forget my body-you stripped down my soul because of your damned curiosity. See the number on this card? I know a very big and powerful man who will beat you to a pulp if I ask him to. I..."

She sat on the ground and began to melt.

"I-never wanted anyone to know. Like maybe if I didn't hear about or think about it, it never really happened. Oh, Kouta-San-can you forgive me? I wanted to hit him, not you."

Kouta rubbed his cheek, but managed a smile as he too sat down.

"You don't hit as hard as Yuka. Mayu-Chan-no one else knows. At least, they don't know through me. Your secret, for however long you keep it, is safe with me. Just as safe as I hope you feel here."

She felt very ashamed.

"I do. Your house is a safe one to me. Our home is kept safe by our Kouta-San."

She leaned over to him, and pursed her lips to kiss the cheek she had struck. But she pulled back.

"I can't! I-just can't do that. Not even for you."

Kouta formed her right hand into a fist, and then made one of his own, and he tapped the two fists together lightly.

"That is for us. Between us only. It is the unique way that Kouta and Mayu-Chan express affection and happiness that the other is alright. We who care about each other need nothing more."

They did this again a few times, and a light brief embrace followed. Kouta got up once more.

"Ummm-I'll be in my room-the radio will be on-I'll need privacy-study materials-Yeah."

Mayu turned on the living area radio as well. She sat and smiled at what she knew was happening inside.

"Pervert. Are you thinking of poor defenseless girls, I wonder?"

A phone call told Mayu that Yuka had stopped at her mother's house on the way back. But now it was okay. She was safe. Curious, she stopped by the door to Kouta's room. But whatever sounds might have come earlier, she now heard very grim ones.

"Please-No-you killed Kanae and father-I trusted you-how could you do such a thing, and tell me it's my own fault? YOU have to stop! YOU HAVE TO STOP!"

Gathering some food together, Mayu also left the house and her sleeping confidant, heading for the beach. Its steadfast cleaner was doing his work.

"Lemme guess-more soup?"

Mayu was almost used to dealing with the gruff man.

"I could throw it away-but then you'd have to clean it up, right?"

Bando must have been hungry, for he took the food with much less argument that day.

"What are you gonna whine about today? And where's the mutt?"

"He's helping someone work off their-excess energy. As to complaints? None. Just a happy insight."

He sighed.

"So what's the insight?"

Mayu thought it over.

"I once had an enemy who used their place in my life to hurt me very badly. I got a new friend, but I was afraid that my new friend might be just like my old enemy, but with a better disguise."

Bando actually seemed intrigued by this description.

"So were they? Like your old enemy, I mean?"

Mayu shook her head.

"No-it turned out, after months of checking and rechecking, this new friend wasn't like my old enemy at all."

She sighed, not certain she was happy to say what came next, despite the new closeness it indicated. Life with the New Papa still had some growing pains ahead.

"He is-a lot like me."