French Bread and Ponydrills
Chapter One: What Makes a Strong Singer, or, Get Over It
"Teto, which do you want? Corn Flakes or Raisin Bran?"
My teenage sister didn't look over from pouring her orange juice as she answered, "Umm…Raisin Bran."
I placed the box of the requested cereal in the center of the table for her and took another bite of my oatmeal. I watched Teto sigh as she went over to the refrigerator, put the juice back inside, and brought out the milk. She looked tired, eyes half-open and a shuffle in her step as she moved around. I had the familiar suspicion that she'd been up late listening to music or chatting to her friends on the internet again. My first instinct was to bring it up and lightly scold her for it, but I kept my mouth shut. She already knew when she should go to bed; if she was tired now, it was on her own head.
No, I had to. I opened my mouth.
"Go to bed late?"
She plopped down in the chair in front of her breakfast and gave me a mildly annoyed look. "Not too late. Don't worry about it."
Well, there was no harm in asking. I continued to eat, being careful that no cinnamon fell onto my immaculately ironed uniform. Speaking of clothes…I glanced at the blue-and-white school uniform Teto was wearing, and saw it was wrinkled nearly all over. I paused between bites to speak. "Looks like you might need to iron that soon, or at least smooth it out," I said, gesturing at her shirt.
She glanced down, then back up, and shrugged. "I'll get to it."
We used to take her school uniforms and singing outfits, as well as my work uniforms, to the drycleaner's downtown, but stopped because we got tired of carrying everything back and forth. Now we iron everything ourselves when the need arises.
I wondered if something was on her mind. Teto may not be the world's most fashion-conscious person, but she likes to look nice and neat, and even I was noticing all the creases on that thing. But she didn't seem to want to talk much this morning. Unlike some days, when she comes charging down the hallway of the apartment, asking if I've seen her jacket or if I could lend her some extra cash for the train fare.
It was six-thirty in the morning, on a Wednesday in April. Teto had to be at school by eight-fifteen, and I had to be at work by eight.
Before I forget, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ted Kasane. Not Theodore, not Theodosius, just Ted. I'm thirty-one. I live and work here in Tokyo, along with my fifteen-year-old sister, Teto. Our story is something of an unusual and sad one.
Five years ago, our parents were killed in a bus accident while on vacation overseas. It was the most sudden thing you can ever imagine. One minute our lives were perfectly normal, and the next, we got the call that put us into the most horrible state of disbelief. Even now, the pain of the event hasn't completely faded, and I suspect it never will, for either Teto or myself. At that point in my life, I was living out on my own in an apartment, but Teto, still being a minor, had nowhere to go, especially since our relatives live nowhere near Tokyo. And that is how she moved in with me.
There was no other choice, and I wasn't sure how well it would work out, but both of us were upset and I wanted to do what I could for her. I can't say it was easy for either of us, in a lot of different ways. We're pretty far apart in age, so somehow I felt like we were too detached, not knowing each other as well as we otherwise could have. This isn't to say I didn't want to know her better, but she was so much younger and I wasn't sure where to start.
But now we're stuck with each other, and Teto is no longer the little girl playing with dolls and singing into the hairbrush that she was when I left home. She's a teenager. This can be a good thing on some days, and a bad thing on other days. But in any case, for the last five years we've both been learning that we are in fact related to each other.
And actually, sometimes Teto does still sing into the hairbrush.
Once I finished eating, I took my bowl and glass into the tiny walk-in kitchen, where I rinsed them off and added them to the noticeably growing pile of dirty dishes in the dishpan. Walking back out to Teto, I reminded her, "Don't forget to clean the dishes soon before they overflow." We take turns washing them, you see, and this week was her turn.
I wasn't expecting to receive the sudden glare she shot at me then. I used to think it was humorous to see her make a fierce face between those two curly pigtails, but I've since gotten over it. "What?" I asked, bewildered.
"Why do you nag so much, Ted?" she growled, curling her fingers around her spoon to form a fist. "Don't worry about everything!"
This was not a good way to start off the day, for either her or me. I hate it when she gets like this. Besides, I don't nag. I only make observations and try to look out for her. After all, I'm the only one who's here to do it. "I'm not trying to nag at you. I'm just saying."
"Well, don't," she muttered, releasing the spoon.
I sighed. "Teto, what's the matter?" She didn't bother to look at me as she took a sip of juice. "Come on, let it out," I persisted. I sat back down in my chair opposite from her, folding my arms across my chest and leaning my elbows on the table, trying my best to appear patient rather than authoritative.
"I'm fine. Just tired. And yes, I was up for a while last night catching up with people."
"I see." When nothing more was said, I figured it might be best to let it drop. Teto's never exactly been a morning person, so maybe that really was all there was to it.
I was about to stand up again, when she released a sudden heavy sigh and covered part of her face with her hand, masking her eyes. "Fine. I'll tell you what happened yesterday, but you can't laugh."
Oh ho. So something was up. I remained where I was. "I won't."
"…okay." Teto took away her hand and directed her eyes at the musical note-shaped napkin holder in the center of the table. Her face was slowly turning red, shade by shade. Whatever this was, it couldn't possibly be more embarrassing, for either of us, than the time she confessed to me that she'd gotten her…well, her first visit from the Goddess of Womanhood. That was last year, but I still remember it as though it was yesterday. This tense atmosphere was reminding me a lot of that time.
Teto heaved another huge sigh and finally began. "Yesterday at singing practice, Len asked me if I would warm up with him by singing a short duet. So I said okay, and we got about halfway through the song, when – when…when I burped, okay?" she exploded. "Loudly!"
I couldn't help it; the laugh ascended up from my stomach and escaped my throat. Only at the last second was I able to cover it up with a cough, but Teto wasn't fooled. "You said you wouldn't laugh," she reminded me accusingly, glaring at me again. "Not that I could really believe you." She leaned her elbows on the table and sulked.
"I know. I'm sorry. But Teto, that's really not something I would worry about. They'll get over it."
Maybe I should explain a little bit. Teto doesn't exactly lead the life of the average teenager. She, along with a handful of other teenagers and young adults, is a rising star in the music industry, continually trained by and having her songs licensed under UTAU, a studio which works jointly with the more well-known Vocaloid studio. Every day after school, and sometimes on the weekends, she heads over for rehearsal for whatever project(s) she's currently involved in. It's not all singing, either – a good fraction of it consists of music videos and advertising and the like. It's an exciting, yet admittedly stressful career path. I know this, because I am the one who helped lead her down it.
It is both something I am proud of and something I regret. That's right, I am also in the singing business under UTAU, though I am what you might call a part-timer.
Ever since I was young, I found singing to be fun, whether I was entertaining my friends or just taking out the trash in the evening. I'd always been pretty good at it, too. When I was around Teto's age, and encouraged by my parents, I decided to try out for UTAU. And to my surprise and everyone's delight, I got in. I hadn't even really been expecting to, but soon enough I got pretty caught up in it. I got to sing, I got to wear cool costumes for the videos, and I made friends, some of whom I keep in contact with to this day. I also got to dance, although it was something I've never been particularly fond of. And for a long time, I did well there, though I never quite made it past average compared to some of the others. Because of that, there were fewer demands placed on me, and the balance between school, singing, and free time was stable enough.
Teto turned out to love singing also, for almost as far back as I can remember. I admit, most if not all of the influence is probably mine, but it can't be denied that she has some real talent. She got involved in UTAU a short while before our parents' accident, having heard all my stories about what it was like. And ever since she started, she has been a hit. More than I was. I'm glad for her, since she is enjoying it in many of the ways I did. But I can't help feeling a little guilty, seeing her struggle with the inevitable pressures, too.
Anyway, here's the real punch line: as Teto's popularity grew, people started to want to hear my voice more, as well. All of a sudden I was hearing my old songs being played everywhere alongside Teto's newer ones, and the requests for me to record something new and perhaps do some duets with my sister began pouring in. It was a nice feeling, since singing for UTAU had become a somewhat less common occurrence for me by then and I missed it, but at the same time the suddenness of it all caused it to be overwhelming.
So at this point in time, both Teto and I are singing for UTAU, though I do it less frequently than she does. It's more of a part-time deal for me, as I decided I'd rather have it that way. I'm just not positive that I want to be in the spotlight so often for the rest of my life, so most of my working hours are spent at my full-time job.
I am a security guard at Tokyo's Museum of Technology, in one of the city's busier metropolitan areas. It's an interesting occupation, I will say that much. Luckily, I have never had to shoot anyone.
"But what if they don't get over it?" Teto was asking desperately. "Everyone passing by the room turned and looked at us! Including Miku, Kaito and Momo!"
Momo is one of Teto's best friends.
"The only way they knew that it was me and not Len was because my face was red and his wasn't," she continued miserably. "They just stared at me for a minute before they started laughing. Nobody could even finish warming up because they were laughing so hard. I tried to laugh along, but I really couldn't."
"I wouldn't worry about it," I said, repeating my earlier statement. "It isn't the big deal it seems like, trust me."
"You weren't there!"
"But I doubt that's something they'll tease you about, at least not for long," I explained. "They're your friends, aren't they?"
She was silent.
"Think of it like this," I suggested. "If it was one of the others who did it, you'd probably laugh too, but how long would you hang it over his or her head?"
She just looked at me, but I could tell that those words had had some effect, because her expression turned thoughtful. "I guess that makes sense," she conceded at last. "But I still wish I could erase it from their memories somehow."
"Well, who knows? If they still remember it years from now and start talking about it, maybe you'll be able to laugh at it yourself," I told her.
"I highly doubt that."
"You never know. It happens a lot with things like that." I'd had a similar experience myself years ago, when my voice cracked in the middle of recording a song with two other people. Because of that we had to start the whole thing over, and I still remember how terribly abashed I felt. But more than anything, it amuses me now. "So how did the rest of the day go, after that?"
"They had me doing solo stuff, mostly," she replied, shrugging one shoulder. "I was afraid I was going to burp again, but I didn't."
"Of course not. Hey, be glad it didn't happen in front of an audience or in public," I told her. She'd been lucky, really.
But when Teto's eyes went wide with horror, I wanted to kick myself. So much for my attempt at comfort. Quite unintentionally, I had just instilled a new fear in her. Now, I supposed, it might take her even longer to get over the incident, the only way being for her to last the next week or so until she realized that the burping was not, after all, going to turn into an ordinary event.
"Now please, don't look like that," I said quickly. "You will be fine. You know you'll be fine. How long have you been with UTAU already without something silly like that happening?"
"I-I guess," she squeaked.
I sighed. I had tried my best. This was one of those things I could only help so much with. But knowing Teto, with her (usually) determined and positive character, I'd be surprised if this kept her down for long. I stood up from the table, checking the clock as I did so. We still had some time left before we headed out.
Teto finished eating her breakfast while I brushed my teeth and got my belongings together for work. We usually leave at the same time and walk to the train station together, since the train that takes her to the neighborhood where her high school is arrives about ten minutes after the one I take to work departs. I lingered around the living room, flipping through the week's TV guide and adjusting the window blinds until she came out of her room carrying her bookbag.
You might be wondering why we live in an apartment when we earn the amount we do from UTAU. It's true that in the past we have looked at possible homes to move into, but Teto always complained of there being too much space. I think in reality she's still a little afraid of moving into a house that might remind her of the one we grew up in, which would bring about too many memories of our parents all at once. But I have to agree that I wouldn't feel right either in a spacious home designed for a family when it's just the two of us. And I think we've both gotten too comfortable with where we are right now. On the bright side, at least we save up a lot. If there's an emergency we won't have any financial problems.
The walk to the station was filled up by a few short conversations between us concerning a cute rabbit Teto had seen in the pet store the day before, what items we needed to pick up from the food market soon, and the mysterious smell that had recently developed in the apartment building's laundry room. I could tell that she was trying her best to get her mind off of yesterday. She even managed a few smiles. Around us, the city streets hummed and roared with early morning traffic under a pale blue sky streaked with clouds here and there. As we got closer to the hub of the neighborhood, the crowds increased. The station, as was usual for the time of day, was packed. Teto and I leaned against a wall, seeing that all the benches were occupied.
We hadn't been standing there for more than five minutes when I spotted two teenage schoolgirls standing a fair distance away and gawking at us. Fans, without a doubt. Whenever a song that either Teto or I are involved in becomes popular, there will be a period of a few days to a week in which fans, young and old, male and female, will swoop down on us and follow us around yelling about how awesome we are. It's annoying, to put it simply. The best thing to do when this happens is to smile nonchalantly and then turn around and ignore them, and eventually, eventually, they will leave. And on days when I'm not in a great mood, I'll just straight-out run from them. But overall, our part of the city has gotten used to seeing us out and about and more or less leaves us alone.
More or less.
Which led me to suspect that the girls currently boring their eyes into us were new to the area.
I looked away from them and bent down to speak quietly to Teto. "Don't look to your left," I muttered.
"Why? Who's staring?" she asked, turning her head toward me but being careful where she directed her eyes.
"A couple of girls about your age. Let's hope they stop soon." Teto promptly looked off to her right, while I set about checking the time on my cell phone.
But a moment later I detected movement heading toward us from the corner of my eye, and I knew it was them. I waited until they were an arm's length away before glancing up. One, with her brown hair in two ponytails that hung in front of her shoulders and with dark eyes, smiled confidently at us while the other, who had blue eyes and short maroon hair much the same color as Teto's and mine, looked nervous. Both of them wore the same style of school uniform, though different from Teto's. It was only when I asked, "Hi, can I help you?" that Teto looked over at them.
The girl with the smile spoke. "Hi…Mr. and Miss Kasane." She paused, and I figured she hadn't really planned on what to say after that. It happens quite a bit. "We're big fans of you guys, both of you…and…well, would it be possible for us to get your autographs really quick?" This last part was said all in a rush.
Now this was a different type of fan from the kind I described earlier. These were examples of the nice, polite, and sometimes shy ones who approach just to say hello and ask for an autograph. You can usually tell that they're kind of freaked out from being so close to us, but they are able to keep their composure. These are the type it would be rude to ignore.
"Of course," I answered, and offered a small smile, while Teto smiled more brightly and replied, "Sure!"
"Thanks!" the brown-haired girl said happily, and her friend sighed in relief. Each of them removed a notebook from her bag and asked us to sign the back cover. "What are your names?" asked Teto kindly.
"I'm Kiyoko," answered the talkative one, and after a silent moment passed, nudged the quiet one. "Miyuki," she all but whispered, barely audible over the hum of the surrounding city.
As I was signing Miyuki's book, I heard Kiyoko ask, "Teto-san? I really liked hearing you sing "Todokemono". Sometimes I wish I could sing half that well."
"Todokemono" was Teto's most recently released song; it had been on the airwaves for only a month.
"Thanks," Teto answered. "All I can say is that it comes with a lot of practice."
"I see. Well, that only makes sense, doesn't it? I think you've always done really well, though. You're one of my favorite singers in all of Vocaloid or UTAU."
Way to make me feel neglected.
"You too, Ted!" she added as an afterthought.
"Well…well, thank you," Teto responded, a little overwhelmed by the flattery.
A thought occurred to me then. "Well now, we're only human, like everyone else. We do our share of stupid and embarrassing things. They just don't broadcast it, that's all." I caught Teto shooting me a dangerous look as I passed Miyuki's notebook back. She knew exactly what I was referring to.
"I see," Kiyoko said politely once more, as she waited for Teto to finish signing her book.
Trying to make the question sound as casual as possible, I proceeded to ask the girls, "If you learned of something Teto or I did accidentally, something crazy or humiliating like messing up during a song or some such, what would you think?"
Teto looked like a balloon ready to pop at any moment.
Kiyoko looked befuddled at the abruptness of the question, but surprisingly enough, Miyuki was the one to speak up, in a voice that while still quiet, wasn't as hushed as before. "I know it wouldn't change my opinion of you" she said. "Especially if whatever happened was by accident. Don't things like that happen to everyone once in a while?" Kiyoko quickly nodded in agreement.
More than anything, I wanted to take that moment to turn to Teto and give her a look that said, "I told you so," but I knew better than to risk it when it might make the girls curious. What was impressive was that Miyuki seemed sincere, as opposed to saying what she did just to sound like a faithful fan. "Thank you. I'm glad to hear that," I told her, as gratefully as I could. My sister should really be the one thanking you, not me.
Fortunately, Teto did not fail to recognize this. She came out of what I assumed to be a stunned silence and said a little absently, "Yes, thanks. You're totally right."
Teto handed Kiyoko's notebook back into its owner's eager hands, and both Kiyoko and Miyuki bowed deeply, a gesture we returned. "Just remember," I advised, "keep an eye on those notebooks if you don't want them to get snatched. You might want to be careful who you show those signatures to." They both nodded vigorously, hugging the notebooks to their chests. After they had thanked us a few more times, obviously thrilled and awed by what they had accomplished, they turned and scurried away to another part of the platform, blocked by the crowds and out of sight.
It was then that I looked down at Teto with the triumphant grin I had been holding in. She rolled her eyes at me in response. "You really had to do that, huh?"
"I think it was necessary."
"You really scared me."
"You know I wouldn't have actually told them what happened."
She sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"You heard what that girl said, I hope. With how far you've come, people wouldn't reject you or label you because of something so ridiculous."
"I know. I know that." Teto took a deep breath to calm herself before looking up to face me. "But they would never forget."
I groaned, and refrained from throwing my hands in the air. Would the message ever get through? "The point is, it didn't happen when you were in front of an audience, and it's not likely to. I can't say it's impossible, but that's a risk all of us have to take. You're an excellent singer, Teto, and people appreciate it and will appreciate it as long as you stay strong. So what else matters?" I've reminded her of that last part so many times in the past.
For a few seconds she only stared at me blankly. A number of the commuters were throwing us interested glances as a result of my little speech, which had been slightly louder than I'd meant it to be, but neither of us paid them any mind. "Yeah. I know it's not the end of the world," Teto finally admitted, a little hesitantly. "I should be okay…probably…knowing that at least it's not a common thing."
"That's right," I readily agreed. I knew she would definitely get over it sooner or later. At least she was on the right track. With her personality, she'd be back to bouncing around cheerfully in no time.
The heavy whooshing sound of the train pulling in made itself known then, the sleek silver cars grinding to a halt. My ride was here. People began flocking to the doors as they hissed open, stopping to wait as the current passengers filed out. I turned to Teto and gave a salute. "Well, I'm off. Have a good day, all right?" Facing the train, I began heading toward the line.
"Hey, wait." Teto touched my arm, and I looked back over my shoulder at her. "Thanks for trying to help me out with this," she said, sounding a bit sheepish. "I don't know when it'll stop bothering me for good, but…thanks for trying."
"Oh…no problem." I nodded at her, and in the next moment, I was onboard the train.
Walking down the aisle and searching for a free spot among the seats that were already mostly filled, I couldn't help but shake my head at my sister's last comment, though I was more amused than disappointed at the level of gratitude she'd shown me. "Thanks for trying", she says, I thought as I settled next to a dozing businessman. Well, that's what big brothers do, I suppose. We try.
I'm hoping to make this into a series about Ted and Teto and various situations they end up in, mostly humorous ones. I chose to make Ted's occupation security guard because that's what I think of when I see his outfit, and I rather like the idea. I stated his and Teto's ages based on the information from the UTAU wiki: while Teto's official chimera age is 31, fans more often choose to see her as 15, while Ted's age of 31 is more or less accepted by everyone. I hope everyone likes, or at least can tolerate, my interpretation of these two and their universe! Other Vocaloids/UTAUloids will also be making appearances.
Sorry if the beginning of this chapter may have seemed too abrupt. And please excuse me if my understanding of the music industry might be off at times.
I think that most of the chapters will be written in third-person POV. I made this one in first-person because I really wanted Ted to provide the background to his and Teto's lives.
"Todokemono" is an awesome song, by the way. I cannot stress how awesome it is. There are versions by Teto, Meiko, Kaito, and Kaito/Ted/Kiyoteru. Only Teto's and K/T/K's are on YouTube, with the titles written in Japanese; the others are on Nico Nico Douga (and Nicozon, where you can watch NND videos without having an account). If for any reason anyone cares to hear the song, let me know and I'll happily direct you to whichever version you want to hear.