Whenever someone would ask how he met his wife, he'd always answer that they were high school sweethearts. It was an old cliche that worked for them. They were in the same class for all three years, though he freely admitted he slept through most of them. They met through a friend of a friend they couldn't remember the name of anymore, at some after school party.
"I'm Tsuyoshi," he introduced himself, scratching at his hair distractedly, and she laughed.
He knew he loved her the first time she smiled, because she looked him right in the face and everything just didn't matter anymore because he really liked the way she looked like that and he wanted her face to stay that way. Which he told her, in a not so eloquent way, that somehow she found endearing, and he found embarrassing.
He awkwardly proposed to her at their graduation, giving her some flowers and telling her he always wanted to make her laugh. She smiled and agreed, and by Christmas, they were living together and wearing matching rings.
After the first year went by, their parents started talking about family. Tsubame's mother took up knitting as a hint, and always dropped by to show off new photos of her friend's grandchildren. So they simply looked at each other and shrugged, saying 'why not?' and tried having a baby.
But after the second year, then the third, and coming up on the fourth, with still no signs of a baby on the way, they decided to see a doctor to figure out the problem.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't be getting pregnant," he said after looking over charts and records, "You're both perfectly fine."
So they kept trying. But after their fifth wedding anniversary and still nothing except Tsubame staring dejectedly at another negative test, they decided to quit.
"Maybe it's just not in the cards," he tried to comfort her, squeezing her shoulder and kissing her hair, "There's nothing wrong with that."
That's how they ended up opening the sushi bar. It was something of a distraction, a way for them to have something together that wasn't a baby. Though, honestly, they didn't know anything about running a restaurant. Tsubame just made really good lunchboxes for him when he worked construction to pay the bills, and the space under their apartment was up for rent and they might have been slightly drunk one night when he mentioned it to her. And then the next thing he knew they had signed a lease and he was making a sushi counter and Tsubame was designing a menu. Like most things in their lives, it kind of just happened and luck was on their side. Sort of like when the shop hit it's sixth month mark, Tsubame told him she had missed her period.
When they were sure she was pregnant he immediately went back to working construction. Then he added on a few shifts at the local all-night mini-mart and late night office cleaning to top it of. He didn't claim to be the best when it came to math and working a budget, but he knew that having a baby meant lots of money. And he was going to have it ready for it. Tsubame offered to work too, but he didn't want her to be in any kind of stress. He even took over the sushi shop almost completely to make sure she was always rested and comfortable. Because if she was fine, the baby was fine, and they would be a family soon.
When he got the call from the hospital that his was was in labor, he was across town putting up drywall at a job site. He borrowed a bike from a coworker and pedaled as fast as he could, weaving between cars and buildings in order to get there on time. He haphazardly chained the bike to a light post before stumbling into the lobby, grabbing the receptionist's desk with sweaty hands.
"Yamamoto," he gasped, and the nurse pointed down the hall.
"Second floor, room 1010."
He didn't bother waiting for the elevator, instead taking the stairs two at a time. When he got to the room, Tsubame was propped up with pillows, face flushed and hair a mess. He grabbed her hand, squeezing it gently, and she smiled back.
"You made it."
"Yeah," he laughed.
"You look almost as bad as I do," she teased. He chuckled again and kissed her forehead.
They decided to name him Takeshi. Not for any particular reason, they were just unimaginative and that's all he could come up with at the time. But it fit and so they didn't worry about it.
Takeshi immediately took center role in their lives. After nine months of working around the clock at every job he qualified for, he quit them all, instead going back to keeping shop at the sushi bar in order to be close to home. Tsubame took to motherhood easily, enjoying her days playing peek-a-boo and chasing Takeshi around the house. He even became a sort of mascot at the restaurant, people coming in to congratulate them easily being charmed by his gurgling laugh and goofy smile as Tsubame showed him off at the counter.
Tsubame liked to spoil Takeshi. Tsuyoshi didn't mind it, he was fine with being the strict one, because he knew that this was all Tsubame really wanted in the first place. He'd turn a blind eye when she's sneak in his bottle when they were weaning him, he'd let her put Takeshi in their bed when he'd have nightmares. When Takeshi began to walk, he was prone to falling, usually ending up with a cut on his chin or a scrape on his knee. He tried to be the firm father, telling him not to cry and to get up and brush it off, but Tsubame would help him up and kiss it better, promising him that he was alright and that she was proud. Eventually Takeshi stopped crying when he fell, stopped fussing when he was tired, because Tsubame would always be right there to comfort him, eliminating all need to get upset. He knew it probably was a little much, but it made her happy and her smile was good enough.
Takeshi was nearly four when Tsuyoshi noticed Tsubame getting thinner. She assured him it was simply a stubborn cold, and that she was bound to get over it soon. But when her cough got worse, he began to feel what he later realized was panic. It wasn't like the panic he had when he almost missed the birth of their son. It wasn't like when they occasionally forgot a bill or payment because the matter had simply slipped their minds. It was a fear that settled deep down in his stomach and told him that something was seriously wrong.
The doctor simply said it was pneumonia, and ordered bed rest and fluids. At first Tsubame resisted, arguing that it was simply too boring for her tastes, but Tsuyoshi insisted, and she finally gave in. Takeshi would spend the better part of his day with her, keeping her company. He had always been attached to her skirts, and now was no different. Tsuyoshi saw him bringing piles of comic books and card decks, offering them to his mother to entertain herself like she would do for him when their positions were reversed. He often found him there, sitting on her lap and explaining the difference between Ultra Man and Kamen Rider while his mother listened attentively, nodding and smiling at all the right places. A teddy bear was left there once, and Tsubame decided to keep it, tucking it into the spot beside her pillow.
He took up more chores around the house to ease her mind, getting Takeshi dressed in the morning and making sure he ate. Laundry was a challenge however. The first attempt with the washing machine resulted in a room full of suds, which Takeshi gleefully played in while he tried to mop the worst of it up. The clothesline wasn't something he liked to think about. After nearly making a noose for himself on the balcony, Tsubame came to his rescue with a laugh, detangling him and shaking her head.
"What would you do without me?"
Three months after the first doctor visit, she wasn't getting any better. She was still thin and tired, her coughing deep and heavy in her chest. Tsuyoshi had been closing the store when Takeshi came stumbling into the restaurant, eyes wide and rambling through gasps that Tsubame had collapsed in the shower.
It wasn't pneumonia anymore. It was something he couldn't even pronouce. At the hospitial, Takeshi sat in Tsubame's lap, staring at the wires and needles attached to her as the doctor explained whatever it was. Tsuyoshi stood beside her bed, arms crossed and jaw tight. She was put on medication and a week later, she was sent home, at her own request.
He wanted to cut down the hours of the shop in order to take care of her, but Tsubame refused.
"You don't need to sit around all day taking care of me," she scolded, "The doctor gave me some antibiotics, it'll be alright."
He would check on her still, when the shop was slow or when it was time for a break. Takeshi didn't sit on her lap anymore, instead pulling up a chair beside the bed and quietly playing with action figures by himself.
"I'm scared of hurting her," he said once, privately while Tsuyoshi washed his hair in the bath. Tsuyoshi only nodded his understanding.
It was in the middle of a summer storm when Tsubame stopped breathing. He called the ambulance while Takeshi stood in the doorway of their bedroom, wide-eyed as Tsuyoshi begged for her to wake up. He asked a neighbor to watch him while he went with her to the hospital, and the last thing he saw before the ambulance doors shut was Takeshi staring out of the bedroom window and into the rain.
A month after the funeral the two of them walked home with bags of groceries, Takeshi awkwardly carrying a sack of rice in his small arms while Tsuyoshi took the rest. There was a gasp, then a thud, and Tsuyoshi looked to see Takeshi face down on the road, the bag of rice broken and spilt around him. He stared a moment, shocked, and Takeshi pushed himself up, obviously just as surprised. He looked at the grains of rice on the pavement and rubbed at his face, sniffling a few times before suddenly bursting into tears.
"Oi, Takeshi, don't cry," he shook his head, "You're not hurt, come on, we'll pick this up and get some more."
"I want Mommy!" the four year old cried, "I want Mom!"
"Takeshi," he knelt beside him "We talked about this. Mom isn't with us anymore."
"But I want her," Takeshi sniffed, looking up at his father, "Mom always made me feel better. Who's going to do that now? Mom's not here and I'm not going to feel better anymore."
Tsuyoshi looked away, swallowing thickly. He shifted his shopping to one hand, scooping up Takeshi with the other, holding him close and carrying him as he walked. "Dad, the rice..." he began but Tsuyoshi shook his head.
"It's alright, we'll get it later. We'll drop this off and get ice cream okay?" he offered, and Takeshi nodded, gripping his shirt. "It'll be alright, you still have Dad."