Chapter Seven: Choices

Yokozawa navigated ordering lunch with Hiyori amicably, though he fussed a bit over her food choices. He'd gotten so used to the home cooking he and Hiyori had been doing that all the fast food in the court looked anemic.

He scowled about this until Hiyori teasingly reminded him that their trip was for her birthday, so some celebration was in order. She placated her Onii-chan somewhat, however, by later picking a dish of fresh fruit for dessert instead of some other sweet.

While they were eating, Yokozawa remained generally silent while he picked at his noodles. This was not too uncommon, since Hiyori had more than enough to say for both of them. Given this, their conversations generally seemed to work out fine. When he did speak, it was to most often ask some sort of question which was mainly intended to get Hiyori talking again. For instance, when Hiyo began telling him about another classmate whose cat had just had kittens, he asked "What color?" and was then entertained with ten minutes of vivid description, right down to the freckles on the pads of their pink paws.

Secretly, he liked listening to Hiyori talk. To him the sound of her voice was like the chirping of the first spring bird after a long hard winter. His own life had been filled with so much silence he welcomed her chatter.

Once the meal was over, they threw away their trash and began walking through the mall. As they progressed along the walkway, Hiyori's vocalizations now, however, instead of soothing, were making him increasingly nervous.

"Yuki's mom brought us here last week after school. She had the day off. Remember, Onii-chan?"

"Ummm…" Yokozawa vaguely remembered being irritated that the woman had brought Hiyori home late and hopped up on sugar.

"We spent all afternoon trying on clothes. There was one store that had really good things." Hiyori smiled. Then her sweet face became quite serious.

At the first part of Hiyori's statement Yokozawa's brow rose with apprehension. "All afternoon?"

"Uh huh! It was so much fun! I think we should go there first," Hiyori advised sagely.

"Having been there before and seeing what they had, you must know what you want then. Right, Hiyori?".

Hiyori giggled at the question."Oh, Onii-chan, you're so funny!"

Yokozawa followed her closely through the crowds of shoppers, all the while trying to decipher the meaning of this last declaration.

Why in the hell would she think I was being humorous, when I was being earnest?

He was so lost in his thoughts he almost ran into Hiyori, when she finally stopped. She turned and looked brightly up at him.

"We're here, Onii-chan."

Yokozawa looked up and glanced at the shops overhead sign; it read "Girl Power." He felt a weak chill trickle down his spine, frowned, and shifted uncomfortably. His disquiet grew when he looked inside and saw not only an overwhelming selection of girly garments, but also a number of mothers and daughters intently shuffling through the racks.

"Er… You know, Hiyori-chan, I could just wait out here while you look." Yokozawa glanced across the walk and saw a bookstore. "Over there, in fact. You could come and get me when you're done."

Hiyori cocked her head at him, then she sighed "You sound like, Papa." Her young face flashed with disappointment for the merest of moments. Then she brought out a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Okay, Onii-chan. I'll come get you when I'm done."

Yokozawa's frown deepened at this.

Coward, he thought to himself. You terrorize your whole department, but you're going to allow yourself to be scared off by a bunch of middle-class mothers?

"Hiyori-chan, wait!" He forced half his mouth into a slight smirk. "I was just kidding of course."

"Really?" Hiyori studied him intently.

"Ummmm…" Yokozawa nodded, sticking his hands into his pocket and desperately wishing for a cigarette. He fortified himself instead with Hiyori's new and complete smile and began moving into the store.

No sooner had they entered than a saleswoman stepped up to them. She offered a slight bow.

"Welcome to Girl Power, can I help you?" She asked Yokozawa; her sweet smiling flickering only slightly in the wake of his stern countenance.

"Do I look like I need help?" Yokozawa's voice was just loud enough that several of the women shopping stopped and looked at him. More than one sniffed in disapproval.

The young woman wisely remained silent, though her eyes now glinted with amusement rather than fear.

Seeing this, Yokozawa immediately knew he was on her territory, not his. He felt his cheeks heat up at this realization. He fought his desire to grimace and instead answered as politely as he could.

"Perhaps you could help her?" he set one of his large hand's on Hiyori's shoulder.

"Ah certainly," the young woman smiled anew and leaned over slightly to be more level with Hiyori. "And how can I assist you today, Miss?"

"I'm looking for a new outfit for my school festival."

"Something in a skirt or a dress, perhaps?" The sales woman asked.

"Yes, please," Hiyori answered politely then she added, "I was here last week with my friend and her mama and we tried on some things that I liked."

"Ah, well let's go see if maybe we can find those things again. Shall we?" The clerk moved with Hiyori back into the racks and Yokozawa reluctantly followed. "We got some new things in too, yesterday."

As they worked their way deeper into the racks, Yokozawa felt himself growing increasingly claustrophobic. All the colors and patterns surrounding him were rather overwhelming. He realized with a bit of a start that he might actually be feeling a little faint.

"Sir?" the sales clerk had looked up and noticed his increasingly pale pallor. "We have some chairs over there by the dressing room if you'd like to sit down."

These words brought a fresh frown to Yokozawa's strained face.

Am I so obvious? Clearing his throat, he managed to reply without sounding too distressed.

"No I'm fine." I just need something else to focus on.

Fortunately, Hiyori obliged him in this.

"What do you think about this, Onii-chan?" She held up a pink dress for his approval. "Or do you like this one better?" pulling a pale green dress out of the rack.

Yokozawa's brow furrowed. "Uh… they're both… fine?"

Hiyori gave him her patented eye roll. "Which do you think is prettier though?"

"I think maybe you should try them both on," the sales clerk offered. "Then you can show your big brother and he can see which one looks nicer on you."

Yokozawa tensed at the woman's naming of him and waited to see how Hiyori would respond, but she said nothing. Even so, he didn't relax; he imagined the clerk thought she was doing him a favor with this suggestion, but in truth she was really just prolonging his torture.

He followed the two females to the back of the store where the dressing rooms were.

Watching several mothers pass through the dressing room entrance, their arms full of clothes for their daughters to try on, Yokozawa balked. He looked down at the empty chairs the clerk had mentioned earlier.

"I'll just wait here then, shall I?"

Hiyori paused for just the barest of moments before she nodded. "I think that would be best Onii-chan. I can come out and show the dress to you once I have it on and you can help me make my choice then."

"I'll come back and help you if you like," the sales clerk smiled. This notion seemed to please Hiyori and she nodded. The two headed back into the dressing rooms.

Yokozawa breathed a deep sigh of relief once Hiyori was out of sight. He ran one of his large hands through his shaggy hair.

"God damn it," he muttered. Now he really wanted a cigarette.

Just then his phone vibrated; he pulled it from his pocket and seeing it was Kirishima he answered it.


"Hey, I just called because I wanted to see how you were faring."

Yokozawa could hear the smile in Kirishima's voice. "You're an ass…

"And a coward," he added for good measure.

On the other end of the line Kirishima laughed heartily. "That good, eh? And if it makes you feel any better I won't deny your designations."

Yokozawa hummed as though he was considering how to answer.

Then Kirishima spoke again and this time his voice was serious. "I really do appreciate what you're doing Takafumi. It means so much to Hiyo. She talked about it all the way from the house to the office. To be honest, I was a bit jealous; it's been a long time since I've seen her that excited."

"Really?" Yokozawa couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice.

"Uh huh."

For a moment there was an uncomfortable silence then the editor's voice became playful again. "You know, if you make it through this, I'm sure I can find some way to make it up to you…"

Yokozawa snorted, "Hummph." Although the promise in Kirishima's voice sent a flood of warmth coursing into his lower regions.

"Pervert, you shouldn't say such things when I'm stuck in a store filled with children."

"Ah, who's the pervert now, Taka-chan? I didn't say how it was I would soothe you," Kirishima teased.

Caught in his own lustful thoughts Yokozawa felt the heat that had settled in his groin now shoot throughout his body.

"I loathe you and I'm hanging up."

"I love you too, Takafumi," Kirishima's voice was both playful and serious. He hung up before Yokozawa could retort.

Yokozawa stared at his dead phone.

"Like I said, 'you're an ass'," he muttered as he flipped it closed and stuck it in his pocket, but there was no malice his voice.

So this is the end of the repost. Now what comes next will be all new material.

NobodyPraysForTheHeartless- Thank you for the follow/favorite. Hope to hear from you sometime.

JoanIncarnate- Safe travels, and yes, about the AN's I think you're right. I agree too about the danger of Hiyori developing a crush on her "big brother" if her father and Yokozawa were to continue to play the "just friends" card. This is something I have thought about often. Though children are often far more perceptive than adults give them credit for.

TBF101- So happy to see this review from you. You're so sweet to me. Thank you for your kind words. I want very much for each character to be an individual. And I agree with you about children. I am basing a lot of my development of Hiyori on my younger sisters. Particularly this shopping thing. God, I hated being dragged along to shop with them and my mom. Of course I have made Hiyori more polite than my sisters. I can't take unruly children, even in fiction.

Lylia00- Yes, I agree. To expand on what I said above to TBF, I am not a big fan of shopping... especially for clothes. I just look at something and if I think it will fit I get it. Hate trying things on. Don't really like stores in general, they tend to overwhelm me. Unless it's a hardware store or a thift shop. I think Yokozawa's nurturing nature is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. It's also what makes him such a wonderful character... that tension between the hard and the soft of him.

Atalaya86- You make a good point. Let's not tell Yokozawa that though. :)