Chapter 4: The Road Home
Daddy opened the door to the bakery with one hand, and held my hand in his other.
"We're home!" we said in sync.
"Welcome back, you two!" Sanae smiled. Me and Daddy walked into the bakery, "Did you have fun on your big trip?" Sanae asked us.
"Yup!" I said.
"I had a good time, but I'm still waiting on my date with you." Daddy told Sanae.
"Huh?" Sanae didn't understand. I didn't either.
"It's not fair to promise a guy a date then not show up. Such a shame, I was really looking forward to our little vacation together!"
I heard footsteps. I saw Akki in the doorway.
Akki called Daddy a bad word. I'm not sure why he did, but I'm sure he was just joking. He told Daddy to stop hitting on his wife. I am so confused.
I used my free hand and fist pumped the hair, "Akki!"
Daddy let go of my hand and bent down to me. "Of course, you're coming on our date too, Ushio, right?"
"Yup!" I nodded, even though I was still a little confused.
"Alright, then you can count me in, too." Akki said.
"Perfect! The three of us will have a great time, right, Tomoya? Ushio?" Sanae asked.
"DON'T LEAVE ME OUT, I WANNA PLAY TOO!" Akki said. Sanae laughed. I smiled at my Daddy. He smiled right back, with that smile that I love so much.
Me and Daddy prayed in front of Mommy's picture. I told Mommy all about me and Daddy's trip and how we'll be living together from now on. I also told her that I loved her.
Daddy went somewhere upstairs. He was soon followed by Sanae. Akki and me were doing impressions, just like we always do.
"Hey, Ushio!" Akki said after we finished doing impressions.
Akki grabbed his baseball bat, "Go upstairs and tell your Daddy that I want to play a game of baseball with him."
"Okay!" I ran upstairs. I saw that Mommy's old room door was opened and Daddy and Sanae were in there.
"Hey, Daddy!" I ran and plowed into him, hugging his legs.
He picked me up, "Hey, Ushio. What's up?"
"Akki says he wants to play baseball with you!"
Me and Sanae sat on a green blanket while Daddy and Akki played baseball.
"You can do it!" I shouted.
"Give it your best out there, you two!" Sanae called out.
"Huh…finally decided to wake up, huh? Welcome back to the world of the living, kid." Akki said to Daddy.
"Just shut up and pitch the ball!" Daddy said.
"Ushio!" Akki called out to me, "I'll show you what a loser your Daddy is, so you can tease him about it for the rest of your life!"
"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" Daddy said, trying to stop Akki from telling me bad things about him.
"So, who do you think is going to win the match, Ushio?" Sanae asked me.
I looked at Sanae. I've never seen Daddy play baseball before, so of course, I think, "Akki."
"Gimme a break!" Daddy said.
"Ha! She's been watching my powerful pitches her entire life!" Akki bragged.
"Fine. Then I'm going to show her a home run!" Daddy said, pointing the bat at the sky.
"Heh. We'll see."
Akki and Daddy got into position. I watched very closely. Akki threw the baseball, Daddy swung the bat and-BAM! He hit a home run! Just like he said he was going to! We all watched in amazement.
"You see that, Ushio?!" Daddy asked me.
"Yup!" I smiled proudly.
CRASH! The ball had crashed into a window. But I didn't look away-I put my hands into fists and chanted, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"
"That's okay, nothing a little apology can't fix, right?" Sanae smiled.
Akki and Daddy held their glasses of beer high in the air and clinked them together. Throughout dinner, we all talked and laughed. It was a nice change to have Daddy with us at the dinner table.
I eventually fell asleep. Daddy was right next to me.
Me and Daddy stood next to each other outside of the Furukawa bakery. Sanae and Akki stood in front of us.
"Alright, see you later." Daddy said, holding a bag in one of his hands.
"Away we go!" I said, my yellow backpack on my back.
"Take care, you two!" Sanae said.
"Yeah, go get 'em, Ushio!" Akki said, giving me a thumbs-up.
"Okay!" I said, giving him a thumbs-up.
"Who are you gonna go get?" Daddy asked.
"Okay, Ushio," I turned my attention to Sanae, "from now on, it's just you and your Daddy. Show him what a good girl you are!"
"Okay!" I nodded my head.
"I forgot to ask, but I hope you guys can help me pick her up and drop her off at kindergarten if I get held up at my job." Daddy asked.
"Yeah, just leave it to me!" Akki said, pointing to himself.
'Daddy must have a really hard job.' I thought.
"And the other thing, have you thought about that?" Sanae asked Daddy.
"…It'll be fine…don't worry, I'll pay him a visit soon."
'Who is Daddy talking about? Will I meet someone new soon? Is he important to Daddy?' I thought.
We started walking away. When Sanae and Akki were almost out of sight, I turned around and waved good-bye to them. They waved right back.
"Oh, yes, I heard about your situation from . Oh, I'm happy you could finally make it, Mr. Okazaki!" my substitute teacher said to Daddy.
Daddy bowed his head, "Thank you, ma'am, I appreciate it." he lifted his head back up.
Daddy turned to me, "Okay, Ushio," I turned and faced him as he knelt down to my height, "Daddy's gotta go to work now."
I nodded my head, "Okay! Have a nice day, Daddy!"
"I will. See you later." He stood back up. He and my substitute teacher bowed to each other. Daddy walked away as we waved good-bye.
My two friends walked up to me, "Ushio, who was the guy?" one of them asked me.
"That was my Daddy!" I told them.
"How come he's never came here before?"
"Oh, umm…he's just been busy." I lied. I didn't want to tell any of my friends the real reason. I just wanted to be happy that that he's going to be taking care of me from now on-and I am.
When school was over, I stood next to my teacher and held her hand. It felt like I've been waiting forever for Daddy!
I finally saw him, and ran up to him. "Daddy!" I plowed into him and hugged his legs, since I wasn't tall enough to hug all of him.
"Hi, Ushio, you ready to go home?" he asked me. He looked at my teacher, "Uh-hello."
"We're in summer session right now, so Ushio's regular teacher is taking time off. I'm sorry you can't meet her." She said.
"Taking time off? Oh, is she sick?" Daddy asked.
"Oh, no, noting like that! Actually, she's going to a child care seminar. She should be back next week, I'm sure you'll have a chance to talk to her then."
"Alright, sounds good." Daddy smiled.
"So tell me, what's your teacher like?" Daddy asked as we held hands and walked home.
"She has real long hair, she's pretty, and she's nice!" I explained to him.
Daddy's doesn't have a house-he has an apartment. It's a little smaller than the bakery, but it's big enough for me and Daddy.
Daddy knelt down in front of me, "Alright. Daddy needs to go back to work now. If a stranger comes to the door, don't open it no matter what, okay?"
"Okay!" I nodded.
"Now, if anything happens, you just give Sanae a call. You know the number to the bakery, don't you?"
"Don't worry, I'll be back before it gets dark."
I nodded and smiled.
I got walked to the door and waved good-bye to Daddy.
"I'll see you later!" Daddy waved as he opened the door.
"Bye, Daddy!" I waved, "See ya!"
He walked out the door, closed it, and locked it.
I looked around. Daddy's apartment is really cool!
When you walk in, there's a room with a table-which is moved at night for the futons-a dresser, a TV, and a big window. If you slide it open, then there's a porch that you can stand on and look outside. On one side, there's the kitchen. It has a fridge,-which needs pretty pictures on it-a stove, a sink, and some cabinets. On the other side, there's the bathroom. The bathroom is blue and has a bathtub and potty in it.
I put on my sandals and walked onto the porch. I stood on my tippy toes and looked outside. I put my hands on the bars and looked through the opening. I saw a little sparkling light. I don't know what it is, but it's so pretty!
I've been coloring for a while to pass time. I drew one of my most favorite things in the world-Nabe!(A.K.A. Botan)
Ding Dong! The doorbell rang. 'Don't open the door to strangers, no matter what!' I reminded myself.
"It's Daddy. My hands are full, can you open the door for me?"
'Daddy's not a stranger, of course I can open the door!' I said as I ran to the door. As soon as I opened the door, I could see why he couldn't open the door.
"I brought a bunch of stuff from the Furokawas. I got the Big Dango Family and all of your clothes and your toys, too!"
I looked in the bag that Daddy was looking in. He took something out of the bag.
"First, let's find a place to put this. What do you think, where's a good spot?" It was a picture of Mommy. This picture had to go somewhere very, very special.
"Hmm…" I looked around. I ran over to the table that was also holding the telephone. I patted on the spot where I think that it should go, "Right here!"
"Alright then, that works for me." Daddy said as he stood up. He put the picture right where I asked him to. It was perfect.
Me and Daddy decided to take a walk. Daddy wasn't wearing his work outfit-he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I wasn't wearing my school uniform anymore-I was wearing one of my most favorite dresses and a hat.
"Daddy, can you cook?" I asked him. After the last time he cooked, I wanted to make sure he could cook things other than rice.
"I'm going to learn to cook starting today." He told me, "Let's work on it together, okay?"
"Okazaki!" someone called out. I looked up at my Daddy. He was looking in the direction that the voice came from.
We walked to where the voice came from. A lady was standing there.
Daddy greeted the lady, "Hi, Kouko. Long time, no see."
"I know, it's been years, hasn't it?" the lady smiled. Then she looked at me, "And who is this?"
"She's my daughter, Ushio." He looked down at me, "It's okay. Say hello, Ushio."
I bowed my head, "Hello, lady."
She giggled and knelt down to me, "Hi there, nice to meet you! I'm Kouko Yoshino."
I looked at her. She's very pretty.
"She looks just like her mother, doesn't she?" she looked at me with sad eyes, "Really brings back memories for me. I bet she'll grow up to be as cute and as brave as her mother, too."
'So I look like my Mommy? That just brings me and Mommy closer!' I thought.
"And hopefully she's have just as many wonderful friends!"
"I sure hope so. I wanna give her the best I can." Daddy looked down at me, "She used to be Mommy's teacher, Ushio."
I gasped with surprise and happiness. I never knew that!
"By the way, Yoshino told me the news about your little sister. She's finally out of the hospital, huh? That must be a big relief." Daddy said.
Kouko smiled, "Yes! The doctor said it was a miracle, but we always had faith that she would wake up someday. We never gave up hope." She stood up, "Actually, my sister's with me right now if you wanna meet her." She turned around and cuffed her hands around her mouth, "Fu-Chan!"
There was a girl playing in the sandbox. She was patting down the sand hill she made. She looked up at her sister and walked over to where we were.
"You don't have to be shy, go ahead and introduce yourself." Kouko told her sister.
She didn't do anything.
Daddy put his hand on her head, "So, this is your sister, huh?"
The girl swatted Daddy's hand away, and made a weird sound. As if she was sneezing. They did that a few times. Eventually the girl ran away, screamed, and hid behind a pole. She was starting to scare me.
"She's got some sense of humor, doesn't she?" Daddy pointed out.
"It's okay, come back! These two are my friends, there's no need for you to be afraid!" Kouko told her sister.
The girl came back to us and stood next to her sister.
"This is my sister Fuko." Kouko turned to her sister, "Fu-Chan, this is Okazaki and Ushio."
Fuko bowed, "It's nice to meet you."
"Yeah, it's nice to meet you, too." Daddy said.
I bowed, "It's nice to meet you."
Me and Fuko raised our heads. She looked at me for a second, then started to freak out a little bit.
"What now?" Daddy asked.
"She's so cute, can Fuko hug her please right now?!" She didn't wait for a response, she hugged me anyways. I nearly fell over, I was so caught off guard.
"Why bother asking if you're gonna do it anyway?!" Daddy exclaimed.
Fuko continued to hug me really tight with her face all scrunched up. I don't know why she thinks I'm so cute.
"Fu-Chan, you can't do that, it's rude!" Kouko said.
Fuko's face went from scrunched up, to happy and sweet. It was almost as if she was hypnotized. She kept saying, "Ahhhh...!"
"Don't be hard on her, she can't help the way she is." I heard Kouko say to Daddy.
"How old is she, by the way?" Daddy asked.
"Believe it or not, she's the same age as you. I know she may seem a little immature, but she's been asleep for an awfully long time, so she still had the mentality of a high school freshmen…"
"High school? You sure you don't mean kindergarten?"
I could barley understand their conversation, though, only because I can mostly hear is, "Ahhhh….!"
Fuko snapped out of her trance, but she continued to hug me, "My goodness, you and Okazaki sure love to pick on poor little Fuko!" she looked down at me, "But I'll show you, I'm going to make Ushio my little sister!"
Little sister?! What?!
She tried to walk while hugging me, but she couldn't.
"Fu-Chan, stop, that doesn't even make any sense!" Kouko said.
Fuko stopped and looked up at Kouko and Daddy, "Then I can sneak her away while you're both confused?"
"No way!" Daddy and Kouko said in sync.
She scrunched her face and hugged me tighter again. "Alas, the day is lost!"
"I know she may be a little on the weird side," Daddy said as we ate dinner together, "but aren't you glad that you made a new friend today?"
"M-hm!" I nodded.
"By the way, Daddy's taking a day off from work tomorrow. I wanna go somewhere together, okay?
"Are we going on a trip?" I asked.
Daddy wiped off some sauce from my face with his finger and laughed, "Heh, no not exactly."
He finished wiping the sauce from my face and smiled at me.
Daddy tucked me in and then got into the futon next to me. This was a nice change-I wasn't sleeping in a dark room anymore. I had Daddy with me. I felt safer. I had my dango plushy and was ready for bed.
"So you love the Big Dango Family too, huh?" Daddy asked.
"Uh-huh! Sanae told me that it smells like Mommy." I said.
I smelled the dango. It smelled really fruity and sweet, "It smells good." I fell asleep right after that, feeling loved and protected.
Me and Daddy walked holding each other's hand. I don't know where we we're going, but Daddy said that it was important. Daddy is wearing jeans and a green t-shirt. I'm wearing a yellow sundress and hat.
We stopped in front of an old-looking house. The mail box is full and it has a bunch of stickers on the door, and I have no idea why they're on there. Daddy opened the door.
"I'm home." He said.
Who is he talking to?
We walked in. It smelled like the icky kind of smoke and alcohol. There are garbage bags full of junk all over the place. The radio was on too. Daddy turned it off. Sitting at the table was an old man. He had gray hair.
"Hm?" the man said. He turned around and looked at Daddy. I took off my hat and keep standing in the doorway.
"Oh! It's you!" he smiled. His voice was quiet and raspy, "Hi, Tomoya."
Daddy looked like he wasn't expecting him to say that. Everything was quiet for a minute or so.
"I'm finally home…" Daddy said.
"Yeah…" the old man said.
"You're looking old, Dad."
'Wait…if the old man is Daddy's Daddy then…that makes the old man my Grandfather!' I figured out.
"Yeah…" Grandpa said. He looked back at me. Then Daddy did.
"This is your Granddaughter, Ushio." Daddy said.
I bowed, "Nice to meet you, Grandpa."
"Nice to meet you." Grandpa said.
Daddy sat down. I walked next to him and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Have you been home all this time?" Daddy asked Grandpa.
I knelt down and put my hats and hands on my lap.
"I went and saw Grandma just the other day."
"Ushio and I took a trip up north and I spoke to her then. Do you remember the place? You took me there once when I was little."
"…Grandma told me all sorts of things. About me and you when I was growing up. It made me realize how difficult it must have been for you."
'So that's where he went. He talked to his Grandma and that's what took him so long.'
"It also brought back a lot of memories…" Daddy continued, "…listen, Dad…you must be tired, right?"
"Don't you think it's finally time you took a vacation? Why don't you go back to your home town? Grandma's waiting for you-at the place where you took my hand and decided to raise me on your own, all those years ago."
Grandpa waited for a minute until he responded, "…huh…"
"You've worked hard enough, Dad. You've done more than enough for me. You can rest now. You can finally go back home."
Something is wrong. I can tell. I can just tell that Daddy is sad. I just don't understand why…
"Go and spend some time with your mother." He continued, "Okay?"
Grandpa sighed. Then he looked at me. Then he looked away again. "…A-are you sure?" he finally said, "It's alright now?"
"Is what alright?" Daddy asked. I didn't understand either.
"Have I…have I done everything I need to do yet?"
It took Daddy a minute to respond. "…Listen, you sacrificed everything you had to raise me. How could you even ask me a question like that?"
I looked at Daddy. Just like I thought, something was wrong. He looked like he was going to cry.
"You gave up your whole life for a worthless son like me…an in all that time, I never even thought to thank you…" he looked at the ground, "You've done enough, okay?"
He started to cry. I could tell that he was trying to hold it in, but he couldn't. Can't he cry in his Daddy's arms just like I can cry in his? When we were on the trip, he said that when I get older, sometimes I won't be able to cry when I want to…is he already too old to cry when he needs to?
'You can cry, Daddy.' I wanted to tell him, 'You don't need to hold it in anymore. I'll be there for you like you were for me.' But I couldn't say anything. Sanae once told me that if something is personal to someone else, then I can't intrude. So I just sat there. I wanted to look away. I didn't want to see Daddy cry and suffer from sadness.
"Oh, I see…" Grandpa finally said, "…My work was already done…and I never even realized it." Silence. "…That's wonderful. What a relief. It's over."
I helped Daddy and Grandpa clean Grandpa's house.
I took a bath at Grandpa's house and watched as Daddy cleaned Grandpa's back. Daddy still looked upset.
'Why is Daddy helping Grandpa so much? Isn't Grandpa supposed to be taking care of Daddy?' I wondered.
I sat in Grandpa's lap as Daddy packed some of Grandpa's clothes.
"You're all packed. You've got a change of clothes and I gave you a little money just in case."
"Thank you, that means a lot." Grandpa said.
"I'll give Grandma a call soon to let her know that you're coming. Just be careful not to lose your bag along the way."
"Okay. I'll be careful."
We all stood outside of Grandpa's house. Me and Daddy stood next to each other. Grandpa stood in front of us.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of the house. I'll clear up your debt, too." Daddy told Grandpa.
"A…Alright, thank you." Grandpa said.
"Ushio, hey," I turned to Daddy, "say good-bye to Grandpa, okay?"
I turned back to Grandpa and waved to him, "Bye-bye! See you, Grandpa!"
"Bye-bye." He walked up to me and rubbed my head. I looked up at him and put my hand down.
He took his hand off of my head and turned towards my Daddy. "Well, this is it. Thanks again."
"You gotta take good care of yourself, okay?" Daddy told Grandpa.
"And don't…don't drink too much."
Daddy was quiet for a few seconds.
"Don't smoke too much either, okay?"
"Yeah." Grandpa smiled. It was the first time I've seen him smile. And probably the last…
Daddy was quiet again.
"Live a long and healthy life."
"Someday I'll repay all the kindness you've shown me." Daddy's voice was starting to get a little shaky.
"I'll do whatever it takes, okay?"
I saw tears in Daddy's eyes.
"Huh?" Grandpa said, "Tomoya? What's wrong?"
Daddy was crying. And I couldn't do anything about it, no matter how much I wanted to. I just stared at him. Seeing Daddy cry made me want to cry, but I had to be strong for Daddy.
"C'mon now, why are crying?" Grandpa put his hand on Daddy's head. Daddy swatted his hand away.
I tugged on Daddy's pants. He looked at me, tears falling from his face. I gave him a look that said, 'Why are you crying?'
"U-uh, I'm sorry, Ushio." He wiped his tears, "Don't worry about me, I'm fine." He gave me a pitiful smile. But I knew that he really wasn't fine. We both looked back at Grandpa.
"Dad." Daddy said to Grandpa, "…Thank you. For everything."
"Sure." Grandpa said.
Everything was quiet-again.
"….Well…good-bye." Grandpa finally said.
"Yeah, take care, Dad." Daddy said.
"Sure. I will. You too." He turned and walked away. He kept walking. I held Daddy's hand. He held onto mine.
"I'm sorry, Dad." Daddy said, even though Grandpa couldn't hear him.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a green light. I looked at it. It floated down in front of my Daddy. Then went into where his heart was. That light…it looks so, so familiar…but I don't know where it's from.
What just happened? I just don't get it…
"Hm? Is something wrong, Ushio?" Daddy asked.
"There's a light…"
"A light? Is it too bright? Come here-" He moved me into the shade. He turned back towards his Daddy.
I kept looking at where the light went. Why the heck just happened? Why did that light look so familiar? I guess it was just my imagination…I pushed what just happened out of my head and looked back at Grandpa, who was almost out of sight. This is probably the last time I'll ever see Grandpa.