Chapter 9: Aunt Cass ’s advice
A scream broke out in the Lucky Cat Cafe.
“OH MY GOODNESS!”
His aunt’s reaction was exactly as Tadashi had imagined it. She immediately abandoned whatever she was doing upon seeing him by the door and flew to his side with the speed of an angry mother hen. With an apologetic smile, he tried to reassure her fragile nerves.
“I’m alright, Aunt Cass.” He told her.
“Nonsense. Look at you, you knucklehead!” She exclaimed, gasping as she bent down to look at his foot. Grimacing, she quickly pulled out a chair from one of the tables and beckoned the two young people. “You can set him down here.” She told San, tone fretful with worry.
San complied without saying a word. With combined effort, they managed to drag Tadashi and lowered him down to the chair. She did it very tenderly so as not to upset his balance, and that coupled with the worried fuss his aunt was in, made Tadashi felt very much like a spoilt child.
“I’m fine. It’s just a swollen ankle.” He said.
In less than a second Tadashi found his aunt’s face inches from his, a reproachful glare seething in her eyes. “Don’t you ‘just a swollen ankle’ me. What on earth were you thinking? Oh no. Don’t tell me. I know what you were thinking. Something incomprehensibly rash. That’s what.”
“I’d argue, m’aam, that he wasn’t thinking at all.” San said, slightly heaving from exertion. Though the distance to and from the park had been relatively short, it sure as hell wasn’t as easy as it looked making the journey while carrying someone else.
“Oh yes. You boys give me so much trouble.” Aunt Cass instantly concurred, trying not to show how upset she was. She was hurrying back with some ice.
Tadashi felt ashamed for putting his aunt into this state. What’s worse, it was right before the opening hour of the cafe, which they would have to postpone now. Even though Saturday mornings were always their busiest time...
Taking the pack of ice from his aunt, Tadashi pressed it against the throbbing pain in his foot. Aunt Cass started tearing the house down to find the First aid kit, when San stopped her and told her by the state of things, it was better to have a doctor over.
Tadashi didn’t protest. He could tell that he’d need to walk around in a cast for a week.
After 10 minutes or so, Hiro came down from the stairs. Going over to his brother, he asked what happened in a half-interested, half-teasing voice. Now that both his brother and aunt were there, Tadashi started to explain how he got his ankle. He was careful though, for he was very conscious of San’s presence.
Luckily, neither she nor Aunt Cass had any damning comments about the incident. The latter just sighed and forced him to promise to be darn sure he was careful next time.
As Aunt Cass went to fetch the car, Tadashi and San was left alone in a very awkward silence, made more uncomfortable by Hiro’s glances between the two of them. On occasion, Tadashi peered questioningly at San and saw her fingering her sleeve nervously. Their eyes didn’t meet as the latter pretended to inspect the interior of the cafe.
Though only for a moment, Tadashi wondered if the four days was enough for San to change her opinion... Probably not, but maybe that was enough for them both to cool down. Circumstances aside, she was much less intimidating today than he remembered.
He wanted to speak to her, but Aunt Cass was already back. In a joint effort, they all helped their wounded person to the car. Afterwards, Aunt Cass got behind the wheel and closed the door. Hiro protested at being left out and insisted on going himself, but was forced to give in when Aunt Cass told him to stay and watch over the steaming cherry cake she’d been making for the customers. The ginger-haired woman then turned to thank San for her help and asked her if she could stay with Hiro for a while. At this, Hiro’s protests were renewed, though he refrained from making any remarks. Finally, he resorted to pouting and blew at his bangs.
If she noticed Hiro’s disgruntled look, San didn’t show it. She happily accepted Aunt Cass’ request.
“Such a good girl. You didn’t tell me you had such a friend.” Commented Cass Hamada when they were finally on their way to the clinic.
“Guess not.” Her nephew replied. His troubled tone didn’t escape detection by her sharp ears.
“What’s wrong?” She asked, suddenly concerned. “Don’t tell me you two had a fight?”
Tadashi bit his lips and watched as the buildings passed by outside the window. In truth, Tadashi felt anything but a sure answer. Only a few days ago, their relationship had almost crumbled and she had declared it impossible for them to work.
“It’s just...uh...sort of.” He admitted reluctantly.
Now this surprised Aunt Cass. She had rarely seen her nephew so confused before. He was such a sweet, caring boy who would be the pride of any mother or aunt. Because of his temperament, she couldn’t remember the last time she saw him struggle to bond with other people. All of her worries about the social lives of her nephews had always been for Hiro. Where Hiro was shy and socially-awkward (and sometimes withdrawn) in front of the crowd, Tadashi was open, calm and sure of himself.
She never thought that the older brother would be the one needing a morale boost.
“Really? I didn’t think there would be anyone who couldn’t like you, Tadashi.” She said, steering the wheel so they turned at the corner. “It didn’t strike me that she had a grudge against you.”
“You think so?” Tadashi lifted his head, feeling a meagre amount of hope. “You sure? She wasn’t mad? It wasn’t just her too busy dragging me back to you?”
“Look, I don’t know what happened between you two. But I believe you’re both mature enough to sort things out.” Aunt Cass said seriously, but also gently. “Don’t let good friends pass you by, Tadashi. Or one day you’ll find you’ve lost them for ever. And that girl looks like she’ll make a good friend for you.”
After that, both of them remained silent for the rest of the way. Tadashi let his aunt’s wisdom sink in. Slowly, he began to rethink everything he knew about San.
For starts, he knew that most people in their faculty like her pretty well. Because of her polite person, and her exceedingly prodigious mind, she had all the appearance of a get-along-well person. But was that all there is? He knew she was a deeply private person, rarely sharing her feelings, only speaking out when she deemed she must. So despite being thought of as very approachable, a part of her is always kept to herself, impartial to all outside opinion.
He had a pretty good idea where this solitude might come from. After all, he too had been hailed as a prodigy. People discuss their cleverness and mind-boggling IQs and elevate them to celebrity status. But they rarely talk about the envious sneers, the bullies and the slanders. Worse still, there are those who pretend to be your friend so they can use your intelligence.
Both Hamada brothers had lived through this. Hiro learnt to deal with it in the way San probably did as well - by choosing to rely on nobody but themselves.
Tadashi, however, had never thought of people as simply good or bad. He believed both good qualities and bad qualities co-exist inside a person. There was always a reason for who they are. And so he never holds a grudge, always trying to treat them with dignity. His compassion had surprised even the people who had despised him.
Thus, his ‘Universal Nice Guy’ title was born.
When he recalled his own experience, Tadashi gradually felt more sympathetic towards San, like he understood her better. It wasn’t much, but it gave him a starting point. It was better than mindless assumptions. Still, there was one thing that was puzzling him.
If San really had retreated into secrecy as means of coping, how could she still be so liked and approached by others? In the end, did she really need him at all?
He bit down on his lips in regret. If only he hadn’t made so many requests, which San clearly wasn’t ready to accept. Perhaps the solution to this complicated equation is to simply say the truth all along.
It was time he learn to accept that San was just going to be different from what he’d been used to. It was clear that his MO wasn’t going to work. Given time, he was sure he could make her trust him again. And this time, he would make sure he did it right.
A/N: It seems Tadashi is at last resolved to face his ‘nemesis’. But what about San? How did she feel about him now? What were her thoughts? And what happens when Hiro spends time alone with his brother’s greatest rival?