The Playful Autumn Wind
Mei Sunohara made good, bad for Ushio, her word to "oppress" the girl in class. She made the poor freshman recite more than half the time. The questions weren't that hard actually (Mei didn't really want to hurt her girl) but she made it plain to everybody that Okazaki was 1-B's official shock absorber, having to endure her teacher's constant "Kawaii desu~" every time she answers correctly. If she dares answer wrongly, though, Miss Sunohara would bombard her with more questions and not let her sit down. Her classmates did not envy this preferential treatment. In fact, whenever Miss Sunohara asks, "Who can answer that?" to nobody in particular, everybody, even Tomoe, nudges Ushio.
"You're the only one who can save us," she whispered nervously. "We promise, we'll treat you to curry yakisoba and croquettes at lunch."
"And you just had to say 'curry' just for me to unwillingly do your bidding? I hate spice!"
"OK, OK… I'll get you the extra-thick peach nectar juice. That dandy?"
Fair enough. Still, it was a tough call. If it wasn't the majority's wish, perhaps nothing would persuade her to face up to Miss Sunohara.
The girl was also made Sunohara's unofficial aide, fetching visual aids she brought for her to post on the board, operating the projector—"How sweet of you!" *pinches cheek*—even making her sing some grade-school jingles (!) she managed to twist to fit high school science, with matching wiggles. "Kawaii desu!"
All this made Ushio yearn for Dr. Ichinose.
Worst of all, perhaps, the teacher had a pet name for her. Hmmm... Hunny-bunny? Shio-babe? Chihuahua?
"U.F.O., could you please calculate the net force on the board?"
"Whah?" She almost fell off her seat. "W-Wait… No fair, Ma'am! I don't space out in your class like the others do!"
"So what, U.F.O.? I'm simply calling you by name. In the Western scheme of naming, your full name would be Ushio Furukawa Okazaki. A lot of people even sign with their initials, you know."
"But this is Japan!"
One time, after having Ushio carry her load of books, and after taking them before entering the faculty, Mei thanked the girl… with a resounding long kiss she planted mercilessly on Ushio's cheek. "Don't you dare tell me on the principal or anybody, U.F.O. I'll just say you're my niece."
Even the most sickeningly doting aunts don't do that in public, Auggh. And we're not even related.
She was too embarrassed to talk about it to her parents. Besides, they also smother on her, as far she's concerned.
But talk about it to someone who understands she must. Who better than Hirano Shinichiro, who must be chafing this very moment under Doctor Ichinose? Indeed, that afternoon after school, she found him at the gate carrying a heap of textbooks, just as she herself had endured; he must be also desperately trying to catch up with his lessons. For all she knows it would be even more difficult for him, knowing the pressure expectations impose on section-A students.
"Doctor Ichinose just gave me an application form for a two-month study in Germany! It's just fabulous. She even said she's impressed with my hard work (something Ushio never had the fortune of getting). She just called my parents and told them to prepare me for examinations next year."
"You should thank me for putting you in her office then," she said ruefully.
"Hah! I went there as a punishment, so there's no way I'd be grateful to you. Though, if you want, I can send you chocolates from over there. Ahahaha!"
Laugh now while you can; I could just knock you out again. "So you're taking the offer?"
His laughing suddenly died down. His expression became serious and a bit downcast. Ushio was hushed at seeing this change, but he managed to recover himself after a moment and plaster a smirk on his face. "Honestly, I feel that I'd be leaving things behind here."
"What's the deal? It's only two months!"
"Tell me, Ushio," he said. "How would you feel if you were offered to be in a completely different country for real? I've never been abroad."
"What do I care a fig about how I would feel? It's an opportunity! You should care about you think you could get there! Humph. I should be thinking a man would be up to it!"
"Why of course a man should be up to it!" he suddenly flared up. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "Heh. I knew it. I should have known you wouldn't understand." He stood up and turned his back to her as he walked away.
"H-Hey!" called Ushio after him. "What exactly do you mean I wouldn't understand?"
"Nothing!" he replied. "Just forget what I said!"
In the end, she wasn't even able to bring up her gripe on Miss Sunohara. What a helpful friend he was.
Speaking of helpful, one afternoon as she was going back to the classroom after lunch with Tomoe, they decided to pass by the faculty to see if the art club advisor was in so Tomoe could get an approval for their Recycled Art Exhibit, she being one of the two vice presidents of the club.
"You go in, Moe," said Ushio. "It's you who got business. I don't want to run into our nutty professor again." She folded her arms for emphasis. "Truth to tell, I'd rather have Aunt Fuko for my teacher than her."
"You know class, starfish are organisms that are under the phylum Echinodermata. They are classified under class Asteroidea, and under subphylum Asterozoa. You know, they have a pentaradial symmetry as adults. They eat clams and oysters. Professor Fuko also loves clams and oysters. And you know, they move with tube feet, and they are collected all over the world because they are… they are… THEY ARE… WAH!… AWESOME!" *starfish ecstacy*
"Come to think of it," mused Tomoe, "it could actually work. She'll definitely be focused on the subject."
They decided to only peek inside as the said teacher's table was near the door. He was not there. "Oh brother," grumbled Tomoe, "at this rate we will be late for the Foundation Day preparations, bah."
"Can't you just start preparations for the exhibit and then have him sign? I mean, he must be nice enough to approve anyway."
"He's aspiring for promotion, I hear. He's not one to risk an unapproved event."
"Well, you could at least move your things in place. There wouldn't be any disasters just from that."
But her classmate did not reply. She was staring intently ahead and her expression was hard to describe. Suffice to say she was heartbroken. Ushio apprehensively followed her gaze. It's Miss Sunohara! And carrying her things, chatting and laughing with the teacher, with a smitten expression… was Tenshi.
"That rat," Ushio snarled. "What's his business currying favors from novice teachers like that? He's so underhanded!"
"No, Ushio," whispered Tomoe. Sniff. "He's… He's…" She did not finish the sentence as she ran the other way, trying to hide her tears. Ushio followed her.
"Hey, wait!" she called after her. "What's the matter?"
That night at home, Tenshi lay down in bed, and there was that sparkle in his eyes. He had never seen a woman who could capture his heart so easily.
Such a beautiful girl…
Such a lovely voice, especially when she laughs…
Such an engaging personality…
And what an exquisite and unique name! Mei, oh Mei…
"Tenshi," called Takafumi from outside his closed door. Have you eaten yet?"
"Hah…" he uttered in ecstacy. Then, "Uh, no, I'm not hungry."
"I'll put your dinner in the fridge if you don't mind."
"Whatever," he breathed raptly.
Another five minutes have passed before he again heard his uncle's voice from the door. "Your mother's coming over the weekend. Do you want me to tell her to buy something for you?"
He really didn't care. "Uhh… nothing. Thanks."
For about an hour more, he stared at the ceiling and he kept constantly seeing Miss Sunohara's bright, smiling face. He knew he can't put it out of his head, but he had to do something about it. His assisting the teacher with her things whenever he could seemed hopelessly inadequate. There must be a better way to impress her.
Just then, he saw his old dumbbells on top of his study table. They were from his mother. Whew, it had been quite a while since he did any bodybuilding.
He went over and picked them up. They still felt light, even at ten pounds each. Sweet. He hasn't lost so much muscle even this far along, after all. He started flexing.
And in his mind, he again saw that girl, Ushio, who her mother doted on as "her friend's daughter", clinging to him, admiring his abs.
"No way!" he shouted, dropping his heavy dumbbell and making such a thud. Both noises prompted an alarmed Takafumi to come up and knock earnestly at his door. "Tenshi! Tenshi!"
He still had to catch his heavy breathing before he could answer. No way he's going through all the trouble just to end up with her. In the meantime, "Tenshi!"
"Huh? I'm fine!... I'm really fine. I'm OK."
"Can't you just let me in? Let me check if you got any injuries."
"I said I'm fine! Please!"
"You shouldn't let your mother worry, you know."
She? Like she does. "No, I'm really fine. If I have any damage I'll call for you."
He heard a sigh, whether from relief or from frustration, he didn't bother to find out. He has far more important concerns. It will be tough, but he'll really have to find another way to make Miss Sunohara fall for him.
Ushio sat down as usual to an early morning tea and full breakfast at the library. It was getting particularly cold at this hour as the month went deeper into fall. Some frost have even formed on the twigs of trees just outside the window, and on the window itself. But the girl in her snug and warm comfort amid the soft noise of escaping vapor tapping at the covers could just forget all that and lose herself in Yukine's hospitality. It was becoming a habit already, yet the girl was not taking all this for granted, being continually amazed by the kindness lavished on her by a strange and lovely lady.
"Was the tea good?" asked Yukine as she returned from fixing the books in place.
"Umm," she agreed, her mouth full. She worried down the food with another draught of tea. "It's just wonderful. I've never tasted anything like this before."
Yukine giggled. "It's a new flavor I made. It has a dash of nectar from certain flowers. And you got to try my rosehip tea and cold brew."
"Oh my," marveled Ushio. "So much to look forward to."
She smiled so pleasantly it couldn't help but elicit an involuntary smile from Ushio. "Hey, Papa said you served him coffee when he came to you back in high school; I wonder if I could have some too." Oops. "Oh man," she stammered, "no, I'm not ordering or anything, I've no right."
Yukine laughed softly. "I was wondering about the coffee myself. I didn't think it right to let a freshman drink coffee, but, anyway, I'll make an exception with you if you really want to." She lovingly stroked the back of the girl's head. "Besides, I wouldn't want you to feel like you're a bother to me. Because you're not. So please, Ushio, enjoy every minute you stay with me."
If you say so, she thought deeply delighted. "By the way, Yukine-san, I remembered something from a dictionary my friend Tomoe has. It's got a number of languages, including Filipino. The word for "married" is "may asawa", and it sounds so much like your family name, Miyazawa. You know, you'll really make an excellent wife and mother. If you don't mind, may I ask why you stay this way?"
Yukine smiled, but Ushio thought she saw a sliver of sadness in her eyes. "It hardly enters my mind that I'll be a wife, but I'm every bit a mother. Surely you know how many children I actually have?"
Oh yeah, the gangsters. "I must say you're also like a very good mother to me. In fact, I already think of calling you my second mother."
Yukine then laughed so heartily it unnerved Ushio a bit. "I'm so glad to hear that."
About a few minutes later, as she turned to go, Yukine gave her packed lunch again. And, much to her surprise, the woman kissed her. On the forehead. The way Nagisa usually does. The girl blushed. "Uh, um… What was that for?"
"Don't worry about anyone seeing us. I'll just say you're my niece." Which may well be believed, seeing how much they look alike.
She has already traced some steps to the door when she suddenly hesitated, and then turned. "Umm, Yukine-san, I actually wanted to talk to you about something."
"Yes, could you tell it to me?"
"Well, it's not actually something I'd like to talk about in this kind of place. I, well, I actually only want to have warm memories here. Actually," Hey, Ushio, how many 'actuallies' do you have to use in a conversation? "I only want to have warm memories with you, Yukine-san."
The morning wind of autumn tapped softly on the windowpane.
Oh Ushio dear, thought Yukine as a nearly indescribably tender feeling for the girl swept over her. Then, managing to speak,"Does it bother you so much?"
"It's about my teacher. My Science teacher."
"Is he very strict on you?"
"Ah, umm, I-I'm sorry, but I think talking about him, I mean, her, is very out of place here. As I said I only want to feel comfy when I'm here."
"If it's hard for you, Ushio, it's OK even if you don't tell me. Still, if you want to talk to me about it, please do so. I will be waiting. I could be your source of strength."
At the end of the day, however, Ushio felt as if she hardly had any strength left. She wished badly she had just talked to Yukine about Miss Sunohara. She didn't expect so much trouble that day. First, there was this remark from her Science teacher right after Homeroom:
"You know, U.F.O., I got somebody in the other class who also helps me carry my things. Tenshi, it was his name. You're counterparts. His name starts with a T and yours with a U. Tenshi and Ushio. Tenshi and Ushio. Kawaii! You know, you would make a great couple, don't you think?" (underscoring provided by Ushio's outraged mind)
How could I be compared to that devious snake? We're not counterparts just because I'm forced to carry stuff like he does. We're archenemies! And that we would make… WHAT? What an insult!
And all this after what he has done to Tomoe…
After that she could not talk or answer the teacher at recitation afraid that she would tease her with Tenshi, much to everybody's alarm. Her classmates charged her that she would put their entire section in jeopardy. The class representative even talked to her about it and warned her that she might have to be sent to the principal again for being insolent to a teacher.
Mei, for her part, for once felt awkward herself at the girl's clamming up. She wondered if perhaps she had gotten too far with her favorite girl. She went on straight the lesson in a demeanor much dulled and did not venture another look on the girl.
And then, as Ushio resented, there was Tomoe. The girl was gloomy all day and cried and cried in the girls' toilet. Ushio accompanied her and tried to comfort her. She really looked hopeless. She was surprised to see how much her friend actually felt for the guy, but, as her father said sometime before, passion will pass. Try telling that to Tomoe right now, though…
"I told you to pay in full!" the man yelled.
"Mr. Kimura," pleaded Tomoya, "please let me recover part of the payment for next month. My wife needs to take some medication." Nagisa tugged at his elbow, as if to restrain him from mentioning about her health.
"You always say that! Remember, Okazaki, you got three months backlog. Three months! I've never seen such a delinquent tenant."
Tomoya gritted his teeth. "Excuse me, sir, but it just happened that I am one of your more faithful payers. You should remember that the Ishiharas still owe you 400,000 yen when they left you. And what about those people who keep leaving after only two months or so? Suppose you run after them?"
"And you pretend to lecture me!" he shouted raising a rolled newspaper above him as if to whack him with it. Somehow, he was put off guard by Nagisa's pitiable expression even as she tugged her husband's elbow.
"Tomoya-kun. It's enough," she sobbed.
"Rememeber, Okazaki," the man said pointing the newspaper at Tomoya's face, "the only reason you're 'faithful' in this apartment is because you got nowhere else to go! Nowhere! Why, you can't get out of your dirty electrician job for ten years running, and you even have the nerve to have a family!" He spat. "If I were you, kid, I'll run back to my high school and rot there!"
Tomoya's fist clenched tightly but Nagisa's pleas were stronger than his bottled-up rage. The man stormed off stomping on the walkway till it shook. Tomoya looked down, his fists clenching even tighter, and he looked ready to weep. Nagisa went over to wipe the tears that started to form. "Tomoya-kun," she managed in a quivering voice, "It's OK. We'll make it."
Just then, Ushio appeared at the doorway.
"W-What's happening here?"
"Ushio," said Nagisa wiping away her own tears. She went over to her daughter and kissed her and straightened her uniform as she was wont to do. "You look tired. Why don't you rest awhile, OK?"
At half-past eleven, Tomoya and Nagisa were still at their children's bedside, watching Ushio and Mizuumi sleep. Nagisa hummed the Dango Daikazoku while she gently massaged Ushio's hand.
Ushio's breathing was fairly normal. Mizuumi has those small snoring noises that could be heard only when one is very close to her. If it was quiet enough, one could also discern tiny hiccups every now and then.
"Tomoya-kun," she said, "Ushio's hand seems to be bigger than mine now. How the years have passed."
"Ushio grows fast. Mizuumi will catch up with her soon, as well."
Outside, the wind picked up. After a few minutes, the rain fell. The patter of raindrops on the roof for a while drowned out any attempt to continue their conversation. Perhaps, they reckoned, the children needed a lullaby to keep them peacefully asleep.
"Tomoya-kun," she said with a hint of fear, "I wonder if we could keep things from the children."
"No, Nagisa, we must. They have their life. Let them relish it."
"Tomoya, perhaps, if we stayed with Otou-san and Oka-san? I'm sure they would be more than glad to take us in. Someday, Otou-san will hand over the bakery to you. Why don't we just—"
"No, Nagisa. I am here. I will protect you." His hands started to shake. "But…" sob… "Gah, it's hard."
Ushio's breathing seemed to halt as she fidgeted a bit to turn to a better position, after which she returned to deep sleep. For a moment Nagisa was afraid she would wake up and find them talking like this.
"Tomoya," she said taking his hand, "it has always been hard, you know."
He, for that brief moment, allowed himself to cry. But he made no sound, burying his face in his other hand while Nagisa caressed the one she held, feeling his wedding ring there.
It was about eight in the morning on a clear, sunny day when the light streamed into the children's room and bathed the bed in a mellow glow. Spots of sunlight that passed through the trees danced on the floor under Tomoya, who had slept still kneeling on the bedside. The children were already gone and the bedsheets and blankets have been folded away.
"Tomoya-kun," nudged Nagisa. She shook his shoulder gently. It took her about another ten minutes. She didn't want to wake him up too soon. And indeed, slowly, gently, consciousness seeped into him. He partly opened his eyes, but he saw only the dimness and shadows. And patches of light wavering on the floor.
"What's happening here?"
"Do you still want to rest?"
"Huh… I… don't know. What should I be doing?"
"Tomoya-kun, you can sleep if you want to. But it's a beautiful morning so… well, I think you might miss going outside. It's quite warm today."
"GET OUT OF BED YOU LOAFER!"
Tomoya felt somebody lift him violently and dump him on the bed. His face fell flat on the pillow. With a sneeze, he abruptly got up. "Who did that?" he yelled. But he was suddenly taken aback upon seeing so many people at the door. Leading them was a man in an apron, glaring at him.
"Akio!" cried Sanae, "how rude of you to wake up Tomoya like that!"
"Tch. So much pampering to get him off of bed when the point is to wake him up."
"Otou-san," said Nagisa, "please be considerate of others."
"Tch. Ah, I'm sorry if I got carried away. Still… Tomoya, you, get up and greet the world with a BANG, and stop weeping in bed like a milksop!"
So he had been sleeping at the bedside all this time? In front of them all? Agggh.
"Grandma said we would all set you up to surprise you," smiled Ushio. "You know, papa, our rent will be paid!"
Tomoya tried to make sure his hearing was right. His eyesight as well. For all he knew, he still might be dreaming. Before him stood everybody: Kyou, Tomoyo, Kotomi, Kouko and Yusuke as well as Megumi, Youhei Sunohara, Minako, Tomoe, and Furukawa couple. Beside Akio and Sanae stood his own family, Nagisa, Ushio, and Mizuumi. All of them in baseball attire. Behind his mother sulked Tenshi. Behind him, Taro stood with his parents, Kappei and Ryou.
"I saw the landlord last night," said Sanae, "and I thought if I could ask Ushio if you have paid for the rent already. I phoned everybody to give some help when they come here for Akio's baseball match."
"Kah," sneered Akio, "don't you remember? We all agreed to hold a baseball match today to celebrate Mimi-chan's getting well. Seriously, are you getting senile earlier than me?"
"You must have been too absorbed in your problems to remember," said Sanae. "But don't worry now, Tomoya dear, we have already answered for a month's worth of your debts. It may not be much but please accept our humble offer."
He was now on the verge of tears. "I don't deserve this. This is too much."
"A hard worker and loving father like you deserves everything in the world," beamed Kyou with a thumbs-up.
"We are all family, right?" smiled Sanae.
Nagisa went over to her husband and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Tomoya-kun, I know your shoulder's not right, but do you best."
"All right!" shouted Akio wielding a large baseball bat. "It's time for me to show you
"The ultimate power
"Of the greatest baseball star
"Of the baking world!"
"Take me out…
…to the ballgame!"