Finding a Friend Behind the Reasoning
Her arrival had gone unnoticed at first. After all, young mothers leaving their children at the daycare wasn’t anything unheard of in Japan during this day and age. It was after a few weeks I started to notice her presence when I would return home from University. By that time in the late afternoons, I’d catch her leaving the Masamori Daycare with three children in her wake. She didn’t look old enough to have children, and the thought that she was another inexperienced mother left with the burden of raising children on her shoulders made me think that she was another irresponsible person in the world. Of course, it was none of my business, but a passing thought nonetheless.
Another week went by this way. If I met her gaze she would always share a smile with me, even if I didn’t return one and pretend I hadn’t looked her way. Her brown eyes were always behind thin-rimmed glasses yet never hidden, and her jet black hair was always pulled back into a ponytail, only her bangs left loose to frame her face. Her presence was subtle but consistent, and it made me wonder.
At one point, while having dinner with my mother, I happened to bring up the children in conversation. This is where I realized I was paying more attention than I thought.
She looked surprised.
“You’re curious about the triplets, Shiro?”
I shrugged, knowing that bringing up the subject was uncommon. I usually didn’t bother unless I was working, and with school the way it had been, I haven’t had the time recently. I glanced up to meet her knowing gaze.
“I’ve just seen them around a lot, with the mother. It’s a little odd to see them even on the weekends.”
She gasped softly as realization hit.
“Did I not tell you about NessLee? Oh dear, I really am getting old.”
I tried not to smile at the comment, knowing she was barely past her forties, before raising a brow to remind her about what we had been talking about.
“Oh yes, NessLee has been working for the daycare.”
So that was why I saw her so often. It made enough sense for me not to pry anymore. Later when I was gathering the dishes to be washed, the phone rang. It wasn’t unusual to get phone-calls at this hour. To my mother, the daycare was a twenty-four-hour business. I had made it to the sink when I overheard the name of the very person we had just discussed.
“Oh hello NessLee, we were just talking about you! Oh nevermind, what did you need?”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but my ears just perked up at the silence from the other line until she continued.
“Mmhmm, that’s no problem dear. I can manage a few hours with them. I do run a daycare after all.”
She laughed before continuing.
“Alright, don’t worry about it. Bye bye now.”
I managed to look busy when she came back into the room, finishing up the first plate, but she must have realized I had been listening. She had a scary sixth sense about those kinds of things.
“Curious, are we son?”
I whipped my head around, slightly embarrassed.
“What? You’re allowed to be curious about a young woman at your age. It’s even healthy!”
I groaned. I was twenty-one and single, I know, but that didn’t mean she had to treat me like a lovestruck teenager or something.
She merely laughed at me.
“Who knows, you two may hit it off!”
I rolled my eyes, drying my hands with a towel.
“Yeah, okay, me and the girl with three kids, sure. Like I’d want to get caught up in that mess.”
I mean, it’s not as if I dislike kids, but who knows what kind of drama would spring up from the ex-boyfriend or worse, a divorce case where the husband is nowhere to be found.
My mother only giggled as she left, waving me off with a sense that she knew more than I did.
“You never know!”
That motherly tone was thrown over her shoulder before she disappeared completely for the night, leaving me to wonder what she thought she knew that I didn’t. With a sigh I retreated back to my bedroom, knowing I had classes in the morning.
Unbeknownst to me, I would overhear an important conversation the next day while walking to the student lounge in search of something to eat. I hadn’t meant to, but the counselor’s office was on the way and I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks.
“But NessLee! You had such a bright future ahead of you!”
That name again. It just seemed to follow me everywhere I went. With my curiosity peaked, I casually leaned against the wall across the hall to listen. The next voice was hers, and I could even hear the smile in it.
“Have you considered online classes?”
“Yes, but the triplets are too young for me to devote my time to anything else.”
“I could see how three two-year-olds could be a handful, but you were coming under scholarship and becoming a doctor takes a lot of years of study. If you don’t start now-”
“I understand, that’s why I’m working at the daycare. So I can save up without leaving the children. My parents have taken care of everything else. The least I can do is pay for my own schooling when the time comes.”
“Alright, then I won’t try to convince you farther. I still think it’s a shame, but I understand the circumstances. I’ll make sure to get everything in order for your dismissal.”
“Thank you, counselor.”
I heard movement in the room and then a final comment.
“Oh, and NessLee?”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
There was a pause, and then the door opened. It was then that I realized I had stayed too long. Our eyes met from across the hall, her light brown meeting my dark. There was a pang of guilt in my chest then. What was I doing? She was a smart girl and had probably figured out I was eavesdropping like a high-schooler. The thought made me shift in embarrassment. I was about to turn and flee the scene as quickly as possible, but it was too late. She had already made her way over to me.
“Shiro? What are you doing here?”
Raising a brow, I tried to play it cool.
“I go to school here?”
I could almost see her connect the dots in her head. Then she smiled.
“Oh, I see! Mrs. Masamori did mention you go to university. I just didn’t know it was this one.”
“Are you thinking about coming here?”
The words slipped out before I could bite my tongue. Her smile faltered and I felt another pang of guilt, already knowing the answer.
“The opposite really, I have to withdraw.”
“Oh. I see.”
I didn’t dare ask anything more and after a brief silence, she gestured to the door.
“Well, if you need the counselor, I won’t hold you up any longer.”
Okay, so she didn’t think I had been eavesdropping. She thought I was waiting for my turn. I have one of two choices here. Go into the office even though I don’t need to see the counselor, or confess that my curiosity got the better of me. My pride was going to hurt either way so I went with the option she wouldn’t see. I nodded.
“Right, I’ll see you later.”
She gave a small wave as I walked to the door and made my way inside. Only when I shut the door securely behind me did I release a heavy sigh.
“Why if it isn’t Shiro Masamori. Need someone to talk to?”
I narrowed my eyes at the counselor.
“You make me sound like I have no friends, Uncle.”
He laughed and I decided to take a seat. Knowing him, he wasn’t going to let me leave any time soon.
“You’re right Shiro because I see you with friends all the time.”
“This isn’t counseling. This is harassment.”
It seemed the more irritated I got, the louder he laughed. He must have actually picked up on my mood because he changed the subject.
“So, two students from my sister’s lovely daycare come to see me back to back. Is it a coincidence?”
Again I found myself weighing my options. After a moment of debate, I thought it would be best if I told the truth. My Uncle had a tendency to report everything I did at school back to my mother, and I would rather it be the truth than risk a misunderstanding.
“I may have overheard your conversation with NessLee.”
It didn’t look like that information surprised him.
“Oh? Are you two friends perhaps?”
“I...wouldn’t say that.”
He watched me for a moment, but I couldn’t figure out what he was looking for. Then he leaned on his hand, elbow against the desk, looking almost disappointed.
“That’s too bad. She probably needs a shoulder to cry on.”
Sometimes, he speaks in riddles and I have to decrypt what he’s trying to say. I took a guess at it anyway.
“Because she decided to withdraw?”
“Well, more for the reasoning behind it.”
“She’s got three toddlers, of course she wouldn’t have time for school. I don’t see why I should pity her if it’s her responsibility to raise them.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, face wrinkled in thought. It was like he was debating how much to elaborate on the subject. Was there more to elaborate? After a moment he leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“Because I’m a counselor, I can’t give away personal information-”
I almost interrupted him so I could point out that he gossips to my mother about student affairs--especially mine--over the phone almost every week, but he continued.
“But as your Uncle who would like to see you make a friend, I’ll tell you this: Look for the reason behind the reasoning.”
I was given a hint and I still didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. I left school that afternoon confused, and came home the same way. I saw NessLee working as I walked through the daycare and she offered a smile and a wave. I managed a nod in greeting before retreating upstairs to the living portion of the house. Later that evening during dinner, my mother had that knowing look in her eye again. I raised a brow while reaching for my glass.
“Did you happen to see NessLee at school today?”
I almost choked on my water. I stared at her a moment, wondering how much she knew.
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just curious. She had a meeting at the University today and I wondered if you had seen her.”
I narrowed my eyes and contemplated the thought that she had maybe planned this. She at least had the power to make sure NessLee took off work for the meeting the same day I had gone to school. Although she hadn’t told NessLee I was there, so maybe it was a coincidence after all?
“How much has Uncle told you?”
I watched her poke at her food.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I brought my hands to my face, groaning.
“Ugh! Between you and Uncle, I’m surprised you haven’t shoved me and Nesslee in a room together and not let us out until we’ve become friends.”
“Now there’s an idea!”
She burst into a fit of laughter. I knew she was joking, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself, but you’re right. I would like to see you two become friends. Not only for your sake but for hers too.”
She stood up to collect our plates and I was about to ask what she meant when she continued with a spark in her eyes that made me uncomfortable.
“Although if you two do hit it off, I could become an instant grandmother in the near future!”
“That future is nowhere near the statement of ’going to happen’!”
I followed her giggles into the kitchen despite myself, too curious not to ask about her previous statement.
“What did you mean when you said ‘for her sake too’?”
Her smile made me frown.
“That’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself.”
In other words, I will just have to ask the girl myself. I sighed in frustration even though I knew that was going to be her answer. After that I departed for the night, laying in bed as I thought over what I had learned, and what I could have been missing.
“The reason behind the reasoning, huh?”
Her reason not to go to school is because of the triplets, so am I looking for the reason behind the triplets? That didn’t make a lot of sense. They’re her responsibility to take care of, right? It’s not like she had a choice in the matter. I suppose, she could have put them up for adoption since there doesn’t seem to be a father. Was it because there isn’t a father?
“Guess I’ll just have to ask.”
I turned over to try and get some sleep before I changed my mind.
The next morning I didn’t have school, so my mother asked me to work downstairs. It was the perfect opportunity I was looking for, so I quickly agreed. I felt confident about my plan at first, but as soon as NessLee walked in with the triplets and offered me a smile in greeting, I faltered.
“Shiro, what a surprise. You don’t have school today?”
“Mom asked me to work.”
“I see. Well, we’ll probably need the extra help.”
As if to reflect why that was, the children started tugging on her to move so they could play. She laughed before being called to the other side of the room. After a quick reply, she turned back to me.
“Then I’ll see you around.”
Then she was gone and the day was just as busy as I thought it would be. There was no time for small talk throughout the day and it gave me the time to notice how much the children really liked her. Most of them didn’t really want anything to do with me when she was in the room. She even managed to get two of them to make up after a big tantrum.
I thought I let all of my opportunities to talk to her slip until closing time came around. Most of the children had been picked up by then and we were just watching the few remaining children play while waiting for their parents. I was leaning on the doorway and NessLee was leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the frame. My mother was busy with some work in another room and the children were behaving. It was the chance I had been waiting for all day and I decided to take it.
“Can I ask you something?”
She turned her head toward me, a curious look in her eyes as she smiled.
“What is it?”
I moved my gaze back to the children to avoid eye contact.
“What is your reasoning for taking care of the triplets? You didn’t have to take responsibility for them, in the end. You could have put them up for adoption. Maybe it’s because I’m not a parent, but I don’t understand the reason why someone so young would risk everything, including their future, to raise three children on their own.”
Her response was surprisingly quick.
“It’s because I understood what would happen otherwise.”
I looked back at her, confused by that statement. Her smile was gentle.
“If you had decided not to take care of them?”
“That’s right. You know, I’m not a parent.”
I blinked. This was news to me. I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off.
“When my parents suddenly passed away last month, I found out they were planning to adopt the triplets. I was about to move out on my own and go to the best university Japan had to offer, but they wanted to adopt again when I was older so I could be listed as a guardian. They didn’t get the chance to tell me about it. The orphanage told me what was going on afterward. So I had a choice. It was either adopt the triplets or let them be put back up for adoption.”
Trying to wrap my head around this new information, I re-asked my original question.
“Then why did you..?”
She looked back at the children, a small frown on her face. It was the first time I hadn’t seen her with a smile.
“My parents...They were my parents to me, but I was actually adopted. I know what it’s like to grow up in an orphanage. I’ve watched countless siblings be adopted separately and never see each other again. Not that an orphanage is a terrible place, but it can feel terrible at times. I looked at them, and I couldn’t help but remember those times. My parents gave me the best family experience I could have asked for, and there was no way I was going to refuse that same opportunity to the triplets, even if they are gone now I decided I would give it to the triplets in their place.”
She looked back at me, and her smile had returned. There was no hint of regret or carelessness in her decision. She had thought it completely through and stuck with it no matter the consequences. I kinda felt like an idiot for thinking even for a moment that she was an irresponsible person.
“NessLee, I’m sorry.”
She looked surprised and I rubbed the back of my neck.
“I misunderstood, and now I feel like a jerk for asking.”
She stared and I thought she was going to laugh at me, which I would have deserved, but instead, her smile widened.
“But now you understand, right?”
I blinked but managed a nod.
“Then I forgive you.”
I caught the playful tone in her voice and couldn’t help but smirk.
“That was easy.”
“I’m not hard to please.”
“Is that so?”
I gave a thoughtful look, and she caught onto it quicker than expected, raising an amused brow.
“What is it now?”
I crossed my arms and offered her a smile.
“If that’s true, what would it take for you to be my friend?”
Her expression blanked out and my smile grew into another smirk. It took a moment, but she seemed to have finished processing what I had said since her face brightened in both color and excitement. Then she laughed.
“All you had to do was ask.”
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