Have you ever been blindsided by a boss in a game? I don’t mean them changing form halfway through the fight or having one attack they only use once you think you’ve learned the patterns — I mean completely, and out of nowhere, cold-cocked you into oblivion.
“H-H-Hello, Mrs Katayama.” Hisao offers out his hand with a nervous smile. “I’m Hisao Nakai, a friend of-.”
Katayama, Mr Nakai and I’m aware of who you are.” My Mom says coldly, taking his hand and shaking it firmly.
This would be one of those times. I stand stunned, like a deer in the headlights, looking at my Mom like her presence in this room is utterly impossible. Oh god, what’s she going to do?
“Wh-what brings you to Yamaku, Doctor Katayama?” Hisao asks and my eyes dart to him. Don’t engage her!
“My daughter, of course.” Her voice is so monotone and robotic. “It’s been quite some time since I saw Rika and I felt some much needed family time was in order. Rika, dear, are you free this evening?”
“Um, yeah… I’m pretty sure there’s nothing important…” I mutter, rubbing my bicep as I look to Hisao, as if he would be more equipped to deal with her when she’s like this. This isn’t even her final form.
“Excellent! Hisao, would you care to join us for dinner later?” Mom’s piercing grey eyes lock onto Hisao once more.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your family time…” He scratches his cheek nervously but with a shake of her head, she destroys that defence and goes back on the attack.
“Nonsense, it would be an honour if you joined us.”
“Um, okay then. Uhhhh, if you let Rika know what time it is, I can be ready.” He chuckles and she gives a curt nod in response. Hisao smiles and bows respectfully before turning toward the door, my mother crossing her arms across her chest with a faint smirk. The first chink in the armour.
“See you soon, Nakai.” My mother says, her voice lilting up ever so slightly. As Hisao reaches for the door, I reach out — a fleeting brush of our fingers and a look between us saying I’ll talk to him soon. The door closes behind him and I collapse against it as the Doctor begins snickering, shortly followed by my Mom.
“Well, he seems nice.” The voice behind me utters in an almost sing-song sigh. I roll my eyes as I turn to face the pair of tricksters, Mom smiling demurely at me.
?! Was embarrassing me and mortifying Hisao really
necessary? Did you have
to do the strict parent routine?” I pleadingly ask my mother, who chuckles softly at me while the Doctor continues to snicker; to whom I point an angry, accusing finger. “And yooooou! You sold me out, you jerk!”
“Rika!” She gasps, feigning horror at my outburst. “He did no such thing! Don’t you believe your poor, exhausted mother — who came aaaaall
the way out to the boonies just to visit her darling daughter? Don’t I even get a hug?” She opens her arms out with a pout that’s begging for attention. She’s laying it on thick but…
“…Yeah.” I smile coyly at her and wrap my arms tightly around her torso, my head nestled on her chest. “Missed you, Mom.”
“Me too, sweetheart.” She squeezes me tight in return before holding me at arms’ length and brushing my bangs a little. “So how was my disapproving parent? Think I scared your boyfriend? I was going to say something like ‘what are your intentions with my daughter?’ but I thought it was a bit much…”
“I think the whole thing was overkill…” I groan causing her to giggle in the girlish way that belies her age. “And Hisao’s not my boyfriend
…” Yet. Still working on that.
“Whaaaat?! But you
said-” Mom is quick to question the Doctor, who throws his hands up in surrender.
“I didn’t say anything like that.”
“I’m pretty sure you did!”
And there they go; arguing like siblings. I don’t know the full details but I know that they’ve known each other a fairly long time, worked together even. For a little while I thought they might even start dating but ever since I’ve been here at Yamaku, it’s pretty obvious that the Doctor’s affections lie… elsewhere.
“Are you calling me a liar, Ryo-kun?”
“And there you go, Rui-chan
. Resorting to childish nicknames to undermine me in front of a patient. Most unprofessional.” The Doctor sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose while Mom gives him the death glare.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you’d also taken a hypocritic
oath.” She takes me by the shoulders. “Come on, Rika! We don’t need to be insulted by this quack! Good day, sir!” She sticks her tongue at him as we exit through the door.
“And a good evening to you, ladies!” He answers, in an equally aggressive tone but with a smile on his face.
“Seriously, Mom, what are you doing here?” I ask as we exit the medical wing, headed for the girls’ dorms.
“Ryosei has been keeping me up-to-date on your condition. You’ve been spending a lot of time in the infirmary lately…” Her eyebrows curl in concern as she explains her presence and I can’t argue with it.
“Yeah, I’ve had a few flutters recently but look,” I open my arms wide and twirl as we walk. “I’m fine. See? Before I came here, that would have winded me.”
“I can certainly see you’ve made progress but with your Fontan procedure coming in August, you should make sure to take it easy.”
“Whatever doesn’t kill me; makes me stronger. That’s what grandpa used to say.” I remark glibly, earning a sigh from her. She wraps her arm around my shoulder and plants a kiss on my forehead.
“Okay, Rika. I trust you to make the right decisions but just let me worry, would you? It’s kinda my job.” Mom smiles a little which I return in kind.
Once inside the girls’ dorms, Mom earns more than a few curious glances. Medical staff milling around isn’t uncommon but one escorting a student is another thing entirely. Then there’s the resemblance; she looks more like my older sister than my mother, not that I’d tell her that. Mom’s dyed hair is a much creamier shade of white than mine is. She’s been dying it for so long, I don’t think I can remember what her natural hair colour is… I still remember seeing it for the first time though, when I was around seven.
It was quite a shock to both me and grandpa. She had heard some rather nasty comments from other mothers in the neighbourhood about how weird I looked. “Now we match!” She said, a bright smile painted across her face.
“And what’s that smile for?” Mom asks coyly as the elevator doors open. I shake my head a little to break free of my reverie.
“Sorry, I was just thinking of something.” I say, entering the elevator with mom following quickly behind.
“Something or someone
? Your booooooyfriend, perhaps?” Mom teases with a nudge to my arm. I feel my cheeks warm at the idea but shake my head.
“I told you-” I begin as we reach my floor and disembark.
“I know what you told me but you can’t hide that bright red you’re turning. Ryosei said he’s a third year; is that true?” She asks and I nod sheepishly. “Hm.”
“Wh-what else has the Doc told you?” I ask a little defensively as I unlock my door.
“Just that you’ve been spending a lot of time with this boy and he’s been the cause of one or two flutters…”
“That’s not fair, Mom. It’s not like Hisao has done anything on purpose to cause them.” I take off my uniform ribbon and toss it onto my desk, facing away from her. “He’s not taking advantage of me, if that’s what you’re thinking. Hell, we haven’t even kissed
.” My confession surprises her and she sits down on my bed, crossing her legs and leaning against her knee as I change.
“So what’s he like then? There’s got to be something
about him that’s caught your eye.” She asks curiously while I’m taking off my blouse.
“He’s cute and sweet and he’s not too bad at games and…” I turn, idly brushing my fingertips against the scar on my chest as I look at her sideways. “He’s like me, Mom.”
“Oh. I see.” She closes her eyes for a brief moment and I feel a pang of guilt pulse outward from my chest. I shouldn’t have told her about Hisao’s arrhythmia. It wasn’t my secret to tell.
“Well… As long as you’re both aware of the risks you both face…” She smiles softly, springing herself of my bed and towards my wardrobe. “I guess we should pick out something really cute to knock his socks off, eh? Is this your first date?” She asks over her shoulder and my pale skin turns pinker.
“Mom! It’s not a date if you’re
going to be there!” I say with a slight whine in my voice as she flicks through my clothes.
“A date with a girl and her mother? I thought that would be every teenage boy’s dream!” She titters, offering out a black dress that I haven’t worn since I first invited Hisao to play video games with me.
“Pleeeease don’t say that to him… I don’t think either of us would survive the embarrassment.”
My hand glides across the distance between me and Hisao and I take hold of his hand delicately as we walk through the bustling evening streets. I feel him squeeze my hand as Mom continues to sing the praises of the restaurant we’re heading to.
Mom changed her white doctor’s coat for a faded black denim jacket before we left Yamaku and Hisao arrived in the parking lot wearing a rather charming sweater-vest, looking like the cutest nerd ever. I’m wearing the same cardigan, dress, leggings combo
that Hisao has seen previously but this time he cared enough to say I looked pretty. I don’t think my cheeks have turned back to their natural pale hue since.
“Here we are!” Mom beams, stopping in front of an outdoor dining area to a restaurant we visited last time she was in town.
? Is this place good?” Hisao asks, looking warily at the somewhat European-looking exterior with notable concern.
“Oh, my dear Hisao…” Mom begins in a much friendlier tone, having apologised for giving him a hard time earlier. I doubt he’s getting off that easy and as she turns to face us — casting a quick glance at our conjoined hands as she does — I can tell we’re both in for some embarrassing questions tonight. “You have not lived
until you’ve tried the lasagne here.”
pretty nice.” I chime in, already considering it for my main course. Hisao nods ponderously as we head inside and are seated relatively quickly; Mom on one side, me and Hisao facing her on the opposite side of the table. The waiter stands to the side of our booth and dutifully waits as we make our choices. I think I hear Hisao breath a sigh of relief and see his finger tracing a line down the Japanese menu items.
“Fried food isn’t good for your heart, senpai
.” I lean in and teasingly whisper. He leans towards me, as if we were conspirators plotting something.
“I’ve never tried Italian food before…” He admits and I show him some of the more basic dishes he may like.
“Look, it’s not that
different to Japanese food and I’m sure you’ve tried pizza
before…” I pause a second and he nods affirmatively. “Okay, sooooo… There’s carbonara; which is basically cheese, noodles and bacon, I think that might be good for a beginner.” I say, with a smugness that belies my only having been here once before and been in Hisao’s exact position.
“Okay, I’ll give that a shot.” He smiles and leans back up. “I’d like the pasta carbonara, please.”
“I’ll have the lasagne, please.” I follow, taking Hisao’s menu and passing it to the waiter with mine. Mom holds out her menu with a coy smile.
“Penne all'arrabbiata, per favore.”
“Excellent choices. And what may I bring you to drink?” The waiter asks and Mom looks to us.
“I think I’ll have a glass of that delicious Rubaiyat Rouge and two ice waters for the children, if you would.” She says with a confident smirk and the waiter bows before leaving.
“Really?” I sigh, cocking one eyebrow at her. She leans forward to rest her chin on one hand.
“Would you have preferred a Diet Coke with your Italian cuisine?” She jabs before looking to my right. “Hisao? Water’s okay with you, right?”
“Umm, yeah. I don’t think it’d make too good an impression to ask them to make me a coffee.” He says and Mom laughs.
“Well, the Italians are known coffee-lovers! Do you want me to see if they will?” She goes to raise her hand and Hisao shakes his head violently.
“No, no, water’s fine. Thank you, Dr Katayama.”
“It’s Ms Katayama when I’m not in my scrubs. Or even Rui, if you’re feeling daring
.” She titters. “How are you finding life at Yamaku? Rika said you’re a transfer student.”
“Yeah, I came in early June and it’s been… Interesting, I guess would be the right word for it.” He chuckles and I lean back, intent on hearing what he has to say. “It’s odd; I really dreaded having to attend this school but it’s actually been weird mix of both the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I like to think I’ve adjusted but I’m still learning, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
“I can understand that, especially if you are coming from a different learning environment. Like moving from a country school to a city junior high, for example.” Mom offers.
“Yeah, like, there’s bits and pieces that remind me of my old high school but then there’s the boarding and the, uh, obvious…” He trails off into quietness.
“I was home-schooled when I was younger and going to a public school for Junior High was quite a culture shock.” I share and my Mom plants her face squarely in her palms.
“Oh dear god, the goth phase…”
“Goth phase?” Hisao smirks towards me and I shrug.
“Yeeeah… I had a teensy
bit of a chuunibyou phase.” I make a small gesture with my fingers. “That black dress in the picture I showed you was when I was towards the end of it. When I gave up trying to dye my hair black.”
“And blue. And purple. Then there was the neon green, blech.” Mom interjects. “You look so much prettier without that crap in your hair.”
The waiter arrives with our drinks, saving Mom from a remark by me about her hair. Not that I don’t love her for it but I don’t need the ego boost anymore.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Ms Katayama; what kind of doctor are you?” Hisao asks before sipping his water. Mom takes a gulp of her wine and holds it up with a supported arm.
“A medical doctor, not one of those fake doctors.” She laughs with a wave of her hand. “But specifically, I’m an Emergency Department doctor.”
“So you’re on the front lines, so to speak.” Hisao offers and Mom nods excitedly.
“Exactly! I like this one, Rika. He catches on quick.” She smiles to me and I think both me and Hisao turn a similar shade of crimson. “Do you have an interest in medicine, Hisao? Thinking about post graduation?”
Here we go with the awkward questions…
“I’ve had some thoughts… I’ve found an affinity for science, mostly physics, so something in that field? Something with a practical application.” Hisao explains, both me and my Mom taking his thoughts in. I haven’t put major thought into what I’m going to do after high school and Mom knows it too so thankfully she covers for me.
“That’s a perfectly good field to go into and there’s plenty of good that can be done.” Mom encourages and I nod in agreement. Hisao continues explaining how he became interested science thanks to his homeroom teacher and before too long, our food arrives.
Dinner was delicious and Hisao seemed satisfied by my suggestion. Toward the end of the meal, Mom got a call from work and we quickly settled the bill. Well, I say ‘we’, Mom took care of it; as a special treat. She pulled me into a tight hug before stuffing a few notes into my hand for bus fare.
“Sorry to jet off, sweethear-”
“It’s okay, Mom. Go save some lives.” I cheer her on with a huge smile, which she returns. She turns her attention to Hisao briefly.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Hisao. Be sure to get my Rika home safe.” Mom says with a warm smile.
“Will do, Ms Katayama.”
“You better!” She calls out as she jogs off towards her car. I take Hisao’s hand as she disappears from sight. I nestle close to him as we begin walking to the city centre so we can catch a bus back to Yamaku.
“Well done, senpai. You survived your first boss battle with my Mom.” I giggle, squeezing his hand a little tighter.
“Hehe, I was a little worried to begin with…” He scratches the back of his neck.
“She was just being playfully protective. I’m sure your parents would give me a bit of a hard time if they met me.” I chuckle.
“Actually… There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” Hisao begins and I give him my full attention. “I spoke to my parents last night, after I left your room, and we talked about what I’m doing for the summer break.”
“Oh?” I hadn’t even realised how quickly that snuck up on us.
“Yeah, they would love to see me and… After talking with you the other night, I think it would be a good idea. Not only to see my folks but to see my old friends and, well, to see Iwanako too.” His expression changes a little, shifting to subtle worried frown; as if the actual implications of the idea had just dawned on him.
“That is a good idea, Hisao. I know your ties to your family and friends got strained while you were in the hospital but you seem to be in a much better head space now
so reconnecting’s a fantastic idea! How long do you think you’ll be gone?” I ask and he just smiles down at me with his big brown eyes.
“Well, that’s the thing. How would you like to come with me?”