NB: this story contains spoilers regarding the first, 'best' ending of Kana: Little Sister. Please don't proceed unless you've completed this ending to the game.
'Blinding White', part 3. This story follows 'A Bitter Wind'.
"My name is Rika Todo. I... I'm thirteen years old. Today is my thirteenth birthday. And... and I..."
I stare blankly at the schoolbooks in front of me. The apartment sounds so empty and still. Sara-chan isn't here, so there's no noise from the TV. No music from the radio. Just silence.
I'm thirteen years old today. I'm a teenager now; I'm not a child anymore. I haven't been a child for a while, really. I'm even starting to... develop. Of course, Okaasan says that a lady doesn't talk about that kind of thing. But I'm not a lady. And Okaasan isn't here.
No-one is here.
I walked home alone today. Sara-chan and Otousan went to visit Okaasan, straight after school finished. They've been doing that a lot recently. And if Otousan can't manage to get the afternoon off, they go and visit her after he gets home. I'd be happier if Otousan didn't drag Sara-chan along to visit Okaasan so often, though. Sara-chan spends enough time in hospitals as it is.
I haven't been to visit Okaasan. I actually haven't seen her since the paramedics came to our apartment last week and took her away. It's not like I don't want to see her or anything. But I have enough to do already.
With Otousan leaving home so early these days, I'm the one who ends up scrambling around trying to make breakfast for Sara-chan before school. Then I have to help her get ready. Walk her to and from school. And on days when I have soccer club, I have to race to Sara's school and back to pick her up before I can even think about attending the meeting!
It doesn't end there. When I get home, I have to tidy up. I have to make Sara-chan something to eat. I have to do my homework! Then there's laundry and cooking and vacuuming!
These are all Okaasan's jobs, not mine! I already had enough things to do, and it's hard to adjust. To start off with, I'm not that good at cooking though Okaasan's done her best to teach me. And also, I never seem to wake up early enough. I'm sure I could start getting the hang of it if I tried harder, but there doesn't seem to be much point. Okaasan will be back soon. She'll get better and come home, and things will go back to the way they used to be.
It can't happen soon enough. It's starting to seem as if I'm doing every little chore around the apartment, even down to collecting the
"Oh." My routine's been so thrown off by the changes in my schedule that I forgot to pick up the mail today. Well, I'm not getting any of my homework done. I'm just sitting here staring at it. I can come back and stare at it.
I grab my key and head out, pulling the apartment door closed behind me. Turning left, I start jogging down the corridor. I didn't have to run to pick up Sara-chan today, so my legs feel like they could do with a bit of a stretch. I take long leaping strides, rapidly picking up sp
"Hey, there whoa, Rika-san!"
I pull myself up short, surprised. I didn't see Watanabe-san standing there at his apartment door. He's got his key in one hand. He must have just gotten back from somewhere.
"WaWatanabe-san," I mumble, a bit embarrassed that he caught me running inside. "Hello."
"How are you today, Rika-san?" he asks, unlocking his door and pushing it open.
"I'm... I'm okay, thank you," I tell him, looking down at the floor. There's a plastic bag sitting on the ground near his feet. "Did you go shopping, Watanabe-san?"
"Nah, I just went out to get a bit of breakfast," he says, with a grin.
Watanabe-san is younger than Otousan well, he looks younger than Otousan, anyway. His hair is longish and a bit tousled; his face is sharp and angular, like a fox. I think he looks pretty cool. Of course, Otousan is much cooler than Watanabe-san, but there's no way anyone could win that contest against my otousan.
"Breakfast?" I look at my watch, automatically. "But it's four thirty!"
"I keep strange hours, Rika-san," he tells me, with a wink. "When you're a bit older, you'll be free to do the same."
I bristle a bit at his words. 'When' I'm older? I am older! You too, Watanabe-san? You also think I'm still a kid?
"Hey, hey, no need to look so fierce!" He laughs. "I just meant that soon you'll be old enough to do whatever you want, no matter what your parents think."
"I... I guess." He has this way of disarming me that no-one else does. It... it makes me all warm and glowy inside when he shows that he doesn't look down on me. I... If only I could...
"How's your okaasan?" he asks, as I stand there thinking.
I blink. "Oh. Okaasan? She's fine. They're keeping an eye on her in the hospital, but there hasn't been any bad news."
"Please ask your otousan to pass my regards to her, Rika-san," he says, politely.
"I will!" I nod. "I have to go get the mail now, Watanabe-san. Thank you for asking about my okaasan."
"She's a kind and beautiful woman." Watanabe-san surprises me by reaching out and gently touching my shoulder. It's the first time he's ever made contact with me. "Rika-san, I want to help you if I can. Please, if there's ever anything you or Sara-chan need, just come and ask."
"Erm..." I'm still a bit too confused by the touch of his hand on my shoulder to say anything that makes sense. "Um... thank you, Watanabe-san. I will."
"Good girl." He smiles, looking pleased. "Off you go now. Oh, and Rika-san?"
"Yes?" I ask, pausing as I start to head past him.
He winks at me. "Happy birthday."
The warm glowy feeling in my stomach spreads out to fill my entire body as I ride the elevator down to the ground floor.
It's early evening when Otousan gets home. Sara-chan is asleep in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. Her face looks so sweet: her eyes closed in exhaustion; her lips slightly parted as she breathes shallowly.
I went out and bought three dinner boxes earlier. I set one of the remaining two boxes out for Otousan as he puts Sara-chan to bed.
Otousan has been looking very tired for the past week or so. And it can't be because of work, because lately he's been finishing up early whenever he can, so he can pick up Sara-chan and go to the hospital. He's been leaving home earlier in the mornings to try to make up for it, but still, the hours don't add up. He's working less hours now, if anything.
And besides, the signs are all different. When he's been working too hard, he limps a bit and his hands shake when he tries to use his chopsticks. He hasn't been doing that any more than usual.
No, this tiredness is in his eyes. About a week ago, the day when Okaasan first woke up again, he came home and he locked himself in their room. He didn't come out for hours, and it worried me. Usually when the bedroom door's locked, it's because he and Okaasan are doing naughty things in there.
Otousan. I'm worried about you. Isn't there anything I can do for you?
He comes back into the room and sits down at the table, across from me. I just look at him as he smiles tiredly at me. It doesn't touch his eyes. That's what's been bothering me. Where did the light in his eyes go?
"Happy birthday, Ri-chan," he says, gently. "I... I know it's not the way you would've liked it... Turning thirteen and everything. There should have been more of a fuss. It's a big step."
"I guess so." I try to keep my tone agreeable, but his words are untying something in my stomach. The ache that went away when Watanabe-san wished me a happy birthday. You didn't, Otousan. You were gone when I woke up! I turned thirteen and you... and you weren't there!
"You're growing up so fast," he's saying, still looking at me. "Ri-chan? Ri-chan, I'm sorry we weren't all here for your birthday. We can... we can go and do something now, if you want. I mean, I haven't even asked you what you want"
"Stop calling me Ri-chan."
He stares at me. "What?"
"That's what I want," I tell him. "Is that okay?"
For a moment, he just pulls back, his puzzled gaze on me. Why do adults always do this? Why do they stop whenever I ask for something, as if they're giving me time to take it back? I want this!
"So..." he says, lightly. "No 'Ri-chan', hey? What would you prefer, then? 'Rika-san'? 'Rika-sama'?"
I hunch my shoulders up as he leans across the table and gently strokes my hair, just once. He bends forward and kisses my cheek.
"Rika," he says.
"Th... thank you, Otousan," I mumble.
"You're welcome, Rika."
It sounds so grown-up when he says it. I'm really not a child anymore. Watanabe-san knows it. And now Otousan does, too.
Otousan draws back and sits down again. He picks up his chopsticks and pokes idly at the dinner box. I made sure to get one with dishes that he likes. But he doesn't seem interested in eating. He eats a few mouthfuls of rice and some of the fried chicken before lowering the chopsticks again.
"Otousan?" I ask, anxiously. "Isn't it good?"
"It's... it's very good, Rika," he says. "I just don't have much appetite."
"I..." I hesitate a little. He may not want to tell me, but... "Otousan, what's wrong? What's bothering you?"
He looks up at me. His eyes are still so sad. I... I feel something straining inside me. Something pulling at me. A yearning.
"Please, Otousan," I whisper. "I don't want you to be sad."
"I don't... want to be sad..." He closes his eyes tightly, taking several deep breaths. "But it's not something I can talk to you about."
"You can call me Rika, but you can't tell me what's making you sad." I say it flatly. "You don't mean it, then. You might as well still be calling me Ri-cha"
"It's not like that!" he snaps at me. I flinch backwards, scared by his harsh tone. He's never spoken to me like that before. Otousan...
He props his elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands. For a long time, we're both silent. I'm hurt. He's still sad. Poor Otousan. Please... why won't you let me help you?
"How is Okaasan?" I ask, eventually.
"How can she be lonely? She sees you and Sara-chan every"
Otousan finally raises his head. "She misses you, Rika."
"Oh." I don't know what to say. So I don't say anything. Otousan picks up the chopsticks and pokes vaguely at the dinner box again.
"She'll be fine, though, right?" My voice sounds too loud in the silence. "She can come home soon, can't she? Please?"
What a stupid thing to say! 'Please'? You sound like a little girl, Rika! A little girl crying for her mommy!
"Rika." Otousan pauses, staring at me. Something changes in his eyes. I suddenly don't like the way he's looking at me. Why are his eyes so sad? "Rika, you're right. I've been wondering what to say to you. Whether I should say anything about this to you. But I..."
And I realise all of a sudden that I don't want to hear what he's about to say. That look in his eyes it's pain. It's too much pain for me. I find myself on my feet before I know it. "I'm tired, Otousan. You must be too. I'm going to"
"Rika, your okaasan might not live for very much longer."
I freeze. I can't look at him. I can't say anything. It's like his words have stopped my head from working.
"She's not well," he says, his voice low with despair. "And... and I can't do anything more for her."
"bed," I blurt, senselessly. "I'm going to bed. Good... good night, Otousan." And I run past him. I run to the bedroom where Sara-chan's already asleep, and I throw myself onto my bed. Burying my face under the pillow. Shaking so hard that I can't stop. And desperately wishing I could just turn my brain off again.
Because then I wouldn't have to know. I wouldn't have to remember. I wouldn't have had to hear those words!
No. Okaasan... No.
The room is white and it looks like it should be cold. But the window is open, letting a warm breeze inside. And there are flowers on the nightstand. We brought them today. We brought them for Okaasan.
She's happy to see me. When we first got here, she made sure that I was the first one to get a kiss. She held me tight, and it felt like something was pulling at my heart.
"I'm glad you're here, Rika-chan," she said.
"We call her Rika now," Otousan told her, quietly, before I could even think to say anything.
Okaasan smiled at me. "Rika," she said, lovingly. "My Rika."
And now Sara-chan is sitting on the bed next to Okaasan, telling her about her day at school. Otousan is standing close by, and Sara gets the attention of both her parents, for a change. She loves it. She jabbers away happily, turning her attention from Okaasan to Otousan, then back again.
Otousan holds Okaasan's hand. Her skin is still very pale. She's wearing white pyjamas that Otousan brought from home, and the gold pendant around her neck as a single reminder of who she is in the world outside. Two hearts, side by side. She's always worn it, as far back as I can remember.
I used to wonder why it's not four hearts Okaasan, Otousan, Sara and me. Of course, now I realise that four hearts would look stupid. But still...
I'm hanging back a bit, watching the three of them together. Okaasan is laughing. Her arms are around Sara-chan now, folding her tight into her embrace. She listens to every word Sara-chan has to say. Devotion and warmth and love. She's always been there. She should always
I start to cry. I look at my okaasan, and I feel like something's breaking inside me. I don't want her to go away.
I don't want her to go away.
Winter sets in around Rika and her family, in Holding On.