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 4. This story follows 'Broken Inside'.
"Things haven't been the same in the soccer club since you left, Todo-san. The spirit's just not there anymore."
"I'm sorry, Yatabe-kun," I mumble. "It's just... my okaasan's not well."
"I know," he says. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him turn to look at me as we walk along next to each other. Then his gaze moves down to my hand, swinging loosely at my side. "Will she get better soon?"
"I hope so."
His hand drifts outwards a little as he walks. It hesitates, slightly outstretched, then sinks back. "Todo-san, you like science fiction movies, don't you?"
"Yes, if they've got big guns in them and they're not too scary."
"There's a new one opening at the cinema next week. I... I have two tickets to it. Do you want to... come see it with me?"
"Oh." I pause, surprised. "When?"
"Saturday after... I'm sorry, Yatabe-kun." I look at him, feeling bad for having to say no. "Sara-chan and I go to visit Okaasan on Saturday afternoons."
"I... see. That's okay," he says. His cheeks are a bit red as he runs his hand through his hair, trying to look casual. "I should have known that, I guess."
I reach out and touch his arm. He jumps, as if my hand were one of those shock prods you see on TV. "Maybe when my okaasan is better," I tell him, softly. "Yatabe-kun."
He fidgets slightly as I draw back, and we keep walking. He caught up to me in the school yard today and asked if he could walk with me to Sara's elementary school. Sara-chan is waiting. And Okaasan will be waiting too. "Todo-san..." Yatabe-kun says, after a moment.
"We've known each other for a while now. Months and months. I... I think it'd be okay for you to use my first name. I'd... like that. Would it be okay?"
I look across at him and I smile. "Muzai-kun."
He grins, looking elated. "Thank you, Todo-san."
"You don't need to call me that anymore either," I offer. "I think it's only fair."
"Oh!" Suddenly he looks almost scared instead of happy. "What... what should I call you, then? Rika-ch?"
"Rika-san," I hasten to correct him.
"Rika-san," he repeats, a bit hollowly, looking disappointed. But nobody's allowed to call me Rika-chan. Muzai-kun should be happy that I'm letting him call me Rika-san! After all, that's what grown-ups do. Grown-ups like Watanabe-san...
Summer is long gone now, and the weather is getting colder. The leaves are red and gold on the trees in the cool crisp air. Okaasan's been in hospital for two months now.
We keep walking.
Otousan couldn't get off work early today, so Sara and I are visiting Okaasan by ourselves. The hospital is big and white, and it smells strange, like someone spilled some detergent and forgot to clean it up. The smell always makes me a bit nervous.
Still, we know our way around in here by now. We walk across the foyer and press the call button for the elevator. Sara-chan stands at my side, bent slightly forward. It's a long walk from her school to the hospital, and it tires her out. She wouldn't want to miss out on visiting Okaasan, though.
"What should we have for dinner tonight, Sara-chan?" I ask her, as we ride upwards in the lift.
"Okonomiyaki!" Sara-chan blurts, happily.
"I don't know how to make that, Sara-chan. Only Okaasan does. She... she says she's going to teach me..." And I pause, staring hard at the illuminated floor numbers above the door. Not in front of Sara-chan. I can't cry in front of Sara-chan.
"Oneechan?" Sara looks up at me, worriedly. "Oneechan, what's wrong?"
She doesn't know. Otousan trusted me to be strong enough to handle it, but it would hurt Sara-chan too much to know. And it's not a certainty. Okaasan might get better still.
"It's nothing, Sara-chan," I mumble, blinking rapidly. "I'm fine."
"Okaasan!" Sara goes running into the hospital room, squealing at the top of her lungs. She jumps up onto the bed and throws her arms around Okaasan.
Okaasan holds her tight, closing her eyes and bending her face to Sara-chan's hair. She's so tranquil. She's always so calm and happy. It's good for Sara-chan to see her like this. Okaasan is setting her a good example.
But it's good for me, too.
As Sara-chan disentangles herself from Okaasan and starts digging in her satchel, I move over and bend forward to kiss Okaasan's cheek.
"Hi, Rika." She smiles just for me. She's wearing light blue pyjamas today, and the afternoon sunlight catches brightly in the pendant around her neck. It's a centre for me. She's always wearing it no matter if she's in blue pyjamas or white pyjamas, or one of the hospital gowns the doctors make her wear when they do tests on her. Those two gold hearts are always there, resting above Okaasan's heart. As long as they're warm, as long as they're there... I know I still have her. "How was your day?" Okaasan asks.
"I had a math test and it was really hard," I grumble. "Then we were climbing ropes in gym, and Asunori-chan slipped and burnt her hands. She's such a klutz."
"I'm sure she's good at other things," Okaasan says, mildly. "Sara-chan, what about you?"
"Sensei made us write essays," Sara-chan says. She pulls out her exercise book and waves it in Okaasan's face.
"And what did you write?" Okaasan asks.
"I wrote about you and me, and Oneechan and Otousan, of course," Sara says, with a brilliant smile. "Sensei liked it. He said it was very... insideful."
"I think you mean 'insightful'," Okaasan suggests. Sara-chan blinks up at her.
"That's what I said!"
Okaasan just laughs, gently stroking Sara's hair. "Why don't you read it to us?"
"Okay!" Sara jumps down off the bed and holds the exercise book out in front of her, formally. It's like she doesn't realise there's any other way to read an essay. "'My name is Sara Todo. My parents have been married for fifteen years. They love each other very much. My oneechan's name is Rika. She is in junior high school. My okaasan has had to stay in the hospital lately. I hope she doesn't have to stay there very long. I'"
Okaasan makes a strange choking sound. Sara-chan pauses and looks up at her, curiously.
"I'm... I'm all right, Sara-chan," Okaasan manages to say. "Just... just go on reading."
"Oneechan said the same thing," Sara says, shrewdly. "I worry about Oneechan. Hospitals are for sick people, and Oneechan isn't sick. What if she gets sick from being here all the time? I'm already sick. It's okay for me."
Okaasan just stares at her, lost for words. I step in behind Sara-chan to back Okaasan up. "I'm fine, Sara-chan. Honestly. Go on. What else did you write?"
Sara-chan looks from Okaasan to me, a bit confused, then nods slowly and raises the book again. "'I love Okaasan. People have two kidneys. Both of mine may have something wrong with them. Okaasan says I have a 'cosmic arena in fishing sea'. I am not sure what this means. It has nothing to do with sports or fish. I am not very good at sports because I'm so small. But the doctors gave Okaasan a magic wand that will help me grow. They taught Okaasan and Otousan a magic spell. Oneechan knows the spell now too. She has to help when my otousan is too busy at work to come home and use magic. I love Oneechan. Otousan says that she and I get along much better than he did with his sister. He and Okaasan always laugh when he says that. He says it's a 'private joke', but I think it's 'adult humour', which I don't want to understand anyway. The end.'"
Sara-chan is smart. She reads so much, and her essays and stories are full of details and observations. Okaasan praises her work, and Sara-chan blushes prettily. Then she spreads her books out on the bed, and Okaasan and I help her with her homework. Sara-chan gets so tired walking home from here that she's usually asleep by dinner time, so it's best if she gets her work done now.
It's fairly simple stuff, and Sara can handle most of it herself. As she puzzles through a page of math problems, Okaasan looks across to where I'm sitting, perched at the head of the bed. She reaches out a hand and hooks her arm around my waist. She hugs me close, and I blissfully let my head rest against hers. She's warm, and her hair is so soft.
She looks at me as she draws back, bringing her hand up to brush against my hair. "I wish you wouldn't cut your hair so short, Rika," she says, wistfully. "Your clothes, your short hair... You can't be like this for the rest of your life. It's not very feminine."
"Why would I want to be feminine?" I ask, confused.
"Well... to attract boys," Okaasan teases.
I blush. "But long hair is such a hassle! And who says boys don't like short hair?"
"Well, your otousan, for one," she says, softly, and smiles. "I tried cutting my hair short once, and you should have seen the look on his face. He was so upset!" She giggles. "He said it was 'unflattering', and that it made my ears stick out, but I knew the truth. He likes long hair. That's all there is to it."
"Otousan... likes long hair?"
"Yes, and he's a boy," Okaasan points out.
"He's not a boy!" I protest. She's turning my world view upside down. "Otousan is Otousan!"
Okaasan just laughs and hugs me again, drawing me close to her side.
It's a couple of months later, and Okaasan still isn't any better. It's winter now, and it's cold and dreary outside. I'm on school holidays. I split my time between Sara and Okaasan.
Sara-chan's in the hospital again. She's usually pretty healthy, but there are times when she'll be sick for weeks or months at a time. She's listless and she doesn't have any appetite. I can't help but wonder if things would be different if Okaasan had been at home to look after her. Maybe my cooking isn't any good. There aren't that many things that I know how to make.
Still, Sara always smiles when I visit her. Sometimes Otousan is with me; most of the time he's not. But I always do Otousan's little greeting when I walk in I step in the door and call out, "I'm back!" It makes Sara laugh. There aren't enough things that make Sara-chan laugh.
Things are harder now that Okaasan isn't working. There are money problems. Otousan works hard. He goes to work early and visits Okaasan late... he comes home even later, and he's exhausted. And it's still not enough.
Cleaning Okaasan's blood costs money. Sara-chan's hospital stays cost money. Medicine costs money. If only I could get a job. If only I could help.
Okaasan had a mild seizure a few days ago. It wasn't a real heart attack, but it left her very weak. The doctors have her on sedatives. Her eyes aren't quite focused as she sits in bed with a tube stuck in her arm, swaying slightly back and forth like there's a soft breeze in here.
I'm not even sure if she remembers I'm here. She said hello to me when I came in, but since then she's been staring out the window at the cloudy sky. I don't know what to do or say, so I fuss around to keep busy. I change the water in the vase and get rid of the flowers that have wilted. I examine the row of books on her little shelf. Otousan brought them from home for her.
I sit there next to her, looking at her frail body and long dark hair. Is she still my okaasan? Why do I feel like something's different?
"Rika?" she asks, quietly, after a long time has passed.
"Rika..." Even her voice is hazy, dulled by the drugs being fed into her. "Rika, why?"
"Why?" I repeat, confused.
"Why does it have to come again?" she asks, closing her eyes. "Why, every year... why does it have to go white? Can't it... can't it just stay green...?"
"I... Okaasan..." I have no idea what she's talking about, but I have to say something. "But... but it'll be green again sometime, won't it?"
She looks at me, her eyes dull. It's the same look that Otousan has in his eyes. Is this... is this how Okaasan really
"I wonder what you'll do without me," she murmurs. "When I'm gone, when I... when I can't love you anymore... will you be okay? You, and Sara-chan, and Otousan?"
I reach out and grab her hand. I squeeze it hard.
"Otousan's strong," I say, trying to force down the feeling welling up in my chest.
"No," Okaasan says. "No, he's not." Her eyes widen. She looks at me pleadingly. "You'll look after him for me, won't you, Rika? You'll let him know you love him? You'll tell him, keep reminding him?"
I lower my eyes, embarrassed. "Aww, Okaasan..."
"He needs that." Her violet eyes are shimmering now. "More than anything, he needs that. Otherwise he'll do his best to be strong for you and Sara-chan, but he'll shut down inside. I... I don't want tha" She breaks off, sobbing. "Ta-chan..." she whispers, closing her eyes.
Looking at her, looking at her pain, it's like I'm seeing something for the first time. Just like Otousan, my okaasan is a person. Someone who loves. Someone who's afraid.
Looking at her, I make up my mind.
"I'll take care of him for you, Okaasan." I reach up and cover her hand, holding it between both of mine. "And Sara-chan. I'll take care of them both."
She reaches out and pulls me to her. She hugs me tight. It's warm. Her body is so thin and frail.
She's my okaasan. I love her.
Even when she's gone, I'll still love her.
It's dark in the apartment, but I haven't bothered turning the lights on.
Otousan is late. Sara-chan is at the hospital. I went shopping on my way home this afternoon and bought some food to cook for dinner. It's been a while since we've been able to indulge in boxed dinners. They're a luxury now.
Maybe that's why I'm sitting here in the dark. To save electricity. A few yen here, a few yen there... It all has to help in some way, doesn't it? There has to be something I can do. Right?
Rice, and grilled fish, and a rather basic salad. Some pickles and a bit of the chicken I cooked for last night's dinner. It's all sitting there, and it's all going cold. I haven't turned the heater on, either. The cold is seeping into me. It's sinking into my bones.
The apartment door swings open, then thunks shut. I can barely make out Otousan's form in the darkness as he trudges into the room.
"Rika?" he calls, softly.
"Here," I say, dully.
"Oh?" He reaches out to turn on the light, surprised to find me sitting there at the dining table, with my food untouched in front of me. "It's late. I thought you'd gone to bed."
"I... I wanted to be here for you when you got back," I say, quietly. "Please, Otousan... sit down and eat something."
He hesitates, looking at the food. "I don't know, Rika. I'm not really that hu"
"Please!" My voice catches on the word, rising in pitch at the end. What's wrong with me? Why am I acting like this?
His expression softens. "All right, Rika. I'll make some tea. Why don't you... why don't you turn the heater on. It's freezing in here."
He makes the tea, and pours two cups. Steam rises from them, billowing into the air. He sits across from me and we both pick at our food. I force myself to sound bright. Otousan always looks so worried. I have to distract him.
We sit there as the silence presses in around us. I drive it back with my voice. I chat desperately about my day, about what I did when I saw Sara-chan, about my studies and my chores. He nods and smiles, but he doesn't say much in return. It makes me hurt inside to see him like this.
Otousan and Okaasan. They were always together. And now he can't see her except at the hospital. He must be so lonely. He must miss her so much...
Why does Okaasan have to be sick? Doesn't she know how hard it makes it for everyone else? Doesn't she see
Why can't I stop crying?
"Rika." His voice is soft and warm as he reaches across the table to dry my tears. "Rika, you're tired. Go to bed. I'll clean up tonight."
I just stare at him helplessly. Otousan? Otousan, I was supposed to be helping you! Not the other way around! Not the other way around! I... I... What good am I? I can't do anything! I can't do anything at all!
I lie in my bed, alone. Sara-chan isn't here. The room is empty and cold. Through the open door, I can hear Otousan tossing and turning, as usual. He hasn't been sleeping very well without Okaasan.
Why do they have to be people? Why can't they just be my parents?
I want to help. I have to help all of them. They're all damaged. They're all a bit broken. Otousan's hands. Sara-chan's kidneys. Okaasan's heart. If... if only I could
I sit up in bed, my heart pounding. Okaasan.
People have two kidneys, Sara wrote. Both of mine may have something wrong with them.
I know what I can do.
Rika gives it her best, in Five Weeks Until Spring.