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 5. This story follows 'Holding On'.
Okaasan just looks at me. Her eyes are still slightly glassy because she's on sedatives, but I can see how surprised she is. She probably wasn't expecting something like this. I'm just anxious because I didn't think of it sooner. It's... it's not too late, is it?
It doesn't have to stay white, Okaasan. There'll be blue skies again. There will!
"Rika," she says, gently, after a moment. "I... I don't know what to say."
"You don't need to say anything," I tell her, proudly. "I want to do this for you, Okaasan. After all, Otousan did the same thing for you, didn't he? People don't need two kidneys. Okaasan, please... let me give you one of mine."
"Rika." Her hand reaches out and takes mine, clasping it loosely. "Rika, do you know what it means to me to hear you say that? Do you... do you know how much I love you when I look at you sitting there my Rika? All grown up now. So giving..."
"I love you, Okaasan. I don't want you to leave me!"
"I don't... I don't want to leave you," she says, quietly. She's not looking at me. Something's wrong. What is it? What's wrong?
"Then can I tell Nakamura-sensei that I want to"
I blink. My hand pulls back reflexively, sliding out of Okaasan's grasp. "No?" I repeat, blankly.
"Rika... thank you. Thank you so much. But I can't take your gift."
"Why... why not?" Now it's my turn not to look at her. There's a growing emptiness at the pit of my stomach. And a surge of emotion swelling in my throat. Okaasan, don't you see? This is the answer! You can live... You can live!
"Rika, please... don't look that way." Okaasan leans over towards me, reaching out clumsily, and almost falls over. I have to put my hands up and catch her before she topples out of the bed. She's so weak right now. She has no sense of balance.
Her eyes are very close to mine the same deep shade of violet. She smiles, and she kisses my cheek. Her lips are warm and soft. And their touch on my skin makes the feeling in my throat push even harder to escape. This isn't a joke, Okaasan. It's not one of Rika-chan's whims. I want to do this for you! Please let me do this for you!
I help her sit up straight in the bed again. I make sure the plastic tube leading into her arm hasn't gotten tangled. I pull my chair closer to her and hold her hand tightly.
"Okaasan, please," I whisper. "Please take my kidney. I don't care if it'll hurt. I just... I..."
She strokes my hand. "Rika, there's a lot of things you don't know about organ transplants," she says, her tone light. "For one thing, there's a very high chance of rejection. Even if we're mother and daughter, that doesn't guarantee we'll be a match."
"Can't they find out?" I ask, looking up at her pleadingly.
"And for another thing," Okaasan continues, looking at me with a wistful expression, "you have to be at least fifteen to be a donor."
"No." My hand tightens around Okaasan's, hard. She winces slightly. "No!" I protest, my voice rising. "I'm not going to let some stupid rule"
"It's not a stupid rule, Rika," Okaasan says, her face still slightly pinched with pain. "It's the law."
The law. I slump back in my seat, relaxing my grip on Okaasan's hand. I... I know I can't do anything about the law. But... fifteen? I won't be fifteen for almost two years! Okaasan... You're not going to last that long, are you?
"Rika," she says, softly, as the tears finally burst free from inside me, spilling down my cheeks. "Rika, I'm sorry. Come here. Come here and let me hold you."
I climb onto the bed, almost blindly, and let her fold me into her arms. She holds my head against her shoulder, stroking my hair as I cry.
"It'll be all right," she murmurs to me. "I'm on a donor waiting list, remember. We just have to be patient. We just have to wait."
"That doesn't mean we stop living," Okaasan says. I feel her voice penetrating me as I huddle there in her embrace. "We hope for tomorrow, but we remember where our feet are. We're here, Rika. It's today. And if we spend all of today hoping for tomorrow or regretting yesterday, then today is wasted."
"It's... today," I mumble, reluctantly loosening my hold on her. She squeezes me once, then lets me go. I sit back, wiping embarrassedly at my eyes.
"It's today, and we're both here." Okaasan smiles. "And I love you, Rika. Thank you."
"You... you're welcome," I mutter, awkwardly. My plan... my hope for tomorrow. It's gone.
"Now let's be cheerful," Okaasan suggests. "No more regrets."
I look around the room, wondering. What does Okaasan have to be cheerful about? Everything's white. The only splashes of colour in here are the flowers in the vase, the spines of the books on Okaasan's shelf... and Okaasan herself. She's wearing sky blue pyjamas today, which make her complexion seem even paler. Even the heart pendant seems diminished. It doesn't seem to shine as brightly.
"What do you do all day, Okaasan?" I ask, my voice dull.
"Oh, I read a bit," Okaasan says, vaguely. "I think about you and Sara-chan, and Otousan. Every couple of days, I... I have dialysis. It..." She pauses, her eyes shadowed. "It hurts a little. But I always have something to look forward to. I can think about the afternoon, when the door will open, and you'll come in, or Bro..."
She blinks, startled. "What did I say? Otousan. I meant Otousan."
"Is... is that what you used to call him, Okaasan? When you were growing up?"
There's a nostalgic smile on her face. "Yes. I... I guess I still think of him that way sometimes. Being here in the hospital just reminds me of those days so much..."
"And what did he call you?"
"Only 'Kana'," she says, quietly. "He still only calls me that. He says it's all he needs. No titles, no endearments. I'm just Kana to him. I'm his Kana." Her eyes shine softly; her expression is sweet and blissful. "And... and though he doesn't know it... and I'll never tell him... he'll always be my Bro."
She closes her eyes, bringing her hand up to cover the heart pendant. Her fingers close weakly around it. Her lips move soundlessly for a few moments. I watch her raptly. This... this is love. This is the love Okaasan has for Otousan.
This is Okaasan's heart.
Slowly, Okaasan comes back to reality. She opens her eyes, and there's peace in there again a serenity that spreads from her into me and soothes my heart. She smiles.
"So... what do you want to do when you get out of the hospital, Okaasan?" I ask, determined to keep the mood positive.
"Hmm." Okaasan considers. "Well... I'd like to write another book."
"You wrote a book?"
"Two of them, in fact." Okaasan smiles. "Back when you were very young."
I knew Okaasan works at a bookstore, but I had no idea she'd actually written books of her own. The thought surprises me a little. "Why only two?" I ask. "Why not more?"
"Well, I wanted to," she says, "but then Sara-chan came along. She kept us very busy, and I never had the time to sit down and think about it. I... I do think I want to write a third one, Rika. A very different story. For Sara-chan... and for you. Something about magic, and the power of a wish..." She stares into space for a moment, lost in thought.
"Can... can I read the ones you've written?" I ask, eagerly.
"I... I don't know, Rika," Okaasan says. "They're... they're not really for children."
"You mean there's naughty bits in them?"
She blushes faintly. "Well, yes. There are. But that's not what I meant."
"Well, what did you mean?"
"They're... they're about love. And you haven't been in love yet, Rika. I'm worried that you might have trouble understanding it."
"Has Otousan read them?"
"Oh, yes." She nods, smiling again. "In fact, he was the one who encouraged me to write them. I didn't think it was worth trying, really."
"Did he like them?" I persist.
"He did. He loved them. In fact, he said"
"Good morning, Kana-san!" A nurse comes bustling into the room; I think her name is Akiko. She smiles at me. "Hello, Rika-chan."
"Hi," I mutter in return. I hop down off the bed and turn around... to find that all the happiness has been wiped from Okaasan's face. She's staring at Akiko... and she looks almost afraid.
"It's time for dialysis now, Kana-san," Akiko says, gently. "Come on; we'll get you set up. Did you want to bring anything with you today?"
Okaasan just shakes her head, mutely. Akiko smiles, moving forward to take Okaasan's hand.
"Come on," she repeats, encouragingly. "Rika-chan will be back this afternoon as usual. The sooner we start, the sooner we're done."
Okaasan's shoulders tremble. The expression on her face changes; she looks like she's in pain. Tears start welling in her eyes.
Does she cry at night, when no-one's here to see? Does she cry all alone?
"Can I... can I come with you, Okaasan?" I ask, suddenly.
She stares at me, startled, as if she'd forgotten I was here. "Oh, Rika," she says, shakily. "Um... no. That's okay. I'm sure Sara-chan will be expecting you. And I'll see you this afternoon..."
"Oh... okay." I stand there and watch as Akiko helps Okaasan out of the room, carefully guiding the IV stand in front of them. My heart is pounding. It's almost hurting me.
I'll help you, Okaasan. I don't know how. But I'll help you.
I'm back home again after visiting Sara-chan. She was happy to see me, as always. We talked and we played some games. It was fun. The only bad moment was when she asked me about Okaasan. What was I supposed to say? 'I saw Okaasan crying today'?
I told her that Okaasan is fine, and that she's feeling better. I hated myself for lying. But Sara-chan has enough problems as it is. Her doctor told Otousan that Sara will have to start dialysis soon as well. As if the endless tests and stays in hospital aren't enough! Sara-chan always smiles, though. I have to put a brave face on everything for her, to keep her smiling.
It's late afternoon and, as usual, no-one is home except me. But there are still plenty of chores to get done.
Out on the balcony, I heap some laundry into the washing machine and get it started. It's hard getting clothes to dry properly in winter; I don't know how Okaasan managed it. The wind is so frigid that it doesn't do anything to dry the clothes, and it rains so often that the clothes sometimes end up wetter than when I hung them out.
Heading back inside, I haul out the vacuum cleaner. I start with the dining area first, then the living area. Then I move out into the corridor, vacuuming up and down the hallway.
I pause outside their room, thumbing the switch to turn the vacuum off. It whirs softly as it dies. I look through the open doorway at their bed. Otousan and Okaasan.
Brother and sister.
They were brought up as brother and sister, though they're not actually related. Okaasan told me that when I turned twelve. She said she thought I was finally old enough to know. Sara-chan still wouldn't understand. I'm not sure I understand it myself, to be honest.
I look at them and I can't see a brother and sister. I only see my parents, two people who love each other. They smile at each other and they hold hands, and they go to bed at the same time, when they're both here.
Until today, I couldn't even imagine Okaasan calling him her brother. He's my father. She's my mother.
"Bro." I whisper the word as I stare at their bed. They grew up together, like Sara-chan and me. They've loved each other for such a very long time. And us they've loved me and Sara-chan all our lives. I remember crawling into bed between them, snuggling up in the warmth, with Okaasan on one side and Otousan on the other. Their arms crossing, enclosing me.
When was the last time I did that? When was the last time we were all together here?
Okaasan laughing and calling out, "Welcome back!" from the kitchen. Otousan picking me up and hugging me so tight that I'd start getting short of breath. Okaasan coming up to the two of us and kissing Otousan's cheek, then mine. Wrapping her arms around me. Holding me tight, and loving me. Loving me with all the warmth in her heart.
Okaasan... you're never coming back here, are you?
You're never coming back.
I don't know where I'm running. I only know that I am running. I throw the front door open and tear out into the hallway, trying to outdistance the heaviness trailing behind me. The feeling that wants to catch up with me and dive into my chest and start filling me until my heart bursts. I can't cry in front of Okaasan and Otousan. I have to be strong. But Okaasan's sick, and Sara's sick, and...
"What's wrong, Rika-san?"
I barely realise that I'm pressed up against someone until I hear his voice. I wasn't looking where I was going; I'm not even sure where I am. I stare up, frantically, not pulling away. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, whoever you are. But I... but I can't let go...
It's Watanabe-san. The sight of his face sends a shock of relief through me.
"Rika-san," he repeats, looking down at me worriedly. "Are you okay?"
No. No, I'm not! I've come to a stop. The feeling's caught up with me. It's there in my chest, throbbing and aching. Hurting me. And... and I'm crying. I'm sobbing like a child.
"Otousan says we're poor," I blubber. "I'm... I'm not old enough to give Okaasan my kidney. The washing doesn't get dry. Sara-chan is so sick and so brave. And I... I can't do anything..."
"It's all right, Rika-san." He puts his arms around me, holding me close. He smells of cigarette smoke and deodorant. It's nothing like Otousan's presence.
"It's not!" I scream, muffled by his shirt. "I said I can't do anything! Nothing! There's nothing I can do for any of them, and I"
"Hush." He crouches down next to me and puts one finger on my lips, silencing me. With the other hand, he gently strokes my cheek, lifting the tears away with his thumb.
I stare at him. He's so gentle. So warm. He's looking at me... He's looking at me like he loves me. And I have to talk to someone...
"WWatanabe-san..." I stammer, as he just crouches there, looking at me.
"Rika-san," he says, sympathetically. "You're freezing. Come on. I'll make you some tea."
I... I want to go with him. I want to know that somebody cares. That somebody can take care of me. But... no. No, you're not a part of my family! You can't understand!
"No." I gulp, sniffling. "No... ththank you, Watanabe-san. I... I can't."
I pull away from the touch of his hands and sprint blindly away from him. I feel... wrong. Something feels wrong.
Winter drags on. The holidays end, and school starts up again. Muzai-kun tries to talk to me between classes, but I never have much to say. I don't feel strong anymore. I couldn't help Okaasan. There was one thing I could have done for her, but it wasn't allowed. I'm helpless.
This must be how Otousan feels. I get so tired now. It's hard to find enough time in the day to visit Okaasan, then visit Sara-chan, then do my homework and the chores and the cooking. I'm going to bed later and later, and the sleep never does me any good. Because Sara-chan isn't there. And Okaasan isn't there with Otousan. We're both alone.
Winter is halfway over now. It feels like it's been here forever. Maybe this year things will get better. Maybe Sara-chan will get out of the hospital, and Okaasan will get her transplant. Just hold on. The days will get longer, Okaasan. There'll be blue skies and green leaves again. I'm sure there will.
Just hold on.
Then, one night, the phone rings. It jars me out of my restless sleep. I roll over, muttering to myself, as Otousan stumbles down the corridor. He answers the phone. His voice is too low for me to hear anything. Who'd be calling at this hour? It's impolite. Otousan doesn't sound angry, though. He speaks in low, even tones. He speaks for quite a while.
I'm just starting to drift off again when Otousan comes into the room. He snaps on the light, and I protest feebly, pulling the covers over my head.
"Rika," he says, softly.
"Go 'way," I grumble at him. "It's two thirty, 'tousan..."
"Rika, that was the hospital."
Sara-chan? Okaasan? I sit up straight in bed, forced to squint at him in the bright artificial light.
"Otousan?" I ask, anxiously.
"Okaasan just had another heart attack," Otousan says. "It was... a bad one. Get dressed."
I don't even need to listen to know what he's going to say next. I slide out of bed, my heart pounding, and reach for my clothes with shaking hands.
"It's time," Otousan says.
Taka says a final farewell, in Thank You.