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 8. This story follows 'Somewhere, I Sleep Alone'.
It's the end of another school day, and I'm shuffling across the school yard, spiritless. All around me, other students are walking past, chattering brightly, bundled up in scarves and gloves against the bitter cold. At least, they seem to think it's cold. I'm not sure of it, myself. I'm not sure of anything right now.
I don't particularly remember how I got here to school today, or what happened in class. All I know is that it's somewhere to be. Somewhere away from the empty apartment and Otousan. I love him. I do. And it's not that I resent doing... what I'm doing. Not for him.
But I'm a little scared.
"Hey, Rika-san, are you okay?"
"Huh?" I look sideways, surprised to find Muzai-kun there, walking along next to me. His breath is misting in the cold air. There's an eager smile on his face.
"You finally noticed me," he says, and laughs. "You've had your head in the clouds for the past few days, Rika-san. Any particular reason?"
I shake my head. "No. I guess I'm just not feeling well."
He looks surprised when we turn right at the school gate. "Sara-chan isn't back at school yet? She's still not well?"
"Nobody's well," I murmur, dragging my feet as we walk along the footpath. It's a more direct route home this way; picking up Sara-chan always complicates things. Should I be glad that she's still in the hospital? Should I be glad that my life is easier?
Muzai-kun doesn't say anything for a couple of minutes. He just keeps pace with me as I stumble along. I have to get home and see how Otousan is doing; I don't have time to visit Sara-chan today. They both need me, but there's only so much I can do. I'm not Okaasan, after all.
"So, um... Rika-san," Muzai-kun says, bravely. "School will be ending in a few weeks. The soccer club is having one last meeting to celebrate, and to make plans for next year. We... we're going to go get hamburgers, and... um..."
"Soccer club," I repeat, dully. Soccer is the last thing on my mind. Sara-chan is still sick. She needs me.
I'll see Okaasan soon! You won't stop me, will you, Oneechan? You won't mind?
My imouto-chan wishes she could die, and you're talking to me about soccer club.
"I... I know you haven't been a club member for a while now, but..." Muzai-kun hesitates as he looks across at me. "But you still know everyone there. And maybe next year, you could join up again. I know that everyone else would"
"I'm busy," I mumble. "Sara-chan keeps me very busy."
"Yes, I know," he says, looking disappointed. "But you managed to do it before. You can bring her to club meetings, the way you used to. She could even join in, if she"
"She's not well!" I snap at him. "Hasn't that sunk in yet? Haven't I told you that enough times, Muzai-kun? Hasn't it sunk into your head that Sara-chan isn't well?"
He pulls back from me, taken aback. "Ri... Rika-san..." he stammers. "I'm sorry. I... I just thought"
"You didn't think at all!" I seethe. "You're a child, Muzai-kun! You're nothing but a pathetic little child!"
And then, as he just stands there, utterly shocked, I sprint away from him. I leave him behind.
A child. You don't know what it means to grow up, Muzai-kun. Do you know what it's like to watch your okaasan die? Do you know how it feels when your imouto-chan tells you she wants to leave you? After everything you've done for her, after you've tried so hard to make things better for her, for everyone? And... and have you ever had to shut down your life for the people you love?
For Otousan. For Sara-chan. I want to go back to soccer club, Muzai-kun. I want Sara-chan back in my room with me, and I want Otousan to be my otousan again, not my
I don't even know who he is anymore! I don't know who I am. All I know is that I'm so lonely. When I'm with him at night, when he has his arms around me, is he touching Okaasan, or is he touching me? Is there a difference anymore? I don't know! I can't tell...
When was the last time he called my name? What is my name?
I'm not strong enough for this. It... it hurts too much. I can't be Okaasan. I can't take her place. And it scares me when I feel this way... even though I don't know how I feel. But when I look at Otousan... I just want to look after him. But I also want... I...
Otousan, please. Just call my name again.
Otousan is lying on the couch, asleep. I'm sitting at the dining table with Otousan's wallet in front of me. There's no money left in there. Otousan hasn't gone to work for more than a week. The people there stopped calling a few days ago. That can't be a good sign.
There's no food in the apartment, and no warmth. The emptiness is spreading. I never realised how much Okaasan brought in here with her even in winter, she somehow managed to keep things feeling bright. Her smile, her cheerful voice. The loving warmth of her presence. As simple as that. She made it feel like home. She loved all of us.
And now she's gone.
There's so much more to looking after people than just feeding them and washing their clothes and making sure they take a bath. You have to look after their hearts as well. You have to give and give and give...
Okaasan, I'm sorry. I never knew it was so hard. I thought... I thought you were letting us down when you weren't here. I thought I could do so much better than you. But you loved us. Even when you were exhausted from working all day, you'd walk in the door and you'd love us. And here I am, and I can't even keep food in the refrigerator. There's no money. And... and even if I took Otousan to the automatic teller and asked him to get more... I'm not sure he'd remember how.
I do have a little bit of money in my savings account. Maybe I could
The phone rings loudly, jarring me out of my thoughts. I scramble to pick it up before the noise wakes up Otousan.
"Yes?" I say, a bit breathlessly. "Hello?"
"Good afternoon! May I speak to Taka Todo, please?"
"He's, um... not here at the moment," I say, with a guilty look over at Otousan. "Can I take a message?"
"I'm calling from Morioka-sensei's clinic about Todo-san's account," the woman says. "Todo-san mentioned that he might have some difficulty paying promptly for his sessions, but it's been three weeks since the most recent one, and"
"Sessions?" I interrupt, blankly. "What sessions?"
The woman hesitates. "Morioka-sensei is a psychiatric counsellor. Todo-san has been seeing him for the past three months on a regular basis. I'm not permitted to say more than"
Psychiatric counsellor. Otousan isn't acting like himself. Could... could this Morioka-sensei help him?
"Please," I whisper, desperately. "Can you make an appointment for Otousan to see Morioka-sensei?"
She hesitates again. "I'm afraid it's the policy of this clinic not to see patients whose accounts are overdue. We've been making exceptions in Todo-san's case, but it's reached the stage where"
"I'll get you the money," I promise, without thinking. "Will you see him?"
"Let's see..." I hear the tapping of keys at the other end. "I can schedule you in for an appointment next Thursday, at two fifteen. But I must warn you that if the account hasn't been paid by then"
"It will be!" I tell her. "I'll see to it. Thursday at two fifteen. Thank you."
I slam the phone down before she can say anything more. Otousan! You'll be better soon. The sensei will see to that!
The dresser in the bedroom is where Otousan and Okaasan keep all their bills and correspondence. I leap to a halt in front of it, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I give myself a big grin, and the other Rika grins back. Then we both bend down and start searching through the drawers.
Okaasan's little jewellery box is in the top drawer. My heart twinges when I see Okaasan's gold pendant lying there, not even put away properly. Tossed inside, seemingly at random. She always wore it. Otousan gave it to her, with all his heart... and now it's hidden away in a drawer.
Reluctantly, I close the drawer again. The second drawer is filled with odds and ends old photos, school report cards and various ticket stubs from the zoo, the amusement park, the aquarium and so on. Okaasan liked to collect things like that. She called it her drawer of memories.
At the bottom, there's an old photo that I haven't seen before. It's a picture of Otousan and Okaasan, standing side by side. They're very young; they're both wearing high school uniforms. Otousan looks quiet and reserved, but Okaasan has a bright smile on her face. She's so small and skinny, and so much shorter than he is. She's got her arm linked with his as she looks right at the camera. She looks so happy. They look like they belong together.
I put the photo on top of the dresser, feeling even heavier now. Okaasan was so pretty. And Otousan... Looking at him makes my heart start hurting again. He needs me. My poor otousan.
The bottom drawer of the dresser is filled with correspondence. Most of it has been neatly unfolded and set in orderly piles, but there's a whole heap of unopened envelopes on top. Several months' worth. I sort through them, looking for one from Morioka-sensei. There's five or six of them, a couple with the word 'URGENT' stamped on them. I take one of the 'URGENT' ones and tear it open.
From the dates, it seems that Otousan started going to see Morioka-sensei after Okaasan started getting sick again. Through all of autumn and some of the winter, he saw the counsellor every week. Then he stopped. Maybe he was too busy at work by then, or maybe... No. That was when Sara-chan went into hospital. He didn't have enough time to see Morioka-sensei anymore. Enough time... or enough money.
Otousan. No wonder you always looked so tired. Why... why didn't you tell me? I would have tried to help you. I... I could have...
I blink, hard, and scan further down the page. The total due is listed at the bottom, in bold type. And... and there's no way I could ever find that much money. Not if I emptied my bank account ten times over.
I lean forward on the dresser, heavily. There has to be something I can do. Some way I can help Otousan. Look at you, Otousan. Look at you in high school, with Okaasan clinging to your side. Even then, you still looked like you were carrying someone else's burden. You were devoted to Okaasan.
Okaasan's features start to blur. Is it her... or is it me? Am I the one standing there at Otousan's side? I've taken her place in so many ways. Why not this way too?
In the mirror, I can see the bed behind me. The bed I share with Otousan. The room is dimly lit; the curtains are only partly open. Everything's shadowy. My reflection. The photo in front of me. The small collection of perfume bottles and makeup that sit on the dresser. Everything's hazy.
Before I even realise what I'm doing, I've pulled off the top of my school uniform and tossed it aside. I stand there in the gloom, staring at my reflection. I bring my hands up tentatively to touch my breasts, feeling fluttery inside again. Remembering Otousan's hands on them, through my pyjamas. Are they... are they growing? Are they big enough?
I reach out and take one of the perfume bottles. I spray Okaasan's favourite fragrance lightly over my neck and my breasts. I stand up straight, shivering, looking at my reflection. Otousan. Am I... am I good enough for you? Can I do this for you?
Otousan holds me. He kisses me. I would... I'd even let him... if he wanted...
It's not enough. I tear myself away from the mirror and throw the closet open. Okaasan's clothes are still hanging in there; I grab a white linen blouse and thrust my arms into the sleeves. I pull it on, not bothering to button it, and look at myself again. The blouse helps, even unbuttoned as it is. But I still don't look like Okaasan. Something's missing.
I pull the top drawer open and snatch the heart pendant from inside. Leaning forward, I draw the chain around my neck and fumble with the tiny catch. How... how did she do this so easily? It's so small. I... I can't
I jolt upright again, my heart pounding. Otousan is standing there in the doorway, looking shocked. The sight of him sends a surge through me.
"Bro," I whisper, lovingly. I want him to hold me. I want him to love me. I turn to him, my hands still locked behind my neck.
I take a step towards him.
"What are you doing?" he demands. "Why are you... why are you dressed like that?"
"It's for you," I say, softly. The catch finally slips into place. I bring my arms down, reaching out to him. Okaasan's blouse falls open, hanging loosely around me. "Bro, please... let me love you. It's me," I tell him, as he blinks uncertainly. "It's Kana."
"Kana," he mumbles, then shakes his head. "No. No, Rika. Stop it, Rika. Take... take that pendant off. Please take it off."
"I just want you to love me," I say, pleadingly. "Please, Otousan... please just love me...?"
"Take it off!" he barks.
"Otousan..." I stare at him, my resolve starting to crumble.
"Now, Rika!" he screams.
Rika. I'm... I'm Rika.
The moment snaps. I claw blindly at the chain. The catch finally comes loose, and the pendant falls to the floor between us.
"I... I'm sorry, Otousan," I blubber, as tears surge into my eyes. "I... I didn't mean to do anything bad. I... I just... You miss Okaasan, and I... That's all I can..."
"You're not Kana," he says. His voice is still hazy, a bit confused. But clearer.
No, I'm not Kana. Because Kana's dead. Okaasan's dead!
I run past him, sobbing helplessly. I'm not Okaasan! I can't be Okaasan to him. I... I can't be anything to him...
Watanabe-san looks surprised to see me as he opens his door. He looks down at me a little girl playing dress-up, wearing her mommy's perfume and her mommy's clothes. His gaze drifts down, then up again.
"Rika-san?" he asks again, as I stare up at him, sniffling. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Money," I blurt. "I need money to pay Morioka-sensei so Otousan can get well again. I don't have enough money, and you said if I ever needed anything, and I know it's a lot to ask, but please, could I"
"Hey," he says, gently. "Hey, slow down, Rika-san."
"I'm... I'm sorry." I stop, forcing myself to breathe more slowly. "But... but if you could just lend me some money... or if there's a way you know that I could earn some... Please, it's... desperate. I'll do anything." I choke back my tears, forcing back the memory of Otousan's face. He yelled at me. He... he didn't want me. "Otousan needs my help..."
"I see," he says, gravely. He looks at me hesitantly for a moment at my tear-stained cheeks and my trembling shoulders. And then, tentatively, he reaches out to the front of my blouse, watching my face. When I don't react, he slowly draws it open. He looks in at me, at my bare skin, and I can't do anything to stop him.
"Please..." I beg, brokenly, feeling my cheeks flush. "Please let me help my otousan..."
His voice is soft. "I can help you, Rika-san," he says. "I know people who would pay a lot of money to see you. All the money you could possibly want. Just to let them look at you, like this."
"What... what would I have to do?" I ask, blankly.
"Well, before we get to that, I have to find out how you'd rate." The expression on his face is hungry as he reaches out and pulls back the other side of my blouse, baring both of my breasts to his gaze. My entire body starts to tremble. It makes my heart ache, letting him look at me like this. I hang my head, closing my eyes. Letting the tears stream down my cheeks.
I... I have to do this. Otousan. The money for Morioka-sensei. It's all I can do.
"Come inside, Rika-san," he says. "I'll get my camera, and we'll take some audition shots. No, don't close it," he says, as I reflexively start pulling the blouse shut again. He reaches in. His finger gently strokes my nipple. I bite back the urge to scream.
I just nod, silently, and follow Watanabe-san inside. He closes the door behind me.
Rika finally accepts what she's lost, in One Love.