Chapter 7:

Book Nerds

Second Chances

“Shin.”Bookmark here

The street back to my home is empty.Bookmark here

“Shin.”Bookmark here

Only a few street lights are shining in this dark, chilly night.Bookmark here

“Shin.”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“Are you feeling better now?” Chiaki asked, walking beside me, awaiting my answer as she looked at me.Bookmark here

“Yes,” I pinched her cheek.Bookmark here

As usual, she slapped my hand away playfully. “Good then,” she replied.Bookmark here

“Shin!” Suddenly I heard my mother yelling my name at a distance, standing in front of our house’s entrance, cheerfully waving at me. “Shinnn!”Bookmark here

“Mom,” I shout back. “It’s cold outside, at least put on a scarf.”Bookmark here

“Welcome home,” she said, with her gentle smile.Bookmark here

“I’m back,” I replied.Bookmark here

Her toes are a bit red with her wearing slippers only, and her nose as well. She’s also slightly clenching her fists; she must had been waiting outside for us, at least for the past 15 minutes.Bookmark here

“Shin’s mom,” Chiaki rushed to her as she took off her blue jacket. She then wrapped it across my mother’s shoulder and covered her back. “Let’s go inside.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Chiaki,” my mother nodded, as Chiaki led her back in.Bookmark here

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After I washed my face and hands, I sat in front of our square dining table with four seats. Chiaki offered to help my mother in heating up the dishes, so I just sat there, without anything to do.Bookmark here

I looked at my watch.Bookmark here

8:33PM.Bookmark here

I then set a timer again to 12:00AM.Bookmark here

I stood up from my seat and helped them serve our dinner to the table.Bookmark here

After everything’s set, Chiaki sat beside me, as my mother sat in front of me.Bookmark here

“Thank you for the meals,” Chiaki and I said before digging into our dinner. My long-awaited dinner. Vegetable and seafood tempura, ramen, deep-fried pork cutlet, and sushi. As always, a weird combination.Bookmark here

Chiaki started coughing, as I saw a half-eaten tempura in between her chopsticks. So it’s tempura this time. Her face is a bit red; she looks kind of cute.Bookmark here

“Oh dear, are you ok?” my mother asked.Bookmark here

I went and poured her a glass of water. “Are you ok?”Bookmark here

She only nodded as she drank it.Bookmark here

“Is the tempura too salty?” my mother asked, as she took one and tested it.Bookmark here

She paused for a moment. “Too sweet.”Bookmark here

Chiaki nodded.Bookmark here

I chuckled.Bookmark here

“Shin, you shouldn’t laugh at your mom’s cooking,” my mother said.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry,” I said, as I continued to hold my laughter in.Bookmark here

“Sorry Chiaki,” my mother continued. “Maybe we shouldn’t eat the tempura.”Bookmark here

Chiaki shook her hands in denial. “No, it’s ok, Shin’s mom. Just that… It's been some time since someone cooked for me. So, that’s why… I might have rushed a bit in eating just now.”Bookmark here

“Oh?” my mother said. “You could come here anytime you want, Chiaki. We always have an extra pair of chopsticks.”Bookmark here

“Right, Shin?” my mother grinned at me. She probably thought that I brought Chiaki because of her nagging this morning.Bookmark here

“You could even be a permanent member of our household,” she said, with a soft voice. Bookmark here

I choked on my ramen.Bookmark here

I looked at Chiaki; she didn’t seem to hear it.Bookmark here

“What was that?” Chiaki asked.Bookmark here

“Nothing,” I said. “My mom is just glad to have you here.”Bookmark here

“Oh, thanks for having me, Shin’s mom.” Chiaki said.Bookmark here

“Yes. My son would be glad to have you,” my mother answered bluntly. “Say, Chiaki. Do you have a boyfriend?”Bookmark here

Chiaki choked on her tempura, as she quickly shook her head.Bookmark here

My mother passed me an obvious look: she shifted her eyes to her, and back to me. Back, and forth, trying to hint at me to confess without worrying.Bookmark here

I mouthed a “stop” at her.Bookmark here

She mouthed a “fine” back at me.Bookmark here

“Sorry Chiaki,” my mother said. “Shin’s the type that needed a push. When he was small, he planted a small tree in his kindergarten. But when his teacher asked who did it, he thought he did something wrong, and wouldn’t raise his hand up. He came home with a flustered face that day, and I had to accompany him to clear his misunderstanding with his teacher. Oh, he was so cute back then.”Bookmark here

Chiaki chuckled.Bookmark here

“Mom,” I said. “Can we not do this while I’m just sitting right in front of you?”Bookmark here

“But it’s true,” my mother said. “Right, Chiaki?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Chiaki looked at me. “It’s true.”Bookmark here

I felt my body heating up, as I continued to slurp my ramen.Bookmark here

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After about half an hour, I washed my bowl and plate, and was already heading upstairs for a bath while Chiaki and my mother were still chatting about my childhood at the table.Bookmark here

I took off my watch.Bookmark here

9:02PM.Bookmark here

3 hours left.Bookmark here

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After my bath, I walked past my mother’s room. She had a dress hanging outside of her closet. Is she planning to go somewhere tomorrow?Bookmark here

Without overthinking it, I went back to my room and napped for 10 minutes or so. Then, as I laid on my bed I heard a bunch of notification sounds from my phone. A pile of texts from Hideki came flooding in, asking if I’m free on New Year’s Eve, saying that he heard the shrine at my town has very effective amulets. He wanted to come.Bookmark here

I said yes.Bookmark here

It’s easier to handle them this way—if they are all within my reach.Bookmark here

After a few seconds, he replied to me with a ‘:)’.Bookmark here

“Shin,” Chiaki suddenly knocked on my door. “Can I come in?”Bookmark here

I changed my posture to sitting on my bed. “Yeah, sure.”Bookmark here

Then she opened the door; I stared at her, a bit surprised.Bookmark here

“Are you wearing my clothes?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Is it weird?” she said. “Your mom said I should bathe here before I go home, in case I catch a cold. I didn’t bring extra clothes with me, so…”Bookmark here

Even though she is only a bit shorter than I am, my white sweater looked quite big on her. The sleeves are longer than her jacket, enough to cover both her hands.Bookmark here

“Don’t stare at me like that,” she said, flustered as she turned her face away from me. “Is it that weird?”Bookmark here

“No, of course not. It suits you just fine,” I replied. “So, ummm… want to read some books?”Bookmark here

I gestured at my bookshelf: a whole collection of myths, mysteries, and miracles recorded around the world. Wow, I’m such a nerd.Bookmark here

“Is that… is that ‘Percy Jackson’?” she asked, as her eyes stopped at one section of my shelf. “You also read novels?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” I said. “I have all five of them. You can borrow them if you want.”Bookmark here

“Really?” she asked, now standing in front of my bookshelf and taking the first ‘Percy Jackson’ book out from it.Bookmark here

She then sat in front of the bookshelf and started to read. Her eyes locked on every word in the book, and some water droplets on her wet hair sparkled under my room’s ceiling lamp. Her mouth would always mumble something, when she read. It’s like she’s telling herself all these little stories that she has experienced before her eyes.Bookmark here

I stood up, grabbed a “Tales of Eros” and sat beside her.Bookmark here

My mother would be mad if she saw us like this. I bet she somehow persuaded Chiaki into my room, wearing my clothes, in order to motivate me to make a move. She’d never have thought we are just reading like this, like we are two 10-years-old children.Bookmark here

Chiaki leaned a bit towards me. Her wet hair rested on my shoulder, as she flipped the next page, eyes still locked on her book. I can smell the scent of my shampoo on her hair.Bookmark here

I didn’t open my book. I just sat there, beside her.Bookmark here

The room was quiet, devoid of any sound but her reading the stories quietly, and my heart thumping loudly.Bookmark here

I wished times like these would last forever.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.