I had a dream.
It was a particularly unique, recurring dream; as if it’s my distant memory, lost long, long time ago.
I was in a field of flowers. Sunflowers.
The breeze was soft, the sun was warm, the birds were chirping merrily and the flowers were dancing playfully with the breeze.
But slowly a man faded into my sight, he appeared in front of me with a straw hat covering his face, passing the hand of a little girl to me. The girl is almost the same height as me. 8, or 9 years old; so was I.
“Your turn. Take care of Kumiko,” the man said.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I need to settle something for the sake of my family,” he said. “Don’t worry, you know me: I won’t die that easily.”
He bumped his fist with me, as he handed me Kumiko who was already on the edge of crying.
“Be careful,” I said.
“But I want to stay with you, big brother,” the girl said, gripping the man’s shirt tightly. “Please don’t leave me behind.”
The man smiled and patted her head. “It’s ok, Kumiko. Once I’ve finished my things, we can be together as long as you want. Forever. I’ll watch you grow up to be a beautiful lady, a kind mother, and a loveable grandmother. Ok?”
The man, one by one, released her tiny fingers, her grip on him. He smiled again at her before leaving us.
She started to cry, as she tried to run towards him, but I held her back. She started to knock at my arm with her little fists. “Let go! Let go! You bad guy! I don’t want you!”
I hugged her as she continued to hit me, and as the man slowly disappeared from our sight. She couldn’t stop sobbing, just as she couldn’t stop hitting, kicking me. I didn’t say a word but only hugged her. She tried to push me away, kicked me away, but I wouldn’t budge. Her tears flowed down to my cheeks as I wrapped her tightly in my arms.
“It’s ok. Punch me all you want. Cry as loud as you want.” I said.
“Bad guy! Bad guy! You took my brother away!”
Eventually, she stopped hitting me. She didn’t have the strength anymore, and could only cry. She cried louder, and louder right beside my ear, tearing the sky apart, silencing the whole flower field, telling the world how sad she was.
“… I’m sorry.”
I felt myself recalled back to reality.
“Shin,” someone called my name again.
I opened my eyes only to see Chiaki’s mother in her business suit, standing in front of her room’s door.
“I knocked, and there was no answer, so—” she paused at me.
I turned my head to Chiaki.
She hugged me, like a bear hugging its honey jar. Both her legs entangle and trapped my left leg in between them, and her hands are wrapped around my left arm, with her breasts pressing on it. She was practically sticking on me. She thought I was her dragon plush.
“Umm…” I looked at her mother, “This is not what you thought it is, Chiaki’s mother. She was just tired last night while reading, so she slept on the table, and somehow hugged me while I was asleep.”
“Mmmm,” Chiaki mumbled, as she hugged me tighter, pulling herself closer to me. “You smell nice.”
Her mom chuckled. “That sounds like what Chiaki would do. But between you and I, it’s better to not let her father see you both in this state. Her father also has black belt in Judo, you know.”
“Well then,” Chiaki’s mom started to close the door. “I’ll leave you two youngsters alone, but be sure to come down in the next five minutes.”
“Yeah, umm… sure.”
The door was then shut.
I tried to move myself out of Chiaki’s grip but to no avail. She has much more strength than I imagined. She was drooling.
“Chiaki,” I softly called out, shaking her shoulder. “Wake up.”
She mumbled something again, refusing to let go. Her slender legs tightened their grip.
“Chiaki,” I called her name again. “As much as I’m enjoying this, I don’t want your father breaking my arm if he saw us like this.”
“Hmmm?” her saliva slipped down from my arm, as she opened one of her eyes. “Shin?”
Then she looked at her sleeping position, and at my slightly red face. Her eyes widened.
“Chiaki. Calm down.”
She immediately let go of my arms and kicked me away. She turned her head away from me, gripping her blanket. “Did you see it?!”
She wiped her mouth.
I instantly realized something, “No.”
She shot a deadly look at me. “Really?”
“Get out, I want to change.”
I walked myself out of her room, and she slammed the door behind me. Her face was as red as an apple.
I paused in front of her door. If I were to go down to the kitchen casually now, it’d be really awkward.
“Chiaki,” I knocked on her door. “Is there a bathroom I can use on this floor?”
“The end of the hallway!” she yelled.
And so, I went in to refresh myself, and to tidy up my bed hair. It was after I looked into the mirror then I realized my eyes were a bit red, as if I cried in my dreams. I rinsed my face again, and slapped myself on both my cheeks. I have not seen Chiaki’s parents for quite some time now. If I were to get permission, I needed to give my best impression. Well, to her father at least.
I fixed my shirt and practiced a few greetings in front of the mirror. This is my chance.
“Shin,” Chiaki knocked on the door. “We should go down now.”
“Ok,” I said, turning off the basin tap.
“I’m ready.” I said to myself.
“What?” Chiaki asked on the other side of the door.
“Nothing,” I said as I opened the door.
Chiaki stood in front of me with her casual clothes, and I noticed some of her hairs near her left ear were entangled with each other.
“Your hair, don’t move,” I said as I gently swiped her hairs around her ear to untangle them.
I then smiled at her. “There. All better. Now we really should go—”
She suddenly kissed my cheek, before turning away from me.
“Thanks,” she said, as she started to walk down the stairs.
I swiftly followed her down, touching the kiss she left on my cheek.
Her parents were already sitting on the kitchen table when we came to join them.
Chiaki sat in front of her mother, so I took my seat in front of her father who was reading the newspaper, and upon seeing me, he put it away.
“Thanks for the meal,” Chiaki said, ready to eat.
Her mother added a tempura in her bowl of rice.
I just sat there silently because her father had not taken his eyes off me since I sat down at the table.
“Shin,” he called me, in his deep fatherly voice. “Long time no see. How are your parents?”
“Oh, they are fine, thank you. ” I said, trying to not give in to his intense ‘I will choke you if I see you touching Chiaki’ aura.
“So, were you sleeping with my daughter?”
Chiaki choked on her rice, and her mom elbowed her father.
“Dad,” Chiaki called out.
“Were you, Shin?”
“I was,” I said. “But we didn’t do anything indecent, she only fell asleep on my arm because she was too tired.”
“And could you explain why you were here, at midnight yesterday?”
I couldn’t say anything. It was indeed selfish of me, and I can’t explain the reason to them.
“If our neighbor happened to see Chiaki inviting a stranger into the house in the middle of the night. What would they think? Do you think it’s fair to her?”
I crossed my eyes with her father’s. “Chiaki didn—"
I took a deep, calm breath.
“Then I will take full responsibility,” I said. “If your daughter, Chiaki’s pride was tarnished in any way, I will take care of her. No, I want you to let me take care of her. I want to be there when she’s happily enjoying her books, I want to be there when she can’t solve something by herself, I want to be there when she needs someone to talk to, when she wants to cry, when she wants to share her joy.”
“No,” I said, standing up. “I will be there for her.”
I bowed down to Chiaki’s mother and father. “So please, let me take care of your daughter.”
“… Oh, my,” her mother said.
“Shin… can you guarantee that you won’t hurt her?”
“No, I—I can’t guarantee you that, Chiaki’s father. We might have fights, we might argue and said something stupid to each other… but I promise. I promise no matter how many fights we have, I will make her smile in the end. I will… never give up. Not anymore. Not now. Not ever.”
The kitchen fell into silence after my last sentence. Tension slowly filled the air surrounding all four of us as I waited for his reply.
“… Very well, I give you my permission, Shin,” her father said. “However, it’s under the condition that my daughter herself would want to choose you.”
I raised my head a bit and looked at Chiaki.
She was looking at me, with a surprised face; she was likely taken aback by my outburst. But I didn’t want to drag our relationship anymore.
She looked at me, but no words came out from her mouth for a full second. Was I… too reckless to advance our relationship? That, she wasn’t ready? I didn’t even get a chance to ask her how she felt about us. Would she feel insulted with the way I handled this?
“Give—Give me some time,” Chiaki said, flustered, looking at her rice with a tempura. “I want to sort out my feelings first. I want… some time alone to think. About our future.”
“Then,” Chiaki’s mother cut in. “I think it’d be best if you leave first, Shin. You two are meeting tonight anyway, right?”
Chiaki’s father stood up, as he led me to the main door.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Chiaki’s mom,” I said as I followed him. I didn’t get to have a final look at Chiaki.
Her father opened the door, invited me out, and closed the door behind him as he looked at me.
“You’re a big adult now, Shin,” he said as he tapped my shoulder. “Last time I saw you, you were like—” he lowered his other hand to the level of his waist “—this tall.”
I chuckled. This is the first time I see his transition from a stern and serious father to a talkative and friendly one. He was always that one dangerous-looking dad which no child dared to approach.
“Do you want me to drive you home?” he asked.
“No. It’s ok. I can walk home, it’s not that far,” I said. “Thank you for having me over, Chiaki’s dad.”
He let go of my shoulder as I bowed.
Then, before I took my leave, he offered me a hug.
And, I accepted, reluctantly.
“Thank you for being with her, while we were busy, Shin. Chiaki’s mother and I sometimes had to work on holidays and weekends as well. So, we tried to spend some quality time with her whenever we could, and most often, your name would come up when she talked to us. It’s reassuring to know that you feel the same way about her as well, and are willing to protect her.”
He patted my back as he continued to hug me. A neighbor walking his dog passed by and looked at us weirdly.
“If she allows,” he continued. “I hope you continue to stay by her side, and create many precious moments with her. She’s our only daughter, Shin. You know what that means, right?”
I nodded my head.
Then, he relaxed his hug and let me go. “Send my regards to your parents. Chiaki’s mother and I will visit them soon.”
I bowed once again at him. “Thank you, Chiaki’s father.”
Then, he just made a single wave at me as I started to walk down the street, heading back to my home.
I looked at my watch.
Last morning of the year.