Chapter 13:

A Family Thingy

Where The Sky Meets The Land

Deep inside, I felt ashamed. I wasn't doing anything wrong, and I never felt shy for introducing my little condo to my friends. I could even invite Sora in no matter how prosperous his life was, yet it was a special case for that Christmas Eve. I've never gotten enthralled during Christmas Eve as I was fully aware what day it was in my entire life, thus I've never decorated my condo as merry as other people's houses.

To me, it was wrong to celebrate Christmas Eve. I should be mourning over the passing of my birth mother. My father has divulged to me that she has fallen sick during December 24th, and she basically sacrificed herself in giving birth to me on December 25th.

The only thing my father was grateful for was that he had the chance to accompany my late mother during the birth. It was romantic, wasn't it? But it didn't matter to me nowadays. I still remember how I misconstrued that my father didn't love me because of leaving me at my grandparents' house during Christmas. I was ten years old when a disclosure was made that he was actually visiting my mother's grave and taking the whole day to cry his eyes out.

I never blamed my father for those hurtful days I've endured. He suffered a lot too. It wasn't anyone's fault to begin with.

Or if anyone was to bear the culpability on someone, I should be that someone.

"Riku! Happy birthday!"

I gasped in shock. I almost forgot that Sora, Auntie Junko and Butler Hanamaki were in my condo. They have just arrived and instantly, Butler Hanamaki decorated my small living room into a party. The last time I saw this scene was... when I was a little kid who loved spending my every single free time with neighbors of my age.

"Happy birthday, dear Riku!" Auntie Junko snuggled me into her arms. She squished her cheek into my crook of neck. "How happy I am to know that you've the same birth date as Sora!"

Well, I was surprised myself. I never encountered anyone with the same birthdate as mine though its significance as the closest date to Christmas. There were believably tones out there, yet I've never met one in my whole life. It was more surprising because that meant person was Sora, of all classmates I've acknowledged all these while.

"Yes, Riku! I'm glad that we can celebrate our birthdays and Christmas together onwards!" Sora joined his mother in cuddling me.

Others might say that it was just a common celebration hugs, but it was extremely warm to me. In the role of a growing teen longing for a dead mother, it was an action which stirred me inside. Auntie Junko did resemble a matured woman, aged a bit but still looked young, while Sora was at the same par as me. The similarities between us consistently added up the longer we befriended each other.

"Th- Thank you very much for coming. B- But I didn't prepare anything for this. I'm sorry," Together with stutters, I apologized for being inconsiderate towards my guests. I was the owner, hence I should be at least welcome them in.

Sora and Auntie Junko squeezed me tighter, laughing in contentment and... Proud. Their ecstasy corked in the hollow in me, diminishing the aperture this timid heart of mine has unconsciously nurtured since I was small. As if it was a paradoxically nightmare, I couldn't let these people slipped off my grasp. With trembling hands, I hugged them both.

I couldn't accept this just simply. This was way beyond a dream. I never hoped for anyone treating me this warm. They were wealthy, and rich people were supposed to be snobbish. But, these friendliness wasn't faked. They loved me dearly, I could feel that sensation.

"Riku, why are you crying?"

I sniffled in their arms, sobbing bitterly. I couldn't be happier than this. Auntie Junko broke the hug, gawking in amazement but then she loosened her frown. Sora's cheerfulness washed away with my hiccups, thus he nestled in my arms.

"Riku, don't cry or I will cry too," Sora stated, yet his shaking voice denoted his poignancy.

Eventually, I smiled in between my overflowing tears. These people acknowledged me the way I was. They loved me like I was their own family, which I found it fascinating. I accidentally wetted Sora's shirt, but he did on mine too so we were even.

"Riku," Auntie Junko grasped my hand once Sora and I untangled our embrace. "You can call me Mama, okay?"

At first, her voice resonated faintly in my ears. I've just gotten into my senses when Sora shook my other hand happily. "Sora, we're going to be siblings!"

"B- But why?" I really didn't understand what they were trying to leak to me.

Out of nowhere, Butler Hanamaki brought out a folder containing a few confidential papers which I couldn't figure out what it had as the content. Sora sat on his knees like a dog wagging its tail for a head pat, which later I really did. He cheekily grinned at me.

"This is my only present for you, Riku. It's for Sora’s sake too," Auntie Junko handed me the folder. "I want to adopt you as my son. In the future, if anything happened to either Sora or you, you'll have each other to protect. Ah, the document is still blank currently, but if you've agreed, I'll fill it right away."

Why me? That sole question kept on replaying in my mind, bewildered by Auntie Junko's determination. Was she that keen to have me with Sora in a long time? I couldn't even make up my mind for my future job, let alone predicting the expiry date of my partnership with Sora. What did she mean by a present for me and Sora?

As if she heard my instinct, Auntie Junko cupped my face with both her palms and pasted an utterly earnest smile. "Riku, Sora loves you. He wants you to be a part of us, so he suggested me this. Besides, I like you too. You've been considering Sora as a real friend, without any possibility to harm or trick him, which made me to decide this roughly without second thought."

"Riku, Father likes you too!" Sora cheered, "He doesn't know how to tell you his adore because he's mute. But he knows you're kind and reliable."

I blinked in astonishment. These people wanted to take me as their family members? I skimmed over the forms and official document in the folder, and I confirmed my initial estimation that these people- No. Sora's family wanted to adopt me. They acknowledged my past, about me being motherless since I was born, thus they surprised me with the document along with their willingness.

"But, why me, Auntie? Sora? There are tones of people, far nicer than me, around Sora. I'm not as rich as you. I can't afford this," I gently put the folder on my kotatsu, a sign of my declination.

Nevertheless, they did not take it as a rejection. In fact, none of them retrieved the folder back. Auntie Junko hugged me again, sharing her warmness with me. Sora provided his mother some space to hug me. It was a glimpse, yet I still saw it.

Sora, too, was weeping. His teary eyes were not actually in excitement of celebrating our birthday. It was due to his inexhaustible contentment overwhelming his demanding heart. From his gaze, I could tell that he really wished for me to accept the offer.

"I told you, Riku. Sora loves you," Auntie Junko restated. "He wants you to be together with us. Moreover, I prefer to have you by Sora's side much more than all those cynical people as how you mentioned just now."

I obtained a head pat from behind. It was Butler Hanamaki, encouraging me to just unconditionally accept the offer. I just found out that he was mute, which verified why he never talked to me. The most shocking part was that he smiled at me, putting aside my curiosity over his fondness on me.

"Butler Hanamaki, you too?" My shaking voice did humiliate me.

He nodded right away. Each of his index fingers pointed at Sora and I, then he reunited his fingers side by side. It was an indirect message from him, delivered to tell me that he wished the same as Auntie Junko and Sora.

Why was I dithering about? They were rich, too good to me. I was indeed happy, but I couldn't get my head from thinking it as 'taking advantage' rather than a gift. Minutes of wondering, I finally spoke.

"Let me call my father first."

"If you ever need someone to back you up, just appoint any of us," Auntie Junko even offered themselves to be my defendant.

I intentionally called my father and put our conversation on loudspeaker in front of everyone. My heart pulsated implacably, as if I was about to be proposed by someone and was asking for my father's approval. As expected, it didn't take a long time for him to pick up the phone call, and I divulged to him everything right away. Without beating around the bushes, certainly.

To my astonishment, he undoubtedly authorized it. Along with his agreement, he even thanked Auntie Junko for considering me as someone more than a friend to Sora. I was shocked by my father's civility, plus he was like a mother, repeating apology to a neighbor because I've caused trouble.

While the conversation between Auntie Junko and my father prolonged till she had to bring my phone to the veranda, Sora was holding my hand. He gently squeezed it, lending some strength to me as if I was the one needing it. It should be him to receive such care but I didn't treat him as how I should. In fact, he and his family did to me instead.

"Riku," Auntie Junko must have done talking to my father that she returned my phone back. "Your father wants to talk to you."

I nodded in understanding, fetching the phone from Auntie Junko and paced to the veranda, isolating myself from Sora and his family. I shut the sliding door and, as I propped my chin, my gaze fixed at the murky sky.

"Riku, I'm sorry for not contacting you," my father initiated.

I brushed it off with an invisible frown. "What do you mean by that? We called each other almost every day. Yesterday was the latest."

"I mean, I just messaged without calling you, Riku," from his tone, I could guess Father thought I was joking. "Riku, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas."

Despite the solemn celebration, Father never forgot those wishes. He has always been the first one to wish, but it has changed since Sora's existence in my life. Surely I didn't tell him he has lost his position to be the first wisher on my birthday. "Thank you, Father. Merry Christmas."

"You've grown up to be a very gentleman, my son," Father let out a chuckle, "I've never thought you would get such trendy best friend."

"I never hoped for it too, Father," I giggled in the end of my line, "But it's my first time to have such special friend in my life."

Father's chuckle faded as we were simultaneously overlapped the delight of Christmas Eve with boundless anguish. It was even portrayed in our chat. There was an interval before he continued.

"Riku, I hope you'll get a lover."

"What are you talking about, Father?"

I detected another long sigh from Father. Did it mean something bad? Was it related to me?

"If you want one, just find anyone from your school. If you fail to find one, tell me and I will choose a few of my colleagues' daughters," Father's incoherent voice faltered my confidence.

Why did I feel so? Because it was filled with rejection and loath, which then I couldn't figure out what the reason was. "Father, I'm just turning 17 tonight. I'm still a high school student, and I don't intend to find a lover for the time being. Furthermore, you've never brought this topic up all these while," my pounding heart gasped me from breathing normally while my mouth freely ran to oppose Father. "What are you trying to tell me, Father?"

"Riku," Father's procrastination was too conspicuous to not be overlooked, "I won't force you to avoid that Sora boy. I'll just repetitively remind you to not get too close to him. Although they are okay with you, you must put a gap between them and you."

"Father, what- I don't understand."

"Riku, please listen to my advice. Just befriend him is enough. Do not get too friendly to Sora. I've allowed Junko to be your guardian, but that's it. Nothing beyond that."

His stubbornness intrigued me as a victim stuck in between him and Sora's family, almost dumbfounded. There was something vague from Father's imploring which mentally perturbed me. "I've been befriending Sora, Father. What are you talking about?"

Our conversation ended right away when Father insisted in his final line, "Listen to me and do not ever think of disconnecting me from you, Riku!" without me wishing him Goodnight or such.

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