Chapter 11:

My Brother is Unreachable.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

It's been five days now and my brother still hasn't come home. My parents won't tell me where he's gone, and whenever I ask they only say cryptic things like "He's safe, so it's fine" or "He's still going to school, so we don't have to worry". I can tell they're hiding something, because if we really didn't have to worry, they wouldn't be telling me that with such pained expressions.

Maybe they're scared of losing me too, but a part of me is angry at them for keeping me in the dark. I'm fourteen. Sure, I may not be old enough to drive, or drink, or get a job, but I don't need to be sheltered. He's my family too, and I deserve to know what's going on with him. They're dancing around it like they're trying to figure out how to tell a kindergartener that Grandpa died. Surely he didn', that's impossible. Of course he didn’t. My brother was just being an edgy teenager when he said all those things. He’ll be back, I know.

That said, my parents didn’t make the situation much better. Mom was in hysterics and I heard her babbling on the phone about something and Dad was trying to calm her down and was telling her “It’s alright, he’s fine, just give him some time to cool off!” but my mom wouldn’t listen and was crying and all I could make out was Aya-chan this, Aya-chan that, please go look for him, please go look for him. She was talking to Ayame Shiritori. Not me, his sister. When Mom thought my brother was in danger, the first person she turned to was Shiritori. Maybe my brother was right to tell them that they treat her more like their child than him.

Maybe it was premature of my mom to react that way, but then again…my gloomy brother had never lost it at them like that before. Sure, he would grouch and gripe all the time, but never to anyone’s face. I didn’t think he had it in him to tell my parents where to shove it. I thought he would go through life complaining about them to everyone behind their backs but still take care of them when they got old. I mean, good for him that he finally stood up for himself, but I still think he went a little too far. Everything he said was right but I can’t help but feel like there was a more tactful way to go about it. Our parents aren’t intentionally trying to be's just the way they are.

Ever since he left, the home has been silent. My dad’s been shut up in his room and when I walk past, even late at night, I can hear keys furiously clicking away. He hasn’t come out but a few times and he looks as haggard as could be- he hasn’t shaved and his eyes are bloodshot. Mom’s lost her usual peppiness. She’s still cooking and cleaning, but her heart isn’t into it. She looks like a robot mindlessly going about her daily tasks in an endless loop.

My parents definitely could get annoying, but they were happy, and when they were happy, our house felt like a home, and it made me happy too. Now it feels empty.

Should I have seen this coming? I thought my brother wasn’t the kind of person who would be so impulsive, so I just sat on the side and waited for him to sort his own problems out because I thought he didn’t like me. He probably felt like he had no one to turn to.

It would be a beautiful day today if I didn’t have to worry about this. The sun is out, the birds are chirping, I’m sitting under the shade of a large maple in the courtyard, waiting for Saya to get done with whatever she’s doing so that we can leave (We’re both in the go-home club), and my stomach is growling something fierce.

All I had to eat today was a bento with just rice. My mom really must be out of it. Normally, there would be all sorts of perfectly-proportioned food and some character face made of nori or something. She really enjoys cooking and I wouldn’t be surprised at one of the reasons for pushing us kids to go to Shinchoushi so hard being that middle schoolers get to bring their own lunches. Sure, it’s also a great college-prep school that gives you a good shot at Todai if you make it through- but Mom's priorities are a little weird.

The second thing that’s ruining my peaceful after-school break is the cheap plastic microphone that’s jabbed into my cheek far enough to leave a dent.

“Hey, hey, hey! It’s your Shinchoushi Middle School Newspaper Club roving reporter, the always lovable Miku Maebara, and I’m here with the cold but charming Queen of 2-3, Kaede Kouga! Now, tell me-”

“I have never heard anyone call me that before now.” The camcorder that she’s holding is about six inches from my face, and her eyes are sparkling so bright that it’s starting to make me uncomfortable.

“It’s a marketing kind of thing. If I said ‘Here’s Kouga from 2-3’, it wouldn’t be interesting. This gives you the kind of image that our viewers will want to see. Journalism is all about the headlines.”

“I don’t want an ‘image’. I have no interest in being a celebrity,” I sigh.

“And that, dear readers, is the humility that makes her so beloved,” Miku intones dramatically.

I exhale as sharply and audibly as I can. She had the camera running the whole time.

I like this girl, and we're friends, but she obviously didn’t get the hint that I don’t want to be disturbed. She didn’t ask if I wanted to help her with her project- instead, she shoved her decades-old equipment (the Newspaper Club's budget is probably too small to buy new ones) into my face and started asking questions. Sometimes I’ve seen her ambush others in my grade in a similar way, but I didn’t figure I would be one of her targets.

Is the club teaching their members that this is what journalism is supposed to be, or is this Miku being Miku? It's annoying, whatever it is.

“What are you interviewing me about, anyways?”

“The cultural festival. It’s for my Life at the Academy column.”

I decide to just grin and bear it. If I refuse and walk away, she’ll keep tracking me down, and for what? It’s not worth going to all that effort to avoid her column that’s on the very back page of the school newsletter every month. Very few people read it in the first place, and even fewer take her column seriously because of her awful grammar- the text is littered with emoticons.

“Fine, but don’t take too long.”

“Yes, ma’am! First question: Why do you think everyone else in your class voted you as the lead in the play you’re performing?”

“I don’t know, ask them.”

“Second! What will you bring to the role?”

“What is this, a job interview?”

“And lastly-” she pauses and suddenly looks way too excited, and I don’t like it- “it seems like there’s a rumor going around that your brother in the next building over is dating the track team’s first-year ace Shiritori! How does this affect your-”

“He’s what?!” I cry. Aww, crap. I didn’t mean to sound so shocked, and my brother’s personal life is none of my business, but that’s unexpected.

At least I know he’s definitely okay now, but I didn’t expect the news to be broken to me in this way.

She’s definitely enjoying this. “That’s a fantastic reaction…I think I’ll put this up on the website. ‘Shocking! A Scandal in the Ice Queen’s Home Life! Her Facade Crumbles! (visit us for the uncensored and uncut interview at’...we’ll get a ton of engagement. I’m finally making it out of the back pages!”

“That’s just gossip!” I huff. “You can’t print that in a school newsletter!”

“Well…” she grins. “I do have conclusive evidence that it’s true…”

“How did you- Give me that.” She’s so proud of her trickery that she doesn’t have time to react as I snatch the camera out of her hands.

“Ah! That’s mine! Give it back, Kaechan!”

I flip through the footage quickly. They’re all horrible quality, and the side screen being tiny makes it worse, but it’s easy for me to find what I’m looking for.

Recorded earlier this morning. A few seconds of black, some rustling, and then light peeping through the center of the screen, ringed by errant leaves where I can tell it’s a bush. The camera takes a few seconds to focus. It’s a normal residential street, until two people come into focus from the right side. Even with the grainy video, their identities are unmistakable- it’s my brother, whose bangs are long enough to reach his eyebrows at this point, and Ayame Shiritori, hopping around like she’s on springs.

I delete that video, of course. And I delete the one of them passing by a convenience store, and the one of them going through the school gate. And the one of my brother eating lunch from last week. And the one of my brother in gym class. And the one of my brother stopping at the cafeteria from last month. And the one of me, for good measure. I look like one of the victims of those prank shows on TV when they find out.

By this time, Miku’s able to muster all her energy and take the camera back, but I don’t have any reason to stop her anymore.

She clicks a few buttons and instantly goes crestfallen. “I can’t believe you…that was my footage!”

“Do you realize that’s a crime?!” I snap. “You ought to be grateful I found out and not one of the teachers!”

“I don’t care! That was my Haru and you took him away! I’ll never get on the front page and it’s all your fault! I hate you, Kaechan!” she yells, and she runs away like a scalded dog.

She’s already calling my brother by a cute nickname and she’s never spoken a single word to him before. Gross.

That’s one mystery solved- how she knew so much about my brother. She was probably acting like she was taking publicity videos for her club activities when she was really zooming in on him, and nobody noticed because nobody could believe such a cute, innocent-looking girl could ever be a total creep.

I know what she’s doing- she wants me to figure out if my brother and Shiritori are dating so she doesn’t have to do it herself and get her heart broken. She can be super manipulative sometimes, but the thing is, I don’t think she realizes that what she’s doing is wrong until she gets told, so you can’t stay mad at her for long. She’s more like my parents than I thought.

Why do I hang out with her if she acts like that? Good question…She and Saya went to the same elementary school and were friends before, and they both decided they liked me on the first day of school last year, so it just happened, I guess? And then I realized how impressionable Miku is and how terrible an influence Saya is and I resolved to keep them in line or be a role model or whatever you want to call it because without me they’d get up to every kind of mischief there is. I don't know if I'm doing a good job, because I keep ending up dragged into trouble, too, but I’m trying my best.

I hear a nasal voice ring out. “Is everyone all right out here? We heard a commotion…Ah, Kouga! You again?”

And speaking of trouble, here’s another group I really didn’t want to run into today.

The gangly, bespectacled student council vice-president is rushing toward me with a crowd of indistinguishable officers wearing red armbands following close behind him.  In the back is the president, walking gracefully and carefully, with an expression of what looks like serenity on her face and her long, silky twin ponytails bobbing as she walks. Asako Senjuuin looks totally at ease and yet I can feel an incredible aura of malice and arrogance all the way from here.

She’s shorter than Mom, and looks even younger, but that doesn’t stop her from looking down on everyone- whenever I’ve had the misfortune of encountering her, I’ve always gotten the impression that she feels like other people are cattle to be herded, or maybe ants and cockroaches to be stepped on.

Rich girls piss me off, and people who think everyone needs to bend to their will piss me off. And she’s both of those things. She thinks that just because she had the luck to get born into a wealthy family, she’s entitled to be in charge and it’s her responsibility to beat what she thinks of as “problem children” back into compliance. Her little attack dog Nagahama is so wrapped around her finger that he’ll do whatever he tells her.

“Causing trouble for everyone again today, are we, Kouga?” she says in a voice that sounds sweet, but I can tell is laced with disdain.

“I think you’re the only troublemaker here, Shortstacks,” I spit.

“Kouga!” the vice president cries in that ugly nasal-congestion voice. “You are to address your seniors as senpai!”

“Did shorty over there tell you to say that? Girls don’t like men that can’t think for themselves. That’s why you’re single, obviously.”

I have no idea if he is or he isn’t, but since I’m not in a good mood today, I intentionally said something that I knew would make him mad.

“KOUGA! If you don’t stop this obscenity at once, you’re going to be scrubbing toilets for the next two years!” He pushes his glasses up.

“Shove it, Four-eyes.” I glare directly at Senjuuin. “What business do you have with me?” She’s the one running the show, so I’m taking it up with her.

“Explain, Nagahama-kun.” And just like that, she foisted it off on her toady.

“Three counts of breaking the school dress code!” he exclaims. His voice isn’t any easier to listen to once you’re used to it. “Number one, earrings are banned!”

What the hell? Half of my class alone wears them! They’re definitely just going after me to make an example out of me. They’ve done it before, but today I’m not in the mood to sit here and get lectured like this!

“Number two, we have not switched to summer uniforms yet, and you may not remove your jacket!”

It’s almost 32 degrees outside! And it’s not my fault Shinchoushi has us switch uniforms on June 13 instead of June 1 like literally everywhere else in this country! Take it up with the people who made that rule instead of me!

“Number three, your skirt is three centimeters too short!” He just pulled out a ruler from somewhere I couldn’t even tell, and is he reaching for my…?! I instantly jump back.

“You better not touch me, you four-eyed creep!”

“Number four, multiple counts of abusive language and threats of violence toward lawfully appointed school leadership.” This time, it’s the president speaking in her smooth but hateful tone. I mean, yeah, I did insult them, but it’s only because they went after me for such stupid reasons.

“I still don’t think you get all the disruption you’re causing on our social harmony, so you’re going to go around and personally apologize to every student and teacher here for your misdeeds…” she purrs with pure disdain.

“Like hell I will!” I feel like what happens in old cartoons when someone gets angry and they turn red and steam shoots out their ears. In two seconds, I’m about to take a cue from my brother and come undone on this tiny little rich jackass, or kick her into next week. I’ve had it with them.

“Hey guys, what’s the fuss?” I hear a calm voice behind me and an arm drapes around my shoulder and a very soft chest pokes into my back.

“You know, you really should leave Kaede alone,” Saya says. She’s come to my rescue before I did something I regret. The student council members are all focusing their attention on her, the president with mild amusement, the vice-president looking like he swallowed a lemon whole.

“I mean, come on, her skirt isn’t even that short! You wanna see a REAL uniform violation?” she crows, and her hand goes to the hem of her skirt, but I’m faster on the draw and already there, pulling it back down before it can go anywhere.

“Saya, NO!” I yell like I’m scolding a pet.

All the color has drained from the vice-president’s face, and I think I see a little blood trickling out his nose. He’s obnoxious, but poor guy. Even I feel a little sorry for him now.

The president’s completely lost control of her goon squad. The other officers are trying desperately not to look, but I can see they want to…they are all boys, after all. She looks a little flustered, but mainly annoyed at the incompetence of her soldiers. And here I am, desperately trying to keep Saya from…ugh, whatever it is, it won’t be pretty. Her hand’s starting to tug upwards…oh God, I can’t hold on for much longer…

“Okay, everyone, I think that’s enough!” I hear a clap and a mature voice, and I see my homeroom teacher Kawano-sensei approaching.


“Thanks for your help, Senjuuin. You’ve performed your duties well, but I’ll take it from here.” She’s a woman of about 30 who is always dressed immaculately. She looks put-together and that’s apparently all you need to succeed in the adult world.

The student council president looks unhappy to be confronted with someone outranking her and makes an expression of what I think might be disgust, but eventually she leaves and her toadies all shuffle out behind her.

Kawano-sensei sighs. “Asahi-san, I hope I misheard you.”

“Hehe, it was a joke, Sensei,” Saya chuckles. “I meant I had my gym shorts on under here. I didn't have time to change.”

That's not how I took it, but whatever. I don't want to think about it.

Kawano-sensei gives her a quizzical look, but doesn't say anything else about it. “Will you two come with me to my office? I’d like to talk to you about something.”

I thought she had saved us, but it looks like we’re in trouble after all. We silently traipse all the way to the teachers’ office. The door’s unlocked, and the sunlight is still coming through the windows, but we’re the only people in there. All the other teachers must have gone to supervise their clubs.

Saya speaks up first. “Sensei, go easy on Kaede…she didn’t do anything wrong…”

My teacher sighs. “You’re not in trouble. The Student Council is causing us a lot of problems, too. Just in the last month I’ve had to deny 46 disciplinary requests for my class alone. Ten for you, Asahi, and twelve of them are for you, Kouga.”

I guess I should explain. The Shinchoushi Middle School Student Council has almost no actual power. They can do almost everything a high school council can do- sign off paperwork, approve club requests, recommend disciplinary action, and so on, but the teachers have to review everything- they’re smart enough to realize that giving power to a bunch of 13- and 14-year-olds is a terrible idea. The current group of control freaks who are in the council are the living proof of why that system is in place. Before this year, they used to keep to themselves doing busy work- the positions are so pointless that we don’t even have elections, unlike the high school.  Instead, they get appointed by the outgoing students every year. Somehow, a spoiled little rich brat didn’t get the message that she's a glorified stamp machine, and it’s been hell for me ever since.

Kawano-sensei pauses, then continues. “I keep trying to gently tell them that they’re going a bit overboard, and that sort of attitude won’t fly in high school, but Senjuuin is just stubborn enough not to listen to me.”

I’m not surprised. You might be thinking that enforcing student conduct would be the territory of the Disciplinary Committee, but the Student Council disbanded it years ago, mainly because we don’t have enough troublemakers to warrant a separate committee, so it's a better use of the students' time to help with other duties instead of roaming the halls looking for delinquents that aren't there. The current Student Council has not quite gotten that memo, though.

“What is their problem with me?” I huff.

“I really don’t know, Kouga-san,” my teacher replies dejectedly. “I wish I could tell you, but you’re not the only one. All of these complaints are about petty, minor things. Uniform violations. Holding hands on school property. Going to the arcade after school. Granted, these things are in the student handbook, but if we tried to go after everyone who did them, the entire school would be on probation. We’re already busy enough without this on our plates. Some of the other teachers are really pissed off at them, and since I’m their advisor they yell at me about it. Shimamura-sensei was hopping mad today…he had gotten five disciplinary actions against Maebara in an hour, and she’s one of his favorite students. I spent another hour trying to calm him down.”

The teachers aren’t the only ones that are mad at them. The Student Council’s moral policing habits have made them despised among the student body, since nearly everyone has been on the receiving end of their unwanted attention at some point. The students call Senjuuin the “Little Tyrant” or “Napoleon” (not to her face, of course, since she will take it personally). I can totally see why teachers who have lesson plans to make and clubs to supervise would get angry about having to waste time denying a dozen punishment requests every day.

“Can’t you do something about them?” Saya asks, with a tone of concern I don’t often hear from her.

“I wish,” Kawano-sensei sighs, “but if we come down hard on them, we’ll end up on the wrong side of a member of the Ministry of Education, and that would spell disaster…”

Of course she got her position because of her influence- her father’s a politician, from what I’ve heard. I’m not at all surprised. The wealthy and powerful play by a different set of rules than us peasants.

“So I’ve gotta sit there and take it?” I huff.

“I’m sorry, Kouga. The best advice I can give to you is not to provoke them. They tend to go after the people who fight back the most. Just be cool, promise you’ll correct your mistakes, and then don’t. Both of you are good students, so I’ll have your back. And at the same time, regardless of the way that they went about trying to discipline you, and regardless of how minor your infraction was, you did break the rules. So can I ask you girls to do something for me?”

I wish she would stop saying they. It’s Senjuuin who has all the independent thought in that group. “What?”

“I’m in charge of collecting the forms for the cultural festival from the various clubs, and some of them still haven’t turned theirs in. I’ve been too busy lately to go check, so can you help me with that? Here’s the list.” She holds out a piece of paper.

“So you forgot?”

“No! I told you about what sorts of things I’ve been dealing with lately!” My teacher starts to look a little flustered.

“This doesn’t look like it takes that much time…”

“Haha, to be honest with you, I have a date tonight, and I was so excited about it that I didn’t realize I still had to get this done.”

And there it is. Kawano-sensei looks professional at first glance, but she’s the most disorganized woman I’ve ever met, and since I’m the opposite, it usually falls on me to help her find things she’s lost. I can spot her mistakes from a mile away.

“I don’t know,” Saya replies. “We’ve got important stuff to do, too…”

“Pretty please?”

“Fine, I’ll do it.” All it took was puppy-dog eyes from a woman a decade older than me to give in, and I take the paper. “Come on, Saya. Let’s get this done."

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy