Chapter 15:

My Brother is Trying His Hardest.

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

It's tough to do two plays back-to-back, even if it’s only in front of 50 people in a classroom.

The "stage lighting" (two large lamps from Deiso) have been turned off, and the crew have come out from "backstage" (a small space behind our handmade wooden stage) to change the "set" (actually a painted bedsheet). As soon as I take off the cheap plastic helmet that was bought from Donki, my hair spills out. It’s super wet- I'm sweating like a pig. My makeup is probably running too.

Our class decided to make the costumes accurate to Shakespearean times, but we didn't have the budget to actually make them look good, so I'm stuck in a "Renaissance Bard" costume that came out of a bag, and it is hot. As I close my eyes after plopping down lifeless into one of the chairs set up for the audience to sit and watch, a cool breeze blows into my face. Ahh, this is bliss--

The breeze turns into a tornado. My sweaty hair goes flying into my mouth and I jump to my feet, sputtering.

Saya is standing in front of me, holding a portable fan, trying really hard to hold a giggle in. "Just thought I'd cool Romeo off~"

"Why'd you have to hit me with a sneak attack? I'm beat."

She slaps the inside of her arm, striking a faux-wrestler pose. "Well, I'm feeling amped up and rarin' to go look around!"

"You have all that energy because you were in the backstage crew. You didn't have to perform for 2 hours straight."

For the past two weeks, I've been memorizing this script from beginning to end. It was probably the hardest part of the whole rehearsal process...all those thous and thines made my head feel like it was going to explode. I still don't understand most of it. What in the world is a “gambeson”? Shakespeare is weird.

Even though I had to pause a few times to remember my lines, I think both showings of the play went smoothly and I did a good job- for an amateur, at least. The same can't be said for Himari Akamatsu, my co-star. She was so nervous during the play that she clammed up more than once and I had to hiss her lines to her. Yeah, so I did go ahead and memorize the other characters' lines too. What? It was to prepare for a situation like this. Nothing more, nothing less.

"That's mean of you, Kaede. I worked just as hard as you. I had to whisper Himari-chan's lines to her."

"Number one, you were reading right off the script, number two, I already gave her the lines, and number three, your 'whispering' was loud enough for the entire audience to hear!"

She ignores my gripes. "Poor Himari-chan. When you grabbed her during the dancing scene it looked like she was going to hyperventilate."

"Yeah. That was weird."

"I told you the girls in class all have crushes on you~"

"Oh, shut up."

"Anyways, we've got three hours until the afternoon showing. Let's go walk around. Besides, you told me there was something you wanted to do..." One of her eyebrows raises and a slight grin crosses her face.

"Fine. Let me change first and I'll be right with you. Could you get me a water bottle or something?" I sigh as I grab the gym bag that got handed out to me. Inside is a cheap t-shirt and sweatpants that make up the crew uniforms like Saya has on. Everyone in the class got one even if they weren’t part of the crew, mainly because we don't want anyone running around during the break in costume. We don't have the time or budget to replace costumes if one of them gets damaged.

I take one step out the door and run right into the most intimidating man I've ever seen. This guy has to be nearly 200 cm and even his shadow dwarfs me. He's got the physique of a bodybuilder. This guy could snap me in half as easily as he breathes.

He looks down at me with a scowl. Nervously, I stammer out "C-c-c-c-class 2-3's play is on break until 1:00....c-c-c-c-can I help you?"

He just stares. I feel like I'm melting.

From behind me, Saya cries out, "Dad!" She runs up to him, beaming.

I didn't realize her father was that scary.

He nods, and the stern look dissipates. "You did a fine job. Pulling back the curtain is a ton of responsibility, and you handled it well."

"Thanks!" Saya says happily. "What about Mom?"

"She's gone to get refreshments with Natsuki," her father replies.

“Oh, Natchan’s here too?”

Saya’s father suddenly turns his gaze to me. "You did a great job as Romeo as well. I didn't realize you were a girl until right now."

"Uhh, thanks, sir..." This guy was in the crowd all along, and I missed him? Did I get tunnel vision or something?

It looks like Saya's going to go around the festival with her parents. I wanted her with me for support, but it looks like I'm going to have to face my brother alone.

If you hadn't figured it out yet, the place that I'm going to go visit is my brother's class's cafe. A few nights before the festival, he approached me at home and stammered out that if I wanted to come visit, he'd pay for my food, as a token of apology and all that. I tried to play it cool when I accepted, but I was so excited that my heart nearly jumped out of my chest.

In the past couple of weeks, things haven't gone back to the way they were, but I don't mean that in a bad way. My parents are actually putting effort into not being so weird all the time. Every now and then, some anime reference will slip out, and I can tell they're uncomfortable talking about mundane things like work and school and the weather, but they're trying their best.

Dad hasn’t watched any anime on the TV in the living room since my brother came back, and Mom hasn’t worn a single costume- at least, not when my brother's around. Niichan used to sulk all the time and snap at them whenever they tried talking to him, but now he's starting to open up. He even told them he'd read a manga recently for the first time in years and liked it. What was it called? The Color Of The Sky or something? That sent them back into otaku mode, but he was surprisingly okay with it.

Seemingly on cue, my stomach growls. I haven't eaten anything since this morning. I wonder what they're serving at the cafe? If it's anything like the desserts Niichan brought us the night he came back, I'll love it- they were delicious. He told me they were made by the same people who used to run a bakery on Nakamachi- I was a bit too young to remember that, but it's in the East Mall which is just a train ride away. I've gotta go visit soon.

When I come back, Saya is standing in front of the classroom. "Took you long enough."

"You're not going to go around with your family?"

"Are you kidding me? Do you think I want to hear my old man talk my ear off about the Giants and the Buffaloes?"

"Sounds rough."

"Speaking of that, is your family coming?"

"They said they'd be here to watch the afternoon showing."

"How are they doing, anyways? You know, after that."

We set off for the high school next door. "You won't believe it. I saw my dad reading a newspaper and later on I saw him buying clothes on Jamazon. He's even been talking about a vacation."

She smiles. "Going to the beach?"

"Either that or an onsen, you know what otaku are like."

"Sounds like fun." Saya pauses. "Is Miku coming or not? I thought you asked her."

"I did! She kept going 'no, I have super-important reporting to do'...I swear, that girl...only she would turn down free food to go stick her camera in someone's face..."

The high school has its front gate decorated with balloons, and there are what seems like millions of clubs hawking their exhibits and foods in the courtyard outside the main entrance. There's a half dozen delightful smells coming from everywhere, and my stomach growls once again.

Saya giggles. "Guess being Romeo worked up an appetite, huh?"

"Yeah. I'm just glad there wasn't anyone trying to go off script or the story being changed to put boys and girls who like each other together or the set collapsing or something like that...that always happens in anime..."

"I thought you didn't watch anime."

"Not really, but when your parents are always watching it you get familiar with it..."

We climb the stairs to the second floor and are immediately greeted with a massive line. It's all the way down the hall.

This can't be for 1-1, can it?

Almost immediately, a loud noise comes from off in the distance, down the hall. The people in line start craning their necks to look, and the noise gets louder and louder, and then a cloud of dust and a figure appears, getting closer and closer until I can finally realize who it is.

Miku runs past us, clutching her camcorder and microphone, screaming as the entire line turns their heads to watch her go. She doesn't even notice us.

Well, that was weird.

Saya shrugs. "Let's get in line. Might be a while."

We've been waiting for about 5 minutes when I hear a phlegmy voice from up ahead start talking about how this cafe has a maid that will call you a pig and how excited he is for that. The guy saying it looks like my dad. Of course, my brother's class's cafe is the kind of thing that would attract strange people…I guess we are in the right line.

My phone buzzes. It's a LIME from my mom.

@33kinirosora: Where are you?

@kae_musaszi: Waiting in line for 1-1.

@33kinirosora: Aww...just missed you. It's a really popular place.

@kae_musaszi: It's fine.

@33kinirosora: Have fun with Haruto…see you at 1!

More and more time passes- by the time we get to the front of the line, it's been about a half hour.

The tall, blonde maid holding the "Class 1-1 Maid Cafe" sign greets us with a big smile. He's got enthusiasm, but not the looks to trick anyone- he's obviously a guy in a costume.

"Welcome! Tatsumi will take you to your table, Mistresses~"

That voice is familiar. Where have I heard it before?

We're seated quickly. The whole place is buzzing. There's other students, families, and just weird-looking people in here. My brother's class must be making tons of money.

However, the guy who's serving us is unfortunately the best-looking of the bunch. The other "maids" look hideous- they have so much makeup on that they look like ghosts from horror movies. Did all these people really come here to see these guys in drag? I hope I’m not out of touch with what's popular. I try to look around for my brother, but don't see him anywhere.

"Can Tatsumi get you something to drink, Mistresses?" He's definitely got the maid act down, at least.

"Um, we're actually looking for someone in particular..."

He scratches his chin and looks up at the ceiling. "Tatsumi isn't sure what you mean- Ah! You must be here for our #1 maid!" He looks over at the black curtain separating the dining area from the rest of the class. "Two for Haruko!" he calls. He turns back to us. "Now, while Mistresses are waiting, can Tatsumi get you a drink or two?"

Saya pipes up. "Ramune."

"I'll just have tea, thanks,” I reply. My brother’s classmates are clearly working super hard already, so I don’t want to make it worse for them with an overly-specific order.

"Perfect! Tatsumi will be right back with the menus...please wait a second, Mistresses-"

There's another maid who's come up behind him carrying menus, but this one is actually cute…I didn't realize they had an actual girl working in the cafe! She's got jet-black, shoulder-length hair and big, pretty amber eyes and a frilly headband. He's got Shiritori in his class and this girl too? My brother has it on easy mode!

She looks at me, looks back at the other guy, and then my brother says "Oi, Tatsurou, you better step away from my little sister or I'll break your neck."

I swear my jaw drops all the way to the floor. "Niichan?!"

Saya cackles like a hyena.

The maid turns bright red. "Welcome...Mistresses...Haruko will be taking your order today..."

The other maid has apparently taken a cue and quickly beats a hasty retreat. "Feel free to call for Tatsumi if Mistresses need anything..."

"Niichan, there's no way that's you!"

"Yeah, it is...kill me..."

"I guess Kaede's not the cutest one in her family!" Saya snorts.

"Shut up, Saya!" I snap.

My brother, as shockingly good as he looks in that costume, has an expression on his face like he's being tortured. I need to get in and get out fast so he doesn't have to humiliate himself even further than he already has. Most importantly, he's paying, so I can't get something too expensive or I'll look like a jerk. I scan the menu quickly. "Karaage looks good, so I'll take that."

Saya smirks. "Omurice~"

He nods. "I'll be right back."

"No, it's not supposed to be like that." Saya’s mischievous grin is growing by the second. "It's supposed to be 'Gladly, Mistress'..."

"It absolutely is not!" My loud objection creates just enough of an opening for him to get out of there.

She's still smiling, even though I’m glaring right at her. "What are you plotting?" I snap.

"Nothing, nothing~" She waves her hand. "Your brother is adorable, by the way."

"You'd better not start going after him like Miku. It’s bad enough with just her."

"I’m not interested in him! I just think he makes a really cute maid."

She’s still got a look on her face like she’s going to try something awful. I’ll have to stop her if it comes to this. Please, God, go easy on Niichan.

The drinks come out next, then in a few minutes my brother appears with two plates of food. The tea was just average, but the fried chicken actually looks pretty good.

My brother is obviously ready to get out of here. "Here's your food, I'll be going..."

Then Saya immediately cuts him off. "Hold it right there. You're not done. You have to draw a heart with the ketchup and go 'moe moe kyun'. What maid doesn't know that?"

He turns a deeper shade of red and picks up the bottle as Saya grins from ear to ear.

Oh, God, I can't watch this any longer. I need to stop her.

With shaking hands, he begins "moe, moe-" and then slams the bottle down on the table, cries, "I can't do this! I can't fucking do this!" and storms off toward the back.

"SAYA!" My voice doesn’t reach her- she's too busy trying to hold in her laughter. The blonde maid has turned away, but I can tell he's also shaking as he tries to stop from laughing. Ayame Shiritori, who's appeared in the curtain between the kitchen and the dining room, isn't even trying to stop herself and is clutching at her sides.

None of this is funny at all! My brother is the most humiliated I've ever seen him and they're all laughing!

"We're leaving!" As I storm out of the classroom, I grab Saya by the arm and practically yank her out.

"Aww, Kaede, that looked good. I wanted to eat it-"

"I can't believe you, treating Niichan like that! Did you think it was funny, embarrassing him?" It should be obvious, but I'm really mad.

"Relax!" She frantically waves her hands.

Before she can react, I've grabbed her by the collar and pulled her an inch from my face. "Don't. Do that. EVER. AGAIN."

"Sorry, Kaede...I wanted to see if you were getting along, and I guess I took it a little too far..." She looks down and to the right, ashamed.

Immediately, it dawns on me what I was about to do, and I let go of her. That wasn’t worth getting so angry about, much less ruining a friendship over. She shouldn’t have messed with Niichan, but still- I nearly punched a close friend over something totally stupid!

"Honestly, what am I going to do with you?"

"Sorry..." Saya looks like a dog that got scolded.

"You can make it up to me by buying me lunch, since you already ruined mine. Two croquettes at the Cuisine Research Club's booth."

"Sure." She smiles apologetically. Now I feel bad. Even though I know her well enough to realize she’s probably playing it up to prey on my sympathetic side.

"Excuse me, are you two finished?" A woman in a business suit is standing next to us.

Oh, crap. I hope she didn’t see all of that. "Can I do something for you, ma'am?"

"You are the girl from the Class 2-3 play in the middle school, correct?"

"Which girl are you talking about? There were a lot of girls in that play."

"I mean the girl who played Romeo. My apologies." She bows and holds out a business card. "Kayo Fujii. I work for Daystar Productions."

"What's that?"

"To put it simply, it's a new voice acting agency. We started up last year. We were founded because a group of us who had worked in the industry for a while were concerned about how insular it was becoming- there's little difference between voice acting and being an idol these days. We want to shake up the industry by taking it back to its roots- recruiting the best talent with the best skill for acting. Nobody at Daystar cares how well you can sing or how cute you look- it's all about your talent for playing characters."

“Hey. What exactly did you mean by that last bit? Am I ugly or something?”

"Nononononono! Not at all!” She waves her hands. “Since it’s all about performance at Daystar, I wanted to tell you that your performance in the play was excellent! You grasped the character in a way that I rarely see anyone your age do. How long have you been acting for?"

"This is my first time I've ever been in a play."

Is it that big of a deal?

"Really?! You're an amateur and your performance was that good?!" This lady’s so excited, it’s a little scary. "You have amazing natural talent! Has anyone ever told you that?"


"Well, you do, and you're the kind of talent we need at Daystar!" She bows deeply. "Please join us!"

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. This is way too sudden! "I appreciate it, but I need to talk to my parents and stuff..."

"I'm not saying to join us right away. However-" she pulls out a flyer from her pocket- "we are having an information session at the Summer Comiket this year. We would really appreciate your presence.”

Her voice drops to a low mumble. “AndIreallyneedtorecruitsomeonebySeptemberormybosswillgetmadandthenI’llbefired…but anyways, give us a shot, you won’t regret it!"

"...I'll think about it."

The business lady walks off. Saya turns to me. "Kaede, did she just scout you?"

"I don't know." This is all so sudden I don't know what to make of it- all I can do is stand there blankly with the paper in my hand.

But still, being a voice actress? It could be fun.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy