The ride back to the farm was rather uneventful. Maki asked pointless questions now and then to stir up conversation. They didn’t entertain them. Hiro leaned against the window the entire trip. Endless stars in the sky reminded him of the heaps of corpses that haunted his mind. Finally, they arrived back at his home.
Maki rushed inside and dropped on the couch. “Ah, what a long ass day!” She tossed her belongings to the floor and stretched her arms and legs as far as she could. “I’m hungry! You got anythin’ to eat?”
“How are you hungry after all that?” Hiro asked.
“How are you not? Clearin’ out those bozos was a huge workout.”
He sighed. “Alright. There should be some snacks in the fridge. Help yourselves to whatever.”
“Sweet! Already on it!” She dashed straight to the kitchen.
Haruka turned to Hiro and bowed her head. “Goodnight.”
“Oh, actually…” He pointed at one of the doors behind him with his thumb. “That room’s vacant. You two can sleep over there.”
She shook her head and sat on the couch. “We’ll stay here in case of an emergency.”
“If you say so. I’m gonna head out for a bit. I just gotta take care of something real quick.”
“Where are you going?”
“Oh, I…” He placed his hand inside his pocket. “I just need to take one last look at the truck. Gotta make sure nothing’s broken, right?”
“Don’t try anything funny.” She yawned. Her eyes began to droop down.
“No clue. You don’t have to wait for me. Just make sure Maki doesn’t break anything.”
“Believe me, I won’t. I’m already too far into this to turn my back on you guys. I won’t take too long, I promise.”
“Understood.” Before long, she hung her head low and fell asleep.
Hiro stepped outside. He inched toward Granny Jay’s house. His hand gripped the necklace tightly. He knew leaving her in the dark was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what to tell her. Doubts seeped into his mind. Would she end up hating him? Would she even believe his words?
He stood on their porch. His eyes stared at the handle, but his hands didn’t want to reach for it. After several minutes, he held his chest and took a deep breath.
No one responded to his knock.
“Maybe I should come back in the morning.”
He shook his head and slapped his cheeks.
“No. It should be now. I might not get another chance.”
He knocked again. Silence answered him. After a few more attempts, he decided to take his leave. It was then, however, that he heard a gruff voice yell from inside.
“Hey! Who was that?! Somebody out there?”
Hiro pinched his forehead. “Did it have to be him?”
Footsteps thundered closer and closer. The door knob turned. Johnny burst through the door with bloodshot eyes and messy hair. Drool dribbled down his curly beard. The instant he saw Hiro, he clicked his tongue loudly.
“You?! Do you have any idea what time it is? It’s three in the morning! Where the hell is my truck? And where are Kin and Chiho?”
Hiro put his hands forward. “W-Wait, one by one.”
Johnny rubbed his temples. “Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Go on, then. Explain yourself. What the hell were you doing?”
“Look, we can go to Granny Jay, and I can explain everything to you both. Okay?”
“Oh, hell no!” Johnny shoved him back. “I ain’t letting you anywhere near her until you tell me what is going on!”
That was the last thing Hiro wanted to do. Reasoning with Johnny always proved pointless. He sighed and took out the necklace. “It’s… a long story. I’ll just wait ‘til she wakes up. Here, at least give her this.”
Johnny snatched it from his hands. “Hey, this is Mom’s! Didn’t Kin take this?”
“Then where is he?!”
“Like I said, long story.”
“No! Don’t give me that crap! There’s no way he’d just hand it back, so why in the world is it now with you?” Spit sprayed from Johnny’s mouth.
Hiro wiped his face with his sleeve. “I know you don’t trust me, but there’s nothing to worry about anymore. I promise.”
“You’re right. How am I supposed to trust you when all you do is lie anyway?”
Hiro stomped his foot; a sharp crack echoed. A piece of the porch gave way under the weight of his foot. “Then why should I even tell you anything? It’s not like you’ll believe anything I’ll tell you.”
Johnny jabbed his chest with his finger. “Stop being an annoying piece of crap and tell me the truth. Now!”
Hiro swatted his hand away. “Okay. You want the truth? I’ll give you the truth, but can your pea brain handle it? Bandito’s dead! All of them!” He couldn’t help but snicker. This wave of confidence came out of nowhere.
“Ohhh, so that’s how it is, huh? This is all just some joke to you? Some sick game you think we’re all playing?”
“Hey, man. I’ve said what I wanted to say.” Hiro shrugged. “You choose whatever you wanna believe.”
“That’s IT!” Johnny grabbed him by the collar. “Stop messing with me just this once, asshole! Haven’t you had enough? Is Uncle Miles being DEAD not enough of a wake up call?!”
Hiro clutched his hands. “Maybe you need to wake up. You’re too afraid to put the blame on the real problem, so you pin them all on me. Who’s the asshole now?”
“YOU! It’s always been you!” Tears rolled down Johnny’s cheeks. “I don’t know what got into Uncle’s brain when he wanted to take you in. You were just some homeless bum. I told him you were trouble from the start!”
A sly grin etched the corner of Hiro’s mouth. He tore Johnny’s hands from his collar. “Oh, I get it now. You’re such a child.”
“What’re you talking about? Don’t change the subject.”
“You’re jealous, aren’t you?”
“What? Are you cr—”
“No, no, no. This all makes sense now. You didn’t wanna share Miles with anyone! Especially not some random ‘homeless bum’. You’re pathetic.”
Johnny clenched his jaw. “Take that back. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Or maybe you just don’t wanna admit it.”
“Stop. I’m serious.” He lowered his tone. “You wouldn’t understand. He treated me like his own son.”
“He treated me like that too. Hell, he was super nice to everyone. You’re not that special.”
“Shut up! How dare you say that when you were the one who got Uncle killed in the first place!”
“It wasn’t my fault, and you know it.”
“I said SHUT UP!” In a fit of rage, Johnny thrust his fist straight into Hiro’s nose.
Everything went dark for a split second. It was a clumsy punch, it still packed a lot of weight. Hiro dropped down on one knee. Blood poured from his nose.
“Tch. That’s what you get.” Johnny wiped his fist with his shirt. “I swear, if Bandito makes our lives even more of a living hell ‘cause of you—”
“I already told you! They’re DEAD!” Hiro rushed at him haphazardly. In his recklessness, his foot caught on a loose piece of the porch. He lurched forward. Johnny flung his foot upward and smashed it into his groin.
It felt like the air was forced out of Hiro’s lungs. “That… hit was cheap, you jerk.”
Hiro lifted up his leg, but it was too heavy. Johnny stomped on the ground repeatedly until Hiro’s grip loosened. With his full weight, Johnny tackled him to the ground. Hiro grabbed his arms, but they were too slippery. In desperation, he headbutted him.
“Ow! Look who’s cheap now!” Johnny rolled off to the side and rubbed his forehead.
Hiro’s vision blurred for a few seconds. “Just stop it already. As much as I hate you, I don’t wanna hurt you.”
Johnny hobbled back to his feet. With a deafening scream, he charged forward. Hiro’s eyes flashed green, and he dodged to the side and tripped him with his foot. Johnny flailed his arms to steady himself, but it was no use. He tumbled down with a loud thud, and fell flat on his face.
Hiro stood over him. He’d often thought of getting back at Johnny, but this gave him no satisfaction. A profound emptiness settled in his heart; he questioned if this was all even worth it.
Johnny slammed his fist against the ground. “You ungrateful scum! All you do is ruin everything! Don’t you feel guilty? We were better off never meeting trash like you!”
Hiro spat in his face. “Don’t lump yourself in with Miles and Granny Jay. I don’t give a damn about you, Johnny!”
“You got Uncle Miles killed, asshole! You don’t give a damn about him either!”
Hiro lifted his foot up. “I told you! It’s all Bandito!”
Johnny blocked his stomp with his arm. It bruised him. “We lived in peace before you came! You think this is all a coincidence? None of this would’ve happened if you just stayed out of our business!”
“I was right. Damn, you really are just a jealous kid. You’re really that pissed off I stole your daddy’s attention away from you?”
“My real father is dead. Can you blame me?”
“Wow. Now it’s two dead dads. Boo hoo, poor you.”
The door slammed open. A frail, yet stern voice called out to them.
“Boys! What are you doing?!”
The two turned their heads in unison. Granny Jay slowly limped toward them. Her hair was disheveled, and her face distraught.
“Granny Jay! You’re awake!” Just the sight of her quickly brightened Hiro’s mood. He snatched the necklace from Johnny’s pocket and ran up to her.
“Anyone would be after hearing all that noise. Now, what are you two doing in the dead of the night?” She pointed at Hiro. “And you, young man, was that you in the truck earlier? I was worried sick!”
“Here.” He placed the necklace in her hand. “I was able to get this back.”
She stared at its inscription. “This is my… but how?”
“Everything’s okay now. You don’t need to worry about a thing anymore.”
“Don’t listen to him, Mom!” Johnny held his knee for support as he stood up. “He made trouble with Bandito again!”
“I did not!”
Granny Jay looked at him. “Hiro, is this true?”
His lips quivered. “N-No… I mean, yes, but…”
“Hiro! We just lost Miles! What are you doing?”
“But everything’s alright now! Just look at their—”
He suddenly remembered the bodies that littered Bandito’s hideout. Even if they believed him, would they condone mass murder? What about the girls, and his decision to join a group of criminals? Doubts crept in; he didn’t finish his sentence.
She held on to his hand firmly. “Look at their what?”
He froze in silence.
Johnny pushed him away. “See, Mom? He’s just a troublemaker! What do you see in him?”
She ignored him. “Hiro, what happened? You can tell me.”
He took a few steps back. “I-It’s okay. It’s really late. Can we just go back and settle this tomorrow?”
“As if!” Johnny yelled. “You’ve been stalling this whole night! Explain yourself right now!”
Granny Jay jabbed his toe with her cane. “Johnny, no. Look at you both, all bloodied up. Get yourselves cleaned, and we can talk tomorrow. Okay?”
“Mom, we can’t just let him leave!” He seized Hiro’s shoulder. “He’s just screwed us all over again! You can’t let him get away with it twice!”
Hiro’s composure shattered. He locked on to Johnny’s jaw and swung his fist. The bone-crunching impact sent shivers down his arm. “SHUT THE HELL UP, JOHNNY!”
Johnny stumbled backward and collided against Granny Jay. The two plummeted down to the ground. Amidst the chaos, her cane snapped in half. She howled in agony as she grasped her knee.
Hiro could do nothing but stare in shock.
Johnny hopped back to his feet and grabbed Hiro’s jacket. A mixture of drool and blood trickled down his mouth. He took deep, heavy breaths as he scowled at him. “What the hell, man?! Look what you did to Mom!”
Tears dropped down Hiro’s cheeks. “I… I’m s-s—”
A sudden thought occurred to him. Very soon, he would be leaving the village with criminals and become one himself. Staying attached to Granny Jay would only make things more difficult. If he was to pursue his new goal, he would have to cut ties.
“I’m done with you,” Hiro muttered under his lips.
He drove his forehead into Johnny’s face and crushed his nose. Johnny was knocked out cold.
Granny Jay fixed her eyes on him. Terror was etched on her face. “Hiro…”
He turned away, unable to face her. A myriad of sentences popped in his mind, but none of them felt right. He walked away without uttering a word. Her frail voice called out his name over and over again, but still, he walked on.
He entered his home and locked the door. Heavy clouds of guilt settled over him. And yet, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. It felt like a great burden had just fallen off his back.
A loud, guttural snore interrupted his introspection. Haruka and Maki slept together on the couch. Maki’s arms and legs were all over the place; her mouth was wide open. Haruka curled up into a ball, completely still.
Hiro dragged his feet to his room. There, he found the table drawer open. Two picture frames rested on his bed.
“Damn it, Maki. Did you look through my stuff?”
One of the frames lay face down. He picked it up. It was a family photo of a young boy and girl with their parents.
The instant he saw it, he flung it at the wall. Shattered glass scattered on the floor. His breaths came in quick, unsteady gasps. He trembled with numbness as he turned to the second frame. It was an image of Miles wrapping his arm tightly around Hiro’s shoulder. His smile remained a source of comfort, even after death.
Hiro embraced the frame and collapsed on his bed. A swirl of emotions overwhelmed him. He bit his lip, but couldn’t stop himself. The floodgates opened, and he bawled uncontrollably.
“Miles… Granny Jay… I’m so sorry.”
He cried himself to sleep.
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