Chapter 36:

My Childhood Friend's Little Brother Wants to Find His Way.

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

I can only watch in horror as the guy I just reflexively kicked in the face floats to the ground face-first, as slow as a feather. I didn't even mean to kick him. It happened on instinct- the guy was charging at me and I went into kumite mode without thinking about it.

He hits the ground and time starts to flow again. He's not moving. Oh, crap. What do I do? Did anyone see? What if someone calls the cops? There are a few women on the street corner looking at us with concerned expressions...

"Hey, wake up!" I slap the guy on the cheeks a little bit, but he doesn't stir. "Are you okay?"

Who is this guy that came after me? I thought I'd heard that voice somewhere before, but he doesn't look like anyone I know. He's tall and skinny and has short, bleached hair and those ear cuffs that delinquents sometimes wear, and...wait a minute...

As soon as I roll his limp body over, the sleeping face of Ryou Shiritori stares back at me. Oh, God. Oh, fuck. I just kicked Ayame's twelve-year-old little brother in the face. If she sees this, she'll never speak to me again.

How do I wake him up? Shit, what do I do? What do I do? What's around me? A bunch of apartments, a few stores, none of those will help- a vending machine. It's a long shot, but maybe he'll get up if I put something cold on his face. Please let this work. Where's my 100-yen bill...shit...

Here goes nothing.

His eyes flutter open when I press the ice-cold can against his face. For a second, I can tell he's trying to realize where he is, and then his eyes widen and he scoots backwards, or at least tries to, but he doesn't get very far.

"Are you okay? Do you need to go to the hospital?" I lean down over him.

He immediately spits out, "I'm fine, asshole-" and tries to sit up, but can barely make it halfway before he collapses again.

"I don't think you are. Here, I'll call the ambulance."

"You better not! I can get up-" he growls, and this time he manages to sit up, but can't make it to his feet. He's got jelly legs. I've had that happen to me before when I was too careless with my defense and got rocked.

I rush over, reaching out my hand, and he slaps it away. "I don't need your fuckin' pity, Kouga!"

You know, for him being such a kid, he's got a real foul mouth.

"Fine," I sigh. "I'm not pitying you, I'm trying to help you."

"Help me?" he snaps. "I just lost to you! Why are you trying to help me?"

"Because it's the right thing to do, you stupid kid. Here, at least drink this." I reach the can out to him. "You'll feel better."

He gives me a smoldering stare, but hesitantly takes the can out of my hands and opens it. "It's pretty good..." he mutters. After a few seconds, he looks down and away as we make eye contact again and stammers out, "Well...I wouldn't mind it if you helped me up...Ow!" He grabs at his head.

"Here. Easy does it." I rush over to him, putting my arms under his to catch him if he stumbles, and slowly he pulls himself to his feet.

"Dude, you got me good," he moans as we set off slowly toward his home, with him leaning on me. I know where the Shiritoris live, and if I can get him there, they'll probably know what to do with him better than me. "You're tougher than you look."

"It was an accident."

"The hell you mean it was an accident?! You beat me, you ought to be proud of yourself, Kouga- Ow!" Again, he clutches at his forehead and grimaces.

"Don't get so worked up." I quickly turn so he can put all his weight on me. He's pretty light for how tall he is, all things considered. I still can't believe a 12-year-old has 10 cm on me. What are they putting in middle schoolers' water these days?

We're slowly crossing by a medium-sized, wooded park. There's not a lot of people out at the moment, but there are a few families walking on the concrete paths. There’s a flat patch of grass underneath the nearest tree. "Do you need to rest?" I ask him.

Ayame's brother grimaces. "I'm fine..." He's clearly not. I wish he would stop being so stubborn. He's just like his sister.

"Let's sit down for a second." He's light enough that it's easy to steer him toward the ground. Although he looks annoyed, he doesn't fight it, and I lower him down gently before taking a seat myself.

"Just stay here until you feel better," I tell him. He makes a slight tsk sound in response, but doesn't say anything else. Now that I have a second to look at him, although he's tall and gangly, his features are still the soft ones of a young boy. He's a kid, no matter how tough he tries to look.

There's one thing I don't get, though. Why does it seem like he hates me? I haven't seen him since he was a little kid, but our first meeting in years last weekend was him yelling at me and I think he was trying to fight me. Is he just trying to prove he's tough, or does he actually have something personal against me? Believe me, I don't want to get into any more fights. I got into one, and I had no choice and I needed to protect myself, and it was still one too many.

"Hey, Ryou-kun-" I begin, but he cuts me off.

"Who said you get to call me by my first name like we're fuckin' friends or something?" he hisses and immediately winces in pain.

"It would be weird to call you by your last name. If I did, I might mix you up with your parents."


"So do you have a problem with me?"

"What the fuck do you think-" He stops and grimaces again.

"Calm down. If you get worked up, it'll make the pain worse. And watch your mouth."

"Shut up. You're not my fucking dad."

"Seriously, why are you so mad at me?"

"You really need me to spell that out for you? Are you a dumbass or something?"

"I'm not the one who acts like a tough delinquent and then runs away from his own sister."

"Tch. Fine." This time he stands up, and surprisingly he keeps his balance. "I hate you because you're a coward who lost a fight and then sent his little sister after my big bros so they look like the bad guys instead of taking your L like a man, and I hate you because you're dating Nee-san even though you're a bitch and a piece of shit that's not good enough for her AND I hate you because you like wearing maid dresses in public! Is that good enough for you?"

"Uhh..." There's so much wrong about that statement that I don't know where to start. "Big brothers"...oh, he means those guys, I bet. I wanted to forget about them totally. "Let me clear some stuff up. First off, that wasn't my little sister."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"That was my mom."

Ryou stands there in silence as it takes him a minute to process the information, then I see a smile slowly start to creep across his face. "No way, dude...pffffft!" He tries to hold in his laughter, but it's a futile effort. "They're gonna die when I tell 'em, dude!" he laughs, clutching at his midsection. "My boys can't say shit to me ever again-" Suddenly, he realizes that he's breaking out in laughter in the presence of his "sworn enemy" and stops and sits back down.

"I'm not dating Ayame, either."


"I mean it. Believe it or not. And lastly, the maid outfit was forced onto me."

"I call BS on that one, too."

"Listen here, brat, do I look like the kind of guy who'd wear a maid outfit in public?"

"Yeah," he smirks. In response, I bring the edge of my hand down on the top of his head, just gently enough to not cause any damage.

"You better not say anything else about that if you don't want the other side of your face rearranged, kid."

Ayame's brother turns away, giving me a side-eye and a pouty expression. Wow, he looked exactly like her for a second. That's what she always does every time that she doesn't get her way.

"I don't get you, Kouga," he mutters.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"You've got it made. Back when I was a kid, you used to run the whole block, and you've got a good relationship with your sister, and you've got Nee-san, too, and you're good at sports, I guess, since you beat me,'re pretty handsome..." That last one looked painful for him to say. "So why do you act like you're better than everyone else? Is all that not good enough for you?"

I take a deep breath, then exhale slowly. If only you knew, kid. If only you knew.

"Meanwhile," he continues, "Nee-san hates me, and she acts like I'm an embarrassment, and she yells at me for not behaving all the time. My parents are worse. They're always away, and whenever they bother to come home and take care of their children like they're supposed to it's always Ayame this, Ayame that. They praise her for everything and they're always happy whenever she talks their ears off about her stupid hobbies but with me it's always 'why aren't you behaving at school, like your sister' or 'why don't you have a better attitude, like your sister' or 'why aren't you doing something useful with your life, like your sister'- it's always her, her, and nothing but her! What am I, the dog? If I ran away to Sapporo tomorrow, or if I jumped off a cliff or something, they wouldn't even notice I was gone!"

"Look, Ryou-kun, I have something to tell you-"

He doesn't pause and keeps ranting.

"My parents ask Nee-san about you more than they talk to me! Mom will go, 'oh, how is Kouga-kun', and then Nee-san will spend ten minutes telling her about everything that you did today, and neither of them care that I'm one room away and I can hear EVERYTHING! I bet they'd trade me for you if they could!"

I feel like I'm hearing myself from a month ago. Believe me, I understand him, probably more than anyone. It's awful going through your life thinking your family doesn't care about you. I did that for six long, terrible years. I thought Mom and Dad were off in their own little world and Kaede didn't want to be around me.

"Listen, I'm in the same boat as you." I stretch back and put my hands over my head, relaxing. It's very calming being in the shade under the tree, where with my head craned toward the sky I can see the sunlight coming through the leaves in a patchwork pattern.

"I don't believe you," he scoffs.

"You can believe whatever you want. I'm just telling you. I don't have it as good as you think. My mom and dad are weirdos. Imagine your sister, but they're old, and there's two of them, and they're trying to raise kids. They're better about it now, but for the longest time they had no idea how annoying they both were."


"Yeah. Then I have Ayame on top of everything. Your sister's a colossal pain in the ass. I basically have to babysit her and she drags me into stupid schemes without ever stopping to consider how I feel about it." It's not that I hate her for doing that, but I think it's better to not say that part out loud.

"Hey, don't say stuff like that about Nee-san."

"I thought you said she hated you. Why do you care so much about who's her boyfriend? Not that I am, but still..."

"Because...she's my sister, and I'm a dude, and even if she hates me and wishes I'd fuck off somewhere and never come back, I still gotta protect her from scumbags, right?"

Yup. That's exactly the attitude I used to have toward Kaede. "I thought my sister hated me a while ago, too. Once Kaede got into middle school she wouldn't ever speak to me. I thought she was embarrassed to be seen around me, but it turns out she always wanted to be close again, but didn't know how to ask me because I acted annoyed a lot of the time and she thought I hated her."

"Her name's Kaede?"

"Why are you so interested?"

"...No reason."

I give him a glare, but he doesn't react, so I continue. "I'm trying to have a better attitude about things, but that's easier said than done.”

It's silent for a second, then Ryou looks down nervously, an expression of nervousness on his young face. "Hey, Kouga. Can I ask you something?"

"What is it?"

"Do you think if I learn how to do something cool, my parents will like me?"

"Like what?"

"Well, some of my friends want to start a band, and they want me to join, but I'm not sure about parents always talk to Nee-san about her drawings and stuff, but even if I join my friends' band, it might not get popular, and my parents and Nee-san still might not care, even if it does end up going somewhere..."

"I think you're looking at it the wrong way. You should do stuff like that because you want to do it, not for anyone else's sake. If you love something and you try your best at it, who cares what anyone else thinks? No one else can decide your happiness for you. If your parents appreciate you, they'll be happy for you. And if they don't? Screw 'em, you don't owe them anything."

"You know...I hate to admit it, but that was actually pretty badass, Kouga." He says that with a bit of an irritated expression.

I grimace as soon as he says that- what am I saying about Mr. and Mrs. Shiritori? They're nice people. "Ryou-kun, knowing your parents, I think they'll be happy for you."

Then again, look at me being a massive hypocrite. I just told Ryou to do what he loves for his own sake, not for anyone else's, and here I am, in week 2 of being roped into Ayame's circle.

Is this really something that I want to keep doing?

I guess we both have to find our own answers.

"Haru-kun? There you are- Ah! What are you doing here, you little twerp?! You better NOT have been picking another fight with him! I warned you the next time I caught you around Haru-kun that you were dead!"

I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn't even realize that Ayame is standing over both of us, with a scowl on her childlike face. Well, she's not as angry as she was earlier, but she's still mad.

"Whoa, hold on." I cut her off, quickly jumping to my feet before she puts him in a Boston crab or chokes him out or something. From the tone of her voice, I have no doubt she was ready to kick his ass from here to Okinawa if I didn't do something. "He just wanted to talk."

She gives me a head tilt and a frown back. "Really?"

"Yeah. I swear on my grandparents' graves." Not that I know where my grandparents' graves are. I think two of them are somewhere in America, and I'm not even sure if the other two are dead.

"I found him after he hit his head on something, and I think he'll be alright, but can you take him home for me?"

If Ryou wants to object to my little white lie, he doesn't say anything out loud.

She gives him a long glare, but then turns back to me. "Yeah. If you're asking." She puts her hands behind her back and fidgets a little bit- wow, her legs look good with those cutoffs on, and she wiggled her butt a little bit when she- uhh, that's not what you're supposed to be focusing on, Haruto, you idiot...

"Hey, listen...uhh...I'm really sorry for what I did today!" she exclaims, bowing quickly and violently before coming back up. "I didn't realize how much work you'd put into editing my draft until I saw all your notes and how much you wrote, and instead of being grateful for all the time you'd spent on it, I acted like you were some jerk who was mocking my effort for the fun of it...oh gosh, I can't believe I even thought about yelling at you like that..." She's not full-on crimson red right now, but she's definitely a nice shade of pink. "I'm really sorry...I mean one-shot got rejected and my mind hasn’t been straight all week…"

No surprise there, but I can’t say that out loud.

"No, it's my fault, I crossed a major line.” I have to say something. I mean, I made a girl cry, even if it was (mostly) her fault. "I let my emotions take over and I was too harsh and I said some things that I shouldn't have. It wasn't okay for me to say that you had no talent. You were right- I was nitpicking and being too hard on you, and you're just an amateur. I didn't realize how much time it would take for you to revise everything. I should have been more considerate of your time and effort. I'm sorry. I won't do it again."

"Look, if you want to quit the circle, you can," she says with a downward glance. "I kinda forced you into it. I was lying about the money...I just wanted you around. If something good happened, I wanted to share it with you first. It's...kinda hard not having you there for me."

You don't know how much I want to tell her I'm outta here, screw your doujin and your circle, but I already started my work, so I have to see it to the end. If nothing else, I'm not a quitter- and it's not just her that's relying on me. There are two others. If I blew them all off, I would, without a doubt, be a scumbag.

"You need to figure out how to not be so clingy. You've got what- less than three years to go before you go off to college? I can't be around you all the time once that happens. You're acting like a little kid."

"You tell me that at least three times a day." She puffs out her cheeks.

"I'll stick it out until Comiket. promises after then."

Her expression doesn't change, but I see her large, round eyes widen slightly as she looks up. "So...uhh...was there really nothing you liked about the doujin?"

To be honest, there wasn't much. From a technical standpoint, it was bad. It was not good art. It was barely passable art, and the story wasn't much better. But even as I read it and marked all of the mistakes on it, I could still feel that it was made with love.

"You put all your effort and feelings into it, and I could never hate that. You should keep doing that."

I'm not lying when I say that. It's the only compliment that I could give her horrible draft, but it's true.

"Really?" Her face lights up and she brings her hands up over her mouth. "You liked it?"

"Yeah." This time it's my turn to look away as I feel my cheeks start to burn.

"Baka-Haru," she giggles. "Your dere side is so cute."

"Get a room," Ryou snaps from off to the side, and immediately Ayame turns and fires a death glare at him.

There's one thing I didn't get to before she slapped the taste out of my mouth. It was quite possibly the worst thing about the draft.

"Page 22. Why are the girls forcing Brody into a dress?!"

There is no character who I could imagine crossdressing less. Every single chapter, Brodeon Greenmouse is having horny fantasies about some girl. There's no way he would ever tolerate that.

"Cause...I think he'd look cute in a dress...heh, heh..." Ayame's sweating bullets and fidgeting like she's got ants up her butt crack.

"What is with you and wanting to see guys in dresses?"

"Eh...ahahaha…I guess I gotta take the brat home." There's her special talent of dodging by changing the subject. "See ya." She turns back to Ryou. "Hey, dipstick, move it."

Ryou, now recovered enough to get up and slouch down in his usual gangster walk, snaps back at her, "Shut up, Pervy-nee-san-" He immediately stops, with an expression that looks like he has the barrel of a gun pointed at him. Oh, she stepped on his foot. That's why he stopped talking.

Ayame turns to walk off, but Ryou doesn't. As he faces me, his eyes nervously dart away, then he says quickly, "You know, Kouga, you're not actually a bad guy."

I know Ayame's little brother tries to be a tough guy all the time, but I like it more when his actual personality comes through. I think it did there.

"That doesn't mean I approve of you dating Nee-san, though- Owowowowow!" He's suddenly cut off by Ayame twisting his arm behind his back and dragging him off.

"But we're not dating..." I try to plead with him as they go, but my words disappear into the sounds of the summer afternoon.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy