The town was busy with activity crowding the streets and sidewalks leaving the noise to plow through everything around. Near to the neighborhood of Yuki and many of his classmates was a shopping district within walking distance that provided much of the after school entertainment. It left the sidewalks filled with students just off from classes.
Yumi arrived in front of the local bookstore that she had found through the school. She opened the door, getting the familiar whiff of paper. At the front desk, the owner waved to her. “Good afternoon, Yumi!” Politely smiling back, she gave him a short bow before hurrying on to the back.
In the employee break room, she placed her bag down. A locker with a sticker in handwritten kanji, Yumi, stood on the far right. She pulled up the latch and retrieved out the slacks and purple polo. With the clothes in hand, she stepped over to the small bathroom.
Once changed, she left her school uniform in the locker and returned to the front of the store. “I’m ready, sir!”
Chapter 31 – Unbroken Bonds
The owner, a middle aged man, approaching his fifties, pulled up a cardboard box from behind the counter. He patted his hand on the side. “I need you to stock these, Yumi. These were a late shipment. You’ll find the rest on the cart.”
“Understood!” She pulled on the box feeling its weight and tugged harder. It slid into her body as she got an arm under it. Thankfully, it appeared to be only half packed. She smiled to herself, the focus giving her peace.
On the far side of the store, she found the cart stacked deep with books and boxes. She set down the box on the floor. Her eyes scanned over anything that jumped out at her. There was a lot to reshelf.
Two stacks into stocking, she paused on a children’s book. The cover had a simple cute design with a happy family. A mother and father walking with their two kids. Her hand passed over the image. Echoes of the past tore up to the surface. Yumi blinked and started hearing the familiar voices.
“That’s amazing, Yori! You’re so smart!” Their mother patted a young Yori on the head. His test held tightly in her other hand.
Yumi looked in from the hall at the scene, holding most of her behind the wall. She stared on in silence watching it play out. The moment Yori looked her way, she hid behind the wall.
Their mother noticed immediately and walked out to the hall. She knelt down next to Yumi. “Yumi?” Following the glances to Yori’s paper, their mother folded it up. “It’s alright, dear! You don’t need to hide.”
Yumi pulled herself back a little, catching the warm comforting smile from her mother. She stood in the threshold of the doorway hanging her head down trying to hold back her tears. “…Mom…” Her entire body was shaking ready to run away.
“What’s the matter, Yumi? Why are you crying, dear?” She raised up Yumi’s head to look at her, seeing the tears that hung in her eyes. Then she looked down, catching a paper in Yumi’s tiny hands wrinkled from her tight hold on it.
She gently took the paper from Yumi to look at it and then set it aside. “Is this what’s got you upset? Don’t worry, Yumi. You’re still my precious daughter. Your grades won’t change how I feel!” Yumi jumped into her mother’s arms and held out for her, unable to stop the crying.
“…Hrmph…” Yori said, turning his head away walking out of the room leaving them behind.
Late into the night, the distant sound of the front door woke Yumi up. A little hazy, she leaned forward from her sheets to listen. It took until then for her to realize that her father had finally come home.
She jumped out of bed and hurried to the door. Yumi pulled the door open cautiously. Muffled voices of her parents caught her attention. A smile came with her excitement and she ignored the fear rushing into the hall.
To her surprise, when she arrived at the stairs Yori stood down staring at their father. “Yori?” She hid against the corner sensing the tone.
“…doing here…” a muffled voice of her father said.
“I know… …playing around…”
“…just a child…”
“NO! I… …mother knows… …waits for you each…”
The voices suddenly became raised and much clearer to understand. “You don’t have any right to talk to your father like that!”
“And what right do you have to make mother cry every night when you don’t come home and knows what you’re doing!”
“Don’t you talk back to me, child! This doesn’t concern you!”
“It does when my own father doesn’t seem to care about his own family!”
“Watch your mouth! I—“ The shouting became louder. Yumi panicked and fled back to her room. She buried herself under her sheets as the dull sounds bounced around her room.
Yumi pulled her focus back to her work in the store. Her mind had been absent for long enough leaving the books that she was supposed to stock still resting. When she realized how far behind she was on her work she panicked and flailed her arms.
The books were eventually finished and she was about to take the box back when she was called forward. It was the woman that was the only other full time worker at the store apart from the family that owned the store. Yumi would see her in almost every day working behind the counter most days. “Yes, Miss Momoko?”
“Hey, Yumi! Could you take this to the back for me?”
“Sure!” There was someone else there with his back turned to her handing over a bag to Momoko.
“You can just give it to her, Yuki.”
“Oh right! Sorry!”
Yumi froze instantly seeing Yuki standing before her. ‘What’s he doing here? Why is…’ Her heart could barely handle the surprise. It leapt into her throat stopping her words. Yuki stepped forward to her holding out the bag for her to take as she stepped back. “…Hayashi…”
Her body remained frozen still with her face getting warmer by the second. Flashes of Yori came over her followed by her friends. Whispers told her what to do. She couldn’t move her body. ‘What do I do?!’
Yuki took a step forward, developing a confused look on his face for the odd reaction from Yumi. He tried to hold out the bag for her again, seeing that it was out of reach for her to take, but even being closer did not make a difference. “Yumi?”
‘What should I do?’
Glancing over at Momoko, Yuki tried to get a read of the situation. The limited interactions with Yumi, he didn’t really know a lot about her. “Is she okay?”
Momoko leaned over the counter touching Yumi on the shoulder. “Yumi? You feeling okay?”
‘Yori! Yuki!’ Yumi’s mind suddenly went into a spin hearing the echoing voice of her brother in her mind reminding her of his feelings. She needed to listen to him. That was the correct thing she should do. Yet he stood in front of him. ‘He’s here now. I can’t avoid him…’
The faded voices didn’t quite reach her fully. It took a little shake from Momoko to bring her back to reality finally. Gasping for air, Yumi flipped her head back between the two. Wide eyed and uncertain, she tried to guess how long it had been. The looks didn’t give her a positive answer. “Umm…sorry! Right!”
She grabbed the bag from Yuki. ‘Be normal!’ Not even thinking, she recalled the last thing from Momoko and hurried towards the back room. However, her shoulder crashed into the bookshelf knocking back.
All at once, everything slammed into her and lightheadedness overtook her. She dropped to the floor clutching the bag, while atop a few scattered books.
“Yumi?!” Yuki rushed over to her side looking to see if she hurt herself. The store polo looked to have survived. Perhaps she only tapped it and bruised herself. He knelt down next to her, offering a hand.
To everyone's surprise, a low growl came from Yumi that even Momoko could hear. Red flushed over Yumi’s cheeks as she pressed her hands to her stomach. A laugh burst out of Momoko soon followed by Yuki. She weakly grinned praying nothing more came from her belly.
Yuki rubbed his eye and looked back at his sister. “You running a slave ship here?”
“Only in the house! You better listen to your Cap!”
“Careful or I’ll stage a mutiny with the dwarf twins!”
Exchanging grins, Momo reached behind the counter and pulled out a plastic bag. “Help her to the back!” She tossed it over to Yuki.
An easy catch, he passed it over to his left hand while offering Yumi his right. “You’re not hurt are you?”
Shaking her head, she pushed off the floor to get back to her feet. ‘Oh the books!’ Yumi quickly started picking up the books she knocked down. A few slipped out of her hands, still also carrying the bag from Yuki.
Momoko motioned to her from the counter. “Go, Yumi! I’ll clean up. Get something inside you before keel over!”
“Y-Yes, Miss Momoko!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.”
“N-no, it’s not…your fault!”
Yuki took the books from her and placed them loosely on the shelf before escorting her to the back. Things quickly spun beyond her control. Not that she had any control. She could only sit down at the table while Yuki pulled out a sealed plate and some smaller baggies.
When she realized what laid in front her, she attempted to stand up. “I can’t! This is…her food!”
“Yumi! It’s alright. Momo gave it to you. She wouldn’t have done it, if she didn’t want you to have it.”
Swallowing the guilt with the food, Yumi quickly tried to get through the food. The back of her neck felt warm with Yuki so close to her. All of the voices making orders for her faded out.
A cough stopped her as she had to pause eating. Yuki pushed over a plastic water bottle. She downed a third of it before taking a breath. “Thanks…”
“Pace yourself. I would have given you my lunch at school if I knew you were so hungry.”
She shook her head. “No! I’m sorry! I…It’s not…Or I…” Yumi stopped herself before she attempted an explanation. Looking at Yuki, this was a different person than the class knew. This was the one she saw just once. There were sides the others missed or ignored.
She wanted to know more. A new path, a different path forked from her road. Staring down the fork, she no longer knew which was right and which was wrong. What path was safe? Which should she follow? “Can I ask you something?”
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