Chapter 46:

My Family May Not Have Much, But We're Getting By.

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

A lot of people like to say Tokyo is the center of the world. The lucky ones who get to live here, like me, have everything we could ever want- jobs, education, homes, sports, movies, arcades, and all sorts of other things to keep the young and the old entertained. People come here from every part of this country and the world to visit- hundreds of thousands commute hours just to work in the city.

I guess it makes me strange that I don't want to stay here, even though I live here. Every day, I do the exact opposite of everyone who takes the train to the city from the suburbs. First, I wake up at five-thirty and get in the shower half-asleep. I know my country grandpa and grandma would be horrified I'm using the "spicket" in the morning like some barbaric Westerner, but I do take baths in the evening, too- it's not like I hate being Japanese.

Sometimes the drain clogs since my house is old and the plumbing backs up, or the pipes have frozen in winter, or Tamaki's left a hairball down the drain, and I end up having to get the snake out and clear it before I'm all the way awake. But it only happens about once every two months, so it's not a major hassle.

The rest of my family are very late sleepers, so after I brush my teeth and change into my uniform, I tiptoe down the stairs, making sure not to step on the fourth one from the bottom that creaks so I don't wake up the twins, and then I make my own breakfast. It's usually something instant or prepackaged since I'm not a good cook. 100-yen sales are a gift from the gods. Our microwave's about 20 years old and sometimes the plate won't rotate unless you hit it a couple times, but it hasn't broken down yet.

By six, sometimes Mom's up, but never on Mondays, because during the weekends she works another part-time job as a bartender and is usually there late to clean up. Sometimes Tasuku's awake, too. He's like a kitten- he'll be hyper and bouncing off the walls for a half hour and then crashes to the point where he can't move for the next one. I sometimes wonder if that'll cause him trouble with school in the future, but he's only nine. He has plenty of time to grow out of it.

Tamaki always sleeps in until the last possible second, and it's her job to wake the twins up, so I rarely, if ever, see any of them in the morning. I'm a bit jealous of my younger siblings- they can sleep late because all they have to do is walk down the street to go to school, while I have to be out of here by 6:50 to get to the station and catch the train. Tasuku's so cute when he waves goodbye to me and says "See you later, Tatsu-niichan!" that it makes up for it, though.

Oh. Forgot one thing. Before I leave, I always pay my respects to Dad. Then, I walk to the station, hot or cold, rain or shine, and instead of taking the train from the suburbs to the city like all the businessmen do, I ride it an hour to western Chiba, where I go to school. It's usually not very crowded in the mornings, since the only passengers are students like me, and there's few people from Tokyo who are desperate enough, or crazy enough, to go to high school all the way in the outer-ring 'burbs when there are so many good schools right where they live. I guess that makes me nuts.

Changing trains in Shinjuku is a mess, though. The station is so crowded in the mornings that I have to fight my way through the crowds of salarymen just to get on board my train before the doors close. The scenery out the windows is the same every day- the skyscrapers of the city, and then the blinking lights of Akihabara, and then the buildings slowly start to fade until they're replaced by a sea of close-packed homes, apartments, and businesses that make up the endless suburbs. Even though they're gray and dull, the houses in Edogawa and Funabashi still look better than ours. I wish we could afford to move somewhere nicer, but that's probably never going to happen. Nearly all my family's spending money is going toward the parts of my tuition that my scholarship didn't pay for.

Satake from my class gets on at Ichikawa. He usually shows me some kind of rare character he pulled in the gacha in Sun Emblem Heroes and then I make some joke about them all looking alike and he cracks up. It's so easy to make him laugh. I've made the same joke about Lynn about 10 times and it's like he genuinely forgot I ever said it in the first place. My phone doesn't have the storage space to run it, and it's not like I have time to play it anyways, so I enjoy watching him.

Then, I walk the rest of the way to Shinchoushi, get to 1-1, say good morning to most everyone there, and wait for Haru and Ayappi to come. They're almost always together. It's really fun hanging out with them. It's like they're a ready-made comedy act. A lot of the time I half expect Haru to whip out a paper fan and smack her with it. He already flicks her with his middle finger every now and then when she says something he really doesn't like. She has a talent for pissing him off. A lot of things piss him off, but she does the most.

As far as friends go, they're nearly perfect. The only problem is that sometimes- well, a lot of the time- I feel like I'm the third wheel on a date, and even someone as easygoing as me can only take it so much.

It's a lot worse being the third wheel when you're having to watch the girl you like have fun with another guy.

Then, class starts, we do this subject and that subject- math, science, literature, English, social studies (either world history, geography, Japanese history, you name it, depending on the week/module), PE, art, home ec, so on...occasionally I space out and get called on when I wasn't expecting it and say something stupid, although nothing bad really comes of that, and then I go to practice and stay there for a few hours, and then I go home and help Mom with her last few customers and closing up the salon, then eat dinner and do my homework. That is, when I'm not helping my younger siblings with theirs. Some are more willing than others. Tasuku will come right up to me and go "Tatsu-niichan, I can't figure out how to do this one!" and nearly start crying before I help him out. Since he's only a third grader, his homework is so easy I can do it without looking. It's 2+2 stuff and all that. Tamaki will say something like "I don't need your help, Onii-chan," and then I remind her of her grade on the latest round of quizzes and keep reminding her until she gives in. Then, once the kids are all in bed I finish mine, and if it's a good day I can get in about 30 minutes playing games on the family Swetch or watching YooToob before I have to go to bed myself, and that's pretty much what a typical day looks like for me. Except for when we had morning practice before the prefectural tournament. That was brutal. I hardly got any sleep at all.

Right now, though, it's the second week of summer break, so I shouldn't have to worry about getting up on time to catch the train. I should be able to embrace my Aikawa genes and sleep until 2 pm. However...the thing about being on a high school sports team is that they view breaks as a time to practice more without worrying about silly little things like homework. That's why the "Summer Training Camp" exists.

It's not a fun trip where we go somewhere cool while training and bonding, though. We're practicing six hours a day in the same old musty, puke-scented dojo that hasn't been ventilated since the eighties. We're not going to Gifu- this isn't Haistep! We're also not going to the beach- this isn't Shiroko no Basket. We don't have the budget to do either of those things. The school has a lot of money, but our team doesn't.

Besides, I've already seen enough of the beach this summer. During the first week of the summer, my family always goes to stay with Uncle Jirou in Kanagawa since he lets us use the campground for free. I also work in the refreshment shack while I'm there. It doesn't usually get a lot of business, but Uncle Jirou still pays me pretty well and that's how I end up getting most of my spending money for the year (the rest is from New Year's). He always tries to send Mom home with some extra cash, since she's his beloved sister-in-law, but every single year she refuses.

I got maybe eight or so customers this summer. My favorite was Haru's sister. She was super adorable. I could tell she was trying to look and act older than she really was because Tamaki does that sometimes. The girls in my old middle school did, too. Girls don't tend to see guys as human until they get to high school- just members of a lesser-evolved species that do nothing but scratch their butts and say dumb things. Kaede-chan wasn't doing it in an obnoxious way like Tamaki, though. She was really polite. If I didn't know, I would have thought she was sixteen or seventeen. I'd trade Tamaki for her in a heartbeat.

So, yeah. I thought I would have a fun summer to do whatever I want, but instead I ended up forced into karate team practice like usual. I'm still home a bit earlier than normal, but it's only earlier because 5 PM is earlier than 6:30.

When I walk into the hair salon that makes up the bottom story of my family's old home (we live in the 2 stories above it), my poor mother is being screamed at by a woman with a ridiculous bleached blonde, blue and red hairdo so high it probably adds 10 cm to her, covered with all sorts of rhinestones and bows. They don't match at all. All the dark makeup she has on is doing nothing to make her pug-like face look any prettier. Ganguro went out of style over a decade ago, but somehow we still have them here, because this neighborhood is full of trashy people. That's the sad reality when you're broke. You can only afford to live in a dump with the other dregs of society.

"Look what you did, like, you chipped my nail!" the hideous creature shrieks. "I want a full refund!"

I avert my gaze for a second, ashamed. I wish Mom would tell this lady that she runs a hair salon, not a nail salon, and she's not getting a refund and needs to leave. However, all she does is bow profusely, again and again, repeating "I sincerely apologize, honored customer."

"Seriously? You, like, didn't have the butterfly stones like I wanted, and you used ash blonde instead of platinum blonde! Are you, like, stupid or something? And then you used conditioner on my gorgeous hair! It's too, like, totally oily! I'm, like, never coming here again! You're getting 1 star on Googol! I'm, like, out of this lame-o place!" With a scowl crossing her unattractive face, she blows by me and out the door, bumping into me with one shoulder wrapped in a cardigan three sizes too small. She doesn't even apologize. In Japan, you apologize when you get close to actually walking into someone. People like that are so inconsiderate.

It's been a long day for Mom. She smiles tentatively when she sees me. "Welcome back, Takkun. How did your practice go?"

She calls me the same thing Ayappi does, which is part of the reason why I like it.

"Same old, same old, I guess." I shrug my gym bag off my shoulder.

"I'm glad you're sticking with it," she replies. "I didn't know what to think when you said you were going to try martial arts in middle school, but it seems like you like it."

"Yeah. It's fun, I guess."

It is pretty weird that I started karate so late. In middle school, I tried a bunch of stuff out, but none of the clubs and sports teams really interested me. I'd go check one out and get bored of it a couple weeks later. I eventually joined the photography club as a ghost member and just stopped showing up. That was, until the start of my third year when I, by some miracle, overheard my crush talking about how she liked guys in martial arts clubs. I walked right into my school's karate dojo and demanded to join as a third-year, having never thrown a single punch before then. They hated me and worked me like a dog. I don't blame them, though. They'd been training their hearts out for years and here comes this frivolous kid joining as a third-year to get maybe 4 months of training before having to quit for entrance exams. They probably thought I wasn't taking it seriously. They might have been right.

By some miracle, though, even though I only joined to impress the girl I liked, I started to like martial arts for its own sake. When the third-years had to quit, I bought some books with my own money and practiced on my own while studying for the entrance exams at the same time. I used all my money from my summer job to pay for lessons at a local dojo, working on my kyu belts while mixed in with little kids.

Oh, and as for the girl I liked? She confessed to my friend and they started going out. I haven't seen either of them since.

My mom peers at me curiously. "Is it just me, or have you gotten more muscular?"

"Maybe? I haven’t been paying attention. Do you want me to help you close?"

"No, go ahead. You've worked hard today."

That's a pretty bad lie. She could definitely close faster with me around, but the selfish side of me wants to relax, so I head back through the curtain that separates the salon from the flight of stairs that leads up to our home. Since we have so few employees (Mom, a couple part-timers every now and then, and me, occasionally), that's how we keep costs down, but it also means we can't make that much money because we can only serve a few customers at a time.

"I'm home..."

When I make it up to the second floor, my little sister is slumped across the couch, all 140 cm of her, tapping furiously away on the family Swetch. She doesn't even look up. "Welcome back."

"Tamaki, Mom's told you a million times not to put your bare feet on the sofa."

"Shut up, Onii-chan."

My eyelid twitches a little bit. My sister has absolutely no manners. She's lazing around like a slob, and on top of it all she's got a horrible attitude.

" I have to call the Tickle Monster?"

"Ugh." She finally swings her feet down and sits back up. "You're so disgusting, Onii-chan. Go jump off a cliff and die or something."

That worked, but my gosh is she ever annoying.

"Tatsu-niichan!" Tasuku's footsteps come pounding down the stairs before I turn around and see him, clutching his favorite, worn-out soccer ball with both his hands, his face absolutely lit up.

"Hey, lil' bud." I smile right back at him. "Were you good today? Did you work on your summer project?"

"Yeah!" He nods, beaming. "I found some more flowers and leaves outside, so I pressed them! Tama-nee was being mean to me, though...Ah!" He stops in surprise after locking eyes with Tamaki. "Mom said I could have the Swetch next! You've already had it for a whole hour!"

"Don't care, poop face. You wet the bed."

"Tamaki..." I try to make my voice as threatening as possible. She knows what's coming next if she doesn't behave.

"I do not!" Tasuku cries.

"Do too." Tamaki doesn't even budge from her seat on the couch.

"That's mine! Give it!" Tasuku drops the ball and lunges for the controller, but Tamaki whips it up high, out of his reach.

"Don't feel like it."

"Tama-nee, I hate you!" This time, my little brother dives over her in a desperate lunge for the Swetch, but it's still just out of his grasp. Tamaki's trying to push him away with her legs, but Tasuku's not giving up.

"Both of you, break it up-"

Before I can separate them, the stair creaks behind me. I whirl around in just enough time to get nailed by a plastic model airplane, right in the middle of the forehead.

Two small kids, one with short hair, the other with longer hair, peek around the corner, their mouths wide open in surprise, and then both of them break into mischievous grins.

"Touya, Touka..." Immediately, they take off up the stairs. "Get back here!"

It doesn't take me long to catch them. I sling one of the twins over my shoulder and carry the other one under my arm like a duffel all the way back downstairs, all while they're crying and squealing. They can't squirm out of my grasp, though.

When I make it back downstairs, my little sister and brother are still fighting over the game.

"All of you, KNOCK IT OFF!" As soon as I raise my voice, everyone freezes in place, Tamaki stuck in place pushing on Tasuku's face with her foot, clutching the console. "You want me to tell Mom?"

All of them look at me with shocked expressions, and Tasuku slowly slides off Tamaki until he's sitting on the floor.

"Tasuku, you have to ask politely."

Immediately, my little brother looks away, guiltily. "Sorry, Tatsu-niichan. Tama-nee, can I have the Swetch?"

"Tamaki, give him the game."

"Ugh, fine." Despite her disgusted reaction, she does put the Swetch down and he grabs it.

"Touya, Touka, say you're sorry."

Almost instantly, the twins burst into tears. Now I feel bad. "Okay, jeez, fine, I'll get you ice cream or something. Just say you're sorry."

They keep crying harder. Tamaki slumps back over on the couch, and Tasuku is completely engrossed in the flashing lights of his game.

If Ayappi was here, she'd absolutely say I'm just like Kotarou from My Sister's Too Lazy to Study. Yeah, she would. I can just imagine her now. I'm a scholarship student, and my dad's gone, and I have all these little kids to deal with, and I'm also poor. The difference is that I don't have a refined literary genius, a tiny math whiz, my cute, athletic childhood friend, a teasing senpai, my teacher, or my sister crushing on me. It's not a fun life.

If she was would be a lot better if she was here.

Ugh. As soon as I'm in my room, I slump down on my bed, face-first.

I want to see her again.

Steward McOy