Chapter 70:

My Family's Life has been Turned Upside Down.

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

Believe it or not, there was a time when my family wasn't poor.

When my mom met my dad, she was working as a stylist in one of Harajuku's trendiest salons. She was a dreamer. When she was a little girl living in an ordinary family in Hachioji, she'd read fashion magazines and look at all the latest styles and imagine running her own hair salon where she'd work on celebrities. She'd always dreamed of owning her own salon, even when she was in school. After a few years in Tokyo, she'd climbed the ladder from a rank-and-file barber in a chain to a senior stylist in the kind of salon where a wash and a haircut costs five figures. Unfortunately, even the best of the best in the hairstyling industry don't make nearly as much per haircut as the businesses charge, and the expenses of the big city ate almost every extra yen she had- so her dream of owning her own business was no closer than when she was a schoolgirl.

Dad was the top host at a bar in Kabukicho. If you looked up "ladies' man" in a dictionary, his picture would be right beside it. Mom used to say he could charm a gorilla. He could make middle-aged women think that he was in love with them in barely thirty minutes, but it was all business. He didn't actually have feelings for any of the women he flirted with every night, and at first, he didn't have feelings for the woman who cut and dyed his hair every two weeks. But the more they got to know each other, the more comfortable he felt dropping his guard and revealing his true feelings to her- about his life and his job and all sorts of other things. And in turn, she started to fall for him. Not for You Itsuki, the top host at LaLaLa- for Nobuhisa Aikawa, the truck driver's son. Mom once said that I got all of his personality without any of the womanizing.

Two months after they started dating, they were already married. Dad quit the host clubs, dyed his hair back to black, and got a normal job as an insurance salesman. Mom said he charmed the hiring manager just like he charmed those middle-aged women. She kept working at the salon, but she never forgot her dream of owning her own place one day, and neither did Dad. They saved whatever they could. That was, until I came along.

My earliest memories are of a small apartment near the Asakusa Station, and it's of my mom doing my hair. Go figure. Dad would joke that Mom only wanted to have me because she couldn't practice haircuts on him any longer. Tamaki was barely old enough to walk back then. I used to hate her when I was young. I thought she was so annoying. What goes around comes around.

I was eight when we bought the house. When I first saw it, I was shocked at how much of a dump it was, but Mom was so overjoyed, you would have thought Dad had bought her a mansion for her birthday. It had an empty storefront on the ground level and that was all she cared about. Finally, her dream of opening her own salon had come true.

Our salon finally opened for business the year Tasuku was born. I didn't think about just how big of a loan Dad must have taken out to be able to buy the house and all the equipment that we needed. It should have been obvious to me, but kids don't think about that kind of stuff. And Dad was so confident, he had a way of convincing you that everything was alright when it wasn't. That's how it was for us kids. He told us that things were fine, and we believed him, until the day he died.

The cancer took Dad from us, and it took all the money we had saved up, and the only thing we had left was the salon. Mom's dream. His final gift to us.

I didn't want to believe Mom would ever willingly part with her business, even as I got old enough to see how little we really had. I watched the store lose customers, and our part-timers leave, and our finances go into the red, but I still had hope everything would turn out fine.

That is, until today.

Ever since that yakuza guy and my former classmate came to shake us down that one summer evening, I've been more and more worried about the salon, and Mom, and our whole family.

Monday should have been a normal school day for me. For the most part, it was. It was the start of a new semester, and it went exactly the same as the start of any other semester. Opening assembly, then classes, then lunch, then more classes, then karate practice, as usual. Ayappi being a cute little goofball, Haru being sour, Satake being dumb, Tachibana being the straight man, Suzuran from the class two doors down doing her normal shrinking violet act- it was as ordinary of a school day as I'd ever had. And when I came home, it was as normal of a day at Salon Biwa as ever- right up until Mom asked me to get the mail in after I'd finished sweeping the floor.

The stack of coupons and junk mail was completely unremarkable- except for the envelope on the bottom, bright red with a Japan Post logo.


I stared at it, puzzled, for a few seconds. It had to be a mistake, right? Mom's name was on the envelope, but we weren't moving anywhere. I brought it up to her while we were closing up, and she said it was probably a mistake. But doubt started to hang over my head the longer I thought about it. Had Mom really requested the form? It didn't make sense that the post office would screw up so badly and send a change of address form to someone who never requested one.

My doubts grew worse yesterday. When I came home, the salon was empty (as usual at 6:30 on a weekday). Mom was nowhere to be found, until I saw her standing in the storage closet with her back to me, talking on the phone. I assumed nothing at first. I thought she was just talking to a customer and went to go sweep up, but the more I overheard, the weirder it got. She was saying something about "the agent" and then something else about "pictures of the property" and then she asked how long a background check would take and something about signing some paperwork. When she turned around and saw me, she nearly jumped out of her skin and quickly mumbled hello and told me that she was on the phone with someone who called to book an appointment and didn't hear me come in. But it didn't sound like that to me. I wanted to trust her, though, so I didn't say anything else.

I tried to assume everything was a coincidence, but the more I thought about the man who had to be a Yakuza member claiming that Mom owed him money, the form that came in the mail, the mysterious phone call, and how evasive Mom was acting, the more worried I got.

I told myself not to worry as I lay awake in bed at night and couldn't focus in class. This home and business was her life's dream. She wouldn't sell it or move for any reason other than if she was being forced to.

But today, as soon as I turned the corner to my street after passing by the usual scenery of dilapidated apartments and old unemployed guys smoking their days away, all my optimism was instantly erased. The worst-case scenario I had imagined on those sleepless nights is true. There's no doubt about it.

I'm standing still as a statue, my bag slung over my shoulder, staring in shock at the three men in black business suits and sunglasses talking to my mother inside the salon that she and Dad worked so hard to open.

The one in the front is the gangster who came around over the summer break and acted like she owed him money. None of them have noticed me yet as I creep forward. Mom's saying something to the man, trying to act as calm as possible, but her face is betraying how nervous she really is.

The door is open, with a wad of cardboard jammed beneath it to stop it. She must have been interrupted right in the middle of sweeping, or maybe the AC isn't working today. Their voices float in the September breeze over to me, faint but still audible enough for me to make out every word.

First is my mother's, strained and frightened. "...until next month. We'll be out by then."

Then comes the same disdainful voice I heard weeks ago. "Aikawa-san, my clients are very...impatient people. I can't make any guarantees that they'll allow you to stay until then."

"I understand that, Ootsuka-san, but please...I apologize for all the trouble, but please allow me enough time to close the shop down and get my family moved out properly..." She bows deeply, her face contorted with nervousness.

"You had plenty of time to prepare for this." The gangster in the dark suit and sunglasses takes out a cigarette, lighting it centimeters from my mother's face. "You've already asked for plenty of extensions when you knew you didn't have the money to pay. I can't say I'm too sympathetic, Aikawa-san." The man blows a thin, steady stream of smoke straight in the air above my mother's head. "My clients are investors. They don't have the luxury to wait an entire month for your failing business to close 'the right way' or however you put it."

I feel my eyelid twitch. You're not allowed to smoke inside- it's so inconsiderate. The smell never comes out.

"Please, Ootsuka-san..." My mother's voice sounds strained almost to the point of exhaustion.

And then she turns her head, notices me standing outside, and her face goes white. "Takkun?" she gasps.

I try to search for the words I want to say, but the only thing I manage to spit out is "Mom...what's going on-"

The two businessmen standing behind the gangster turn and whisper something to him, and a frown crosses his face. "I thought you said there would be no unexpected guests, Aikawa-san." He takes a long drag of his cigarette. "You weren't trying to pull the wool over my eyes, were you? You know we don't take very kindly to tricksters."

"N-no, I swear...I don't even know how long he's been there...I thought he was still going to be at school...he has club activities, you know..." Mom's voice is frantic.

"The last guy who tried to eavesdrop on us and go to the police said the same thing," the gangster snarls, dropping his cigarette on the floor and stamping it beneath his unnaturally-shiny black shoe.

Suddenly, I'm consumed with fury, the kind that I've rarely felt for years, maybe ever.

I know everything that's going on. I've pieced it together. This guy's a loan shark. He took advantage of Mom's dream to open her own business, and Dad's desire to make his wife's dream come true, acted like he was helping them by loaning them a sum they could never hope to repay, and after everything they did just to open the salon, let alone run it, he's going to crush her dreams like he crushed the cigarette on the floor. He's going to rip us apart from the one memory of Dad we have left.

I will never forgive anyone who does that.

I burst through the door, putting myself in between the Yakuza thug and my mother.

Mom's voice is the most frightened I've ever heard her. "Takkun, what are you-"

"You can explain later, I already get most of what's happening!" I whirl around toward the gangster. "You. Leave or I'm calling the police."

"You again?" A mocking smile begins to form under his sunglasses. "Call the police on what? Showing a building to its future tenants? This place is a dump, but it'll make a nice pachinko parlor once the trash-" his stare, covered by dark glasses, fixes on me- "gets taken out."

"Not if I have anything to say about it. My family owns this place, and we're not going anywhere. This is gonna be Salon Biwa until Mom decides otherwise, not you."

"You don't have anything to say about it," he chuckles maliciously. "Your mother owes us sixty-three million. We've already tried to work with her, but she just couldn't pay no matter how much time we gave her. It's such a waste. My superiors' generosity was wasted on this establishment. It's a dump, but the land is worth something. You should thank the real estate gods that the market is good enough that we're only taking the house as payment and not your sister."

I'm so angry it feels like I'm on fire. "If you say anything else about my sister I'll make sure you regret it. You're not getting her or this house. Ever."

"Oh, really?" Now, the half-smile on the criminal's face is completely gone, replaced by a steely look. "And what are you going to do? Hire a lawyer? This doesn't look like the home of someone who could afford that."

"I said I'd call the police if you don't leave. I mean it. This is our business and you're trespassing."

The gangster pulls another cigarette out and lights it with a silvery metallic lighter. "Let me just warn you...I try not to involve children in our business as a rule, but some of my colleagues don't have that same ethical obligation. Take that as you will- now, if you’ll excuse us, the adults in the room need to go back to business. If I was you, I'd make myself scarce."

This time, I pull my phone out. "I'm not bluffing. Leave."

"Takkun, stop...go inside, please..."

"Be quiet, Mom!" I whirl around with such fury that my mother almost shrinks back. "And you. I said-"


My voice immediately trails off as soon as I hear my mother's scream, and then it hits me exactly what kind of situation I'm in.

"Y-yes, ma'am..." I croak.

All my anger is gone, and now fear is starting to well up inside me. This guy's a criminal, and I was trying to pick a fight with him. I'm making the situation worse. Does he have a knife? A gun?

I'm not in a place where I can make demands. It doesn't matter if the police come if I get shot. Or if Mom does. We're talking about organized crime. They'll get what they're owed, the easy way or the hard way. Just like that same man said weeks ago.

Mom's trying to protect me.

I'm angry at that man, but I'm more angry at myself. My mother's life's work is being ripped out of her hands, and I can't do anything about it but glare at the guy as I back away.

As I pass through the curtain to head for the stairs, I hear the voice of the Yakuza member behind me.

"If you want to blame someone, blame the man who paid 30 million for this place."

At the top of the stairs, I'm greeted by another unnerving sight. My sister is pacing back and forth in the living room over the worn rainbow-colored, oval rug, nervously biting at her fingernails.

"I'm home-" My voice causes her to freeze. As I get closer, I notice how big her eyes are.

"Onii-chan, what's going on?" Her voice is as frightened as Mom's- no, more. She's just a child. "I was helping Mom after I got home from school and then these guys came in and she told me to go inside and don't come out, no matter what, and then I thought I heard your something bad happening?"

"No, everything's okay. I promise." As I try to reassure Tamaki, I quickly look around and make a note of where everything is in the house. Just in case worst comes to worst. There's a fire extinguisher under the sink and if someone came up the stairs I could spray him with it and buy the kids enough time to jump out the back window and run to safety. And there's knives in the kitchen. Just in case...

But if the guy's got a gun, neither is going to help me.

Calm down, Tatsurou. You need to take a breath and think clearly. That guy isn't going to do anything rash if you don't do anything first, and he doesn't have a weapon. Mom's got it under control.

"Tatsu-nii!" Tasuku, normally so full of energy, has just appeared in the stairwell that leads up to the third floor, clutching at a tattered blue blanket. It's his favorite one. He's had it since he was a baby. "Help! I saw these scary guys outside-"

"Mom said stay in your room!" Tamaki hisses, trying to sound confident, but she's shaking like a leaf.

"But I'm scared!" Tasuku sounds on the verge of tears.

"Everything's okay. I'm here." I've gotta be as calm as possible. Not just for my sake- for theirs. "Mom's just taking care of some boring adult stuff. She'll be up soon."

"You promise?" Tasuku's voice still sounds shaky.

"Would I ever lie to you?"

"Tatsu-nii, can I stay down here with you?"

"Of course. Tamaki, can you go check on the twins real quick?"

Tamaki gulps, but nods and takes off up the stairs. I sit down on the couch, trying to look casual, but still keeping an eye at the stairs leading down to the store. Tasuku nuzzles into me, still clutching his blanket tightly, looking at me with worried eyes.

I've gotta do something to distract him. His worry is making me even more worried. "Is your homework done?"

"Can you help me, Tatsu-nii?"


It seems like a bit of his energy is back. He bounds up the stairs and quickly returns with his kanji notebook with the pictures of the rabbits on the front and a pencil case. "Tatsu-nii, can you show me how to write this one? I did it in class, but it doesn't look good..."

A few minutes later, as I'm engrossed in showing my little brother the right way to write 飲, Tamaki comes back down, this time holding one of her textbooks and a few sheets of paper. "The twins are still doing their homework. Since you're helping snot head out...I guess I can do mine, too. Since, you know..."

"If you want me to help you, just say so."

I'm expecting her to turn her nose up and say something rude, but instead she sits down, takes her pencil out, and starts drawing x's and y's, mumbling "If I need it, I guess..."

"Tatsu-nii, this one's too complicated!"

"I hate kanji," Tamaki sighs. "I wish we were like Koreans and didn't need to use them. They stink."

"Then you'd have all these words that look the same and you wouldn't know what they mean."

I'm helping Tamaki with her algebra homework when the stairs leading down to the store creak. I whirl around toward them, half expecting to see the yakuza thug, but it's just Mom with a weary expression on her face. Noticing me, Tamaki looks up too, and then Tasuku stops doodling and follows suit.

"Everyone," she finally says, leaning over the counter, "I have something to tell you."

We gather around the counter in the kitchen, first Tasuku, then Tamaki, then me, and then a couple tiny heads squirm their way between us.

"Next month, we're going to be moving to Kanagawa."

"Moving?" Tasuku yelps in confusion. "That's so far away!"

"It'll be alright." Mom tries to force a smile. "Uncle Jirou gave us a good deal on one of his rental houses. It'll have enough room for all of us and it has a working refrigerator and washing machine and shower and the stairs don't creak. Everything's brand new, and we're so close to the beach that we can walk there. It'll be fun."

"Beach! Beach! Yay!" The twins immediately start happily babbling to each other.

"But...what about Ken-chan?" Tasuku's voice is still hesitant.

"You'll make all sorts of new friends in Kanagawa. The schools are very nice. Don't worry."

"Don't make that face," Tamaki finally says, seeing our little brother's expression. "We've moved before, remember? And Uncle Jirou's hometown is so much nicer than this neighborhood. So long as we're together, everything will be fine."

"Mom, will we get to eat crab for dinner when we move?" Tasuku asks, still with a quiver in his little voice.

"Lots of it." She smiles, painfully.

"...That sounds pretty fun."

"All the sun will be good for my skin," Tamaki announces, flipping her hair haughtily. "I'm looking forward to it. Being at the beach every day...Ryouko's gonna be so jealous."

I still want to say something. I still want to object. Why is everyone just accepting this? Aren't you sad? Aren't you angry? This place may be a dump, but it's still full of our happy memories!

...But I can't speak a word. I'm just assuming everyone else feels the same way I feel. I really have no place to say anything. I'm not the one who took the loan out to buy the house and start the salon. I'm assuming Dad would agree with me, but he's dead. I don't know what he'd do if he was still around.

"Can I ask you kids to help me tomorrow? I've got some paperwork for each of you. It's already filled out, but just take it to your teacher when you have time. They'll know what to do." Mom's statement gets a chorus of silent nods in reply. "I'll go ahead and make dinner. It'll be croquettes tonight."

The twins both explode in jubilation.

"Takkun, can you help me for a bit?" Mom looks at me with pleading eyes.

I have no choice but to nod. "Yeah."

"Tama-chan, can you keep an eye on your younger siblings?"

"Yeah," Tamaki nods. "C'mon, poop face. Time to finish your homework."

"But I want Tatsu-nii to help me! Tama-nee is too dumb!"

"He's already helping Mom, dummy! Hurry up!"

"I don't wanna!"

"Guys..." I mutter, staring at both of them, and they instantly stop, before begrudgingly traipsing up to their rooms, and the twins follow. They've all got their schoolwork to focus on. So do I, but I can't focus on anything right now.

We make dinner in silence. I can't find the words I want to say, and neither can Mom. I just stare at the croquettes frying, stirring them for what seems like hours, listening to the rhythmic sound of her chopping vegetables. It doesn't seem like she can tell me what she wants to, either.

Finally, as the rice cooker dings, Mom breaks the silence. "Takkun, could you go get everyone? It's almost ready."

I nod and quickly head up the stairs. The atmosphere downstairs is not enjoyable, to say the very least.

I expect to see Tamaki and Tasuku both studying, but when I get upstairs, the door to her room is closed. There's what sounds like scratching coming from it-

No, that's crying. She's crying.

On the opposite side of the hallway, Tasuku's absentmindedly rolling a toy car along his desk, humming to himself but looking nervously in my direction every now and then.

Hesitantly, I knock on my sister's door. "Tamaki? Dinner's ready."

Her voice comes back, muffled and in between sobs. "I don't want any."

"Are you sure?"

"I said I don't want any! Stupid Onii-chan!"

"Okay, I'll tell Mom...are you feeling alright?"

"Of course not! I don't wanna move! I don't wanna leave Ryouko!" My sister's voice comes from the other side of the door, wavering and plaintive.

Immediately, I storm down the hall into my room and slam the door, grabbing my eraser off my desk and throwing it with all my might against the wall. It slams into my Little League trophy, sending it tumbling off the dresser into the floor as I pant in frustration.

"Dad, you fucking dumbass!"

Then, I collapse on my bed, burying my face in the billows of the comforter.

Steward McOy