Chapter 79:

My Senpai has Found Someone Amazing

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

When I come home on a chilly Tuesday night, I see something outside the salon that I never thought I would see again in my life: a line. It's stretching down the block, even though it's already dark out...and it's full of young women, too. Not a single one of our regulars to be found. As I walk past the line, the tittering sounds of college girls talking about nothing fills my ears. There's one subject that I can make out, and that's someone called Lara. Every few seconds I'll hear Lara this, Lara that. I have no idea who this person is, but she seems to be popular among young women who have the money to get their hair done.

When I went around yesterday evening to check on our ads and fliers posted around the community, they were ripped up. Every single one was destroyed. They couldn't have been up for an entire night. And yet, somehow, we have a line.

Near the front of the line, there's a yelp. "Hey! I've been waiting here for two and a half hours! You can't cut line!"

"Huh? I'm a Gold tier donor! I get line priority!"

"Not if a Silver is in front of you, stupid!"

There are two very well-dressed young women with long, silky hair and manicured fingernails staring each other down near the front of the long line. I can almost see the electricity crackling between them.

"That's not how it works!" the one with the brown-dyed hair and beret snaps. "I'm Gold tier AND I bought the special edition Lara pass online! I get to go to the front of the line!"

Lara pass? Huh? Like I said, who the hell is that? Please don't tell me it's one of those ideas that the president came up with and didn't tell anyone...

"Read the fine print!" the other girl, with long, dark hair and a shawl on, growls. "You get to go to the front of the line, but NOT before other elite donors! Got it?"

The other girl puffs out her cheeks, makes a noise like an angry cat, and continues staring. Slowly, I realize that the entire line has fallen silent as almost twenty perfectly styled heads crane their necks to stare at the unfolding scene, whispering among themselves. Oh no. There's gonna be a catfight if I don't do something about it.

"Honored customers, please calm down-"

"Butt out!" Instantly, both of them turn their attention toward me, glaring lasers. Crap.

"Who are you?" the brown-haired one says with a haughty tone.

"I work here, ma'am. I’m the owner’s son."

"Well then, tell this moron here that I get to go to the front of the line!" She dismissively gestures to the black-haired girl, pulling out her phone. "See? I'm Gold tier! I donated ¥20000 to Lara's favorite salon...I better get to go first! The privilege is right there! Look!"

"Yes, ma'am, I do see that..."

"Hold on a second!" The other girl pulls out her phone in turn. "It says right here that you only get to go before non-elite donors! Look! And I'm Silver tier!"

I bend down to look at the section of fine print she's zoomed in on...she's right. It does say that. It must be one of the things that the president figured out. She does these things first and doesn't tell us until she's already done it. And Mom's so busy and stressed that she'll just nod okay to whatever President Suzuran says.

"Honored customer, I apologize, but the Gold tier donation only allows you to skip the line over non-donors." As soon as I say this, her eyes widen and her face turns slightly pale. I turn my attention to the rest of the women in line. "Is anyone else here an elite donor?"

To my shock, almost all the line raises their hands. The brown-haired woman turns even paler.

"I apologize greatly, honored customer, but you'll have to wait there..."

She quickly ducks her head, mumbles an apology, grabs her purse, and rushes away.

As I approach the door, it opens with a jangle, and two more stylish women rush out, with faces aglow. One of them has a phone out, where both of them are looking at the selfie cam.

"Wow, Mina-chan, you look so good!" one of them crows. "This place is great, and the stylist was super nice and talented!"

"Your hair is great too, Yocchan!" the other one replies. "I knew any place Lara recommended would be good. She's so stylish, even though she never shows her face. I love her Inst*gr*m!"

"It took a while, but it was worth it," the other girl agrees, beaming. "We ought to donate."

"Good idea! Next time, we'll get in faster."

...Is there even going to be a next time?

"What about that little girl working the cash register? Wasn't that so cute?"

"I know, right?! She was adorable! Oh, wait...I almost forgot to rate! Five stars!" The girl smiles as she holds up her phone. "And we get 5% off next time!"

"Yocchan, selfie!"

Why is everyone talking about Lara?

The girls giggle as they walk away, and as I enter the store. Tamaki is standing behind the cash register, furiously tapping away at the keys as a few women stand in line, waiting. "Your change is fifty...fifty..." Suddenly, she notices me, and her eyes go wide. "Onii-chan, help me! I'm dying!"

"What's going on?" I quickly scoot behind the counter, where she's frantically tapping on the cash register buttons and pulling at the drawer, to no avail.

"The drawer won't open!" She looks at me with pleading eyes.

I take a quick glance down at the cash register. "The key's in the lock position. You must have hit it with your elbow." As soon as I turn the key sideways, the drawer immediately pops open and Tamaki sighs in relief.

"Uh...thanks...Onii-chan...I need to go help Mom!" She blushes scarlet, quickly turning to the puzzled lady checking out. "Your change is five thousand three hundred yen, honored customer!” she shouts.

Quickly, I look over to the chair and shampoo station, where Mom is working on another woman. It's kind of incredible how hard she works. Since we have to go to school, she's having to do everything herself during the day, and today looks like an incredibly busy day. But she's working hard.

She doesn't want our home and all our memories to be taken from us. Neither do I. I can help her.

"Takkun!" She looks up, breathing a sigh of relief as she sees me. "Can you fetch me the scissors I put in the disinfectant over there!"

"Yes, ma'am!"

For the next few hours, I rush around the salon, doing almost everything- bringing Mom her tools, sweeping hair off the floor, dusting off aprons, disinfecting scissors and wiping the chairs off, filling up the trash cans, running the register when Tamaki has to go to the bathroom- it's the hardest I've ever worked. The stylish young women keep coming in, two by two and three by three, and all of them are leaving with smiles on their faces. I've never seen the salon this busy in years.

Dad, I hope you're watching. This is what you wanted, right?

One person who doesn't show up, however, is Reika Suzuran. She's very noticeable by her absence. Every day after I come home from school, she's usually already at the salon, going over the budgets with Mom and telling her about her next grand plan to get the word out.

I still have my doubts about her and what her true motives are. Surely no one would ever devote as much time as she has to us without there being something in it for her. But...her plan is working. It's helped us. Over the past few days, there's been more and more customers showing up to the salon. I've had to help Mom out until eight or nine. We've made about six hundred thousand yen so far, and the GoGiveMe is already up to five million. But that's hardly even a drop in the bucket. We need sixty-three million, and even at this pace, we're not going to make it. There's only about nine days left.

My mind flashes back to the horrific smile on the face of the Yakuza member as he mockingly intones, If you don't make the money back, I'll own you. Forever. My stomach sinks like a rock. If we don't make it, Mom, and my little siblings, and I might as well be slaves.

Why did President Suzuran do that? She made it seem like it wouldn't even be difficult to make all that money back…but she put our backs even further against the wall..

The last customer, a small mid-thirties woman with a shaggy forelock plastered across her face, pays and leaves, beaming from ear to ear, and I slump down on one of the empty chairs at an unused shampoo station, breathing heavily. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mom slowly walk over to the door and flip the sign to "Closed." The sound of the cash register creeps into my ears from behind me, but I'm too exhausted to even turn around. I know Tamaki's counting the money as we speak, and I should double-check it for her, but I need a short break.

I look at my watch- it's not a Pear Watch or anything fancy like that. It's a cheap one I bought from Donki with the numbers that look like a scoreboard from the eighties. Eight-thirty? Shit. I still have to study. There's a quiz in math class tomorrow...

The doorbell rings, and it takes all my energy just to look up.

Striding through the door is Reika Suzuran, a confident look on her face, followed by a sharply dressed woman with perfectly styled hair, pulled back on her head and arranged into a bun that sort of fans out at the top like a sumo wrestler's, held together by a couple tortoiseshell hair clips. She looks around the salon, her eyes cold and piercing. I gulp. Whoever this lady is, she seems important. And the president didn't tell me anything about her. Just like usual.

Mom quickly hurries over, bowing profusely, while the president, standing between the two, says something with a big smile on her face. As I move closer, I can make out her voice. "...and this is the owner of Salon Biwa."

"Sayuri Aikawa." Mom bows deeply, holding out one of the business cards that normally rest in a holder at the front desk. "I have been in the cosmetology business for twenty-one years, and have been the proprietor of Salon Biwa for six. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms.-"

"Eiko Senjuuin. Likewise." The well-dressed woman doesn't wait for my mom to finish, instead taking her card and returning her bow with one of her own, albeit not as deep, and holding out her own card. "I work as an independent investor. Or venture capitalist, if you prefer to call it that- but I don't care much for that term."

"Ah, yes." Mom takes the card, inspecting it closely. "Suzuran-san did tell me that you were planning to drop by this evening. Thank you for your patronage." She bows again.

"I do apologize for the time..." the woman mutters. "I was unfortunately dealing with financial matters and wasn't free until this evening..."

"It's perfectly all right, honored customer. What would you like today?"

"Your standard wash, cut, and deep condition, please."

"Right this way, ma'am." My mother leads the woman over to the shampoo basin as the president bounces over to me.

"So, Aikawa-kun...this is the ace up my sleeve." Reika Suzuran grins as she turns to me.

"What's going on? Who is that?" My eyebrow twitches a little bit. Once again, she didn't tell any of us that she was planning on bringing some classy woman in after-hours. Or maybe she told Mom. I don't know. She sure didn't tell me.

"That's the president of the PTA," Suzuran replies. "She's your golden ticket."

"Golden ticket?"

"She's not just the head of the PTA," the president shrugs. "She invests in businesses, too. It took me three whole days to convince her to come and see how much potential's in the salon for herself. Everything's riding on this haircut. Senjuuin-san is super picky. If she likes it, she'll buy in. She's prepared to invest millions if she likes what she sees. But if your mom messes it up, you're screwed."

"What?!" I exhale from my mouth sharply. "So you arranged this super-high-stakes test without ever telling me?!"

"I wanted to surprise you." She giggles.

"You have got to be kidding me..." Ugh. My head hurts.

"I know your mom isn't gonna mess up. You'll get millions out of this, Aikawa-kun. Believe."

I can't say anything in reply. All I can do is press my hand to my throbbing forehead, exhaling. Mom gently teases and twists the woman's hair like an artist as she talks to her, and the well-dressed woman says something back. Behind the counter, Tamaki's looking at them with rapt attention as well. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something move. It's the curtain. I look back, and Tasuku's peeking around the corner to watch, and underneath the curtain are the two little heads of the twins popping out. Everyone's attention is trained on my mother as she works on the PTA head. Please, Mom. You can't mess up. Not if this is as important as President Suzuran says it is.

Forty minutes watching a shampoo, wash, haircut, blow dry, and style, feels like five hundred. Finally, my mom takes the apron off her customer, and she stands up, handing the woman a mirror, which she peers into intently.

The president walks forward a few steps, a look of anticipation on her face. I have no choice but to follow.

"So, what do you think?"

The woman is silent for a second as she turns her head in every direction, and then softly says, "It's excellent."

"I'm glad that you liked it!" My mom beams. "Right this way, ma'am. My daughter will take care of you at the cash register."

Beside me, Reika Suzuran breaks out into a huge grin. "Yes!" she whispers.

The woman gets up, brushing off her slacks and coat, before heading over to the cash register, where Tamaki snaps to attention, ramrod straight. "Y-y-your total will be...FORTY-FOUR HUNDRED PLUS TAX-"

"Aikawa-san." Senjuuin turns to my mother as she pulls a few bills out of a small wallet inside her white leather purse. "Can we talk business for a second?"

My mother's eyes open in surprise. "Um, yes...of course. I don't think there's a proper place to sit down, though..."

"I'm fine with doing business standing up," Senjuuin responds. "As I mentioned before, I invest in startups and small businesses. Suzuran-san brought Salon Biwa to my attention. While I have to say that the surroundings aren't up to par-" she looks around, stopping at every ceiling stain, cracked mirror, and old chair- "the service is superb, and the haircut I received was exceptional. It's clear that you know your styling, Aikawa-san. With a few interior updates, this place will be turning major profits."

"Thank you for your kind words, Senjuuin-san..."

"I'm prepared to offer thirty million yen for a 60% stake in the company."

Steward McOy