Chapter 27:

"Standing on the Corner of Stuart and the Avenue"


“Hey, welcome home,” I mumble out, wiping my eyes and stifling a yawn as I leave the lucid dream for the daydream and then the daydream for real life. I turn the radio down low and sit up on the couch, giving Nii-chan space to rest his weary head next to me.

He tosses his bag down and sprawls on the empty cushion. Both he and the couch groan from age. His eyes look a little bloodshot.

“I made dinner,” I say, twiddling my thumbs. "'Course, it's just cold ramen now, but it's still there."

He's staring off into the distance. It takes a moment for my words to register. “...oh, thanks. I’m not really hungry though.”


“You didn’t wait for me, right?”

I wave his concern away. “I wasn’t gonna eat anyway.”

Nii-chan hunches forward and rubs his eyes. His frame, normally so large and protective, looks small in the dim glow of the living room lights. Something definitely happened - he would never refuse a meal.

“What’s eating you?” I ask. “Long night with the Lads?” Sometimes his Lads could get into trouble, especially when delinquents or arcade high scores or first-year girls were involved. 

He pulls a rag from his bag and wipes down his wooden katana like a concerned mama. I raise an eyebrow - the sword is covered in dark crimson splotches that look like they've only recently dried.

“You could say so,” Nii-chan answers, his eyes on the sword. “Hantei work. The culture festival is only two days away, so things are getting pretty serious.”

“Ah.” I think my class is doing a maid cafe. What a joke. I think I’d actually be good in a haunted house, though. My reputation as the Toughest Woman in San-Machi precedes me. But speaking of school…

I bow my head. “Sorry about this morning.”

Nii-chan doesn’t even look up. “It’s alright.”

Something is definitely, definitely, wrong. Usually I’d get a speech or lecture or, on the worst days, even a spiel - but nothing. Just tired acceptance.

“Do you want to talk about something?” I ask. “We’re the Mizutami twins, after all. We go way back.”

That earns a chuckle. His fingers tremble as he clutches the rag. “I watched someone die tonight.”

The gears in my brain begin whirring. I think of kamikaze pilots and suicide charges and making a last stand as your position is overrun to ensure your guys get home safe. 

“I’m sorry to hear that. Was it, uh…bad?”

Nii-chan nods. “Her stomach got vaporized. Clean-through, like a donut.”

I don’t wish to be described as a donut when I die.

“Did she at least die for a good cause? Was it to save someone?”

Nii-chan drops the rag entirely. It slides down his sword to the floor. “No. Not at all.”

Dead for no reason. Dead like a donut. Death shouldn’t be like that. Death in midsummer, death in twilight, for king and country - that's how it oughta be. But to just up and die and only be remembered in the tired words of a student discipline committee officer speaking to his loser sister? It's all wrong. What happened to life and death like a cherry blossom fluttering from the tree? A line of poetry written with a splash of blood?

But wait. This is all wrong. Nii-chan’s out here going through some tough crap and all I can think about is myself. What kind of sister am I? I really am a loser.

“You should get some shut-eye,” I recommend, trying to speak gently (I'm not very good at it). “Some sleep will do you good. And it wasn’t your fault.”

Technically, I have no idea if it was his fault or not. But this is my brother we’re talking about - he’d go through hell just to save a fly.

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” he says. “But…”

He holds his sword up in front of him. It shines now, the bloodstains gone, but he holds it uneasily, a far cry from the relaxed, firm grip of Kenjutsu Water Style. The radio shifts into a jazz song that drifts over the room as slow as molasses.

“I’m pursuing the way of the sword,” he says. “It’s somewhere between a hobby and a lifestyle. Maybe even an obsession. It’s all well and good when the way only involves me. But big things are happening on this island. There may be a time when someone’s life depends on my ability with the sword. My master is just a drunken actor. I’m afraid that when the time comes, I won’t be good enough.”

I can’t help it. I laugh.

He looks at me in shock. I wipe my eyes and manage a smile. “Nii-chan, c’mon. Wasn’t too long ago that Dad got arrested and Mom took a train to the face. All I had at that moment was you. My life depended on you. Not your sword, just your ability to be kind. You saved me, Mizutami Kouji. And if you can save somebody as lousy as me, then I’m sure you’re gonna be fine.”

This doesn’t produce the reaction I expected. I was thinking he’d go back to his old self, his rah-rah attitude, and then we’d go eat dinner and laugh. But instead, he’s stopped looking at his sword, and is now looking at me.

“Sometimes I really wonder about that.”


I don’t get it.

“Is this about skipping school?” I ask. “Or about…everything else going on with me?”

He glances back down at the katana. I decide not to tell him about the gun pulled on me or nearly dying at my own hand today. He has enough going on. I can’t even imagine how to explain psychedelic nightmare monsters to him.

But wait, I do got something I can tell him. Maybe this will cheer him up.

“If it makes you feel better, I think I found something I want to do.”

“Not dying in battle, right?”

“Not this time,” I answer with a small laugh. “I’m gonna help clean up the city. I can’t really say too much, but it’s with Rina Nobuko.”

That does get his attention. “Student Council intelligence work?”

“Something like that.”

It takes a moment, but then he slaps his belly and laughs. “Mizutami Sumiko, working for the Man!”

My face grows red. “Shut up…” But I’m smiling too.

Nii-chan keeps laughing and laughing as he heads to his bedroom to store his katana. When he returns, his posture is far more relaxed than when he got home earlier. “I guess we might not be seeing each other for a few days, then. Both of us will be busy with the culture festival.”

I shrug, but when he puts it that way, it does sound a little sad. “Seems that way.”

“Whatever the intelligence work is,” Nii-chan says, going into spiel mode. “Make sure you give it your all. Do what you think is right. And you can always come find me if you need anything.”

I roll my eyes. “I know, I know. You’ve given me similar advice thousands of times.” But I stand and feel better about everything. “I guess one more time doesn’t hurt, though.”

Nii-chan raises a fist.

“Mizutami twins?”

I smile and raise my own fist. The sound of the fist bump echoes around the apartment.

“Mizutami twins.”  

Steward McOy