Serious reviews only, as this is the start of a novel that I am working on. :)
Rei was the oldest of five sons in the Awayuki household.
As the oldest of these five sons, he felt that it was his responsibility to be strong, to be the father that his brothers never had. If one of them needed help with homework that Mother couldn't understand, he would come to their aid almost immediately. He had spent many a night staying up late as an unpaid tutor to his siblings, not complaining when he had to wake early in order to help mother prepare breakfast and wake up his snoozing brothers. If Mother went to bed early after giving instructions that the children be in bed by a certain time, Rei made sure that everyone was tucked in promptly five minutes before. If Genji scraped his knee while Mother was out working on a weekend, he bandaged it and cradled him softly.
It was also his duty to help Mother.
The first time she collapsed, he had stood stock still in shock. It was Makoto who had helped her up and given her a pillow to lay her head on.
"Rei," he said softly, without any trace of panic. "Go call an ambulance. I'll go get everyone else." His brother's smooth voice slowly awakened him out of his stupor and he had run to the phone, quickly giving the service director their names and address.
"Please stay on the line while I dispatch an ambulance for you," the woman said on the other end. Rei could remember sweat dripping off his palms as he cast a worried glance at Mother, who was surrounded by the four boys he had grown up with. Makoto was fanning her while Aiji clasped her frail hand in his. He should have known that it would happen someday.
At the hospital, the doctor took him aside privately.
"Your mother has a condition called arrhythmia. This is simply a disorder of the heart's rhythm. However, what caused her to collapse today stemmed from something called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is where the left ventricle of the heart has thickened and become erratic. You did well to act so quickly."
"Thank you, doctor." Rei bowed deeply. The doctor looked at him solemnly and drew out a notepad.
"I'm going to give you instructions for emergency just in case this sort of thing happens again. Sometimes our vehicles don't get to a destination in time. It was really quite lucky that they did, in this case." The doctor spoke as he scribbled on the yellow, lined paper, and handed it to Rei when he finished.
"Rei, your mother could have died."
Sunlight drifted through an open window onto the papers that sat on the coffee table in the living room. The bright light illuminated the stark whiteness of the sheaves of paper, along with the words written upon them.
Rei stared at what was supposed to be a mock court trial. He had studied day and night for his upcoming bar exam, which was in two weeks. The case was something about a minor theft by a homeless man, and the argument provided by the plaintiff was nothing short of ridiculous. But that didn't really matter.
It had been three years since Mother's first collapse. Since then, she had only suffered one other attack, and Rei hadn't been there. Thank God Makoto had just returned home from college. Everyone else was at school, or swim practice, or soccer practice. The only time everyone was home was around ten at night.
It was ridiculous. They were all trapped. This giant mansion of a house was nothing but a damnable curse, given to them by one of the many men ensnared by mother's only marketable asset, her undying beauty.
It was ethereal. Mother was like an angel, something not from this world. Every man she passed on the street, married or not, found themselves glancing at her a second time, their cheeks turning pink. It made Rei sick. He loved mother, but hated her beauty. Hated the situation they were in.
Would always be in, if things didn't change.
He had spent many nights just sitting at his desk, staring out of the window or blankly at his computer screen. Formulating a plan. Mother couldn't go on like this. The boys couldn't go on like this. They needed their own lives. They needed to find their own version of success and make their own fortune. One day they could come back home and live together, but only after they had grown up and made enough money to take care of both themselves and their own families.
It was a good method. And Rei was bound and determined to see it through. That is, if Mother accepted.
Rei wasn't about to disobey Mother.
He had done so only one time, back in the days when it was just him and Makoto. Rei had been four, and Makoto had barely turned one year old. They were living in some rundown apartment that existed for the sole purpose of housing prostitutes. He knew, somewhere in his subconscious, that he had to be absolutely quiet, not make a sound, because then someone big and mean would hear and hit Mother again. A brief memory of Makoto crying in the middle of the night. Tears and wailing. The sound of a hand striking flesh.
Mother had just stumbled in, the cold night air sneaking in behind her. She shut the door, her frail hands just barely managing the movement, then sank to the floor. Rei had witnessed this scene more times than he could count. Mother rested there for a moment and then smiled up at him sheepishly.
"Rei-kun, go get mama a glass of water, will you?" She wiped her brow, makeup smudging on to her palm. Rei stayed where he was.
"Rei?" Mother sighed, her eyes closed.
Rei felt tears well up in his eyes. Mother finally looked at him.
"I hate you!" Rei cried, and turned on his heel into the bathroom. He slammed the door with a loud bang, jolting Makoto awake, who began a loud, incessant wailing.
Rei stared down angrily at the badly tiled floor. His little hands were clenched in fists by his sides. Tears rolled down his child's face as he shook with silent sobs. He hated himself. He hated his life. No, he didn't. He hated that Mother had to live like this. He felt utterly useless. Why couldn't he be older so he could take care of Mother? Why did their lives have to be like this?
After the buzzing in his head faded, he realized that Makoto had stopped crying. He wondered how long he had been standing in the bathroom. He cautiously opened the door and looked around. No bad men were here. He stepped out into the kitchen and tiptoed into the living room. There was Mother, asleep on the floor next to Makoto's splintering crib, her jacket draped over her like a blanket.
A wave of shame rolled over Rei. He felt his heart sinking to the very depths of the ocean. How could he have been so mean? He was no better than those men that came in the middle of the night just to hit Mother.
Quickly, he ran to the kitchen and poured a glass of water. He placed it a ways off from Mother's face, so that she wouldn't knock it over in the middle of the night but would be sure to see it when she woke up. He settled down on the floor next to her, snuggling up to her back underneath her jacket.
The giant grandfather clock in the outside hall chimed noon, waking Rei out of his stupor. How long had he been sitting here...? He shook his head, gathering his pile of papers and standing up on wobbly legs. The warm sunlight was so relaxing; he wouldn't have been surprised if he had dozed off in the middle of his studying. He sleepily wandered into the kitchen where the same sunlight filtered in through light roman curtains hung over its many windows. He sat his work down on the immense center island and set about preparing lunch, gathering the innards of the refrigerator and spreading them out on the counter. It would be simple today, bento for everyone- the boys would still be at practice until one, so he had time to make one for each of them. Sushi rolls, rice... maybe some red bean pastries to go along with it.
Soon the great front door was pushed open, sending a giant ray of light into the dark front hall that shot straight through into the kitchen. A sweaty, lanky, younger boy of about sixteen stepped inside and dropped a duffel bag on the polished wood floor, kicking off his grass-stained cleats. Rei could hear his little brother breathing heavily from all the way down the hall.
"Come on, Aito," Rei called from the kitchen, where the smell of cooking rice wafted in lazy clouds of steam towards the ceiling. Aito shuffled tiredly into the brightly lit space, dragging a chair out from underneath the island and slumping down into it. He craned his neck backwards, closing his eyes.
Rei didn't even have to look at him to know what he was doing. "You'll get a crick in your neck doing that," he commented quietly, sliding a plate of bean pastry towards his younger sibling. Aito blindly grabbed for it, eyes still closed, and popped it into his mouth, straightening his posture as he did so.
"I haven't gotten one yet," he retorted through a mouth full of dessert, though he was popping his neck now.
Rei chuckled. "Call Aiji, will you? If he's late, I'll just wrap his and throw it in the fridge." The sound of another duffel bag being thrown on the floor carried itself down their way.
"No need, he's here."
"I gathered that," Rei retorted, and began to spoon the individual items he had prepared in small, disposable trays with little compartments of varying sizes. "Aito, carry these to the living room table, will you?" Aito grunted in response and set to his task. Aiji entered the kitchen with a sigh. He produced a thermos from somewhere inside a cabinet and took it to the sink to fill it.
After a moment of content silence between the two brothers, Aiji asked, "How's Mother today?"
The question hung in silence between them. Aiji turned the water off and leaned back against the counter. Rei swallowed what spit was in his mouth and answered, "She's a little tired today." Aiji looked at him.
"Just... tired?" His stare was penetrating. Rei swallowed again.
"Yes. She felt quite faint late last night and went to bed early, and when I came in to bring her breakfast she said she would stay in bed today." Aiji turned his gaze to the floor and took a sip of his water.
"Tired..." He exhaled heavily. "She's been kind of reclusive lately... don't you think?"
Rei nodded. "I think so. But she's recently been put on those pills, so I think that may be it. A little rest will do her good." He handed Aiji a plate of bean pastries and some napkins. "Take these to the living room, will you?" Aiji set his thermos down and obeyed, his athletic shorts whispering down the hallway as he walked.
A shout sounded from the front yard, what with the door being open still. The day was nice enough, and Rei didn't mind it when there was more than one person home. "Genji-kun is home," Aito called from the living room, as if the child's own animalistic yelling wasn't enough of an alert. The source of the noise stomped into the kitchen and a dramatic sniff was given at the smells of the food being cooked.
"Rei-kun, your cooking is always so good!" Genji exclaimed, stealing a pickled plum from off the island.
Rei sighed in exasperation. "Genji-chan, go in the living room please. I'm going to get mother. Tell Aiji to get drinks, alright?" Genji nodded, his mouth full of plum, and skipped away.
Rei wiped his hands on a hand towel and proceeded to climb the massive staircase that led to the second floor. The stairs began just outside the kitchen door and opened up onto another great hall that was home to the bedrooms of the six people living there.
He walked past Genji's bedroom, a labyrinth of legos and blanket forts, down to where mother's bedroom was located, at the end of the west hall. He knocked on her door lightly, once, twice.
"Okasan, I'm coming in," Rei called, cracking open the door to see if she was still asleep. The bed was made, and light was streaming in through the French doors that opened onto the balcony outside of her room. He poked his head in a little further. "Mother?"
"I'll be down in a minute," she replied faintly. Her voice appeared to emanate from the bathroom. Probably still getting ready.
"Alright." He closed the door softly, feeling as though he had encroached on a sacred place. He always felt that way every time he entered his mother's room, even if it was to simply bring her breakfast, as he had that morning. Perhaps it was because Mother finally had a sanctuary to herself after all these years.
Rei clomped back downstairs to the voices of his brother's arguing, a new voice in their midst. He entered the living room to find Makoto standing tall above the three of them, his green eyes smiling just as much as his mouth was.
"Eh? You mean you really caught a lizard and kept it? Oh, dear, Mother better not find out. You know how she hates scaly things." Makoto's soft voice drifted over them, automatically and subconsciously sending their fears and doubts to small corners of their minds. Where Makoto was, so there was light also, and laughter, and the sense that everything was going to be okay. Makoto's sandy, mouse-brown hair caught in the noon sunlight as he sat his schoolbag down and shrugged off his jacket.
Rei caught his eye.
"Ah, Rei-kun. Thank you so much for making lunch today. I know I'm a little later than usual." His expression turned to worry as Rei didn't return his smile.
"You're fine," Rei replied after a moment of awkward silence. He managed a tiny grin and motioned for his brother to sit. Makoto did so, giving him a worried glance but not making a row out of it. That was something Makoto never did, and probably could never do. He was the peacemaker. If there was an issue, he could automatically find and figure out what it was through the body language of a person, or simply by the way their voice fluctuated when they addressed someone. That was Makoto's strength, and one of the reasons why he had been pushed to become a teacher. "So you can understand the student," Mother had reasoned.
Rei was just about to take his seat when Mother entered the room. At the sound of her faint footsteps all of the boys stood hurriedly, bowing lightly when she walked through the doorway.
Her light filled their eyes. Her smile lit up the room, her skin was illuminated without the use of makeup. Mother had never needed makeup. Her eyes were always so big, so bright, so captivating. Her eyelashes were so long and dark, mascara was a thing she never paid for. Her short stature was made up for her doll-like face, and her dark hair brushed her shoulders the way the paintbrush caressed the canvas. Mother was more beautiful than a geisha. Mother was beauty.
"Good morning, my boys!" she exclaimed happily, her heart seeming to lift at the sight of all her sons gathered in the same room. Her son's hearts lifted also, in unison, as they returned her greeting.
"Ohaiyo gozaimasu, Okasan!" Everyone took a seat at one time, and Rei took the responsibility of handing everyone's bento out to their respective owners. When all was done and prepared, he cleared his throat.
"Itedekimasu," he prayed in his deep voice. The others followed suit, their voices mingling in a sweet harmony that was soothing to the soul. The clinking of plastic chopsticks soon replaced the whipping of the overhead fan as the group took their meal.
Rei went over his speech in his mind. He had gone over what he wanted to say to his brothers at least ten times this morning. He wondered how they would feel. Betrayed, more than likely; upset, that was likely as well. Makoto would probably understand. However, they would all be astonished. He had not discussed this with any of them.
Only Mother. He had brought up the idea last night, after she had complained of weariness and retired to bed. He felt incredibly guilty for knocking on her door during her period of rest, but it had to be done, and the sooner the better. She had gotten up, coincidentally, to watch one of her favorite soaps, and answered cheerily albeit sleepily when he poked his head of blue-black hair into her room.
"What is it, Rei-kun?" she inquired, genuinely concerned. Her flawless, unwrinkled brow creased as he took a seat on the edge of her four-poster bed, hands resting on his knees. He sighed.
"I need to talk to you, Mother," he began, and told her all that he had been stowing away in his heart for the past two years. He could feel the hurt in her heart when he told her she was growing "weak, for her age," and took hold of her fragile hand when he brought up the tough bit- sending his brothers away. Not just for their good, but for Mother's good.
She had tears running down her face by the time he finished, but gave him a strong look when he finally dared to meet her eyes. His stomach sank.
"Rei, my dear son." She took his face in one of her hands and ran her thumb across his cheek. "I understand what it is you say. You want this only for my own sake and the sake of your brothers." She looked down at the burgundy comforter that encased her bed and let out a small breath.
"I will allow it."