“What is that, Reiko?” Haru asked.
“It's just a good luck charm. You must leave it on the door until all the ink has faded. Promise me?” She stepped back with her little pot of rubber cement, making sure the ofuda was secure and level (no need for it to look sloppy).
Reiko had decided not to tell people what the ofuda really did so that they would not have to worry about abusing it or feeling guilty or growing careless. Those few who did know the truth respected her decision, glad they were not in her place. She was following Takamura's advice, giving them to friends and family first, then she would see.
Some homes were shared with several people and she meant to deliberately hold a few papers back in case those faded much faster than others. The very first one, made by Tsuzuki, she had used on her own home, because she expected it to be very strong and they had a lot of servants.
In the past week, she had prepared four of the ofuda - this was the first.
“A good luck charm, huh? Coming from you, that means it will work. Thank you.” Haru smiled at her. “Could you make one that would stop Ren from teasing me?”
“Haru!” Ren didn't find that funny.
“Ignore them,” Shima told her. “They are going through some kind of phase.”
“It's not a phase, it's cabin fever.”
“What is that?” Ren asked.
Haru sighed. “It's when people are stuck inside and start to go a little crazy. Everyone reacts differently, but mostly we're all going irritate the hell out of each other. In places with extreme winters, like my mother's home in Canada, people are forced to stay indoors, inactive, with too much togetherness and not enough alone-time. That's why I never visited her in the winter.”
“Haru, it's only been a week since you closed White Fang. You're already getting bored and restless?”
“I can't help it! I'm trying to think of this as a vacation, but even when we went on vacation we went outside and had other people around and I felt busy. I've got nothing to do, no one to cook for besides you guys. I've already read a book and watched three movies and I don't know what to do with myself! Ren's classes started online and all I want to do is distract him! Argh!”
“Stop your ridiculous whining!” Dee Dee scolded him, walking down the stairs. “I could hear you even with the door closed. I am trying to write a book, you know. Hello, Reiko dear, how was the trip?”
“We had a very nice time, thank you.”
“Where is your little companion? I'm not used to seeing you without her.”
“Ah. She is...well, she's currently tearing up some of my old clothes and making a den in my closet. And sleeping a lot, eating a lot, and getting fat.”
“She's going to have babies.”
“Oh, how fun! For us, I mean, not for her. Being pregnant is not so fun – for humans anyway.”
“What is it like? Is it really weird or creepy? Like having a parasite feeding off you from inside?” Ren asked.
Dee Dee laughed. “No. Well, maybe once in a while. Mostly it feels like you've lost control of your body. One minute you're on top of the world, next you're bawling your eyes out. At first, you're sick and moody, then you feel amazing for a few months, then you feel like a huge fat ugly slug. It's scary, it's wonderful, it's like a miracle, and it's torture. You just want it to be over with. You resent the little creature until he's born and then your heart wants to burst and you love him so much it hurts.”
Haru was staring at her but Dee Dee wouldn't meet his gaze. “If you were afraid before, once he's born you're terrified. Because the dream has become reality and helpless and beautiful and so very fragile and completely dependent on you. And it seems like no one understands that not every mother knows instinctively what to do to keep him safe or make him happy. Some mothers are too proud to ask for help. Some give up, they just can't do it.”
“Mom...” Haru stood up, hesitated. She didn't correct him for once.
“But that doesn't mean she doesn't love her baby. We're all flawed in our own ways. Some of us aren't cut out to be mothers. Me, for one. Ren's mother, maybe as well. I'm very lucky, Haru, that I can see how well you turned out, despite me. And I'm certain Ren's mother's spirit is proud and happy that her son is a fine young man.”
Haru hugged her and she allowed it. Reiko found herself on the verge of tears, reaching for Shima's hand. He held it, saying nothing, just letting the moment be a moment.
“Well, that's enough of that!” Dee Dee pulled away from Haru. “Stop acting like a spoiled child and Ren, stop pushing his buttons. Be together and appreciate each other. I'm going for a walk.” And she was gone out the door.
Haru slumped down onto the couch, stunned. “Why would she tell me that now, after all these years?”
“You said cabin fever affects everyone differently,” Shima reminded him. “Perhaps this is how it affects her. You haven't spent this much time with her since you were a child. Now you're both adults and she could say, in her own way, how much she cares. Even if she can't show it most of the time.”
“I could never be a father. I'm too terrified I'd be the same as she was.”
“You have been a parent to all of us, idiot brother. And you did a fine job of it, mostly.” Shima pushed up his glasses. “Maybe now is a good time to focus on yourself for a change. Take an online class, start a workout program, do what you want to do – not what you think we need you to do for our benefit.”
“I like my life. I enjoy what I'm doing and I'm content with it.”
“Are you really, Nii-san? I'm not saying give up White Fang to become a mountain climber, but you must have had some life goals or another career or just some hobbies in mind when you were young - before the accident. You should think about it.”
The doorbell rang and Kiyoka let herself in. “I'm having some people over at the bar. You can come too, if you'd like.” She was dressed for a party, no doubt – in a ballerina-style dress, but bright blue.
“The bar is closed, Kiyo. You don't mean you're re-opening it?”
“No, just a small party. I've closed down my bar in Ni-Chome and now I'm having a 'Virus Makes Us Sad' party. I can't have it there because a lot of people are still ignoring the stay-home order and they would try to join us.”
Haru frowned. “So these are your Ni-Chome friends?”
“Don't give me that look! They are good people whatever they look like – you know that!”
“I'm not objecting to them as people, but they party too hard! And they hang all over Ren.”
“I don't mind, Kiyo. I like them.”
“I know you do, Ren Ren. Haru is just being his usual jealous idiot self. Haru, invite some of your own friends to join us – it will be fun. Then we can all go home and try to be hermits.”
“I'll invite the neighbors,” Shima told her. “Reiko and I were about to go see them. Haru, why don't you call Kousuke and the trio?”
“I...should I? It's not a good idea...”
“Oh hell, just do it!” Kiyoka said. “Ren Ren – you call some friends, too. Tell everyone to dress up crazy. Then go put on some cosplay and we'll have a real party!”
“Ren! You are not wearing any cosplay!”
“But we have all those costumes Kiyo's been giving you. I can wear the sailor girl one.”
Reiko and Shima hid their smiles as they left to walk to the neighbor's apartment.