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A Lesson in Puppy Love

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Yukichi took a seat in the crowded auditorium. He chose to sit on the end of the row as that gave him quick access to the aisle. Perhaps it was habit. Maybe it was years of military training that drilled into his head how he always needed to make sure he had access to an escape route in case of emergency. In this instance, an emergency could mean an upset child with stage fright. Still, he’d need to move fast in that case. It was a father’s duty to console his son, after all.

The curtain blocking the large stage parted and the parents in the audience applauded. Yukichi joined in briefly then held up his phone and clicked record. This was a big day. It was his son’s first school play, and he even had a speaking line. They’d practiced it enough at home so that Ranpo knew it by heart. Then they practiced some more while he was in his costume so that didn’t make him uncomfortable. All in all, he was positive that his son would get through this new experience shining brightly like the star he knew him to be.

Yukichi held back the smile that threatened to spread across his face at that clever quip. He moved the phone slowly to capture the whole stage as he scanned the group of adorable kindergartners in colorful, homemade costumes for a familiar sight. There, front and center, was his little ball of sunshine. Literally. Ranpo looked absolutely adorable in his sun costume. The glitter they’d decided to add last minute made all the difference in the world. He deserved a pat on the back for that one.

The corners of his mouth turned upwards in a little smile as the kindergartners started to sing their cute little song. It was at the end of this when Ranpo would have his moment to shine. To Yukichi’s surprise, when his son stepped forward, he wasn’t alone. He held another child’s hand. From what Yukichi could tell, the other boy had dark, wavy hair that covered most of his face. His free hand was curled in front of his mouth and his gaze fixed upon the floor. Also, he was dressed as a crescent moon.

The crowd around Yukichi practically cooed at the sight of the tiny sun and moon together. He agreed, it was incredibly cute, but who the heck was that little moon? He didn’t have a chance to dwell on it as Ranpo said his line then the audience began to applaud. Nailed it. Just like they’d practiced. Yukichi couldn’t be any prouder.

After another handful of songs and cute little dance numbers then some closing comments from the principal thanking everyone for coming, the show was over. It was definitely not something he’d soon forget, and he was sure he’d get some great screenshots from the video. He put his phone away and looked around the auditorium. Slowly but surely it started to clear out.

Well, he’d probably kept his impatient son waiting long enough. Surely, he’d gotten out of that costume and was tapping his foot waiting for him to arrive. That may or may not have had something to do with the promise of ice cream after the play. Ranpo talked his head off about that this morning on the way to school. There was absolutely no getting out of it. That was fine, of course. Yukichi didn’t really mind.

To his surprise, once he got backstage he found that Ranpo wasn’t waiting for him at all. Actually, the boy seemed quite content as he chatted up a storm with another child. It was the one with the wavy bangs from earlier. That moon. Ranpo was so distracted by what he was saying that he never noticed Yukichi approach until he was scooped off his feet.

“Good job earlier,” He hummed. Then he pat Ranpo’s back and said, “It’s time to go home now.”

Ranpo immediately started to struggle in his grasp. “No! Mine!”

“What do you mean yours? What’s yours?” Yukichi asked. He glanced at the boy Ranpo had been talking to and saw that he looked like he was about to burst into tears.

Ranpo grunted and continued to try and break free. He finally managed to wriggle enough to get what he wanted. Once he was set back down he scurried back over to the wavy-haired boy and took his hand. Then Ranpo turned back towards Yukichi with a defiant look in his eyes. He pointed directly at the man with his free hand and said, “No.”

It was incredible that a single word could feel so sharp. Like it had the potential to slice right through him effortlessly. Yukichi watched how Ranpo pat the other boy on the head then glanced at him, pouted, and continued to stand his ground. He was a bit at a loss. His son hadn’t ever been so attached to another child before. Normally Ranpo preferred to play on his own and was more than happy to be picked up from school so he could go home and play with his toys. Fascinating. The real question was what should he do next?

“Ah! There you are Edgar!”

The wavy-haired boy looked up at the sound of the new voice. Yukichi turned towards it as well. On his way over to them was an older man with white hair and a beard. The man looked at the two boys then noticed Ranpo glaring in his direction. He smiled kindly then pat the wavy-haired boy’s head. “Did you make a new friend?”

“He’s Ranpo!” Edgar explained as he motioned to the other boy.

“I see.” The man nodded. He turned towards Ranpo and hummed, “How do you do, Ranpo-kun? Thanks for taking such good care of Edgar for me.” He returned his attention to the other boy. “Do you want to introduce him to your other friend?”

A shy smile spread across Edgar’s face and he nodded. The man handed Edgar a raccoon plushie and he hugged it tightly. He turned to show Ranpo and suddenly the two were lost in their own little world together. Though he was momentarily forgotten about, that didn’t seem to bother the man at all. He simply chuckled softly at the pair. When he noticed Yukichi’s curious gaze he bowed his head in his direction and said, “Herman Melville, nice to make your acquaintance.”

“Yukichi Fukuzawa,” he replied in kind. The boys giggled loudly and he smiled but ignored it for now. He looked at the other man as he asked, “Your accent is American?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Herman agreed. “Both Edgar and I are from North America.”

“Yet he understands Japanese at such a young age? That’s impressive.” Yukichi replied with a nod.

Herman smiled warmly. He was beaming with pride as he explained, “It’s not perfect yet, but he knows enough to get by. He really likes learning new languages and takes to them quickly.”

“A sign of high intelligence,” Yukichi replied with a nod. Perhaps Ranpo was so taken with this boy because he sensed a kindred spirit within him. Things were starting to make just a little more sense now.

“We just moved here so he transferred into the school a few days ago,” Herman continued to explain. “Originally, I wasn’t going to have him partake in the play but he seemed rather interested so I figured it was a good way for him to bond with other children his age.” He looked at the happy boys in time to see Ranpo balance the plushie on his head while Edgar giggled. “It seems that these two really hit it off.”

“I’m a bit amazed,” Yukichi admitted. This was what he’d hoped for when Ranpo started school, but he’d kept to his usual mostly isolated ways. Now his son wanted to interact with another child and Yukichi intended on encouraging that. A thought occurred to him that he hoped didn’t seem too sudden. Though he had a feeling that this man was just happy as he was to see the children so giddy.

His tone was calm, controlled in that expert way of his as he asked, “Would you two be interested in joining us for celebratory ice cream? There’s a shop nearby that’s quite good.”

“Ice cream!” Ranpo exclaimed.

“Waaah!” Edgar yelped. He hugged his stuffed raccoon to his chest, clearly startled by the sudden outburst. Though the intrigue in the gray eye that peeked out from behind those bangs was clear as day.

Herman looked down at the wavy-haired boy and hummed, “I think that sounds like a splendid idea, don’t you agree, Edgar?”

 

With that settled, the four of them finally left the school and headed to their respective cars. Yukichi had to remind Ranpo that they’d need to split up for now but they’d see one another again in a few minutes. Even then, his son insisted on hugging the other boy then patting his head before they parted. Part of Yukichi wished he’d taken a picture of that since it was so stinking cute.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road but he was sure the drive felt like a lifetime to his son. Every time he glanced in the rearview mirror he noticed that Ranpo was looking into every passing car just to make sure his little friend wasn’t driving away. Yukichi reminded him that they were headed to the same place so all he needed was a little patience. His words fell upon deaf ears as Ranpo continued to do what he’d been doing until they finally arrived.

Once in the parking lot, Ranpo struggled with the belt on his car seat. Unfortunately for him, his little thumbs just weren’t strong enough to unlock it yet. Yukichi got out of the car and walked to the back to open that door and assist. As soon as he was free, Ranpo jumped out with absolutely no regard for his own safety. He made a beeline for Edgar, who was just lifted out of his seat and set onto his feet in the parking space next to theirs.

He waited for Herman to hand Edgar his plushie then took his free hand and dragged him towards the ice cream store. Ranpo held his chin in the air as he marched and lead the way. He rambled on about something or other involving gummy bears, Yukichi couldn’t exactly hear. They reached the door and waited until it was opened for them then continued inside.

The cashier instantly perked up and smiled from ear to ear. They waved cheerily as they chirped, “Hey there, Ranpo-kun! It’s nice to see you back again!”

“Hi!” Ranpo grinned.

The cashier smiled warmly as they asked, “Do you know what flavor you’d like today?”

“All of them!” Ranpo yelled with a smile that stretched across his face.

“No, you can’t have all of them,” Yukichi reminded him softly. “Pick one.”

“Rainbow!” Ranpo immediately exclaimed as he waved his free hand in the air. Clearly his solution to not being able to have all the flavors was getting all the colors instead. Well, that was just fine. Ranpo bounced in place excitedly. He motioned towards the other boy and said, “Ed-chan too!”

Yukichi looked at the other boy and asked, “Is that the kind you want?”

Edgar squeezed his stuffed raccoon and nodded as he mumbled, “Yes, please.”

How polite. That’d be a good habit for Ranpo to pick up as the two of them spent time together. Yukichi smiled warmly then nodded at the cashier to let them know to go ahead and make two and please put them in cups not cones. The boys finally let go of one another’s hand to take their treats. He asked Herman if he wanted anything but the other man politely declined. Yukichi paid for the ice creams while the rest of them wandered off.

Ranpo lead the way to a table in the corner and then he and Edgar sat on the same side of a booth. Herman asked if either of them wanted a booster seat but he was promptly told that they didn’t need such things. He chuckled then sat across from the pair. Their little feet kicked happily as they dug into the sweet treats. Yukichi joined them just in time to hear his son start a new conversation.

Ranpo held up both hands and wiggled ten sticky fingers as he declared, “We have this many cats at my house!” Edgar let out a soft ‘oooh’.

“No, we have one cat,” Yukichi explained. He picked up a napkin and reached across the table to wipe the mess off his son’s mouth. Ranpo scrunched his face and grunted softly. He got right back to his ice cream and dirtied it again immediately. Yukichi set down the napkin then explained, “We feed a group of friendly strays when they choose to stop by, though.”

“Ed-chan can feed them too.” Ranpo mumbled through a large amount of ice cream in his mouth. He managed to swallow that then he looked at the other boy and smiled from ear to ear. His voice was dripping with certainty as he added, “You can come to my home.”

Edgar had been in the middle of taking the last bite of his ice cream when Ranpo said that. He paused to blink at the grinning boy, utterly lost in the way he seemed to shine. He waited just a second too long though and the ice cream dripped off his spoon, landing on the table afterwards. Edgar’s bottom lip quivered as he stared at the mess.

“Uh oh.” Ranpo tsked and shook his head. Then he pat Edgar’s head as he said, “It’s ok.”

To Yukichi’s amazement, his son reached into his pocket and removed a lollipop then offered it to the other boy. This was unheard of. Ranpo never shared sweets with anyone. Not even him. His son really was taken with this boy in a way he’d never been before.

“That’s a kind offer Ranpo-kun, but we wouldn’t want to impose,” Herman explained while he used a napkin to wipe up the mess before it dried out. “That kind of decision is up to your father.”

Suddenly two sets of tiny, yet overwhelmingly powerful eyes were upon Yukichi. How did they manage to pack such intensity and anticipation in those gazes? Years of military training hadn’t prepared him for this kind of attack. Though he did his best not to let it show, he was powerless to resist in the end. Yukichi shut his eyes and replied, “I suppose we could entertain guests this weekend. If you two are free. That’s when the cats tend to drop by.”

Herman chuckled softly as the boys cheered loudly. He turned back towards Yukichi and hummed, “Isn’t puppy love sweet?”

“It’s more charming than I ever knew.” Yukichi nodded, smiling when the boys giggled to themselves.