Have you ever noticed how you can walk down the same street one hundred times, but one day you look up and it is as if you’ve never seen it at all? You know that office building and those apartments where no one ever appears to be home, but was the house between them always there? You decide to take a picture, but the glare off the front windows is too bright and it blurs the details. The charming crescent moons disappear. Maybe it would be better if you could get closer to capture the leaves that are falling so picturesquely, warm autumn colors against the dead grass. You step inside the garden, everything is sharper now, the faint smell of decay promising the arrival of a cold winter. As you begin to wonder who lives here, the door opens.
The man who steps outside is surprisingly ordinary for such a magical surrounding. Suit, briefcase, company ID tucked away in his shirt pocket. You start apologising, flustered by his serious face, you explain that you wanted a photo.
"Was that all you were thinking about when you came to the shop?" he asks.
You were thinking about a friend, possibly more than a friend, and you find yourself telling the young man about it even though putting it into words makes your cheeks burn with shame. You feel relief at finding a sympathetic audience so you don't notice at first that he's guided you out of the garden and down the street.
“There's nothing in that shop that will be good for you," the man says. “Why don't you talk to your friend?" He makes it sound simple, but before you can protest he adds, “Your friendship is going to change. It’s already changing even if you don't see it now.”
He discreetly glances at his watch and you realise you've taken his time with your silly problems when he was racing to work.
“No need to apologise. I’ve been developing a reputation as someone who is too serious, so my colleagues will be delighted to hear that I am late to a faculty meeting because I was busy rescuing a beautiful woman from a dark fate.”
You smile politely at his little joke and thank him again for being such a good listener.
A few days later, you look for the shop, a small thank you gift tucked away in your handbag, but you can’t find it. You try to remember if it had been on this street or the next, these post-bubble blocks all look so similar. You plan to look for it again when you have more time and you forget.
One day, you turn a corner and see the shop again. It’s been many years and many seasons, and you marvel at the extravagant cherry blossoms that have covered what was dying ground. You stop at the posts, so lost in your thoughts that you don’t notice you are not alone.
"Excuse me, ma'am." A cheerful voice interrupts your thoughts and you see a young man and a young woman approaching the house, both carrying full shopping bags. They are clearly relatives of the man you met here all those years ago.
You start to tell them about how you were here before, but for years you thought the shop was in a different part of town on a different street.
"This shop is sometimes hard to find,” the young woman says. Her mannerisms show that she must be the daughter of that serious young professor, but it would be difficult to find him in her face.
“I don't know that this shop will have anything you can afford. Not to be insulting, but our payments often require first-born children and rooms full of wheat spun into gold. Would you like some company as you walk back to the shopping arcade?”
The young man hands his shopping bags to his sister, and offers you his arm in a way that is comical, yet sincere. You smile, your first smile in months and allow him to guide you away from the shop. He tells you your guess is correct, the man you met before is his father, and you comment on how different they are. He is interested in hearing about what his father was like before he was born. You tell him that you hope it won’t be another twenty years before you find the shop again.
“You don’t need the shop, auntie,” he says. “If it’s a wish you can’t get through your own work, then maybe it’s not one worth having.”
You don’t know if you agree with him, but you do feel better as you walk away.
The doors to the shop flew open. “Welcome back, big sister Doumeki!” Maru and Moro shouted in unison.
“Good afternoon, it’s good to see you’re both back to being energetic today,” Sora said, attempting to kick off her shoes without setting down her bags. “Can you… this goes in the kitchen, that goes in the kitchen, it’s all kitchen today. Oh, good afternoon, Watanuki-san.”
“It isn’t good for business if you send all of our customers away,” Watanuki said. He tried to sound stern, but he wasn't used to taking such a tone with Doumeki and Kohane's daughter. She had always been a diligent part-time shop assistant and serious full-time student of magic.
“As long as people continue being people, you’ll never have a shortage of customers, but I’ll let my brother apologise for himself. It’s rare that he acts when he gets a feeling, he still says there’s no point as he never feels anything about family or the winner of the baseball tournament.”
“Your mother says he shouldn’t act on it at all if he doesn’t want to be trained in it,” Watanuki said.
“Speaking of training, my training today should be hiyashi chuuka,” Sora said. She headed toward the kitchen without waiting for a response.
“Wrong season, and I know none of those ingredients were on the list I gave you,” Watanuki muttered.
The shop felt choked with memories on days like this. He couldn’t feel time passing for himself, but yesterday Kohane had stopped by the shop with her whimsically named kindergarteners in their identical yellow hats, and today he was teaching one of them to cook so that she wouldn’t starve while studying overseas.
Watanuki tied his apron around his waist and tried to dismiss the nostalgia that was threading its way through his heart. It had been years since he had stood here, preparing elaborate meals for his friends and for Yuuko.
“This is a good time of year for bamboo shoots. I taught your mother how to make this. She was meticulous, always wanted it to be perfect even when that wouldn’t affect the taste,” Watanuki said.
“Maybe that’s why she never cooks for us,” Seina said. The younger twin leaned against the doorway, watching his sister and Watanuki work. “It’s all dad’s cooking, and I think he learned from an internet video.”
There was always a certain irony whenever the younger twin spoke of his parents, but it wasn’t enough for Watanuki to reprimand him for disrespect.
Maru and Moro stuck their heads in the doorway. “Little brother Doumeki is here!” they called out happily.
“I can see that for myself," Watanuki said. He returned to the topic of the shop.
“As I was telling your sister, if a customer is at the door, you need to let them come in and decide for themselves what to do. You can’t stop people from making a wish even if it harms them.”
“I can’t agree with that, sensei, so it’s good you’re only having me around as a temp while my sister is in America. Did she tell you the real reason? Hey, sis, don’t glare at me like that when you’ve got a knife in your hand!”
“There are some magical traditions that are preserved there,” Watanuki began to explain.
“There’s that, and she wants to get away from the matchmaking.”
“Our parents are terrified that a normal person wouldn’t understand the shop or why she wants to work in it, so for the past year they’ve been bringing in young men of a suitable age from families that have a strong magical tradition. Onmyouji, the heir to a magical puppet theatre, even a European mage who was just visiting Japan for a ritual. She looked at them the way she’s looking at me now, so of course they ran away shaking in terror.”
“Stop bothering Watanuki-san with your pointless chatter,” Sora said. “We’re working on something important right now. What is the next step?”
Watanuki continued with the cooking lesson, too afraid to ask more questions. There was something a little unnerving in Sora’s complete self-possession.
“I have a going away present for you, Sora. It’s not a real present,” Watanuki said, noticing that she was preparing a polite refusal. “Some of the equipment I used to use when I cooked every day for Yuuko. Cooking chopsticks, a bowl for washing rice, that kind of thing.” He piled the cooking implements into a box. “I think you can get this in America, but it will be convenient if you have it when you arrive.”
He watched the twins as they passed through his gate to the world outside. Reality bent as they stepped past the posts into a place where he could not follow. Tonight, this made him uneasy. Perhaps the thought of Doumeki and Kohane attempting to matchmake for their daughter was another unwelcome reminder that time was passing.
I haven’t changed, but the eyes with which I see the world are changing, he thought.
It felt like a couple of months ago, they’d all been together, a summer picnic, Kohane bringing bread from a French bakery. They had entered, Sora riding on Doumeki’s shoulders, her solemn gaze taking in everything, Seina chattering away, Kohane leaning down to hear her son and encouraging him in his efforts at bringing in the picnic basket. Looking back, there had been something false about it, as if they were actors who were too keenly aware of their audience.
Not a couple of months ago, Watanuki thought, it must have been more than ten years. Maru and Moro had played with the twins while Doumeki and Kohane stayed with him on the engawa. He couldn’t remember what they’d talked about, Doumeki’s classes, the success that Kohane was having with her books, an accumulation of moments from their daily lives. Now that Watanuki thought about it, that must have been the last time he had seen Doumeki Shizuka. Kohane came over for tea once a month, Sora, the designated heir visited almost every day after school, but he had not seen Doumeki in years. Had something been said during that last visit?
Seina proved to be a decent replacement for his sister. He surprised Watanuki by coming over as often as she had, yelling Good afternoon, sensei! from the doorway, and then setting out tea for them both.
“Your sister would come every day so she could read and practice her exorcism techniques, there’s not very much here that needs doing,” Watanuki said.
“Are you telling me not to come every day? I’m hurt, sensei.”
“You are always welcome here,” Watanuki said, suddenly annoyed at how Seina made sensei sound like a nickname instead of a title.
“You can’t complain that I’ve been chasing customers away anyway. They’ve been avoiding this place all on their own the last few weeks.”
“The shop requires—“
“I know, I know, but you really can’t blame me for thinking people who can solve their problems for themselves probably should. I see these pretty girls come in, Oh, shopkeeper, my boyfriend is cheating, and then you’ll give her a special amulet or something, which the boyfriend promptly takes away from her, and then in a completely unsurprising turn of events, the amulet is actually some kind of bear charm and the boyfriend is eaten the next time he goes hiking. Rowr, rowr, Tell Maya I’m sorry, rowr, chomp, chomp.” Seina made what was supposed to be a contented bear face.
“You could build your own rakugo act around that, Bear and Cheating Boyfriend.”
“I apologise, Watanuki-san, but even when I played here as a child I would wonder if the shop ever brought anyone happiness.”
“The shop brought me happiness for a time,” Watanuki said.
Seina apologised again even though there was nothing to forgive. He had shown his true feelings, which were strong, pure, and so unlike what the rest of his family believed. However, it had been ten years since he had last seen Doumeki. Watanuki had long assumed that the boy took after his father in appearance only, but what if his feelings were an echo of his father’s feelings. I would wonder if the shop ever brought anyone happiness. Perhaps Doumeki considered himself as someone who suffered because he had been allowed to enter.
Sora didn’t come back from America for her holidays, choosing to spend that time visiting places for magical training, but she wrote long letters to Watanuki describing her studies. She sent the letters to her brother, who would read them aloud to Watanuki.
“I don’t know why she’s learning foreign exorcism techniques. If she’s going to live in Japan, then she needs to know how to deal with Japanese ghosts. Foreign ghosts aren’t going to get very far here. Can you imagine it? The ghost jumps out and says, boo! Excuse me, Ghost-san, can you repeat that, or better yet, talk into my phone’s translation app. Your average ghost is going to find that dispiriting.”
Maru and Moro applauded politely.
Watanuki shook his head, but couldn’t help smiling. “How long have you been working on that line?”
Seina’s tone became serious. “Sensei, I’ve been thinking, if something happened to my parents, would you help us?”
“It depends on the type of help. The shop requires payment equal to its services. I will do the little I can do as myself.” Watanuki could feel the air change, as if the magic that sustained the shop was awake and listening.
“I’m sure it will be fine, anyway, my mom is coming back from Kyoto tonight, so I think she will be able to figure out what’s going on. My dad…”
“What’s wrong?” Watanuki had always known the day would come, an accident, failing health, advanced age, one day the paths they had walked along together would diverge forever.
“He looked happy. I mean, you know he always looks like this.” Seina’s mouth became a straight line. It was uncanny how much he resembled his father. “This morning he looked like this.” Seina raised his eyebrows slightly and the corner of his mouth quirked up. “The only other time I’ve seen him look that downright joyful is when the two of you shared that Hokkaido ice wine the snow witches brought you.”
“Seina, what are you other senses telling you?”
“They’re telling me that I should have been serious like my sister and worked on developing my powers. I’m sorry I brought this up, my mom is coming back tonight and I’m sure everything will be fine.”
Watanuki watched Seina leave and tried to remember what Doumeki looked like when he was happy. The early days when Doumeki had stayed at the shop every night had been peaceful, but he didn’t know if they could be called happy or even content.
He remembered a night when a clattering and thumping had interrupted his studies. Yuuko had not been training him to take over the shop, much of her magical knowledge passed with her, so every day was spent absorbing all the knowledge and traditions he had never been taught.
There could only be one person who would be able to pass the barrier and crash his way into the shop, and there he was sprawled across the genkan, apparently defeated by the simple act of removing his shoes.
“You grab one leg,” Maru whisper-shouted.
“You grab the other,” Moro replied.
“And we’ll pull!” They whisper-shouted together.
“Or you could leave him there and I’ll put him in the recycling tomorrow,” Watanuki said. It was irritating that they were enjoying this absurd interruption.
“I’m the one who takes out the recycling,” Doumeki said, not opening his eyes.
“If you can take your shoes off, then you can stay,” Watanuki said.
“Tea,” Doumeki ordered. He slowly finished taking off his shoes, slowly and carefully strolled into the main room.
Watanuki brought in a tray to Doumeki, who was now lying across the sofa in a way that couldn’t possibly be comfortable. He didn’t like to admit it, but he had been a little concerned when Doumeki hadn’t appeared after classes. The days could be long, so he didn’t mind too much when Doumeki showed up demanding food.
“Maru and Moro are preparing your bedroom, I mean the guest bedroom. You may want to shower first and wash off the whisky,” Watanuki said.
“I didn’t go to third party,” Doumeki said. “We were welcoming a guest lecturer, but of course that’s just an excuse for drinking and playing at a hostess club. That’s where the third party was tonight, but I didn’t go. Why should I pay to talk to girls when I don’t even want to talk to them? I think I tried to tell you once, that I didn’t want to talk to girls,” Doumeki said, his voice no longer sleepy.
“That doesn’t matter. Girls love talking to you. I think you fool them into thinking you’re cool with your height and your…” Watanuki tried to think of the right word to express whatever was always going on with Doumeki’s face. He could feel Doumeki watching him, and he was tempted to scowl at him like he used to when they were classmates.
“You’re right, it doesn’t matter.” Doumeki closed his eyes. “Maybe I should have gone, brought home a girl named Mika or Mimi or something like that. We could all live here together.”
“How much did you have to drink? You usually get quieter when you drink, and then you fall asleep sitting up.” Watanuki had the uneasy feeling that Doumeki was only pretending to sleep now.
“I’m not pretending to sleep,” Doumeki said. His breathing deepened, followed by a gentle snore.
Watanuki listened to him and tried to decide if it was safe to leave him alone. “You can talk to anyone you want, or not talk,” he said quietly.
That night, the corner of Doumeki’s mouth had turned up slightly, and now Watanuki wondered if that had been happiness.
Watanuki wasn’t surprised when Seina returned later that night.
“He didn’t come home,” Seina said. “My mother went to the police, but she sent me to you.” He placed a small wooden box on the table in front of them. “Can you tell us where he is?”
Watanuki gently touched the symbols carved on top of the box, judging its worth against what he was being asked to do. He could feel that the contents were old and heavy with power, with years of protective spells burnt into the wood.
“Watanuki-san, there were bloodstains in our living room.”
“I need a strand of hair.”
“I guess I could go home and look for his hairbrush or something,” Seina said.
For the first time, Watanuki wished the twins had switched places. He would not have had to explain things to Sora, whose natural affinity for the supernatural had been enhanced by diligent study. Seina, who liked to dismiss his power as an occasional “bad feeling”, needed to have every step explained.
“Your hair will be fine. Its purpose is to illuminate the connection between the place where you stand and the place where your father is. Once the connection is established I can send something to observe his situation. This raises a delicate question…”
“What if this is his choice?”
“Yes. What will you do if this is his choice?”
“I think everyone will want to know the full situation, no matter what it is.”
A silver bowl filled with water, a single hair floating on the surface. Watanuki watched Seina fold a piece of paper into a shape, light and quick, as he had been instructed. Seina dropped it into the water, and they both watched as it became soggy and started to sink.
“Is that supposed to happen?” Seina whispered. “Is it going to write something? Oh!”
A paper insect burst out of the bowl, jewelled wings quivering with new found joy in movement. It buzzed around Watanuki and Seina, before spiralling up to the ceiling, hovering as if to allow them a moment for admiration before zipping out the door.
The water in the bowl shimmered, and the reflection of the room was replaced by the street outside the shop.
“That insect absorbed your hair as its core, so now it will trace a path to your father.”
The images in the water changed as the paper insect raced through the streets of Tokyo after midnight. Quiet parks, crowds around the station, empty offices, neon promising the best girls, serious drinkers preparing for the next party, old people returning from the baths, smokers huddled resentfully on the pavement, a city that was only partly asleep. It stopped abruptly outside a three-storey apartment building, hovered in front of the name, View House Kafuka, and then attached itself to a veranda on the top floor. It moved over the glass until it found a small crack and slipped inside. It crawled through the bathroom, cautiously keeping to the wall as it moved past the narrow, empty kitchen that opened to the main room.
Watanuki gasped. He was completely unprepared for the scene the insect was broadcasting.
“Sensei… isn’t that you?” Seina’s confused voice was coming from very far away.
Doumeki, fully dressed, was lying on the bed with his head resting on the lap of someone who looked like what Watanuki remembered seeing in the mirror years ago. School uniform, glasses, a ghost had come to life and was stroking Doumeki’s forehead. His were open and he appeared to be talking.
“I can’t hear,” Watanuki said. The paper insect obediently moved closer to the bed.
“That wasn’t the only time,” Doumeki was saying. He looked peaceful, content. Happy. “There was the time we investigated that haunted house, nine ghost children and you yelled at me after I shot them with my bow. You kept saying they were just children and you completely ignored how they wanted to use your head for a soccer ball.”
“I’m sorry to cause you such worries.”
Watanuki felt dizzy. The voice sounded like his, except he couldn’t remember a time when he had used such a soft tone with Doumeki.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a problem, but you were acting out of kindness and I loved you for it,” Doumeki said. His hand reached out and the other man caught it.
Watanuki stepped back from the bowl, confused. He looked up and his eyes met Seina’s.
For the first time, Doumeki’s son didn’t know what to say. “I’m going to find my mother,” he eventually said, fear in his voice. “At least we know where he is now.” He left the room quickly.
Watanuki’s attention was drawn back to the water. He couldn’t stop watching. Doppleganger, he thought, but such a thing couldn’t exist. There couldn’t be another Kimihiro Watanuki in the world. He watched in fascinated horror as his double drew Doumeki’s wrist to his mouth. Doumeki closed his eyes and moaned. His other arm reached out to pull the creature that was attacking him closer.
“Doumeki,” Watanuki yelled, desperate for his friend to wake up and realise his danger.
Doumeki didn’t move, but his double dropped Doumeki’s wrist and looked up, mouth smeared with blood. It was as if he heard Watanuki’s voice. He pushed Doumeki aside and stood up. His eyes were hidden by his glasses.
“Shizuka, I think we have company,” the double said. He grinned, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth. “Where are you little one? Aha!”
Watanuki gasped in as the teeth came closer, closer, a pointed tongue slithering out of its mouth. The image in the water went black as the paper insect was consumed.
Watanuki shuddered, then he remembered what Seina had said, At least we know where he is now. He imagined Kohane and her son hurrying to that desolate apartment completely unprepared to fight the monster that was holding Doumeki captive. He pushed back the unwelcome thought that Doumeki was there of his own free will. There had been affection in the way Doumeki had been so completely unguarded as he lay in the double’s arms.
Watanuki could feel his double approach, the hunger in the creature finding an answer in the magic of the shop. The shop could protect itself, but it would never hide away from a creature that carried so much need. The magic thrived on desire, dissatisfaction, and the endless selfishness of the heart.
The creature banged at the door. Watanuki did not want to answer it, but as part of his contract with the shop, it was always open to all. He tried not to let his fear show as the door opened, but his failure was mirrored in the mocking imitation that appeared on the double’s face.
“You do not belong here,” Watanuki said.
“How unfriendly. That’s for me to decide isn’t it,” the double adjusted his glasses. Both of his eyes were clear and blue. “You have a nice place here and if I keep looking like this I could live here quite easily.” He grinned widely, deliberately showing his sharp teeth. “Of course, I don’t have to look like you to be a shopkeeper.”
The creature’s face began to melt, glasses sinking into his skin, reforming, molding itself into a new shape. The air shifted, it was taking up more space now, stretching itself, heavily patterned silks unfurling from what had been a school uniform. The long black hair, knowing eyes. Yuuko.
“You’re taking this from my memories,” Watanuki said to the creature that he had seen emerge from the ruins of the old one.
“Am I?” It was Yuuko’s voice. She moved closer, and Watanuki could smell her perfume. It was clouds moving across a full moon and flowers that bloomed only at night. A butterfly pin held back her long hair and butterflies danced across her robe.
She moved closer and stretched out her hand. “If it feels real to you, that makes it real, doesn’t it?”
“Welcome back,” Watanuki whispered. It felt like her. The image of the creature making itself was already fading as dreams do in the early light of morning. Yuuko had returned. The world was going to be right again and time would move as it should.
“Get away from him!” A familiar voice rang through the shop.
Watanuki stepped in front of Yuuko. This time he would save her. She touched his shoulder, and he could feel how afraid she was, yet how alive.
Douemki’s oldest child, the daughter who should have been in America, stepped into the room holding Doumeki’s bow. Her arrow burned with a pure spiritual fire. “Move away from her, Watanuki-san.”
“Kimihiro,” the creature pleaded.
Sora let an arrow fly, it hit a lamp and exploded, physical and spiritual fire mingling and creating twisted shadows. In the confusion, she jumped forward and brought the bow down on the creature’s head. The butterfly pin tumbled to the ground, the creature hissed and swiped a clawed hand, but Sora had already moved away and prepared another arrow.
The creature screamed as it was hit, features softening, all the people it had been over the years crawling over its face and disappearing. “Not fair, not fair,” it howled. “Not fair when I’ve lived for so long and I have a wish!” It continued to scream until its vocal cords turned to dust.
The bow vanished. Sora collapsed to the floor. “Well,” she said.
“How did you… I’m sorry.” Watanuki sighed. “Thank you. Welcome back.”
“What was that?” she asked.
“One of those creatures that live by eating the lives of others. How did you know to come back?”
“I talked to my dad on the phone a couple of days ago. Before he hung up, he said he was proud of me. Proud of me? Who says that? That’s like something people say on TV, not real life. I went straight to the airport because I knew if I didn’t come back to Japan right away, I would be coming for his funeral. Where are they? I called my brother from the taxi and he said that everyone would be here.”
Sora stared at her phone, waiting for good news. She was clearly exhausted, and Watanuki wanted to ask her if that was the first time she had used her spiritual powers to fight.
Kohane and Seina brought Doumeki to the shop. He looked as if he were sleeping, but his pallor and the bloodstains on his shirt told a different story.
“I'm not going to ask you to save him because I know you will do what you can,” Kohane said. Her children waited for her by the door. “I think this is the last time we will see each other for a while. I want you to know that I enjoyed all of those afternoons,” she said.
Watanuki impulsively kissed her on the forehead and reassured her that everything would be fine.
Doumeki was silent and cold for several days. Watanuki neglected the shop to stay by his side. He brought extra blankets and turned on a heater, as if that would help a body once the soul had fled. He briefly tried to reach into Doumeki's dreams, but he couldn't. There was an absence that terrified him.
“If you don’t wake up soon, I’m going to move you to the storage room. I might need this space for something else,” Watanuki said. He waited.
“You need to wake up right now, I can’t stay here much longer, shops don’t run themselves, you know. You never liked the shop, did you? When you do wake up, you’d better not be a zombie. Are zombies real? There are so many questions I should’ve asked Yuuko when I had the chance. Somehow zombies never came up. You’d better wake up, Shizuka Doumeki, and you’d better wake up as something I can handle.”
Doumeki’s lips appeared to move. Watanuki waited. He had been so afraid that his instincts were wrong and Doumeki was gone for good.
“I’m hungry,” Doumeki said. His eyes were still closed, but his voice was clear. “I want to eat one of your bento.”
“I should have known that your first words would be about food,” Watanuki grumbled, but for the first time in years his heart was light. He took Doumeki’s hand, turned it over to examine the scar on his wrist.
“I was working late, alone in the building, I looked up and there he was. There you were,” Doumeki said.
Watanuki didn’t let go of Doumeki’s hand. “You don’t have to talk about it right now if it’s difficult,” he said.
“I knew what it was and what could happen to me if I let it feed on me, but it was you and I couldn’t say no to you.”
Watanuki had so many questions, but first he wanted to ease the fear in Doumeki's eyes. "I'll stay with you, if you want, no matter what you turn out to be," he said.
Doumeki spent much of that first month asleep. He would wake up to eat whenever Watanuki made one of his favourite dishes, but he didn’t seem to need the food. Watanuki remembered the creature's sharp teeth and bloody mouth. It will be years before Doumeki comes to that, he told himself.
Watanuki could never remember exactly what Yuuko had told him about how competing wishes could be fulfilled. There was always one that could never be granted, perhaps it was the one that was weaker, uncertain.
“The first wish wins,” Doumeki said. “I never discussed it with her, but I think some wishes that appear to be opposites could be the same underneath.”
They were silent for a moment, watching the moon’s reflection glide across the sake they shared. This stage in his relationship with Doumeki was new and fragile. He studied Doumeki’s face carefully. He didn’t look any different, perhaps the shadows under his eyes were a bit lighter, but more importantly, he didn’t feel different.
“My children disagree with you. No, I’m not reading your thoughts, but I can tell what you’re thinking,” Doumeki said.
Watanuki drained his cup. These flashes of smugness definitely felt like the Doumeki he had always known.
“My children say that I am a monster who is wearing their father’s face and carrying his memories. My son insists I was dead when I was brought into the shop. My father was rarely around, so I don’t know if their willingness to argue with me is a sign of successful parenting or not.”
Watanuki wanted to ask what Kohane thought, but he knew that the time when he could discuss her with Doumeki had not yet arrived. He had watched them talk, Doumeki inside the garden that was saturated with the magic of the shop, Kohane just outside. They had spoken for a long time, and afterwards Doumeki had stood at the posts alone for even longer.
“Isn’t this the part of the evening where you offer your lap to me as a pillow?” Doumeki asked.
“Hmm. Is this where I say you can use me as a pillow?”
“Not that,” Watanuki said, setting his worries aside.
He moved the tray, extinguishing the light that was reflecting across the glasses. He straddled Doumeki’s lap, enjoying looking down at his annoying, adoring face. He wrapped his arms around Doumeki, holding him tightly, a promise, something he could do as himself. “This,” he murmured, pressing his lips against Doumeki’s. His wish that everything could come together in love wasn’t the kind of wish the shop could grant.
Have you ever noticed that on some days the past shines brighter than the present? When you see the house decorated with crescent moons, the years fall away and it is an afternoon when you were very young and unhappy. You think you see the man you met that day coming out of the front door, but that is impossible. He was older than you then and it is unlikely that he is still in this world. You start to tell him about how the wish you held that day was different from the one you now hold. He listens, you remember that he was a good listener, and finally he invites you into the shop.