“I still don’t get it. They’re not metals, but they still call them metals?”
“That’s pretty much it. Cosmologists do stuff like that all the time. It’s not like it matters when you think about it.”
“Hrm, I guess you’re right.”
The teenage girl drops the subject and starts playing with her freshly-set hair. I know I should be angry at my dearly beloved for inflicting her high-school hairdo on another human (especially one as young and impressionable as Kumiko), but I can’t be. The sight of those wispy curls bring back nostalgic memories, and that has put me in a mood
I remember the first time I spent the night with my wife. After she took her bath in the evening her hair took on a more natural appearance. In the morning I lay in bed and watched her style her hair. It was like I was being let in on some secret procedure that she showed no-one else.
Our conversation lulls as I muse on the past, and the dull groan of the engine fills the car. I feel a little like a chauffeur, driving the boss’s child to her first day of high school.
Wait… that is exactly what I’m doing. There’s no point in denying it; I’ve become a slave to a more powerful woman. The fact that Kumiko still refers to me as her “Uncle” makes me forget about that from time to time. Oh well, it really was inevitable from the first day I met the girl’s mother.
“So, are you excited? This is your first day here, after all.”
“A little, I guess. But everything seems so… I don’t know how you’d put it… boring?”
“Yeah. Most of the kids from my old school are going there, so it’s not like there’s anything new about it. Mum keeps on talking about her school life. It sounds so much more exciting.”
I gulp a little at the thought of her mother telling her stories of our high school times together. Sure, her mother is the professional type and would never let any of “those” stories slip, but even without the “after dark” stories there’s still more than enough dirt there. And the way Kumiko said “exciting” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, either. Girls of any age like to gossip, and one of their favourite gossip topics is boys.
“Oh… really? I hope she didn’t say much about me…”
Okay, I admit it. I’m digging for info. Inside my mind there are two warring factions. One side is desperately curious about what my friend-cum-employer has been saying about me, the other side is too embarrassed about reliving the past through the child of my then lover.
Kumiko looks me over once, and then giggles.
“She said that you two were… close.”
Damn it. I can feel the heat in my cheeks as I start to blush. It’s not proper for a grown man to be blushing over a teenage girl.
“I… I guess that’s one way of putting it.”
Kumiko turns her head to study me intently.
“What she didn’t tell me was why things ended up like they are now.”
I look at the dashboard clock. There’s still 10 minutes left before we’ll arrive at Kumiko’s new school. I guess that’s enough time. Ignoring the embarrassment, I cast my mind back to that hectic period. It’s good to remember these things from time to time.
“Well… that is a bit of a long story, but I guess I can give you the condensed version.
“Your mother, my wife and I were close in high school. For a lot of the time is was just the three of us, even when your mother and I were dating.”
“Oooh like a Love Triangle?”
As intelligent as she is, Kumiko is still just another schoolgirl. And, as far as I can tell, things like that interest schoolgirls.
“No… I wouldn’t call it that. Maybe more of a ménage a trois.”
“Menage de what?”
“Ask your mother.”
“Anyway, the point is that even when we were officially ‘dating’ it was still the three of us. There wasn’t any jealously or back-stabbing or anything like that. Most of the time when we went on dates we went as a trio anyway.
“Originally, we all went to the same university. It was like a continuation of high school. We all worked part-time jobs and were able to rent a tiny flat near campus. That way the three of us were still able to live together.
“But, after a year of studying, your mother grew impatient. She used to complain all the time, saying that her lectures didn’t know anything about running a business. ‘If they did…’ she used to say, ‘…then they would be off making millions, not teaching at a university.’ Your mother was always like that. Anyway, one day we were out drinking, and she started saying that line again. So I said ‘Why don’t you prove that then?’
“She disappeared for a week after that. We were worried sick. I mean, your mum is strong, but it’s not like everyone knows sign language. We started calling everyone, but no-one had seen her. On the day that we were going to call the police she returned to the flat. In one hand she held the registration certificate for her company. In the other she had a letter of resignation from the university, which she asked us to turn in for her.
“We laughed at her and I said that I’d hold onto the letter for her, just in case she changed her mind. Big mistake. She took it back from me, marched down to the administration office and turned it in herself. ‘I have no interest in having a safety net. Safety nets are for people that fail. I have no intention of doing that.’
“The rest is history I guess. Your mum moved out, so it was just Misha and I in our tiny little flat. We saw her from time to time, but she was always busy with her company. When we graduated we were already engaged, and your mother’s business was already a huge success. She showed up to the graduation ceremony carrying two contracts. She signed us up on the spot, and that’s how we all came back together.”
My ultra-condensed version of events ends with mere seconds to spare. I can see Kumiko’s school gates on the next block. But, even though I skipped all but the critical detail’s, Shizune’s daughter’s eyes sparkle with girlish excitement.
“Wow… she never told me that bit.”
“Huh… well, it was a hard time for all of us. It’s a little hard to convey everything that happened in those four years in ten minutes.”
“Maybe… but… wow. It’s like it’s some kind of TV drama. I want something like that to happen to me!”
“Kumiko, I hate to tell you this, but genetics guarantees that you almost certainly will have your own story like this.”
“I really, really hope so.”
“Well, this is it. I’ll be back to pick you up after school. Enjoy yourself.”
“I’ll try. Thanks for the ride, Uncle Hisao.”