“This place is big,” exclaimed Airi, stopping in the center of the short forested path that led to the traditional inn she and her mothers were staying. While her mothers took care of the car, Airi couldn't resist taking in the vast scope of the inn and the large tree branches that hung over the roof with small beams of light sprinkling in through the gaps in the canopy to light up the path. “Mama, are we the only people staying here?”
“I wish,” walking up behind her daughter and patting her on the head. “It’s summer vacation, so that means that there’s a lot of people staying because of that and the festival, which means almost every room is sold out. But lucky for us, Mama was able to snag the last suite with two bedrooms so you and all the stuffed animals will be able to sleep together and Mommy and I will have a room to ourselves.”
“Do I get to sleep on a bed,” asked Airi, clutching her owl under one arm and dragging her rolling suitcase across the ground instead of on its wheels, “or do I get a futon like Honoka-chan, and I was s’pposed to sleep on?”
“Inns like this are like Shiraho-san and Honoka’s house,” explained Mei as she tried to help Airi fix her suitcase. “Which means tatami-mats and futons and in most cases a public bath like at the campsite.”
“What’s a public bath like,” asked Airi, finally rolling her bag in the way it was intended, her curiosity getting the better of her as they didn’t get a chance to use the public bath before they left. “Do we get to use it alone or will there be other people? And is it like taking a bath at home?”
“Public means with other people Airi and it depends on the time of day.” Yuzu smiled and thanked a man who had held the door open for her and allowed Airi and Mei in before her, sighing in relief at the cool breeze from the air-conditioning. “But since it’s only one o’clock the bath probably isn’t open. Though I'm pretty sure we’ll be able to take one before dinner and it’s like taking a bath like at home with some differences, the biggest one being there might be a lot of people since everyone eats dinner in the same room.”
“We have to eat with other people,” asked Airi, causing Mei and Yuzu to chuckle at the thought of her being more concerned about eating with a group than taking a bath in front of other people. “But, Mommy said we eat in our rooms.”
“Well we get breakfast in our rooms,” explained Yuzu as they approached the front desk. “But dinners here are done as a group since they tend to play music with the meal and they want people to experience that. But the good news is that they’re known for the chilled udon, unagi, a good and mizu yokan which are all yummy. But if we don't feel like eating here, there’s plenty of places in town to try and with the festival starting tomorrow we’re going to be eating a lot of festival food. Do you know what you want to have first?”
“Monja,” cheered Airi causing the woman behind the check-in desk and a few of the guests who were resting in the common room to chuckle. “I also want yakitori and takoyaki and candy apples and..."
"And a trip to the doctor,” said Mei with a smirk cutting Airi off.
“But I saved my money.” Airi reached into her backpack and pulled out the small coin purse and opened it, exposing the roll of bills and piles of change that were inside. “You and Mama said that I could use this for the festival and I wanna buy that stuff for us."
“We never said you couldn't,” explained Mei, closing the coin purse and placing it back into Airi's bag. “But you need to think before you spend. We have two days to attend the festival, so there’s no sense in you spending all your money at once..”
“I’d listen to her if I were you, little miss,” said the hostess with a smile as she called for a bored-looking teenage boy to come and watch the front desk. “The festival here lasts for three days, and you’ll be here for two of them to remember that not only is there a lot of delicious meals, but there's also plenty of games and delicious sweets to enjoy as well. I’m particularly fond of the cotton candy, strawberry taiyaki, and ikayaki myself.”
“Strawberry taiyaki?” Airi’s eyes grew almost as wide as her purse and Mei was certain she could see a small amount of drool spill from the corner of her mouth. “Mommy, I want taiyaki instead of apples. I bet it’ll make Hideki and Hina jealous.”
“I’m sure it will.” Mei shook her head at the mischievous look in Airi’s eyes but refrained from saying anything as the woman stopped and gestured to a sliding panel door.
“Here we are," announced the owner as she removed the small lock the used to keep the doors closed and stepped back. "Please make yourselves at home.”
“Can I open it,” asked Airi stepping up to the door, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Sure, Kiddo.” Yuzu stepped out of the way and smiled at a memory of Hideki opening the door to their hotel room on their trip to Okinawa. “It’s all yours.”
Airi nodded and let go of her bag and handed her owl to her mother before walking up to the door and with a grunt slid it open and let out a small squeal when she saw the main living area.
“Wow,” she whispered grabbing her bag and taking her shoes off before running to the balcony where there was a lovely view of a waterfall and a small garden. “Can we go swimming in the pond?”
“Unfortunately not,” chuckled the owner after explaining to Yuzu what time dinner was along with the bath times. “But I do suggest taking a walk later on in the evening. The stars are stunning, and the koi fish seem particularly active during the night and they look beautiful in the moonlight. So if you want to make those people you mentioned jealous, I recommend getting pictures of the fish too.”
“You got it,” said Airi jumping off the railing and into the other room. “Which room’s mine? I wanna get my animals and bed ready.”
“Airi it’s not the time for...”
Mei wandered off to get Airi under control while Yuzu and the woman chuckled to themselves.
“Thank you for everything," said Yuzu with a polite bow. "It's a lovely room, and I hope you don't mind my asking, what time is breakfast? Our daughter wakes up early, so I want to make sure she knows to wake us up when it arrives."
“We start serving breakfast at seven and stop at nine,” explained the owner, pulling a small notebook out from inside her yukata. “But if you need it earlier than seven we can make an accommodation. Would you like me to leave a note for the morning staff?”
“Just that it’d be best to stop by with it around eight-thirty,” requested Yuzu while Mei scolded Airi for trying to set up her futon early followed by Airi’s giggles and stamping feet while Mei shouted at her to behave. “She may wake up early, but she needs a while to wake up if that makes sense.”
“Completely,” nodded the woman while jotting down Yuzu’s request. “Are there any allergies we should be considerate of?”
“No allergies,” said Yuzu before grimacing at the sound of Airi screaming, the crash of some furniture, followed by Mei grumbling and Airi crying. “I’m so sorry; she didn’t break anything did she?”
“I think her pride is the only thing you need to worry about,” said the woman with a smile and pointed down the hallway. “There’s an ice machine down at the end of the hall dear.”
Yuzu turned around to see Mei approaching with an ice bucket and towel in one hand, and a crying Airi in the other, pained to see her daughter hurting but grateful that her injuries were only superficial and that there was no property damage.
“Yuzu,” said Mei coldly as she led Air out the door, “we’ll be back shortly.”
“Sure.” Yuzu did her best to smile but instead gulped when she saw a familiar ice-cold glare on her wife’s face and said nothing until she was out of earshot.
“Um, so, where were we,” asked Yuzu with a nervous laugh.
“Food allergies,” repeated the woman with a calm voice, seemingly undisturbed by the chaos that had just happened in front of her. “You said there weren’t any to worry about?”
“Yeah no, allergies,” confirmed Yuzu with a nod. “But if there’s anything like natto on the menu it's best to leave it off since it’ll only go to waste.”
“Of course.” The woman made one final note, closed her book, and bowed in preparation to leave only to stop and pull something else out of her yukata and handed it to Yuzu.
“This came for you earlier today. It’s lucky that I was the one that got it since my son tends to not pay attention to what mail comes in and will occasionally throw things away without looking. That's not completely true as he's normally very good about the guest's mail seeing since we have company retreats here often but normally those are large packages filled with prizes for the games they play, so I think this one slipped under the radar since it wasn’t certified.”
“Thank you very much,” Yuzu felt a lump form in her throat when she saw the name written on the back and set it on the table next to the door before bowing, “and thank you for taking care of us this week. I promise our daughter will be better behaved for the remainder of our visit.”
“It’s our pleasure.” The woman gave Yuzu a polite bow, her smile still affixed to her face. “Also, don’t worry about your daughter. As I said, normally our guests consist of rowdy business parties during the year. That's why I love the summer season since our guests are more family friendly. As long as she’s careful not to break anything or disturb the other guests, she’s free to run and have as much fun as she likes. And if you want to wear her out, there’s a game room next to the baths, some shops down the hill, a temple, and a movie theater in town as well. Feel free to call on us if you have any questions.”
With one final smile, Yuzu saw the woman off just as Mei and Airi reappeared with Mei holding a full ice bucket and Airi holding the towel to her forehead, pouting while Mei continued to scowl.
“Everything go okay,” asked Yuzu, receiving only silence from Airi who disappeared into her room and closed the door behind her. “That doesn’t look good.”
“She’ll be fine,” sighed Mei, finally allowing her face to relax. “She’s going to have a bruise, but she’ll live.”
“Then why isn’t she talking?” Yuzu allowed Mei to enter the room and slid the door behind them before going to the living room and sitting at the coffee table and turning on the television. “Did you yell at her?”
“I scolded her,” said Mei as she went to the sink and made her and Yuzu a couple of glasses of ice water before joining her at the table. “I swear we never had this many problems with Hideki.”
“We had almost all of the same problems,” snorted Yuzu into her glass before taking a sip. “He was just as crazy. He ran off without thinking, jumped in puddles, yelled at us a lot more than I’d like to remember. He snuck out and got drunk earlier this year, got into fights at school because kids teased him because of us and his dancing. Not to mention...”
“All right, you’ve made your point.” Mei took a long sip of her water and fingered the rim of the glass as she mustered the courage to look Yuzu in the eye. “I’m...I’m sorry for comparing them. It isn’t right and if I made you think that...I prefer Hideki. I hope you know that’s not true.”
“I know it’s not.” Yuzu got up, moved to Mei’s side of the table and squeezed in next to her, and kissed her cheek. “I know you love her as much as Hideki. It’s just that we’ve had Hideki longer and sometimes you forget how much of a little terror he could be. Besides, even if Airi broke the table or chair, it’s not like those are hard to replace. My back on the other hand, well that’s a different story.”
“So we’re blaming him for that now,” scoffed Mei with a roll of her eyes. “If I remember right it was you who decided to wrestle with him and Yui which makes you just as culpable.”
“I know.” Yuzu chuckled and placed her head on Mei’s shoulder and kissed it before taking her hand. “I wasn’t trying to place all the blame on him. Some of that belongs to Udagawa, Rena, and Papa since they’re the ones who got him interested in it. I’m just glad he didn’t decide to take that up as a career. I don’t think I’d be walking if he did.”
“That would have made things a lot more difficult,” agreed Mei as she rested her head on Yuzu's shoulder. “ Though your back problems did come with a rather enjoyable consolation.”
Yuzu was about to ask Mei what that was but had her question answered by the gentle sensation of Mei’s fingers moving up her shirt and begin rubbing her lower back.
“That is a pretty nice bonus,” sighed Yuzu, allowing herself to melt into Mei’s embrace, “though I wish it didn’t hurt so much.”
“I do too.” Mei kissed Yuzu’s head and started to say something until she heard Airi begin to sing. “Airi, come out here!”
There was the sound of feet stomping followed by the sliding door and Airi appeared in front of them, with the towel still pressed to her head and water dripping down her face.
“First off,” began Mei whileYuzu and she did their best to hide their amusement, “you can put the towel in the sink.”
“Okay.” Airi ran and dropped the towel off in the sink, exposing a small welt and a large mass of wet hair. “What is it?”
“Where are your headphones,” asked Mei, inspecting Airi’s hair for the usual signs that she’d had her headphones on.
“In Mama’s bag with my tablet.” Airi ran over to Yuzu’s suitcase and began trying to unzip it only to have Yuzu call her back while Airi started fumbling with the lock Yuzu had put on.
“Airi, stay out of my bag,” ordered Yuzu waving her over. “She’s telling the truth, Mei. Her stuff has been in my bag since yesterday. I even locked it with one of those zipper locks to make sure she didn’t get into it.”
“Good.” Mei nodded and pointed back at Airi’s room. “Airi, I’m sorry for making you come out here. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing.”
“Am I in trouble?” Airi remained next to Yuzu’s suitcase looking worried.
“No you’re not in trouble,” said Mei waving Airi to her which the girl, though it was clear to see the trepidation in her face as she took Mei’s hand.
“Then why’d you yell at me?”
“Did I yell,” asked Mei with a confused look at Yuzu. “I don’t think I did.”
“Mommy wasn’t yelling,” said Yuzu consoling, hugging Airi’s side. “She just got a little loud because she didn’t know if you had your headphones and sometimes when you listen to your music you can't hear us, so she only raised her voice to get your attention.”
“Oh, okay.” Airi nodded and chewed on her lower lip for a moment before continuing. “Can I go play now or are we going to go out and do stuff?
“Let’s go out,” suggested Yuzu, cutting off Mei who was about to suggest that they stay in for a little while. “We haven’t had lunch, and I’m getting hungry. Not to mention that since I forgot to pack my yukata, I thought it’d be kind of fun to go window shopping for one.”
“What do you mean you didn’t pack your yukata?” Mei’s eyes shifted to Yuzu; her nostrils were flaring at the news that her wife had forgotten to pack such an important item. “Are you telling me that after annoying me with reminders to pack mine so we could take Airi shopping for one that you didn’t even remember to pack yours?”
“I was busy packing the car and preparing the food,” said Yuzu with a nervous laugh. “You of all people should know hard it is to plan a big surprise, sometimes people forget stuff.”
“I am aware of how difficult it is,” scoffed Mei still upset by her wife’s carelessness. “But I still managed to get Hideki a suit and my wedding dress, on top of planning our wedding and organizing our trip. I don’t see how you could have forgotten to pack a yukata considering you planned this trip around the festival.”
“We get it,” grumbled Yuzu sitting back and allowing Airi to sit in her lap, “you’re perfect.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” Mei sighed and rubbed her temple, prepared to continue her chastisement until she noticed the envelope on the table with her and Yuzu’s names written on it. “Yuzu, what’s this?”
“It’s a letter,” contributed Airi before Yuzu could say anything.
“Thank you, Airi.” Mei shook her head and picked up the envelope and began inspecting it. “Who is it from, there’s no return address, and it looks like you haven’t opened it yet.”
“Mei,” said Yuzu quietly pointing at the envelope and gesturing for Mei to turn it over, “check the back a little more closely.”
Unsure of how to take her wife’s direction, Mei gave her an uncertain look, but did as she was instructed and looked closely at the characters written on the back of the flap; her eyes widening when she saw who had sent it and snorted.
“A phone call or an email would have been sufficient.” Mei shook her head and set the envelope down and proceeded to run her hands through Airi’s hair before caressing her cheek and tickling it, her heart warming when she heard Airi giggle.
“Mommy, stop.” Airi pulled back, thinking that she had an escape route and instead tried to bury herself in Yuzu’s hoodie. “Mama, make Mommy stop.”
“Okay then I’ll do it,” cackled Yuzu raising her hands menacingly and moving them slowly toward Airi’s cheeks.
Airi began backing away, but she was too slow and before she could back away, Yuzu’s arms shot forward and her hands latched onto her daughter’s sides and began squeezing her sides and running her fingers up and down them, tickling her daughter.
“Mama,” coughed Airi between the tickles and cackles from Yuzu, “st...stop...”
“Okay,” stopped and brushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled. “Okay, I’m done.”
Yuzu lifted Airi off the floor and held her close, hiding her face in her daughter’s hair.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No I’m fine,” Airi returned the hug and kissed Yuzu’s forehead and tried to back away, but this only urged Yuzu to hold onto her tighter and let out a loud sniff. “Mama, are you crying?”
Yuzu lifted her head, and Mei saw the familiar sight of blood red eyes and tear-stained cheeks before her face disappeared behind Airi’s so they could press their foreheads together.
“Are you sad, Mama?” Airi’s voice was nervous and Mei watched as one foot took an instinctive step back, but Airi remained rooted to the spot. “How come you’re crying?”
“Mama’s fine,” sniffed Yuzu, stroking Airi’s hair and giving a nervous laugh. “I just have a lot of stuff going on in my head, but I’ll be better soon.”
“Okay.” Airi lifted her hands to Yuzu’s cheeks and clumsily tried to wipe away the tears with her thumbs as her moms did. “Does your heart hurt?”
“A little.” Yuzu pressed her hands to Airi’s and turned her head, kissing both of her daughter’s palms and sighed. “But I promise that if it gets bad, I’ll tell you or Mommy. If I did that, do you think you can help me feel better?”
“Uh huh.” Airi nodded and pressed her forehead to Yuzu’s making her mother both cry and laugh. “Do you need me to help now?”
“You already are.”
Yuzu proceeded to hug Airi again, rubbing her cheek on her daughter’s head and Mei heard her whisper, “You’re my little girl right?”
“Yeah,” said Airi with a small giggle, but Mei could hear a hint of confusion in her voice.
“Are you Mommy's little girl?” Yuzu raised her eyes and winked at Mei who smiled back and rubbed Airi on the head.
“Yeah,” repeated Airi though her confusion was much more prominent than it had previously been.
“Good.” Yuzu gave Airi one more kiss on the head before standing up and smiling at her wife and daughter. “Okay, I’m going to go and get cleaned up, and if we’re lucky, we can grab some lunch before we go and find a shop. I hope we can find me one.”
“Yuzu,” said Mei after sending Airi off to grab her backpack while Yuzu headed toward the sink to wash her face.
“What’s up,” asked Yuzu after turning on the water and splashing some on her face and ignoring the fact that Mei was now carrying the letter.
“We need to open this.” Mei held up the envelope, a look of urgency on her face.
“No, we don’t.” Yuzu lifted her face from the water and reached for the hand towel that was hanging up on the wall.
“What makes you say that,” inquired Mei as she started peeling open the envelope. “It could be a change in plans. He never said whatever he mailed would contain good news.”
“I’d consider a change in plans good news,” huffed Yuzu as she leaned against the wall, watching as Airi began counting out some money in the hope that she’d be able to talk Yuzu into letting her buy something.
“If you were going to get like this why did you even bother contacting him in the first place?”
Mei continued to open the envelope, waiting for Yuzu to snatch it out of her hands. However, despite her attitude, Yuzu once again surprised Mei by resisting the urge to take the letter, though Mei could tell by the whites in her knuckles that she was hanging on by a thread.
“I contacted him because I thought we’d have more than a week to prepare ourselves. I didn’t expect him to be in Japan when I emailed him. He didn’t tell me so what else was I going to do after telling him everything that had happened?”
In spite of her anger, Yuzu managed a smile when she saw Airi look at her and wave.
“I understand what you’re saying and his being here did change our time table,” said Mei opening the letter and giving it a quick read. “Even I was surprised when you told me that he would be in town for the duration of the summer. But after I did some research, it was bound to happen at some point since his company is an international distributor and they have developers here. And if we consider everything that has happened, this might be for the best.”
“Why do you have to make everything sound so simple,” grumbled Yuzu turning her attention to her wife while Airi began having make-believe conversations with the stuffed animals.
“It only sounds simple because I don’t overreact at every obstacle that comes our way," grumbled Mei before folding the letter and tapping Yuzu on the forehead with it.
“I don’t overreact that much,” countered Yuzu, snatching the envelope and blushing at the cocked eyebrow Mei was giving her. “Well, not as much as I used to, I’d like to think you’d noticed.”
“I have.” Mei leaned in and gave Yuzu a peck on the cheek before rubbing her nose against the spot she’d kissed. “But this trip isn’t one of those times for you to overreact. We made this decision in the hopes of helping Airi, and we need to figure out how we’re going to handle this.”
Yuzu kissed Mei’s temple and chuckled as she watched Airi begin bashing her owl against Satsuma and making loud screeching noises before grabbing Kumagorou and acting like the old faded teddy bear was eating Hideki's smaller tiger.
“But she’s been doing a lot better since we decided to email him and I don’t want this to, you know, screw her up again.”
“And what if not meeting him does even more damage?” Mei joined Yuzu in watching Airi play and felt a familiar, dull pain begin to grow in her chest. “What if by not following through with this we run the risk of her turning out to be like me?”
“Mei, that’s not going to hap...”
“It’s already started Yuzu.”
Mei’s voice spiked a little, causing Airi to stop playing and ask, “Mommy, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” answered Mei with a reassuring smile. “Mama and I are discussing a few things about our trip, and we’ll be ready soon.”
“Okay.” Airi set Satsuma down and pointed at her stomach. “Are we going to eat before buying Mama’s yukata? I’m starving.”
“We’ll figure it out,” answered Mei, turning her gaze back to her wife, her eyes narrowed. “Won’t we Yuzu?”
Sighing, Yuzu nodded and said, “Yeah, we’ll figure it out. But can we do it after shopping? I know where your mind is at, but I think I need a little longer to figure it out.”
“I understand.” Mei nodded and pointed at the letter that was still in Yuzu’s hand. “And just so you’re aware, he said he’s fine with whatever we choose. He said he’s in a nearby hotel and he’s going to be leaving the same day as us and if we want to meet, we can. But before you give me your answer I want you to think about why you’re feeling this way. Can you do that for me?”
“Yeah.” Yuzu nodded and managed to smile at Mei. “I’m sorry for acting like this but can I give you my opinion on something before we leave?”
“What is it,” asked Mei after adjusting her watch. “It’s getting late Yuzu, and if we’re going to go shopping, we need to hurry.”
“Then we’ll talk as we walk,” suggested Yuzu while pointing at Airi to grab her stuff. “Two birds with one stone, sound good?”
“I suppose so,” hummed Mei, grabbing her purse and holding her hand out for Yuzu which the blonde took eagerly and after making sure they had everything, lead them out the door.
After telling the owner where they would be going, they made their way down the forested path with Airi leading the way, though not without regularly asking her mothers for directions.
As they entered the town, all three of them were amazed at how many people were out on the street. Many of them were tourists, given how many were holding maps or stopping to ask for directions, but the vast majority were locals who were spending their time setting up their stalls for the festivities and making sure to hand out coupons or certificates in hopes of drumming up business. Occasionally a few asked Mei and Yuzu if they were interested and while they did stop and grab a few for stalls that they thought would make for excellent souvenirs, they did have some difficulty in keeping Airi from grabbing one from just about every person who offered them.
“We’re not going to be able to visit them all,” said Mei when Airi whined that she wanted one that promised she would win a prize. “So there’s no point in taking all of them because they’ll only end up lost or in the trash.”
“But, what if I win the prize,” countered Airi, kicking a stray pebble into the street as they began looking for the tailor the inn had owner had suggested to them. “That lady said we could win another trip or a new television.”
“The odds of us winning are highly unlikely,” grumbled Mei as she managed to catch Airi just before she walked into a light pole, “and watch where you’re going, Airi. You could have hurt herself.”
“I’m sorry,” said Airi, as she pointed across the street. “But I saw a fireworks stand. Can I buy some with the money I brought?”
“We’ll think about it,” said Yuzu with a wink, earning her an elbow in the rib. “But before we do that, you think you can help me pick out my new yukata?”
“I guess,” said Airi with a shrug as she followed her moms to the shop. “I dunno how to buy yukata though.”
“It’s really easy,” said Yuzu as she opened the door to the shop, allowing Airi in before her and Mei. “All I need is for you to tell me which one I look prettiest in and then Mommy and I will do the rest.”
“Fine,” groaned Airi as she sat down in one of the chairs the store offered and began kicking her feet. “But can we hurry up? My tummy is getting loud.”
While Yuzu walked up to the counter and began asking if there were any yukata in her size available, Mei rummaged through her bag and pulled out a snack bar and handed it to Airi.
“Have this to hold you over, and I promise we’ll get something to eat very soon.”
“Thanks, Mommy.” Airi took the bar, opened it, and took a big bite and swallowed. “Mommy do you know how to tie my sash?”
“I do,” answered Mei, taking a seat and watching as the owner showed yuzu a few possible choices, "and so does your brother and Mama.”
“Hideki can tie a sash,” asked Airi in amazement. “Where’d he learn how to do that?”
Mei smirked and caressed Airi’s hair as she said, “Mama and I taught him since sometimes one of us would be busy with getting ready, and he’d always ask us to show him so he could help, and if you want, we’ll teach you as well since you have five of your own thanks to Honoka."
“Yeah,” answered Airi bouncing excitedly in her chair before swallowing another bite. “That sounds fun. Can I try tying both of them?”
“Both of what,” asked Yuzu reappearing with a seafoam green and white yukata draped over one arm.
“Mommy said I could learn to tie yukata sashes,” announced Airi, spraying bits of food as she spoke, pointing at the gown her mother was holding. “Can I try with that one?”
“How about we let Mama buy her outfit and then we’ll worry about the lessons,” suggested Mei after handing Airi a tissue from her bag and giving Yuzu a cold stare. “Not to mention that Mama and I have to have an important conversation before we can teach you to tie anything.”
“I know,” groaned Yuzu, rolling her eyes and pointing at the dressing room. “I’m sorry all right. I promise we’ll talk, but can we please figure out my outfit first? I’m going to feel a little silly if I’m the only one of us not wearing one. Besides you know, this helps me clear my head so can you try and have a little fun? I know you hate it, but it’ll help me out.”
“All right.” Mei sighed and folded her arms, already looking bored. “I understand, but please don’t take too long. Airi still needs to eat, and we don’t want to waste too much time as I don’t want us to waste any food while we’re at the inn..”
“We’ll be fine, Mei.” Yuzu handed a couple of more outfits to the owner and waved Airi to her. “Airi do you want to help me pick it out or do you want them to be a surprise?”
“Ummm surprise,” giggled Airi, making the owner smile. “How many are you going to try on Mama? Ten?”
“Please no,” pleaded Mei horrified at the thought of having to sit through ten fittings.
“Don’t worry.” Yuzu turned and winked at Mei holding up two yukata to join the outfits the owner had set aside. “I only have four to try on, sit tight and I promise to make this quick.”
“Make sure that you do,” said Mei fidgeting in her chair, trying to hide a smile, despite her annoyance. "Or else I'll decide for you."
Once the owner disappeared into the dressing room, Yuzu made a quick dash to Mei and kissed her on the cheek before being summoned back by the owner leaving Mei blushing and Airi giggling.
“Mommy you look silly,” laughed Airi reaching up poking Mei’s bright red cheek.
“Oh be quiet,” said Mei stiffly before gently slapping her daughter’s hand away only to break into a hidden smirk as she listened to her daughter’s giggles as they waited for Yuzu to reappear.
As promised, Yuzu didn’t take long with her fittings as the first two she’d picked out ended up clashing with her skin tone, at least that what Yuzu had said was her reasoning despite Mei and Airi saying they liked both of them. Finally, after an agonizing half-hour wait, Yuzu finally came to a decision and purchased a dark blue Yukata with white flowers, bright green leaves, and a pink sash to accompany it.
“Are you happy,” asked Mei as they left the store, immediately wishing she was back in her chair with the cool breeze of the shop’s fan blowing on her.
“Very,” said Yuzu wrapping her arm around Mei’s, a huge smile on her face. “Thanks for being patient. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise.”
“As long as it helped you feel better and sort things out.” Mei let out a heavy sigh of relief as a cool breeze blew down the street. “Are you feeling better, Yuzu?”
“A little.” Yuzu shrugged and gripped Mei’s arm tightly as she watched Airi try and hop down the street on one foot and barely managing to avoid running into multiple people as she did it. “I’m sorry if that’s a problem, but this is tough, Mei. I mean it’s not like he’s a total stranger. The few times he’s been in town the three of us have managed to have lunch or dinner, and we’ve gotten along, and you do answer his calls for me when I’m asleep or busy. On top of that he has followed through with making sure that she’s provided for; a lot more than we thought he would.”
“He has,” said Mei in agreement while Airi began chasing after a squirrel now that the sidewalk had opened up a little. “Granted we’ve put most of that into a college fund that she probably won’t need, and I’ll admit that I was hesitant about letting you tell him so much about her, but he’s been reasonable, and I’ll admit I do enjoy his company.”
“He is pretty fun,” chuckled Yuzu as she remembered how excited he’d gotten at seeing the pictures of Airi’s first violin recital, “and I want them to meet if that’s what she wants. But I'm still feeling weird about it.”
Yuzu pointed to Airi who had shifted from squirrel chasing to spinning in front of a shop window and trying to catch her hair floating in the air only stopping when a man and a woman chuckled, causing Airi to run back to her mothers and latch onto Yuzu’s leg and interrupting their conversation.
“What’s the matter, Sweetheart? Did those people make you feel embarrassed?”
“Yeah,” said Airi taking Yuzu’s freehand and gripping it tightly as the couple walked past and smiled at the sight of Airi clinging to her mother.
“It’s okay to accept compliments, Airi.” Mei peeked around from Yuzu’s shoulder as they turned the corner, leading to the soba restaurant Mei had suggested after researching it on her phone. “Mama and I won’t let anything bad happen to you, we promise.”
“I know.” Airi’s voice was low but was at least loud enough for her mothers to hear it. “I just don’t like strangers; they’re scary.”
“That’s true,” said Yuzu with a strained voice, her heart pounding as she tried to figure out a way to bring up the conversation she and Mei were having. “But just about everyone you meet was a stranger to someone at some point. Also, if you think about it, in some ways you and I were strangers Airi at one point, and you came out of my tummy.”
“I guess,” replied Airi giving her mothers a confused look. “But you’re my mama, so that’s different. Other strangers are mean and scary.”
“I know what you mean.” Yuzu stopped and after handing her bag over to Mei, bent down and pulled Airi into her arms and began carrying her the rest of the way toward the restaurant. “I’ve met lots of strangers who have been mean and scary. Sometimes at the restaurant, people get mean and yell at me because there was a mistake on their order. But some people are nice and forgive you because they know mistakes happen. Though to be honest there's a lot of people who'll be mean to you just because they don't like the clothes you're wearing."
Mei let out a loud cough which made Yuzu laugh and made Airi even more confused as Yuzu continued.
“A lot of those people are strangers to me and like I said, some are nice, and some are mean. Just like the people we know are nice but can turn mean and the same is true for the reverse of that.”
“Reverse of what,” asked Airi as she began patting Yuzu’s hair.
“What your Mama is trying to say is that there are many different sides to people,” explained Mei calmly as Yuzu stumbled to find her words. “Some people you might think are mean are quite nice but they don’t always know how to express it, and people who are nice to you at one point can turn out to be rude or cruel. Does that make sense?”
“Like the kids who said they wanted to be my friend and then picked on me and how you and Mama get mad at Hideki and me when we mess up?”
“That’s an excellent comparison,” said Mei with a soft smile.
“She’s a smartypants,” chuckled Yuzu and with a grunt set her back down on the ground before dropping down to her level so she could look her daughter in the eye, "and you’re a good girl Airi who deserves lots of friends and happiness. I know it’s tough and Mommy and I understand because we went through it too.”
“I know.” Airi nodded and screwed up her face as she tried to remember what she’d been told about her moms meeting. “Mommy didn’t like you because you didn’t follow the rules and were loud and you thought Mommy was stuck up and a brat. And Auntie Matsuri was mean to Mommy because she was jealous and Auntie Hime...”
“We get it.” Yuzu let out a nervous chuckle, thankful that there were only a few people on this particular street and glad that Airi hadn’t been too loud for all of them to here. “Those were all excellent points, and we’re glad you remember them just make sure you don’t say those things out loud in public.”
“Got it.” Airi raised a finger to her mouth and pressed it against her lips. “That’s cuz they’re secrets.”
“Sort of,” agreed Yuzu mimicking her daughter. “It’s not that they’re bad things to say, but you need to ask permission before you say them.”
“Oh.” Airi lowered her finger and nodded and began tapping her toe against the ground. "Is that because it's rude to tell other people's secrets?"
“Exactly." Yuzu reached up and ruffled Airi’s hair making her pull away but also giggle. "You're so smart."
Seeing the smile on her daughter’s face, Yuzu felt her heart begin to pound again, and a lump build in her throat when she saw her daughter's smile and knew she couldn't put it off any longer.
Swallowing the lump, Yuzu took a deep breath and asked, “Airi….do you...want to meet a friend of mine tomorrow? I mean they’re a friend of Mommy’s too, but more my friend since I talk to them more than she does. But we’ve known them for a long time, and I mean, I guess Mommy and I want to know if you’d be okay meeting them.”
“Are they a nice friend?” Airi’s eyes darted between her mothers, and they could see that she knew they were both nervous. “Are they going to be mean like the boys that picked on Hideki and me?”
“No,” said Mei and Yuzu in unison.
“He isn’t anything like those boys,” said Mei without even thinking about how it’d affect Airi. “Even though we aren’t close I can safely say that he won’t do anything to you like the kids at your school or those fools that decided to pick on you and your brother.”
Mei and Yuzu both nodded and thought that was the end of it, but they were wrong and they both burst into laughter when she asked, “Umm, since you and Mommy have known him for a long time, is it, someone, Mama met when she worked for the hotel ?”
“Stop laughing,” snorted Airi as Yuzu holding the stitch in her side while Mei hid her laughter behind her hand. “It’s not funny.”
“It is to Mommy and me,” explained Yuzu after catching her breath. “Believe me Airi we’re not laughing at you. We’re laughing because you managed to figure out where we met him without us telling you.”
“I don’t get it?”
“What Mama is saying,” explained Mei after seeing the frustrated look on her daughter’s face. “Is that we did meet him when Mama worked for the hotel company and you did a good job figuring it out.”
“Oh!” Airi’s face shifted from frustrated to happy at hearing that she’d done a good job. “Okay. Umm since tomorrow’s the festival does that mean we get to wear our yukata when we meet him? Is he going to wear one?”
“I don’t think so,” said Yuzu with a shrug. “But I’ll ask him. And since we’re wearing our Yukata that means a bath tonight and a bath tomorrow morning before we head out and no complaining. Promise?”
“I promise,” said Airi loudly with a huge smile. “I can’t wait to wear mine. Are you going to do my hair?”
“I can,” said Yuzu, twirling some strands of Airi’s hair. “But that means, depending on what you want I’m going to have comb it out again, and I’ll need you to behave. The walls at the inn are thin, so that means no screaming and no yelling because I don’t want people thinking something bad is happening.”
“I can do that,” announced Airi before running to Mei and taking her hand. “Mommy, are you going to help?”
“I think that’s best left to Mama,” replied Mei, unable to take her eyes of Yuzu. “But I will help if she allows me to.”
“I want you to,” said Yuzu with a smile. “But right now, let’s get something to eat. I’m starving, and I heard this place is great.”
Yuzu’s choice for lunch ended up being a bamboo soba restaurant which was an instant hit with Airi as it allowed her the opportunity to play with her food. Though due to her inexperience with the concept and Mei's lack of ability, Yuzu hardly managed to eat anything as she spent much of her time helping them catch their food. Still, it was an enjoyable time and by the time they had left Airi was so full that she'd fallen asleep and had to take a cab back to the hotel.
When they entered the hotel, the owner offered to bring their dinner to their room, but they politely refused, saying that the show was one of the reasons they’d chosen that particular hotel which made caused the owner to beam at them before regaining her composure and wishing them a pleasant afternoon.
“Here you go, Kiddo,” whispered Yuzu as she laid Airi out on the futon Mei had laid out.
“I wanna stay up,” grunted Airi as she tiredly kicked her feet at being woken up. “I’m not tired.”
“Yes you are,” chuckled Yuzu kissing her daughter’s forehead. "Remember you fell asleep after eating, so it's time for a nap."
“No, I’m not,” protested Airi, even though she was in the process of clutching her owl and using Yuzu’s lion Satsuma as a makeshift pillow. “And no I didn't. I don’t need naps; I’m a big girl.”
“We know you are,” said Mei kissing Airi close to where Yuzu had while pulling a thin blanket over her daughter’s small body. “But you need to rest. Dinner is late here, and if you’re going to watch the show you need all your energy, and after you wake up, we’ll have a nice long bath together.”
“Promise?” Airi rolled over and yawned, her eyes half-opened in a vain attempt to stay awake.
“We promise,” said Yuzu as she massaged her daughter’s back. “Now go to sleep and remember, if you need us we'll be in the room. I love you."
"I love you t...too."
Airi let out a loud yawn and shortly after, they could hear her gentle snores and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind them.
When it was secured Mei headed into hers and Yuzu’s room and began sorting everything while Yuzu grabbed them some drinks from the vending machine and upon returning handed a bottled tea to Mei before opening her juice.
They sat together in silence, Mei focusing on their luggage while Yuzu sent the email confirming the meetup. Once it was sent, Yuzu set her phone off to the side, and closed their bedroom door before cuddling up next to Mei and couldn't resist kissing the back of her neck.
“Email’s sent,” said Yuzu, not realizing how close her mouth was to her wife’s ear.
“All right.” There was a familiar shudder to Mei’s voice, causing her to separate from Yuzu and begin pushing their luggage off to the side. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with them meeting? It’s not too late to back out.”
“Kind of,” replied Yuzu, smiling at the familiar redness of Mei’s ears but resisted the urge to tease her. "I'm still nervous, though and it's messing with my head."
“Can you elaborate,” asked Mei after zipping her suitcase shut before sitting down next to Yuzu. “What exactly is it that you’re nervous about?”
“Everything,” said Yuzu with a loud sigh before falling onto her back, staring at the overhead fan. “I’m nervous about her freaking out. I’m nervous about me freaking out. I'm nervous that she's going to run off or scream or cry. That we're making a huge mistake and this is just going to blow up in our faces."
“I can understand that,” sighed Mei, deciding to join Yuzu on the floor and curling up next to her. “I’m nervous about how this will turn out as well. She hasn’t seen him in almost four years, and the most she knows of him is the few things we’ve told her about the letters and the few pictures we have of them.”
“I don’t think this is going to go smoothly.” Yuzu chuckled and wrapped her arm around Mei’s shoulder and kissed her forehead. “But you were right earlier. It was probably going to happen at some point, but I wish it happened when she was older or that it was under better circumstances, ya know?”
“I do.” Mei moved closer to Yuzu and gently kissed her wife’s neck as she caressed her cheek. “I have the same worries as you about how people will react to her. I know we decided on using him together, but there are days I worry that by doing so we’ve made her life more difficult by choosing someone who wasn’t Japanese.”
Yuzu looked down and felt the lump return to her throat when she saw the tears in the corners of Mei’s eyes.
“Am I a bad mother for thinking that,” asked Mei as she clutched gripped the sleeves of Yuzu’s shirt. “Does it make me a bad mother for sometimes wishing that we hadn’t made that decision so she could have an easier life?”
“You aren’t,” whispered Yuzu, before rolling onto her side and holding Mei close to her chest and begin kissing the top of her head. “You’re a great mother, Mei. I always knew you would be from the moment you told me you were going to have Hideki and it’s natural that you’d want her to have a life free of pain and suffering.
"Then why do I feel so terrible," asked Mei curling into Yuzu's embrace. "I know it shouldn't matter and it doesn't matter to me. But why can't I stop myself from feeling like this?"
"Because you're her mother," said Yuzu, swallowing a lump and squeezing her wife, "and wanting her to have an easier life isn't a crime and it doesn't make you a bad mother."
"Then what does it make me?"
Yuzu looked down and felt her chest ache at seeing the pain in her wife's eyes and kicking herself mentally for not paying attention to how this had been affecting Mei.
Leaning down, Yuzu placed her lips to her wife's forehead and kissed her gently and said, "It makes you human, and humans aren’t perfect. I know how much you love Airi and I know you wouldn’t do anything like what those kids do to her or anyone like her. You’re much too kind to do that, even if you don't think you are.”
“Airi’s our girl.” Yuzu shifted her body down, so she was face to face with her wife, and once she was, she couldn’t resist wiping away the tears and kissing the spots where they’d fallen. “You reminded me of that this morning when you said we have to do what we can to help her. That’s why when I saw her smiling after we told her about people teasing her I knew she had to meet him, even if we run the risk of her wanting to go back to America with him.”
“Is that why you wanted to cancel the meeting,” sniffed Mei, forgetting her worries for a moment in hopes of helping Yuzu through her frustrations. “Because you thought she would want to leave?”
“Yeah.” Yuzu ran her hands through Mei’s hair and let out a loud sigh as she stared at the door and what lay on the other side. “I know she’ll leave home some day and that if she wants to see him when she's old enough, we won't be able to stop her. But I'm still scared that she'll want to leave us for him. Kinda stupid, huh?"
“No,” answered Mei, shaking her head and turning Yuzu’s gaze back to her. “No, it’s not. I know it’s not because you helped me through similar feelings the first time we sent Hideki away with Udagawa and Rena, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” chuckled Yuzu as she began remembering their first time making love. “That was a very...intense evening. Especially once you started enjoying yourself.”
“Not even close to what I was getting at.” Mei’s nostrils flared, but Yuzu could see the smile hidden behind her false frustration.
“I know,” Yuzu smirked and tapped Mei on the nose. “It was a rough week, and even after we had some fun, you couldn’t stop talking about him in your sleep. I remember waking up to you sitting up in bed trying to talk to him while he screamed and laughed on the other end.”
“I do too,” chuckled Mei as she wiped away a partially dried tear. “But I like to think that by allowing him to stay with his father it, made it easier for me to accept the fact that one day he’d end up leaving home, even though I’m worried sick with him being so far away at the moment.”
“That goes for me too,” agreed Yuzu before pressing her forehead against Mei’s. “Thanks for making it easier, Mei. I’m sorry for being selfish and making you and Airi worry.”
“I’m used to it,” said Mei as she closed her eyes. “But I understand. The past few weeks haven’t been easy, and I’m sorry for overreacting earlier. I shouldn’t have shouted at you like that this morning. You were upset, and I should have paid more attention to what you were going through. Can you forgive me?”
“Only if you forgive me for the same thing,” said Yuzu as she rubbed her nose against Mei’s. “And for the record, there’s nothing wrong with being like you, Mei. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
“Every time I say it.” Mei felt her lips brush against Yuzu’s as she spoke, hoping that Yuzu would interrupt her with a kiss, but it never came.
Instead, she opened her eyes and wasn't surprised to see that Yuzu had fallen asleep, gently snoring while her necklace glimmered in the afternoon sun.
Deciding that there was no point in fighting it, finished her water and grabbed a couple of pillows in preparations to nap next to Yuzu. Just as she finished putting Yuzu's head on top of her pillow, there was a quiet knock at the door and knowing what was on the other side, Mei opened it to reveal a half-sleeping Airi standing there, clutching her owl and rubbing her eye.
"Do you want to take a nap with me and Mama," asked Mei with a kind smile, earning her a sleepy nod.
"Okay." Mei stepped aside and pointed to Yuzu. "Go curl up next to her, I'll be there in a minute."
Airi nodded and let out a loud yawn as she stumbled toward Yuzu only to wake her when she unceremoniously dropped down next to her and accidentally headbutted her chin.
There was a gasp of surprise from Yuzu and she opened her eyes, blinking back her sleep as she tried to figure out why her jaw was suddenly hurting. When her eyes came to rest on Mei, the taller woman pointed down which Yuzu did and Mei watched as her tired frustrations, melted into a smile as she held her daughter against her chest.
Once she was sure it was safe, Mei set her phone's alarm and proceeded to join her wife and daughter in their nap; a peaceful smile spreading across her face as she drifted off to sleep.