Karamatsu wouldn’t call it a love story.
He had met Nariko at the train station, instantly pulling out his cool guy act and getting shut down. Used to rejection, he had moved on without much thought. There were always more Karamatsu girls and boys in the sea, and he knew that bothering a girl after they had already expressed disinterest wasn’t very #metoo of him. He wouldn’t bother anyone unless they wanted him too. That’s why, after their first encounter, Karamatsu dropped the romantic one-liners towards her.
Karamatsu would frequently catch the downtown metro since his usual haunt at the bridge had not led to any sort of romance. Scratch that, it hadn’t led to any sort of pleasant human interaction, platonic or otherwise. Reactions to his perfect fashion and sparkling personality seemed to be collective disgust, with maybe a small bit of pity mixed in.
He was growing embarrassingly desperate for some company of any kind that wasn’t his brothers. Karamatsu loved them dearly, but they tended to ignore him or rag on him if they weren’t doing that. There was something sad about having the only people in his life forced to be so by birth, and even then they weren’t that interested in spending time with him. It seemed they were all drifting further and further away from each other day by day, no matter how badly he wanted them to force them to stay.
Making friends as an adult was so hard . Not just hard, it bordered on impossible. Karamatsu always had trouble connecting with people in high school, shy as he was, and now he had lost his chance to make friends organically. Maybe he should go back to school? But what would he say when people asked him what he was studying? ‘Hmm, I’m not sure, but I’m so terribly lonely that I’m just here on the off chance someone might want to speak to me.’ It was too pathetic, even for him.
Karamatsu just felt more and more exhausted as the days wore on.
It was a constant ache, a persistent feeling of loss for something he never had in the first place. He always felt like he was missing something, but wasn’t sure what. He tried to fill the empty space inside of him with clothes and cigarettes and music, but his clothes failed to grant him any positive attention, cigarettes dulled his sense of taste and smell, and his music sounded hollow to his ears.
Lacking the attention he craved, he paid attention to them instead. He people watched during his daily commute, and Karamatsu noticed her again. She was always somehow at the train station when he was, no matter what time of day he made his trips. Sometimes a friend accompanied her, and he would catch bits and pieces of their idle chatting. He tried not to feel envious of other people, but it was hard not to when they clearly had it so much better than he did.
One day, she sparked up a conversation with him of her own accord, introducing herself as Nariko and claiming that since they saw each other daily, they should just get it over and talk to each other. It turned out they had a lot in common. They were both confident and extroverted in their own ways (despite Karamatsu’s lack of friends), they were both bisexual, they shared an interest in designer clothing, and she seemed mildly impressed when he told her he could play several instruments.
Karamatsu had not anticipated their occasional chats at the train station to turn into anything more, and he certainly did not anticipate losing his virginity to her. Their tenuous acquaintanceship had shifted into something more -- a relationship. He kept her a secret from his brothers, fearing retaliation. The sextuplets all had the primal urge to mess with each other, and Karamatsu didn’t want a situation similar to when they had all found out about Todomatsu’s job. It was the first time he was grateful that they mostly ignored him.
Regardless of his best efforts to keep the spark of their unlikely romance ignited, after a few short months of dating Nariko suddenly cut off all contact with him. She seemed to have blocked Karamatsu’s home number as none of his calls went through, and he had no idea where to search for her as they had never been to each other’s houses. He tried to find her at the train station but she had vanished The only thing that stopped him from reporting her as missing was that after several days of hanging around Ibaraki he recognised her friend, the one she would often catch the train with. Yamanashi seemed reluctant to talk to Karamatsu, and assured him that Nariko was alive and well. She told him to just give Nariko some space until she reached out.
He could only assume that his brothers had something to do with it. Either that, or he had managed to fuck up something perfect without even knowing what he did, so he chose to believe it was the former despite no evidence of his brothers’ involvement.
Nariko had abandoned Karamatsu. It was to be expected, guaranteed to happen from the start, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. He just wished he could have gotten some sort of closure. She hadn’t even bothered to dump him properly, and now he was alone again.
He drifted in and out of awareness. Before he knew it, winter turned into spring. Karamatsu’s life was boring and uneventful asides from when he got up to some antics with his brothers. The joy of spending time with them never lasted long though, and he quickly went back to his listless state. The NEET lifestyle was starting to catch up to him, and he found himself longing for better times. What those times were, he wasn’t sure. Their childhood had not been bad, but it was not exactly functional either. Mostly, Karamatsu still felt like he was missing something that hadn’t even happened yet, but he couldn’t do anything about it because of this stupid rut he was stuck in. The days passed with increasing swiftness, and all he could do was anxiously wait as they counted down, always on edge, a bit too bored, a bit too agitated, and a bit too lonely.
What exactly was he waiting for? He wanted to rip his skin off in frustration. He was doing nothing with his life, just watching as his youth slipped away.
That is, until...
Karamatsu’s eyes drifted in the direction of the sound, refraining from standing up to welcome her. He was a bit of a pushover when it came to his brothers, but he refused to be the same around Nariko. He was going to demand an explanation. He was going to demand why she had ghosted him and chosen now, of all times, to get back in touch. Then he was going to forgive her. Even if she had done something really heinous, he never had been able to hold a grudge. The last shreds of anger had faded away the second he heard her voice.
Nariko approached him slowly, seeming bashful, which was extremely unlike her. Then again, he hadn’t seen her in months, she had probably changed a lot. Despite the heartache she had put him through, a reserved smile spread across his face. She looked as beautiful as ever, and her outfit was stylish and modern. Karamatsu’s gaze inadvertently drifted from her face to look at her body, where…
Karamatsu’s mind was racing. They had dated for several months right? How long had it been since they last saw each other, surely it hadn’t been that long. No, it had only been about two or three months. When was the last time they… he looked at her again, actually, when was the first time they did it? Karamatsu wasn’t sure what a full-term pregnancy looked like exactly, but Nariko certainly was… large. So that meant what exactly? Maths was never his best subject in school, and before he knew it Nariko was taking the seat across from him.
Seeing her sitting across from him after so long was so remarkable that he had to keep himself from kissing her hello. After all, it was different now. They clearly wouldn’t be able to just pick up where they left off. Besides, there were more pressing matters at hand.
He waited for her to say something but she didn’t. She placed her left hand on her belly out of what seemed to be instinct and stared at something behind him. Her face was normal other than a slight indent between her brows. Could it be nerves? Karamatsu had never seen her nervous before, she had always been so ingenuous in her fearlessness.
When it became clear she wasn’t going to speak first, Karamatsu swallowed, throat dry. “I suppose a ‘congratulations’ is in order.” His words hung in the air. “Um. Congratulations.”
Nariko sucked in a deep breath, and Karamatsu tried not to watch how her enlarged stomach swelled at the motion. “Hello Karamatsu. I guess… I don’t really know where to start, sorry.”
Karamatsu tried to calm himself, burning questions nearly spilling out. He bit back the words. “It’s okay. Take your time. It’s, uh. It’s good to see you.”
“Same to you,” Nariko gave him a small smile. “I’ll start off by apologising. I’m sorry. I really am Karamatsu, I’d love to blame it on hormones but honestly I don’t know why I ditched you. I think I was just ashamed. I really, really liked you and I somehow got it into my head that you would hate me over this. I know I probably haven’t really helped things, but you understand right? Wait no, of course you don’t, I haven’t even explained anything yet. Can I start again?”
It’s a lot to take in. Karamatsu could definitely tell she was nervous now, so he silently placed his right hand on top of hers and nodded.
“Okay, well. This is a bit embarrassing and I never told you this but you were actually my first. I lied about being experienced to… look cool maybe, I have no idea honestly. I wanted to impress you but looking back I don’t know why I did that.” Nariko flushed. “So that means I also lied about being on the pill. Don’t worry though! I got Plan B straight after, and I even went into the doctor’s the next day and asked for a birth control prescription. I started taking them straight away, I swear. But nobody thought to tell me that the pill takes a few weeks before it can actually work. It must have happened sometime over that next month, I think. That’s when you got me pregnant.”
Karamatsu was struck. Seeing it was one thing, hearing her say it was something entirely else. He didn’t even care about all the other stuff. Karamatsu squeezed her hand in his grip, feeling his eyes prick with tears. “Nariko, that’s… That’s amazing, thank you for telling me. I’ll support you through this, I promise. I’ll do everything I can and more.”
He again had the urge to kiss her. And.. Okay, maybe he should be a little more shocked, maybe even angry at her for hiding something like this for so long, but for now all Karamatsu could bring himself to feel was pure elation and a newer feeling that he couldn’t quite put a finger on.
Nariko squeezed his hand back, an odd look on her face. She laughed, “ah, it’s silly isn’t it? I was worried about your reaction for so long, but I shouldn’t have been. You’re you, of course you’re going to be over the moon.”
Hearing her say that reaffirmed his positive emotions, but they were quickly overtaken by doubt. Did Karamatsu come on a little strong? Oh shit, what if Nariko didn’t even want him in the baby’s life? He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but it could wait. He needed to hear her say it again, just in case. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just-- am I really going to be a father?”
“Yes you are. And I already know that you’re going to be there for them your entire life and then some. I don’t know why I acted so irrationally. I should have communicated better, I should have treated you with the same respect you always treat me with. Sorry again.”
“Of course I— wait. They?”
Nariko nodded. The crease in between her brows re-emerged, and Karamatsu wanted to smooth it out with his fingers. “It’s kind of funny actually. Sextuplets. Just like you, huh?”
Karamatsu’s stomach did a funny little flip, and his cheeks hurt. Was he smiling too hard? “That’s wow. I can’t believe it. That’s so— that’s incredible. You’re incredible, it’s unbelievable, sextuplets, wow,” he automatically reverted back to his normal speaking pattern, too thrilled to do much else. “Life truly is a strange and oftentimes cruel mistress, but for now she has blessed us with bountiful fertility. You, my dear, the garden for which the fruit of our loins may blossom and proper. Ah, my only sorrow is that these precious flowers may not experience the beauty of the earth sooner, for as the rain falls they will miss it, as the wind blows they will not feel it, and as life continues theirs has not yet begun. How wonderful!”
Nariko surprised him by laughing loudly. “There’s the Karamatsu I know and love! I was worried before I met with you that you might have changed, but that’s not the case at all.” She wiped stray tears of mirth from her face, finally making eye contact with him for the first time that day. Her deep brown eyes are filled with an unnameable emotion, one he recognised in himself. Could it be love? “They’re kicking so much. I think they know that their dad is nearby. Would you like to feel them?”
The word ‘dad’ in reference to himself did unspeakable things to his heart, so he kept his mouth shut and pressed a careful hand to Nariko’s midsection. Her stomach felt firm and radiated warmth from underneath her dress. It really was very pretty for a maternity dress, Karamatsu wondered where she had gotten it from. The fabric was incredibly soft, he could only imagine how comfortable she was—ah!
Karamatsu almost jumped out of his skin, but managed to keep his composure. So that was what a baby kick felt like? It was strange. He was encompassed by positive emotions once again. The only thing he could get out was a strangled, “something moved.”
“Good, I’d be very mad at them if they didn’t. One of them has been kicking the crap out of my ribs all day, so the least she can do is the same to her father.”
“She?” There was only so much more that Karamatu’s poor heart would be able to take.
“Mmm, well, the ultrasound technician was able to identify four of them as girls, and if they’re all identical like you and your brothers then it’ll be a full set of girls. It’s too bad, I would’ve liked to ask your mum for some of you guys’ old baby clothing.”
Karamatsu’s hand stilled, faint kicks still echoing under his palm. “I’m going to have daughters?” He suddenly felt incredibly overwhelmed. In the span of an hour, he had gone from a lonely NEET to an expectant father of six (or at least four) baby girls. What a day.
Nariko started dabbing at his face with a napkin before he even realised that tears were streaming down.
“N-Nariko,” he tried not to let his voice quiver. “Please understand that I’m still not, and will never be, mad at you for not telling me. However, as I appear to have missed out on a portion of your pregnancy, I must ask… Are there pictures?”
“Of course,” she beamed at him like she had been waiting for him to ask that. “I got to pick my favourites, and I made copies of the copies of those.” Nariko pulled out a large, thick yellow envelope that had clearly seen better days, and spread the contents over the table. “Here’s my first scan, they estimated I was about eight weeks along. The next one was when they found out I was having multiples, but they couldn’t tell if it was twins or triplets-” she showed him each ultrasound, telling Karamatsu the story behind it, how far along she was in the scan, and pointing out the different babies and their positions.
They had all been dubbed with letters, and Baby E and F were the ones with unidentifiable genders. “The others are in the way. I’m hoping it’s identical boys. If one of them is fraternal, they might be excluded by the others.”
The images were grainy, kind of difficult to discern, but nevertheless a sight to behold. Karamatsu’s lip quirked up when he noticed ‘Baby B’ making a rude hand gesture in the 12-week scan.
“Hey, my 16-week scan is tomorrow morning. Can you come?”
“Nothing would please me more. If all the stars burned up and fell out of the sky, I still wouldn’t miss it,” he declared.
“Very dramatic. It’s at the Akatsuka Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Meet me outside at ten a.m., okay?” Nariko gathered up the ultrasound pictures and handed them to him in the envelope. “These are for you, keep them.”
Karamatsu clutched the crumpled paper in his hands like his life depended on it. It was probably the most important thing he would ever hold in his life, after all! Oh but, he guessed his children would probably be more important. Since he couldn’t do that just yet, he carefully rucked the envelope inside his leather jacket.
He could tell that this short meeting was the start of something very important. Karamatsu wouldn’t call it a love story, it was something very different from that. Whatever it was, he couldn’t wait to see what the future held in store for him.