Mini After Story – Kazusa ending (Ch. 2)

“So, you chose to neglect your poor mother, who hasn’t seen you in forever,
in favor of fooling around with your husband, whom you live with.
…You truly are a thankless daughter.”
“Well, what did you expect?
I’ve had it drilled into every corner of my body
that I simply can’t live without Haruki.”
“H-hey! You don’t have to say it like that!”

A lot had gone on today,
but we completed our meeting with the Japanese branch (Kudou-san) in the afternoon,
which meant that our “work” in Japan was officially finished.

…Although, some might consider this event,
“Dining with the Director,” a legitimate sort of work
in its own right.

That said, neither the hostess in question nor the guests
seemed to be in that sort of frame of mind…

“Anyway, Mom, when I was a kid,
you were never particularly motherly with me. This is just what you deserve.”
“K-Kazusa… You’re so unforgiving.
I could die alone in some desolate corner of the world,
and you wouldn’t care, would you? Ah, me… I didn’t raise you correctly.”
“You’re not wrong there.”
“…You’re pretty merciless, yourself, Guitar-kun.”
“Look, the day before our flight here,
didn’t I video-chat with you for like five hours?”
“Ah, now that you mention it, perhaps you did…”
“Don’t forget, Kazusa, this is part of your job…”

Still, it was a nice, intimate family meal.

Normally, these two were far, far from each other,
but, lately, Kazusa had been starting to get a handle on using IT tools,
and she concentrated on communicating with Youko-san.

“Well, let’s dispense with all the formal nonsense,
and raise a toast.”
“Now, would you kindly explain to me
exactly what part of our conversation up to now has been ‘formal’?”
“With Haruki thrown into the mix,
no family gathering could stay formal for long, huh?”
“Really, you should be cursing yourself,
for choosing to be controlled so rigidly
instead of being independent, like me.”
“Wanna run that by me again?”

They were making a deeper, longer connection than their time living together,
as though they were trying to make up for lost time.

“Say, by the way, is he still rigid?”
“How old do you think we are?
Obviously, he’s rigid every day.”
“Would you two please refrain from saying things that could easily be misconstrued?!”

…Of course, as someone who had no choice but to be involved
with these two and their extremely close bond,
there were probably certain things I was just going to have to endure.

“More crazy-expensive alcohol…”
“Well, why not?
My daughter and I haven’t been able to spend any time one-on-one in forever.”

The wine Youko-san ordered
was a 1989 Château Haut-Brion.

I had only read up on it a little in wine features in magazines before,
but I had the feeling it could easily run higher than a hundred thousand a bottle.

“Hey, Kazusa, do you remember?
This is the same one I ordered
the first time we ever dined in this restaurant.”
“Why would I remember that?
You chugged the whole thing down yourself.”

Incidentally, 1989
happened to be the year I was born.

…No, Youko-san probably chose that vintage
for a slightly different reason.

“Ah, you’re right. You were still a minor then.
Blubbering because a boy had dumped you for the first time…”
“If you say one more word about that, I’m leaving.
And I’m not talking about going back to the hotel.
I mean back to Vienna.”

It seemed to me that this wine-related memory
was something I would be reluctant
to delve any deeper into.

“L-look, even putting aside the price,
did you get permission from the doctor for this?”
“Yes, it’s all right as long as I just have a little.
I have no intention of letting my life go to waste.”
“…Now that you mention it, how has your health been lately?”
“Well, I’m doing my best.
I take my treatment very seriously, and I never miss a dosage of my medicine.
I’ve been following the doctor’s instructions to the letter.”

Youko-san had been diagnosed with leukemia about three years before.

At first, in Youko-san’s own words,
it was the sort of illness where even tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed,
but she kept at it with persistent treatment, and now, it seemed to be in remission.

“Yes, I should at least be able to name my first grandchild,
stand proud as he enters school, admire his proud form at the coming-of-age ceremony,
and read a memorial address at his funeral, with the life that I have left. Just watch.”
“Now, that’s just reaching demonic levels.
Also, would you mind not suddenly bringing up
the death of our child, who hasn’t even been born yet?”
“…Well, if you don’t want me to turn into a demon,
you’d better hurry up and let me see my grandchild’s face, hadn’t you?”
“Well, I… I’ll think about it.”

In the face of this conversation and its uncertain connection to reality,
Kazusa quickly changed her brash attitude from before
and focused quietly on eating her food.

To tell the truth, even now, conversations with Youko-san were always like this,
where there would be plenty of frivolous chit-chat all around,
but the instant the subject turned to Youko-san’s condition, she clammed up.

Normally, even when she was video chatting with Youko-san,
they never even touched on the subject of the illness.

Well, it wasn’t like I didn’t understand the feeling.
Actually, maybe I understood it a little too well…

But, the fact was, I needed to know.

After all, if some emergency were to arise with Youko-san,
it would fall to me to take care of Kazusa’s emotional state.

This was my first duty, above all others—I had made a promise to Youko-san.

“So… Let’s raise a toast to our new family member,
who may well be born soon.
You’ll keep it up, won’t you, Kazusa?”
“I never said I didn’t want to do it, all right?
I’ve just had a certain greedy manager holding me back.”
“So, like I said… We’ll think about it.”

One of the reasons I hadn’t pressured Kazusa for a child right away
was so that it wasn’t layered on top of other worries about “when the time came.”

I didn’t want to burden Kazusa
with handling a meeting and a parting at the same time.

In the end, Kazusa was what mattered most to me…
For her sake, I was prepared to sacrifice Youko-san’s happiness.

Although, to Youko-san, it was basically the same thing…

Youko-san knew that I had rationally calculated
when “that time” would come.

She also knew that, at any moment,
I was prepared to take everything on from her, like a baton pass.

In that sense, I suppose…
that since we were willing to speak so frankly about these things,
we really were like a parent and child by now.

“So, about that schedule…”
“Seriously? You’re talking about our wedding now?”
“Well, yes!
You haven’t been formally married yet, right?”

With the food still coming and the wine being passed around,
everyone was starting to speak a little more freely.

In the end, Youko-san
began to tell us her true purpose in calling us back to Japan.

“It’s not that rare nowadays to skip having a ceremony.”

Which was to say, the wedding ceremony between me and Kazusa.

A ceremony to bless the two of us,
who had committed the unforgivable act of betraying everything
and fleeing Japan on our own.

“That won’t do at all. You haven’t even given your mother a bouquet yet.”
“We must be the only family in the world where the parent would pester the child over that.”
“Look, I have whittled my money and life away
waiting for the day when you would read that letter out loud, tears in your eyes,
and say, “Mother, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.””
“Why is your love so twisted…?”

Ever since we had arrived in Vienna, three years ago,
we had lived with our backs turned on those we used to love before.

It was six months ago that we finally began to see signs that the snow was melting.

Youko-san came to Vienna in spite of her illness, and…

“The two of you need to hurry up and get yourselves prepared.
…You knew very well that this would happen,
and you still came to Japan, didn’t you?”

Yes, we did know.
This wasn’t exactly a surprise attack.

Youko-san was definitely the arm-twisting type,
but, in the end, we hadn’t refused.

There was that sense of guilt, being in the same place as the people we had made unhappy.
The heavy conscience of looking them in the face so brazenly.
The memory of the awful way we parted.

There was still a lot of pain left in us,
surrounding our return to Japan.

But there was also the joy of standing once more in the same place as those we loved.
The undying yearning for the country where we were born and raised.
The faint hope that maybe, just maybe, we could be forgiven.

These optimistic feelings, too,
remained in our hearts.

“For now, the schedule and location are a secret.
…I’ll let you know when the time comes.”

There was absolutely nothing we could do
with an outrageous plan like that…

And yet,
we couldn’t fault Youko for that outrageousness,
so we simply gazed into her elated face.

“Until then, go and have your fill of Japan. It’s been such a long time!
…Why don’t you go and visit your friends?”

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