❯ Family Bonds – Family Bonds ch 3 ( Chapter 3 )
Kaoru’s eyes opened extremely wide. “What do you mean?” he asked. “I don’t have a brother!”
“I mean what I said, Hanabishi,” the man said, spitting the name as though it were the vilest epithet. “I am, sadly enough, your brother.”
Kaoru was at a total loss for words, not only from Mr. Misukuni’s statement, but also from the waves of hostility emanating from him.
“How is this possible?” Kaoru asked. “I was never told my mother married anyone. Did she marry?” Trying to think clearly, Kaoru thought back to the few pieces of news he received about his dear mother.
“Not that you ever bothered to find out, Hanabishi,” said Misukuni, almost snarling, “but, no. She remained loyal to your father until her death.”
“Please, tell me what is going on,” said Kaoru, almost in tears.
“In a moment, brother,” said Misukuni, “first I have to fulfill my duty. A task that swore to my mother I would undertake.”
He leaned over and picked up the cardboard box from the table. “This is something she asked me to deliver to you, one day. She asked me this on her deathbed. Were it not for that, I would never have come here.”
He looked down at the box.
“I have hated you for a long time, Hanabishi. Mother was always talking about you. Wishing she could see you. Wondering how you were doing. She knew the Hanabishi family would not let her see you, but she kept hoping that one day you would come to see her.” He looked into Kaoru’s eyes. “Answer me truthfully, Hanabishi. Did you ever, in all those years, attempt to find your mother? Did you try to write to her? Did you even spare a moment when you thought about her?” Misukuni was almost shouting. “Did you ever even think…?” He stopped as he saw the tears flowing unabashedly down Kaoru’s cheeks.
“I thought about her everyday,” said Kaoru, through clenched teeth. “I tried to find her, so I could write to her. I had written dozens of letters, and saved them, so that when I found where she was, I could send them all to her.” Kaoru was torn between grief and anger. “When my grandfather found the letters, he beat me. Then he burned them all. He said I was to have nothing to do with her, ever again. When she…” He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “When she died, my grandfather burned everything I had to remind me of her. The only two things I still have are a birth-charm, and a small key from a jewelry box. The key was entrusted to one of my childhood friends, and for the birth-charm…” he trailed off, knowing that only Aoi knew of the scars on his back he’d received that day.
Kaoru looked directly into Misukuni’s eyes. “I would give almost everything in my life to be able to see her again.”
Misukuni was thoroughly shocked. He had had no idea how Kaoru had been able to stay away from his own mother. He had thought Kaoru had betrayed her. He now felt that he might have been wrong, but he still had to make sure. He handed the box from the table to Kaoru.
“Open this, please,” said Misukuni, with a slightly more civil tone.
Taeko and Tina practically flew off the couch, and Aoi led a very distraught Kaoru over to sit. He was glad that Aoi sat next to him.
Ms. Miyabi sat on his other side, and placed her hand on his shoulder. She had never seen Kaoru like this. He was always so calm and helpful. She had no idea what sort of burden he had been carrying all this time.
“Let us see what is in the box, Sir Kaoru,” she said gently.
With shaking hands, Kaoru undid the string that was holding the box closed. What he saw inside was perhaps the greatest treasure he had seen since Aoi came back into his life.
Dozens upon dozens of pictures of his mother filled the box to overflowing. She was a tall and slender woman. She had light brown eyes with lines around them, giving mute testimony to how often she would smile. In spite of that, there was an air of sadness around her. Kaoru knew the reason for the sadness, but he also imagined that she never her despair get the best of her. In many of the photos, her light brown hair was put up in a rather utilitarian bun, and she looked careworn. It was obvious that she had been no stranger to hard work. Still, her face was a sight that brought more tears to Kaoru’s eyes. She was beautiful to him in a way no one else could even hope to be.
“I had forgotten her face,” he said, in a barely audible whisper. “It has been so long since I have seen her, that I had forgotten it. All I could remember was the sound of her voice, singing, and the feel of her hands.”
As he slowly looked at the pictures, he saw other things in the box. There were also scores of letters she had written. The ones that she had mailed were returned to her, rejected by the Hanabishi family. There were many more she had never mailed, but were waiting in envelopes, ready to be sent at a moments notice. There was also a small locket in the box. It was a very simple pewter locket. The engraving on the inside said simply, “My son, I love you.”
“She kept that box for years,” said Misukuni, softening further as he saw the look of both loss and joy on Kaoru’s face. “She always said she would make sure you got it, someday.”
“Thank you, Mr. Misukuni. This means more to me that you can ever imagine. Thank you, so very much.” Kaoru couldn’t take his eyes off the pictures.
“Please, call me Rei,” said Misukuni. “That is what Mother always called me.”
Ms. Miyabi stood up. “Taeko, would you please go and make some tea for us?” she asked.
“Of course, Ms. Manager,” said Taeko, and left for the kitchen, with Chika trailing.
“Be right back,” said Tina, and dashed out of the room.
Nobody said anything for a few minutes while Kaoru sat looking at the pictures. Aoi was holding on to Kaoru’s arm, crying, but happy for him. She could only guess how hard this must be for him, and quietly vowed that she would do everything in her power to help him through it.
After a few more minutes, Tina came back into the room, carrying another box, this filled with picture frames and photo album books.
“You can put the pictures in these, Kaoru. That way they’ll be safe.” Kaoru looked at Tina with gratitude in his eyes.
“One thing is still bugging me,” Tina said, suddenly. “How is it that you’re Kaoru’s brother. You look like you’re older than him.”
“If I am not mistaken,” replied Rei, “you are twenty-one years old, right?”
“Yes,” answered Kaoru, “I just turned twenty-one.”
“Then you are correct, Ms. Foster,” said Rei. “I will be twenty-six soon.”
“So, how are you his brother?” the American pressed.
“That is a little complicated to explain without telling you a little about myself.”
As Taeko came back into the room with tea and Chika with snacks, Rei sat down.
“My father, Tomokazu, owned a hot-springs resort in the Tochigi prefecture, at the foot of Mount Nantai. His wife, Reiko, was my biological mother. She died when I was five. I don’t remember her very well, but I remember my father working hard to keep the hot springs open. He worked very hard to keep customers coming there. When I was eight years old, business stopped coming so often. Times were really hard. My father had to let most of the helpers go. We really struggled with the business for a year, he and I doing most of the work, and one old woman cleaning the rooms. Then he met a young woman named Kumi Honjo.”
Rei paused to take a sip of tea. “She had fallen on hard times with the death of the man who had fathered her child, and my father offered her room and board for help around the hot springs. She stayed there for years, helping out, and asking very little of my father. I think he actually loved her, though she made it clear she still loved Yuuji Hanabishi. He respected that, since he still thought often of his deceased wife, my biological mother. Personally, I was very glad she was there as I was studying music and composition, and was often more interested in that than in scrubbing the stones around hot-springs.”
“Now it gets complicated, I’m afraid,” he said. “You see, my father had been very sick for a while, which was one of the reasons he kept the hot springs. He said the hot water made him feel better, but as he got older, he was less and less able to take care of the resort. When I was fourteen, he realized that he was truly dying and would not last much longer. Kumi had been there for six years and had been like a mother to me. She would help me with my homework, praise me for the songs I wrote and scold me for getting my school uniform dirty.”
“So, my mother wasn’t your real mother?” asked Kaoru.
“In many ways, Hanabishi…” Rei started to say.
“Call me Kaoru, please,” he said.
Rei smiled slightly. “OK, Kaoru,” he said. “To continue; in many ways, Kumi was more real to me than Reiko was. I barely remember Reiko, but Kumi was always there for me, when I was growing up. When my father realized that he was dying, he began making arrangements for me. He planned to leave the entire resort to me. However, because I was only fourteen, I could not legally own a business. My father had no brothers or sisters, and his parents had died years before. So, I asked if Kumi could adopt me, and then, as my mother, she could be the interim owner of the resort until I reached my majority. After many long discussions, father and Kumi agreed with the idea.”
Rei chuckled, a little bit. “It was partly my desire to have a mother, and partly for Kumi’s sake that I wanted to do that. There were other ways that father could have arranged the business, but this was the option I thought would be best. So, when father passed away when I was fifteen, Kumi officially became my mother.”
He looked at Kaoru. “Even though mother adopted me, we are brothers. Not biologically, but we both call the same wonderful woman `Mother.’”
Rei stopped and stood up, suddenly. “I know this is a lot to take in. In a way, it is as hard for me.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kaoru.
“I have hated you for years, Kaoru. And now, the person I thought of as the worst human being turns out to be someone completely different than I thought. It’s not easy to readjust that type of thinking. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave now, and return tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” asked Tina. “I don’t think anyone would mind if you stayed for dinner.”
“No, I am certain. But, I will return tomorrow.”
With a small bow, Rei walked to the front door.
As he was about to leave the building, Kaoru came up to him.
“Thank you, again, Rei,” he said. “These pictures have helped me more than you know.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” said Rei, and walked out the door.
As the door closed, Kaoru couldn’t help but wonder about the SUV. “Oh well,” he thought. “I can ask him tomorrow.”
Kaoru walked back into the sitting room, and looked at everyone there.
“Well, that was certainly a surprising evening,” said Taeko.
“Yes it was,” Aoi replied as Kaoru sat down on the couch. “I am going to go and start dinner. Ms. Taeko, Ms. Chika, would you care to help me?” Aoi asked the two cousins.
“Certainly, Ms. Aoi,” answered Taeko.
“OK,” said Chika, as she was getting up.
As all three walked to the kitchen, Aoi turned and looked at Kaoru. “Would you like grilled fish tonight, Kaoru?” asked Aoi.
“That sounds delicious, Aoi,” Kaoru replied, somewhat distantly.
Kaoru sat for several minutes, just staring at the photos.
“I’m going to take a walk,” he announced.
Ms. Miyabi looked over at him. “Will you be alright, Sir Kaoru?”
“I’ll be fine, Ms. Miyabi. Don’t worry about me. I just need to try and sort all this out. I’m not sure what to make of Rei. If you’ll excuse me.”
Kaoru got up and walked to the kitchen.
Aoi and Taeko were preparing the fish, while Chika was cutting vegetables.
“Aoi, I’m going to take a walk in the garden. Can you let me know when dinner is ready?” he asked.
Aoi looked over at Kaoru, with concern. “Will you be alright, Kaoru? Do you want some company?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I just want to think for a little while. I’ll be outside” With one last look at Aoi, he left.
As Kaoru walked out of the kitchen, Aoi was thinking of ways she could help him through this. Admittedly, she was glad that he had regained some keepsakes from his mother, but she was sad that it came so hard on him.
Dinner was a very subdued affair that night, with none of Tina or Chika’s antics. Everyone at the table kept sneaking glances over at Kaoru to make sure he was fine. The only exception was Aoi, who kept a very close eye on him throughout the meal. Luckily, everyone was trying to look as if they weren’t watching Kaoru, and didn’t notice her scrutiny.
After they finished, Kaoru looked up at everyone.
“Thanks, all of you. I was really glad for your company this afternoon. You all really helped me to remain calm.”
As if he had broken a dam, everyone started talking at once. They all were expressing concern for Kaoru, opinions on Rei, and thoughts about how Kaoru ought to handle him tomorrow.
Ms. Miyabi stood up, and everyone fell silent.
“I am certain that Sir Kaoru is appreciative of your support. However, I think it would be best if we were all to retire for the evening. We can talk more in the morning, and give Sir Kaoru a chance to rest.” With that, Taeko, Tina and Chika stood and thanked Aoi for the dinner and departed, still talking amongst themselves. Kaoru stayed behind, and offered to help Aoi clear the dishes.
“You do not need to trouble yourself, Kaoru,” said Aoi. “But, if you would like, we can have some tea in the kitchen,” said Kaoru’s fiancée, sensing his need to spend time with her.
“Sir Kaoru, I expect that you will place all the pictures in the frames and photo albums that Ms. Tina prepared for you before you retire for the night. I do not care if it takes you all night.” With that tacit approval for Kaoru to be in the house after 10:00 pm, Miyabi departed.
After cleaning up the dinner dishes, Aoi made tea and carried it into the sitting room, where Kaoru was sitting on the couch, reading the letters from his mother.
“She really had it hard,” said Kaoru in a soft voice. “Several of the letters were written on scraps of paper. I’m very glad that she was able to find somewhere to go, after leaving me with the Hanabishi family.” In truth, Kaoru had not thought of how his mother had been getting along until some years after she left. That was when he had started trying to contact her and began writing letters to her. Mostly, like her letters, he wrote about some of the things going on in his life, and expressing concern for her well being. Also, like her letters, he had expressed that he missed her and hoped to able to see her, soon. The only difference in theme was his mother’s last letter to him. Her handwriting, which had been small and neat, was somewhat shaky and unsteady.
“My dear son, Kaoru,
I know, by now, that the Hanabishi are not allowing you to
contact me. I truly wish I could see you as you are now. It is
my hope that you have grown to be a fine, strong man. I am
ill, my son. I am dying, it seems. My only true regret in life is
that I was not able to see you growing up. I have thought of
you every day, my darling boy. The young man in my other
letters, Reiichi, has been a great help to me. He has cared for
me, and tried everything he could to cheer me up. I have asked
him to deliver this box to you, with all the letters and photos.
He is a good man, Kaoru. I know he feels anger towards you,
and thinks you have abandoned me. His anger is because he
cares for me. He is a very gentle person, and will be as kind to
you as he was to me if you can help him see that this is not
your fault. I know this is true, and believe that if you were able
to see me, you would. He does not understand the Hanabishi.
Hold no anger for him, my son. I hope that you and he will be
able to care for one another, as he has cared for me. Please
take care of him, for me. He needs you now, as I am sure you
need him. In parting, know that I love you, my son. Take care
of Reiichi, and yourself. I will be with you, always. I love you.
As Kaoru read the letter, tears were flowing down his face. He handed the letter to Aoi, and sat back with his eyes closed.
When she finished, she too, was crying. Her tears, however, were partly tears of joy. She leaned over and embraced him.
“She had such faith in you, Kaoru. She could not see you, but she knew that you were a good man. I do not think she ever thought of you as being otherwise. I also do not think that she merely hoped for this. I think she truly believed it.”
“I think you’re right, Aoi,” said Kaoru. “She never even thought that I would become as cold and cruel as the Hanabishi.”
“It must make you glad she felt that way,” said Aoi. “For someone to believe in you that much, it must be wonderful.”
“I’ve already had one other person think of me that way. You always thought of me in such a positive light, as well. I’m very glad that the two most important women in my life have such strong faith in me.”
“I will always have faith in you, my beloved Kaoru. I will never doubt you.”
“I’m glad, Aoi.” He kissed her, lightly. “I’ll always have the strength to carry on, as long as you believe in me.”
The two young lovers spent several hours sitting very close to each other and putting the photos in frames and in the albums. One picture, in particular, Kaoru thought he would give to Aoi. It was one where Kumi was holding an infant Kaoru. She had a bright yellow kimono on, and was at some sort of festival. Fireworks were going off, and she was smiling and pointing to the fireworks, to show the baby. He thought that Aoi would like to have that one, especially as he could see her doing the same thing for their children sometime in the future. There were also several pictures of his father and mother together. Those he would keep, place them on the wall in his room.
After they finished with the pictures, Aoi walked with Kaoru to the door.
“I’m really glad I was able to do all this with you,” said Kaoru.
“Yes,” said Aoi. “I will have to make sure to thank Ms. Miyabi, though if she had still made you leave, I would have come to your room to help you with them anyway.”
“Either way, I’m glad you were there. I’ll see you in the morning, Aoi,” said Kaoru. “Good night.”
“Good night,” said Aoi, as she embraced him. “I hope you sleep well.”
With that, they went to bed, and Kaoru, with happy dreams of his mother and of Aoi, slept very well indeed.