As promised, here it the first installment of my anime-inspired series. The title is a work-in-progress, so don’t be surprised if I change it later. (I don’t know about other people, but I find coming up with titles hard; they’re often something I don’t choose until late in the writing process.)
On paper, Shiori Hideki was halfway to being nineteen years old. In reality, however, he wasn’t halfway to being a man. And some secret part of him knew it—and he resented himself for it.
A knock on his bedroom door woke him up. His room was in perpetual twilight thanks to room-darkening shades, but a narrow slit of light peeking around the edges indicated that it was sometime during daylight hours.
“Shiori, are you awake?” his mother asked.
“I am now, Ma,” he called back, not ashamed to let his irritation show in his voice. He tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes with the back of his fist, then he glanced at the clock beside his bed.
Fucking hell. He had only gone to bed 3 hours before.
“Shiori, I need you to take your brother to school. I have to go in early.”
He groaned. “Ma,” he said, with a plaintive whine, “I haven’t had much sleep. What did I tell you about needing to give me some advance notice?”
The door to his room was suddenly thrown open—at least as much as it could open, that is. A pile of dirty clothes behind it prevented it from opening more than halfway.
“Ma!” he cried out, jerking the covers up; he was wearing nothing but a pair of silk boxers. “Let me know you’re coming in! Geez! I could have been naked, you know.”
His mother ignored him, instead pressing her lips together in that way that mean an Asian mom lecture was about to be forthcoming. “I could have told you about this if you had come home before midnight. What were you doing out so late? Not working, I know,” she added with condescension.
“I was hanging with some friends.”
“You need to start hanging around school or hanging around a place of employment. What are you doing with your life, Shiori?”
He ran his hand over his hair; it was stiff from the gel he had put in it the day before and hadn’t bothered to wash out. His mother had given him the same line it felt like nearly every day since he had flunked out of the first semester of his freshman year of college.
“I’m . . . trying to figure out what I want to do,” he replied.
“You’re not going to figure it out lying in bed all day or staying out all night partying with your friends.”
“We weren’t partying,” he said petulantly. “We were just playing some games at Matt’s house.”
“Same thing—same waste of time,” she said with disgust.
“Ma, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said, his whine shifting into higher gear. “Things are different now—harder. There’s all this pressure to do everything, to have a perfect job and a perfect life, but you can’t actually get a job, or it doesn’t pay much, and then you can’t even live on your own, much less own your own house—”
“You’re not living on your own now!”
“Yeah, and a crappy job isn’t going to change that.”
“But at least you’ll be earning some money. And you’ll be getting experience.”
“Minimum wage jobs are a waste of time. I could make more money gaming on YouTube.”
“Are you doing that?”
“No. I don’t have the equipment I need.”
“You talk to your friends through the computer all the time. You can’t record that or something?”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s not the same thing, Ma. I need a good camera and a really good microphone and editing software and some acoustic board to soundproof my room so it doesn’t echo . . . None of that stuff is cheap.”
“People put videos up all the time that they make from their phones. Why can’t you do that?”
“Because it looks and sounds like shit. Gamers expect quality—at least if you want to make any money off of it.”
“Then get a job, make some money, buy your equipment, and then game for a living,” she said with a certain amount of finality.
“I’m thinking about going back to school,” he said, trying to deflect from her unassailable reasoning. He had thought about it, but since he didn’t know what he wanted to study, there didn’t seem to be much point in going.
His mother suddenly glanced at her watch. “I don’t have time to argue with you about this; I need to get to work. Take your brother to school and pick him up. And feed him dinner.”
“Pick him up too?!” he asked with indignation.
“Yes,” she said, before practically slamming his door shut. He could hear her high-heeled shoes clacking rather angrily across the hardwood floor and out the door.
Shiori groaned and flopped back on the bed. He beat the back of his head against his pillow a few times for good measure—not unlike a child kicking its feet during a tantrum.
He just couldn’t make his mother understand how hard things were for young people right now. All of his friends were in the same boat. Some were still in college, but some, like him, had flunked or dropped out. All of them felt the same general malaise and lack of direction in their lives. Even the ones in school didn’t know what they wanted to study, either, so they just took 100-level courses because they were easy.
Shiori fell back asleep without intending to—although, seeing how he had only gotten three hours of sleep, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The next thing he knew, Ryu was standing in his doorway, looking at him scornfully. “Are you taking me to school, or what?”
He jerked awake and looked at the clock.
Shit, Ryu was supposed to be at school ten-til-eight. If his teacher told Mom that Ryu was tardy—as she had done in the past—Shiori would get the you’re-the-man-of-the-house-set-a-good-example-for-your-brother lecture.
“Yeah, I’m taking you,” Shiori said, rubbing his face.
“We need to go right now, or I’ll be late.”
“Give me a minute.”
Ryu gave him the same disappointed—and faintly disgusted—look that his mother had so recently given him, then he started to turn away.
“Hey, have you eaten breakfast?” Shiori asked.
“Yeah, mom left me something.”
“She knows you won’t feed me,” he said, shutting the door behind him.
Ouch. That stung.
Shiori hung his head. He knew he ought to be a better big brother. Their father had left them and gone back to Japan before Ryu had turned one, so Shiori really was the man of the house—especially as he was ten years older than his little brother. And he wanted to be a better brother it was just . . . hard. He always seemed to be busy doing his own thing and Ryu was still such a little kid, he only wanted to do little kid stuff, like go to the playground or play soccer or something. Boring stuff.
Shiori sighed heavily, then jumped up and grabbed the first pair of jeans and t-shirt he found on the floor. He stuck his sockless feet into a pair of sneakers and shoved his door open. “Okay, let’s go,” he called out, before noticing his brother standing beside the front door, backpack on, lunchbox in hand, waiting on him.
And he still had that disappointed look on his face.
“You have a stain on your shirt,” Ryu said as Shiori walked past.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s dirty. I’m just taking you to school and coming right back.”
“What are you going to do today?” Ryu asked, as he slid into the passenger seat beside Shiroi. He had only recently gotten big enough to dispense with the booster seat and start riding up front. He was small for his age. For that matter, Shiori was barely of average height and a little on the scrawny side.
“I don’t know,” Shiori replied, starting the car. “Well, go back to bed for starters,” he corrected. “I didn’t go to bed until three this morning.”
“Why were you up so late?”
“I got into a good game.”
“Ojisan says playing video games is bad for you. It makes you lazy.”
Their mother’s father was old-school Japanese: work long, hard hours, say little, and bring no shame to the family. It was he who had pressured his daughter into marrying the man who would become Shiori’s father. Even though she had been born and raised in America, he wanted her to marry a Japanese man. To marry anyone else would have been shameful in his eyes.
But he didn’t realize that Japan had changed since he had left and there was a new generation of young men who didn’t have the stoicism of their elders. Or maybe the world had just gotten worse to the point that no one could bear it anymore. Whatever the reason, Shiori’s father had avoided life almost as much as his son. When Shiori’s mother became unexpectedly pregnant with Ryu, the pressure to raise and provide for another child was too much and he had soon fled back to Japan. When Shiori occasionally talked to him, he was still drifting along like seaweed on the tide; he had no permanent job or permanent home or plans for the future.
“Yeah, I know Ojisan thinks I’m lazy,” Shiori said with a sigh.
Ryu gave him a look that said that’s because you are, you lazy bastard, then he turned and looked out the window.
Shirori drove as fast as he dared—cops seemed to be frickin’ everywhere—and got Ryu to school with a couple of minutes to spare.
Ryu jumped out of the car, then looked back in for a moment. “Your hair looks really stupid, you know.” Then he slammed the door shut and took off running down the sidewalk, trying to get into the building before the bell rang.
Shiori looked at his reflection in the mirror. He had a big flat spot on the side of his head frozen into place thanks to the hair gel he never washed out.
Ryu was right: it looked really stupid.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he muttered to himself, before he pulled away from the curb and headed back home.