3rd Petal - Family Ties
"Yoo-hoo!" Rei cried. "Here I am again."
"Again, you look like a thief sneaking through the window," said Ichiko as she unfolded her box lunches on her desk.
"Oh my darling daughter. I had no choice since they started increasing school security."
"Fine, whatever. Get inside so we can eat."
It was customary for Rei to sneak into school just so she could have lunch with her daughter only because there was no other way for her to receive a free meal. Ichiko had initially and grudgingly agreed to let her errant mother come to eat the meal her daughter cooked for the two of them. Initially, Kazuko thought her friend wanted to share her lunch, which was a big meal even for her. Alas, Rei was a glutton, and Ichiko a glutton for punishment.
But eventually, Ichiko tolerated her mother's presence, and soon Kazuko and the rest of her classmates became very welcoming of Rei. In fact, they almost always looked forward to meeting her as the youths wanted to listen to her adult wisdom on how to please their lovers romantically and sexually. None, at least on the surface, gave any thought of what she really did back at her home. Many assumed that she was a lazy housewife with nothing better to do than to playfully bother her petite daughter.
"And that's why I know for certain that those so-called ideal housewives are running brothels behind their husbands' backs," Rei finished after she finished her meal. "Though I'm not sure how those men would react, though my guess is that they won't mind if they get in on the action. Or the money, whichever is more important."
"Mother," grumbled Ichiko.
"Of course, I'm too lazy and antisocial to do those kind of things."
Ichiko sighed. "Please don't believe her. She likes to make up these stories."
"Oh, don't worry," said Motoko. "They may be outrageous lies, but we love to listen to them."
"They're not lies!" Rei exclaimed. "If you only knew what lies behind every household, then--"
"You again!" cried the history teacher who liked mecha anime. "I thought I told you to not to come again without a pass!"
"Busted," grinned Rei. "Well, see you tomorrow!"
"Wait! Come back!"
Despite the teachers' eccentricities, they were very strict on who could be let in on school grounds, for each had the pride and arrogance that only they were chosen to exert their influence their students in their crucial moments of life--during school hours. Although some of them felt that they were chosen to "corrupt" them, which was in their view was the same thing as teaching.
Once again, Rei jumped out of the window in the same fashion as she entered, with the history teacher trying to catch her. The chase would continue on the school grounds for everyone to see. It was such entertainment that the students and even the teachers would drop what they were doing and watch the plucky student security and a few adult guards try to catch the slippery Rei as she gracefully jumped the wall and disappeared down the streets. To this day, she had not been caught, and a betting pool was building up for day she would be.
Ichiko was then scolded again, but the teachers and the staff would just forget about it and resume the normal day as if nothing happened. Admittedly, the appearance of Rei did brighten the day at this unique school that was now made more unique because of this.
Ichiko did not know why she allowed her mother to continue this for almost a month. She couldn't say no because Rei would throw tantrums and arrive drunk after school. Or perhaps she didn't want to say no. Then Ichiko realized that she still had to cook dinner for her mother.
Rei would not be waiting for Ichiko at the end of school, which was wise for she would immediately be apprehended if she did. Ichiko even requested this, but Rei countered that Ichiko should always return to her apartment immediately after school, not counting the days where attended her environmental club. On those days, Rei would always sneak back into school and give her input on the agenda at hand. Rei even became a regular chaperon on their field trips to clean up parks, beaches, and rural lands, albeit a terrible one as there were numerous occasions where not only she set bad examples, she sometimes put the students in mortal peril involving rabid animals, runaway exotic creatures, precarious cliffs, sharks, jellyfish, and biker gangs. Still, she was always asked to come because the club members always enjoyed her company.
Ichiko did mention to her dad that she would be spending a lot of time with Rei. Though Ken'ichi always approved, he did so with an uncomfortable wince that made his daughter worry, but nonetheless she was always anxious to arrive at Rei's house lest she caused trouble for others or herself.
When she came by today, almost the entire apartment was filled with boxes of videotapes.
"Check this out!" Rei cried. "The video store was dumping all their VHS tapes out in the back!"
"First it was old manga," said Ichiko. "Then it was obsolete computers. Now you have these tapes that have--wait, these are porn!"
"Throw them out."
"Or else I won't cook for you."
Grumbling, Rei performed most of the work of putting the boxes of videocassette pornography in the apartment complex's dumpster in plain view. Small scores of horny middle-aged men, teens, and a few dirty women began searching through for the rare gem, and a few, particularly the transsexual landlady (who was once a male) joked to Rei about being tied down by Ichiko.
"She's most certainly the perfect wife for you," grinned the landlady Akemi.
"Oh yes she is," winced Rei. "She's also the Goddess of Porn Destruction."
"Yet her appearance did indeed made your life better hasn't it?"
"I don't know. I was doing all right before she came around."
"Perhaps, but you weren't exactly happy and alive when you first moved here. You were, in some sense half dead."
And she was right. Rei may have lived, but she didn't live for herself.
"At the very least," she sighed, "I can get porn off of her computer."
But Rei had to be careful on how to browse on Ichiko's notebook computer, which used her cellular phone as a modem to connect to the Internet. She never really learned how to use a computer until Ichiko settled in her apartment as her "second home". Rei had the same excitement rush like a child when she used the computer, yet she had the flaws of a hormonal and perverted adult neophyte.
When she first used Ichiko's computer, Rei immediately went to the pornography sites, which through viruses called trojan horses immediately slowed the computer to a useless crawl. Ichiko, as usual, got angry, and since she was too embarrassed to take her computer to a repair store, she solicited the help of her younger brother Kenji and his friends who were surprisingly quite understandable about her situation and she was surprised to learn that they fix similar problems at the behest of their parents.
"In fact," said one of them, "my dad doesn't realize that my mom browses for porn on the home computer and vice versa. They have to thank separate user accounts for that."
They then gave her technical precautions on how to guard her computer against viruses and related nasties by using anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall programs, which went over her head. So they just handed her a pirated copy of a popular security suite for her to install on her notebook computer.
So she installed it with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality, but she did however made the occasional update and checked her hard drive to see if her mother had downloaded any porn, viruses or both. Unbeknownst to her, Rei was steadily learning how to cover her tracks by downloading all her content on something called a USB flash drive and clearing all her Internet search histories. Also, she began to distinguish between the free and virus-free porn sites and the bad ones that just recursively lead to top-ten sites with no actual content.
Eventually though, Ichiko, at one glance discovered her mother's habits, but decided not to act on it as it didn't compromise her computer. Rei still owed her for buying the USB flash drive.
Since Ichiko's semi-permanent arrival, the apartment was now much cleaner than usual, although the junk, most of which were porn and beer bottles, had to be thrown out. However, some porn remained after Rei convinced Ichiko that they were artistic and romantic, but Ichiko mostly approved the softcore lesbian ones, which raised an eyebrow for Rei.
Rei would have expected that Ichiko's computer would have a wallpaper of a handsome male pop artist or a buff beach boy in a speedo, but she ever saw was just anime girls, often with a pair of them in a suggestive embrace. There was nothing that was sexual implicit or explicit on Ichiko's computer, but then again she had another, a home-type, back at her real home. Ichiko never really talked about boys, even with her tomboyish friend Kazuko. Kazuko also made Ichiko look more suspicious.
So it was today during dinner that she decided to test her daughter's sexuality.
"Say Ichiko," Rei started. "What do you think of the boys at school?"
"What do you think of the boys at school?"
Ichiko blushed red and her heart began beating fast. "Oh! Um, I guess almost all of them are handsome given that they come prestigious families. They are nice, but they can be hormonal jerks when they're with one another--or when they're hitting you. But in the end they all mean well."
"Why do you ask?"
"You don't talk about such things when you're at school."
"Because you're there."
"I occasionally eavesdrop, and not once you and Kazuko talk about boys. Are you two lovers?"
"What? No! I told you before that Kazuko and I are best friends since childhood. She wouldn't have time due to her basketball schedule."
"I don't know. She always has that look that says, 'I wanna rape you so bad'."
"That's a disgusting thing to say!"
Ichiko quickly cleaned her plate and bowl and stood up.
"You'll be doing clean up because I'm leaving."
Ichiko grabbed her bag and hurried off home. Today wasn't the day that she would be doing her homework as she was too angry to be in her perverted mother's presence.
Once home, Michi tried to call back Ichiko back down for dinner.
"I'm not hungry," Ichiko said to her grandmother. Then she slammed the door shut in her room, and jumped onto the bed.
Mother's thinking the wrong things, said Ichiko. I'm not a lesbian.
Then she looked at the posters, the wallscrolls, the books, and the DVDs that prominently featured female protagonists who were known to have strong friendship with other girls, with some having overt lesbian relationships.
"Just because I like looking at girls doesn't mean I am one," Ichiko said to herself. "I'm not interested in any of them."
She sauntered off her bed and into the chair of her desk to turn on her computer. There, she navigated her way to a nest of folders and opened up the one that was password protected. In it contained digital pictures that were exclusively of pretty anime girls or women kissing, embracing, and having sex. It was nothing hardcore, and every few involved sexual toys of that sort. She would always have a pleasant arousal looking at the pictures, especially the ones where they rub their vulvae against each other for mutual and explosive orgasm. Ichiko would indeed get wet, but she never resorted to touching herself.
"Mother's a pervert," Ichiko winced. "And I'm no different."
Yet today she was close. She pulled up her skirt and but stopped when she heard her father and stepmother arguing just outside the door. She banged her hand at the bottom of the desk and covered her mouth to prevent screaming.
"She has been spending too much time with that woman," said Rin.
"She is her mother after all," said Ken'ichi.
"But too much is too much! She has been missing all the dinners, especially the ones where we eat together."
"So what you're really saying that you don't approve of Rei's influence."
"It's not just that I'm worried about. You do realize the hole that she lives in? Having a transsexual as a landlord for goodness sake."
"Rin, you do remember where I came from."
"You're different, and your father has changed for the better. Ken, you must make Ichiko stop."
"All right. I'll tell her this Friday when we're all together."
Ichiko remained quiet until she was sure that her parents were in their room. She pushed her skirt back to her legs and then closed all the images on her computer.
"I guess I should warn Rei," she said.
On the next day, Thursday, Ken'ichi reminded Ichiko, under Rin's watchful eyes, that she needed to be at the family dinner tomorrow.
"For sure," she added. "And Rei could take care of herself."
Ichiko headed off to school with a lot in her mind. She left her mother in an abrupt fashion and had to make to time apologize to her. But she also had another problem of not having made lunch for the two of them.
She arrived at the three-floor apartment complex ready to bang on Rei's door, but Rei anticipated her arrival and hugged her from behind.
"Good morning my little girl!" Rei greeted.
Ichiko lost her breath, and her heart was beating faster than usual due to Rei's inadvertent groping of her breasts. Ichiko broke free from her grasp and punched her own mother on the shoulder.
"Stop doing that!" Ichiko yelled.
"What? I'm not allowed to hug my own daughter?"
"Not in that way!"
"Not in that way?"
"I came all the way here to apologize for my abrupt leaving, and you ruined the mood!"
"Jeez, what has gotten into you?"
"Oh forget it!"
Ichiko marched away, but Rei pulled her back.
"Tell me what's wrong?" Rei asked.
"Then can we talk about this during lunch?"
"I'm sorry, but there won't be any."
"I didn't get a chance to make any."
"It isn't because of what I said last night, was it?"
"It's not! I was in a rush."
Rei snatched her schoolbag and peeked inside. "So you're telling the truth then."
Ichiko snatched her bag back. "We'll have to call off today."
"But you'll still cook dinner for me, right?"
Ichiko sighed. "My parents are thinking of forbidding me from seeing you."
"Do you have to listen to what they say?"
Ichiko sniffed. "I have to. Rei, I'm going to be late for school."
She then ran away.
"So it's back to Rei then," said Rei as she rubbed her shoulder. "Damn, she hits hard."
Ichiko stopped at the front gate to not only gather her breath, but the compose her sadness back inside her. She could not let her feelings get in the way of her schoolwork, and she could not let anyone worry about her.
But Kazuko was perceptive, and she moved right up to her during lunch period.
"You didn't bring any lunch?" she asked her.
"No," Ichiko replied.
"Did you have a fight with Rei?"
"It's nothing like that."
"It would seem like that you did."
"I guess it did. But we always make up sooner or later."
"And for the second question: what happened to your hand?"
Ichiko realized the bandage around the right hand in question, and quickly hid her blushing face.
"I hit it on the desk," she replied.
The decided to eat in the cafeteria, with Ichiko eating a light lunch and Kazuko eating what her single father cooked. Ichiko remained distracted in her thoughts throughout until her best friend poked her with her utensil.
"Um, Ichiko," said Kazuko. "Look to your right."
Ichiko turned and saw--in close proximity because she was sitting by the window--Rei with her face and breasts pressed against the glass.
"Ack!" Ichiko gagged.
Kazuko opened the window. "Good afternoon Miss Cero."
"It's Ichiko's mom!" cried a student.
"Hello everybody," said Rei. "Oh, and Ichiko, I brought a present."
Ichiko lit up upon the sight of the colored bag in Rei's hand. "You have?"
"But don't open it up until I'm done eating. Now, have you brought me food?"
"I told you earlier, I forgot to make lunch."
"What are you, my daughter? You're not supposed to slack like that. I guess I'll have to purchase some here. They'll allow me, right?"
Rei walked up to the counter, and then she came back backwards.
"Can you lend me some money?" Rei asked. "I don't want my fans to think that I'm a poor slut."
Grumbling, Ichiko slipped Rei enough bills for a large meal, or else Rei would throw a tantrum and ridicule on how her daughter was being so cheap.
"Either way, I get paid by your father," said Rei.
"If you only knew how to manage your finances better," said Ichiko.
"If you only knew how to masturbate properly, your hand would be in better shape."
Rei waltzed off to purchase her lunch.
"She's just joking!" Ichiko said to Kazuko. "I really did hit my hand on the desk."
"That's an excuse nerds say," said Rei as she came back with her tray full of food to sit with Ichiko and Kazuko. "She clearly was masturbating."
"So this is the source of all this commotion," said Sumiko as her clique marched closed behind her.
"Hello girl," Rei greeted.
"Hello Rei Cero. You attachment to your daughter never ceases to amaze me."
"I have to make sure she lands a rich husband so I can retire in luxury."
"Don't we all? Say, that is a nice ring. May I see it?"
Sumiko grabbed Rei's left hand and inspected the sunflower crest on the face of the ring with deep interest. She let go, and began walking off.
"I look forward to meeting you again Rei," she grinned.
"You too Sumiko," waved Rei.
Kazuko looked uncomfortable every time the ring was waved around in broad daylight, and was even more so when Sumiko looked at it.
"This food's okay," said Rei, eating. "But I wouldn't really know since I usually have cooks prepare it for me."
"Were you rich once?" asked Kazuko.
"Yeah, but I ran off due to my bitchy stepmom. Man, I could not put up another second with her."
"So is it possible that your she and your father are still alive."
"My father passed away when I was in my early teens, and I'm certain my stepmom is dead by now."
"You again!" cried the history teacher from the cafeteria entrance. "Now I got you now!"
"I guess you have to bail again," said Kazuko.
"Not quite," grinned Rei.
"I don't care if you are popular at this school," said the history teacher. "You're coming with me!"
Just then, Rei pulled the contents out of the bag, which happened to be a detailed model of a giant robot mecha from a children's show mounted on its own pedestal in a badass pose.
"Oh, that's a pity," said Rei. "Now I won't have a place to put this. I was going to put it in a trash since poor me have no room in my home."
"Wait that's a master grade 1/100 scale model of Great Destroyer Gunboy," said the teacher. "And it's beautifully hand painted!"
"So that's what this is? I bought it on a whim not knowing how valuable it is, but it really isn't. Well, I guess I'll--whoops!"
Pretending, Rei stumbled forward, which caused the model to shake and nearly tip from the base. The history teacher flinched every time it swayed until Rei finally regained her balance.
"I guess I'm clumsy with this," she giggled. "I know! Can you hold on to this until I figure out what to do with it?"
The teacher knew it was a bribe, but he could not resist not keeping the model for himself.
"Very well," he said. "I'll let you off this time, so..."
He took the model and walked off with a smile, and it was possible that he was muttering on how he could use it for his lessons--if he chose to use it.
"That..." said Ichiko, "was supposed to be my gift."
"I didn't say it was yours," said Rei. "It looks I'm done. There's a club meeting after school, correct?"
"I'll see you there. Bye for now."
Rei exited the way she came, and she disappeared as she waved goodbye to her fans.
"Ichiko," said Kazuko. "Have you ever asked where Rei got that ring from?"
"A couple of times," replied Ichiko. "She said it was a family heirloom."
"What's with the sigh?" asked Ichiko. "It almost sounds like you find something wrong with it."
"Well," began Kazuko. "Has your real mother been involved with the mob?"
"Not that I know of."
"I sure hope that ring she has was bought or at least stolen. You should tell her to stop wearing it when she goes to school again. Something tells me that someone who I shall not name openly will try to dig up your past or at the very least spread nasty rumors about you."
"I see then."
"Ichiko, please stop trying be so innocently naive about these things. Not everyone is who you want them to be."
For the rest of the day, Ichiko tried her best to put the idea that her biological mother was attributed to the mob. Rei always wore the Sunflower Crest Ring prominently like some trophy, and throughout the time Ichiko hung out with her there hadn't been any sudden visitations from the Yakuza and similar. Unless Rei was in hiding. Maybe that was the reason why Rei was barred from associating too closely with Ichiko and her family.
Then again, there were the secretive talks between her father and Rin... No! There had to be a better explanation for all this! But even bright and brilliant Ichiko could not think of one. Should she ask directly? Someday she would be forced to.
She attended the club meeting after school, but Rei didn't come. Instead, she was waiting at the front gate the whole time, and when Ichiko approached her neither said anything. Solemnly and without talking they headed to the second home that was the apartment. Rei watched television but did not laugh as usual. The volume was low, and it was too quiet for Ichiko to concentrate on her homework.
Ichiko cooked dinner at around the same time as usual, and the two ate it as if it was lacking.
"Something's different about this meal," remarked Rei.
"Hey, you're supposed to sass back. Say something like, 'I've always cooked it like this!' Or, 'My family likes my cooking!'"
"Really, you have to speak what's on your mind."
Ichiko looked towards her mother. "Were you part of the mob?"
"But the Sunflower Group has been destroyed after you were born. I'm the last of it."
"Surely there are other descendants."
"I'm the only one. I came back to the city looking for the operatives. Either they are dead or hiding under aliases. Actually, I'm not really the last of it."
"I must be."
Rei looked at her ring, and tried to pull it off. "I'll try not to flaunt this thing around anymore. Sure it gets me free food and sometimes cunnilingus, but I know for certain it would only embarrass you."
"It's all right because... we won't see each other anymore."
Ichiko sniffed, and soon she burst into tears.
"Hey now," said Rei. She went around the table to tightly embrace her daughter.
"I'm such an idiot!" Ichiko wailed. "I shouldn't have visited you back then! I wouldn't be feeling this in the first place!"
"Don't say that. At least you finally got to know your real mother."
"This is wrong! Who cares if you used to be a mob boss's daughter! You're still you!"
"Therein lies the problem. I still act as if I am one."
"Finish your food dear Ichiko. Before it gets cold."
Rei helped Ichiko eat. For some reason, the food tasted better.
Ichiko took her time packing, and took even longer to step out of the door.
"Think of it this way," said Rei, calmly. "I won't be a bother to you or your school."
"What if I still want to see you?" sniffed Ichiko.
"Ichiko, you don't you have to follow the orders of your parents all the time. Think of yourself for a change."
Rei lovingly kissed her daughter in the cheek. The tears stopped flowing.
"Now hurry home," said Rei. "You shouldn't worry your parents any longer."
Ichiko safely arrived. Again, she apologized to her grandmother and grandfather for arriving so late. She then did her usual shower and went to bed.
The next morning she prepared no lunch nor did she anticipated meeting her real mother. In fact, she just went right past the tri-level apartment complex and into school grounds.
Her somber mood made her somewhat oblivious to the fact that her classmates were acting strangely to her. People who were on friendly terms with her were doing everything to avoid her eyes and her presence. They talked to her less, and they talked in negative whispers behind her back. A few times during passing periods she was struck by wads of crumpled paper, and if not for Kazuko's defense she would have nearly been pushed down the stairs or tripped to the floor.
"Something is going on," said Ichiko.
Kazuko said nothing. She had been sticking by her since the strange alienation started, but she was reluctantly to tell the bad news.
At lunch, she wanted to greet the president and the vice president of the environmental club Motoko and Haruko, but they weren't too happy to see her. Haruko abruptly left without saying hello.
"There is something going on, is there president?" said Ichiko.
Motoko gulped. "Say, are you feeling all right?"
"Not really, but I can still work the city cleanup this Sunday."
"About that... Maybe you should take a break."
"But I feel fine!"
"Ichiko, I know you are a devoted member, but the other members seem to be scared of you for some reason."
Motoko pulled from his pocket a folded paper flyer and handed it to Ichiko. He then hurried off to meet up with Haruko.
The flyer printed in a black-and-white through a laser printer ran a headline that a daughter of an infamous mobster was attending the school by the name of Ichiko Nikkô of the Nikkô Syndicate. Names were named, including that of her grandfather Yoshiro, and the flyer detailed their crimes, most of which involved corruption in the local governments and businesses as well as a ring of prostitution, drugs, and illegal pirating of consumer goods.
"Who would do this to me?" Ichiko gasped.
"I have an idea," said Kazuko.
Ichiko followed her tall friend outside where Sumiko was sitting underneath a tree with her clique. She and her clique had stopped laughing and talking when Ichiko and Kazuko stood before them.
"Oh, hello," smiled Sumiko. "May I help you?"
"You were behind this, aren't you?" asked Kazuko.
"Now why would I do that? I am not one to spread rumor flyers and littering all over them place. In fact, we made an extra effort to clean them up off of school grounds. Haven't we guys?"
Sumiko's clique nodded in agreement. Then Kazuko pulled Sumiko off the ground by the collar.
"You're lying," Kazuko growled.
"Lying is too crass," said Sumiko. "Even if I did do this, what proof do you have?"
"Stop it you two!" Ichiko yelled.
"What's going on here?" cried the principal. "Miss Sakamoto, put Miss Kanno down."
Principal Yukiko Himawari and two teachers arrived to stop a situation from rising. She was carrying another copy of the flyer in her hands.
"I want you three to come with me to the office," said Himawari.
"But I wasn't responsible!" exclaimed Sumiko.
"I insist that you come."
Himawari usually had a relaxed attitude, and even when she was serious she still retained her motherly attitude. Sumiko, Kazuko, and Ichiko were then escorted to her personal office few had really seen, and to their surprise it was decorated with cuteness. There were shelves of bright and fuzzy stuffed animals, and one wall had all sorts of Sanrio paraphernalia, particularly from the Hello Kitty line.
The pink guest chairs were cute, although it was clearly made for little children, and that made it comfortable. Himawari's desk was pure white, and each desk accessory were also bought and collected from the Sanrio line. The only thing that could be mismatching to the office was the paperwork and the infamous flyer.
"Like Miss Nikkô," started Himawari, "I dislike the sight of fights over something trivially libelous. That is why Sakamoto and Kanno are brought here. Instigating trouble as well as prolonging it is just as bad as distributing these things."
"I'm telling you," said Sumiko, "I wasn't the one who did this! Ask my friends; we even picked them up and threw them in the trash."
"I will not discount your good deed and your testimony, but if you cared for Nikkô's well being you should have come to me. The same goes for you Sakamoto."
"I apologize," said Kazuko.
"Now please excuse us. I would like to talk to Nikkô alone."
Sumiko and Kazuko left the office. Then Himawari stood up from her wood-white desk chair and held one of her stuffed animals that were sitting on top of a shelf next to the window.
"Those allegations aren't true, are they Ichiko?" asked the principal.
"No they're not," replied Ichiko. "Actually, I really don't know."
Himawari sighed. "This school allows a lot of freedoms others don't have, particularly free speech. I dislike libel and slander, but I also dislike facts that put down people. A good number of the students, to be frank, are also sons and daughters of mob bosses, both former and active. I firmly believe that such facts does not determine in what they will become in future. It is my dream that they will become better people without having to follow in their parents' footsteps. This school was built to accept such wonderful students. I am sure that your father and grandfather was well aware of our hidden reputation."
"Anyway, I apologize if I made you worry. If you wish, I can excuse for the rest of the day."
"No principal! I have to..."
Then Ichiko remembered Rei giving her advice on not having to follow her parents' orders. Himawari wasn't exactly her parent, but surely she acted on her best interest.
"I think I'll do that," said Ichiko.
"That's good," said Himawari. "I'll ask your teachers to hand your homework to Kazuko. They'll take care of the rest."
"Will you tell my parents?"
"If you want me to."
"You'd rather not to."
"I won't tell. At least not now. I'll have the school take care of the problem as soon as possible. I'll keep you in touch."
Ichiko met up with a worried Kazuko in the hallway, and informed that she would be leaving.
"Are you going home?" asked Kazuko.
Ichiko nodded. "I'm sorry, but I'll have to miss your practice."
"It's all right. You should take a break from all this shit. I know for sure it was Sumiko."
"Please don't fault her. I just don't like it to see you guys like this."
"Sorry. Please take care."
Ichiko gathered her schoolbag and some books for her homework in her previous classes. The lone guard opened the gate for her and closed it locked when she stepped out. Not much chance for her to reenter since the guard was walking away, although she wouldn't want to put up with more abuse at the school.
Then she realized that she would be heading home early, and that would arouse suspicion to her grandmother who would be there. She could feign sickness, but she hated being dishonest. If she told Michi that she was let out, it was likely that even she would press more questions.
There was one last option, and that was for her to run to the tri-level apartment. She banged at the door hoping that she was there. She had to be. Rei wasn't known to work.
"Please," Ichiko cried.
"Huh?" Rei said.
Ichiko turned around and saw Rei dressed in a leather jacket, tight denim jeans, and American-style cowboy boots. The daughter then ran into her mother's bosom and embraced her.
"Is it true?" Ichiko asked. "Is my grandfather part of the mob?"
"Of course," replied Rei.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you knew. Or you didn't ask. Did something happen at school?"
"Kettle black," said Rei, "those students are."
"Okay. We've made our decision. We're going on a field trip!"
Rei opened her apartment door only to put away her shopping bags. Taking Ichiko's hand, they boarded a bus at the bus stop, and with each transfer Ichiko realized where they were going.
They were now standing before the Nikkô Flower Shop, and when they entered, she recognized all the workers. There were three pretty middle-aged women by the name of Tsumi, Lala, and Koko, and one very tall and effeminate man named Frankie.
"Oh it's Ichiko!" Frankie greeted. "Welcome! And what are you doing here?"
"Yo Frankie," said Rei.
"Oh my goddesss... Rei!"
"You two know each other?" asked Ichiko. "Why do I even bother asking? I'm sure you two knew each other when you were kids."
"Of course Ichi-chan!"
"Here is a little secret," Rei smiled. "Frankie had a serious crush on your dad."
"Really?" asked Ichiko. "But..."
"Oh, I'm cool with Rei and Ken'ichi being together back then," said Frankie. "I should go and tell the boss--I mean the manager."
"You say my granddaughter's here?" boomed Yoshiro, who appeared wearing an apron with store logo on it. First he was smiling when he saw his granddaughter. Then his face turned serious when Rei was present.
"Oh," said Yoshiro. "Hello--"
"Rei," said Rei. "Just Rei Cero."
"Right. Frankie, could you take over for me."
"Right away sir!" acknowledged Frankie.
Yoshiro gestured Rei and Ichiko to follow him into the office, which was just as sweet smelling as the showroom and the messy warehouse section. This quaint yet small place was a place Ichiko frequented when she was younger, and even had a summer job on a few occasions. The workers were like her family, and the floors they cultivated and arranged were bestsellers. Being that they were a small business, their success was only modest and humble.
Prominent on the office wall were family pictures, but they were only of Ichiko's grandmother, her legal parents, her brother, and herself. There was also a thin vase on the desk that had a single sunflower stem that would expectedly be replaced in a couple of days due to natural age and withering.
Yoshiro served his guests tea, and sat on his desk chair with lots on his mind.
"I have heard you come back," said Yoshiro. "Through my son."
"I assure you that it was no coincidence," said Rei. "It just happened to be the cheapest and most accessible place in the city."
"And you are doing quite well I take it."
"Thanks to you."
"Um, grandfather," said Ichiko. "Something happened at my school. Someone spread flyers saying that I'm a granddaughter of a mob boss."
Yoshiro took a deep breath and sighed. "That is true. What did it say about the Nikkô Syndicate?"
From memory, Ichiko told him the supposed crimes the syndicate had committed, and Yoshiro nodded to each of them.
"Yes, we have done such things," he said. "And worse. That's why I left."
"Oh..." said Ichiko.
"Frankie used to be a boy toy for one of our enforces. Tsumi, Lala, and Koko used to be prostitutes. And I was a pretty ruthless boss myself. Then when Ken'ichi was born, I realized the depths of my fear I had for him. He would likely be inheriting my position even though my brother would attempt to usurp him. He was in danger, and so I forfeited my position so I could raise my son in an honest matter. I did not lose a finger by accident Ichiko. I severed it as a price for leaving the syndicate."
The electronic bell on the entrance door chimed. Yoshiro looked through the office window, which was also a one-way mirror. The three customers he saw come in looked unsavory despite wearing expensive suits and being well manicured.
"Again," muttered Yoshiro. "You two stay here. Especially you Rei."
"Gotcha," saluted Rei.
Yoshiro straightened himself as he stepped into the showroom floor. He immediately dismissed the three women, who were already hit on by an old man, and Frankie led them to warehouse.
"That man," said Ichiko. "He looks like grandfather. Is he is brother?"
"Yep," replied Rei. "That's Minoru Nikkô, Yoshiro's younger brother by one year. Also known as The Macabre."
Minoru was flanked from behind by two bodyguards who were a compromise of burliness and quick agility. They did not take off their dark sunglasses and stood by with their hands over their crotches. Minoru himself looked like a slicker and slimier version of Yoshiro. Just by looking at him Ichiko could understand why her grandfather declined to mention anything about him.
The two brothers hugged one another after an uneasy greeting.
"Flower shop doing well I take it," smiled Minoru. "Mind if I lend a helping hand?"
"No, I have things under control," said Yoshiro. "What's going on with the syndicate?"
"Bad times. We just recently executed a rat from the police. And there's the pesky Kurobara Gang making trouble for us. Bunch of young turks don't know respect."
"I am sorry to hear."
"Yeah, the times have been changing. That's why our men are thinking of ousting me for my ineffectiveness."
"The answer is still no."
"We really need you back Yoshiro. You had things together back then!"
A vase fell from its shelf. Minoru and Yoshiro turned and saw one of the guards bending over to attempt to pick it up.
"You fool!" Minoru cried. He gave one swift kick to the guard, but Yoshiro could see through the ruse. The other guard was inching towards a bucket filled with roses, but Yoshiro's glare prevented him from intentionally causing another accident.
"I am very sorry," said Minoru. "I'll make sure he receives his punishment."
"Sure," said Yoshiro.
"By the way, I heard from one of my men that your granddaughter was a victim of libel. Some jealous girl printed about a thousand or so copies and spread it all over her school."
"If you want me to," said Minoru. "We'll figure out who did this and teach them a lesson. You do realize some of daughters and sons and rival gangs."
"I already know. That's why I persuaded Ken'ichi to enroll her here."
"She won't be safe. Those rich kids have a knack of making parents get what they want."
"The school won't allow such thing."
"You may think you're protecting your family, but you're not. But I find you so hypocritical that you'd suddenly distance from your own flesh and blood. Your own brother!"
"I thought you were happy when you became the boss."
"But I'm not anymore. Yoshiro, please. You're all I got."
The office door burst open, and standing in the doorway was Rei.
"Who's this woman?" asked Minoru. "A new flame?"
"Rei, no," said Yoshiro.
Rei marched up to Minoru, who, just like Yoshiro, was a half a head shorter than her. With a seductive smile, she stroked his cheek and his chest. Then she headbutted him.
The bodyguards drew their guns, but now their boss was facedown on the floor with Rei's foot on his neck.
"He'll get his neck snapped before you fire," Rei said.
"Everyone!" Yoshiro cried. "Stop this immediately!"
Rei kicked Minoru up and held him by the collar.
"You bitch," growled Minoru. "How dare you--"
He gasped. His eyes were focused on the Sunflower Crest Ring Rei had in her hand.
"You," he said. "It's you! I thought we destroyed your kind!"
"No, you only killed my double," said Rei. "And with the help of your brother, it was covered up at the national level. Pretty shrewd of you spread those flyers to both discredit Yoshi's granddaughter and to coax him into coming back."
"You can't prove a thing."
"I know I can't. I just hit you because I don't like you."
Rei threw Minoru to the ground, and his two bodyguards ran to his aid.
"Let's not cause trouble in broad daylight," said Rei. "We wouldn't want to ruin your brother's shop would we?"
"Just what I would expect from the descendant of the Sunflower King," Minoru winced. "Let's go boys."
Minoru and his men left. Both Yoshiro and Rei and made sure that they went inside their white Cadillac sedan that drove off.
"Really, you didn't have to do that," said Yoshiro. "Eventually my brother would get tired and go home to his mistress."
"Am I hearing things right?" asked Rei. "Have you become pacifist?"
"If I have to set an example to my son and my grandchildren, then yes."
"If I were you, I would have grabbed Minoru by the balls until they turned purple, blue, and then dark green. They I'd say 'bitch go home!' Or something more eloquently."
Yoshiro smiled and chuckled. "I do miss the pleasure of being an enforcer."
"I can't believe you," said Ichiko.
Ichiko was now before them, with the flower shop workers behind her back. She marched up to Rei, and then held her hands in hers.
"Thank you," said Ichiko.
"Ah, it's no problem," said Rei. "I just wanted to protect you and your grandfather."
"Frankly, I was impressed."
"Ichiko," said Yoshiro. "I am really sorry about this.'
"Don't worry grandfather. I feel a lot better that I know the truth."
"But knowing that you're the granddaughter of a former mob boss..."
"You now I shouldn't let that determine the future. I am who I am. Your past shouldn't reflect upon me."
"I see. You are such a strong girl. I often worry that you're too naive and optimistic."
"I'll be fine grandfather. I know I will."
"This does call for a bit of a celebration. Frankie, take Ichiko and the girls for ice cream or something."
"Will do boss!" Frankie saluted. "I mean, manager."
"Boss... that sure brings back memories."
"Are you coming mother?" Ichiko asked.
"I'll catch up," said Rei.
Frankie led the Ichiko and rest of the workers out. Yoshiro put the closed sign up, and returned to the office procure something.
The old man and the woman hung out at the back for a while. Yoshiro lit up a cigarette from the pack that he locked deep in the confines of the desk drawer. He took a drag, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"You still smoke?" Rei asked.
"I quit," Yoshiro replied. "These are organic cigarettes. Not the modified ones the produced in America."
"Organic cigarettes. What will they think of next?"
"You didn't come here on behalf of your daughter. Was it that you want from me?"
"I don't want anything."
"Don't lie. Do want to take revenge on us taking Ichiko away from your? Or do you want revenge for destroying the Sunflower Group? I'll accept whatever punishment as long as it does not involve harming my family."
"Actually, I'm pretty glad that you destroyed my group. It was falling apart, and the bitch of my stepmother was losing sight of reality. Things never went right since my father died."
"The last Sunflower King. He was a good man, but it was too bad he had to take over when the group was on its last legs."
"I think he was a reluctant leader. Kind of like you in some ways, but he was too scared to do kind of thing you did."
"I'm just a coward running away."
"Even admitting to being a runaway coward takes insurmountable bravery."
Yoshiro chuckled again. "Man, it feels like I am talking to him right now."
"You know I was pissed at losing Ichiko. I even thought about exacting tenfold revenge against you."
The cigarette hovered before Yoshiro's mouth, and his eye towards the sinister grin on Rei.
"But what would Ichiko think of me if something had been done to father and grandfather?" she continued. "I was really happy to see her again."
Rei began walking towards the street.
"I just want to see my daughter," said Rei. "She's the only family I have left."
And then Rei joined Ichiko and the others for ice cream.
By now, his cigarette had fallen from his fingers, and put out by the impact to the ground and by time. Yoshiro was blinking and shook his head. He had instant moment that if provoked, Rei would have actually exacted bloody revenge him on his family, but even she was smart enough to restrain herself. Her coincidental appearance in the city could have been an act of cunning, but there was no way to politely tell her to leave. Yoshiro didn't have money to force her to move, nor did he have the mob connections to do so. He almost wished he were a mob boss again.
Then he fell back into reality, and realized that being a good father and grandfather of high morals was his true duty.
He and Ichiko came home at separate times and through separate methods so they would not arouse suspicion amongst the family members. It was Friday night, and it was a once-a-week time where all the family members were present.
They had their talks of what was going in their life, whether it be their work, school, the flower shop, or just the home. Everything was fine and normal as it could be. But Ichiko could see it in her stepmother's face that she was egging Ken'ichi to make his announcement.
Michi took Kenji upstairs for his bath, and with the rest of the family members cleaning up, Ken'ichi opened his mouth to pop his statement.
"Say, that Rei Cero has changed a lot," said Yoshiro.
"Father?" said Ken'ichi.
"I think our dear Ichiko should be able to visit her anytime she wants to. Heck, she can even sleep at her place if things get noisy here."
"What do you say Ichiko?"
"Really?" beamed Ichiko. "You'll let me be with her?"
"Well, let's see what the parents have to say."
He looked at Ken'ichi and Rin with somber eyes, and inferring from her looks they readily agreed by nodding.
"Thank you so much!"
Ichiko hugged her grandfather and kissed on the cheek. After finishing her chore duties she rushed upstairs so she could log on to her computer to chat with Rei, who held on to the laptop and Ichiko's cell phone.
"Father," said Ken'ichi.
"It's the right thing do," said Yoshiro, sitting down. "Nothing more."