I originally wrote it to connect to one of the final scenes. However, editor told me it wasn't necessary, and I agreed pretty quickly. Thus, it got hacked. But not before making it through most of the final edits.
It's probably not too spoilery if you haven't read SEIKOU yet. Hope you enjoy!
She awoke to streams of sunlight coming through her bedroom window. At first she stirred from a coma brought on by pain killers and strong tea, but as soon as she saw it hanging above her, pillow in hand and hovering above her face, she let out a hair shearing scream.
“Shut up, banshee.” Reina finished fluffing up her mother-in-law’s pillow and tossed it onto the other side of the bed. “What? Did you think I was going to kill you?”
Junko huddled beneath her comforter, her bloodshot eyes boring a tube of venom into Reina’s psyche. “Demon!” She flung a hand into the air and smacked it against the wall – a calligraphy print shook from the force. “Demon, be gone from my room!”
“Oh, I’ve graduated to demon now, how lovely!” Reina slunk into a wicker chair beside the sliding glass door. She tossed a leg over the other and leaned against an arm.
“I don’t know who let you into my room, she-male, but – ”
“Mother!” Aiko came to the rescue, her chest winded from running up the stairs. “What’s going on in here? Did I hear you screaming?”
Reina shrugged while her mother-in-law continued to hyperventilate as if someone really had been trying to kill her. You’re not so lucky today. Reina was fairly certain that was illegal, and the ire she would receive from Aiko alone also deterred her.
“Ai-chaaaan!” Junko extended her arms like a baby reaching for her mother, an eerie role swapping. “My dear Ai-chan, somebody let this she-male into my bedroom, and she tried to kill me! Suffocate me with my own pillow!”
Aiko looked between her mother and her spouse, disbelief clouding her already harried face. Eventually she focused on Reina, who struggled to maintain her composure.
“I didn’t try to kill her,” she mumbled. “I was being nice and fluffing her pillow for her when she woke up and started screaming.”
“She lies! Don’t let her trick you, Ai-chan! She has the devil inside her!”
One silent groan later and Aiko reached her verdict. “Come on, Reina. I need help downstairs.”
Great. Punishment. But it beat babysitting the mother-in-law from Homophobia Land.
Reina followed Aiko out of the room. They went downstairs, where a vacuum cleaner loitered in the hall and dusting materials littered both the Japanese style room and the living area. Yes, punishment in the form of house cleaning. Still better than that asshole.
“Sit down, I’ll get some water.” Aiko disappeared into the kitchen.
Reina hovered between the hallway and the living area. What was Aiko up to? Either Reina was in time out or about to get another scolding. How was it her fault that Junko was evil incarnate and one of the nastiest people she ever met? Reina slumped down at the table for the first time in twenty years – the first time had been when she first visited the Takeuchi house under the pretense of “just a friend” and was grilled about her family life. Junko’s most excellent advice back then was for Reina to quit her job and get married.
Since then, Junko remained an obstacle to Aiko’s happiness, a truth Reina had no idea how to fix. For five years their relationship was a secret to Aiko’s family. In those years, Reina had been treated with courtesy and admitted to dinners and small parties. After they moved in together, however, Junko stumbled upon them in a heated embrace, and the panic and derision continued from that day on. Reina didn’t know which was worse: lying and hiding, or coming out and being hated.
Aiko swore the latter was easier to bear. As she returned with two glasses of water, Reina imagined a life in which her wife couldn’t tell everyone and anyone how in love she was. That’s how she had always been. Even her name, “Child of Love,” loaned itself to Aiko’s big heart and deep naiveté.
“I want to go home,” Reina said after her wife sat down next to her. “Don’t make me put up with her any longer.”
“I’m sorry about all of this. You think I enjoy hearing what she calls you to your face?” Aiko put a hand on Reina’s back.
That touch offered only a blip of reassurance. “Well, it’s never going to get any better. Just let me go home.”
“I wish I could.” The hand rubbed up and down Reina’s sore muscles. “But I need you to help me move some of the furniture around. Then you can go home.”
Great. Was this supposed to help her image around Junko? Not that Reina was sure she cared about her “image” anymore in the Takeuchi house. What was there to salvage? Her pride? She agreed with a small huff to do Aiko’s bidding. The only reason she caved in and came that day, on a rare corporate holiday, was because Aiko begged her to in a small fit of panic. Early that morning she received a phone call from Saki, distressed that she couldn’t go to their mother who had apparently relapsed with a fever. Reina smelled deceit kilometers away. Turned out, Junko only had a minor fever, but her brain was still fried.
“It’ll be fine,” Aiko said, and patted Reina’s knee. “I know you two don’t get along…”
“Wow, that’s an understatement.”
“…But you have to remember she’s from another time when…women weren’t supposed to be doing what we do.”
Reina didn’t know how she was supposed to swallow that stream of bullshit. “What are you talking about? Lesbians have been around for as long as two women have ever been near each other. And yeah, that goes for Japan, too.” Reina had met her fellow Japanese women in utter denial that it happened within their own borders. “It’s fashionable to be gay in the West.” She would hear that phrase until the day she died. “It’s not our fault if your mother chooses to cover her ears and spout vitriol because she’s bitter her daughter didn’t marry some rich guy!” Reina was over the name-calling. She had been called shit since the day Junko saw them tonguing in their living room.
“Anata,” Aiko said softly, her voice carrying the one pet-name between them like a bandage, “I love you. Remind yourself that. And maybe stay away from her if you can help.”
No amount of “love” could shoulder the burden of putting up with Junko’s hate. Reina knew that, and she suspected Aiko knew it as well. Such were their fates, however, in a world punishing them for following their hearts. And no matter how much Reina reminded herself that she was “loved,” it didn’t cover the fact she was also hated, not only because of her sex, but because of the sex she wasn’t, either.
Sometimes Reina felt the most exposed as a woman around Junko Takeuchi.