Akira's phone rings in the middle of his second cup of coffee. He thinks to check it before kids run past with their mothers, adult hands hovering over tiny shoulders from one end of the diner to another. By the time he glances back to his notebooks, he's forgotten about his phone.
On the subway, he sees two texts from Ryuji and his missed call icon.
At Leblanc he banters with Morgana before wandering down to close up the shop for the night. The closed sign flipped and door locked, he sits at one of the booths and enjoys the floor to himself.
His call log shows a missed call from Tohru Kurusu.
Akira's mind flashes back to the last conversation he had with his parents, muted and ugly.
As Akira's thumb hovers to slide the page away, his phone suddenly shows CALL INCOMING FROM... TOHRU KURUSU.
Akira hits accept.
"Akira." Her throaty voice sounds thicker than usual, it must be the pollen. He says as much and she snorts, a loud sound that brings Akira back to family night in the TV room.
"Are you in your room?"
"I'm at a bar," Akira says to be difficult.
"Drinking banana milk, I'm sure."
"You're unflappable as always." It's too bad you couldn't have been before. The bitter thought clouds his mind, tempts him into hanging up on his mom. "What do you want?"
"I called to apologize, you simple child."
Akira stares at the table top and thinks, what?
"Akira, please stay on the line. I'm so relieved you answered my call. I know how stubborn you are and when you said you didn't want to speak to us, you wouldn't be proven wrong. Not at first. I waited weeks to call you, so please hear what I have to say."
"I'm sorry, Akira. For casting you away, for letting others treat you like a criminal, for looking at you.... like I thought so too. I know in your heart you are a good child, a good person. We did not raise you to be anything else."
Akira slips off his glasses as his eyes blur with tears. He does not speak.
"Please listen. And maybe one day you will understand how we could make such a mistake. Mom and Dad, we work hard. It makes us tired and irritable but we always do our best. But money had been tight lightly, we've become worried about the economy. And burdened by all those thoughts, I stopped at the store to pick up rice. The price had risen. I was in shock. I thought about our budget and your grandfather's health.
"Then we get a call late at night. Our son is at the police station. I think, oh no. What's happened to my son, has be been attacked? But your father says, wouldn't the hospital call instead? And when we arrive, we're told you are being sued for assault. My brain, filled with dread for the future, thinks, how could this have happened And a part of me shut down as I panicked, wondering how to save you. If you were punished, surely you wouldn't throw away your life. Yes, this must be done.
"But I was wrong, Akira. If I had taken one breath, I would have known I was being lied to. I should have defended you, protected you. I was too afraid to see the truth and know if you never even forgive me, I apologize from the bottom of my heart."
Akira's face stays buried in his arms while he sobs.
His mother calls his name after a moment, when he does not speak.
It takes him a moment, wiping his mouth and nose on his sleeve, before he can answer.
"You don't care if I never forgive you?"
"It's for you to decide. I cannot make you. Hell, I couldn't make you wear matching colored socks until you decided to yourself."
His mother falls silent. He hears the room to speak.
"I'm still angry. But I'm also relieved."
"Good." His mother sniffs. Pollen, she says. But then, "Mommy loves you, A-chan. From the bottom of her heart."
"You being gone is hard on us but I know it's harder on you."
"The two months have gone by fast, honestly."
Tohru sniffs. "Good." She repeats. "I hate to say, even if we had spoken up, the charge would have remained on your record. I think you going away was unavoidable."
"I know." Akira plays with a lock of his hair. "You don't have the money for something like that."
His mother laughs, something old and strained. Guilt flickers like a worn out flame in his mind. "If only, huh."
"No. You're good as you are."
"What do you mean?"
"Money would change you."
She snorts. "You sound so sure of yourself. You get cockier as you age. Satoshi blames me for that, you know."
"I meant it. People who have more than they need, don't they because they're selfish?"
An answer doesn't come right away. Akira pulls his phone back to check that their call hasn't disconnected. He misses her first response when puts the phone back by his ear.
"...isn't the issue but what they do with it. Many celebrities give to charity and keep their private life private for the sake of their families. There are many good people like that."
"What about politicians, and people who take advantage of their companies?"
"What about them, do you want me to say they're all bad? That's such a childlike way of thinking. That will change when you become an adult."
"Oh, you think you know better? Hah. I bet you're thinking, adults can get away with saying things like this. Adults are selfish. Well, newsflash. Selfish children grow up to be selfish adults." She laughs, something tired as it is fond. "Evil is evil and selfish is selfish. I'm still the selfish child I was before I married Satoshi and had you."
"What made you a selfish child?"
His mother answer immediately. "I only wanted to eat fried foods for the rest of my meals. When I was pregnant with you, the doctor told me I had to change how I ate and I cried all night. It was awful."
Akira laughs helplessly, "It was awful, preventing your child from being born with any medical conditions."
"You weren't born yet, Akira. It wasn't like I knew you."
"It wasn't like I knew you." Akira repeats slowly, listening to his mother laughing.
"Ahhh, I missed your sense of humor. Tell me, your guardian Sakura-san. He is a callous man but kind hearted, isn't he?"
"If you say so."
"Don't be like that, I'm sure he'll feel like an uncle before the years end."
He's threatened to kick me out at least once a day since I got here.
"It's fine. I've made new friends."
"Good. Focus on them and don't think about anyone else."
She probably already guessed about my classmates.
"Does Dad know you called me?"
"Yes." She sighs. "He's embarrassed with himself. Satoshi hasn't forgiven himself. You know, your father has always been that kind of guy. At work, one of his juniors called him a fool to his face. He had to act all big and mighty because everyone was looking at him. But when he came home, he was absolutely miserable. It's true. I am a fool. He uttered it so seriously I thought he'd drown in his stew."
"Dad has a lot of feelings."
"I live with him, I already know this."
"Hah. He doesn't think about it like that. He'll say things to me, y'know. But afterwards he always says, don't tell, Tohru. I say, of course. Every time."
"No, of course I will! At first, I thought he was being dense. But after we'd just had you, I realized it was the only way he could be honest."
Akira laughs, something sad sounding. It's almost like being back at home and this phone call is the sweetest punishment he's ever tasted.
I miss you.
"Are you happy you married Dad?"
"Huh? I am. Why, do you have a boyfriend?"
She teases, Akira scowls in response.
"Boys from the city, they must rowdier than you're used to. Be safe."
"I'm not dating anyone."
"Tell me if you meet someone. I want a picture if he's cute."
"Sure." Akira sinks back into the booth's cushion. "I'll call you in two weeks."
"I said it."
"Okay. I'll talk to you then."
"Akira." Her tone stops him from saying goodbye. "Remember what I said. You will always be my good boy."
"Night night, A-chan."