Karin heard a loud thump from the apartment next door.
“No, mommy!” a little girl screamed. “Mommy!”
That’s Rei-chan, the teacher thought, widening her eyes. She put down the papers down and raced to the front door. But before she put her shoes, someone banged on it.
The noise was low, made from tiny first that barely had any weight. But even so, Karin could tell the kid on the other side was desperate.
“What is it, Rei-chan?” Karin asked the moment she saw the little girl no more than eight years old.
“Mommy fell down and she’s not answering,” the girl answered in tears.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be okay,” she said, trying to sound as reassuring as she could. “Let’s go see your mommy.”
Still crying, the girl cleaned her tears and clutched the teacher’s hand with all her force. She led the woman to her apartment.
Her mother, Mari, was lying face down on the floor. Her face was red and her breath shallow and rapid. The pain was visible.
Karin raced and put her hand on her neighbor’s forehead. She’s burning up!
Then she noticed the woman’s clothes. A short red dress with a lot of cleavage. Damn it… she was already feeling down yesterday… I told this idiot to rest, but she was still planning to go to work.
The little girl tugged at Karin’s clothes.
“It’s okay, Rei-chan. Your mommy is just a little sick. If she rests, she’ll be fine. So don’t cry, okay?”
The little girl nodded, the tears threatening to fall again.
With some effort, the PE teacher managed to lift the woman. She’s heavier than she looks… better not tell her that, Karin thought, holding back a tense smile.
Mari opened her eyes and mumbled something unintelligible, but that was it.
She fainted, the teacher thought, biting her lips.
Rei-chan opened the door to the only bedroom and raced to get the futon ready. Then she stepped out of the way as Karin gently put her mother the futon.
“Rei-chan, do you have any flu medicine?” she asked the little girl with a gentle voice.
The neighbor’s kid nodded and raced to get it.
“What… happened…?” a weak voice asked.
Karin sighed in relief.
“Mari, good. You’re awake. You’re burning up with a fever and you fainted,” Karin said, looking the other woman in the eyes.
She seemed confused at first. Then she closed her eyes and shook her head. “I need… to go… to work… some of the girls… are sick today,” she said, trying to get out of the bed.
“And you’re one of them. You can’t go,” Karin said in a strong voice, putting a hand on the woman’s shoulder.
“No. I won’t allow it.”
The other woman flashed a smile despite her pained face.
“You shouldn’t… talk like that… with a sick woman…”
“If she doesn’t listen to me, I have to.”
Mari chuckled. “Then, could you… call the club… for me? The number is… next to the phone,” she said and then rested her head on the pillow.
Karin covered the woman with the blanket and, after she made sure Mari wouldn’t try to get up, went to make the call.
“Hello. Is this from the Heaven in earth club?”
“Yes,” a grumpy voice answered on the other side.
“I’m calling on behalf of Otae-chan. She’s too sick to work today.”
“What? Her too?” the woman on the other side mumbled something. Then she shouted at someone on the other side. “Thank you for informing.”
The woman ended the call just like that.
Guess they are really understaffed today… better not tell that to Mari. That idiot will definitely feel guilty about missing work.
“Here the medicine, onee-chan,” Rei-chan said, carrying so many boxes in those small arms that she had trouble balancing all.
Karin smiled and picked up the medicine for flu. “Thanks, Rei-chan. For now, your mommy needs only theses. So put the rest back, okay?”
As the little girl nodded and went to put the rest of the medicine back, Karin picked up a glass of water and returned to the bedroom.
“Here. Take this. It’ll make you feel better,” she said, holding the medicine and the water before Mari. The woman looked at it and winced. “What…?”
“They taste bad…” Mari said, averting her eyes, her cheeks red and not because of the fever.
Karin stared at her in disbelief. “Are you a child?”
“It has nothing to do with it.”
“You’re the one who bought it, weren’t you?” She forced the medicine to Mari, but the other refused to take it.
“It was my mom. If it were me, I would’ve bought the tasty ones…”
“You’re a child,” Karin said with a sigh and rolling her eyes. “Take it.”
After some insistence, Mari took the medicine. She winced and shiver, putting her tongue out.
“So bad… so bitter…”
“The taste doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’ll make you feel better.”
Mari was still wincing. But then she chuckled lightly.
“We agree to disagree.”
Karin blushed and looked away.
“Idiot… Just get better, okay?”
“I promise,” Mari said with a smile. “Hey, can I ask one more favor? Could you call my mom and ask her to take Rei for tonight? I don’t want her getting sick too.”
“I can take care of her.”
“I’m happy for the offer, but I can’t ask more of you. I know you have to finish grading those papers.”
“How did you know that?”
“I heard you talking on the phone the other day. These thin walls can be a pain,” she said, smiling.
Karin opened her mouth but then let out a sigh.
“Fine. I’ll call your mom. Now rest, okay?”
“Yes,” Mari said, almost singing.
A few seconds later, the sick woman was sleeping.
She can be a pain… but then she shows this cute side, Karin thought, patting the woman on the head.
After the teacher called Mari’s mom, she came to pick Rei fifteen minutes later.
“I’m sorry for the trouble my daughter is always causing you,” she said bowing.
“Not at all,” Karin said, smiling and waving her hands. “I’d do a lot for Mari.”
Despite the older woman’s politeness, her face became stiff.
She really doesn’t like me…
“Is mommy gonna be alright?” Rei-chan asked after she had organized her bag.
“She will. I promise I’ll take care of her,” Karin said, kneeling to be on the same height as the little girl. After she hugged the kid, she held her pinky.
Rei-chan cleaned her tears and wrapped her whole hand around the teacher’s pinky.
After grandma and granddaughter left, Karin stood at the entrance.
So what do I do now…?
It was true she had to correct the last few papers. She had been a little late and it had pushed the date of posting the grades on the hallway.
But I can’t leave Mari alone…
After some struggling, the teacher found the perfect solution.
Mari woke a few hours later. Her face looked better and her fever had gone down. Without raising her head, she looked around.
“Hey, Karin-chan… why are you still here?”
“There’s no way I could leave you alone… Not like this…”
“But… what about your work…?”
Karin blushed and averted her eyes.
“I can grade papers anywhere,” she said, raising the pile of papers in her hand.
Mari beamed. “I’m so lucky to have such a great girlfriend.”
Karin became an alarming shade of red. Then she offered her left hand.
Mari looked at the hand and showed a puzzled expression.
“I can grade papers with only one hand,” Karin mumbled.
Mari beamed again and reached out to grab the teacher’s hand.
They were only holding hands, but the woman’s expression was as if that was enough to make her the happiest woman on the world.
Damn… my girlfriend is too cute, Karin thought, blushing even more. I’m the lucky one…
Despite her embarrassment, she didn’t do anything to stop the smile on her lips.