Though Kirin was focused on her work, when she heard a loud thump coming from the next-door apartment, she raised her head right away.
“No, mommy!” a child screamed.
That was Rei-chan, she thought, putting the papers she had been grading down at once and standing up. She headed to the entrance but before she could reach the front door, someone banged on it.
Though the person on the other side seemed to be hitting as hard as they could, the noise was low, as if made by tiny first that barely had any weight. Even so, Kirin could tell the kid on the other side was desperate.
“What’s wrong, Rei-chan?” she asked the moment she saw the little girl no more than ten years old in tears.
“Mommy was about to leave for work and then she fell down” Rei shouted. “She’s not answering!”
“Don’t worry, Rei-chan. Everything’s gonna be okay,” Kirin said, trying to sound as reassuring as she could. “Let’s go see your mommy.”
Still crying, the girl cleaned her tears as best as she could and grabbed the teacher’s hand, half leading, half pulling her to the next-door apartment.
Her mother was lying on the floor, with the face red and her breath shallow and rapid. She’s burning up, Kirin realized when she put her hand on Mari’s forehead. Then she noticed her clothes. A short red dress with a lot of cleavage. This idiot is sick and was still planning to go to work.
“It’s okay, Rei-chan. Your mommy is just a little sick. If she rests, she’ll be fine. So don’t cry, okay?” she said in a kind voice.
The little girl nodded and did her best to hold down the tears threatening to fall again.
Though she was a PE teacher and had a lot of confidence in her strength, she had trouble carrying Mari. She’s heavier than she looks. Better not tell her that or she’ll be mad, Kirin thought, holding back a smile. Then again, she’s cute when she’s pouting.
Mari opened her eyes and mumbled something unintelligible, but then closed her eyes and was soon out.
Rei opened the door to the only bedroom and raced to get the futon ready. Then she stepped out of the way as Kirin gently put her mother down.
“Rei-chan, do you have any cold medicine?” she asked with a gentle voice.
The girl nodded and raced to get it.
“Mari, good. You’re awake. You’re burning up with a fever,” Kirin said, looking her in the eyes. “But I’m here now and everything’s gonna be okay.”
She seemed confused, as if understanding that took a lot more than she had at the moment. Then she closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to get up. “I need… to go… to work… some of the girls… are sick today…”
“And you’re one of them. You can’t go,” Kirin placed both hands on her shoulder and pushed the woman back.
“No. I won’t allow it.”
Mari showed a smile despite her pained face. “I like… a strong woman…but you shouldn’t… talk like that… with a sick woman…”
“If she doesn’t listen to me, I will.”
Mari let out a chuckle that turned into a cough. “Then, could you… call the club… for me? The number is… in my phone,” she said and then rested her head on the pillow, her eyes closed again.
Because some of the girls from the club got sick this week, she worked herself to exhaustion, Kirin covered Mari with the blanket and opened the small purse that matched the red dress.
“Hello. Is this from the hostess club?”
“Yes,” answered a slightly panting voice.
“I’m calling on behalf of Otae,” Kirin said. Why did she pick that stage name? Sounds from the Edo era. “She’s too sick to go to work today.”
“What?” the woman on the other side mumbled something that sounded ‘not her too’. “Thanks for calling. Tell her to take care of herself.”
Then the call ended.
Guess they were really understaffed today. Better not tell that to Mari. She’ll definitely feel guilty about missing work.
“Here the medicine, onee-chan,” Rei said, carrying so many boxes she had trouble balancing everything with her small arms.
Kirin smiled and picked up the ones for cold. “Thanks, Rei-chan. For now, your mommy needs only theses, so please put the rest back, okay?”
As the little girl hurried to the bathroom to put the rest of the medicine back, Kirin picked up a glass of water and returned to the bedroom.
“Here. Take this,” she said, putting a hand under Mari’s head and lifting her gently so she could take the medicine.
Mari looked at it and winced.
“What?” Kari asked
“They taste bad,” she mumbled, her cheeks red and not because of the fever.
Kari couldn’t help but snort. “Are you a child?”
“It has nothing to do with it.”
“You’re the one who bought it, weren’t you?”
“It was my mom. If it were me, I would’ve bought the tasty ones.”
“You’re a child,” Kirin said with a sigh. “But it doesn’t matter. Take it.”
After some insistency, Mari took the medicine. She winced as if she had taken something extremely bitter and put her tongue out.
“The taste doesn’t matter. What’s important is that will make you better.”
Mari chuckled lightly. “We agree to disagree.”
Kirin blushed and looked away. “Idiot…”
“Can I ask one more favor? Can you get a change of clothes for Rei and her schoolbooks? My mom is coming to watch her while I work, but I mom to take her for tonight. I don’t want her getting sick too.”
“I can take care of her, Mari.”
“I know that, but I can’t ask more of you. I know you have to finish grading those tests.”
“How did you know that? I don’t remember telling you.”
“I heard you talking the other day. These thin walls can be a pain sometimes,” she said, smiling.
Kirin opened her mouth to say something but then gave up. “Fine. But you need to promise you’ll rest.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mari said, almost singing.
A few seconds later, the sick woman as sleeping.
She can be a pain… but then she shows this cute side, Kirin thought, patting her on the head. Get better soon.
Twenty minutes later, Mari’s mom was at the door.
“I’m sorry for the trouble my daughter is always causing you,” she said, bowing after Kirin explained the situation.
“Not at all,” Kirin said, smiling and waving her hands. “She helps me a lot.”
“Is mommy gonna be alright?” Rei asked after she had organized her belongings in a cute pink bag.
“She will. I promise I’ll take care of her,” Kirin said, kneeling to be on the same height as the little girl. She flashed a reassuring smile and held her pinky. “I promise.”
Rei cleaned her tears and wrapped her tiny hand around the teacher’s pinky.
After grandma and granddaughter left, Kirin stood on the entrance.
What do I do now?
It was true she had to correct the last few papers. Though she wasn’t behind on the schedule, the principal was complaining. But I can’t leave Mari alone tonight…
After some struggling, the teacher found the perfect solution.
Mari woke a few hours later. Her complex looked better and her fever had gone down. Without raising her head, she looked around.
“Hey, Kirin-chan… I always love seeing your face the first thing when I wake up,” she said, beaming.
Kirin blushed slightly. “Me too,” she mumbled, embarrassed.
“So don’t take this the wrong way. Why are you still here?”
“There’s no way I could leave you alone… Not when you were like that…”
“But what about your work?” she asked, not hiding her concern.
Even like this, she worries about things like that. Kirin blushed and averted her eyes.
“I can grade papers anywhere,” she said, raising the pile of papers on her hand.
Mari looked puzzled. Then she beamed. “I’m so lucky to have such a great girlfriend.”
With those words, Kirin became an alarming shade of red. Despite her embarrassment, she offered her right hand. Mari looked at it and showed a puzzled expression.
“I can grade papers with only one hand,” she mumbled.
Mari beamed again and reached out to grab the teacher’s hand. They were only holding hands, but her expression was as if that was enough to make her the happiest woman in the world.
Damn… my girlfriend is too cute, Kirin thought, blushing even more as she held those delicate fingers. I’m the lucky one…
Despite her embarrassment, she didn’t do anything to stop the smile on her lips.