Masumi slumped into his front door, his lungs heaving and his mouth agape. His legs were aching like they never had before, but at least it was something to distract from the troubles building on his shoulders. It wasn’t just the fact that Yui had done what she’d done, it was how he’d reacted, what that might hold for the future, and a hundred different voices that never agreed on anything, except for one.
That it was all his fault.
His parents were inside, he could hear music playing faintly through the door, and it wasn’t quite their bedtime yet. He could go somewhere else and hope that they weren’t there, but that wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to go up to his bed, surround himself in his blankets, and hope that everything would go away with a little sleep. It had never worked before, but it was the kind of hope he had when nothing else seemed to be working out.
He’d just have to slip inside, go to his room, and mutter some excuse about having eaten if they challenged him on it. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing was.
Masumi slipped his key inside the lock and turned the handle with his trembling hand. He pushed himself through the crack he allowed himself, then closed it with a soft thunk. He hung his cap up by the door and slipped his shoes off, then crept towards the stairs as steadily as his legs could carry him.
“Masumi.” Fujiko’s voice shook him from his stupor and he had only to glance to the right to see his mother standing in the doorway to the living room. Her arms were folded and her gaze set on him in a way that took him far back to his youth. “Come in here; we need to talk.”
“Um, okay.” Masumi thought that she might turn away, walk inside herself, but he had no such luck. He could already feel his stomach twisting in on itself, the heavy weights in his heart as to what any of it could mean. He slunk to the door and his mother turned aside, letting him make his own way through. “Is, uh, is something up?” He asked, his voice frail as he spotted his father sitting upright on the couch with several boxes on the table.
“You could say that, yes.” Fujiko waited for Masumi to sit on the seat on the opposite side of the table, and his mother sat beside his father. They were two sentinels with her eyes set on him, closer to the door than he was, with their tools already set out on the table. He kept his back as straight as he could, while the murmurs in his head grew to roars that made his heart pound and his palms sweat.
The silence hung for a few moments and Masumi couldn’t bear to look at his parents any more. His eyes fell to the table between them and he tapped his fingers on his knee until they were ready to talk. He couldn’t have done it himself, because they’d been waiting for him. They’d laid out a trap and he’d walked right into it.
“You didn’t do the laundry today.” Fujiko pointed out, her voice lacking the stern playfulness that her chastising came with. There was some small hope that a lack of chores was all he was being punished for. “So, I decided to do it when we got back from Kyoto. And I found some things that shouldn’t have been there.”
Masumi didn’t need to see her pull one of the boxes over to her to know what was going to be inside. He could hear the whole world crashing around him as she unfolded the top of the box. One flap, then the other. Then her long fingers reaching inside, delicately grasping something, and then pulling it out. The garment unfolded itself as she held it beside her head.
It was the dress Masumi had worn for Saturday’s stream. His father’s eyes were on him as his mother laid the dress out on the table, then pulled out a pair of thigh-high socks and laid them out beside the dress. Then she retrieved a pair of panties and put them down, too. She looked from them to Masumi’s eyes and held his gaze.
His mouth was dry. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing seemed to come out.
“I found these, and I thought that was unusual. Why would my son have women’s clothing in the laundry? I know they’re not mine, and I know they’re not his only friend’s, and I notice that they’re the perfect size for him. Curious, I think, so I tel his father and he finds it just as confusing.” Fujiko explained, with her voice perfectly level. “So, we decide to see if we might find any information in his bedroom. Just as any concerned parent might.”
Masumi slumped back in his seat and felt hot tears building in his eyes.
“We check his work desk, and there’s nothing there. We look at his gaming desk, and there’s nothing there. And then we go to look at his wardrobe, and we find these.” Fujiko opened the next box, then tipped it on its side so that some of Masumi’s girls’ clothes spilled out onto the table. “And these.” She tipped over the next box. “And these.” She tipped over the first one. “Plus, a makeup box. A very disorienting thing to find, don’t you think, Masumi?”
Masumi stayed silent.
“We’re growing very concerned by this point. So we start to think of reasons why our son might be hoarding girl’s clothing in the depths of his closet. We come up with all manner of ideas, then realized – what does he spend most of his time doing? Streaming. We’re growing very concerned now. We’ve always tried to teach him about security on the internet, and if somebody’s been making him put on girl’s clothes, then he’s not very safe at all.”
“We called our ISP.” Hideki added. Masumi startled silently as his dad’s voice joined the gradual wear-down of his confidence. He’d almost managed to forget he was there.
“There are some unusual things in his history, like makeup tutorials, fashion, similar. And we find out what his streaming name is, so we go to check what it is he’s been doing. And we find that our son has been putting on girl’s clothing for a very long time.” Fujiko folded her hands together on her lap. “That he’s been acting like a girl, doing his hair like a girl. How do you think that felt, Masumi?”
Masumi didn’t answer.
“Answer your mother.” Hideki said.
“I-I...” Masumi bit his bottom lip and did his best to dab away his overflowing tears. “I don’t...I don’t kn-know...”
“It was disappointing.” Fujiko said.
“Very bad.” Hideki added.
“We’ve been raising you for so long and giving you all of the money you need to do what you’re passionate about, we’ve been good parents, we’ve done our best to provide for you and support you in everything you do, Masumi. And then you go and spit in our faces.” There was venom in her voice, but Masumi was already too weak to fight back. “Why would you do this? Is it because you hate us, Masumi?”
“N-No...” Masumi whimpered and wrapped his arms around himself. “I-I...it’s...I don’t hate you...” He sniffled.
“No? And yet you’ve gone and done this.” Fujiko picked up one of the skirts on the table and let it fall. “You’ve humiliated yourself live on the internet, doing your best to make sure as many people as possible see you do it, and you want us to believe that you’re not doing it because you hate us? We raised you, Masumi! If anyone saw what you were doing, they’d think you were a freak! And that we’re freaks for raising you to act like that!”
“I...I just...like it...” Masumi exhaled, his voice so shaky he could barely form consonants.
“Nonsense.” Hideki shook his head once.
“I can’t believe this.” Fujiko shook her head. “So you’re saying that it’s not because you hate us, but because you like it?” She asked, her eyes narrowing upon Masumi’s nod. “Then you’re a selfish little brat and a freak as well. What kind of boy goes around dressing like a girl? What kind of boy does something like that even when he knows how much it will hurt his parents?”
Tears started to flow down Masumi’s cheeks, his fingers dug into his skin, and he wished that he was anywhere but in that chair.
“So now we’ve got to decide what to do about this, haven’t we?” Fujiko glared at the boy. “We’d take you to a doctor if doing it wouldn’t just draw more attention. So you’re going to have to do what you should have done and the first place and gotten over whatever sickness makes you act like this!”
Masumi bit deep enough to draw blood from his lower lip, and didn’t dare to interrupt or contradict the bile that followed.
“We’re going to give these away when we next go to Kyoto. You’re going to stay with us the whole time. Your allowance is going to be cut until the end of the year. You’re not allowed to stream any more - you’re going to focus on your schoolwork and find something else to do with your spare time. Perhaps learning how to act like a regular boy. And if you even think about doing something like this again, we’re going to find out, and we’re going to find a boarding school where you won’t even be able to keep your hair like that. Do you understand?”
Masumi did his best to wipe away his tears, but they wouldn’t stop flowing. He nodded.
“Do you understand, Masumi?” Hideki persisted.
“Y-Yes.” Masumi sobbed.
“Now go to your room.”
Masumi hobbled out of his chair and made his way out of the room, up the stairs. He felt like he was being moved on strings, as he pulled himself slowly up the stairs and into his room. It didn’t even feel like his any more – any of the things he’d wanted to keep private had been taken out. Any sense that he was safe there was gone. There was nothing in this house but parents who judged him, and nothing outside that would have made it worth it to wake up.
He collapsed onto his bed in a heap and didn’t even bother to pull his sheets up around him. He wasn’t going to be able to do the thing he loved most, not with no money, not with all of his clothes, his makeup taken away. He’d never learn how to talk to people, to stream and entertain them. He’d end up alone, working in some salaryman job and being as miserable as the kind of people who’d just taken his life away.
Not that he could have blamed them. He was already doubting whether they were actually wrong about him, and no amount of rebellion could make those thoughts leave his head. There weren’t any parents in Japan that would have disagreed with their decision, and barely any kids either.
Everything he’d been wanting for the last few months was gone. He didn’t even have Yui any more. He’d never see her name pop up on the stream again, to share a few hours of conversation. He’d never be able to see her in person without being reminded of what happened between them, or when he’d been able to stream, or the still-fresh moments when his parents tore that away from him.
So Masumi cried. He cried until his throat was sore, his pillow was wet, and his body couldn’t find the energy to stay awake.