Friday December 31st
A week following their romantic Christmas together, Keiko and Saito were returning to the Aizawa house for New Year's.
"It's a shame Yuki-chan and Tariq-san cancelled on us." said Saito as they walked down the snow-covered street to the Aizawa house
"Cut them some slack." Keiko replied "It's their first New Year's together in over eight years. It's only natural they'd spend it together instead of with us this year."
"I guess so. But let's make sure they can't refuse next year."
"Deal. Though she usually spends New Year's with us anyway. Speaking of which, this year's New Year's gathering is going to be twice as large as usual. Usually it's just the Aizawa family and Yuki. This year it's the Aizawas, Shirayukis, Mai, Yusha, Chloe and Saki. Assuming Hiroki was brave enough to ask Saki to come."
"Are your grandparents coming this year?" Saito asked
"They usually do, but not this year." Keiko explained "Partially because the house can't support anymore, partially because they're getting on on the years. Mom's parents are abroad right now also, and Grandpa Aizawa would have a fit if he saw you; I don't think he approves of you in the slightest. What about your grandparents?"
"They aren't coming either." Saito replied "As far as mom's folks go, we don't talk to them and mom doesn't want anything to do with them. As for dad and uncle Soji's parents, they are the last people I want to be involved with."
Keiko didn't know whether to feel sympathetic or not.
"Uncle Soji's not coming either; He couldn't get off for New Year's, apparently."
"Company presidents have it rough." said Keiko
Minutes later they arrived at the Aizawa house and Keiko rang the bell.
"Tadaima!" Keiko called after she rang the bell. A minute later, it was opened by Chloe
"Qu'est-ce qui t'a retenue? [What kept ya?]" Chloe asked when she saw them
"Nice to see you too." Keiko replied as they entered and removed their shoes. As they hung up their coats, the kids came and hugged Keiko "Alright, alright, I'm happy to see you three too."
"Welcome home, sweetheart." said Nana as the kids let go of Keiko
Keiko and Saito joined everyone in the living room. Already there were the Shirayukis: Ushio, Sanae and Michiru. Mai, Yusha, Mito and Saki had yet to arrive.
"Welcome home, Keiko." said Kakeru as Keiko and Saito sat down in the living room with him, the kids, and most of the Shirayukis. Nana rejoined Ushio in the kitchen preparing lunch
"Want me to help over there?" Saito asked
"No thanks, Saito. We've got it." Ushio replied
"I thought you couldn't cook." said Nana
"I was just out of practice."
"Fifteen years out of practice." said Sanae "I was the one making all the meals when we were living in Italy. And even when we came back to Japan, it was Saito; since I had lost my sight and you were so busy. You even left the house to us for nine straight months."
"Okay, okay, I wasn't a model mother, and I'm sorry."
"Don't be so hard on her, Onee-chan." said Saito
"Cut her some slack, Onee-chan." said Michiru
"Okay, okay." said Sanae
"Is your uncle Soji coming?" Hiroki asked
"He couldn't get off work." said Saito
"Darn shame. I was looking forward to chatting with him." said Kakeru
"Yuki and Tariq-san cancelled too." said Keiko "They said they wanted to spend New Year's as father and daughter."
"Good for them." said Chloe, then noticed Keiko was giving her a weird look "Quoi? [What?]"
"How long do you plan on freeloading off my parents?" Keiko asked with a serious look
"What's the deal? We don't have a problem with it." said Nana
"That's not the point!"
"I'm looking for a place I swear!" said Chloe "The only issue is that I can't afford any place, even Sakagami; because my parents still refuse to send me any money."
"Then. Get. A. Job!"
"What's so bad of taking care of a helpless foreigner?" Sanae asked "We're taking care of two Italians back home."
"(urgh) Romeo and Juliet. Those two gave me a headache." said Keiko
"They weren't that bad, were they?" Ryo asked, and Keiko replied with a look that told her to drop it
"Romeo and Juliet? Like from the famous Shakespearean play?" Nana asked Ushio
"When it came to William Shakespeare, their parents were freaks!" Ushio replied
An hour later, Mai arrived, carrying Yusha in a baby sling, with Saki in tow.
"Kon'nichiwa!" Mai called when she entered the living room "I ran into Takasugi-san on the way here." Saki ran to Hiroki and hugged him around the neck the instant she saw him "Those two." Mai said sweetly
"I know." said Keiko as she got up to have a better look at Yusha "You didn't get cold on the way here, did you?" Keiko asked Yusha in a sweet voice
"Let me see him!" Ryo exclaimed, and Mai sat down so everyone could see "(uwah!) Baby brother Yusha's so cute!"
"His cheeks look so soft I just wanna chew on them!" said Michiru
"Now now, don't crowd. You'll scare him." said Mai, then noticed Koichi was looking a bit sour "What's the matter, Koichi-kun?"
"I won't be the youngest brother anymore." Koichi replied "I just wanna be special!"
"You are special. You're our special brother." said Keiko, ruffling Koichi's hair "But we're not always going to be here for little Yusha, so you need to be the big brother he needs; Can you do that for us?"
"Don't talk to me like I'm just some kid."
"You are a kid." said Saito
"Saito-nii-chan, not you too."
"Is Koichi-kun always like that?" Saki asked Hiroki
"He usually doesn't talk much around the house." Hiroki replied
Keiko relieved Mai of Yusha and sat down with him. Yusha giggled happily when he saw Keiko's face.
"Babies are so cute." said Chloe "To think you came close to having one just a few months ago."
"Don't remind me of that!" Keiko snapped, causing Yusha to start crying "Oooh, Yusha, I'm sorry; There there." Keiko gently bounced Yusha up for a few seconds and Yusha calmed down.
"You'll make a great mother one day though." said Michiru, causing Saito to karate chop her on the head.
Mai joined Nana and Ushio in the kitchen.
"You got any energy drinks or something?" Mai asked
"You do look a bit tired." Nana replied
"That boy wakes up five to seven times a night; If I don't find something to help him sleep so I can sleep, you're going to have one cranky mom."
"Be glad you only have one kid." said Ushio
"Agreed. Since I gave birth to so many kids so successively, it was more than a decade before I got a good nights' sleep." said Nana
"Well, excuse us for living." said Keiko as Ryo's phone rang
"I don't know this number." said Ryo before she answered it "Moshimoshi?"
"Aizawa-san? It's Hidehiko." said Hidehiko
"Hidehiko-kun?! How did you get my number?!"
"Never mind that. Since it's New Year's Eve, I was wondering if I could call you out for the day."
"Hold that thought." said Ryo, before placing her phone face down on the table "Who gave him my number?" Ryo asked her fellow middle schoolers
"We're innocent!" Hiroki and Saki said hastily
"Guilty." Michiru fessed up
"Mi-chi-ru-sen-pai!" Ryo said slowly with anger, before picking up her phone again "Hidehiko-kun, I normally spend New Year's with my family, so-" Keiko snatched her phone away
"She'd love to." Keiko told Hidehiko, surprising Ryo
"Wh-who is this?"
"I'm her big sister, Keiko. Ryo will meet you in front of the station in half an hour; Be sure to have her back in time for dinner at seven. And if you don't show her a good time between now and then, you and I are gonna have a talk." Keiko hung up at that
"Why did you do that?!"
"Saito, take Yusha for a few minutes;" Keiko gently handed Yusha to Saito without waiting for a reply and turned to Ryo "And you and I need to talk, young lady." Keiko grabbed Ryo by the upper arm and dragged her to their room
"Why did you do that?!" Ryo demanded when Keiko closed the door "I nothing to do with Hidehiko-kun."
"And why is that? Explain it to me." Keiko replied, but Ryo couldn't say anything back "It might not seem like it, but I did that for you."
"Ryo... how old will you be this February?"
"Exactly. You're entering your teenage years, the best years of your life. You need to get a life."
"I don't need to get a boyfriend to get a life. I'm not like you, I don't do boys. Boys are wolves, all they ever want is something perverted; they're always looking at me with hungry eyes. I don't ever want to go through that again!"
"So that's it." Keiko knelt down and put her hands on Ryo's shoulders "Ryo, Hidehiko-kun is no older than you are; Also, after talking to Hiroki and Saki, I assure you he's harmless. He has an earnest crush on you. What happened last May has nothing to do with him.
"I understand. You went through a horrible experience and you're wary; but you can't just give up and run away from it. Aizawas don't do that. 'Never run away'; that's our family motto. Just give Hidehiko a chance."
"(sigh).... Alright. If it will put you at ease. But still...."
"How 'bout this... will it make you feel more at ease if I have Michiru follow you?" Ryo nodded
The two of them went downstairs and Ryo got her coat, scarf and boots on.
"I'll be back by seven." Ryo called as she left the house
"You think I was a bit too forward?" Keiko asked after she, Nana and Michiru saw her off
"No, I think you needed to give her a push." Nana
"I'm worried I might've pushed too hard."
"Don't worry yourself, Keiko-chan." said Michiru "Some girls just need a push; Especially when they try to 'connect' with a guy for the first time." Saito karate chopped her head again
"That's enough." said Saito, now without Yusha after giving him back to Mai
"Now get your coat on and follow her." Keiko told Michiru
"I promised Ryo that I'd have you follow them if she went. Be sure to keep a fair distance."
Michiru decided it best not to argue, got her coat and boots on and left.
About an hour after Ryo and Michiru left, Mito called and told them that she couldn't make it to the dinner because she was out with her new boyfriend, but would come for the annual shrine visit.
"A new boyfriend huh?" said Kakeru after he and Mito hung up
"The relationship will last five weeks." Keiko told Saito
"Three." Saito replied, holding his hand palm up and Keiko slapped it, their bet set.
"I win!" said Saki, who playing Go on the floor with Hiroki, and Hiroki bowed in defeat
"Good at Go too, huh?" said Keiko
"My cousin often makes me play with her." Saki replied as Hiroki cleared the board for another rematch "And you don't like losing, do you?" Hiroki placed a black stone in the center in reply "No matter, I like that side of you too."
Saito and Keiko enjoyed watching Saki and Hiroki play for a bit before Chloe came running back into the room.
"Hey, everyone." said Chloe, coming back into the living room with a book under her arm "I was going through some boxes I noticed in the closet of my room, and lookie what I found." She opened it to what appeared to be the pictures of a brown haired baby "Look at baby Keiko, isn't she cute."
"Give me that!" Keiko exclaimed, jumping up to grab it back. Chloe held it out of reach, but Keiko managed to jump high enough to snatch it back "Honestly, don't go through other people's.... " Keiko got a better look at the baby in the picture "This isn't me."
"But you look so alike, how can you tell?" Ushio asked
"Well for one thing, this picture's too old to be me." said Keiko
"That's me." said Kakeru, taking the album from Keiko and sitting down again "Your baby pictures are in the hall closet." At Kakeru's word, Chloe darted for the closet that held the Aizawa siblings' childhood photos
"Oh no, you don't." Keiko told Chloe as she darted after her
However, Saito held Keiko back, allowing Chloe to take the album to the living room for everyone to see
"So embarrassing." said Keiko, who was sitting at the table again while everyone went through the album
"How 'bout I show you my childhood photos next time." Saito told her
"I'll hold you to that."
"Hiroki-kun was so cute!" Saki squealed upon seeing a baby picture of Hiroki, causing Hiroki's face to turn red as a tomato
"Kakerucchi and Nana-chan, you two aged gracefully." said Mai
"We'll take that as a compliment." said Nana as she and Ushio started making curry. Nana then noticed a look of nostalgia on Ushio's face "What is it?"
"I just recalled when Saito saw Keiko-chan for the first time when we first came back to Japan." said Ushio "Saito was about ten or eleven years old. Sanae was about fifteen, and Michiru was nine. Anyway, we were taking a stroll in the neighborhood and we passed by that park of yours, where you all were playing at the time. Saito noticed Keiko-chan and said 'Mommy, Mommy, is that an angel?'"
"I said that?" Saito asked
"You did." said Sanae "Though at the time I couldn't tell if you were referring to Nana-san or Keiko until you pointed her out."
Right then Ryo's cat, Shiro, now much bigger than when Keiko last saw him, jumped into her lap
"Hey, Shiro. Where have you been hiding?" Keiko asked affectionately as she picked Shiro up in her arms "You've gotten so big."
"Tell me about it." said Kakeru "Kittens are just like human kids; take your eyes off them for two seconds, and they'll grow up in an instant."
"Just think: in not too long, Yusha-chan will get so big and will be starting school before you know it." said Ushio
"I can hardly wait." said Mai as Yusha started crying for some of her milk, so she got up to go breastfeed him in private.
Hours went by with everyone reminiscing childhood memories, with Kakeru, Nana and Ushio occasionally telling them various things their kids did when they were younger. Some of which the youngsters had no real memory of. Finally, just as it was time for dinner, Ryo and Michiru returned.
"Welcome back." said Kakeru as Ryo and Michiru sat down at the table with them
"How was your date? Feel like giving him a chance?" Keiko asked Ryo
"I'm not gonna thank you." Ryo replied
"Ryo, please, be honest."
"(sigh) It wasn't bad, I'll admit. I could tell he had it all planned out. He even took me to a few places he knew I'd enjoy."
"You did look like you were enjoying yourself." said Michiru
"Language, young lady." said Sanae
"Sorry." Ryo then noticed what was in the middle of the table "We're having a hot pot?!" Ryo asked excitedly
"Don't we have one every year?" Hiroki asked
"But this year we added a few new things." said Nana as she and Ushio began serving curry "But don't forget the curry."
Saito and Keiko helped Sanae down from her chair so she could sit with them. Yusha was laying in an old, but comfortable, baby basket Nana dug out of storage so Mai could eat with her hands free.
"Thanks for inviting me this year." said Saki as they prepared to eat.
"The more the merrier. Come over a bit more often." said Nana
"I'll try. If Hiroki-kun will work up the courage to invite me." said Saki, and Hiroki went red again
"And thanks for having me this year." said Chloe "I'll try to be out of your hair in a few months."
"Don't worry about it." said Kakeru
"And for having the four of us this year." said Ushio
"Happy to know you this year." said Keiko
"Hate to be rude, but can we start yet? Some of us are hungry." said Saito
"Then, without further ado...." said Kakeru
"ITADAKIMASU!" Everyone exclaimed just before they started eating
"I almost missed your cooking, mom." said Keiko her mouth full of Nabe ingredients in a few minutes
"Don't talk with your mouth full. You know better than that." Nana replied
Keiko swallowed before replying "Sumimasen."
"Even I gotta admit, you sure know how to cook, Nana-san." said Saki
"That's sweet of you to say."
"No acting like newlyweds at the table, you two." Ushio told Keiko and Saito, just as Keiko was about to feed Saito a piece of meat. But Saito took it anyway.
"Mom, you're no fun." Saito replied as Saki mimicked Keiko and fed Hiroki, much to his embarrassment.
An hour and a half later the curry and hot pot were both finished. At around 10:50, after letting their meal digest a while, they decided to start heading over to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine for Hatsumōde.
"(Uwahh) I've been wanting to visit a shrine since I first got to Japan!" Chloe exclaimed when they arrived "It's so magnificent! Where are the fox statues?"
"Oh. Mon erreur. [My bad.]"
"Easy mistake, Chloe-san." said Saki
"Only for foreigners." said Michiru
"But... What's the difference?" Chloe asked
"Hachiman Shrines are for Hachiman, the Japanese syncretic divinity of archery and war, incorporating elements from both Shinto and Buddhism. Though often called the God of War, he's more correctly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He's also the divine protector of Japan and the Japanese people. He was originally the God of Agriculture before the arrival of Buddism in Japan." Keiko explained "Inari Shrines are dedicated to Inari Ōkami, the Japanese kami (god) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and Sake, agriculture and industry, and of general prosperity and worldly success. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of sword-smiths and merchants."
"Vous savez vraiment beaucoup. [You really know a lot.] You never struck me as the religious type."
"Well, I am. So I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or not."
"On another note, why come to a Hachiman Shrine instead of more popular Inari?"
"Did you not listen to Keiko-nee-san's explanation of Hachiman?" Saki asked "Most of us here are competitive athletes, so Hachiman's better suited to us.
"Is it just me, or are fewer and fewer people coming here every year?" Nana asked, noticing there were quite a few people less compared to the year before, though there were still plenty.
"A lot more people are going for the Inari shrines these years." said Ushio, who was pushing Sanae's chair "Inari Ōkami has always been the most popular Kami. On the other hand, we're visiting while it's still New Year's Eve, and more and more people prefer to visit on New Year's Day."
"That just means we won't have to wait in line." said Mai, carrying Yusha in his sling again
"C'mon, Hiroki-kun, let's get fortunes!" Saki said excitedly, pulling Hiroki by the arm
"We have to pray first!" Hiroki told her before she could pull him far
"Kids are always in a hurry." Saito said to Keiko
"True." Keiko replied
They ran into Mito and her current boyfriend on their way up to the offering box. Kakeru took an immediate disliking to him, but didn't say anything. They also ran into Yuki and Tariq, also here for Hatsumōde.
After briefly ringing the bell, everyone put their hands together and began praying;
"May this be another unforgettable year with Saito/Keiko." Keiko and Saito prayed
"Let this be another pleasant year. And may Saito propose to Keiko-chan." Sanae prayed
"May I get closer to Hiroki-kun/Saki-chan. And may I work up the courage to kiss him/her!" Saki and Hiroki prayed
"Please let me find a cute boyfriend this year." Michiru and Yuki prayed
"May my daughter and I have a good year together in our homeland." Tariq prayed
"May the Kamakura Wolves win the next Summer Tournament." Koichi prayed
"May I become an official Japanese citizen!" Chloe prayed
"May I get over my amnesty toward boys." Ryo prayed
"May this relationship with my new boyfriend last!" Mito prayed
"May my baby boy have a good and healthy first year in this world." Mai prayed
"May these last few months of mine be pleasant." Kakeru prayed
Nana peeked at Kakeru's face "I hope he doesn't think he'll pass on this year. Ushio-chan and Mine-sensei worked hard to arrange it. May his surgery be a success! Please let it be a success!" Nana prayed as hard as she could
"I haven't told them yet, but I pulled some strings to help Sanae too. Let her surgery succeed, please let her regain her sight!" Ushio prayed
After making their wishes, the group briefly broke apart to enjoy the New Year's festivities. At midnight, the shrine's bell sounded to signal the start of January 1st 2033.
As dawn neared, the group gathered again and went down to the beach to witness Hatsuhinode (the first sunrise of the year).
"There it is!" Keiko exclaimed as dawn broke the horizon
"Happy New Year, everyone." said Kakeru
"Happy New Year." everyone replied
With the first sunrise of a new year, everyone was looking forward to a great 2033 year. But would Nana and Ushio's wishes come true?