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Ryoutarou, Otanjoubi Omedetou

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Drop Me a Line
(Ryoutarou)

I awaken to Nanako leaning over my face. I don’t know what she’s doing, but she seems intent about it. I can feel her grabbing a fistful of my hair and I wince before her gaze zips to my now-open eyes.

“Oh...” she breathes. “Dad you’re awake...”

My daughter quickly backs away from me, wearing a worried look. I sigh and sit up, wondering what she’s been doing to me. I can feel something brush the side of my face. I glance over and see one of her bows fall to the floor.

I pick it up and give her a withering look. “We’ve talked about this,” I scold and she nods, an uneasy expression playing across her face. “Why would you put a bow on me while I’m sleeping?”

“I know you’re a great detective, Dad,” she begins her explanation. “But I thought maybe with Loveline’s help your work—”

Pinching my nose, I try very hard not to roll my eyes. “Loveline isn’t—” I stop myself before I say ‘real’. “I don’t need her help. I’ll be fine at work,” I settle on instead.

“But you need to come home early today,” she replies in a sad voice.

“Why?” I grumble, pulling clothes out of drawers and setting them on my dresser.

Nanako doesn’t answer. Instead she scoops up her bows and leaves my room quickly, sliding the door shut behind herself. I shake my head and get dressed.

This year won’t be any different than the last few years.

I know why she wants me to come home early—It’s my birthday.

But there’s nothing to celebrate. I don’t need a cake or a party. I don’t need the happy farce of a party. I need to find the person who broke my family—

I slap the top of the dresser with my fist. This year is no different for me. Every year has been the same since my family was shattered.

Starting down the hall, I allow my mind to continue to leave me adrift in these dark thoughts. It’ll never be the same again. She should get use to that so she won’t be disappointed.

I’m all the way downstairs, reaching for my workbag, when I realize that someone’s pulling me in the opposite direction. “Nanak—” I start, but the words die in my throat.

Yuu is smiling faintly as he hauls me towards the low table. “Happy birthday, uncle,” he says. I frown, trying to squash whatever emotion surges through me when I see he’s set three places and Nanako is sitting down, staring up at me hopefully, once again.

There are dishes of pancakes, cups of juice, and a handmade card from the two of them. My heart swells as I allow myself to be pulled closer.

I sit at my spot and Yuu takes a seat next to me. “Happy birthday, Dad,” Nanako tentatively tries.

It’s a sad smile that comes to me and I can’t help it, but they don’t seem to care. My daughter returns it with a genuine smile, while Yuu watches her begin to open up, telling me how Yuu had surprised her by preparing the food and even she didn’t know!

A chuckle bubbles up as I listen to her detail what was no more than fifteen minutes since she had departed my bedroom. Yuu clearly had this planned out beforehand. She’s so excited about such a simple thing.

When the food’s about gone, Yuu motions to Nanako and she slides me the card. I read the front, then open it. It’s got a message about Loveline helping me to be more efficient. This is all she’s been talking about lately. Loveline and how she’s the best detective—Aside from myself, as she’ll usually add afterwards.

And taped to the inside of the card if a Loveline keychain. Before I can begin to take it out, Nanako is leaning over me, explaining how I should keep this with me, instead of the bows. I glance at my nephew.

“I heard about the new style she’s been forcing on you. Thought this might help.” He grins and hands me my keyring.

“Hnnh,” I grunt, sliding this addition on to join the few keys I carry. ”Thank you,” I tell the kids. “Both of you.”

I guess this year will be different after all.