Dear Mom and Dad,
The letter was long overdue. He’d have preferred to e-mail, but his parents weren’t so great with technology. Grandpa was the only one who used the internet much, and that was mostly so he could watch the horse races that didn’t get broadcast on TV. Phone signal was never reliable out on the farm, and text messages could take hours to get through some days. Phone calls had a habit of cutting out, and that was assuming Kouda was feeling up to talking for that long.
So, letters had to do.
Kouda had a make-shift desk in his room, an old dining table shoved against the wall under the window, with cardboard box files stacked up at one end for any paperwork he took home. A desk lamp would use too much electricity and they were trying to keep the bills low, so sitting by the window meant he could make the most of the daylight.
Chewing on the end of his pen, Kouda thought back over the past month, trying to decide where to start his letter.
It’s been six whole weeks since I started as a support hero! Graduation feels like ages ago - so much has happened since then.
Shouji was the only one who’d fully inspected the share-house before they signed the contract. He’d shared pictures with the rest of them and told them it was fine. They should have known better than to trust Shouji ‘furniture is for the weak’ Mezuo.
“Out of five rooms, only one has a bed. Shouji, you said it was furnished!” Ojiro thumped down the last few stairs as Shouji and Sato brought in yet more boxes labelled ‘kitchen’. Shouji opened his box, while Sato left the room again.
“Don’t you all have futons?”
“Yes, we have futons. We also have aches and pains from fighting people on a near-daily basis and I, for one, would like to come home at the end of the day and collapse on to a beautifully supportive orthopaedic mattress.”
“I will fight you all for the bed.” Tokoyami added another box to the kitchen pile. “One by one or all at once, it doesn’t matter.”
“Tokoyami, you fell asleep on a pile of laundry once. You don’t need the bed.”
“Dark Shadow needs the bed.”
“Is Dark Shadow paying rent?”
“Dark Shadow has no comprehension of financial matters.”
“Then Dark Shadow doesn’t get a bed.”
While the three of them bickered, Kouda quietly took one of his boxes up the stairs, checking each room one by one. He found the bed on the third floor. Unfortunately, Sato had found it first.
Kouda took his box down to the floor below. Sato might have the bed, but he also had three flights of stairs to climb at the end of each day. He claimed a room, then went back down to the kitchen, where Shouji was apologising for the shortage of dining chairs.
“We could buy another chair. How much do dining chairs cost?”
Kouda rapped a fist on the doorframe to get their attention. He pointed upstairs, and signed Sato’s name.
“If Sato has the bed, he doesn’t get a chair,” Tokoyami announced. The other two looked at each other, and shrugged.
Adjusting to life out of the dorms was strange at first, but we’re getting used to it. Doing our own cooking, cleaning and laundry - we’re all helping each other out and learning from each other.
“Tokoyami, why is my hero costume grey?” Ojiro held up his gi, still slightly damp.
“That could be a good look for you.”
“Why is your black T-shirt in the machine with my white uniform?”
“It was dirty. You didn’t have a full load.”
“You can’t mix dark clothes with white clothes in the washing machine!”.
“Is that so? I’ve never had a problem mixing my clothes in the wash.”
“All your clothes are darks!”
Living in a share-house means we share our meals, and it’s good to cook and eat together after a hard day’s work.
Shouji opened the cupboard door. The same cupboard he’d already checked three times.
“Sato, can you google ‘how to split one pack of ramen between five people’?”
“We just did grocery shopping two days ago!”
Kouda was busy measuring rice into the cooker. He tapped Sato’s shoulder and held up three fingers.
“Okay, so three servings of rice and a pack of ramen. That should cover all of us. What about meat? There should be some diced chicken in the fridge.”
Tokoyami appeared in the doorway, a juicebox in one hand.
“There’s no chicken left.”
“Tokoyami, you’re literally the smallest out of all of us, so how come you can eat more than any of us?”
“I’m eating for two.”
Dark Shadow hovered over his shoulder, and stage-whispered in his ear. “Chicken?”
Shouji checked his pockets and pulled out a handful of coins.
“Sato, how much meat can we get for this much?”
Sato counted the coins.
“Two portions of chicken nuggets?”
Kouda checked his own pockets, and dropped some coins into Shouji’s hand.
“Dark Shadow, behave.”
Working as a support hero keeps me busy, but I’m meeting lots of new and interesting people. Last week I helped some other heroes to save a girl from a kidnapping, and her family were really nice to me afterwards.
Kouda was breathing heavily when he finally got back home, and he took a moment to lean against the inside of the door. Ojiro stepped into the hallway, in the middle of drying a pan with a tea-towel.
Kouda nodded, before bending down to unfasten his shoes.
“Kouda, I keep telling you to just take a different route home.”
Kouda made a series of gestures, while rolling his eyes.
“You did? So how’d she find you?”
He pointed over his shoulder.
“She was outside the house?” He nodded. “Oh, man, that’s rough. Is she still there?” He shrugged. Ojiro put down the pan he was drying, and called the other three housemates into the kitchen.
“Nakamura-san is still hassling Kouda. She found out where he lives.”
“Where we all live,” Sato countered, as Shouji threw up all six hands in frustration. “She makes me nervous.”
“Can we call the bar and make a complaint?” Shouji looked to Kouda, who shook his head.
“We already tried that,” Ojiro explained. “Since she’s not doing anything while she’s working for them, they said there’s nothing we can do. Kouda, if your agency tries to send you on any more jobs in the red light district, you have to say no! I don’t care how many rats and roaches there are for you to work with - you’re under-age! You shouldn’t be seeing the stuff that goes on in those bars.”
“I have an idea,” Tokoyami said. “But you won’t like it.”
They all looked at Kouda, who considered for a moment, then gestured for Tokoyami to explain.
“If she’s taken to following Kouda home, then we could invite someone else over to walk home with him.”
“Tokoyami, Kouda doesn’t need anyone to fight for him. And Nakamura-san isn’t violent, she’s just…affectionate.”
“Aggressively affectionate,” Shouji corrected.
“So we invite someone even worse.”
Three chairs scraped back from the kitchen table. Sato was already standing, so he couldn’t do the same, but he stepped back all the same.
“No, it’s not worth it.”
“But he would - “
“Tokoyami, we are not inviting Mineta into this house.” Ojiro’s tail twitched as he spoke. “Kouda, we’ll all go to the bar with you, when Nakamura-san is working, and we’ll have a talk with her. Explain to her that saving her from that gang was just part of your job, and that she’s a very nice lady but you just don’t see her that way.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
Ojiro took a deep breath, considering their options.
“Then we have to move.”
I’ve seen all sorts of new places all over the city. Every day is an adventure!
“Kouda, we’re definitely lost. No, don’t shake your head at me - look! Look at the little blue dot on the map. The dot is moving away from our apartment. That’s us, we’re the little blue dot. We are heading in the wrong direction. What do you mean, it loops around? The train does not loop. Trains go in straight lines, and this line is pointing the wrong way. Why did you pick this route? A cat? A cat told you which train to catch. Does the cat know how to use Google Maps? Because I do, and Google Maps says we’re heading in the wrong dir - what are you doing? Leave my phone alone! Why are you spinning the map? Don’t - wait, you can do that? So we’re heading east, not - Oh my god, Kouda, you have blown my mind, I did not know you could rotate the map like that! I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have - wait, was that our stop? That was our stop! We missed -”
I miss you both, and grandpa. I know you said you’d visit, but you really don’t have to - it’s a long trip and the trains aren’t cheap, and besides, I can come home and visit you soon.
“This place is like a pig-sty! When was the last time anyone mopped this floor?” Ojiro had broken out into a sweat. Kouda felt tired just watching him. “Guys, my parents are going to be here in less than two hours, why are there still cobwebs up there? Kouda, I thought you told the spiders to stay away!”
Tokoyami looked up from his seat on the kitchen counter, where he was flipping through a magazine.
“Kouda says the spiders have unionised and are threatening to stop catching flies if we remove their webs.”
Ojiro swept past him, his tail ‘accidentally’ knocking Tokoyami’s magazine out of his hands.
“Maybe if you cleaned the dirty dishes in your room, there wouldn’t be any flies in the first place.”
“Dark Shadow likes the ambience.”
“Dark Shadow’s a lazy slob.”
“Yes, he and I have had words about that.”
Ojiro shoved the broom into Tokoyamis’ hands.
“Sweep. Like your life depends on it. Because it does.”
In the doorway, Shouji wiped a feather duster over the lintel.
“Ojiro, the place is clean enough. And your parents are hardly going to inspect everyone’s bedrooms.”
“Yeah, that’s what they want you to think.” Having delegated the sweeping, Ojiro switched to spraying the kitchen surfaces with spray-cleaner. “But my father would find dust in an operating theatre, and and threaten to cut off the surgeon’s allowance for it.”
“You don’t have an allowance.”
“He’ll find something to cut off.”
“See, this is why I don’t invite my parents to visit.”
Kouda interrupted them all with a powerful sneeze. They all turned, startled, as he succumbed to a second, then a third.
“Too much dust?” Shouji asked. He nodded. “You should go upstairs out of the way.”
As he climbed the stairs, he heard Ojiro scolding Tokoyami once more.
“See? That’s how much dust has built up. You made Kouda sick.”
“I would never!”
“You would and you did. Clean, birdman, or I’m going to let my mother see your room.”
But no matter how strange and new it all is, and no matter how far I am from home, I have my friends with me. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
The only light in Kouda’s room came from the streetlamp right outside his window. Downstairs, he could hear Sato rattling around in the kitchen, cleaning up his latest kitchen experiment. From the room across the hall, came the sound of Ojiro banging on the floorboards, annoyed by the sound of Sato cleaning up his latest kitchen experiment. From the room next to Kouda’s, Shouji’s meditation music filtered through the walls, as Shouji tried to drown out the sound of Sato cleaning up and Ojiro banging on the floorboards.
His futon was spread out at the very edge of his room, and he sat up, a pile of cushions between him and the wall. Tokoyami lay beside him, his head in Kouda’s lap.
“You lived underneath Shouji in the dorms in first year. Did he play his music so loud back then?”
“Thicker walls,” Kouda whispered. His fingers stroked slowly over the black fluff at the nape of Tokoyami’s neck.
“At least I’m not due at work until tomorrow afternoon.” Tokoyami stretched, and turned so that he could look up at Kouda. “How about you?”
They sat a while longer, as Ojiro left his room and went to knock on Shouji’s door to complain about the music.
“There is a way we could drown out the noise,” Tokoyami said, reaching out for Kouda’s free hand.
Kouda looked at him, waiting for an explanation.
“Really loud sex.”
Their laughter brought footsteps to Kouda’s door. They apologised profusely to Ojiro, promising they would try to go to sleep as soon as they could.
I miss you all, and I’ll try to write more frequently.