~Seven years after the end of Uncomfortable Truths~
"Excuse me! Miss! We're ready for our check!"
"I'll be right there!"
Aihara Yuzu waved at the customers who were waving her down and smiled, pleased to see the restaurant so busy.
It'd been seven years since she'd agreed to open this restaurant with Udagawa, with her running this one while Udagawa ran the other one five stops away.
It had taken a long time for them to find an appropriate spot for this restaurant finally, but when they did they both knew instantly that they'd found the perfect place. It was close enough to the train station to garner them decent foot traffic, but not so close that any noise coming from the station would annoy the customers seeking to relax and luckily for them
Like the one she'd worked at in her youth, there was a long counter with several plush chairs, along with tables, chairs, and booths for those looking to stay longer, on top of a more casual dress code. Thankfully, this change in dress code had worked to the restaurants benefit as the relaxed atmosphere appealed to many high school and college kids, ensuring that they were never short of customers or people looking for part-time time work and kept Yuzu busy most of the time.
But even with a steady customer base, that didn't mean they didn't have their slow periods, usually around the beginning of exams and for the past two months, they'd had a large enough lull in business that Yuzu had to cut her staff early most nights. Thankfully, it was summer break and since exams were over her customers now had more free time which allowed her to offer overtime to those workers old enough to stay late and a few of them took her up on it, though not enough to keep her from working the front of the house.
While she was more than happy enough to help her staff, Yuzu's back had other ideas and thanks to the twinges of pain did little to improve her mood. Thankfully, it was almost time to begin the closing prep, and she was looking forward to going home to a nice hot bath before joining her family for dinner.
Yuzu had been looking forward to this dinner for a while as they would be celebrating Hideki's birthday along with him heading away for the summer to take part in a month-long college preparatory camp. On top of that everyone from Rena, Udagawa, and their kids would be there along with her parents.
" Miss!? We're still waiting for our check!"
Yuzu finished taking the customers she'd been helping and dropped off their order before handing the noisy customers their total.
"I'm sorry about that," Yuzu said with a cheery but strained smile. "It's been a while since we've been this busy and I got a little distracted. If you'd like I can give you two each a complimentary cup of coffee to go, how's that sound?"
The man and woman both stared up at her in amazement, which wasn't surprising given that she was closing in on forty and working the front of a cafe, but it usually was because of people recognizing her thanks to the picture she kept up identifying her as the owner.
"Umm, that sounds lovely," said the woman taking the slip of paper from Yuzu and began looking it over.
"Same order to go or would you like something different? I recommend our iced latte; we have a nice bitter blend that we've been selling for a while but we have this new blend we just got in that has a hint of strawberry and chocolate somehow mixed in. It's surprising, but not overpowering."
"The second one, for both of us," asked the man to his companion. "Sounds like a nice change of pace, right dear?"
The woman nodded and handed Yuzu the money before and began looking out the window.
With a smile and a nod, Yuzu took care of their bill and coffee and thanked them before returning to the window to pick up another order, but when she went to pick up the tray a violent jolt shot up her back, nearly causing her to drop the tray, catching the attention of several customers and her employees.
"Are you okay, Aihara-san," asked a young woman named Kumiko that had been working for her the past couple of years. "Is it your back again?"
"Yeah," answered Yuzu through a series of heavy breaths. "I'll be fine just...just gimme a minute."
"No you won't," answered the woman with an icy glare while placing a firm grip on the tray, "and neither will we if Mei-san finds out that we allowed you to work in this condition. I'll tell the others what's going on so shoo."
"All right," chuckled Yuzu, feeling slightly embarrassed at the looks the customers were giving her, the owner, being bossed around by a woman several years her junior. "Just promise you'll come and get me when Mei shows up, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," grunted the younger woman as she lifted the heavy tray. "Now go sit before I have the assistant manager drag you back."
"Fine," groaned Yuzu as she headed toward the back. When she reached the door, Yuzu couldn't resist turning to make sure the customers were okay with the change. After seeing them smile at the younger woman, Yuzu headed toward her office.
"Man, sometimes I wonder which one of us is the boss," groaned Yuzu as she dropped into her large comfy chair and stared up at the ceiling while her back continued to throb. "But when she's right, she's right."
Opening the drawer, Yuzu pulled out a small bottle containing a couple of muscle relaxers and proceeded to break one in half. After swallowing one half and bottling the other, Yuzu pushed the chair out just enough so that she could put her feet up on the desk and once she was settled she stared around her office and let out a loud bored sigh. Even though it was close to closing time, Yuzu hardly had anything to do since she'd already caught up on her paperwork for the week and needed to figure out what to do until Mei arrived.
Picking up her phone, Yuzu began flipping through all of her messages, hoping that somebody had messaged her, but there had been nothing since she'd messaged Harumi earlier that morning and she'd been too busy to talk to anyone, including Mei. Outside of a quick breakfast and a kiss goodbye, they hadn't had much of a chance to talk over the past few weeks. Usually, this would have been fine, since Yuzu normally took Saturday afternoons and Sunday off, so she and Mei had the chance to go on a date or spend time with the kids. But lately, Mei had been too swamped even to take Saturdays off, leaving the younger woman too drained to do more than read a book and take a bath when she did manage to get a day off.
I'll make us breakfast in bed tomorrow, thought Yuzu before setting her phone down on her chest and reclining once more. Maybe omelettes and fruit, I think she'd like that.
Rubbing her eyes, Yuzu let out a loud yawn and glanced at the clock and figured that since she had half an hour before she had to help with closing and to prepare for the following day, she may as well set her alarm and try and take a nap. Letting out one last yawn, Yuzu placed a spare towel on her face and closed her eyes, allowing herself to fall into the inky blackness of sleep before feeling a gentle touch on her shoulder
"What the…," shouted Yuzu when she felt a finger on her neck; her violent awakening sending her toppling to the floor.
On top of the dulled pain in her back, Yuzu felt a jolt of pain through her shoulder and head as she hit the concrete, followed by the sound of a familiar voice asking her if she was all right.
Yuzu pulled the pulled the towel off her face and winced at the renewed pain in her back as well as her eyes and head.
"Mei, what...what time is it? What are you doing here?"
"It's after eight," sighed Mei helping Yuzu up off the floor. When she was up, Yuzu noticed the concerned look Mei was giving her and felt her cheeks grow warm when she felt Mei's hand begin inspecting her back and forehead. As Mei examined her, Yuzu couldn't help but notice the faint hints of gray that had appeared Mei's formerly sleek, shiny black hair, and the small wrinkles that were forming across her face, but unlike Yuzu, Mei didn't try to hide it behind make up or hair-dye and Yuzu found her all the more beautiful for it.
"Yuzu are you listening to me?" Mei's face went from completely worried to mildly annoyed, and Yuzu's face turned even redder when she realized that while she saw Mei's mouth moving she hadn't bothered to absorb a single thing her wife had said.
"Uhh, I may have gotten a little distracted," laughed Yuzu as she scratched her head. "Do you think you could repeat it for me?"
Mei gave out an exasperated sigh, but before she began speaking, Yuzu couldn't help but notice the small smile that flashed across her face before her face reset to its usual stoic look.
"I said that it's after eight and that I'm here because we agreed that I'd come to pick you up and Kumiko-san said you were back here because your back was bothering you again. I've been trying to wake you up for the past ten minutes so I could check on you, but you were rather out of it, and when I managed to finally wake you up, you fell, and you know the rest."
"Yeah, sleeping like that was a bad idea," chuckled Yuzu as she rubbed her shoulder, wincing at the pain that shot through it.
"Well that's your fault," snorted Mei as she stared around at the mess Yuzu's fall had made and began cleaning up. "I've warned you against doing that, but you can't seem to break yourself of it can you?"
"Sort of." Yuzu carefully lowered herself to the ground and started helping. "I don't do it as often as I used to, but I took a muscle relaxer to help my back and fell asleep before I could fix it."
"Then I urge you to avoid taking the pill next time," snorted Mei, though Yuzu could see another smile spread across her face. "Or better yet, avoid taking naps at work. Not only will you avoid problems like this and you'll set a better example for your employees."
"You're one to talk," laughed Yuzu as she finished placing her papers, pens, and pencils on her desk. "How many times have I come to the school in the middle of the day to find you dozing in your office? Or what about all the times when we came home from school, and I'd find you sprawled out on the bed, half dressed, or what about when you used to fall asleep on the couch in nothing but a bathrobe, and I had to cover you up before the kids saw you?"
"I never said I was perfect," chuckled Mei after putting her stack of books and papers away. She'd been to the office enough to know that while it looked disorganized and haphazard, Yuzu did have a system in place, even if it didn't make much sense to her. "I was simply offering you advice. Yuzu?"
Yuzu smirked when she felt Mei's body stiffen at the sudden sensation of her arms around her wife's stomach and couldn't resist kissing the back of Mei's neck, her nostrils filling with the familiar floral scent of Mei's shampoo urging Yuzu to bury her face into the silky black strands.
"Yuzu, we're in the restaurant, what if someone comes in?"
"Just for a minute, please" whispered Yuzu, feeling the small sting of tears in her eyes when she felt Mei's hands on hers. "I miss you, Mei."
"I know you do," answered Mei, her shoulders slumping as she spoke. "I miss you too, Yuzu. I promise we'll have more time together soon. Perhaps we could ask Mother and Father to take Airi for a couple of nights and go on a few dates before our vacation? My schedule is going to be clear for the next few days, so perhaps we can ask them to take her tomorrow after we take Hideki to the airport? Or if they can't, we could ask Udagawa and Rena. I know Hina has been missing her and Reo will be lonely without Hideki to bother."
"I'd like that," replied Yuzu, wiping the tears away before Mei turned around, pulling her into a warm hug. "I'm sorry if I sound needy. I think with Hideki leaving for the summer; I'm starting to feel that, 'empty-nest' thing people talk about when their kids grow up."
"Empty-nest syndrome," said Mei with a chuckle. "I suppose that's part of it. He's graduating soon, and he's already been accepted into his first choice school, so it was bound to happen. Even if he is living at home, between his school work, job, and dance competitions, we're going to be seeing even less of him. He'll probably even get a girlfriend."
"Yeah," said Yuzu with a smile, her hand resting on the back of Mei's neck and applying just enough pressure to pull Mei's forehead to hers. "Our little boy is growing up, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"There's nothing we ever could have done about it," countered Mei before kissing Yuzu's forehead and stroking her hair. "The same goes with Airi and the others, but the good news is that we will have the house to ourselves again once they're adults and since Hideki will be gone, it will mean fewer people over which means more time for you and me to be alone."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you've been waiting for this to happen." Yuzu stepped away from Mei and gave her a knowing smirk. "Mrs. Aihara, are you having naughty thoughts?"
"N..no," coughed Mei turning her gaze from Yuzu's though Yuzu couldn't help but notice the redness in her ears. "I was simply thinking about how nice it would be to have some privacy. You know that Hideki's friends tend to congregate at our house and I was merely commenting on the fact that fewer children in the house means less noise and more privacy."
"All right," laughed Yuzu in disbelief before stepping away to answer the phone on her desk, "but in case you forgot, we still have one kid at home with the same ability to walk in on us at the wrong moment."
"How could I forget," sighed Mei with the same look she'd given Yuzu that morning when Airi knocked on their door, crying about a nightmare she'd had and interrupting their first chance at anything more than a kiss or a hug in the past several weeks.
Shaking her head, Yuzu picked up the receiver and politely asked, "Hello? This is Aihara Yuzu, how can I help you?"
"Habiki?" Yuzu's eyes narrowed at hearing the voice of Yui's oldest brother on the other end of the line and noticed a worried look grow across Mei's face at hearing the name.
While they weren't as close to Habiki as they were with Yui, they were still friendly with him and saw him on occasion. But the fact that he was a detective for the metropolitan police and calling them wasn't sitting well with Yuzu and when she saw the look of surprise on Mei's face, she knew something was wrong.
"Habiki," repeated Yuzu trying to sound calm, "is that you?"
"Yes it is, Yuzu-san," said Habiki with a dry chuckle. "It's been, and while I'd love to catch up this isn't meant to be a personal call, I'm afraid this call is more for business than pleasure."
"Is everything all right?" Yuzu's hands were shaking at what could have led to him needing to call her, and if it wasn't for Mei walking over to support her, she was sure she would have fallen to the ground. "Did something happen?"
"It's nothing too serious," sighed Habiki just as Yuzu turned the speakerphone on. She and Mei could hear the creaking of his chair and the sound of people in the background. "But I'm gonna need either you or Mei-san to come by my station. I tried her number but she wasn't answering."
"She's here with me," answered Yuzu nodding at Mei.
"Habiki, I'm here," said Mei her voice giving off only the slightest hint of a waver. "What's happened? Is it the kids? Our parents?"
"It's a little complicated," answered Habiki nervously. "But the short story is that well, Hideki got into a fight with a couple of kids on the way home with Airi. Luckily I was nearby on my break and happened to stop it. I've gotten his and the other kid's statements, though none of them gave us much so, we're going to let them off with a warning. I called Udagawa-san when I didn't get you on your mobiles, and while I can let Hideki leave with him, I'm going to need one or both of you to retrieve Airi as you're her legal guardians."
"You have our daughter at the police station," asked Mei quietly a sense of dread running through her.
Mei's face twisted with worry and when she looked to her wife, she watched Yuzu gripped the side of her desk, her arms shaking at the news before slamming her palm down on the table and whispering, "I'm gonna kill him."
"I'm sorry, I am," said Habiki quietly. "But I don't want you to worry, we have her in a special room designed for kids, and she's well away from anyone or anything you might consider dangerous, and it's not too far from the entrance. We gave her some snacks, and she's been spending her time with a couple of officers who are trained for this kind of situation, and we're letting her keep her violin. I stopped by a little while ago to check on her, and she's keeping them entertained. Honestly, I was surprised as them to hear how good she is. But, I promise you we are handling this situation as best we can, but I need you two to come and get her, soon. I know you were supposed to have a party tonight to celebrate him leaving, but..."
"We understand," said Mei, who despite sounding calm, was as visibly upset as Yuzu. "We'll be there shortly."
"Thank you," squeaked Habiki before coughing and repeating in his normal voice, "thank you. I'll tell them you're on your way."
"We'll see you soon." Yuzu pressed the disconnect button and ran a hand through her hair and grabbed her bag while Mei continued to look calm but Yuzu could tell by how her hands were wringing her purse strap Yuzu was afraid to see what would happen when they got to the police station.
"You ready," asked Yuzu once she made sure she had everything.
"Yes," said Mei icily, sending a shiver down Yuzu's spine. "Come on, let's get this over with."
When they arrived at the police station, Yuzu was glad that they were able to find a parking spot close to the entrance. Her anger had subsided a little during the drive, but the fact that Airi was in there on top of Hideki was pushing her so close to the edge that her knuckles had turned white from gripping the steering wheel so hard.
"Yuzu," whispered Mei, her fingers rubbing against the top of Yuzu's hand, causing her to jump.
"It's all right," said Mei quietly without losing a beat, taking her wife's hand and holding it. "Everything will be all right."
"I know," said Yuzu, leaning back and staring at her wife, amazed once again at how calm Mei could be under pressure. "I'm just frustrated. I know it's probably not as bad as I'm making it seem, but this is...I don't know. I just never expected this from him, after all the time we spent telling him not to pull crap like this, what does he do? He's not a little kid anymore. I mean I understood it back then when people teased him for dancing and having us as moms, we expected it. But he's going to be eighteen next year, and if he pulls something like this while he's away for the summer, he can kiss his recommendations goodbye, if he hasn't lost them already thanks to the report they gotta file. What's so funny?"
"You sound like me," chuckled Mei dryly, wrapping her hand around Yuzu's and squeezing. "Worrying about things like college recommendations."
"Yeah, well, I guess I'm getting old," Yuzu smirked while Mei frowned.
"I see, so you think I'm old," snorted Mei gripping Yuzu's hand a little tighter and causing Yuzu's smile to falter, "and here I thought it was simply because you loved our kids."
"I'm kidding Mei," winced Yuzu trying to return Mei's grip but failed. "You know I think you're as pretty as you've always been."
"Flattery will only get you so far," whispered Mei, her ears turning red.
"It's better than nothing," Yuzu leaned in and gave Mei a soft kiss before pressing their foreheads together. "I'm sorry for losing my cool. I'm just worried about them, you know?"
"I understand." Mei's hand tightened around Yuzu's so much that the blonde felt like her fingers would break. "Believe me, I understand. But if we go in there and cause any more problems, especially if the two people involved are there along with their parents assuming they're around Hideki's age, then we can't afford to lose our tempers. I am just as angry as you are, but promise me you'll keep calm."
"But Mei, Airi is..."
"Promise me, Yuzu." Mei's hand gripped Yuzu's so tightly that the blonde thought her wedding ring would cut into her finger. "They're both our children, and they have their whole lives ahead of them, remember? What we do and say can affect them as much, if not more, than how their actions affect us. So please don't lose your temper, especially in front of Airi."
"All right." Yuzu nodded her head and took a few deep breaths before turning her hand around and holding Mei's hand. "I promise not to lose my temper, not that I ever really do, but I promise to keep my cool. I just thought we were past all this with him, you know? He's been doing so well with school, and his dancing, hell he's even balancing a part-time job on the weekends. Just...I don't…."
"I know, Yuzu." Mei lifted her wife's hands to her lips and kissed it. "But we need to be patient because believe me it is taking every ounce of my self-control not to go in there and join you in shouting at him."
"At least I'm not alone in that," chuckled Yuzu earning her a smile from Mei.
"I'm glad you finally remembered," smirked Mei before nodding at the door to the station. "All right, let's get in there because if we don't, I don't think we're ever going to make it home."
Upon entering the station, Mei and Yuzu headed to the desk where they found a pleasant looking man sorting through paperwork and occasionally offering advice and directions to people who looked as nervous and upset as them.
"He...hello," said Yuzu nervously catching the man's attention.
"Good evening," said the man politely staring at the pair of them, "this is an unusual sight, what can I do for you two ladies?"
"We're here to see Detective Sato," said Mei shakily. "He called us about an incident involving Udagawa Hideki and a young girl named Aihara Airi?"
"Ah," the man nodded understandably and sighed. "He told me to expect you two. Your son is a bit further down the hall in the detective's bullpen along with his father, and your daughter is in one of the rooms down the same hallway," he pointed to the hallway to the right, "third door down. Would you like me to show you?"
"I think we'll manage," said Mei, noticing the anxious look on Yuzu's face. "Thank you for your help."
"Of course." The man gave a polite nod while Mei and Yuzu began their march down the hallway.
It was mostly empty, with the occasional officer walking by and smiling or nodding politely, which they both attempted to return only to look like they both had severe neck problems, instead of seeming polite. Neither of them had ever been in a police station before, at least not one like this. There had been times when they'd stopped by a koban to ask for directions or to grab Hideki or Airi if they'd gotten separated, but never for something like this.
As they walked, Mei's hand gripped Yuzu's and couldn't help but wonder what went on inside these halls. Despite the pristine walls, bright lights, and smiling faces, Mei wondered what other things went on here, the kind of people that were brought in, gangsters, petty criminals, even murderers. Her heart was pounding, and her hand was shaking, and Mei needed something keep her mind off the thoughts that were blitzing through her head, about how Hideki's future would turn out because of this and how scared Airi must be. She wanted to ask Yuzu how she was feeling but didn't notice her wife was behind her until she noticed Yuzu's hand pulling her back.
"What's the matter," asked Mei when she saw the constipated look on Yuzu's face. "Yuzu, what's wrong?"
Yuzu responded by placing a finger to her lips and tilted her head in the direction of a door a few feet behind them. Counting them, Mei realized that her wife was pointing at the third door on the right and strained her ears to try and hear what it was that Yuzu had noticed. It took a moment, but she finally heard it, the low familiar muffled vibrations of a violin emanate from the door.
Tugging on Mei's arm, Yuzu led her to the door and when they arrived they pressed their ears against it just in time to hear the sounds of two people applauding and a small voice giggle.
Motioning for Mei to keep quiet, Yuzu quietly turned the doorknob and cautiously pushed the door open just enough for them to see a small almost seven-year-old girl, with almond skin, bright green eyes, long black curly hair, dressed in jean shorts and a tee-shirt emblazoned with a magical girl on it, smiling sheepishly while clutching a violin in her right hand and its bow in her left.
"That was very pretty, Airi-chan," said a young male officer and crouching down in front of her. "You must practice a lot to play so well."
"Uh huh," answered Airi when a female officer appeared with the case and a rag both Mei and Yuzu recognized as the one their daughter used to clean her violin. "I practice every day and go to music school two times a week while Hideki does dancing. He's really good too. He does ballet, stuff called ballroom, and he has shoes that have metal on the bottoms and make clacking sounds. He has a bunch of trophies too, a lot more than me."
"How many do you have," asked the female officer, watching as Airi finished cleaning her violin and began putting it away.
"I have three!" Airi held up her fingers, a huge smile on her face. "Only one's first place though. A lot of Hideki's are first and second place, but I'm gonna get a lot more."
"I'm sure you will," said the man sincerely. "You're very talented, and if you keep practicing, I'm sure you'll win a lot of trophies and make your brother and parents very proud."
"Thanks!" Airi giggled as she locked her case and picked it up. "Umm, I'm gonna put my violin next to my bag, okay?"
Both Mei and Yuzu chuckled at the sight of Airi skipping along, her violin case clutched in her tiny hands as Yuzu's smile spread across her face, both of their hearts lightening at the look until they both noticed her face drop briefly.
Upon seeing this, Yuzu pushed the door open a little more, causing it to creak and make Airi gasp in surprise and look up, her smile returning when she saw Yuzu and Mei's faces staring back at her.
The violin case dropped to the floor, and Airi ran forward, jumping into Yuzu's waiting arms and begin nuzzling her head in her mother's chest.
"Hi, Kiddo," smiled Yuzu, burying her face her daughter's thick hair as she held her tight to her chest. "It's so good to see you, Mommy and I were scared you got hurt."
"I did get hurt, Mama." Airi pulled back and pulled up the leg of her shorts to show off a freshly bandaged knee. "I fell, but Habiki-san helped me up before stopping the fight and a nice lady at the where we bought the candy from put this on me, so it doesn't hurt as much."
"Did you thank her," asked Mei as she and Yuzu inspected the bandage, impressed by how clean the work was.
"Uh huh," said Airi, giggling as Mei accidentally tickled the back of her knee. "Stop Mommy!"
"I'm sorry." Mei put Airi's foot down and pulled her close, hugging her tightly. "I'm sorry you had to see that."
"But I'm okay, Mommy," said Airi, confused but glad that Mei was hugging her. "Hideki's face had blood on it, and one of his eyes is purple. He's also got blood on his hands. It's kinda gross."
"I bet," sniffed Yuzu before standing up and straightening her clothes before bowing to the officers. "Thank you for taking care of her. We're sorry for the inconvenience."
"It's why we're here," said the woman while the man approached with a tablet and a stylus. "She 's tvery sweet, but you may want to go slow with asking her questions. Even though she wasn't directly involved in the fight it's possible she could have a delayed reaction so keep an eye on her."
"Of course." Yuzu took the tablet and signed it before handing it Mei who followed suit before bowing in return.
"We appreciate your hospitality and your concern," said Mei as she helped Airi pick up her instruments and while handing Yuzu the backpack.
"It was our pleasure," answered the man, setting aside the tablet before joining his co-worker in a polite bow. "Airi-chan be good for your moms and take care of your brother and make sure you keep practicing."
"Yep!" Airi and her moms returned the bow and waved bye to them before grabbing her mother's hands and heading out into the hall in search of her brother.