A New School
Takashi was sure that he was going to hate his new school. He already hated how none of his friends were here, hated how he didn't know the teachers, hated how there were at least twelve million steps to go up and down on his way there, and hated how he had to stand in front of the class while the teacher introduced him. He mumbled a "nice to meet you all" after the requisite awkwardness, and the teacher told him he could sit next to Morooka-kun.
During lunch, Morooka took Takashi in hand and introduced him to everyone else in the class, all in a rush. "And here's Mariko and Yukie and over in the corner is Satoshi and Kenji and Kosuke and there's Aoi and Misaki and…" Takashi wasn't quite sure how he was supposed to remember everyone. Oh, man, was Morooka still talking? How many kids were there? This class was huge. "…and Ayane and there's Kosuke who's spending lunch drawing Ultraman like a loser again."
Kosuke blinked and looked up at the sound of his name. He pointed out, "At least I can draw, unlike certain other people." He finished up the drawing, signing his name at the bottom and giving it to Takashi. "Here you go. It's you and Ultraman and you're fighting Ghatanothoa."
"Wow, thanks!" Takashi said. "You even got my hair right!" He tried to sound out the scrawled kanji at the bottom. "Chi…or is it Sa…?"
"It's Koiwai. Koiwai Kosuke."
In Takashi's third year of middle school, he hit his growth spurt. He'd heard of the phrase "growing pains" before, but had no idea that it was so literal until he found himself lying awake at night, aching to his bones as his body stretched out. Sometimes, when he couldn't sleep, he'd strain his ears to try and see if he could hear himself growing (he never could).
"Takeda, we're going to have to get you a new name at this rate," Morooka said one day at lunch. It was a summer day, and they were exercising their privileges as third-years to sit on the roof in an attempt to get out of the stuffy classroom and catch something of a breeze.
"Mm?" Takashi asked around a mouthful of curry rice.
"I mean, seriously, a guy like you, called Takeda Takashi — it's too boring, too plain. You need, like, a code name or something."
Suggestions poured out of their friends, increasingly exuberant, until one of them burst out, "Gigantor!"
"I'm not a giant robot, Tsuchiya, what the heck," Takashi said.
"How about Jumbo?" Koiwai suggested, remembering a vocabulary word from their latest English test.
"Jan-bo," Takashi echoed, trying out the foreign word. "I like it."
"It's the name of a big elephant, which make sense, since you're as clumsy as a big old elephant," Koiwai said, grinning.
Takashi shoved him. "I'll elephant you."
The next day, elephant noises greeted him as he walked the hallways, until Koiwai punched one of the guys doing it. "I'm the only one who gets to make fun of him," Koiwai declared.
Takashi swallowed down a protest, because being defended like that was kind of nice.
When Jumbo got the call from Koiwai that he was back from his trip abroad, he told him that he'd drop by as soon as he was done with work at the flower shop. It had been months since he'd seen Koiwai, and it had been increasingly difficult to get ahold of him as the trip went on. When Jumbo did manage to actually talk to him, Koiwai sounded distracted, preoccupied with something. Hopefully he hadn't met someone. Jumbo did not want to talk his friend through a moping period of lost love with a foreign hottie.
Much as Koiwai talked about getting his own place, freelancing as a translator still wasn't bringing in enough for him to move out on his own (Jumbo also suspected that the high quality of his mother's cooking had something to do with it). So it came as no surprise that Mrs. Koiwai answered the door. It did come as a surprise that she was startled to see him there. "Ah, Takashi-kun! I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were coming, the place is a little bit chaotic right now."
"Don't worry about it, Koiwai-san. I know that unpacking from such a big trip leaves a mess everywhere until you get all your laundry done and stuff. Er…didn't your son tell you I was coming?"
"He might've, but, oh, I don't know, it's entirely possible I've forgotten with everything that's going on. You see…"
Just then, Jumbo heard his friend shout, "Rawr!" followed by a childish shriek. Koiwai rounded the corner into the hallway, wearing a pair of boxers on his head, and stomping after a giggling, small girl with — was that green hair?
"Hey, Koiwai," Jumbo said, waving.
Koiwai stopped mid-stomp, and turned, startled. "Jumbo? What are you doing here?"
"I called you earlier, don't you remember?"
"Oh, crap. Right."
"Nice hat," Jumbo said, gesturing towards the shorts.
"Ah, yeah. I'm…er…Boxerman."
"It's a good look on you," Jumbo said.
The little girl ducked into the hallway, squeezed past Koiwai, and gaped up at Jumbo. "Huge!" she exclaimed.
"Yotsuba-chan, don't be rude," Mrs. Koiwai said.
Jumbo dropped down on one knee so he could look the girl in the eye. "Yotsuba, is that your name?"
"It's a very nice name. It matches your hair."
"Yotsuba, like a four-leaf clover. Like your pigtails," Jumbo said, gesturing at her hairstyle.
"Ahahaha, yeah! What's your name?"
"It's a pleasure to meet you," she said formally. "You have a nice name, too."
"Thank you," Jumbo said.
"Hey, Yotsuba," Koiwai said, pulling the boxers off his head and leaving his hair a disheveled mess. "Why don't you go and play with your blocks for awhile?"
Yotsuba gave him a deeply skeptical look that said that she wasn't fooled by this transparent ploy to leave the adults to talk. However, she heaved a sigh and said, "Okay," before heading off into a side room.
"So," Jumbo said, looking in the direction of the room Yotsuba had gone into.
"So," Koiwai echoed, smoothing down his hair, and beckoning Jumbo to follow him into the kitchen.
"So…whose kid is she?" Jumbo asked.
"Mine, I suppose," Koiwai said, rummaging in the fridge. "You want anything?"
"No thanks, I'm good. What do you mean, 'mine, I suppose'? She's not, like, actually yours, is she?"
"Well, the paperwork is still going through, but — oh — oh, no, not like that. I mean, geez, Jumbo, when on earth would I have had a kid? And with who? Have you ever even seen me with a girl?"
"I don't know, I have no idea what you were getting up to when you weren't here."
"Jumbo, look, Yotsuba's five years old, I clearly didn't father her in the two months I was gone."
"I — okay, right, that makes sense. Sorry," Jumbo said. "But seriously, Koiwai, a kid? I thought you were going over there to make business contacts, not to come back as a dad."
"Yeah, I didn't expect it either, but she's a good kid. Kind of a handful, but a ball of sunshine, still."
"Huh. Papa Koiwai. Now there's a weird phrase," Jumbo said.
"I'm still getting used to it myself."
"Yanda's gonna flip when he finds out."
"Oh, man, Yanda," Koiwai said. "Jeez, he's halfway to being a kid himself still."
"I know. Can you imagine him getting into an argument with a five-year old?"
"All too well."
"Well, hey," Jumbo said, clapping Koiwai on the back. "You know that if you need help with anything, you just have to ask."
"Thanks, I know. And I might need to borrow your van sometime soon."
"Yeah, I've got a lead on a house that's up for rent that'll be within my budget."
"I thought you said you couldn't afford to move out," Jumbo pointed out.
"I might've managed to make business contacts and bring back a daughter," Koiwai said.
"Well, look at you, Mr. Multitasker. You're welcome to the van, but it might not be big enough. I'll give you the phone number of a place that rents trucks. We had to use one when we moved my aunt last year."
"That'd be great, thanks."
"No problem. Hey, listen, I've gotta run, but seriously, whatever help you need, I'm there for you. Being a dad is a big responsibility."
A green-haired head poked around the kitchen doorway. "Daddy, come and see the tower I made. It's the tallest ever!"
"Daddy, eh?" Jumbo asked.
"Hush, you, didn't you say you had somewhere to go?" Koiwai asked.
"Yeah, yeah. See you later, Koiwai."
"Bye, Jumbo!" Yotsuba said, waving exuberantly.