Chop! Chop! Chop!
There was something so comforting in the rhythm of chopping wood, and Gora found himself falling into the rhythm of it, time slipping away from him.
Chop! Chop! Chop!
Excited yelling drew near from inside the bathhouse, and Gora smiled to himself as he knew that meant Yumoto had something to tell him.
It also meant the front desk was unattended, unless, by chance, Akihiko or Haruhiko had stopped by and agreed to stand in while Yumoto ran back. Three years out of high school and they were still working on that bad habit, but really, it didn’t hurt anything that his younger brother was so energetic.
The door slammed open, and there stood Yumoto, practically vibrating with excitement. “Big bro, big bro! Mama and Papa are home!”
Gora dropped his axe.
Blithely, Yumoto carried on, “Come see, come see! They want to see you!” Gora felt like his whole world had tilted on its axis, but he followed Yumoto inside, a habit from years of humouring his little brother ingrained in his body.
They made their way back to the front of the bathhouse, and sure enough, there they were. Their parents didn’t look too different from the last time Gora had seen them nearly fifteen years before, just a little older.
His mom flicked her long blonde hair over her shoulder and threw her arms around Gora, who stood stiffly. “Gora, darling! You’ve grown so well, what a handsome man you are!” She turned to their father, “Honey, can you believe it? Look how big our boys got!”
He smiled, easygoing and bright, “Well, it has been quite a while, sweetheart. Of course they’ve grown.”
She finally released Gora and sighed, “Oh, I know, but in my heart they’re still my little boys!”
She stepped back next to her husband, and Gora shifted uncomfortably next to Yumoto. They all stared at each other for a moment, and then Gora moved over behind the counter, shuffling through papers and things. Mostly, he was just trying to process the fact that his parents were here? And alive? After fifteen years gone and thirteen years of complete radio silence? It was… a lot to take in, and he didn’t really know what to do.
Yumoto was chattering away happily, and Gora was grateful for his inability to feel awkward in any situation. Maybe he could keep their parents occupied while Gora got himself under control.
“Gora,” his father spoke, breaking him out of his thoughts, “Is our room still cleared out? We thought we could stay here, but we didn’t know if you had repurposed the space.”
Oh, so there was some awareness that they’d been gone for a long time. Alright. “It’s not, we’ve been using it as an entertainment room for when Yumoto has friends over.”
“Ah, it’s no problem darling,” his mother burst back in, “We’ll book at a hotel then, is that new place across the street nice?”
“Actually, that’s a private residence, ma’am,” an icy cold voice cut in, and all four Hakones turned to see a tall young man standing in the doorway, hand on one hip and distinctly unimpressed. “You’ll have to find somewhere else to stay.”
Before his parents could react, Yumoto was squealing and had thrown himself across the room to embrace him. “Haru! You’re back early! We didn’t think you would be here until later this week!”
Haruhiko patted his shoulder calmly, “Yes, but we were able to wrap up earlier than expected. Aki will be around shortly, but he and Dadacha wanted to settle in back home first.”
Father tilted his head to the side, considering, and then said, “Gora, why does that young man look so familiar? And how do you know him?”
Before Gora could speak, Yumoto had whirled around again and exclaimed, “Oh! Haruhiko and his brother Akihiko are our neighbours—that’s their house you were asking about, Mama—and they’re some of our best friends, well really more like family, and they’ve lived there for five years! Oh! And you probably recognise him because—”
Haruhiko put a hand on Yumoto’s shoulder, and he stopped talking as his friend began, “Did you just call that woman Mama?”
Yumoto nodded furiously. “Yes! These are our parents, they’re back from their hot springs trip! I’m so excited you can all finally meet!”
“They’re back.” Haruhiko’s voice was flat, with a kind of disdainful disbelief that Gora wished he could convey.
“Yes!” Yumoto clapped his hands together, rocking back and forth on his feet.
“After fifteen years.” Gora noted that his parents looked at least a little uncomfortable.
“From their hot springs tour .” Haruhiko made eye contact with Gora, and he could only shrug helplessly.
“Yep yep yep!” Yumoto’s enthusiasm knew no bounds; he was very much like their mother in that way.
Indeed, she clapped her hands in much the same way Yumoto had moments earlier and said, “Well, my darlings, we just wanted to stop by. Of course we don’t expect anything tonight, as it’s such short notice, but we’d love to have dinner with you soon, and maybe we could treat you boys and all of Yumoto’s friends in a few days—you said they often came over? We’ll order delivery in, invite them all! Honey, let’s go!” They offered quick farewells and then swept out.
An awkward silence would have settled over the room had Yumoto not been vibrating with excitement. “Big bro, big bro! I’m going to message everyone, okay! We can have Mama and Papa over for dinner tomorrow, and we’ll have everyone over in two days, and that way this will all be out of the way before—” Yumoto cut himself off that time, glancing significantly and completely unsubtly at Haruhiko. The surprise birthday party (while totally predictable) would have been easier to pull off if the Beppus had been gone as long as they expected.
“That sounds great, Yumoto.” Gora smiled and Yumoto ran back into their private living quarters.
Haruhiko spoke then, “So, your parents.”
“Aki and I will make dinner for you and Yumoto tonight, come over after the bathhouse closes.”
“Oh no, you just got home, I was going to make something for you, you must be tired from the travel.”
Haruhiko’s tone sharpened in that way that brooked no disagreement, “But you didn’t know we would even be here today, and you don’t need to worry. And you know how Dadacha loves to cook.”
Gora sighed and then nodded, “Sure. We’ll be over. See you in a few hours, then.”
Haruhiko nodded firmly, red eyes glinting, then darted in and gave Gora a quick hug before he stepped back again. “I’ll fill Aki and Dadacha in. We’ll be here if you want to talk.”
Gora nodded again, and then Haruhiko slipped out the front doors.
What was his life right now?