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|Chapter Two: Nanaki|
March 11, 2014
Nanaki Jintaro sat up sharply in bed when her father's voice, for the third time and now at the foot of the stairs, bellowed once again.
"Get down here now or you get no breakfast!"
A decidedly pretty face with a slightly upturned nose and full, expressive lips peeped out from a curtain of dark brown hair so long it flowed past her shoulders, down her back, and fanned out to hang over each side of the bed. Nanaki smacked her lips and scratched her armpit, struggling with Herculean effort to come fully awake. She lost the battle and turned to lay down again on her side, only to discover she was rolling right off the bed. Gravity did what her father could not, and she finally woke up with a grunt of pain.
Ten minutes later she was downstairs. Her hair had been done up hastily, pulled back away from her face and secured with a green headband, and also wound into two buns on each side of her head. She was dressed in her school uniform: brown blazer, green blouse, and brown pleated skirt, with thick baggy socks that covered her legs from just under the knee to her ankles. Green Mary Jane shoes completed the outfit.
"Morning, Daddy," she said.
The elder Jintaro didn't acknowledge the greeting. He was at the stove, cooking up the last of ploverbat eggs and chickenhog bacon. He was a huge man, with broad shoulders, defined biceps, and the squat power typical of a Ba Sing Saian. He wore a thick beard and long hair, in the style of his father and grandfather. When Nanaki sat down he approached the table, unceremoniously dropping the plate of food in front of her as she poured herself a small glass of juice. He turned toward his other child.
Otoshi Jintaro was much like his father in build, a bit larger in the gut perhaps, but his facial features were strikingly similar to Nanaki's. Otoshi was shoveling food into his mouth at an alarming rate, and stopped this task only when his father set down a gaily wrapped box in front of him.
"Happy birthday, son," Jintaro said.
Otoshi eagerly grabbed the box and combine harvested his way through the wrapping paper. Inside was a sleek red sports car in a clear box, with a large white handheld remote attached. The boy crowed.
"A Satoshi 2500 ZX remote controlled! Thanks, Dad!"
Nanaki smiled as her twin received and opened his gift, and looked up hopefully at her father. But he was away from the table, scrubbing the pots and pans at the sink. Her heart broke. She looked sadly across the table at Otoshi again.
"Happy birthday," she said softly, ignoring how he stuck his tongue out at her afterwards.
Twenty minutes later she was walking down the boulevard, her thoughts far away. So engrossed was she in her own little universe that she failed to realize that she had drifted out into the street. The blare of a car horn and a shriek of watch it, kid snapped her to her senses. She leaped back onto the sidewalk as the Satomobile careened past. She watched it turn a corner ahead and resumed her going nowhere at a leisurely pace walk.
"Nanaki! Hey, Nannie! Wait up."
Nanaki turned and couldn't help but smile. Only one person in the world called her Nannie, and that was Yi. Her best friend was sprinting down the length of the sidewalk toward her now, dressed in an identical ensemble save that her jacket was festooned with an array of buttons, each one with a different saying printed on it. Yi collected.
Yi caught up, and the two began walking together. Nanaki found herself having to pour on the speed to match the bundle of energy that was Yi, but her smile faded.
"How come you aren't on the bus?" she asked.
Yi smiled. "Because I waited for you. You walked right past me and ignored me when I said hi. I've been calling you for like ten minutes. No, more like three but still. You're in space this morning."
Nanaki felt mortified. She gave Yi a very sincere apology, but offered no explanations. She fell silent and her pace started to slow again as she recounted the events at the breakfast table to herself. Yi watched her, her own smile slowly fading as she began to suspect what might have happened.
"Your dad forgot your birthday again, didn't he?" she asked.
"No," came the reply, saddled with a heavy disappointment. "He just ignored it."
Yi scowled for a moment, storm clouds gathering in her mood. She never could understand how a man could treat his only daughter that way. Yi had a famous relationship with her own dad, and he had never been able to sufficiently explain what might make a father feel nothing for his daughter. But she smiled again and looped both of her arms around one of Nanaki's.
"Well so what?" she chimed. "After school I'll take you to Miss Chu's tea shop for cake and a game of Pai Sho. I'll give you my present then, too. How does that sound?"
Nanaki brightened noticeably. "You got me a present?"
"Of course I did, silly. You didn't think I'd forget your birthday, did you?"
Nanaki smiled, and vocalized her thought that no, she supposed Yi wouldn't. Yi's grin and laughter dug deep into Nanaki's sorrow, biting and clawing until it had chased the demon out, until the two girls were strolling along and laughing together. Nanaki was really, really glad for Yi.
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