They were all in his mother’s SUV heading towards the estate of the Saito Matriarch for his birthday celebration. Because of nerves, the three of them were actually quiet for the first few minutes before Takeshi asked, “You know… you never really answered me about why we are going out to Hiiobbasan’s place for this.”
His mothers shared a look and then his kasa turned in her seat to look at him to say, “It has to do with my family’s heritage. Turning sixteen is a sacred time to our Clan. Tonight is not just the night of your sixteenth birthday but also the night where you learn our family’s history and our oldest secrets. There are very special things that happen tonight that really do make a world of difference. Like I said… it is sacred.”
Takeshi looked a bit nervous and glanced worriedly at his mother. “Mom… you know all about this stuff… right?”
“Yes Take, I do. I learned all about this while your kasa and I were dating, when it was clear we were getting very serious about each other. Your kasa asked your Hiiobbasan for permission to tell me and then I was brought out here and told everything. That’s when I shared… secrets of my own, but your mom already knew them, the vixen.”
His kasa snorted in a very unladylike manner and cut her eyes over to her wife, “Vixen, hunh?”
“Did I lie?” was the flat response.
“Why do I feel like I am missing half this conversation?” asked Takeshi, feeling kind of left out of things for a change.
“Don’t worry Take. Just be yourself and everything will be fine tonight. I know that some of this will seem a bit odd, especially some of the Shinto parts, since there is not a lot of Shinto practiced in this area, but trust me, it will be okay. You know that your Hiiobbasan loves you, even if she can be a bit scary.” said her mother.
“My grandmother is not scary.” protested her kasa, pouting a little.
“Try this from my end and we’ll see.” countered her mother.
Takeshi looked out the window and just watched the scenery while his mothers continued to tease each other. It was comforting just listening to them. This was the sounds of happy life and helped make him less nervous and less stressed about his own life. His parents were very much in love and it made him want to be in love so much. They had been together forever and they had gotten married several times, once in a Shinto ceremony when they first brought it up, once in Canada, once in Massachusetts and then here in New York, once it was legal. They had all been fun ceremonies and he had fun as the ring bearer in three of them. This was his family. And now he had some strange Japanese thing to do out at the really nice compound, secluded, out in the woods, away from all other bits of civilization. That didn’t sound creepy at all… nothing at all like the premise of several dozen horror movies.
The trees surrounded them and they wove their way higher up into the mountains that ringed Ravencrest. This wasn’t his first trip up here to his Hiiobbasan’s place but it was certainly his most mysterious, as he knew very little about what was really going to go on. Maybe that did make some sense, being his birthday and all but still.
And what was this about learning about his family’s history? He knew it… right? He knew that the compound was old, built when the first members of the Saito clan arrived in the area in the late 1860’s, right around the founding of the town. The thing was, being Asian, they were kind of snubbed by a lot of the founding families, but money buys well and the Saitos seemed to seep into Ravencrest life silently, like the ninja they apparently were, if this really was a family tradition. This compound was the oldest Saito residence still around, as the family had lost some homes and businesses during the Internment back in the 40’s. The Locke Family had certainly had taken advantage of that situation, not that Takeshi cared, since no one he knew had done those things. The only Locke he had known was actually really nice, despite having Malice for a friend.
So now… now here he was, showing up at this old Japanese style high walled compound with his mothers, for his birthday, to celebrate with a family that seemed almost buried under a mysterious history, as there were artifacts whose stories could be traced back over a thousand years. How was a teenage boy supposed to relax and have fun when presented with that?
Finally, the car pulled up to the tall green and black wall with the slanted caps designed to make it more difficult for entry, but really just required a bit of practice to make it over, and the double wooden doors opened. One of the things the Takeshi was impressed about the place was the fact that the majority of the place, something like 95% was made without the iron nail that was prevalent at the time this was built. It was all wood construction, using natural materials for most everything. It was without any doubt in his mind, the greenest house in Ravencrest and the most unique.
Once inside the walls the orderly gardens were visible. The controlled hand of man was evident in its reproduction of the apparent wildness of nature but with subtle differences. It was a very soothing garden and Takeshi loved it. He remembered playing in it a lot when he was younger. Hide and seek as part of ninja training was an awesome experience and this garden was great for it. And it also had lots of spots that where equally excellent for meditation training. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into the planning of this garden and had been carefully tended over generations.
They rolled down the white gravel drive for several minutes until things opened up and then the house was revealed. It was an amazing multi-level house that looked like it would be far more comfortable in medieval Japan than in some odd little backwoods town in New York. The construction had been improved on over time, but it was still done in as traditional a manner as could be managed to keep the overall aesthetic. It was certainly one of the benefits of having lived in an area a long time and having arrived in a place when it was just getting started. The family had apparently gotten this land cheap and capitalized on it. This was also land that had gone untouched when all the madness in the 40s had happened. It was like this whole huge bit of property had been hidden when the government was seizing everything else.
They pulled into a parking spot next to a number of other cars. Based off the plates it looked like a few the out of state relatives had showed up for his birthday, which kind of surprised Takeshi. He wasn’t anybody important so why would people come from even somewhere as close as Skogshaven to visit let alone,… was that Aunt Chiharu car from Calfornia? Takeshi was not sure what to say as just this alone, just the cars had him stunned.
His mother turned in her seat after she had parked the car and noticed that he seemed a bit out of it, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
“Mom… why is everyone here?”
“It’s your birthday. This is a special event in the clan. Don’t you remember two years ago when there was a big party for your cousin Eri? There was a party for the kids and then there was a sacred Shinto ceremony for the adults. It is a family tradition.” replied his kasa with a smile.
“Well, so long as it’s tradition.” replied Takeshi, rolling his eyes.
They exited the car and got their bags out of the trunk. They turned and saw his great grandmother standing there at the door in a kimono, smiling down at them. The three of them walked up and bowed to her, which she returned formally. Takeshi’s mother started off, saying, “Obaasan, how are you?”
“I am good Amane-chan. And how are you Grace?” The older woman asked, turning to face her
His mother bowed again. “I am doing quite well Obaasan. It is good to see you again.”
“Hello Sousobo.” Takeshi bowed, feeling a bit awkward suddenly. Doing things formally was not something he was used to, despite being trained to do it by his haha.
“Happy birthday Takeshi. I hope that you will enjoy the day’s festivities. Come let me take you to your rooms so you can get prepared for lunch. You will need your strength for the ceremony.” She
turned on her heels and they followed her up the steps and into the house. It was clear that she still kept with her training given how smoothly she moved for her age. Ninety year olds seldom moved so gracefully or so strongly.
They had nicer rooms this time then they usually did, as he was the birthday boy. This made him smile as they got a great view out into the gardens and the still unfrozen pool. The flowing water was helping with that, since the circulation kept it from freezing over as the mostly calm pool surrounded by snow was really neat to look at. He hoped that the koi were safe but was sure that the pond was deep enough that they would be fine. Once their stuff was put down in their separate sleeping areas and they had all changed into their yukatas, they headed towards the much larger family room where everyone was gathered.
A short way down the hall, his haha’s older sister Chiharu came up and hugged him tightly. “Oh… happy birthday Takeshi! I’ve missed you guys. Look at you, you’ve gotten so big. You guys need to come out to California. Pearson’s Creek is really nice and it’s just a short drive to Santa Cruz, San Jose or San Francisco. Santa Cruz is a lot of fun.”
“Maybe over the summer Aunt Chiharu. Would that be okay?” replied Takeshi, unsure what else to say. His moms weren’t much help as they were snickering at his discomfort.
“That would be great. Your cousins would love to see you. I didn’t bring them on this trip as between lots of school work and a really bad cold it wouldn’t have worked out. Your Uncle Arashi is watching them and is sorry he can’t make it but they all send their love.”
“So you drove here by yourself?”
“Yeah? So? I like driving. Ask you moms about the time we drove around one summer following Lillith Fair. We are all used to long drives.”
The glares that his mothers gave Aunt Chiharu at that were priceless. He had to wonder at that. His moms had followed Lillith Fair? Really? He turned and looked at them quizzically, clearly wanting more information about that.
His mom stared at him rather flat, giving away nothing. “What? It was a lot of crazy lesbians and hot rock girls… you do the math.”
This got Takeshi to blush rather brightly and examine the intricate wood flooring and the older women to chuckle at him for his clear discomfort at that image. He whined softly, “Mooommmm.”
That earned him a hug and a kiss to the forehead. Takeshi rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. Chiharu chuckled at that, “Awww, are your mommies picking on you again.”
“You have no idea Auntie Chiharu… it is so difficult living in the estrogen palace.”
“I can imagine.” replied his aunt with an overabundance of sympathy.
“I am trapped. surrounded in an ocean of lesbian waves. There really is no escape and I fear for my own safety. I need a man cave where I can retreat and do man things surrounded with the safety of testosterone.”
His kasa snorted at that so hard that it looked like it may have hurt herself, which got them all laughing. Chuckling, his mom just shook her head and said, “Man cave… oh my goddess. That was just wrong Takeshi.”
“Wow Takeshi, I didn’t think you had it in you to get my sister to do that. She is usually so put together and under control. To get her to snort like that… well timed my young padawan, Very well timed.” Chiharu hugged him around the shoulder.
“Thanks. You okay haha?”
His kasa was wiping tears from her eyes and rubbing the bridge of her nose when she replied as she chuckled, “Yes Take, I am fine. Oh… that hurt. Man cave… don’t do that again… I don’t know if I can survive… oh… my nose… man cave…”
“It’s okay sweetie. That was really funny and unexpected. It just caught me off guard is all.” His kasa hugged him and they continued their trek towards the rest of the waiting family.
“So Takeshi, got yourself a girlfriend yet?” The innocent question from his aunt had an immediate response as Takeshi froze in his tracks, shook slightly and sighed deeply.
His mom hugged him and started telling him it was going to be okay as all he could think about was how he was such a screw up and how he was never going to be able to see the girl of his dreams again and how he was a failure and why did he even write that damn poem and oh god he just needed to flee the town and he wasn’t worth anyone’s time as he was a loser and a failure and a fuckup and what was he even doing here celebrating when he was nothing be a complete chump. His kasa sighed and rubbed her forehead in frustration.
“Did I say something wrong?” Chiharu seemed a bit worried as she turned towards her younger sister.
His kasa briefly explained and then Chiharu joined in on the hug. Takeshi struggled to pull himself out of the funk, as the amount of hugging was getting a touch smothering but was helping in all honesty. “I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes mom, I’m sure. It’s just… the question surprised me and made me think of…. Uh… sorry.”
“It’s okay sweetie.” His mom smiled softly and ran her hand down his hair gently, trying to soothe him. “Do you want to still go see everyone or do you want to take a break for a little bit? Everyone will wait. You are the birthday boy after all.”
“No… I think I’m okay. Maybe the party will help take my mind off the ruin that is my life.” Takeshi sighed heavily and slumped his shoulders. The adults shared a somewhat helpless look and then headed back down the hallway towards where everyone else was.
Takeshi took a deep breath and tried to center himself like he had been taught. If he was going to make it through this event then he really needed to be calm and in control of himself. He needed to approach this like he would any other mission, with a clear and focused head. He smiled weakly at his mom and haha and then headed into the large family room.
It looked like a large portion of the family was there. His younger cousin Hideki, who was his aunt Chiharu’s boy, was here playing with his cousins from Skogshaven. Even though they lived closer than any other relatives they didn’t often come down to visit, which was a shame, he liked the twins even though they were younger than him. Apparently, his Uncle, who was his haha’s younger’s brother was always busy doing something up there and almost never had the time to travel away. His aunt was not as bad, but she stayed with the kids most of the time. Takeshi wasn’t sure what his uncle did but was sure it was something governmental or something. Something something liason something? Honestly, that was the best he could remember.
There were several other relatives that he was introduced to that he had never met before from several other places and in all honesty the names began to blur together for him. Why couldn’t there be a Dave or a Teresa in the bunch? That would at least make things different. He bowed and smiled, and said all the right things, playing the dutiful birthday boy. He was however really impressed with the relative who had traveled all the way from Japan for this.
Takeshi had never even heard of this great-aunt Saiyuri, but apparently she and great grandmother were good friends and kept in contact. She had something to do with the family line back in Japan, the Clan they were descended from or something. He wasn’t sure about a lot of things but he may have heard something about that in passing. Whatever it was wasn’t really important as he was basically passed around from person to person to person, meeting everyone there, or seeing them again in a lot of the cases. Things were light until one of his great grandmother’s aides came in, bowed to the room as a whole and said, “Lunch is prepared.”
Everyone quieted and turned, facing him and he swallowed, running things through his mind. If he remembered things correctly he was not going to look like an idiot. He walked up to his Sousobo and bowed. She smiled, returned the bow, rising from where she had been sitting. He followed along behind her as she led the way towards the formal dining room. The rest of the family filed in as well, pretty much in silence, save for the slight sounds of fussing from the younger kids present. They all sat at the low Japanese style table and waited as the first course was served, a mushroom and shallot soup. It was one of Takeshi’s favorite dishes.
His Sousobo nodded and lunch began.
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