“Yukino! My big brother is in love with Yukino!” Little Kimika Keyes whoops with delight, which of course only throws Peter deeper into misery. Kimika is 10 and he’s 14 — he should have the upper hand, but there is in her a bewildering mix of yōchi (幼稚, childishness) and seijuku (成熟, maturity) that forever kōsansaseru (降参させる, defeats) him.

Ana ga attara hairitai (穴があったら入りたい, He is ready to sink into the ground) for haji (恥, shame). Suddenly a thought strikes him, overpowering in its novelty: “Why don’t I tataku (叩く, give her a good smack)? Just once, not hard, to teach her a little sonkei (尊敬, respect).” For a moment, he forgets about Yukino, his love, and his shame.

It seems an astonishing thing — he has never, ever, not once, raised a hand to her! Of course, it’s hazukashii (恥ずかしい, embarrassing) to hit a girl, especially one so much younger than himself; on the other hand, doesn’t a parent slap a child for the sake of kiritsu (規律, discipline)? Just once, to teach her. After that, it will never be necessary again.

But kangaete mireba (考えてみれば, come to think of it), it’s his own fault, not hers. What moved him to uchiakeru (打ち明ける, confide) in her? Her of all people! He should have known — of course he knew. She’s a child, a kid . . . and yet something about her makes him forget that. When had he almost honnōteki ni (本能的に, instinctively) started to regard her as his oneesan (お姉さん, older sister) instead of as his imōto (妹, younger sister)?

“She’s minikui (醜い, ugly), she has nikibi (にきび, pimples).” When Kimika is in the mood to hiyakasu (冷やかす, tease), she holds nothing back. “Have you kissed her? Ugh!”

“No, I haven’t! All right, listen, that’s enough. There are things in life” — he assumes his most otonappoi (大人っぽい, grownup) air — “that you’re too young to understand. Now listen to me, or I’ll kubi wo shimete yaru (首を絞めてやる, wring your neck)!”

Kowai! Kowai! (怖い!怖い! Oh, I’m so scared!)”

“Listen. You think you know everything because you read lots of books and get ii seiseki (いい成績, good grades) in school and mom and dad amayakasu (甘やかす, spoil you rotten). But omae wa nani mo shiranai zo (お前は何も知らないぞ, you don’t know anything), because you’re still a baby — you’ll have nikibi yourself when you grow up a bit! So just damare (黙れ, shut up)!”

The two children look at each other. It’s hard to say who’s the more odoroita
(驚いた, surprised) of the two — Peter, who delivered that uncharacteristically long and resolute speech, or Kimika, who was its object.

“Just shut up and listen. Yes, I do love Yukino. Waratte mo ii (笑ってもいい, Go ahead and laugh). Zenzen kamawanai (ぜんぜんかまわない, I don’t care at all), because you don’t know what love is, unless maybe it’s love for mom and dad and obaachan (おばあちゃん, grandma). You say Yukino is ugly. I know she’s no bijin (美人, beauty). When you’re a little older, I’ll explain to you that when you love somebody, that doesn’t matter.You asked if I kissed her. No, but — I want to! So there!”

“Ugh!” Kimika says again, laughing. “Get out and let me finish my shukudai (宿題, homework). Wait. If you want to, why don’t you?”

“Because she doesn’t want to. She said — “

“She’s probably afraid of catching some disease!”

At dinner that night, Kimika says, “Peter hit me.”

“I did not!”

“Did too!”

Reiko, back from another day at court as a saibanin (裁判員, lay judge) in a murder trial, looks wearily from one child to the other. All week she has been engaged in judging yūzai (有罪, guilt) or muzai (無罪, innocence). It is wearing her down. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry to find herself in a similar role at home. “Jigōjitoku (自業自得, serves you right),” she says half-playfully to Kimika. From various indications, she has gathered that the situation isn’t serious and that Kimika was, and is, behaving obnoxiously on purpose. “Stop it now and — “

Suddenly there’s a burst of music — the opening bars of “God Save the Queen.” Peter’s cell phone. Reiko jumps, as she does lately at any sudden noise. “Hontōni kyūkei ga hitsuyō (本当に休憩が必要,
I really need a break),” she thinks to herself.

Shinkeishitsu da ne, okāsan wa! (神経質だね、お母さんは! You’re so nervous!)” says Kimika.

“It’s nothing.”

Peter gets up and leaves the room.

Kimika snickers. “I bet I know who that is!”

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