“Thanks for the meal!” Hideo called after him. He turned around to face Kaori and said, “And no thanks to you for drinking up almost all the water!” He suddenly stopped in his tracks. Kaori’s smile had vanished. She now looked troubled. Hideo could guess what the problem was. “If Nikkō’s the reason behind that face,” he said, “don’t worry. He’ll be fine once he rests up and gets some food and water.” This received no visible response. Hideo forced himself to take his eyes off his cousin. “So what’s the deal with that kid and his mom, anyway?”
Kaori’s frown deepened. “Nikkō was always running off to get her attention,” she said, “but that lady never went looking for him. Half the time they’re together, she acts like he isn’t even there.” She paused. “I hate that woman. I hate the idea that no matter what Nikkō does, she doesn’t care. He’ll just keep getting hurt by her.” Her hands clenched over the table.
“Huh. That so?” Hideo capped the canteen and slung it over his shoulder.
Kaori spun on him. “Is that all you have to say about it?!” she cried indignantly.
Hideo’s eyes flickered over to her. “I just caught myself thinking that maybe it’s not so bad that we’re stuck here, after all,” he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?!”
Hideo got up from the marketplace table. “Just that…” He turned toward his cousin. “Just that maybe this’ll get Nikkō’s mom to miss him, is all I meant,” he explained. “When we get back, she’ll be better to him, now that she’s seen what it’s like without him.”
Kaori’s anger gave way to worry again. “I doubt that.”
“How much you wanna bet?” Hideo asked. “If I’m wrong, I’ll give you the best Minimon* cards out of my deck, no questions asked.”
“I’m not even into Minimon anymore!” Kaori yelled. “And why are you making this into some kind of game?! It isn’t funny!”
Hideo bopped Kaori on the head with his elbow. “You need to quit being such a downer,” he said. Smiling, he assured her, “Nikkō will be okay. There’s no way his mom doesn’t care about him, even if she doesn’t show it. Maybe this’ll be the shove she needed to start showing him that she loves him.”
Kaori blushed and bolted up from her chair to give him a good noogie over the head. “All right, Mr. Know-it-all! I bow down to your great wisdom!”
“Ow, ow, ow!!!!” Hideo cried, shoving Kaori away. “Knock it off, you big ogre!”
Kaori abruptly turned away from him and started walking in the direction of the doctor’s house. “Come on,” she said. “I’m sure the doc’s done treating Nikkō by now. If Nikkō’s up, he’s probably wondering where we went.”
Hideo fussed over the sore spot on his head and muttered under his breath as he followed Kaori out of the marketplace. “I’ll remember this the next time I want to say something nice to you, you ogre,” he said threateningly.
“Yeah, yeah,” Kaori brushed him off. “I love you too, cuz’.”
*Minimon: A Pokemon/Digimon/Monster Rancher ripoff comic I drew in elementary school.