Western Umbrella, Wait for Rain By Glyph Bellchime

Chapter 2—Don’t Be A Hero.
      The small den was dusty and full of junk. Andrea coughed as some of the dust settled.
      “When Mike moved in, we moved a whole bunch of Grandpa’s stuff down here. I tinker with some of it, sometimes.”
  Jiro fumbled through her limited vocabulary. “How…did…Mike…here?”
      “How did Mike GET here?” Andy answered, picking up some boxes. She laughed, lifting the lid. “Oh, Grandpa’s record collection. Ray Stevens. He’s funny.”
      Jiro took the box, and lifted the record. It featured a bearded man. She flipped through a few others. None of the titles sounded familiar.
      “Ja-zz, Swing with the Big Bands,” she tried quietly.
      Andrea continued, “Well, Mom and Dad heard about Mike from your bro. He was in poor shape when Ray found him.”
      “Why…Ryoga-oniisan …Ray?” Jiro now was lost in all the words.
      “Why do we call Ryoga, what does oniisan mean, big brother, Ray?”
      Andrea lifted some more boxes. She picked up some books. “Hey, these are our old photo albums. Grandpa and Grandma were a very handsome couple. Why do we call him Ray? Let’s see. Ah! Here it is.”
      Jiro looked at the old photograph.   It was one where Justin was a little kid. Andrea must have been eight, Danny eleven. In the middle of the playing boys, they were throwing water balloons, was a boy near the age of nine. He carried a backpack with a bedroll and a small yellow umbrella. He was throwing them back. He had the familiar yellow and black bandanna. Andrea was in a pink dress; but she apparently was a tomboy, she was filthy. Her hair ribbon was falling out. But she and the boy were holding their own against the other two. Other kids were puzzled, but some were doing the same thing.
      Party streamers flocked the scene. There were other pictures around that same time, but the both kids looked cleaner. And doing different things. At one point Ryoga, was looking surprised over a little brown cat. It was licking at his face. It was a very funny face.
      “Onissan!” Jiro smiled.
      “Yeah, this picture was taken during my eighth birthday party, when Ryoga found us the first time. Justin couldn’t say ‘Ryoga’, so he just cheered ‘Ray! Ray!’ when ever he saw him. This is his second visit.” Andy flipped through the book, finding a boy about twelve. He was pouring over a map, with several underneath, when apparently he looked up just in time to see the camera. He didn’t look very flattered to have his picture taken.
      But then he didn’t look very clean, or very alert. Mrs. Matthews held another   map up, trying to read what was on it.
      “Mom knew French from high school. Danny had just gotten a new camera for Christmas that year. This was in June.”
      Jiro recognized the stern features, the almost frustrated expression. Then she found a nearby picture of an old man sitting near Ryoga, back to being nine. He was looking over the yellow umbrella, opening it up.
      “Grandpa used to call those parasols, not umbrellas. But at least he knew how to fix it for your Oniisan.”
      There were other pictures. Danny had caught a bunch of Ryoga, during the second visit. Andrea laughed, remembering how camera shy the boy had gotten. Then she proved with a set of pictures that looked double except for the frustrated expression. It had been of just the backside of a red umbrella, with Ryoga peeking out from under it. He then blocked out the camera.
      “Ha, Danny got him later,” Andrea flipped the page again, “but it about broke the camera.”
      Jiro laughed. Ryoga had jumped up, apparently a brown frog and several green ones had jumped into the tub with him. Ryoga was yelling, by the way his mouth was open.
      Then in another shot, it showed Justin with his open jar of frogs, upset expression on his face. He now was ten. Another had Ryoga racing out of the bathroom, startled by the pets. Very wet, and very alarmed, so alarmed that he had forgotten a towel, and his clothes. Jiro blushed.
       A snake was on the bathroom floor. Danny was apparently blocking the door.
      Jiro stared puzzled at the next set of pictures. Ryoga looked mad. He snatched up the snake.
      “He threw it at Daniel. Danny’s been afraid of snakes since he was little. Danny dropped the camera, the rest of the pictures got ruined. Except for this one.”
      She pointed to the one where the three boys stood together. Ryoga had on an oversized robe. Justin had at least recaptured the snake. Danny looked chagrinned.
      “Danny had to apologize. Mom took this one…so Danny would remember, we got doubles on these!”
      “Doubles on what?” they heard from the door. Ryoga was following Justin. He smiled, then frowned, noticing the book. “An old photo album? Oohhhhhh…” he then smiled with a grimace. “The frogs in the bathtub.”
      Justin giggled. “Oh yeah, ya know that killed most of those frogs. I quit collecting them after that.” Then he thought, “Are you guys messing around in Grandpa’s old stuff?”
      “We were looking for the old umbrellas Grandpa useda work on…”
      Justin tilted his head. “I think Mom moved them, yeah, they’re by the old desk back there.”
      With a sudden jerk, Justin, jumped up into the rafters, then gripped them as he inched towards the old desk. He didn’t fall, although the floor boards creaked.
      Justin landed feet first on the desk surface. It made a loud thump. He rose up from his knees, and then took a bow.
      “Showoff!” Andrea teased.
      “Toilet bowl breath,” Justin responded.
      “Scuzzbucket!” three voices chimed up.
      Jiro jumped. Scuzzbucket? Andrea laughed, tapping Jiro’s shoulder. Ryoga grinned.
      “Glad someone else remembers that old joke!”
      Justin found actually found two umbrellas, and then produced a third. “Grandpa color-coded them for what he was working on…the red was his favorite.”
      “What was the coding?” Ryoga asked as he caught one. It was the blue one.
      Andrea unrolled a paper from the black one she caught. “Aw, puckernuts, the paper’s waterlogged. But what I can remember, the red blended what he had done to both the black and the blue ones.”
      “Which was?”
      “Well, on one he strengthened the patina, you know, the part that keeps the rain off. The other he modified the wires, making them pretty strong. He had a friend that experimented with alloys. He helps make microchips now, the last time we had heard from him.”
      “Unusual stuff,” Ryoga muttered.
      Andrea smiled. “Well, just as long as you followed Grandpa’s instruction, he didn’t mind that we took them…”
      “What…was…that?” Jiro asked. She was catching on quick.
      Andrea and Justin smiled.
      “Unless you are working on it, NEVER open an umbrella in the house!” they laughed.
      “Wow, what were you kids doing?” Mrs. Matthews fanned her hand, stirring up some dust that was hanging in the air.
      Ryoga dusted the cobwebs from his hair. Justin, in his smart-alecky mood, had accidentally knocked a vent off, near the drier, dusting the whole group. So as Andrea and Jiro retrieved the vacuum cleaner, Justin and he tried to re-hang the vent. That was a little less than successful…     “Blach! Got any water, Mom?” Justin blurted. “Jeez, Ryoga, you didn’t need to sneeze me into the damn hole, did you?”
      “Justin, watch your language,” Mrs. Matthews interjected.
      “I couldn’t help it,” Ryoga barked. “I sneeze, I try to keep it outta people’s faces. So I ducked…”
      “Yeah, and about shoved me into the vent, face-first!”
       Ryoga sat at the table, his arms crossed. “Hey, said you’d get it, if you stood on my shoulders.”
      Andrea suddenly snickered, just as Mike wheeled up to them.
      “Well, all of you are going to need a bath, or a shower before dinner. Andy, go first, because I’m gonna need your help cooking.”
      At that, both Mike and Justin grimaced.
      “I know that look,” Andrea piped up. “Just because I mixed up the chicken soup base with the beef one while cooking those sausages, and you keep complaining that I’m a bad cook!”
      Mrs. Matthews halted. “Andy, no one is complaining that you’re a bad cook—it’s just that you had decided to experiment when you shouldn’t have…”
      Jiro could see that Mrs. Matthews was trying to alleviate her daughter’s anger, but it wasn’t working. But then she didn’t have much time to brood on it. 
      “Lana?” a voice called, very harried. “Lana?” a young woman carrying a small boy opened the front door, then knocked to let people know she was here.
      Ryoga looked and saw that even though she was dressed for the cold weather, she had her head uncovered. The boy seemed to be around five years in age. He wore a bright colored coat, red, and a yellow hat. He smiled when he saw Mike, and the others. The woman wore a dark brown coat over what looked like a medical smock. Her brown hair had been tied back in a hurry. She carried a small backpack over her shoulder.
      “Sorry, but the hospital just called, and I need someone in a hurry to look over Ben. The babysitter is at home with a bug. Apparently, the nursing staff is being called in due to the accidents on the icy highways. Can anyone here look after him?”
      Mrs. Mathews frowned.   “Jen, you know that my kids are teens…”
      “I can look after him,” someone else spoke up.
      They all turned to notice that Mike had spoken. Ryoga had about forgotten that he was even in the room, since he had been so quiet. The young man looked down the stairs, making sure their eyes met.
      “So can I,” Ryoga offered, placing a hand on the back of the wheelchair. Mike jerked, and then realized he that they both could.
      Ben laughed heartily. He stepped up the stairs taking one at a time…
      Jiro looked puzzled.
      “Thank you, Mike,” Jen murmured. “And…”
      “Hibiki Ryoga, ma’am. An old friend of the Matthews.”
      “Are you sure?” Mrs. Matthews asked.
      “Yes,” both said.
      Jiro, Mike, and Ben played a game. Ryoga kept a nearby watch as he started working on his collection of postcards he was sending back to Akane and his parents back home. He looked over the package he was planning to send as well.
      Ryoga glanced out the window. The weather had gotten worse. It was now snowing again, very heavy. It was going to be deep in the morning.
      “You sound funny,” Ben blurted to Jiro.
      Jiro tried to smile. “I am not from here,” she calmly said, then picked up her card.
      “Where are you from?” he asked.
      “Where’s that?”
      “Very far from here,” Mike answered.
      Ryoga smiled. Jiro certainly learned, fast. And since she was traveling with him, she had to.
      Andrea’s voice drifted back from the kitchen. Her mother’s followed it.
      “Andy, that’s the chicken base. We’re cooking a beef product.”
      “Sorry, but here’s the oregano…”
      “Andy-honey, that’s poppy seed…”
      Ryoga looked up, a sweatdrop forming. Where had he heard that before?
      Jiro noticed his sickly expression. “<What is wrong?>” she asked.
      “< Andrea is mixing up…the ingredients.>”
      Jiro blinked, then grimaced as she realized that he had meant something else.
      Danny grumbled, as he came out with his homework. “Great. They say the roads are closing because it’s…” he stopped as the phone rang.
      Mrs. Matthews picked it up quickly. Then she said something, and placed the phone down after few minutes.
      “Ben, that was your mama. She’s stuck at the hospital. Would you like to stay here with us over night?”
      Ben frowned. “No.” he said plainly. Mrs. Matthews frowned.
      “Come talk to your mama, hon,” she said.
      The little boy picked up the phone. He talked low. Jiro listened, keeping quiet.
      “Okay, mommy, I’ll behave,” the boy sighed. Then he turned to Ryoga, he dropped the phone and went to stand next to him.
      "Mommy wants to talk to you…" he said.
      Ryoga put down his letter, and went to the phone. He noticed that Ben followed him.
      "Yes, ma'am?"
      Ben stayed overnight, as well as Jiro and Ryoga. With the roads being as bad as they were, no one would be leaving that night. Ryoga snuggled into his sleeping bag, actually comforted by the fact that they were not in any woods tonight. Lost in the woods is bad enough, but to be lost in the snow would be the ultimate nightmare for both Jiro and he. He remembered a few nights were it had gotten very cold indeed.
      It actually looked more beautiful when the snow stopped than it had in falling the night before. Ryoga uncrinked, and nudged Jiro with his knee. The house felt cold. Nobody else was up, so he pulled a single serving cereal box from the backpack and wandered to the kitchen. For some reason, he found that when he was half asleep, he seemed to find where he was going…
      “Morning, looking for towels?” Justin smiled over sleepy eyelids.
      “No, the milk…” Ryoga responded.
      Justin laughed, then stretched, “Kinda figured, but the kitchen is that way.” He pointed in the opposite direction down the hall.
      “Huh? thanks…” Ryoga gave a smile. “At least, I didn’t end up in your brother’s shower this time.”
      “Whatever, dude.”
      Back in the hall, Jiro finally was waking up. She picked up her breakfast set…then reconsidered as Andrea bounded up the stairs. She carried up her backpack, and she was followed by Danny and Ben. Mike didn’t appear quite yet.
      “Breakfast anyone?” Andrea started.
      The guys opted out for cold cereal. Ryoga went to go check on Mike. He tapped on the door.
      The door opened, as Ryoga peeked in. “You okay?”
      Suddenly the basketball bounced next to Ryoga’s head, into the doorframe. The martial artist didn’t flinch.
      “Very funny, Mike. Andrea’s getting breakfast ready…hey, did you win those playing basketball?”
      Mike smiled, actually dressed. “Yeah, it is definitely a switch isn’t it? Instead of dodging, I’m grabbing and scoring…”
      “I didn’t get a chance to tell you my condolences on ‘Teo,” Ryoga slid next to the dresser.
      Mike smiled a small smile… “Yeah, but you did so much for me, without knowing.”
      “I just told the Matthews about you, that’s all,” Ryoga started to fiddle with the box lid. “They did the rest. I don’t even remember doing it.”
      “Hey, sometimes you are just the angel someone needs, and never show up ever again.”
      Ben began to get fidgety. The older kids were getting ready to go out and scoop snow again. Ryoga, Jiro, and Mike didn’t need to go, but they all were feeling a little cooped up. Mike slid down the ramp, and braked. Ben was sitting on his lap. They laughed, and Ben flopped into a pile of snow. Justin picked up a snowball, and he and Ryoga began a snowball fight.
      Mike soon got involved because ha asked Ben to make him the snowballs. Ryoga then was on the losing end. He laughed and ducked. But he ducked behind Mike.
      Ryoga suddenly tripped over the little boy. Both Ben and he tumbled together.
      “Sorry,” he apologized.
      Ben didn’t find it funny, in fact he started to cry.
      Mike tried to comfort him. “I wanna go home!” Ben whined.
      Then the boy took off. Mike called after him, rolling quick. Jiro rushed—and slipped.
      Mike’s wheel abruptly slid sideways, just as the boy darted into the street.  The young man put his hands up to protect his head. Ryoga went to try and help, but then he saw the traffic.
      Ryoga leapt past him, into the street. The driver of the next car apparently didn’t see the little boy, but he definitely saw the larger yellow blur. He slammed on the brakes…and slid.
       Snatching up Ben, Ryoga started again, hearing the car squeal on the ice. He made a step…
      And found his chin connecting with the ice!
      He curled Ben close to his chest…Something made him spin, he tried to brake with his foot!
      Jiro screamed. Justin grabbed her arm, pulling her into his heavy hold.
       She closed her eyes. The sickening thud-an undeniable crunching. Then silence. Another car was behind the one that had hit…Ben’s mother jumped out, screaming. She was about in hysterics.
      “Oh my god!” the driver leaned out of his door, “ I HIT THAT KID!”
      “Benny!” She cried, “Benny!”
      Suddenly, from the front of the car, the boy got up and ran to her. She enveloped him, hugging and kissing him like she’d never let go.
      “Mommy, I wanna go home!” he exclaimed.
      The whole street seemed to erupt in surprise. Jiro struggled, ready to hit Justin to get at Ryoga.
      He was hurt. She had to get to him, to help him!
      Suddenly, they stopped when they heard…
      “Ow! Okay, that hurt!”
      Jiro snapped her eyes open, and blinked in surprise. Thump! Thump! Ryoga grabbed onto the bumper, and pulled himself up from where he had slid on the ice, and pavement. His foot was twisted under.
      “A little help here…” he croaked.
      The driver stared, bug-eyed and agape. When Ryoga gave him a dirty look, he still remained in shock.
      “I’ve called an ambulance…” Danny rushed out then trailed off. Ryoga struggled to his feet, limped to the curb, and sat down on the snow. Jiro finally broke loose of Justin’s hold.
      She felt  the snow crunch under her feet. Then she noticed Ryoga putting a hand up to his hair. Something red came back with it. He was bleeding…
      “Oniisan?” she asked, still in shock and wondering why was he calm. Overly calm. She sat with him. Jiro felt her shoulders being pulled on. Then she found Ryoga embracing her, holding her, for support…
      “He’s not dead!” Justin said in wonder. “He’s not dead!”
      Andrea was about ready to slap the back of his head, to see if she could knock the recording loose.
      “Yes, he’s not dead!” she snarled. “Will you get off that point?”
      “He’s not dead!”
      Ryoga was about as mad. His head was bandaged, but his ankle was propped up in a cast. It was a small one, but enough to keep him off his feet.
      “Check back in a week?” he grumbled.
      Jiro picked up her bag, and dug in it for a pillow.
      “<It looks like were stuck here until that ankle heals, doesn’t it>?”
      “<No kidding. I just wish that doctor hadn’t called me stupid.>”
      “<He called you thick-headed, not stupid,>” she tried to sound soothing.
      Ryoga laughed, “<Jiro, they’re synonyms!>”

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