Christmas cards decorated the hallway of Aimi Wantanabe's home - bright reds, golds and occasional greens covering every inch of the wall leading up the stairs. There were cards from her parents, her brothers, cousins and friends. Cards from the new neighbours too, even though they had been too busy to properly introduce themselves.
The one thing notably missing was a Christmas card from her only daughter, Ren. She moved out recently, Aimi reasoned, and was too busy unpacking amidst the celebrations to remember something a small as a card. Yet as the days crept on, leaving both Christmas and New Year behind, Aimi found disappointment settling in her chest.
There she sat, scowling over a mug of peppermint tea, eyes darting to her phone every so often. Still hoping for a text she was unlikely to receive. Since moving to Scotland from Japan twenty-four years ago, she and Ren had been inseparable. Then she had split from her husband - the reason they had moved in the first place - and things had changed. Now Ren was an adult, with a fiance and home of her own, and Aimi hated to admit she was being left behind.
The tea was cold now, and with a sigh, Aimi stood to drain it down the sink. She boiled the kettle again, just for something to do, listening to the groan of steam as it bloomed across the kitchen window. The world outside was a murky grey and dark clouds in the distance suggested rain. The kettle dinged and Aimi frowned, pouring herself a second mug of tea without thought.
Another ding, this one the peppy tone of a mobile phone, and Aimi jumped so suddenly she nearly spilt peppermint tea all down her blouse. Cursing under her breath, she scurried to her phone.
No text from Ren, and she forced down the disappointment. Instead, it was a message from her friend Shaun.
Hey Aimi. Wish you had made it to the New Year's dinner, we missed you! Even Cynthia, and she's only met you once.
It brought a smile to her face, heartwarming at Shaun's sweetness. She typed back a simple message saying, sorry, spent it with the family. Hope you all had fun.
She was ready to leave it at that because she had a novel to finish for book club on Sunday and she hadn't even started it. With her steaming mug of tea in hand, Aimi moved to her living room, where her beautiful Christmas tree still sat proudly by the TV. No sooner had she sat down, book in hand, when her phone alerted her once more.
Michelle and I are going out this Thursday if you want to come? There's a Thai place I want to try.
Aimi frowned, her fingers tapping a beat to her tiny touchscreen in thought. She did enjoy Thai food - in fact, it was probably her favourite - but something was stopping her. Disappointment, heavy and cloying. Ah, it was Ren's favourite food too, and an old pastime of theirs.
I'd love to, she texted back, but it's Ren's favourite and it would feel weird eating without her.
A beat, a pause. A reply. Then, invite her too!
If only it were that easy. She nearly said as much, fingers skipping over the touchscreen with a half-formed reply before deleting the entire thing. Giving in, Aimi slumped against the soft cushions of her couch, a sigh catching in her throat.
She really needed to stop worrying about Ren. She was an adult, and a busy one too - so what if she forgot to text her mother now and again? Once again Aimi tried to focus on her book, turning it to the first page and letting her dark eyes skim the words. It worked for perhaps five minutes until a creeping discomfort started rising.
Giving in, Aimi put the book down. A sip of peppermint tea had her feeling a little better, the hot, refreshing drink sending warmth through her skin. She finished half the cup before remembering Shaun. Oops.
Where'd you go? 🙁 You've gone quiet.
With the mug resting between her hip and the arm of the couch, Aimi formed a reply. I haven't heard from Ren in a while. Think I've been forgotten.
It was supposed to come across as silly, a brush off - but even to her own eyes it just looked... miserable.
Shaun's reply was almost instant - as if he too was worried. Although, it was far more likely that he was worried about her than Ren. Then I will invite her out. I'm practically an uncle, she can't say no to us both 🙂
A smile curved at her lips, but it only lasted a brief second. Still, it couldn't hurt - she had wanted to meet Michelle since Shaun first mentioned her, and it sounded like something Ren would enjoy. So Aimi sent her one last text for the day, a simple message asking if she would like to go out. She could even bring her fiance, Aimi suggested, or a friend of her own.
That way, at least she didn't sound quite so desperate.
It was beginning to get late. The sun had dipped below the horizon long ago, leaving only the grey sky and flicker of street lights to pool through the curtains. Aimi worked from home, and as such could schedule her work however she liked - but staying up so late only made her cranky in the morning. So, finishing off her tea in one last gulp, she headed back to the kitchen with her mug.
Washing done and novel forgotten, she trudged upstairs. Once again her phone dinged in her back pocket - she didn't need to look to know it was Shaun and not Ren - but it was only a goodnight text.
As Aimi set about her nightly routine, thoughts of Ren were forced from her mind. It was pointless to worry, especially when Ren was likely already asleep herself.
Yet Aimi couldn't help but hope this time, Ren would choose to reply.