While You Were Gone: The Story of a Young Mother, her Son, and her Overly-Protective CaretakerMature

Chapter One: Harlan

Where did it go?

I swear I left it in here just a few hours ago. Where could it have gone?

"Uncle Koike!" I call. "Where's my strawberry milk?"

I'm answered by a slap to the back of my head.

"What did I just say, Harlan? No sweets."

That's my Aunt Tamari: a woman who wears a yukata in the age of cotton and denim. She also runs the kendo dojo that we live in.

"But, I'm studying!" I argue.

"Studying my ass." Auntie scoffed. "I know you were about to read those New World manga again."

"They're called comics, Auntie." I pout, rubbing my head.

"Besides, doctor's orders." Auntie continues, completely ignoring me. "Your glucose levels were at a 6.4 this morning. No sweets!"



Yeah, I wasn't going to study. I didn't deny it. If I did, she'd just smack me even harder. I wasn't going to study because nobody studies during the summer holidays anymore. That was in the old days when summer school was mandatory. Summer is a time for play now, and I intend on having fun with my Captain Long-Johns and strawberry milk.

"I threw it out." Uncle Koike responds to my earlier question. He had walked into the room carrying a basket of folded laundry. "And Ane-ue, you really shouldn't be hitting your nephew."

A sound resembling a strangled mouse escaped my throat. "H-how could you...? You're the devil!"

"No, I'm your uncle. Who happens to love you too much to feed you junk." Uncle Koike hands me a pile of laundry from the basket he had placed on the ground. "Now go organize your laundry. I'll buy you sugar-free fruit juice later after our guest gets settled in."

I grimace. Sugar-free.

I take the laundry pile from my uncle and begin walking down the narrow corridor to the residential part of the dojo.

The dojo consists of two parts: the training grounds for the Kendo students and the residential area at the back. The residential part of the dojo consists of two main areas. The kitchen/living area and the bedrooms. There are only 2 bedrooms and a bathroom at the end of the hall. I share my room with my mom and my sister, Kairi, while Uncle Koike shares it with Aunt Tamari. The residential part of the dojo is also the only part of the building that runs on hydro-electricity.

I open the door to my bedroom. A pale woman with white curly hair wearing an over-sized shirt lay on one of three futons, sleeping soundly with the blanket coiled around her legs and torso.

"Afternoon, Mom."

I just realized that she was snoring softly the whole time.

"Mom, company's coming in an hour."

The snoring suddenly bubbles to a halt as her eyes fly open, revealing iris-less eyes. "What?"

I frown and raise an eyebrow. "Mom, the caretaker's coming today."

"Shit!" Mom jumps off of the futon and rushes past me into the hallway. A moment later she comes rushing back to kiss me on the cheek. "Thank you, honey."

That's nice.

Yup, that's my mom. Thirty-two years old and she still can't get a grasp on time. 

My attention returns to the messy bedroom. There are three futons in total in this room. One for each sleeper. Two are vacant now - with one of them in a mess, mind you - but there's still a heaving mound on the one by the window.

"Sakura!" Auntie's voice screeches from down the hall. "Don't run!"

"Okay, sis."



Oh, right.

I poke the mound with my toe, causing it to squirm.

"Come on, Brat, you heard me. Company's coming."

The squirming mound of cotton wriggles even more. As it falls off the edge of the futon, a butterfly that resembles a red-headed pre-teen stretches out of the cocoon. 

"I don't wanna get up..." my little sister whines. 

"Which do you want the caretaker to see: a nice young lady with pretty hair and a pretty face or a sloppy monster?"

Kairi gives me a sleepy glare before she kicks the sheets away. "Why did Mom suddenly jump outta bed? It's justa caretaker..."

"Not just any caretaker." I reply as we both poke our heads out of the room. Already, Mom had rushed out of the washroom, her face washed and her hair brushed.

Kairi and I sigh, face-palming. "It's a guy."


My mom's sick. Really sick. She's anemic and she's albino. Because of her albinism, she can't go out without carrying an umbrella with her, so she prefers to stay indoors. She's also really weak. For the past sixteen years of my life, my aunt and uncle were the ones that took care of me, and eventually Kairi when we took her off the streets. My mom was always there for us, but she never had enough strength to be there as a mother.

I used to hate her for it. I hated how all of my friends and classmates had their parents come to our field trips with us as chaperones, and I always had my Uncle Koike with me instead. Don't get me wrong, he's an awesome guy! But, it would've been nice to have Mom there instead.

As for the Dad... well, I don't have one. At least, so I've been told, but according to the laws of reproduction, there needs to be a Mommy and a Daddy for a little baby to be born. The missing link is the Daddy, which I never met and have no idea if he's alive or dead.

I didn't learn of my mom's illness until I entered the sixth grade. There was one moment, one moment where I just didn't seem to hate her anymore. It had all disappeared. Gone. Out the window, bye-bye. Instead, I was sad and terrified. Tears fell like the leaky kitchen sink as my mom had suddenly collapsed after she tried to reach for something in the kitchen cabinets.

She wouldn't get up. I shook her hard and I screamed, but she didn't even flinch. I could've sworn that she was dead, and that's when I started to cry. Auntie heard my crying and screaming and rushed over.

It wasn't until Auntie had took out what my mom had been reaching for that I had realized that something was wrong.

Prescription iron tablets. That's why she collapsed: her anemia had taken a hold of her.

She had skipped taking a dosage that day. Maybe it was because she felt better than usual. But, once the evening came around, she began stumbling, bumping into things. Then she reached for the tablets and collapsed.


"Onee-chan!" Uncle Koike calls from the living area. "Our guest is here!"

Mom, Kairi and I all charge for the door at the same time. During the hour between the loss of my beloved strawberry milk to the moment that the three of us get stuck in the doorway, Mom's excitement had caught onto us like wildfire.

After the three of us manage to squeeze out of the little doorway, we start to race each other down the hall.

I wonder what he's like? Is he from the New World or the Old World? I bet he's very father-like... Maybe he can take care of us, too? But, then Auntie would have to pay him more... Wait, Auntie said that he's doing this only for food and board, right? And what if he is from the New World? Is he rich? No, wait, if he was rich, he wouldn't be doing this--.

Kairi and I nearly slam into Mom's back when she suddenly freezes.

"Mommy, you alright?" Kairi asks.

Something's wrong. The excitement had dried up from the air the moment Mom stopped running. It was replaced with an extreme discomfort and adrenaline. Something's really, really wrong.

I follow Mom's gaze. I end up meeting the eyes of my older self, which I find surprising, since I'm pretty sure that the New World scientists didn't create the time machine yet.

Three words are uttered from the man's lips.

"It got worse."

The End

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