Gosenbo-san was something of an anomaly, or a travesty, depending on your view. He was a high-tier youkai, old and powerful, and he was helping the sworn enemy of youkai everywhere. Gosenbo-san had been an ally of my grandmother’s, she was a liberal – she believed not all youkai were inherently evil as so many of them had come from humans after all, and it was possible for the two species to live together.
It was an idea she did her best to pass along to her children, which was the only reason the clan had accepted Gosenbo-san as my tutor. That, and they didn’t have a choice – everyone else plausible was dead. There had been other allies, but they’d left after I defeated the Night Parade. Gosenbo-san was the only who remained, probably due to some lingering sense of loyalty to my grandmother. There would be times I would catch him watching me with a strange expression, melancholy and nostalgic at the same time, it made me wonder about a past I knew nothing about, but every time I thought about asking questions something on his face made me think twice.
Gosenbo-san was unfortunately, not the only youkai to be staying at my temple. It was an unusual setting for someone who was supposed to devote their life to destroying all monsters and ghosts, but life was never all that black and white. I had grown up surrounded by youkai, usually the ones of low-caliber with limited intelligence. They were generally low maintenance, living in the forest grounds that surrounded my temple, which was kept absolutely green and lush all-year-round thanks to Gosenbo-san. My brothers didn’t like that I spent so much time with youkai, they knew the drill, but it didn’t stop them from wishing (vocally) that I would do something normal.
My eldest brother Hajime was a high school teacher – an Ungifted school, of course – and he had his hands full with course loads and summer tutoring jobs and students who were, to quote, ‘walking hormones’. My second elder brother Akira was a Masters student – studying something I didn’t understand – who constantly walked around mumbling about his thesis under his breath. And then there was Shou, my third elder brother, a university student who had recently discovered the wonder that was legal drinking age and all-night parties. We were all busy, all involved with our own lives.
“Tadaima.” I called.
But we always made it home for dinner. It was a sickness.
Tonight was Hajime’s turn to cook dinner. The kitchen already smelled of boiling miso soup and something cooking on the stove.
“Good day?” He scooped a little soup from the ladle and tasted it.
“It was interesting.” I said, dumping my bag on the floor a little harder than necessary. “Brought dessert.” I handed him the grocery bag.
“Peaches.” His face lit up a little. “Go wash your hands. We can have them after dinner. Akira! You better put that book down!” He shouted up the stairs.
“I’m almost done!”
“We’re having dinner now! The theories can wait.” Hajime said.
“You’re such a good mom.” I said.
After my parents death, our old, old, old paternal grandparents took guardianship and moved into the temple. They were seriously ancient, but surprisingly clear-minded when they brought up the idea and since none of our other relatives wanted to take care of three boys and the budding child Onmyouji who might melt your face by accident, the arrangement worked out. Mom had thankfully been clever with money and had insurance policies and a healthy bank account that meant we didn’t starve to death if we finished school first, but four boys living with their fossilized grandparents meant we basically had no parental guidance for most of those years.
Hajime took up the slack. He was the eldest, he was the one to take a part-time job all through high school and go to a two-year college so he could get a job as soon as possible and acquire legal guardianship. It was always a looming threat that one day our grandparents would finally succumb to nature and we’d be separated. By the time that happened though, Hajime was a teacher and was able to keep us together. He cooked most of the meals, figured out you were supposed to separate whites from colors and if you left the iron on a shirt for too long, you got a neat new pattern and a small house fire. He made all the sacrifices and shouldered all the responsibility. In turn, my brothers and I stayed away from drugs and all the other expensive crap and let him nag us into eating carrots, picking up socks and washing our own underwear. Chores were to be divided, because if you were old enough to drive, you should have enough sense to make rice without flooding the kitchen.
“Bite me. Shou! Dinner! NOW!”
“I’m on the phone!”
“Hang up or I start telling potty-training stories on the other line!”
Footsteps clambered down the stairs. “I was this close to getting her to go out with me.” Shou whined, “Hey, kid.” He gave me a noogie until I yelped.
“What happened to Kasumi?” I asked of Shou’s on-again-off-again girlfriend for the past two years. I was guessing this was the off period.
“Mind your own business.” He said, his face darkening.
“You got into another fight? Found her with someone who doesn’t look like his face was squashed into a blender?”
“I said. Shut. Up.” He tried to take a swing at me, growling. I considered my quota of ‘annoying younger brother’ fulfilled.
Another set of feet clambered down, but this one was attached to a face covered by a textbook. “I’ve got a paper due day after tomorrow. I’m going to have to pull an all-nighter again.” Akira muttered, grabbing his rice bowl and piling on the rice. “Hey, when’d you get here?” He said, finally spotting me.
“Fifteen years ago after a twenty-hour labor.” I said.
“Should’ve picked up a better joke by now. What’s for dinner?”
“Fish and soup.” Hajime plopped down a huge plate of stir-fry vegetables. “And hot vegetables. Eat. We’ve got peaches for dessert.”