The La-Iin Series
“To Repair the Prior Year”
Memories flashed in Ai-Reia’s mind.
“How what goes!? You could’ve killed Ca-Miela!”
As the minutes passed before her birthday, all she could remember was the prior year and how horrible it had been. She had a slight concern that her eighth birthday would be every bit as bad as her seventh, but for a different reason: her family either becoming concerned that she would harm Ca-Miela again, or becoming concerned about keeping her happy to the point that it was stifling.
It was hard for her to look forward to her birthday under those conditions, but the idea of having a day that miserable made her sick. So instead, she formulated a plan.
‘As long as I pretend to be happy, they won’t have any reason to believe that they need to coddle me or that I’m going to harm Ca-Miela again. And who knows, perhaps if I pretend to be happy, I actually will become happy. I feel it–that is the only way I will have any sort of true happiness tomorrow…’
Reuf-Bu’s bedroom door opened with a loud creak. Ai-Reia flinched, but her brother showed no signs of waking up. Cautiously, she walked over to him and began to shake him lightly.
“Mmngh…no, no, I don’t wanna tell my parents about Cais-Elle yet, heh heh…”
‘Cais-Elle? Wasn’t that girl a classmate of his?’ The detail wasn’t all that important, so she went back to gently shaking Reuf-Bu. He groaned again and opened his eyes.
“Cais-Elle? Wait…you aren’t Cais-Elle…”
“Honestly, Reuf-Bu! You can’t tell the difference between me and some school fancy?”
Reuf-Bu sat up abruptly, his eyes wide as if he had just drunk a large pot of coffee. “I–I don’t have a school fancy with Cais-Elle!”
Reuf-Bu stiffened. “Ergh–I mean–yeeees, what do you need, birthday girl?”
“Oh, so you remembered?” Ai-Reia tried to make her face light up. Reuf-Bu’s expression gave her no indication of whether or not she had succeeded. “I was lonely because nobody else had woken up yet, so I figured of everyone in the house you would be the most likely to pay attention to me if I woke you up. I would like to do a puzzle with you!”
“Of course you would. It feels like with you and me, it’s nothing but puzzles…”
“Is a thousand and eighty pieces too much?”
“A thousand and eighty–!” Reuf-Bu gasped. “Ai-Reia, what is this!? Is this some sort of portrait of a major historical figure or something!?”
“It’s a large picture of cartoon depictions of the countries in the world.”
“Ah…ahaha, I guess you are still a little kid….but geez…a thousand and eighty pieces!? Seriously, what the hell!?”
Ai-Reia covered her mouth. Reuf-Bu sighed. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I curse myself from time to time, but I keep most of those locked away inside my head instead of letting them cross my lips.”
“Acting high and mighty, aren’t we?”
“I’d usually take offense to what you said, but I can’t find it in myself to care right now. Really, I do want to do a puzzle with you, Reuf-Bu. After all, you mistook me for Cais-Elle…I might have to ask Mother and Father just who she is for you to have mistaken me for her…”
Reuf-Bu flinched. “Now you’re just being a sadist!”
“What’s a sadist?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Ai-Reia. I know you know what a sadist is.” He stretched, yawned, and hopped out of bed. “Fine, I’ll do the puzzle with you, but you have to wait for me to get ready first.”
“I can wait. I’ll be in the living room scrambling the pieces!”
Ai-Reia dashed out the room. ‘Geez, she’s energetic today. Why does something feel a little off about that?’
When Reuf-Bu had come out to do the puzzle, he had a larger reaction to the number of pieces, and Ai-Reia couldn’t suppress a giggle. Nevertheless, they ended up putting together most of the pieces in a shorter amount of time than both of them expected–mostly thanks to Ai-Reia, though Reuf-Bu placed quite a few pieces.
“I think you’re getting the hang of going against me in a puzzle battle, Reuf-Bu,” she said.
“Puzzle battle!? Since when was this anything like that?”
“Since today. Eight is an age of change, you know.”
“What I know is that most eight-year-old Vampires I’ve known are still using the potty, contrary to what you’re doing.”
“It just proves that with an advanced brain, you can overcome any physical shortcoming.”
“Okay, you’re really being obnoxious today. This isn’t indicative of how you’re going to be throughout all of eight, is it?”
Ai-Reia chuckled. “Of course not. Don’t worry about it, brother. I’m only forcing you because today is my birthday.” She cracked a smile at him; when she opened her eyes, she spotted a yawning Zih-Amo walking past them.
“Hello, Zih-Amo! Good morning!”
“Oh….good morning, Ai-Reia,” she said. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you. Oh, oh, Zih-Amo! I wanted to ask you if we could do something.”
“Me and Reuf-Bu are doing a puzzle right now, but I thought maybe after that, you and I might do a little flying around? I would really like that.”
“Usually you don’t,” Zih-Amo said. “What changed?”
“She’s claiming eight means everything is changing for her,” Reuf-Bu said.
“Well, it sounds fun right now. You can wake up a bit more first, though. Me and Reuf-Bu still have to finish this puzzle.”
“Oh, okay. Still, that is pretty strange.”
“No, no, Reuf-Bu, that piece goes here! What are you, colorblind?”
“Yep, something tells me your terrible twos were moved up to eight.”
Ai-Reia gave shrieks of delight as Zih-Amo, holding her tight to her chest, flew above their house in arcs and swirls. Zih-Amo was becoming dizzy spinning around so much, and it astounded her that Ai-Reia didn’t seem dizzy in the slightest. She was happy to see her sister with a smile on her face, but something about it unsettled her.
‘I guess I just can’t forget what her diary said…’
“Zih-Amo, you’re slowing down!” Ai-Reia snapped.
“S-sorry, Ai-Reia! Ohh, now you’re gonna pay! We’re gonna do a mega loop-de-loop now!” She began to do a backwards cascading loop. Ai-Reia shrieked in delight, while for Zih-Amo it took all her fortitude to keep herself from vomiting.
“Playing with Ai-Reia, Zih-Amo?”
Their parents voices distracting her, Zih-Amo only narrowly finished her backwards cascading loop before landing slowly on the ground and falling over, the world spinning around her. Ai-Reia ran up to her parents with a smile.
“Mother, Father! Do you two have free time right now?”
“Well, nobody else is asking for our attention, and your father has the day off, so I suppose we do,” her mother said. “Why?”
“I’d like to make some birthday treats for everyone in the house. My birthday is of course mostly for my enjoyment, but I think all the rest of you should enjoy it too!”
Her parents glanced at each other and smiled. “Sure, Ai-Reia. We’d be glad to help you with that.”
“Especially considering we don’t want you to hurt yourself…”
Ai-Reia’s expression fell briefly before she broke out into another wide smile. “Thank you!”
Though they were pleased with their daughter’s sudden cheerfulness, that brief moment where she had shown them a frown made them feel slightly uneasy, and that feeling continued as they followed Ai-Reia into the house.
Ai-Reia hummed a tune as she cut dough into shapes and mixed together a filling made of blood, marshmallows and frosting. She seemed cheerful as she stuffed the dough with the filling, some even to the point where the filling leaked slightly out the opening in the dough. She seemed to want to make each shape unique, and so did things such as etch in a small crack in one heart-shaped piece and create a striped pattern on one star-shaped one.
She almost seemed genuinely happy, and yet there was something that unsettled her parents about the sight, as if there was something artificial about her motions.
“You two trust me more than I thought,” Ai-Reia said. “I basically got to do this whole thing by myself!”
“Oh, well, yes, we do,” her father said. “Of course we do. You are fairly mature for a Vampire who’s just eight. Cooking is the least of our concerns.”
“Um–! Though I am a little concerned about the sweetness of that filling…”
Ai-Reia smiled and sighed. “It’s just because it’s my birthday. Besides, the blood should cut the sweetness some, don’t you think?”
“I guess that’s true,” her mother sighed.
Ai-Reia stuck the pastries into the oven. “Well, I think I should go and do something else. Would you mind keeping an eye on these for me?”
“We wouldn’t mind, I guess,” her father said. Ai-Reia flashed him a wide smile, then took off.
“Something’s definitely wrong,” her father said.
“I feel that way too. But I just don’t know what to do about it…”
Ai-Reia head into her parent’s room. It was the same as normal, though Ai-Reia still found the sight of Ca-Miela’s temporary playroom jarring. Her parents had turned a small corner of the room into a place where Ca-Miela could play, and that was where she was now, though she seemed tired as if she might fall asleep at any moment.
“Ca-Miela,” Ai-Reia said. “Look at you. So innocent. If anyone could really brighten up my day, it would be you…strange considering how last year went between you and me.”
She flinched when she heard the door creak. In a moment she had flashes of the previous year, the looks on her parents’ faces, the looks on her siblings’ faces, the sound of Ca-Miela’s crying. But when she looked up, she didn’t spot her parents or siblings–instead standing there was Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei, holding presents.
“Hello, Ai-Reia, and happiest of birthdays!” Shuera-Kaizima said cheerfully. Ai-Reia looked up past her, at Im-Dei, and noticed that standing behind the two was her family, who watched her with a strangely serious expression.
“We wanted to see you today. We had to go through several hoops to figure out where to find you.”
“But we finally did, and without resorting to illegal tactics, too.”
“Oh…” She broke out into smiles. “Well, it’s so nice to see you two!”
“Actually, Ai-Reia, there is something we want to discuss,” Shuera-Kaizima said, her voice becoming strangely serious. Ai-Reia blinked at her. “What would that be?”
“Do you remember what we told you a while back, Ai-Reia?”
“You can show your true self to your family too,” Shuera-Kaizima told her. “Not just a fake self.”
And then, it clicked. The same attitude she had put upon to keep her family from worrying about her had only served to worry them still. Ai-Reia’s face twitched. At first, she wasn’t sure what to say.
“I just wanted to be happy myself, you know,” she whispered. “I figured if I acted this way, I’d be able to have a genuinely happy birthday. But now I know, all I did was worry you, just as I always do…”
“You know, showing your true self to your family doesn’t mean being always miserable, Ai-Reia. It just means show them how you feel. So right now, how do you feel?”
Ai-Reia looked up at them, her eyes tearing up but her mouth turned up in a smile. “Well, I guess I would have to say…I’m actually a little happy.”
Her family and friends began to smile. Not a single one seemed forced to Ai-Reia, and that made her heart feel lighter. Even Ca-Miela gave her a gummy smile.
“These pastries are good!” Shuera-Kaizima exclaimed.
“They have a strange kick to them. Is there a secret ingredient?”
“Perhaps for you two,” Ai-Reia said, her smile innocent. “There’s blood in there.”
Im-Dei paled, and Shuera-Kaizima put her ears back. They looked to Ai-Reia, waiting for her to break out into laughter or say she was lying, but not once did she do either of those things.