Being relatively inexperienced in dealing with bouquets of roses, Takumi had no idea what to do with the first one he received. He finished his shift at the gas station and put them in an oversized carrier bag someone had once transported new pillows in, to carry them home. There was some article on tending for fresh flowers that he vaguely remembered seeing recently; he rooted through the pile of old newspapers in the kitchen, carefully cut the bottoms of the stems lengthwise as instructed and submerged them in water. He couldn't find a vase, so he used one of the buckets that he washed the car out of, and left the flowers in a corner of the odds-and-ends 'back room' where his father was unlikely to see them. Of course, the extra half-hour he was observed to spend in the room, a place he usually never went unless told to fetch something, meant that his father sounded him out the next evening in the usual fashion, i.e. by the shouting of "Takumi!" up the stairs, waiting five seconds, and repeating the previous two steps in crescendo until answered by a door sliding back and a distracted 'un?' from the second floor.
"I moved your stuff from the back room," his father said. "It's in the kitchen now."
A cautious silence, then: "What stuff?"
"Couple of shoes and a bucket full of flowers."
"Well, they have to be yours, don't look like mine."
"Oh. Well. Why did you move them?"
"Needed the space," his father said, cryptically. "Look, what about that bucket? It's got water in it. You can't have open water lying around for days, next thing you know we'll be swarmed with mosquitoes."
"Dad, it's almost winter."
"And then there's the teapot youkai that'll come to drink the water," his father continued, unruffled. "You have any idea how creepy it is to have those damned things around?"
"Dad, there's no such thing as teapot youkai."
"Do you really want to find out if there is?"
Takumi padded downstairs to glare at his father, who stuck his cigarette into the ashtray and walked off into the kitchen, the long lazy line of his back showing him to be greatly satisfied with the way his evening was progressing. Not quite done glaring yet, Takumi followed, and found the bucket full of roses perched on the edge of the kitchen sink, his father carefully tapping some powder into the bucket from a cheerfully coloured box that he was pretty sure had a skull and crossbones on the side. His father gave it to him, and he read the inscription on the label.
"'Kills mosquito larvae effectively'," he said. "But what about the youkai?"
"No such thing as youkai," his father said briskly. "Change the water every two days until they start to go brown, and put that powder in when you change it. The side-cupboard upstairs, next to the bathroom, that's pretty empty, you can clip them up to dry in there later. You know you have to hang them upside-down, right?"
"Well I didn't remember telling you before."
Takumi put the box back in the cabinet and shut it more firmly and with more noise than was necessary. He heard his father pottering out of the kitchen and hung back by the sink to pour himself a glass of water, taking as long as possible to finish it and staring at the roses; it was weeks before he could look at a white car without thinking of red flowers, and at one point he even contemplated getting the 86 a discreetly duller coat of paint. By the time he was ready to slink back out into the living room, his father had already rearranged himself into the position he usually assumed for reading newspapers; he'd even managed to get a fresh cigarette lit, with the kind of speed that he immediately fumbled with and lost when you really needed him to hurry and do something. Takumi could see the smoke rising over the top of the newspaper and figured, from the look of it, that his father was quite deep in the World News now. If he was very quiet and very fast he could make it all the way upstairs before--
"Those are really nice flowers someone gave you," his father said, just before the first stair creaked, and Takumi bit his lip and wished very hard for no one to have told his father exactly how Takahashi's challenge had been issued.
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