The three siblings sat on white-cushioned lattice-back chairs, their faces illuminated in the evening darkness: Muro and Moritora’s by the red LEDs of the nearby cafe’s “OPEN NOW” sign, and Matsumi’s by the screen of her smartphone. Muro had taken a peek, and saw that she was looking up fashion trends on Moss Bay’s internet.
“You know, it’s our birthday today,” Muro told them, a smile on her face. She adjusted her gloves, then leaned back and put her hands below the table, on her shorts.
“We know,” Matsumi said. She flicked her head up to look at their brother. “Right, Mori?”
“Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t let us forget about it,” Moritora said. He fished through his jacket pockets.
Muro pulled out two square packets of bubble wrap, which contained much smaller, darker objects inside. She put them down on the table, pushing Matsumi’s drink closer to her side of the table to make room for them and ignoring the glare Matsumi shot at her right after.
“Alright, geez,” Matsumi said, and cloth shifted over cloth as she dug through the sleeves and tresses of her robe.
Mori left his jacket pockets unbuttoned as he leaned forward to look at the packet closer to him. He grinned, and Muro could tell he was happy, though if anyone but the three of them looked at his face they would’ve just said he looked like he was spoiling for a fight. They’d figured that out from experience; it was one of a small list of reasons Mori didn’t let himself get too excited.
“That’s an SD card!” Mori said. “Where’d you find that? Shit, we’ve looked in black markets…”
Muro beamed and tilted her head up. “I’ve got my sources. Or, well, Moss Bay has a lot of sources.” Then she giggled. “But I’m going to keep that a secret for now. I mean, if you can buy your own SD cards, what am I going to do for you?”
Mori took the SD card and began unwrapping it. Then he stopped part of the way when he saw Matsumi take out the gifts she’d brought. Not wanting to fall behind her, Mori went back to looking through his jacket pockets.
“I took out my gift now,” Matsumi told them, “but you two are going to open mine last. That way they’ll have the most impact.”
Muro laughed. “You think we’ll forget about the other gifts that fast? Well I’m looking forward to it. I know you picked something good in the end.”
“What do you mean in the end?” Matsumi exhaled sharply through her nose. “Of course I did.”
Matsumi opened Muro’s birthday gift to her. It was almost magenta, a little transparent, and had a wavy pattern to its outer edge. It was one of the nicest hairpins Muro could find at the open-air shops two blocks down, and she thought it would look great on Matsumi. To her delight, the reluctant but growing smile on Matsumi’s face told Muro that she agreed.
Mori took out his gifts to the two of them, but it was immediately obvious they were the same thing. They were small bottles, white with blue labelling. Skin cleanser.
“Hey,” Matsumi said, glancing up from the hairpin at what Mori had taken out. “Not bad. You know, this time.”
Mori gave Matsumi a light smack on the back of the shoulder. “Lighten up,” she said. “It’s a good choice. We went through a lot of that stuff on the road, we might still need it for a bit. But hey! Pretty sure I saw a public shower on my way back. They take coins!”
“Even better, then,” Matsumi said. She slid the two small cardboard boxes she’d produced over to her siblings, and Muro and Mori opened them readily.
Inside Muro’s was a piece of soft lemon candy, wrapped in a colourful label, and several bills, minted by Moss Bay. Local currency, in other words. Mori took out what was in his — a spudger, followed by exactly the same assortment of dollar bills. They both turned their heads to look at Matsumi.
“You said the exact gifts don’t matter, just the meaning behind them,” Matsumi said. “This is my way of saying we need more money. And that you two should be saving up.”
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Mori said, quiet at first but approaching speaking volume with every syllable until he reached it. “You two spend a lot more.”
“We totally don’t,” Matsumi retorted, expression hard. “First of all, you—”
“Guuuuys,” Muro pleaded, “not tonight! Come on, let’s get you two more drinks.”