When the haggard woman awoke, there was oddly little noise in her home. That was unusual, given all the rest of the time she'd spent here she'd always been used to a bit of noise.

She shrugged off sleep quickly, as she always did, and hopped out of bed. Today wasn't a workday, but that didn't mean she had time to slack off! There was always something that needed doing somewhere around here, and that was a way to make money. Now, more than ever, letting lethargy get to her was a bad idea. So, she threw on her clothes and that jade green jacket she liked so much, and got to walking down.

Stepping down the stairs, the haggard woman heard whispers from the dining room just beneath. Oh, dear. Had someone broken in, or something? She hadn't expected to have to throw down this early in the morning, but she sighed and began to crack her knuckles. A little body blow or two would be enough to scare off any intruder. If they had a gun, she'd have to be a bit quicker about it, but—

The lights came on.


As soon as she stepped off of the stairs, the haggard woman was pelted with streamers and confetti from above, and turned to see the kitchen and dining room plastered with balloons. Her daughter and her son-in-law were wearing tacky, multi-colored party hats, and her son was blowing a party horn. She idly considered what a nice couple they looked, just as she did literally every time she saw them. Her daughter had her eyes, and they really were nice eyes.

"...wha?" The haggard woman blinked.

"Come on, Mom." Her daughter was much smaller than her, even being a fully-grown woman by this point—though that could be more chalked up to her mother being quite the tank. "You forgot your own birthday?"

"Wha?" The haggard woman blinked again, then whipped her head back and forth. "Me? My birthday? Is it really that time of year already?"

"See?" Her daughter said, turning toward the ever-beloved hubby. "She quits one job, and she loses all sense of time."

"I've seen it before," her son said, "but it's really amazing."

—Honestly, she'd forgotten her birthday the last three years, too. It was hard to remember something like that when you had so many more important things to consider, like paying bills... speaking of which—

"Is that a cake?" The haggard woman pointed onto their table, on which a lovely little coconut cake sat. "Ohh, and it's even my favorite! Did you have the money for this? Are you sure you could—"

Though she was easily the strongest person here, through social momentum she was shoved into a seat in front of the cake. "Sit and enjoy your cake, Mom," her daughter said. "Quit worrying for a second. I'm twenty-seven and I'm married. We're not that reckless."

"I know, I know," the haggard woman said, "it's just... you know, it—"


"You know? It looks like a delicious cake," the haggard woman said. "I think I will enjoy it. You two make sure you have a little before it's all gone, I'm starving!"

"We will," her daughter said.

And so a few moments passed in which the haggard woman cut her birthday cake. "I was wondering why you invited me over," the haggard woman said. "Such a surprising show of generosity! Here I thought nowadays you two only had eyes for each other."

"That's ridiculous," her son said. "Mom, how many times have I told you that you're always welcome here?"

"Ryoma, she's MY mom," her daughter said, reaching over to flick her husband's nose. "I'm the one who should be saying that."

"Hey!" The haggard woman couldn't help but laugh as her son flinched under his wife's brutal attack. "I thought we were in agreement on this!"

"We are, but I should be the one saying it," her daughter said. All of them were smiling, and the haggard woman's laughter intensified.

"To think," the haggard woman said. "I remember just the other day it felt like I was in my twenties. You're sure I'm forty-four now?" Her daughter nodded. "Positive?"

"Positive, Mom," her daughter said. "I can do basic math."

"Soon enough you're gonna start forgetting these things," the haggard woman said, shaking her head. Her eyes glazed over, staring off into the distance. "Your age... your name... the color of the sky..."

"I can just have Ryoma tell me," her daughter said. "Ryoma, what's my name?"

"Cocona," her son said. "Cocona. Cocona, Cocona, Cocona, and it's the most beautiful name in the world. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Exactly, thank you," her daughter said. "Now!" Then, she reached under the table, and produced a small box, wrapped in jade green. "You ready to open up your present?"

"You got me a what," the haggard woman said. "Cocona, you can't be serious. Come on! You've—" She looked down instinctively. "You've got a child on the way, you can't be spending money on ME."

"I think you have a biased viewpoint and that I can spend money on what I want, Mother," her daughter said, puckering her lips into a frown. She tapped her mother on the nose. "Come on!"

Inside of the box, there was a pretty little gold ring, embossed with lotus decals—something the haggard woman had always, always, always been fond of. She began to tear up. "Oh, kids... You didn't have to..."

"Mom," her daughter said. She stood up, and wrapped her arms around her mother in a hug. "About, um, you. You know the world's been... messed up, this year. It's a hard time to be alive to begin with, and I... I don't want you to work yourself to death in these kinds of conditions. I just don't. You've always..." Sniffle. "Mom, you work so hard, every single day. I can't even count how many different things you've done for *my* sake."

"Sweetie..." The haggard woman rubbed her daughter's back.

"I'm an adult. Ryoma and I have well-paying jobs. I want us to be able to make *your* life easier for once," her daughter said. "Please. I want you to come live with us, Mom. We've got an open room, and I want you to just be able to not *work* for a bit." Pause. "If you can even conceive of that."

The room was quiet for a few moments. "We're very serious, you know," her son said.

The haggard woman's eyes began to fill with tears. "Oh, you both just want me to babysit, don't you?!" She pulled her son in for a hug, too, and he began laughing. "You just want to have me around as a gofer! Ohh, nobody has enough respect for a hard-working old woman these days!"

Through her sniffling, her daughter laughed, too. "You're forty-four, you old bat!"

The three of them laughed, and laughed, and their humble festivities filled the home with happiness for hours to come. To the haggard woman, it was a day so lovely she could hardly imagine it.

Perhaps 2020 wouldn't be so bad, after all! she thought. Finally, I can rest.
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