It could've been a nice day. Birds were singing in the trees, the sky was a clear blue and there wasn't a cloud in sight. The only thing that messed it up was the sun, which was little more than a pale speck in the sky.
Miho was walking back to home from school. She was now in one of the quieter, and richer, parts of Tokyo where she'd never hear much save for the echoes of her own footsteps.
And, since a few months or so, Ping's footsteps.
Miho was pretty sure she knew how it had happened. However, she hadn't actually noticed it until that one morning where she had woken up, saw Ping lying next to her in her king-sized four-poster and had suddenly realised that Ping had been sleeping there for well over a week now.
After school, Ping had got into the habit of going home with Miho to play games or something, or being tutored in English or just hanging around town. Fair enough. Miho quite enjoyed Ping's company, so she'd never objected.
And then Miho had asked Ping to stay over. After all, while Ping had a place to stay, she didn't exactly have a "home". And that had been quite nice too with Ping being just as cheerful in the morning as in any other part of the day. So Miho had asked her to stay over again and again until, after a while, she had simply stopped asking.
Miho and Ping turned a bend in the road and saw the Tohya mansion sitting on its hill a little while off. Miho knew that if she didn't say anything, Ping would just follow her inside. Unfortunately, today was one of those very rare days that Miho didn't want Ping around.
Miho took a deep breath. She wasn't sure what she was going to say. The feeling was troubling, to say the least. She always knew what she was going to say.
"<You can't come home with today,>" she said bluntly. She found that Ping still had some difficulty grasping subtleties and besides, it was probably for the best if it was over with quickly.
At least, that's what Miho insisted on telling herself.
"<Why not?>" Ping asked. She didn't sound very disappointed. Which disappointed Miho a little.
"<My parents are scheduled to come home today.>"
"<I've never met your parents,>" Ping said. "<Maybe this is a good time to introduce me to them.>" She paused and then added, "<As a friend, I mean.>"
"<No,>" said Miho.
"<Why not?>" Ping asked again. "<Do you think they won't like me because I'm a robot?>"
"<Technically a robot,>" Miho automatically responded. And then wondered when it had become automatic. "<But no, they won't dislike you because of that.>"
"<Aren't they nice people then? They seem very nice. They give you lots of things.>"
"<They certainly buy me lots of things,>" Miho said. "<But Ping, please, just… do a me favour and go home.>"
Ping nodded. "<OK. Will you come by to pick me up for school tomorrow?>"
"<Well… bye then.>"
Miho stood still as she watched Ping walk away. She waited until Ping had gone around the bend before turning around and looking back at the mansion. It was a very impressive mansion. It clearly said "here lives someone with more money than you".
To Miho it also said "this is a place where people exist, not live".
Miho walked into one of the living rooms, unceremoniously dumped her bag on the floor and walked over to the liquor cabinet. She took out a whiskey glass and a decanter, poured herself a drink and downed it in one go.
It probably said a lot about the master of the house that he insisted on the Coca Cola being kept in a decanter in the liquor cabinet.
Miho filled the glass again, put the cola back and walked over to one of the couches where she sat down, looked at the wall and thought of nothing.
"Ah, Miss Miho. I didn't hear you come in."
Miho didn't look up. "<Hello Jeeves.>"
"Shall I take your bag up to your room?"
"<Yes. Oh, and when are my parents coming home?>"
The butler hesitated. "Their private jet landed about two hours ago. Mrs Tohya is currently residing in the sauna and Mr Tohya immediately had to depart for his office."
"<In the sauna, eh?>" Miho said. "<I take it it's broken again and she's supervising the repairs.>"
"One of the pipes has sprung, yes," Jeeves said diplomatically.
"<Funny, isn't it? The sauna always seems to break down whenever my parents get home from a vacation or a business trip.>"
"I suppose one might consider it strange."
"<Someone might,>" Miho said. Then she sighed. "<Unfortunately I'm not her.>"
There was a silence in which Miho emptied her glass.
"I shall take your bag upstairs then," Jeeves said.
"<Don't bother. I'll do it myself,>" Miho said. "<You just… take this glass to the kitchen.>"
"Very well," said Jeeves.
The butler hurried out of the room with the empty glass. He was a good butler, but Miho often suspected that the two reasons he was hired in the first place were his name and his British descent. After all, it just didn't do to have, say, an American butler called Dave.
Miho got out of her school uniform, opened her closet and walked inside. Most items in the closet were black and were very definitely meant to be worn by girls. This was because, most of the time, Miho could wear whatever she liked.
Miho walked over to a section of clothes that was quite a bit away from the rest of her wardrobe. These clothes were neat and expensive and looked out of place between all the dresses.
Mr Tohya expected his only son to inherit the family company when he came of age. The fact that he was a girl didn't seem to bother him very much.
Dinner was being served in the dining room. This was fairly unusual in the Tohya household. It was usually served in Miho's bedroom.
"<How was your business trip, father?>" Miho asked, while suspiciously eyeing the pork chops and potatoes on her plate.
"It went very well," Mr Tohya said with a hint of quiet satisfaction in his voice. "I have some documents concerning the transaction that I want you to have a look at when you've got some time."
Mr Tohya was a big fan of Western culture. Or, to be more precise, of Western economical thinking. He therefore insisted on his wife and his heir to be fluent in the English language.
Which was why Miho always spoke Japanese around him.
"<I'm quite sure they will make a very interesting read,>" Miho said dutifully.
Down at the other end of the table, Mrs Tohya finished her glass of wine and signalled for Jeeves to give her another refill.
"<Tell me father, how long will you be staying?>" Miho asked.
"There's a rather important convention in Europe next month, so I'm afraid we'll be gone again in two weeks' time," Mr Tohya said. He didn't sound very sorry, he was just stating a fact.
"<My, my. That long?>" Miho muttered.
Miho stood in the middle of her room and looked around. There was, of course, her walk-in closet, the curtains of expensive black silk and the four-poster bed made of genuine endangered wood. There was a state-of-the-art computer standing on the very latest of fashionable desk design. A large flatscreen TV/VCR/DVD-player-combo stood on a small table, with every kind of gaming console imaginable sitting under it. Videos, DVD's and games cluttered up most of the floor, simply because she didn't have enough storage space for all of them.
Miho knew that it was time to start working on her homework. It would be the sensible thing to do, after all.
She sat down on the bed and stared at the wall.
A bit of salt water leaked out of one of her eyes.
She wasn't crying. Crying was a sign of weakness in this capitalist-eat-capitalist world and thus was not allowed in the Tohya household.
The drop of salt water landed on the floor, where it was joined by another drop. And another, and another.
Miho was standing in front of a small apartment door belonging to an equally small apartment. She was a bit early, but she didn't mind waiting.
After about twenty minutes she knocked on the door and, about three minutes after that, was walking towards school with Ping next to her.
"<Piro was very surprised when I showed up yesterday,>" Ping said. "<He said he thought I had moved in with you.>"
"<Did he now?>" said Miho.
Ping nodded. "<And how about you?>" she asked. "<Was it nice to see your parents again?>"
"<Oh, it was the usual, really,>" Miho said.
"<You don't sound very happy,>" Ping said. "<Is something wrong?>"
Yes, there was something wrong. Miho was going to inherit a vast fortune and, one day, be the CEO of a powerful multinational. And right now, she didn't want any of it.
"<No, nothing's wrong,>" Miho said.
Ping looked at her. She wasn't very good at recognising lies, but she was learning.
"<Well… if you say so.>"
Miho didn't need people. She had always known this to be a simple fact. After all, people who needed people were pathetic.
The school building became visible and the chatter of students audible.
Miho made a decision. If this made her pathetic, then so be it.
"<How would you like…>" Miho paused. Was she really sure about this?
"<How would like to go to a hotel with me for a week or two? As a sort of vacation?>"
"<But… we won't have vacation for another month,>" Ping said.
"<We'll take a hotel in the city, don't worry,>" Miho said. "<Well?>"
"<Sure,>" Ping said happily. "<I mean, if your parents don't mind.>"
"<Oh, I'm sure they won't mind,>" Miho said
In fact, I'm sure they won't even notice.