Orihime in hiding Chapter 7
Orihime spent the fifty minute geometry class sitting erect in the third seat in the second row, her attention rapt on Mrs. Coffey’s diagrams on the white board at the front of the room.
But something was wrong. As much as she tried, as much as she focused, Orihime just couldn’t follow the series of angles and lines. It wasn’t a headache, and it wasn’t entirely the language barrier; some other block. As if the synapses in her brain were shutting down, being replaced with a void. She unconsciously fingered the navy headband in her hair. Maybe it was too tight.
At least Mrs. Coffey hadn’t made her give much of an explanation. A brief introduction was all that had been asked of her.
When the dismissal bell sounded and class broke, the other students headed noisily for the door. Orihime just sat in her desk, and then realized she too was to leave. The teacher wasn’t coming to her. She had to switch classrooms.
She’d barely gotten into the hall when a large girl bumped into her, gave her an annoyed look, and moved on.
“I’m sorry,” Orihime called after her, but the girl didn’t acknowledge her. “Sorry!”
A couple of taller boys shoved past her, then turned to look at her with appreciative leers before continuing on their way through the crowded hall.
Orihime quickly stood to one side of the hall, against a row of lockers, her schedule clutched in her hand. She looked at it and frowned over the next class name on her list, sounding the words out carefully.
“Hey, can you move it?” a girl asked, standing behind her.
Orihime looked to her. “Yes.”
The thin blonde girl crossed her bony arms. “Then move it. That’s my locker.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
The girl elbowed her way to the locker, knocking Orihime in the chest.
“Shit, what’s up with the padding?”
Orihime frowned, slowly contemplating the remark.
The girl opened her locker and fumbled through it.
Orihime looked up as a hand tugged at her sleeve. She turned to see Leah. “Hi.”
“Hi. We’ve got Home Ec next. Come on.” Leah shot the skinny girl a dark look.
Orihime let herself be led through the bustling hall, Leah’s hand moving to her arm. “I’m not stalking you; I saw your next class on your schedule earlier.”
“Oh. What is Home Ec?”
Leah lifted an eyebrow. “You don’t know?”
Orihime dodged a couple of boys scuffling beside the water fountain as they passed. “Not exactly.”
“Yeah, classes are full; they probably put you wherever they had an opening.” Leah turned them down a secondary hall past the science labs. “Why are you starting so late? I mean, it’s second week of the fourth quarter.”
Orihime nodded, ready with her practiced answer. “My first host family had an emergency, and I was transferred here.”
“Wow, really?” Leah shook her head. “That’s too bad for you. Were they nice?”
Leah pushed through the double set of doors that led to the electives lab rooms. “How about now? Do you like your new family?”
At first Orihime didn’t answer, until she realized what Leah was asking. “Oh, yes. They’re a nice family.”
“That’s good. Do they have kids here? In school?”
Leah opened the door to the kitchens. “Well, this is it. You’re lucky we’re done with theory. Now we get to cook.”
“Oh, good,” Orihime murmured as they entered the room.
Mrs. Brooks turned to look at them as they came in, her plump face breaking into an even plumper smile. “Well, Inoue Moriyama, is it?” she mispronounced.
Orihime nodded, bowing slightly.
Mrs. Brooks returned an even deeper bow. “Ee-No-Ooh-Way,” she said phonetically, slowly. “That’s pretty.”
Orihime nodded without correcting.
“I’m Mrs. Brooks. You’ve met Leah. You can join her and Meg in kitchen four.”
Leah nodded. “I’ll show you where.”
Orihime followed the other girl to the segment of kitchen, past three other units, that consisted of a sink, stove, and island counter.
“The pantry and coolers are over there,” Leah said, pointing to the two large stainless steel refrigerators and a set of louvered doors. “Whatever you do, don’t get caught alone in the pantry with Marc.” She nodded to a short thin boy with red hair loitering in kitchen one with two plump girls. “He’s something of a creep.”
Orihime nodded, eyeing the redhead that was angling closer to one of the girls in the kitchen, until she shoved him away, and being slighter, he tumbled into the kitchen island counter.
“This is Meg,” Leah was saying as they met a blonde girl already leaning on kitchen four’s counter. “Meg, this is Inoue. She’s an exchange student from Japan.”
“Really? Great.” Meg extended a brisk hand and smiled.
Orihime shook the girl’s hand as the class bell rang.
“Just put your stuff over there,” Leah said, indicating a row of shelves with other books on them at the outer wall. Orihime did this and when she got back to the kitchen Mrs. Brooks was making her rounds.
“Well, Inoue, in our kitchen we take one day to create our menus, and another day for execution and presentation.” She smiled. “Leah and Meg can bring you up to speed on this week’s assignment. Of course, our dishes may be very different than what you’re used to.”
“Thank you,” Orihime said automatically, wishing she could think of something more appropriate.
The teacher turned to Meg and Leah. “What’s your dish and approach?”
Leah pulled a note card out of her pocket and unfolded it. “We’re doing chicken divan with eight ingredients.”
“In thirty minutes?” Mrs. Brooks asked skeptically.
Meg hedged a little. “Including cooking time, it’s forty-five.”
The teacher nodded. “Anything longer than forty-five minutes total will affect your grade.”
Leah and Meg exchanged looks.
“Ten minutes prep, thirty-five minutes cooking,” Meg said.
“Sounds good.” Mrs. Brooks left then, and Meg and Leah sighed.
Meg tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and looked to Orihime. “We’re doing simplified dishes of classic family standards. Kind of thirty-minute dishes, but it’ll take us two days, for class time.”
Orihime smiled. Now this was something she could use.
From there Orihime’s day went a little smoother. They spent the class period cutting up chicken and cooking it for preparation of the next day’s dish. After that it was Shakespeare class, which also had Leah in it, followed by art, lunch, English, study hall period, and physics. Mr. Hermann, the physics teacher, had been kind enough to sympathize with Orihime’s late start, and decided she could remain in class and do simplified assignments for the weeks left in the school year.
By the time she met Renji at the tree across the street, she was tired and ready to go home. Renji looked as if he were ready to burst with boredom.
“Where did you go?” she asked as he waited for her to reposition her hair band.
“Really? What did you do?”
He stood arms crossed, looking out over the milling students shoving their way to the buses parked in the semi circle of drive. “Absolutely nothing.”
“Oh.” She sighed, smoothing her hair. “I’m sorry. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“We’ll see how this week goes.” They joined the procession of students already taking the sidewalk along the side street to the main cross street, Brooklyn-Pierport. “How’d your day go?”
A group of seniors passed them on the sidewalk, a few of them turning to get a better look at them. No one said anything, but a few of their heads bobbed together in discussion as they turned back around.
“What’d you think of it?” Renji asked as they reached the end of the sidewalk where the busier street crossed.
“Oh, it’s very different. We change classes and teachers. It’s so crowded in the halls.”
He was about to have them start across the street during a lull in the traffic, but a pudgy woman wearing a strange neon smock held up a hand and shoved a sign in their faces.
“Wait on the traffic!” she yelled.
Renji threw an arm in the direction of the street. “There is no traffic!”
“Uh, Renji,” Orihime said.
“Wait for the light!” the woman called back, the sign wagging defiantly in his face.
Renji looked to the traffic light. One side was green, one side was red. “Which one?”
The woman ignored him, but stepped into the lanes as the traffic light changed, holding the sign up, the other hand flat and stabbing the air at cars that were already halted. She blew a whistle and the group of students that had joined Renji and Orihime began a collective movement across the street.
“Control freak,” he muttered.
“I think we can go now,” Orihime said meekly.
Home, such as it was, was almost a welcome sight by the time they got there. Almost. Renji unlocked the back door and ushered Orihime in. He took a quick look around the kitchen, living room, small bathroom and main floor bedroom — which was serving as the host parents’ bedroom, but only contained a futon and a coffee table — and then the second level rooms. Nothing.
“All clear,” he told Orihime as he joined her in the kitchen.
“Thank you.” She slid off her book bag and looked eagerly to the refrigerator before glancing back at him. “They teach cooking there, Renji.”
He wasn’t sure how to react to that. “Oh, that’s nice.” Maybe he shouldn’t ask. “What did you learn?”
“Oh, well, we just cooked the chicken today,” she said, concentrating on the syllables of the words. “Tomorrow we cook, I think.”
He nodded, and she headed for the staircase.
“I’ll make something for supper.”
He grimaced, watching her ascend the steps. “We could order out.”
“I don’t mind.”
He sighed. Something hit the front door of the living room, and for a fleeting moment he thought of the katana in his bedroom, but didn’t take the time to get it.
He flung open the front door, ready to pounce on anything, and found a rolled evening edition newspaper on the welcome mat. He looked around, but there was no sign of the paper carrier. He took the newspaper in.
English was fast becoming a familiar — and tedious — language for him, and whatever rules there were governing the printed word was elusive and subject to change, he’d noticed. Even so, Renji settled at the sofa with the newspaper. The headline on the front page floored him.
‘Attempted School Girls Abduction Foiled,’ the headline read. He opened the paper, extending it to its full size to see the color photo in its entirety. Looking back at him was the individual class photos of four junior high girls, each with varying shades of auburn-brown hair of long lengths, each fourteen or fifteen years of age, in eighth grade at Jasper Middle School thirty miles from Brooklyn.
Renji frowned, reading the first paragraph carefully. According to the newspaper reporter, two armed men had attempted to take the girls from school property the previous Friday as they boarded a bus to go home. The gunmen had pulled the girls out of line as they waited to get on the buses, and the girls who resisted had been forced at gunpoint to accompany the men. The girls escaped when a parent picking up his son from the nearby high school had passed, witnessed the disturbance, and interrupted with his own handgun.
A registered handgun, legal in the state, and issued to the parent under the concealed-carry law by Michigan.
Renji scowled. There was some question by authorities if the man was to be charged with violating the firearm ban on school property. Stupid authorities, he thought. Where were their priorities? The men were taken into police custody and further details would be released as they became available, the article promised.
He looked closer at the photos. Any of them, in theory, could be Orihime Inoue, by description. Long hair with fading bangs in the front, parted to one side, some with barrettes, some with hair bands, large eyes, round pleasant faces.
Any of them.
He sat back, folding the paper as he heard Orihime coming down the stairs. Someone knew something. Aizen was indeed moving with humans.
“Renji?” Orihime said again as he only returned her a thoughtful stare to her inquiry. “Should I make supper now?”
When she went into the kitchen, Renji quickly retrieved the katana from his bedroom upstairs.
He pulled it from its cloth scabbard, examining the razor sharp edge, thumb touching the polished metal testily.
Sharp enough for human flesh, he reasoned.
Thirty miles north of Brooklyn that evening, Karl Rybak was sitting in a low-rent hotel room, a different newspaper spread out in front of him on the bed, the same attempted kidnapping story on the page.
He reread the article.
At a bus pick-up? In front of a junior high school? Not the top line of his Employer’s long list of bounty hunters, surely. Definitely amateurs. After all, his Employer had expressly emphasized no guns.
He took a magnifying loupe and looked closer at the photo of the two men being hauled away in handcuffs to squad cars. On one he could see a band above the cuff at his wrist. A flat one-inch band of steel with no detailing. Much like his own.
Rybak looked at his left wrist. The flat metal band had been welded on by an odious looking man as his Employer looked on.
‘To keep track of your progress, should extraction become necessary,’ his Employer had said with that bland, innocuous look he always wore.
Rybak looked to the three phone directories opened on the bed. Three counties encompassing thirty-five school districts were included in his study. That was the region covered by the signal he’d been given. He was primarily interested in the high schools.
It was only a matter of time. A process of elimination.