Orihime in Hiding 8

Chapter 8- Fashionably Late

By Thursday Leah knew there was something seriously wrong with her new friend’s taste buds. She and Meg had shared a cafeteria table with Orihime for the last few days, and the lunches had gotten stranger and stranger, even putting the cafeteria food to shame.

“I can’t believe you’re going to eat that,” Meg said, her face wrinkling in distaste as she viewed Orihime’s sack lunch.

Orihime smiled and held up the flour tortilla roll of pungent ingredients. “Would you like some? I brought enough to share?”

She had every other day, too, Leah had noticed.

“No,” Meg said cautiously. “What is it?”

Orihime considered the roll. “Peanut butter, olives, and raisins.”

Leah looked at the spot of red forming from the tortilla roll, dripping onto the lunch room table. They were the only ones left. The other three students who usually shared the table at lunch — Stephen, Michael, and Danielle — had escaped at the sight of Orihime’s Wednesday lunch.

Leah nodded. “It’s bleeding.”

“Oops,” Orihime said. “And pickled beets. Like umeboshi.” She wiped at the red spot with a napkin and tilted the tortilla roll horizontal.

Meg turned to one side as she tried to hide a gag reflex, covering her mouth with her hand.

Leah cleared her throat, leaning over the table closer to Orihime. “Who packs your lunches, Inoue?”

“I do.”

“Not Mrs. Smith?”

“No, me.” Orihime positioned her plastic container of layered rice before her, for lack of a proper bento box, and took the wrapper off her spork. “Mrs. Smisu shops a lot. Mr. Smisu is a businessman.”

Meg had recovered. “So, this is what you want to eat?”

Orihime nodded, opening the plastic container to reveal rice topped with grated radish and sesame seeds. “I tried making the kitchen divan at home last night, but it didn’t taste like what we made Tuesday in class.”

To Leah’s horror, Orihime topped the rice with the contents of a packet of ketchup. She had lost all interest in the taco salad she had intended to eat.

“But I used salmon instead of kitchen.”

Meg and Leah had learned that meant chicken.

“And the broccoli was tough-looking, so I used asparagus instead, and I accidentally bought cream of potato soup instead of chicken soup.”

Meg swallowed. “That’s a lot of insteads, Inoue.”

Leah pushed away her salad. “Come over this Saturday and we’ll make one at my house,” she said to Orihime. She looked inquiringly to Meg, who was shaking her head.

“I’m babysitting,” the blonde girl said.

“Inoue? Can you?” Leah asked.

Orihime frowned for a moment. “I don’t know if I can. I don’t think so.” She brightened. “Why don’t you come over to my house? Our house. I don’t think Renji would mind.”

This got Meg’s attention. “Who’s Renji?”

Orihime was at a loss. What had they practiced on the plane? “He’s the brother. No, the son.”

Meg warmed to the subject. “How old?”

Leah nudged her with an elbow. “Geez, Meg, down girl.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Orihime said. Actually, she didn’t know. Not really. “Older than me.”

“But he lives with his parents?” Leah asked, using the spork to pick through her salad.

“Yes.”

“You think it would be okay with the Smiths?”

Orihime scooped a big sporkful of rice. “I’ll ask them.”

At first Renji was dead set against visitors, but when the mention of cooking a non-Orihime meal came up, he reconsidered. With conditions.

He’d spent the last few days becoming familiar with the buildings around Brooklyn High School. It was situated next to a residential block of older homes, opposite the side road with a single tennis court and a tiny poorly-designed skate park which consisted of a flimsy-looking ramp and two rails. He’d seen it in use, and it had proved capable of bringing assorted freshman boys to their bloody knees on several occasions during lunch. The school dead-ended on its own short street near the bus garage by the teachers’ parking lot. All in all, it was a small complex, unspectacular in every way.

The attempted abduction at the junior high school thirty miles away was still on Renji’s mind, and had been since he’d read of it. Despite the newspaper writer’s promise for new details on the incident, none were forthcoming. Nothing.

He hadn’t told Orihime about it, but he did catch her looking through the newspaper one morning in the kitchen. She’d said she was looking at the Busch’s store sales paper, and maybe she was, but he’d rather her not know too much about the incident. No sense in making her more paranoid than necessary.

“What’s wrong with your neck?” he asked for the second time that evening as they sat in the living room. They were both on the brown sofa, which was directly opposite the television, with the green wing chair and love seat to either side. In one corner was a ficus tree — an imitation ficus tree of plastic, they had learned after Orihime had watered it. Twice.

She dropped her hand from the back of her neck, just below the hairline. “Oh, nothing.”

He watched her go back to painting her fingernails as he used the remote control to switch channels on the television. Nothing but hockey games, but they were starting to grow on him.

“Did you finish all your homework?” His nerves grated at the words. It sounded so human.

“Yes, except for the sonnet we have to write, but that’s not due until Monday.”

“What’s a sonnet?” He flicked to the next hockey game. It was playoffs, he’d learned, and according to the two games he’d partially seen already, there weren’t many rules — if any — in the sport. It appealed to him.

“A poem. We’re studying Shakespeare’s sonnets.” She blew gently on her pink fingernails.

Renji looked to the paperback book on the coffee table before them. Shakespeare was on the cover. Nearly as ugly as the guys on the money, he thought.

“You have to write a sonnet?”

“Yup.” She said the word quickly enough, but her eyes belied a pout.

He could only imagine who that would be about. He settled on a game on the television.

She looked up at it, her eyes following one of the player’s jerseys during a close-up camera shot. “Ooh, that looks like your hat.”

He nodded, searching the screen for the team names of the quarter final game. “Chicago Blackhawks. So that’s what that is.”

“Thanks for letting Leah come over this Sunday,” she said, shaking the bottle of nail polish to start on the other hand.

He nodded, intent on the game as a scuffle broke out and two players began circling each other on their skates. “Don’t you get enough cooking at school?” The players suddenly threw down their gloves and reached for each others’ jerseys. “You don’t have to cook, Inoue.”

“I like to cook.” She carefully drew the small brush of polish over a fingernail, leaning over the coffee table.

He shrugged. “What’re you going to make?” And do I have to eat it, he almost said, but didn’t.

“Basil and chicken rolls,” she said deliberately, smiling at getting the names right. “They made it in school already, but it was earlier this year.”

He nodded, watching the two players pummel each other on the ice, the black and white clad linesmen nearby, but not interfering. He felt a sudden flux in the spiritual fields and looked to the front door. The katana was close in its cloth case, stuck in the umbrella stand by the wing chair.

“Stay here,” he said, getting to his feet.

She watched him check the lock on the front door, peek through the small peep hole that was too high for her to reach, and then glance out the narrow window covered by a lace curtain by the door that allowed view of the porch. His eyes moved across the yard, fingers twisting the ring on his left hand, and then he went into the kitchen.

“I’m going out to look around, Orihime. Stay put.”

“I will,” she said lowly. She didn’t hear the back door open or close, and after a moment got up to look into the rear room.

The kitchen was empty.

Renji perched on the top of the highest rooftop in the neighborhood, relieved to be back in the black robes of a Soul Reaper. He searched the two lane road of Brooklyn-Pierport, but saw nothing amiss. A few cars, a man walking a dog in the growing dusk.

From his vantage point he could see farther into town, but there was no disturbance. In fact, the only ripple he’d felt earlier in spiritual energy had been minute, but it was still out of place in the void of Brooklyn.

He crossed town quickly, following the simple traipse of energy until he could pinpoint its strongest vein. The house looked like any other on the side street near the high school, two blocks from the center of town.

The spiritual tremor was fragile, flickering, and Renji alighted to an alley between two brick two-story homes divided by a chain link fence. Darkness had settled, thick and damp in the growing humid air. A low wheezing sound reached his ears, and he made his way to the house north of the fence from where the energy was radiating in slowly increasing ebbs.

He looked in the window at the man lying on the bed. He was old, well into his eighties in human years, dressed in pants and a shirt overly large and hanging on his thin form. Renji frowned, spotting a row of bottles of prescription medication on the nightstand beside the bed in the darkened room. The lamp wasn’t on, but he could see half a dozen small photos in various frames, most of the faces young, a few older.

The man gasped, his bony hands clutching the coverlet he had pulled over himself, eyes closed, his struggle to breathe growing more labored.

All those people, and he was going to die alone, Renji thought, watching the man. Where was his family?

He stepped from the window. He was quite sure the man’s imminent passing was what he’d sensed in the spiritual realm, but decided to look around town for a few moments. He’d only been gone two minutes. Orihime would be safe.

Leah looked fondly at the basil plant, and then sighed. “You’ve got three more, Ray. Sell me this one.”

Ray continued cutting up stew meat for the next day’s special in the prep room of the Manic Groove. Oven beef stew was one of the family restaurant’s specials, and Friday always brought out a crowd.

“What do you want with a lettuce-leaf basil plant, Leah?” he asked gruffly, his burly longshoreman exterior contradicting his finesse as head chef.

“I need it for a recipe.” She turned the container, admiring the fourteen inch-high herb of fragrant greenery. “I can’t get to the farmer’s market before Sunday, and I’m not working tomorrow or Saturday.” She looked to him, batting her green eyes at the middle-aged cook. To no avail.

“Who’re you making dinner for, huh? Got a fellow you’re trying to impress?” Ray chuckled, chopping up the beef deftly, adding the pieces to the six quart metal pan where a stack of meat was already waiting.

“No, but it’s for a good cause.” She glanced at the clock that read ten minutes past ten o’clock. Her legs ached. The dampness from the walk-in cooler had permeated her bare legs below her black capris, making her want to start the half mile walk home.

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Just don’t tell Connie.”

Leah nodded at the mention of the Manic Groove’s owner. “Deal. Thanks, Ray.”

“Don’t forget to pinch it off,” he called as she shucked her apron to reveal the standard attire for the restaurant, a tie-dye t-shirt, trimmed with matching fringe.

“I won’t.”

Renji didn’t stay to witness the dying man’s final breath. It wasn’t shinigami protocol to interfere, but neither did he want to watch. He spent several moments above the buildings closer to town, observing the merchants heading home, cats slinking in alleys…

He wondered briefly if Yoruichi Shihôin was among them. Not with the smells coming from those garbage cans, he thought, passing through to a secondary road leading away from town, at the verge of his half mile mark where a female form was walking, carrying a potted plant. After a moment he recognized her.

Cupcake.

Renji cringed. Cupcake? Egad. How ignoble. But it was the first thing he thought of when he saw her.

Well, maybe not the first thing, but one of the first.

He watched her until she crested the slight grade in the road and disappeared out of sight in the dark over the summit. It was too late to be walking alone down the road. Few houses were planted on either side of the road, as cornfields hinged on the outskirts of town.

He turned back to town, flash stepping to the dying man’s house in time to see the frail whisper of a soul ascend the sky above. It was a mournful, weary form, barely discernible.

Renji looked in the bedroom window at the corpse. Still alone.

No one should have to die alone, even in America, he thought. He slipped off the ring and put it on his left hand, and then used his elbow to break the glass in the window pane, and threw a rock from the fence weeds at the darkened brick house next door over. A light came on in an upstairs window.

When he got back home — yes, he had to admit, home — Orihime was still on the couch where he’d left her five minutes ago.

Fingernails and toenails all painted pink.

“They’re needles.”

The baggage inspector looked at the slender, dark-haired youth opposite the airport check counter.

“Sewing needles,” Uryû Ishida clarified. “It’s a sewing kit.”

The heavyset inspector held up the kit, thumbing through it with big meaty hands, her skeptical examination expecting contraband with every movement. “You a tailor or something?” she asked, shifting her considerable weight to each foot.

“I’m a student, and yes, sewing is a passion of mine.” Ishida wished he could have studied up on his English before taking the impromptu trip across the ocean. It hadn’t entirely been his choice, but there had been no denying the hair pins and set of numbers left for him in his glasses case three days ago.

The inspector looked at the growing line of passengers behind the Japanese youth. She slid his bags to him across the counter. “Okay. You can go.”

“Thank you.”

He repacked his bags further down the counter. No one had seen who delivered the hairpins at school. There had been few whom he could question about it, and most of them had become scarce.

He stuffed the last of his clothes in the bag and zipped the bag shut. Orihime had disappeared ten days ago, and he had his suspicions that Soul Society was behind it. That hadn’t bothered him too much.

But when Karin and Yuzu Kurosaki had come up missing — well, that was odd.

Even Tatsuki had been acting a little off lately, but Ishida thought that was because Orihime was absent.

Against his better judgment Ishida had paid a visit to the Kisuke Urahara shop. Urahara had been no help.

Well, a little help, Ishida decided as he gathered his two bags and headed for the exit of the airport, and to an unknown destination.

“Longitude and latitude,” Urahara had said, smiling that sneaky smile of his, peeking out from his striped hat. “That’s all I know.” He pointed at the last number that was circled. “No clue what the fourteen means.”

Ishida made his way to the line of taxis waiting outside the airport, then looked to the row of public transportation at the end of the curb.

Detroit smelled bad and it was noisy, he decided, heading for the blue and white double-decker buses.

There were few who would have left the hairpins and set of geographical coordinates. Considering that Orihime had returned from Hueco Mundo without her hairpins, he felt safe to assume that whoever had delivered them was also from there.

And from Aizen.

But why him? Why a Quincy?

Perhaps a sympathetic member of Aizen’s minions. Perhaps an Espada. Perhaps Ulquiorra. Perhaps someone with a kindly bend toward Soul Society.

Someone high-ranking, Ishida thought as he looked at the destinations listed on the buses.

Perhaps Aizen had a traitor in his midst.

Next Chapter

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~ by Miranda on November 23, 2009.

3 Responses to “Orihime in Hiding 8”

  1. 1st?

  2. Uryu has her hair pins?

  3. yeah, they were sent to him by the “mystery person” who gave him the coordinates to find her. And considering this story takes place after she’s been held captive by Aizen…..makes you wonder if there is a snake in the grass.

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