Orihime in Hiding Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – Roleplaying

Renji looked with misgivings at the bowl of miso soup before him on the kitchen table the next morning. He recognized the white cubes of tofu, the scallions floating on the top of the broth, the sesame seeds sprinkled on. The soup’s base, however, was definitely off-smelling and too grainy. And yellow.

“No dashi?” he finally asked, ladling another spoonful testily before letting it drop back into the ceramic bowl.

“No; it’s sardine juice. They didn’t have any dashi stock at Busch’s, and this is close.” Orihime sat down with her own bowl at the table. She pushed a plastic sleeve of saltine crackers to him. “There was no dried wakame, so we have crackers. Everyone here uses saltines in soup at school.”

He propped both elbows on the table, glaring at the contents of the bowl, determined to eat at least half of it.

Orihime broke one of her three cracker squares into the soup, stirring it gently. “Are you going to use the grass mower today?”

He nodded, smelling one of the crackers before crushing it in his hands over the bowl. “If the damn thing works.” The lawn push-mower he’d found in the dank basement last night was not the newest model, and had lost a wheel when he dragged it up the stairs to the garage. Their neighbors had already cut the grass once each the last week, and one of them, their neighbor north, had mowed twice. He wasn’t entirely sure that neighbor had done yard work for the right reasons. The guy was single, mid-twenties, living in a rental house, and had spent most of his time watching Orihime as she admired the flowers in their front yard. Renji had a good mind to pay the guy a visit.

Against his better judgment, he raised a spoonful of the yellowish soup to his lips.

Orihime had just tasted hers. She chewed slowly, watching him. “It has lots of flavor.”

He nodded, forcing himself to swallow the pungent liquid. “It doesn’t taste much like sardines.”

“Oh, well, I accidentally bought the sardines packed in mustard.”

The bite of fish and broth threatened to come back up his throat, but Renji refused it passage. He crumbled four more crackers into the bowl. “When’s Leah coming over?”

“Eleven o’clock.” She eased down a bite of her own.

He glanced at the clock on the wall, figuring he could starve until then, but didn’t want to trounce on Orihime’s efforts. “I don’t care if you have a few friends over, Inoue, but be careful. We have to look average, but you don’t have to befriend everyone. No guys.”

“I only know one anyway.”

His attention left the soup. “Who?”

“Scott. He has the locker next to me. Leah said he was kind of grabby, so –”

“Then don’t talk to him,” he said sharply.

She nodded slowly. “Okay. I don’t much.”

“Well, make it less.” His attention settled back to the soup, moving a piece of tofu that had turned strangely yellow. “What about that other girl? Mag.”

“Meg. She’s really nice, too, but she had to baby-sit today.” Orihime looked with reservations at the yellowing cubes in her bowl. “I think the tofu is absorbing the mustard sauce.”

He nodded.

She pursed her lips, debating her next words. “Renji, what about Tatsuki?”

He looked up quickly. “What about her?”

“Is she going to be okay?” Her eyes held a cautious inquiry. “Aizen won’t come after her, will he?”

“Soul Society will take care of her.”

“And Karin?”

The softness in her tone made him sigh. “Yes, Karin and Yuzu, too. I’m sure Ishida has gone off to strengthen his skills as a Quincy, and –”

“Ishida?” Orihime’s tone was more pointed now. She leaned slightly over her soup, fingertips of both hands planted on the table. “Is he gone?”

Oh, shit, Renji thought. He scratched the back of his head, just below the ponytail, considering the lies he could tell. He found himself shrugging. “I’m sure he just took off on his own. There’s a break in classes. You know how he is.”

She nodded. “Yes,” she murmured. “He’s very thoughtful.”

He looked at her, trying to read her expression as she hovered over her soup. “I’m sure he’s okay.”

She sat straighter, smiling. “Hai.”

It was ten minutes to eleven by the time Orihime answered the knock to the front door in the living room. She straightened her apricot colored blouse over her tan capris. She’d spent most of the morning making the small house tidy and welcome, which hadn’t taken much, but first impressions were important.

Which was partly why Renji was still in the garage working on ‘that cussed mower’, she’d learned to call it. Occasionally she heard the sputter of the mower engine, but it always cut out before gaining any speed.

She approached the door cautiously. Maybe she should have Renji answer it. He had said she could answer the front door if she was expecting someone.

Her hand paused on the door knob. She hoped it wasn’t the neighbor again. How many cups of sugar could a single man borrow in a weekend, anyway? she thought.

She opened the door. For a moment there was only large leafy foliage, and then Leah turned around, peeking from the plant she carried.

“Hi!” Orihime opened the door wide.

Leah smiled when she saw her. “Hey, I’m so glad this is the right place.”

“Come in.” Orihime stepped aside and Leah came into the living room.

“The address sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.” Leah switched the plant to her other hip. “I’ve got the basil.”

Orihime leaned closer to the plant, inhaling, making a face at the strong smell. “We’re using fresh?”

Leah nodded. “It’s best to use the larger leaves. That’s what the head chef says.”

Orihime took the plant while Leah removed her shoes and set them to the side. She brushed her coral t-shirt of leaf fragments and Orihime handed back the plant.

“Thanks.”

“Come on in.”

Leah followed her into the kitchen where a radio was playing lowly on the counter near the toaster. “Are you here alone?”

“Oh, no. Renji is outside. Mr. Smisu is still gone on business, and Mrs. Smisu is shopping.”

Leah set the plant on the counter, frowning. “She sure shops a lot.”

Orihime nodded slowly. “All the time.” She didn’t like the idea of lying to Leah, but there was no choice. “Do you live close by?”

“Uh, not really. About a half mile on the other side of school.”

“Half mile,” Orihime repeated.

“Yeah. Uh, I’m not sure what that is in kilometers.”

Orihime opened a cupboard. “Would you like tea?”

“Sure. Thanks.” She watched Orihime pour two glasses of ice tea from a pitcher she took from the refrigerator, listening to the weekend farm report update. It wasn’t what she thought would be on the radio. The room was painted a mild yellow, accented with peach colored tiles making up the splashboard around the sink. The stove and refrigerator were an avocado green. “We’ll need a rolling pin or mallet and a plastic bag to make the basil rolls.”

Orihime nodded. “And the kitchen.”

“And the chicken.” Leah looked to the bracelet the other girl wore. “You might want to take that off. It’ll probably get dirty.”

Orihime’s eyes went to the bangle, shaking her head. “I can’t.”

Leah tilted her head curiously. “You can’t?”

“Well, I can. Of course I can,” Orihime said with a giggle. “But I, well, I like to wear it all the time. It was a gift.”

“Oh. Well, okay.”

They spent the next twenty minutes cleaning the boned, skinned chicken breasts and washing the large basil leaves and patting them dry with paper toweling. On the counter were arranged breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, two eggs, and a handful of toothpicks.

Orihime looked down with misgivings at the chicken breast in the sealed plastic bag, the rolling pin in her hand. “Are you sure?”

Leah nodded. “You just pound on it until its flat, to a quarter-inch in thickness. Then we’ll roll them.”

Orihime glanced at the basil leaves on the paper towels that were nearly half the size of her palm. “I didn’t see anything like that at the Busch’s market.”

“It’s not from Busch’s. They’ve got a lousy selection of produce. I brought it from the Manic Groove restaurant. I work there a couple nights a week and sometimes weekends.” She watched Orihime position the rolling pin over the bag hesitantly. “They get a lot of supplies from growers at the Pierport farmers’ market. They’ve got everything there; produce, eggs, craft things, and they sell to the public on weekends.” She nodded to the bagged chicken. “Go ahead and pound it.”

Orihime raised the dowel. “What kind of produce?”

“Well, vegetables and fruits from local hothouses, and home preserves.” She smiled as Orihime timidly brought the rolling pin down on the bagged chicken. “Harder, Inoue.”

Orihime whacked the chicken again with more force. “Are you sure?”

“Yup. It’s good for getting rid of frustrations, too.”

Orihime smiled and belted the bag again.

The back door by the refrigerator was flung open and Renji burst into the kitchen, startling them both, and making Leah yelp for more reasons than one.

“What the hell are you doing, Orihime?” he’d yelled in Japanese before spotting Leah.

They both looked to him in surprise, flinching again. Leah withdrew a step farther as he entered and closed the door behind him.

“We’re cooking,” Orihime said. She tapped the rolling pin on the bagged chicken. “See?”

His eyes were locked on Leah. The Cupcake? In his kitchen?

“Hi,” she said with a small smile, raising a hand and wiggling a few fingers in greeting.

He glanced to each of them in turn. “Hi.”

Orihime wiped her hands on a dish towel. “Renji, this is Leah from school. Leah, this is Renji –”

“Renji Smith,” he said before she could finish, doubting her memory, and trying to pronounce the name correctly.

“Hi.” Leah wiped her hand on the back of her jeans after a few second’s pause, and extended it to him.

His hand reached for hers, and then he stopped, seeing the dark grime from the mower on the palm. He cleared his throat, looking to the counter. “This is cooking? What are you making?”

Orihime held up the bag with the half flattened chicken breast. “Basil chicken rolls.”

He looked to Leah, who was eyeing the smudge of grease on his cheek. He nodded. “You have to beat it?”

They both nodded.

He looked Leah over carefully.

She smiled fuller. “You were in the shop last week. I guess you’re staying for a while?”

For a moment he wasn’t sure how to respond. He was hoping she’d forget what he had said.

“For a while.” He looked back to Orihime. “Will that be supper?”

“Hai – yes.”

“Good,” he said with more relief than he cared to admit.

He disappeared into the living room and down the short hall. Leah turned to Orihime. “He lives here?”

“Uh-huh.” She positioned the bag and chicken on the counter again and hit it with the rolling pin. She paused. “You saw him at the shop … the cake shop?”

Leah nodded, leaning one hip to the counter. “I work there.” She chuckled. “I remember you coming in last week, too. The baker, well, he noticed you, too.”

Orihime frowned. “I didn’t see you.”

“Oh, I was in back. Doing donuts.”

Orihime resumed pounding the chicken.

Leah glanced to the hall and then back to the chicken submitting to a flattened mass in the bag. “That one is done.”

They set the chicken aside on a plate and put another in the bag.

“Does he always come busting in the door like that?” Leah asked as Orihime brought the rolling pin down on the bag.

“Oh, no. I think he didn’t know what the noise was.”

Leah watched the chicken flatten beneath Orihime’s attack, this one more quickly than the first. “He speaks Japanese, too?”

Orihime paused, realizing Renji’s mistake. “Oh. Some.” She thought quickly, estimating Leah’s inquisitiveness. “He was a foreign exchange student for Japan a few years ago. When he was in school,” she added, smiling at her resourcefulness.

“Really? Did he stay with your family there?”

Orihime tried not to recoil at the thought. There was so much wrong with Leah’s query…

“Oh, no.”

“You didn’t know him before you transferred here?”

Orihime frowned. “No.” She hit the bag, coming to terms that despite all her and Renji’s practicing, they’d left out a few details. More accurately, Division Ten had. After all, Captain Hitsugaya and Matsumoto were in charge of this operation. Which made her think of others in hiding, or missing.

Leah straightened at the counter and turned to dab with a paper towel at the drying basil leaves as Orihime pounded out the chicken. “How many rolls do you think we should make? Will Mr. and Mrs. Smith be back for supper or is it just you two?”

“Two? Three.” Orihime decided the chicken was flat enough. “I thought you were staying, too.”

“Oh?” Leah sorted through the basil. “Is it okay with … Do the Smiths leave you alone a lot, Inoue?”

Orihime added the chicken to the plate and found another piece to pound. “I’m not alone.” She looked to Renji as he reappeared in the kitchen, minus the smudge. “All cleaned up?”

He nodded, extending a hand to Leah. She wiped her hand on the dish towel and shook his hand.

“Thank you for helping Inoue at school.”

She smiled, her green eyes lingering on the black head rag he wore. “She’s nice.” She retrieved her hand and turned back to the basil as he looked over Orihime’s shoulder.

Leah tried to resist, but her attention went back to him. At this proximity there was no mistake about the tattoos, and the wrap did little to hide them. She didn’t realize he was returning her observation until she’d been staring for a moment.

She looked back at the basil leaves, which were all dry and verging on wilting from being handled.

“Are you staying for dinner?” he asked her.

Leah looked from him to Orihime, who smiled hopefully.

“If it’s okay with your folks.”

A look of confusion passed over Renji for a second, then he nodded. “It’s okay with them.”

“Sure.”

By the time the flattened chicken had been layered with the large basil leaves and rolled, dipped in egg wash and dredged in bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, skewered shut with toothpicks and fried, Leah had come to the conclusion that something was amiss at the Smith house. Maybe more than one something.

It wasn’t uncomfortable eating at the small table with Orihime and Renji. She didn’t feel unwelcome. Far from it.

The fact that they’d used chopsticks was a little unusual, Leah thought through the meal, without a fork in sight, for one thing. She could understand Orihime’s use of the bamboo pieces, but Renji? And just as adept.

Leah had made do with the chopsticks, chasing around her plate the grains of white rice Orihime had cooked with chopped bamboo shoots in chicken stock. She was relatively successful. She also noted that Renji had added liberal amounts of teriyaki sauce to his portions.

No one mentioned Orihime’s host parents. Renji never mentioned his parents. Not once did Mr. or Mrs. Smith get a nod in the conversation.

What they did discuss was the farmers market, of which Orihime was very interested. Leah described it in detail. She promised to draw a map to its location for them.

When the meal was over and the dishes stacked in the dishwasher, Orihime and Leah headed upstairs to her bedroom. At the foot of the staircase Leah paused, her view going to the bedroom at the end of the short hall near the ground floor bathroom. All she could see was the edge of a futon and a table lamp. She climbed the stairs with Orihime, her mind pushing several thoughts to the front.

The house was nearly bare. Over the course of the meal a few details had trickled out of Orihime and Renji. None were conclusive, but something seemed odd in the house.

When they got to the turn at the top of the stairs landing, Leah figured it out. No photos. Not a single picture on the bare walls. No landscapes, no oil paintings, no family photos of Renji or other children through the years, no school portraits.

She frowned. She’d think she would recognize younger versions of school age mug shots of Renji.

She glanced in the blue bedroom at the top of the stairs as they turned down the hall on the upper level. Nothing on those walls either, she thought. Not even a pin-up of some nearly naked babe-of-the-month. But what she did see nearly made her stop.

Was that a real sword on the bed?

She nearly ran into Orihime as the Japanese girl stopped at the last bedroom near the bathroom.

“Right here,” Orihime said, gesturing into the room.

Leah stepped in, looking around. Nothing on the walls except for a full length mirror. Everything in the house had such a transitory feel.

She shrugged the feeling away. “Have you finished your sonnet yet for Shakespeare?”

“No. Have you?”

They settled on the bed where Orihime’s school books were scattered.

“No. I’m not good at poetry. I’d rather read a play.” Leah looked at the geometry book. “How’re you doing in Mrs. Coffey’s class?”

Orihime rubbed the back of her neck with her fingers. “Okay, I think.”

“You should come over some day next week. We’ll make brownies.”

Renji suddenly darkened the doorway and they both looked to him. “Stay here,” he said, looking at Orihime.

Leah watched him leave. “Does he always call the shots for you?” When Orihime looked at her perplexed, Leah said: “Does he tell you what to do a lot?”

“Oh! No, no.” Orihime giggled nervously. “He must be going down to the store or something. He just doesn’t want me to get lost.”

“Oh.” Leah’s eyes rested on the bracelet. “Who gave you the bangle?”

Orihime looked at her wrist. “A friend. In Japan.”

“Oh, yeah? A boyfriend?” Leah grinned hintingly.

Orihime blushed, her mind going in a direction Leah could never imagine. “No.”

“It’s pretty.”

Orihime nodded, fingering the sapphire set in the bangle. “What should the sonnet be about?”

Leah shrugged, sighing, looking around the room for a clock. “Love. Most sonnets are about love. Someone special. Someone important to you.”

“Have you ever written one?”

Leah tried to laugh, but failed. “I’ve never had the inspiration.” She saw something vulnerable flicker across the other girl’s face. “Have you, Inoue?”

“I have people important to me, yes.” Orihime gathered a smile together. “A few people are very important to me.”

Leah nodded. “You’re lucky.” She looked to the clock again. Nearly four o’clock. “I should go. I’ve got a bus load of laundry to do before my brother goes back to college tonight.”

Orihime rose when Leah did and they walked back down the hall to the staircase. “Your brother is at university?”

“Well, it’s Eastern, so, yeah. It’s not State, but it’s a good school.” She glanced into the blue bedroom as they passed it. The sword was gone. She frowned, following Orihime down the stairs. “I promised I’d do his laundry before he went back.”

“Do you live with him?”

Leah thought it an odd question, but maybe it was just Orihime’s phrasing. “He lives at home, yes. We live with my mom. She’s working tonight.”

“Oh. That’s nice.” There was a drop in her tone.

Leah decided against asking about it. When they reached the bottom of the stairs she did have a question. “There was a sword in the first bedroom.”

Orihime nodded. “Renji’s bedroom.”

“Yeah, well, is it real?” Leah was instantly regretful of saying anything about it. “I mean, is it for something? A reenactment group or the SCA or something?”

Orihime nodded slowly as they went into the living room. “Something like that. Kind of, I think.”

Leah sighed, slipping on her shoes at the front door. “That makes sense.” Finally.

“Oh, your basil plant!”

Leah caught her arm as she started to the kitchen. “Keep it. It’s better than anything at Busch’s.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Leah smiled. “See you at school tomorrow.”

“Good-bye.”

After Leah had left, Orihime’s thought turned to dinner. Renji seemed to like the basil chicken rolls. Maybe they could try other variations.

Her thoughts went to the sonnet she still had yet to write. She touched the back of her neck.

Perhaps inspiration was closer than she thought.

Next Chapter

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~ by Miranda on December 7, 2009.

3 Responses to “Orihime in Hiding Chapter 9”

  1. Great chapter!!!

  2. 1st?

  3. 2nd!

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