Orihime in Hiding Chapter 12
Orihime in Hiding 12- Communication Error
Sam placed the tray of oblong pastries on the prep table by the cake donuts Leah was dipping in sugar wash before rolling in a bin of crushed peanuts.
“These are like bricks, Leah.” He took her hand and put one of the heavy long chocolate iced donuts in it. “They’re overweight by a whole ounce.”
She frowned at the cream filled pastry. “I don’t know why.”
“You obviously double-filled them. What’s on your mind?”
She picked up another one of the weighty donuts, groaning. Sam was right. She looked to Mrs. Simons in the shop’s front room, waiting on an elderly couple.
“Nothing. Should I redo them?”
“No. There’re no extra yeast blanks. Don’t worry about it. The customers are getting their money’s worth today.” He removed his white apron and studied her. “So, what’s up? You party late last night, or something?”
“No.” She finished the peanut donuts.
“No? What is it, then? A boy?”
She sent him a dirty look, arranging the donuts in a double line on the tray.
He grinned. “I see. Thomas, again?”
“He was so last summer, Sam.”
“Then who?” He washed his hands at the small sink near the back door. “Anyone I know?”
Leah sighed. “Of our four mutual acquaintances, Sam? No.” She wiped her hands on the damp dish towel nearby. “What should I do with these?”
“Put ‘em back out. Rose said to use them. She just wanted you to be aware of it. That’s all.”
She looked uneasily at the owner in the front of the shop. “How mad is she?”
Sam was right. When Leah took the tray of cream filled pastries, Rose merely smiled and shook her head, but added a “Watch, dear” as Leah returned to the back room. She arranged a row of powdered cinnamon donuts next to the peanut ones on the tray as Sam hovered out the back door, smoking a cigarette in the alley.
What the heck is wrong with me? she thought, scooting the donuts into neat rows. Double filling the donuts? She hadn’t done that since her first week at the bakery. She looked up at the clock over the sink. Ten o’clock on the dot. She’d gotten used to the Stevie Wonder songs marking the top of the hours at Manic Groove, and sometimes lost track of time at the Cake Cottage. Not today.
She stripped off the burgundy apron as Sam stepped into the back room from his break. “I’m out of here.” She washed her hands at the sink as he tied his apron back on.
“Sure you don’t want to stick around and finish this next batch?”
“Yup.” She punched out her card at the time clock near the apron pegs and took off her pink blouse. She smoothed the pale green knit top she wore underneath, straightening a turned cap sleeve. She shook out the blouse and hung it over the apron, wiping the traces of donut sprinkles from her khaki cargo shorts, and then looked to the shop’s front door. “There’s my ride.”
Sam looked through the wide window between the front and back rooms. He grinned at Orihime’s form passing through the front door. “Oh. You know her?”
“She’s a friend. Be nice.” Leah sat down on the stool beneath the pegs and changed her sugar dusted shoes for a pair of sandals. She put the shoes under the stool. “See you later, Sam.”
The baker was leaning over the work table, a pile of dough before him. He looked past Orihime as she waved at Leah from the counter, spotting Renji in the blue truck at the curb. “That’s your ride, Leah? You sure you’re hanging around with the right crowd?”
“Watch it, Sam.” She took her hair-tie out and ran a hand through the dark hair. “He’d snap you in half in a heartbeat.”
Leah grabbed the white bag of donuts she’d set aside earlier and joined Orihime at the counter. “Hi.”
Leah looked apologetically at Rose behind the display counter. “I’m sorry about the Bismarcks, Mrs. Simons.”
“Hey, we match,” Orihime said, pulling at the hem of her green shirt a few shades darker than Leah’s.
“Yup. I hope you like lemon.” She held up the bag.
When they got to the truck Renji was looking at the stores across Main Street, most of which were closed for the day. He looked to the passenger door as Orihime climbed in the cab and Leah after her.
“Hi,” he said to them.
“Hi,” Leah said. She pulled the door shut and handed the bag to Orihime. “Lemon poppy seed cake.”
“Mmm.” Orihime opened the bag to see the three donuts.
Renji eased the truck into the lane after a break in the lazy Sunday morning traffic. He’d looked at the directions to Pierport in the phone directory, but all he could distinguish was that he made a right at the traffic light ahead.
“Should we eat them now or later?” Orihime asked, eyes still on the pastries.
“Now, I guess,” Leah said.
“Is there a hardware store in Pierport?” Renji asked as the truck made the right turn at the green traffic light.
Leah nodded. “But it probably closes early, being a Sunday.”
“We’ll go there first.”
Orihime handed a donut each to Leah and Renji and folded the bag flat in her lap. The truck passed their house on the right as it headed south out of Brooklyn, and he glanced at it, seeing Raider waved from his front yard.
“These are good,” Orihime said, looking at her donut.
“They’re one of our best sellers on Sundays.” Leah looked out the window at the crops starting at the edge of town. “This is only the second weekend the farmers market has been open, so it’ll be busy.”
“The restaurant you work at,” Renji said, finishing his donut, “they shop there, too?”
“No. They have produce delivered. Most of the suppliers at the market have year-round hothouses. Some come up from Ohio.” Leah watched Orihime pick a crumb off her rose colored capris. “Have you decided on a poem for Mrs. Auden’s class yet?”
Orihime nodded, munching on the last of her donut. “I think I’ll do something from Tamamo, the Fox Maiden. I remember part of it.”
“You’re going to recite? You’ll get extra points for that,” Leah said. She pushed her hair to one side, wishing she’d left it up in a ponytail.
A mile from the town limits of Pierport the farmland changed to residential, slowly at first, a few houses with some acreage, and then developed into small neighborhoods. It was at one of these first houses that Orihime felt a strange draw, as if someone had called her name, unheard by either Leah or Renji.
She looked to the small stone house separated from the ones surrounding it by a line of thick spruce trees. There was nothing remarkable about it; a simple house with a single car garage behind it. Her eyes stayed on it as the truck passed. The sign in the front yard marked it as For Sale.
She looked to Renji, who was also looking at the house. His attention went to her.
“Did you see something?” he asked in a low tone, aware Leah was watching them both.
“No. Did you?” she asked, tempted to inquire in Japanese.
He shook his head.
“But I felt something,” she said softly, in Japanese this time.
He nodded, his eyes now on the road ahead of them. “Me, too.”
“Not him.” Orihime sighed, wishing her spiritual powers were restored. Aizen had seen to exhausting that before she’d been rescued. It made her feel useless. “But it was familiar.”
Leah was looking at the house now behind them. She turned back in the seat. “Do you know who lived there?”
“No.” Renji asked, slipping back into English, hoping she wouldn’t ask about the exchange. He returned her curious look. “Do you?”
“No. It’s been for sale for a while, I think.”
He nodded. Pierport was well-marked with a welcome sign and the standard community sponsor board at the city limits, and from there the sidewalks started on either side of the road and the houses were closer together. It was a larger town then Brooklyn, but not by much. Renji stopped the truck at the first red traffic light in town, looking to the next light two blocks ahead where the town’s main two streets crossed.
“Where’s the hardware store?” he asked Leah.
She looked at him quizzically. “Right at the next light.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked.
Orihime’s eyes shot from her to him, and then back on the street as the light turned green.
Renji’s hand tightened on the steering wheel. Maybe they should just tell her the truth. How bad could it be? She’d freak out and then it would be over. On the other hand, he thought as they truck pulled away from the traffic light, she may abandon Orihime altogether. Americans weren’t real big on Soul Reaper legacies. And even if she did tell anyone, who’d believe her story?
“No. Not lately.” Was there a worse way to have put that, he wondered as they approached the next intersection. “It’s been a while.”
He made a right turn at the green traffic light and the town shops clustered closer along the main thoroughfare.
“Didn’t your parents move here recently?” Orihime asked helpfully.
He nodded, grinning at her in thanks. “Yeah. Recently.”
Leah pointed to the hardware store on the right side of the four lane street. “That’s it. Where did you move in from?”
Dammit, he thought. If they told her the truth now, she couldn’t run away. Not really. It was seven miles back to Brooklyn. Think, Renji.
“Jasper,” he said. It was the only town that came to mind.
“Oh,” Leah said as the truck turned into the hardware store’s parking lot. “Because I didn’t see you in any of the old yearbooks.” She looked to him quickly, a blush touching her cheeks. “I mean, my brother’s old yearbooks.”
“Oh, does he go to school in Brooklyn, too?” Orihime asked as Renji parked the truck and turned off the engine.
“No. He did, but he graduated two years ago.”
For a moment Orihime stared at Renji, her look silently inquiring about something. He shook his head, his mind treading the same course as hers.
“Not yet.” He looked to Leah. “Let’s go.”
It took ten minutes to find a door that matched the measurements of the back door Renji was replacing, primarily because they didn’t have any measurements. The house had been devoid of a tape measure, but there was a ball of twine, and he’d resorted to cutting two pieces of the string to fit the measurements of the door.
The salesman gave him an odd look, but found a door to specifications. After finding an additional deadbolt lock set and a few other pieces of hardware, they were back in the truck.
Leah turned in her seat to look in the truck bed as they waited for an opening in traffic to make a left turn back into the thick of town. She turned around.
“Why do you need a new door? Did you get robbed?”
Renji’s knuckles were white around the steering wheel, muttering curses at the heavy traffic. “The neighbor’s dog tore up the other door.”
Orihime nodded vigorously. “It’s a huge dog. Like a pony. Big teeth.”
“You didn’t get bit, did you?” Leah asked her as the truck joined the street traffic.
“Oh, no.” She put a hand to the back of her neck, mumbling a ‘sorry’ as Leah dodged an elbow at the movement. “No one got bit.”
They found the farmers market located at a side street closed off for the event on the other side of town. It was located near the town park, a small lot with a gazebo and a few benches. At one corner was an area barricaded with straw bales and pens where a petting farm display showcased small animals. From it came the bleat of goat kids and lambs, and an occasional squawk of ducks in a kiddy swimming pool. A small temporary stage was set up and a thin crowd had already gathered where three men in cowboy hats and western vests were playing instruments while a fourth sang his rendition of Dwight Yokum’s Fast as You.
The blocked-off street was lined with vendors in tent stalls and stands, the smells of various foodstuffs and the petting farm mingling. Wagons and baskets were piled with produce, while other craftsmen were displaying jewelry and handicrafts. Moving through the midst were two politicians trying to hand out literature and a clown with a fistful of helium-filled balloons on strings.
Renji parked the truck at the municipal lot a block away and they got out to walk back. He looked around at the crowd already on the sidewalks heading for the market.
He hadn’t yet decided whether it was going to be a security nightmare or a leisure afternoon.
The music got louder as they got closer, and the eager politicians — one on either side of the entrance from the back of the street — descended on pedestrians entering the market. Renji ignored them, as did Orihime and Leah, and they waded into the throng.
Orihime looked with interest to the second display, a table set up with glass jars of homemade preserves. The young girl behind the table was of junior high age, and she smiled, then looked at Renji with confusion, and smiled even bigger.
“Hi. My name is Mindy and my sister and I make all our own strawberry jams. Would you like to try some?” Mindy asked. Behind her was another younger girl who was staring at Renji, holding a blue balloon tightly, a rainbow painted on her cheek. On the sidewalk farther back was a woman holding a toddler, watching them tiredly.
And that was how it started. From there it was jams, and salsas, home-canned blueberry pie filling and mini pumpkin tartlets, homemade soaps and scented bath oils with waxed coated caps.
Renji hung back, watching Orihime and Leah investigate each table or canopied stall, his attention on the perimeter of the crowds and the clown who was continuously laughing at his own poor jokes. They had only moved halfway down the first side of the street when he found himself shelling out money for a jar of jam and a cake of soap.
“Look at these,” Orihime said, holding up a pair of blue earrings at one table displaying jewelry. The blue beads glistened in the noonday sun. The music had changed several times, and now it was Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.
“Ooh, they match your bracelet.” Leah nodded at Orihime’s wrist. “Perfect.”
Orihime was looking elsewhere, her brown eyes searching the shifting mass of people moving along the side street. “Did you hear anything?”
Leah looked around, and then to Renji, who was watching them. “No. Just the music and people. What did you hear?”
“Oh. Nothing.” Orihime glanced to the far end of the street where it opened onto the main street.
Leah glanced that way, and back to Renji. She stepped closer to Orihime as they inspected another set of earrings. “What does he do?”
“Yeah. You know, for a job.”
Orihime sent a look his way, and then smiled. “Security. Yup. That’s what you’d call it.”
Leah nodded slowly, averting her eyes when Renji caught her stare. “Like a security guard somewhere?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“Well, that would explain a lot. Do the Smiths leave you alone a lot with him?” It didn’t come out exactly the way Leah wanted it to.
“Oh, no. Not really.” Orihime thought furiously for something convincing to say. “Mrs. Smisu is taking Mr. Smisu to the airport today. He has a business trip.”
“Oh, I see.” She watched Orihime search the crowds around them. “What are you looking for, Inoue?”
Orihime shook her head. “Just, I don’t know. Nothing, I guess.”
Leah looked around the street as they moved on to the other side where most of the produce was being sold. The first stall was mostly perishables, such as green beans, beets, scallions, and bunches of radishes. Orihime selected some of each, and Renji found himself carrying two bags to the next table. This time it was farm produce of another sort, and he added a bag with two cartons of a dozen eggs apiece to one hand.
“Honey,” Orihime breathed as they approached the next stand. She looked up at the sign. “Blue Bee Honey Farm.” She pointed to the table set with paper plates. “What’s that?”
Leah looked closer at the plates of desert samples. “Baklava.”
Orihime giggled. “Byakuda?”
Renji’s attention snapped to where they were hovering over the table.
“Baklava,” Leah said again.
“Have a sample,” the elderly woman behind the table offered, holding up a paper plate. “Fresh made from our own honey, from our own hives.”
Orihime nodded, taking a plate. “Thank you. Ooh,” she said, sampling it. “Very sweet.”
Leah handed a plate to Renji, who switched the bags to one hand to take it.
“You know what would be good in this?” Orihime said, studying the desert of layered phyllo and honey.
Leah had learned to cringe at those words. “Raisins?” she said hopefully.
“Sweet bean paste.” Orihime nodded. “Yup. Hey, do you make an pan at the cake shop?”
Leah shook her head, swallowing her bite. “I don’t think so.”
“Hmm. Could you make this with sweet bean paste?” she asked, holding up the plate.
Leah shrugged slowly. “I guess so. Substitute some of the honey, I guess.”
Orihime nodded. “Can we get some honey, Renji?”
A jar of honey later they were at another stall selling dried beans, much to Orihime’s delight, and they bought two pounds of azuki beans for an attempt at an baklava.
Renji wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but Orihime seemed happy about it, and they walked back to the truck to drop off the purchases before finishing the rest of the vendors.
He looked to Orihime, and then to Leah, who was watching him. Her eyes went from his wrist, where the watch was hanging loosely so it wouldn’t press against the nickel size burn on his skin, to the welt near it still blue from the spar with Ikkaku. This time she didn’t look away, her eyes locking on his.
“Did you get into a fight?” she asked.
He frowned, glancing to Orihime. She looked back to the people on the sidewalk ahead of them.
Leah tilted her head, studying him. “Are you sure?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She withdrew half a step at the question. “Nothing. Sorry. It just looks like …” She shook her head.
They walked in silence a moment before he put a hand to his nose. It was still tender, but he didn’t think it looked bruised. Actually, there was a minor amount of bruising, and it was only under one eye. Hardly noticeably.
“It wasn’t a fight,” he said.
“Oh.” Leah looked to Orihime, who wore a small smile. She glanced back to Renji. “Did you win?”
He sighed, grinning slowly as she began to smile. He shifted the bags in his hand. “Of course I won.”
They stowed the bags in the shadier side of the truck bed and headed back into the market. They spent the next hour looking over the potted herb plants, of which Renji bought an opal basil variety, and several bunches of packaged greens more recognizable to them.
Leah paused as they halted at the stall of summer squash and peppers set out in peck size baskets, following Orihime’s gaze. The Japanese girl’s eyes wandered over the crowd, searching, hoping. She looked to Renji to find him looking around, too.
She wasn’t imagining it. Each was definitely looking for someone or something. She glanced around, but didn’t see anything amiss. She didn’t see anyone else returning their stares either. Maybe it was just Renji’s nature.
But it didn’t excuse Inoue, she thought. She looked back to him. At first she thought the slight dark around his left eye was a shadow in the truck cab, but in the direct light of the afternoon she knew it was bruising.
It was a few more minutes before she realized the heavy stare of someone from the other side of the market, near the politicians’ stands. It was more the fact that he didn’t move in the bustling street than anything else.
“Do you think these are hot?” Orihime asked, holding up a small green pepper as Leah glanced down the street.
Leah looked back to the peppers. “Hmm? Oh, jalapeños? They’re hot.” She glanced down the street to the Japanese boy with the slender build, his dark hair uncommon in the milling crowd, his pensive stare on Orihime.
After a moment Orihime looked up from the peppers, first to Renji, who was looking at the opposite end of the market street, and then to where Leah’s attention was fixed. Her eyes grew wider, her hand dropping the peppers back into the basket.
“Ishida-san,” she murmured softly.
Leah looked to her. “Who?” She stood on tiptoe to see the Japanese youth better. “You know him?”
Orihime could only nod slowly, a smile crossing her face. “I knew it was familiar.” She looked to Renji. “Ishida-san is here.”
Renji followed her attention to the end of the street, but the figure had moved on. “I don’t see him,” he said after a moment.
Orihime searched the crowded street, but he was lost in the shifting crowds. “I saw him. So did Leah.”
He looked to the brunette girl. Leah wasn’t sure what to say.
“I saw a Japanese boy down there,” she said, pointing to where the politicians were hounding people. “But he’s gone now.”
Renji scanned the jostling crowd as Orihime made her own scrutiny. Leah looked around, but saw no one familiar. Renji looked back to Orihime.
“It’s impossible,” he said.
“I felt him, Renji,” she said, frowning, eyes still moving over the crowd. “It must be him.”
“It can’t be,” he insisted. He watched the mass of people for a moment. “This is the last place he’d be. No one knows you’re here.” He saw Leah’s puzzled expression and added lowly to Orihime: “Only Soul Society knows exactly where you are. No one else.”
She nodded, a pout starting at her lips. “You’re right. I must be mistaken.”
Renji paid for the peppers and squash Orihime had picked out from the farmer’s baskets and they started back to the truck. His search of the crowds continued. There was no reason Uryû Ishida would be in Brooklyn. He knew the Quincy had been scarce in Karakura Town, and even Tokyo, but that didn’t mean the boy was actually gone.
He watched the clown circulating among the market goers as Orihime and Leah turned on the sidewalk leading to where they’d parked the truck a block away. American clowns were creepy. A lot of the kids didn’t appear to like the colorful guy either, judging from the way they shied from the balloon wielding oddity.
They stowed most of their purchases in the back of the truck and got in the cab. After a few long moments of working through the backstreet pedestrian traffic, they were on their way back to Brooklyn.
At the edge of town Orihime glanced at the stone house as they came up to it. She wanted a better look at it, which was partly why she wanted the window seat. It was a plain house, with a small porch and yard, two-story, but the second floor inside would consist mostly of angled walls, allowing little living space.
She knew it wasn’t Ichigo’s reiatsu she’d felt earlier, but it was definitely someone’s. She sighed, pulling the plastic bag of peppers and squash on her lap closer. Perhaps she hadn’t seen Ishida at the market, but it certainly seemed like she had. She’d felt something there.
She looked to Renji, who was watching her. Leah sat straighter between them to see what held their attention out Orihime’s window. She repositioned the bag of squash she held in front of her, her elbow catching Renji’s ribs.
He grunted at the jab, putting his free hand to the spot.
“Not you.” He rubbed the tender area that was doubly bruised, looking from her to the road ahead.
“Was that from Charlie or the fight you didn’t have?”
He shrugged. “A little of both.”
She nodded and looked to Orihime. “Who did you think you saw at the market?”
“Oh, well, I thought,” Orihime said slowly, “I thought it was someone I knew. From the United Youth Exchange Program.” She smiled, perking up. “That’s who I thought it was.” She looked to the bag on her lap. “Maybe we could make the pepper cups like we did in class last week.”
Leah nodded. “With burger, or…something else?”
Orihime considered this. “Like what?”
Renji thought Orihime’s story was believable, but he sincerely doubted she’d seen Ishida. The girls’ talk turned to peppers and what could be stuffed into them for a dinner dish.
When they got to the house, however, a dark green Jeep was parked in the driveway. Renji slowed the truck before he turned into the driveway, frowning at the new vehicle, until Matsumoto appeared at the back of the house. Raider was hanging over his side of the hedges, obviously standing on something to see the woman. He waved to the truck as it paused on the street, but his greeting went unnoticed.
Renji pulled the truck into the drive, feeling Leah’s knee move away from his leg as her eyes went to the busty woman standing near the Jeep.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
Orihime looked to Renji, whose focus was on the strawberry blonde.
He stopped the truck and put it into park. “Gwen,” he finally said. He looked to Leah. “My sister.”
Orihime nodded. “That’s right. Gwen. I remember her.”
Leah looked to the woman, who appeared to resemble Orihime more than Renji. She was dressed in a pair of hemmed jean shorts and a loose fitting unbuttoned flower print shirt, tied at her waist over a yellow tank top. “Sister?”
Renji nodded, grinning. “Older sister.”
They got out and Matsumoto met them at the truck. She looked to Leah, smiled, and then to Orihime and Renji.
“Hey, you’re home.”
Renji nodded. “Hello, Gwen. This is Inoue’s friend from school, Leah.” He gestured to Matsumoto. “My older sister, Gwen.”
Matsumoto shot him a sour look as he went to the truck bed and collected the packages. She shook Leah’s hand, looking her over. “Leah? Hmm, I thought your name was Debbie.”
Renji groaned. “Charlie got it wrong.”
“Hi,” Leah said, holding her bag of produce closer as they moved to the back of the house.
Matsumoto fell in step beside Orihime. “How do you like American school, Inoue?”
“Oh, I do.”
Renji got to the back door before them to find it unlocked and open. A brief second of alarm came over him, until Matsumoto took one of the bags from him.
“I already went in. Looked around. Didn’t find anyone.” She smiled at his relief. “I couldn’t imagine where you’d gotten off to.”
He nodded and held the door for Orihime and Leah to enter the house. Leah looked to the heavier inside door that still showed damage from the attack the night before.
She glanced to Orihime. “The dog did that?”
Orihime giggled nervously. “Oh. Yes. It was a huge dog.”
“I guess so.”
They put the bags on the table and Leah set hers to one side by the damaged door. Orihime glanced from Renji to Matsumoto. She looked to Leah.
“Come upstairs. I’ll show you the piece I’m using for Mrs. Auden’s class.”
Leah nodded, looking to Matsumoto before following Orihime.
“Gwen could be your sister, Inoue,” Renji and Matsumoto heard Leah say as the girls left the kitchen.
Matsumoto looked to Renji with her arms crossed in front of her, which only added volume to her shirts. “Gwen? Older sister?”
He grinned. “I could have said mother.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sister is better. I thought her name was Debbie or Meg. That’s what Ikkaku’s report said.”
He shook his head and opened the refrigerator to find two cans of soda. He tossed her one. “Ikkaku got it wrong.”
“Speaking of reports, are you keeping up your paperwork?”
“Sort of. I’ll make the third copy when I get back to Soul Society.”
She sat at the table and opened the soda, frowning at it. “Is this it? Nothing stronger?”
“Not at the moment.” He leaned against the sink counter, looking at the Japanese-to-German guide book on the table. “Who’s going to Germany?”
“I am.” She sat back in her chair. “I’m taking Tatsuki Arisawa into protective custody.”
“What’s Aizen been up to? Making moves on Karakura Town?”
“Not that Soul Society has noticed, which is suspicious. Just a precaution.” She drank the cherry cola, making a face at the blandness. “Why haven’t you been calling in your weekly reports?”
He scowled. “I was told to use the communicator only in emergencies.”
She looked to the door. “It looks like you’ve had an emergency, Abarai.”
“I took care of it.”
“You still should have reported it.” Her fingers drummed on the table. “You haven’t been returning Soul Society communiqués.”
He shook his head. “What are you talking about? I haven’t been contacted.”
“Captain Hitsugaya sent you two in the last forty-eight hours, and Captain Soi Fon two last week. That’s why I’m here.”
“To check up on us?”
“Captain Hitsugaya said to swing by here and take a look before I go to Germany with Tatsuki.” She raised an eyebrow accusingly. “What have you been up to, Abarai? Too many of Orihime’s friends on your mind?”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” he growled. “I haven’t gotten any incoming messages from Soul Society.”
Matsumoto took her communicator from her front pocket and punched a few buttons. Renji waited for his to beep from his back pocket, but there was nothing.
She frowned at the device. “There’s no signal. That’s odd. I tried calling you several times earlier and there was a signal. Yours must be faulty. Or maybe there’s interference.”
He took his from his pocket and looked at it. “This place is a black hole of spiritual power. Maybe there’s something interfering with the transmissions, too.”
She closed up her communicator. “Maybe they need to be reprogrammed for the region.”
He nodded, watching her sip the cola. “How is Rukia?”
“Fine. She said to say hello.”
He watched a twinge of sadness pass over her blue eyes for a moment. “Have you heard anything? From him?”
Matsumoto didn’t try to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about. “That’s the past, Abarai. Some things should stay in the past.”
“I didn’t think you were giving up.”
“I’ve been fooled enough. Why should I fool myself?”
He nodded, deciding there was little he could say about Gin Ichimaru that Matsumoto hadn’t already thought about or cried over.
She shook the half full can of soda slowly, making the contents slosh from side to side. She set it down and stood up, putting one hand on a curvy hip. She cocked her head to one side as she looked to him.
“So, what’ve you got buried in the garage, Renji?”