Orihime in Hiding 13
Chapter 13 – Spiderbite
Ishida started the seven mile walk to Brooklyn at seven-thirty that morning. The woman who had worked the farmers’ market stall for Blue Bee Honey Farm had been helpful. When he stopped by the table of honey jars Sunday, yesterday — the general vicinity he’d last seen Orihime that afternoon — he couldn’t find her. He’d searched the entire market for two hours and there was no sign of Orihime Inoue anywhere.
But the woman at the honey stand remembered her.
“Yes, the Japanese girl,” the woman had recalled for Ishida when he inquired that afternoon as the vendors began packing up to leave for the day. “Japanese girl and the guy with the red hair. And damn if he didn’t have tattoos.”
Abarai? Ishida had thought. What was Orihime doing with him? Obviously Soul Society was involved.
“I didn’t catch her name,” the woman had said, “but she was with one of the girls who works for a restaurant we supply.”
And then the rest had trickled out. The restaurant was Manic Groove in Brooklyn, and the girl was Lyn, or Leah, or Lisa. The woman couldn’t remember which. It was enough for Ishida to go on.
An American girl? he thought. Maybe Orihime had a pen pal in the area.
Two miles into the walk his bags were getting heavy. The late April day was warmer than the season should have allowed, and he wished he’d had the money for cab fare. It was well beyond his financial means, any sort of paid transportation.
Memories of her tremulous brown eyes floated through his mind as he came up on another newly planted corn field. Seeing Orihime through Soul Society had given him a different glimpse into her, alternately exposing her vulnerability and strengths when they’d faced such high odds of accomplishing anything there. He smiled, recalling her resolute dedication to her friends.
Especially one friend. He frowned, slinging a bag strap over his shoulder higher, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Orihime’s undying devotion to Ichigo was admirable, he had to admit, but also futile when the stupid hero was indifferent to her feelings.
His hand tightened on his bag. In a way Ichigo’s disinterest in Orihime’s affections angered him when he saw how much it saddened her. At the same time, the last thing he wanted was for the orange haired guy to return her affections. That was nearly the last thing he wanted to see happen.
A foul smell met his nose and it took another two minutes of walking to realize the mound of rotting flesh, hair, and bone ahead was a deer carcass. He made a wide trek around it, the stench of the bloated animal accompanied by a horde of flies.
In his pocket was the hair pins and slip of paper. He still didn’t know what the fourteen written on it meant, nor did he know who’d left it for him. There were few options.
The sounds of a large truck approaching from the road behind him grew louder, and then changed as it downshifted into a lower gear. Ishida looked over as the semi-truck slowed and stopped, its diesel engine rattling loudly. He halted and glanced back at the long tractor trailer stacked with felled trees a meter wide.
“Hey!” came from the open window in the door.
Ishida looked up at the red door reading ‘Tri-County Hardwoods’ on the side. He reached for the latch at the lower part of the door, and hesitantly opened it, which took a forceful jerk.
Inside a man sat in the driver seat, a cowboy hat with the sides rolled on his head and dark sunglasses hiding his eyes. “You wanna ride, son?”
Ishida looked the truck cab over, the reek of stale cigarette smoke rolling out. “I’m going to Brooklyn.”
“SoamI,” it sounded like to Ishida. “Get in.”
Ishida didn’t equivocate. He climbed into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut. The large truck eased into motion again.
Ishida adjusted his glasses, looking the driver over again. The man was thin, hands wrapped around the huge steering wheel, a half burnt cigarette hanging from his mouth.
“How much will this cost?” Ishida wasn’t sure about accepting unplanned rides. Was it proper to tip? he wondered.
“Cost? Huh? No.” The man shifted into another gear and the sounds of the truck engine dropped. “What’s in Brooklyn for ya?”
Ishida cleared his throat, pulling his bags closer on his lap. “I’m looking for a girl.”
“Hmm. Ain’t we all, son.”
“Have you ever heard of the Manic Groove restaurant?”
The cowboy hat bobbed as the man nodded. “Best nachos.”
Ishida took a deep breath, wishing he’d taken English earlier in school. “Her name is Lisa, Leah, or Lyn.”
The man looked to him. “Risa, Reah, or Rin?”
Ishida decided against trying to get any help. “Yes.”
“Nope.” The man looked back down the road. “You Chinese or somethin?”
“Oh. I see.”
The outskirts of Brooklyn came up quickly. The truck dropped to a lower speed, and Ishida found himself searching the sidewalks for a familiar sweet face.
“I’ll have to let ya out next block,” the driver said. “The mill’s got its own entrance. Can’t make the turn in town. Big ticket if ya go through the residential.”
“I’m grateful for the ride.”
The truck slowed a block from the house Renji and Orihime occupied, and the driver checked his side mirrors for traffic, seeing little.
Ishida pulled on the door latch. “Thank you.”
“Good luck. Try the nachos.”
Ishida got out and stepped back on the sidewalk as the tuck slowly moved into motion, its left turn signal blinking at the end of the long trailer of logs piled ten feet high, chained tightly. The driver waited for the traffic to clear and turned the rig by a sign reading Tri-County Hardwoods before the first residential block began.
Ishida looked to the gas station on his side of the street, and then down the sidewalk that led into town. According to the obituaries he’d read over the weekend, Mr. Neal Conrad had passed away at 218 Brooklyn-Pierport Street, the street that Ishida was standing beside. If he was lucky, Mr. Conrad’s relatives who — as listed in the obituary, resided in California — hadn’t sold the house yet.
Ishida settled the bag strap on his shoulder, the other bag in his hand. He didn’t relish taking up lodging in the dead man’s house, but it was either that or find another house for sale.
He hoped the utilities were still working.
Mrs. Brooks was in favor of sweet bean paste baklava that Monday afternoon in kitchen four. Orihime, Leah, and Meg nodded in agreement as they headed to the dry foods pantry and started their search for the small red azuki beans.
Orihime looked at the stacks of glass jars on the ceiling high metal shelves. With a pantry like this, she thought, they could make anything.
Meg waved her and Leah over when she found the section of containers filled with individual jars of legumes and loose leaf herbs. She shook the glass jar, the beans rattling inside.
“Perfect,” Leah said, looking to Orihime. “If we replace half the nut mixture, we’ll need about two cups of bean paste. How many ounces of beans do you think we need for that?”
Orihime frowned, one hand going to the back of her neck where the spot beneath her hair was sorer than usual. “Well, I think about four-hundred grams.”
Meg and Leah looked to each other.
“I wish I’d paid a little more attention when we studied equivalencies,” Meg grumbled. She held the jar of beans closer. “We’ll just take the whole thing.”
They looked to where the students from kitchen one were entering the pantry, both of the girls splitting from Marc as he tried to move closer to them.
“Beat it,” one of them growled at him, balling up her fist when he neared.
Marc put up a hand, grinning as he back away. “Okay, okay.”
Leah took Orihime’s elbow. “Let’s go.”
As they made their way back to kitchen four, Orihime felt a sudden dizziness, the room beginning to turn as she tried to focus on the counter where they worked. She stopped, unsteady for a moment, feeling Leah’s hand tighten on her arm as she halted.
“Hey, are you okay, Inoue?”
Orihime nodded, which only made her head spin faster. She squinted, trying to focus on Leah as Meg continued on her way to the kitchen.
Leah looked closer at her. “No you’re not. What’s wrong?”
“Just a headache. A little dizzy.” Orihime took a deep breath, smiling more. “It’ll pass.”
“Do you want to go to the nurse’s office?”
“Oh, no.” This time Orihime didn’t shake her head. She let herself be led by Leah back to the kitchen, her fingers pressed to the back of her head, just under her hairline. “It’s getting better.”
“You shouldn’t ignore headaches. Mom says everyone ignores headaches like they’re nothing, and then they end up in the emergency room with all kinds of problems.”
They reached the counter where Meg was watching them curiously, the cap already off the glass jar. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing,” Orihime said quickly with more cheerfulness than she felt. “Is your Mom the nurse here?” she asked Leah.
The brunette girl shook her head. “No, but she is a nurse. For the ER at Piermont Medical.” She lowered her voice. “Do you get headaches a lot, Inoue?”
“Oh, no. But, yes.” Orihime groaned. She’d meant to leave it at no, but it was getting harder to think, and Leah’s voice seemed to be muted. “Just sometimes.”
“Did you tell Mrs. Smith?”
“Oh, no. I can’t. You see …” Orihime stopped herself, eyes widening. “I mean, it’s not …”
Meg shook her head. “I’ll get Mrs. Brooks.”
“Oh, no. I’m okay,” Orihime said, dropping her hand from her neck, wincing at the throbbing pain there. “It’s getting better.”
Meg didn’t believe it. “Why don’t you tell Mrs. Smith?”
Leah watched her carefully. “You said we need to add sugar for the bean paste. How much do we need?”
Orihime stared back at her. She knew this. She’d made it plenty of times at home. “Um, about… Oh,” she said, her mind clearing a little, “just as much as beans we’re using.”
Meg nodded. “Four-hundred grams?”
Leah continued to watch Orihime as Meg looked around in the cupboard near the sink for a measuring cup. “We could go to the Piermont Medical emergency room, Inoue. Mom would get you right in quick. Renji could take us. You wouldn’t have to tell Mrs. Smith. Do you think he’d do it, without telling his folks?”
Orihime giggled, and then shook her head slowly. “I don’t need to go, Leah. It’s gone.” She smiled as her thinking cleared. “All gone.”
Leah studied her closer, looking to each eye. “Mom’s home after school tomorrow. Why don’t you come over and she can take a look at you then?”
Leah glanced around at the other kitchens, and then stood close to Orihime’s side. “Mom’s got everything at the house. Our bathroom’s got more supplies than a doctor’s exam room. She was always bandaging up my brother when he was younger. He’s got like a hundred stitches from his junior high years alone.” When Orihime frowned at her, she added: “He was real adventurous, my brother Brad.”
“Oh, no, thank you. It’s just a headache. It’s gone now.” Nearly so.
Meg was looking at both of them. “Well, two-hundred grams is equal to a cup. So, two cups of sugar and beans each. How’re you feeling, Inoue?”
Leah sighed, watching her. “If you change your mind, let me know. It’s no problem, Inoue. Mom would love to meet you.”
Orihime nodded, smiling wider now that the fogginess of her mind was lifting. She wanted it clear so she could recite her passage from Tamamo, the Fox Maiden in Shakespeare class next hour.
“Yup.” She looked to the beans on the counter. “We have to boil them in sugar water and drain them. Then they sit overnight and we make the paste tomorrow.”
Meg lifted an eyebrow. “Tomorrow?”
Orihime nodded. Leah shrugged.
“Bean paste tomorrow, baklava on Wednesday,” Leah said, sighing. She looked to Orihime. “This is a long recipe. We’re going to have to beg Mrs. Auden to let us out of Shakespeare Wednesday.”
Meg nodded. “She’ll let you go. She’s all for the culinary arts. So medieval, you know.”
Orihime’s fingers went to the back of her neck again. She smiled as Leah’s attention remained on her.
The spot was sore, a small bump. Maybe it was a spider bite. Maybe she should tell Renji.
Maybe it would just go away in a few days.