·:*¨¨*:·.** Chapter Seven **.·:*¨¨*:·.
The Onus Of His Duties
Aoi waves to the white van as it pulls away up the street from the front of her house. She holds her book bag in her free hand and smiles warmly. Madoka doesn’t ride around in a limousine, but even so, Aoi is still amazed by how well off her new friend seems to be.
“This is like some kind of crazy dream. My new friend is a beautiful rich girl. Is this some type of manga plot?” Aoi laughs, turning towards the gate that leads into her yard. “Madoka even has a butler. A handsome butler.” She blushes as she toys with a strand of her hair and thinks. There is something strange about Madoka. There’s a quality about her that makes me want to protect her. She is extremely adorable. But what is it about her that feels so strange? She frowns, pushes open the aged wooden gate in front of her family home, and steps into her yard.
She walks up the path made up of a series of flat weathered stones of slightly differing colors. There is well trimmed grass to either side of the path in front of the Japanese-style house and plants sitting both in pots and in designated planting areas about the yard. A variety of wildflowers are planted in this mini garden as well, though it’s no longer the season for viewing them. A few hold on here and there, but as it gets further into September, the trees will turn golden or red before their leaves drop in late November or December. Even so, the tail of Summer seems to be holding on for the moment.
Aoi steps up the path and slides open the front door of her home. The smell of cooking dinner immediately assails her and her stomach growls a little, making her blush. She steps inside and closes the door behind her, turning to remove her shoes and then placing them neatly in the shoe rack that her family has had for ages. They always keep their shoes in the same places out of habit. She steps up out of the genkan and slips her feet into her house slippers. She slides open the inner door and calls out the ritual phrase: “I’m home!”
A woman’s face pokes out from the nearby kitchen as Aoi walks inside across the dark stained wood floor. “Welcome home, Aoi! How was your first day of the new semester?” She smiles, walking out the kitchen. Aoi’s mother is a woman in her mid-thirties with mid-length reddish-brown hair and the same light-blue eyes that Aoi has.
“It was fun, Mom.” Aoi smiles, stretching. “I made a funny new friend today.” she says. “A new girl who started the year a little late due to an accident,” she says.
“An accident? What happened?” Aoi’s mother’s eyes widen slightly.
“I don’t know.” Aoi frowns. “She didn’t want to talk about it. But it was bad enough that she’s in a wheelchair,” she says. Aoi’s mother gasps, putting a hand to her mouth.
“Oh dear… is she alright? I suppose she must be if she’s going to school,” her mother comments.
Aoi nods and smiles. “She’s alright. She seems a little anemic though. She gets tired quickly. Honestly, she’s the cutest little thing.” Aoi laughs.
Her mother smiles. “Oh? Are you taking in another stray, Aoi?” She chuckles.
“She’s a person, Mom,” Aoi chides her mother, frowning.
“I know, dear. But you always had a habit of taking care of strays. It doesn’t surprise me that this girl interests you.” Her mother smiles knowingly.
Aoi blushes. “It’s not like that. She’s a genuinely cute and interesting person.”
“I look forward to meeting her sometime.” Aoi’s mother smiles. “Dinner is Cream Stew.” She winks and steps back into the kitchen. Aoi smiles brightly. She knew she recognized the rich chicken-y smells that are wafting from the kitchen. She hums a little as she makes her way through the corridor towards the back of the house. The corridor branches to the left or right and is open air from this point. The storm panels are open as they are usually on warm days, affording a view of the back garden, which is really just a continuation of the small garden surrounding the house. A stone lantern, a goldfish pond, shrubbery, artfully placed stepping stones in shades of gray and white, trees, and flowers are some of the main features of it.
Aoi walks past the door that opens into the garden, which is also left ajar this time of day. She comes to her room at the end of this hall and slides the door open and closed behind her as she steps onto the softer tatami mat inside. Aoi’s family home is a mixture of Western and traditional styles. The overall style is traditional, but rooms like Aoi’s have beds, though the family keeps traditional futons for houseguests that are aired regularly. Aoi has a bookcase full of manga, light novels, and study materials, and a desk with a small lamp. There are pictures on the walls of cute characters, flowers, one poster of a bishounen wielding a sword from an anime series that Aoi enjoys. By her bed, a wooden practice sword rests against the wall, between the bedstand and bed. Her bedding itself is a pastel green with cute characters on it. In the corner is a low wooden table with assorted cute cushions in light colors around it.
Aoi sets her book bag down on her desk and pulls on the nearby cord to turn on her overhead light. It flickers and turns on after a moment. Aoi slides open her closet door and starts undressing. She wriggles out of her plaid pink skirt, taking care to step out of it and set it on her desk. She unties her krevat and pulls it free from the collar of her uniform jacket and sets that aside as well. She unbuttons her uniform jacket and then her undershirt, smiling at the feel of cool air on her skin as she sets these aside. She slips out of her slippers and pulls out her desk chair and pulls off her socks, crossing her legs easily as she works on each foot.
Now nude except for her underwear, she stands again and crouches in front of the closet, pulling open a drawer inside to select some more comfortable clothes. She selects a soft pair of shorts and a loose tee. She feels the woven mat of the tatami under her toes as she balances. She closes the drawer and straightens, lifting her legs one at a time to step into the shorts and then pull them up snugly. She pulls the tee over her head. She turns to a nearby mirror and lifts a brush that she keeps on her desk and runs it several times through her hair.
Her room isn’t enormous by Western standards, though there is room to sit at the desk, do exercise in the center of the room, and have a couple of guests sit with her at her table. For the moment there isn’t anything to study or any homework, though that would change fairly soon. Aoi still pulls out one of the schoolbooks she had taken home with her in her book bag as well as her notepad and starts paging through it, taking notes occasionally. She loses track of time and soon her mother knocks on her door.
“Aoi-chan… it’s time to eat!” she calls out, not invading Aoi’s privacy by opening the door, thankfully. “Okay, thanks!” Aoi calls out in return and finishes up for another two minutes, before finally sitting back and stretching. Through a nearby window, Aoi can see that the sun is down already. She puts her book and notepad away in her book bag and then stands, sliding the door open and walking out. She leaves the door open as she walks barefoot down the hallway. The storm panels have been closed for the night, though Aoi can still see the moonlit garden through the windows in them as she walks through the hallway, turns left and enters a room on the right.
The table is already set. Her father, a still young looking man with dark brown hair in his late thirties is already kneeling in seiza-style on a cushion at the head of the table, reading. He lowers his book and sets it aside as he hears Aoi enter and smiles at her when she seats herself at her usual place.
“Aoi. Did you have a pleasant day?” he inquires. Aoi smiles and nods as her mother comes in carrying a large container full of Cream Stew. The aroma of the cooked meat and vegetables elicits another loud growl from Aoi’s stomach.
“I did, father.” Aoi says, distractedly as her mother sets the container down and takes her position by the rice cooker. Her mother smiles.
“Aoi-chan made a new friend today, Toshiro.” Aoi’s mother beams at her husband.
“Oh?” he asks, looking at Aoi, who blushes and nods.
“Yes. I’ll ask her over sometime. But she’s in a wheelchair… so it might be a little hard for her to get through our house." Aoi thinks of the narrow hallways and Madoka’s chair. It might be a little too hard to manage.
“Oh… I can see the problem.” Toshiro rubs his chin thoughtfully.
“Oh, dear…” Aoi’s mother shakes her head with a sigh as she starts preparing bowls of rice for her family and distributing them. Aoi accepts hers with a smile for her mother.
Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of the front door sliding open. They all look at each other, and Aoi’s mother pauses while ladling a bowl full of Cream Stew. “Who could that be?”
Kozuke awakens with a start. He blinks and rubs sleep out of his eyes and looks down at the canopy bed and its occupant. He stands up, stretching, and works the kinks out of his neck and back. “Old habits die hard I suppose, Sugar.” He sighs.
Well, those habits had seemed to be dead ever since the girl he seemed to spend every waking moment thinking of and caring for had finally awoken from her coma. He had oftentimes fallen asleep in this chair while keeping the girl company after the master had gone to sleep. He had never slept very well doing it then and he hasn’t this time either, but that wasn’t, and still isn’t what matters.
After Midoriyama’s unanticipated and regrettable departure from the mansion the previous evening, Madoka had been oddly despondent. Losing even someone she had been nominally attached to had hit her very hard.
“I can’t blame you. Everyone you cared for had already disappeared,” he murmurs softly so as not to disturb her sleep, despite the fact that it is… He glances at his watch and nods, confirming his sense of time. It is a little over an hour before Madoka will have to wake up for school. Kozuke considers the idea of not waking her up. Surely she will sleep in, given how much she seemed to be crying uncontrollably.
It is hard to believe that the girl had actually been a boy in the past, particularly after he had comforted and held her until she finally fell asleep last night. He is tempted by the idea of letting her sleep, but dismisses the idea, deciding that it would likely be better for her to spend time with her new friends that she has made.
It seems likely to him that they would have a major part to play in healing Madoka’s wounded heart… and not simply due to this most recent loss. Kozuke gently pats her head and steps away, briskly. His back twinges and he winces a little, but he has duties, and there is no one else to complete them.
He quietly exits the room and steps briskly down the hallway towards the far wing. He tries the doorknob again and finds that it is still locked. He contemplates knocking loudly to wake the master, but finally shrugs. He probably hasn’t had a good night either. The old man isn’t as heartless as he pretends to be, Kozuke is sure.
Kozuke steps away briskly and down the hall again to the dining room. He passes through it into the kitchen and flips the light switch. This is not a normal part of his duties. By now Midoriyama would be awake and the two might share a cup of morning tea before they each get on with their duties, but with Midoriyama gone, Kozuke must prioritize Midoriyama’s duties over his own.
The problem is, as he stated the previous night in jest to the master, his cooking is not good. Most of what he can cook is essentially limited to what most young to middle aged bachelors can cook. He sighs, rubbing his temples for a moment and then starts. The first place to start was rice. Any fool could use a rice maker. They come with measuring cups and markers on their inner pots for water and rice levels.
Kozuke pops open the rice maker lid and measures out several cups worth of rice. He deposits that rice into the pot in the rice cooker, and then carries the pot over to the sink, where he briefly whisks the rice through water several times. He drains the rice each time, and then when finished, fills the pot to the line indicating two cups worth of water, and then carries the pot over to the rice maker, depositing the pot inside, popping it closed, and finally pressing the start button, with aplomb.
“Well, there is breakfast.” Kozuke smiles wryly. “Except that it isn’t. The master should be aware of my limited capabilities where food is concerned, but even he will complain with only rice offered for breakfast.” He frowns, puzzling over the problem.
Finally, he smiles. “Perhaps an omelette. I’ve seen Midoriyama cook them, perhaps it won’t be so difficult.”
He steps to the refrigerator and chooses out four large eggs. He carries them over to the counter and fetches a mixing bowl and a whisk. He breaks the eggs a little clumsily, opening them and dropping their golden contents into the bowl one at a time. A bit of shell drops in from one of the eggs, so he must fish it out with a fork, chasing it around the bowl with a frown until he’s able to pin it down and lift it out. He almost loses that bit of shell to his frustration as the egg itself does not seem to want to let go of it.
Kozuke plucks the shell off with his fingers before it can fall, and flicks it into the sink, turning his attention to the bowl. He studies it for a moment, trying to remember all the ingredients that Midoriyama had added. Finally, he gathers up soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and sake from various shelves in the kitchen. He pours small amounts of each of the liquids into the eggs, and then measures small spoons of the sugar and salt, and drops those in. What were the ratios supposed to be for four eggs? He frowns and sighs, and starts whipping the eggs with the whisk.
He removes an iron pan from a cabinet and begins heating it on the stove. After a moment he pours a little cooking oil from the cabinet in and goes to the refrigerator, getting a stick of butter. He slices a portion of the stick off and drops it into the pan, watching as it melts quickly and blends with the other cooking oil. He pours the egg mixture into the pan and he distributes a layer into the pan as he has seen Midoriyama do it.
He waits for the egg to cook, making sure there is egg to completely layer the bottom of the pan. When it seems almost done, he attempts to flip the egg over to roll it with cooking chopsticks. He frowns, finding that the texture of the egg seems to disintegrate when he applies pressure to it. He tries several more times, worried that the egg with cook too much or even burn. Finally, unable to lever the egg over he sighs and mixes the egg up. Scrambled eggs would have to do for Madoka’s lunch.
He pours the remainder of the mixture in and stirs it with the chopsticks. He was sad that he could not make a fluffy omelette for Madoka’s lunches. He would have to either learn it, or the master would have to hire another helper. The master might prove to be stubborn, however. It took Kozuke a while to convince him that another helper was needed. He expects that has many days of extra work ahead of him if he can’t manage to convince Midoriyama to return.
He blinks as the melody of the rice cooker goes off, indicating that his rice is complete. He pops the lid on the rice maker and fetches Madoka’s bento box. He opens it, and spoons rice into the center. When he finishes spooning the steaming rice, he pauses and as Midoriyama had done, he uses the paddle to shape it into a heart. Once that is done, he pours the eggs into the empty side to the left of the rice, leaving the right for other things.
He closes the lid for the rice cooker and then grabs the teapot up and takes it to the sink to fill it up for tea. He carries it back once full to the stove and turns on the burner. He looks back to the bento, and frowns. What else should I do? He smiles suddenly, thinking of a visit to a maid cafe when he was younger. He fetches a bottle of ketchup and carefully begins drawing on the scrambled egg. It didn’t look at all like he had hoped. He finds that his words, “Do Your Best” are barely legible, not so much due to his handwriting so much as the canvas that he had to work with.
Kozuke sets the ketchup aside and after further consideration, he heats a pan up again and fetches a salmon fillet from the refrigerator. He unwraps it, oils it, drops it into the pan, and cooks it, managing this somewhat better than he had the omelette attempt. He damages the meat as he turns it, and overcooks it a little bit, but he deposits the filet into the free side of the bento.
He finishes the lunch with assorted vegetables and slices of a Mikan orange. After consideration, he draws a smiley face onto the salmon fillet with the ketchup. Perhaps this would be easier to interpret. He chuckles a little and closes the bento, setting it aside. He measures tea leaves into a basket, closes it and drops it into the pot. He waits for the appropriate length of time and removes the tea leaves. Afterwards he fills Madoka’s thermos with tea, and saves the remainder for breakfast.
Kozuke wraps the bento box with one of his own handkerchiefs. While not being cute, it at least would give it his personal touch. With Madoka’s lunch taken care of he must consider breakfast still, and after what he had already produced, he finds that he is somewhat tapped out for ideas for breakfast. He studies the stove for a moment and his eyes fall on the bowl in which he had whisked his eggs. He looks at the rice and grins. He knew what he would do, and what was more, it might just shock the stubborn old master into deciding to have Kozuke attempt to rehire Midoriyama… or at the very least a suitable replacement maid.
Madoka wakes up that morning shortly after Kozuke has left the room, though she is unaware of it. She sighs. Her eyes feel horrible. They burn and her head aches, and the ache in her stomach seems more pronounced than yesterday. She sighs, realizing that this is just day two of her period. She might have three to four more days, and it might get worse before it gets better.
Despite her extra weariness this morning, she has an easier time sitting up and levering herself to the edge of the bed. She looks around and sees that the chair is in range of her foot. She reaches out and levers it awkwardly, hooking it with her toes.
“I’m determined to do something by myself today at least,” she complains under her breath. She finally manages to inch the chair closer and finally pull it. She leans against it with a frustrated sigh, and then after a moment to regain her energy, she locks the brakes on it and then pulls herself up into it, her teeth gritted. It takes a while and a supreme effort, but she feels her backside clear the edge of the seat and she is able to lever herself into it. She stops and pants as though she has run a mile uphill. She is sweating already.
She just sits for a moment and then with an exhalation, she starts wheeling herself into the bathroom, forgetting at first to disengage the brakes. She grouches slightly at the lack of forward motion but then unclips them and moves forward. It doesn’t take long to move into the bathroom. She studies the bath, deciding that she really wants one.
She briefly considers trying to call Kozuke, but decides against it. Kozuke has a lot more to worry about right now. She can’t trouble him any more than is necessary. She turns on the water faucet and checks the water temperature, somewhat awkwardly leaning forward out of her chair to do so. When the temperature feels right she searches for the plug. Not seeing a physical plug she spies a switch and flips it.
Like magic the bathtub starts to fill. She smiles an accomplished smile and starts to consider how she will lever herself into the tub. She yawns and tugs her pajama top off easily, baring her breasts. They are small but well developed. She studies them for a moment as she has once in a while, still amazed at the fact that she has them. She idly scratches an itchy spot on the right nipple before focusing on her pajama bottoms.
“I think I will wear a nightshirt next time.” she grunts as she wriggles them off. Finally, she forces herself to her feet, leaning against the bathtub, and lets them fall down, baring her pantied bottom. She wiggles out of those, too, letting them also fall down, and looks into the water. It looks really nice and inviting. She feels her legs tremble a little as she turns off the water faucet. She takes a deep breath, studying the water. It doesn’t seem too deep to her. It wouldn’t be a good idea to drop into a bath and drown because she doesn’t have the strength to avoid it.
She feels confident, however, that she can definitely sit up under her own power. Her upper body strength is improving quite a bit even if her lower body strength is poor yet. She wonders idly if the accident has done something to her to keep her from ever walking again. She shakes her head, forcing those thoughts away as she drops into the tub with a squeal. She splashes and makes a general mess of it, but she is able to position herself and, finally, lean back with a sigh.
The best part is that she is truly alone at the moment. Kozy has been always so nervous about leaving her unattended in the bathtub, and it embarrasses her that she has no secrets from him. He really has started to become like a father or mother… or maybe a doting older brother? Being an only child she has never known what it would be like to have a sibling, but her mother had been doting for a while. Kozy is like that. It’s touching and sweet. Does familial love apply to people outside your family? she wonders.
She sighs and puts it out of her mind until she’s reminded by a nagging sensation between her legs. She remembers that she must wear tampons now, and as annoying as that fact is, she must change them several times a day. Otherwise, she will have problems, as Midoriyama told her. Madoka feels her heart wrench as she thinks about Midoriyama again, so she shies away from those thoughts as she does what she must do. She reaches down and tugs at the string and slowly levers it out. It comes out easily, and she drops it over the edge of the bathtub. Her nose wrinkles at the scent and her stomach seems to clench in response, but she puts it out of her mind forcibly and just soaks.
After a while, Kozuke enters the bathroom with his characteristic smile on his face. Madoka studies him, noting with concern that he looks worn down.
“Good morning, Sugar.” He studies her for a moment, and shakes his head. “Congratulations on managing to finally take a bath on your own.” He smiles wryly, reaching out to one of the canisters of scented bath salts and sprinkling some liberally into the bathwater. “Do I need to tell you how foolish it was to do it?” he asks her, looking down at her. Madoka blushes and smiles.
“No. You know how I feel though, Kozy. I need…” She trails off with a sigh. Kozuke nods understandingly.
“I know, Sugar. It is very hard not to be impatient in your situation.” He studies her a moment and smiles. “You seem to be doing well this morning?”
“Yes. I feel a little better.” Madoka nods. “I’m sorry for last night, Kozy.” She blushes and looks down at the bathwater, unable to maintain eye contact.
“It’s alright, Sugar. I am here for you. Never feel like you cannot talk to me or rely on me, please,” he murmurs, and Madoka nods in response, forcing a smile.
Kozuke helps her to finish her bath quickly, dry off, and dress in her uniform. He leaves the room while Madoka puts the finishing touches on her hair. She then moves back into the bathroom to carefully insert a fresh tampon, not having wanted to do it in front of Kozuke. She puts several spares into her book bag after wheeling back out and zips it closed, putting the bag in her lap.
She wheels out of the room, turning the light off as she passes. She heads down the hall and right into the dining room. Madoka notices the master already seated at the table, looking a little worn like Kozuke had, but his body language communicates stubbornness to Madoka. She studies him, but doesn’t say anything as she wheels up to the table.
Finally, he breaks the silence. “Morning,” he grunts.
Madoka looks down. “Morning,” she murmurs.
The silence stretches out unbroken until Kozuke brings in the service trolley. He stops at the table and pours a cup of tea first for the Master, placing it in front of Master Yoshi. He lifts the cup immediately and sips with a sigh. He frowns but continues to not speak. Kozuke pours another cup for Madoka and sets it before her. Madoka smiles at Kozuke. “Thank you,” she murmurs.
Kozuke nods and smiles at her before preparing two bowls of rice from the rice cooker sitting on the service tray. He sets one in front of Master Yoshi and the other in front of Madoka. Afterwards, Kozuke lifts something from the service tray and hits it against the table. He holds the object over Master Yoshi’s rice and Madoka giggles when she sees the raw egg plop down on the top of Master Yoshi’s rice. Master Yoshi goggles at it and looks at Kozuke.
“Bon Appetit.” Kozuke smiles at Master Yoshi.
“Egg Rice? Are you serious? What am I, a poor college student?” he complains. Madoka covers her mouth and stifles further giggles as Kozuke does the same with her own bowl of rice.
“I know you’re bad at this Kozuke, but could you at least put a modicum of effort into it?” Master Yoshi growls, staring down at his egg, which was starting to cook very slightly from the contact with the steaming rice.
“You might want to stir it soon, Master. It will get lumpy,” Kozuke suggests. “You do know that I am bad at this as you say, and it is safe to say that you did not hire me for my cooking skills. That is what we hired Midoriyama for, is it not?” He looks down at Master Yoshi as he grumbles and starts using his chopsticks to burst the yolk and stir the egg into the rice. Kozuke sets a soy sauce dispenser down onto the table. He places a dispenser of mirin down next to it.
Madoka eagerly follows Master Yoshi’s example, stirring hers with her chopsticks and watching as the glistening egg mixes with the rice and cooks in its heat. The two pour soy sauce and mirin into their bowls to taste and start in on the food with differing levels of enthusiasm.
“Shall I allocate some time to tracking down Midoriyama today, Master? Now that some time has passed and you’ve had a night to cool off, perhaps you’ve reconsidered your position on firing her?” Kozuke inquires, keeping his voice neutral. Madoka listens carefully as she eats her rice. She has had Egg Rice once in a while and looks at it as a treat.
“I…” Master Yoshi trails off, grumbling under his breath. “I suppose we should think about hiring someone after all,” he grunts. “Put out an ad for help wanted. If you can convince that woman to come back and beg for her job back, I might consider re-hiring her, but not before the month is out. She needs some time to consider her foolish actions,” he growls as he shovels food in.
Kozuke’s eyes widen slightly. “A month, Master? That is a little excessive. Personality issues aside, how long do you think it will take a talented young woman such as she to find a replacement job? Surely she will not wait that long without taking another job,” Kozuke murmurs, resisting the urge to groan.
“Let that woman enjoy working at a local fast food chain for a month. Someone with her personality will end up either doing that or working as a hostess at a club in Tokyo. It’s not that far as commutes go after all.” Master Yoshi shrugs. “She’ll be fine. And perhaps the experience will mellow her out.” He smirks, grinning broadly.
Madoka’s enjoyment of her meal is cut short by this line of conversation. Half finished, Madoka turns her gaze to Master Yoshi, and her anger flares. “How can you be so cruel? How can you let your family suffer so much? For the last month all four of us have become something of a family. How could you turn her out like that? Family doesn’t treat each other like that!” Madoka protests, slapping her chopsticks down.
Master Yoshi blinks and then glares at the girl. “She’s not my family. She may have acted like it with her antics, but I recall legally adopting only one troublesome and big mouthed girl,” he harrumphs.
“Troublesome? If I’m so troublesome why did you bother? If I defy you will you throw me out as well?” Madoka stands, glaring. Her knees wobble immediately but she locks them and ignores the weakness and discomfort.
“Why did I bother?” The master stands and glowers at Madoka. “I explained it many times already. You aren’t an idiot, girl,” he growls, seeming happy to have something to focus his dissatisfaction on.
Kozuke steps between the two, holding his hands up. “Master, I don’t think we need a repeat of last night’s debacle, do we?” he asks, his expression sharper than usual perhaps.
The Master looks into his eyes, his own eyes narrowing. Finally, he nods. “You have the right of it, Kozuke. I won’t let my anger get the better of me.” He looks at Madoka.
“I know that you don’t like the decision I made last night, and I don’t much care whether or not you do. It is my house and my rules, and I keep whatever staff I feel is doing a good job, and fire those that I feel are not. It is none of your business. I understand that you have emotional needs, and I am sorry about that. I will schedule a visit from your therapist.” He looks down at his mostly finished breakfast and then exits the room.
Madoka watches him go, her eyes still angry. Kozuke looks at her and reaches out and gently squeezes her shoulder. Finally, Madoka lets herself collapse back into her chair. Her knees and leg muscles burn.
“If you can stand for so long with support, perhaps we should get you to do so once in a while. Consider doing it at school once in a while, but take care with it,” Kozuke says.
Madoka nods, unable to smile. She is too frustrated and angry with the master. Tears of frustration well up in the corners of her eyes. Kozuke gently pats the girl’s hair soothingly. “Do not worry. I will do what I can to find Midoriyama. If I cannot, I cannot. I still firmly believe that all things aside, she has been a good influence on you.” He sighs and smiles. “Finish up your breakfast. We are a little short on time now,” Kozuke says.
Madoka nods, forcing a smile. Kozy always makes her feel at ease. She turns her attention back to her egg rice and finishes it in perhaps not the most ladylike fashion, but certainly efficiently.
The two make their way in the white van back down the twisty and narrow mountain road to the town. In moments, Madoka is once again being loaded up in her wheelchair. This time her friends are waiting for her at the gate, and run up to her with a smile. Aoi and Kanna look just as immaculate as they had the first day of the semester, though Aoi seems a little tired around the eyes.
They grin at her and wave. “Good morning!” Kanna says.
“Good morning, Kanna-chan!” Madoka smiles, happy to see her new friends. She would never have imagined that she would feel this way about two girls, especially after only knowing them for just one day.
“You look awful… no offense,” Aoi says, noticing the dark circles around Madoka’s eyes. It is clear to her that something serious must have happened to her friend in the short period of time since she had last seen her. “Are you alright, Madoka-chan?” Aoi asks.
Kanna blinks and nods, her eyes narrowing as though she had just noticed. Madoka laughs a little anxiously. The two stand aside while he finishes helping Madoka to transfer into the chair’s seat.
“Good morning, girls,” Kozuke says, smiling at the two girls as he straightens. He winces slightly but covers the wince with a bigger smile. “Please take care of Madoka again for me today,” he asks them politely.
They both nod, Aoi still blushing slightly as Kozuke looks into her eyes. Kanna eyes her friend’s reaction and hides a grin behind her hand. “Of course, Kozuke-san!” Aoi smiles. Kozuke nods in response and bows to the girls.
“Excellent. I need to be on my way then, girls. I shall see you later this evening.” He waves and turns to walk back around to the driver’s side of the van. The girls watch him go as he pulls away, and Aoi smiles down at Madoka.
“I look bad?” Madoka says after a moment. “You’re looking tired too, Aoi-chan,” Madoka comments, noticing the tiredness in her friend’s body language.
Aoi smiles and shakes her head. “I’m fine. I stayed up a little late last night. A family member visited late and has decided to crash with us for a little while.” She shrugs. “Anyhow, let’s hurry up,” she urges her friends as she starts pushing Madoka’s chair automatically for her. Madoka looks back at her friend with a concerned expression, but decides to just let her friend wheel her. She feels so much more exhausted today than yesterday. There is a lot on her mind.
“My tired isn’t important,” Aoi says as she wheels Madoka past the statue in the center of the schoolyard towards the front doors. “You really do look exhausted. What happened?” she presses.
“What? Oh… I…” Madoka blinks, having allowed herself to slip into autopilot. “Oh, last night was pretty bad for me. The one who made my lunch yesterday… a maid that I really liked was fired by that crabby master.” She scowls. The two look at each other and Kanna whistles. “First a hottie butler, and now a maid? What are you, a rich young lady?” she asks experimentally.
Madoka blinks and laughs. “Me? Oh, no… I just live there,” Madoka says. Kanna opens the door and Aoi wheels Madoka inside towards the ramp up to the shoe lockers.
“Just live there? I would say that if you live there you must be the young lady of the house.” Kanna persists. “What are you to this master? Do you know? Surely he isn’t thinking about marrying you?” Kanna says, suddenly sounding a little scandalized. Aoi blinks in surprise as she looks at Kanna.
Madoka’s eyes widen and she shivers. That old man? That is impossible, she thinks. “No… I seriously doubt it. He said he had adopted me legally. I don’t think that even he would do something that awful… and besides, I…” She trails off, managing to stop herself from completing that line of thought. Besides, I’m a guy. That would have sounded utterly ridiculous. How much of a guy is she at this point? Not very much anymore, that is for certain. She glares at the floor. Aoi notices her glare and leans over to give Madoka a tight hug from behind that makes Madoka smile a little again.
Kanna notices her glare as well and smiles wryly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be gross. I just wondered. Seriously, though… if you were adopted by him you are the young lady of the house. What is the house like, by the way?” Kanna asks.
“Kanna…” Aoi had come to a stop in front of Madoka’s shoe locker after having woven through the crowd of students coming and going. “You’re going too far.”
Kanna sticks her tongue out slightly, and Madoka opens her locker, fetching out her school shoes, and quickly changing her shoes.
“Well…” Madoka blushes. “Um… it’s… it’s kind of a… mansion…” Madoka mumbles, feeling embarrassed.
“A mansion?” Kanna’s ears seem to perk up. “What kind of a mansion?” she asks, fascinated. Aoi starts wheeling her away from the shoe lockers and the three make their way to the handicap elevator.
“Um… the Western kind.” She blushes. “I don’t really want to talk about it.” She feels morbidly embarrassed, as though she is intentionally showing off or bragging by just talking about it. She does not want to seem that way and she still isn’t perfectly happy with her situation. Kanna seems to pick up on her reluctance as they reach the elevator, and smiles.
“It sounds amazing. I hope we can see it someday.” She winks at Madoka.
Madoka swipes her card on the electronic reader and looks at Kanna with a smile. “Of course. I can’t speak for how polite the master would be towards my guests, but I don’t really care as long as Kozy’s okay with the idea.” She smiles as Aoi wheels her into the elevator. Madoka turns and presses the second floor button.
“Looking forward to it then, Madoka-chan.” Kanna grins. As the door closes, Aoi punches Kanna in the arm.
“Ow!” Kanna complains.
The three get to class just in time again. Ren-sensei smiles wryly at the three, but this time doesn’t say anything as the homeroom chime goes off. Aoi wheels Madoka to her seat and Kanna and Aoi sit down hurriedly as the class begins.
“Alright, class. We really need to pull together and make a decision about the fair today. Start throwing ideas around, and I’d appreciate it if you would step up more this morning, Sugawara-kun,” Ren-sensei notes. Half the class laugh.
“Of course, Sensei.” Eiji stands and walks to the head of the class and turns towards everyone. “Alright, so let’s get started with this. I’ve heard some ideas so far, let’s go over them again,” he says.
“Like, a fifties American-style diner!” a girl calls out.
“I think it should be a haunted house!” a boy speaks out..
“A Western saloon with cowboys, Indians, and sexy bar ladies!” another guy chimes in. That one receives more than a few laughs and shouts of agreement.
One of the more muscular boys stands up and grins. “Let’s do a paintball thing.”
“How?” Eiji asks, his eyebrows lifting and an incredulous expression on his face.
“Yeah… like, what if we just open fire on our customers with paint guns? That like sounds like such a great way to get people to spend money at our stall. Ruining their clothes and all,” the girl who had recommended a fifties diner scoffs.
“I didn’t mean that.” The guy looks at her with an annoyed expression. “I mean us. We do a betting thing where people put bets on whoever is going to win of everyone in the class that wants to participate.” The guy grins.
“You’re just a paintball addict,” the girl replies sourly.
“Where would we do it? Any place on school grounds would end up a horrible mess after that. Not to mention where would we get all the equipment?” Ippei speaks up, adjusting his glasses.
“It sounds like a fun idea… but how legal is that? Betting?” Eiji chuckles.
“I think it’s not going to work out.” Ippei shakes his head. “Let’s focus on a cafe type idea. I’ll help out with the cooking,” he says.
“Ooh… Shadow Pres’ cooking.” One of the girls of the class grins. “Can you really cook too?”
The classroom talks animatedly for a moment before Eiji lifts his hands. “Let’s keep up this line of thought. Any more ideas? We have a Saloon and a fifties America cafe idea.” He nudges everyone.
“We also have a classic maid cafe. What’s more popular than that?” another guy speaks up. “I want to see the new girl in costume.” He grins. Several of the other students cheer at that, and Madoka looks around, blushing, eyes wide.
“But I…” Madoka protests.
“Oh… you’d look totally adorable!” Kanna grins at Madoka, interrupting her protestations. “If we’re all dressing up I don’t see why we shouldn’t take advantage of the assets of one of the prettiest girls in class.” Kanna winks. There are several cheers in response to that.
“Cosplay cafe then! Why not make it even more moe,” a guy shouts. The class erupts into laughter, and even Eiji seems swept up in the excitement.
“Class! Have we made a decision then?” Ren-sensei finally steps up. “We have ten minutes left to start serious planning.” He firmly attempts to redirect the conversation.
“Oh… yes… well… I think we agreed on a cafe. Since everyone has their ideas about what type of cafe we should have, why don’t we just keep it simple and do a cosplay cafe? Everyone serving can dress up.” Eiji smiles.
Ippei stands up again. “Let’s divide the class up into three teams. Cooking, Waiting, and Costuming plus Promotion (these last two being combined into one team). I will lead the cooking team. You can lead the waiting team, useless pres, and I think Tsukimi-san should head the last group. You were interested in costuming weren’t you?” He turns his attention to Kanna who blushes and grins.
“Yeah, I’ll do it, Shadow Pres. No problem.” She smiles.
The class breaks up into three groups. “I don’t see why I have to be on the waiting team!” Madoka protests. “I can’t carry much!” she lies. She can probably manage something with a tray across her lap, she has to admit to herself.
“You have to, Madoka-chan. Those looks weren’t meant for hiding yourself away. Can you sew?” Kanna asks.
Madoka hesitates and droops a little. “Um… no… I can’t…” she says in a small voice.
“I thought so. You’re too much of a cute lady. You’re so adorable.” She grins at Madoka.
“Stop picking on Madoka.” Aoi scowls at Kanna and Kanna just giggles.
“I want to go as an Oni,” Madoka hears the guy who had floated the Haunted House idea say.
“An Oni waiter? That sounds interesting.” Someone laughs. “I’ll be a witch then!”
“I think Wada-san should be Momotaro,” Eiji suggests, grinning at Aoi. “You like Kendo, right?”
“Oooh yeah! I could work that!” Kanna smiles, looking Aoi over, who blushes.
“Don’t pick on me either!” Aoi laughs. "You're going as a maid too. You aren't getting off easy by getting to go as a butler." Aoi grins.
“Madoka simply must be a maid. A French maid,” Kanna says, studying Madoka with a wicked grin. "And I think a matching cute outfit for useless Pres.”
“Whaaa….” Madoka and Eiji both complain in unison, blushing.