Fruits Basket, Yuki POV
They say that when mothers know the time isn't right to drop, they're able to absorb the foetuses of their litter back into themselves. That's what I think about sometimes, watching Momo. Watching Momiji.
The Sohmas unaware total over a hundred. The Sohmas in the know, at least fifty more. So I can't say any of us are alone without family, we of the Jyuunishi, except that being alone is what I think we all know. Some of us crave it. Some of us fight it. In the end it masters us, settling over us like a shroud or like the cold gaze of Akito on our backs when we turn to bolt; we might never have solitude, except when we really want it.
Momiji meets with his father and sister at precisely 8 o'clock a.m. on Sundays. They speak for one hour, thirty minutes. The timeframe is strict because otherwise Momiji's mother becomes edgy when she returns from shopping, clicking her polished nails in an unspoken nervousness if she is forced to wait for the breakfast to adjourn.
The three gather in a café whose reputation is built upon the myth of European quaintness, called Panpan after some reference I think is French. The napkins here are all imprinted with a floral seal for borders. The workers wear aprons in dull browns and greens to compliment the clean lines of their dark hair slicked back, perfect smiling faces when they slide your change back on the rubber-dart tray and bow in the same practiced motion.
Panpanis built to cater to the idea of prosperous overseas families. Momiji and his relations are known regulars. They always show together, on Sundays.
Usually Hatori is the Rabbit's chaperone. Since leaving the main house, I have volunteered to go in the Dragon's place and Hatori eventually acceded. He always sits away during these meetings, at one of the distant private tables barely big enough for one and overbooked if you bring a companion. Hatori, I know, takes up the space with a newspaper.
I decide on coffee instead. It is accepted that I remain a silent watcher on the sides. The personal silence of my observation is broken a number of times when one of the café workers stops by to deliver my drink, and then see if I need more sugar, and even then afterwards to ask me if I want anything else. I realize after the fifth time that the reason the girls are giggling behind the counter are because they are looking at me; they must find it a gossip-worthy change, that Hatori has been replaced by a boy much younger.
I wonder if they think I am related to the Dragon, and hence the reason I am here today.
Hatori offered to give me a stopwatch; I assume it's the one he uses, a slender black-cased business clock, but I declined.
Momo swings her feet where she is sitting on the chair, just barely. She is too shy to do more than peep over the edge of the table; boldened by the presence of her father, the girl does not attempt to hide underneath, but she dares not venture into actual conversation with her brother. Instead she stares at him, the boy with her mother's mouth and her mother's chin and her mother's clear affection, and Momiji smiles back and asks if she wants a bite of his croissant.
Momiji's mother could have been one of the Sohmas in the know, joining the elusive fifty who surround the core of the estate. As it stands, she is the outer circle by marriage. If there were ever to be a divorce, she would be gone entirely; gone save for her daughter, Momo, who runs the risk of bearing a child with the curse. Momo would go with her father, would stay forever near the ties of the clan.
She cannot leave. Her blood is tainted.
Because of this, Momiji's father would like for his two offspring to know one another, in event of familial abortion.
Momiji's mother has returned early once more this Sunday. Even though she has come to terms with being asked by her husband to leave on purchasing errands, she does not like it. Some part of the woman is aware that she is being excluded. For all that she denies the imposed solitude, Hatori says that she was the one who asked for it in the end.
She sets the shopping bags down with a heavy crinkle of tissue-paper creases next to me.
"Mrs. Sohma," I nod, ushering my coffee cup to the side in an invitation for her to sit.
"Yuki." Her laugh of greeting is breathy. The Japanese is faintly accented; it is her second language, German her native tongue, but the woman is a dedicated perfectionist. She barely takes her eyes away from the two blond heads sitting crosswise at the other café table. "How have you been?"
"Quite well. And yourself?" Formality is easy when I know this woman has no real interest in striking up a familial rapport with me.
Her waving hand brings a waff of perfume to my nose, floral even above the coffee grounds of the café and the smell of baking. "Fine, fine. Oh, it's good that you're here." Now she breaks herself out of her own spell to remember me. "I wanted to ask your opinion on something."
It should be Hatori here today, not me. But I'm better at small talk, which is what needs to happen for the next fourteen minutes until the breakfast is adjourned. The noises of the Panpan crowd move around us both. "Yes?"
My acceptance of the woman's query sends her hands diving into a cream-colored sack, parting wads of tissue paper like the petals of a technicolor flower. Retrieving a white cardboard shell, the woman sets it down upon the table next to my cup and proceeds to pick at the ribbons to undo the outer wrapping and present me with the contents.
I read the store label upside-down while I wait. The name isn't familiar.
"You see, Yuki, I thought..." She hesitates in her task, then continues, her cheerfulness brittle. "Maybe if Momiji doesn't have the time anymore for these little meetings now that he's getting older, that perhaps he might like to have something else to remember Momo with. So he won't... worry about her, when they'll be apart."
She would like the breakfasts to stop. I sense this in the mute quaver of her voice, my own ears sharp with animal instincts. This woman's rejection may be decorated in colorful ribbons, but no amount of wrapping paper can disguise the truth.
The duplicity is not mine to speak against. I am the Rat; we keep our own counsel best of all, and the other animals know to label it cunning.
Right now the woman chooses to believe that the reason Momiji continues to meet with her elegant family of three is because of mutual hair color. Momo gets teased for it in school, being a cross-mix; the woman assumes that Momiji receives the same treatment, and that is the reason her husband keeps these meetings.
For Momo's benefit. So the girl does not think herself alone.
If I had any opinion of families other than what I have learned from the Sohma house, I might have feelings one way or the other. Instead, I accept the package that the woman presses into my hands, unhatched from its cardboard container.
"I got him a memento box," she tries to explain to me with another half-halting laugh, a sound that dies in its attempts for graceful composure. "I thought, you see..."
Disregarding the way that she trails off, I study the make of the gift. I've seen this model before. Simple wood, but deeply stained and engraved with a basic beveled pattern around the outside. They were more popular in the beginning of the year, but having no use for them myself, I never paid much attention. The interior is supposed to be lined with a dark satin; the entire inside of the lid is designed to let a person slip a photograph within, so that they can see their past every time they open the box.
Curious to see what Momiji's mother might have included, I tilt the top up.
There's nothing inside.
I glance up and then I assume whatever blankness in my eyes must condemn her, for the woman has just yanked her gaze away. Guiltily.
It seems as if she couldn't even give a picture of her daughter to the Rabbit.
No overt reaction is made from my side, other than to carefully close the lid once more and extend the box back towards her. The Rat keeps his own silence, even when another Jyuunishi is involved. Especially then.
She ventures a hesitant guess at my disapproval, biting her lip delicately enough not to smudge her cosmetics. "Do you think it's not suitable?"
"It's too late to take everything back, Mrs. Sohma," I tell her, thinking of wombs turning to acid, breaking down the children within. Litters expelled. Offspring reclaimed.
She assumes I mean the purchase. "Yes, you're right." This she sighs, the polish of her nails gleaming under the café lights when she pats her fingers against her coiffured hair, making sure every part of her appearance is exactly in place. "I'll just have to see if he likes what I give him. Thank you, Yuki. You've been a great help."
"I'm sure he'll remember it, Mrs. Sohma." I move my hand to reclaim my cup and swirl the coffee around at the bottom. "Always."