"Everywhere Together with my Friend"
It was Saturday and to the many, many children growing up in Midgar, that meant only one thing: early morning cartoons. From the time when the first specks of Midgar's green tinted sunlight broke through the perpetual smog, until somewhere around noon, these children engaged in a ritual passed down since the advent of television. You see, as soon as those first specks of those putrid green tinted sunrays managed to climb over the children's windowsills and cast itself into the closed eyes of the sleeping youths, these children ranging from ages two to even as late to nineteen immediately awoke and started their day.
First, much to the chagrin of parents and guardians all though out Midgar, the millions of children would awaken the rather loud and sometimes quite rude creature know simply as the T.V. before slowly leaving the room (making sure to look over the shoulder many a time on the way out, as not to miss anything too important) to make their breakfasts. The making of breakfast, although in each household the fare was most certainly different, was another ritual which was shared by all of the youths of Midgar and hated by all parents.
Breakfast, if you were to sum it up, was messy to say the least. This starting meal usually consisted of anything easily made by a child (say, cereal or toast) and sometimes consisted of a very odd set of ingredients.
The Wallace household was no different. Around 06:05 a.m. Midgar Standard Time, the now almost seven year old Marlene Wallace awoke and began her version of the Saturday morning ritual. First, she rubbed the sleep out of her tired brown eyes before trudging her way to the bathroom two doors away from her room and shared by the rest of the household. After doing the necessary morning bathroom activities, she nimbly made her way downstairs (trying her best not to wake her beloved, but very tired father and his three weekend guests) and into the small living area where the T.V. was currently sleeping. Quickly and quietly she closed the distance between herself and the large black plastic and glass box, but before she could reach over to turn the sleeping monster on, her hand suddenly stopped. Out of the corner of her eye, she could almost swear she had seen a glint of gold. Turning her head slightly, she saw that nothing was there.
After a moment, she turned her attention back to the sleeping TV and was shocked to see a somewhat familiar, but distorted reflection staring at her from the blackness of the dormant television. Whisking around Marlene was only somewhat relieved to encounter one of her father's current guests.
Tall, dark, and very intimidating, those were the only words she could find to describe the man in front of her. He was tall, very tall, standing at a full six feet while Marlene was only four foot eight, when standing on her tippy toes. He was pale, almost to the point of seeming unhealthy, while she was very slightly tanned from spending whatever time she could in Midgar's limited amounts of sunlight. Said sunlight also had accentuated her hair's red highlights, making her short strands seem tinted a brown red. His hair, however, his was long and jet black, obviously left uncut for more than a few years.
Suddenly, after mentally comparing the major differences between herself and her father's guest, young Marlene remembered that she stood clad only in her pink and purple fleece pajamas.
"I did not intend to startle you." He said simply.
"Oh, it's okay…." Marlene fidgeted as she examined the carpet under her feet. Hmmn, gray with hints of more gray. Interesting….
Looking anywhere but where her father's unnaturally pale friend stood, she added in a small voice, "I'm gonna go make breakfast now, 'kay?"
He nodded and sidestepped away from the door. It was odd for Marlene to see her father's friend without his long tattered red cape, odd shoes, and bandana, but it still didn't do much to damper the intimidation which flowed from him.
Doing all she could to keep herself from rudely bolting out of the room, she made her way around her guest and stopped at the doorframe, as if remembering something. Hoping to rid the room of tension in hopes of being able to continue performing her ritual, she continued, "I was gonna bring my breakfast in here 'n watch some cartoons. You wanna join me…. Maybe?"
"I do not wish to impose, Miss Wallace. I merely followed you down here in sheer curiosity as to why you would awake so early. I shall take my leave now." Perhaps his manner of speech was too intimidating for a girl of so little years, or perhaps it was his blunt manner of speaking (a far cry from her own, which was adopted from her father's colorful and often mispronounced manner), but either way, his reply did nothing to clear the room of tension. Instead, it made it more pronounced.
"It's okay!" she said a little too quickly. "I mean..."
Another nod told her that he understood. "The prospect of food sounds interesting. Perhaps I shall join you in your excursion to the kitchen."
"'Kay." With that, the pair made their way to the kitchen, the tall looming figure of Vincent idly following the still tiny figure of a nervous Marlene. "Um, so... whaddya gonna have for breakfast?"
"As of yet, I know not."
"Daddy makes good waffles. Too bad he's not up yet." Marlene continued almost wistfully.
"You know how to cook? I just know how to make scrambled eggs... but they always come out too runny... so I just stick with simple stuff like cereal 'n stuff. Whaddya like to eat?"
"Mostly, I eat due to necessity."
"So you don't have a favorite?"
They rounded the corner and made their way into the small kitchen.
It wasn't so much a kitchen as it was a nook with a handful of the necessary cooking appliances. In the dimly lit corner furthest from the doorway (which very noticeably lacked a door) stood a petit creamy yellow colored refrigerator which contrasted from the darker yellow-brown walls only because of the slightly higher level of cleanliness. To its left was a small counter which housed a large metal sink that looked out of place in the small space. Surprisingly, the sink was devoid of any and all dishes. The cabinets above which were dyed an orange-brown from years of cooking greasy foods. Then, to complete the 'kitchen', crammed in the remaining space that wasn't allotted to movement of whoever was foolish enough attempt at cooking, was a very dilapidated stove with two broken burners and a faulty pilot light.
Once inside, Marlene scurried towards the counter before climbing up in attempts to reach one of the four cabinets above. "What are you doing?"
"Don't worry. I always do this. Can't reach otherwise."
"As soon as I get my cereal." Reaching up and balancing with a much practiced grace, Marlene began prying open a cabinet door with her fingertips before suddenly feeling a strong, solid arm reach around her waist and pull her into a standing position with her feet set quite firmly on the floor. "Nnah! What the…"
"It is highly inappropriate for a young lady such as yourself to be climbing furniture like some animal… not to mention, quite hazardous…." Then, with a sigh, Vincent reached up and opened the cabinet.
"It's the one with all the marshmallows." Marlene meekly offered. With a slight nod, Vincent pulled back his hand and a brightly colored box of what was undoubtedly children's cereal. "Thank you."
Handing the box over the young girl, Vincent sighed in disgust, but kept his comments to himself. How could she eat such a thing? Shaking his head and then whisking stray hairs out of his face with his fingers, he resumed looking through the cabinet for something that would accommodate his tastes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Marlene rummaging though the refrigerator in search of things to add to her already sweet cereal.
After a moment of finding nothing but overly sweetened sugar snacks, a few necessities, and a can or two that was much more than expired, Vincent closed the door and looked to Marlene who still crouched in front of the small box. Stepping behind her, he peered into the dimly lit space. Soon, Barret would need to change the light bulb.
"Hmmn… strawberries or bananas? What do you think?" She asked looking behind her, expecting Vincent to still be where she left him. She was shocked to see him peering down at her from little more than a foot behind her. "Ack!"
Reaching a hand into the refrigerator and leaning over her slightly, Vincent withdrew the small carton of strawberries and examined the brown cardboard carton for a few seconds before stepping back, opening a nearly invisible cabinet under the sink and throwing the carton into the trash bin.
"Hey, why'd you…"
"Those berries had expired…. nearly two weeks ago…"
"Eww…" Marlene responded, making a face at the disgusting thought before turning her attention back to the refrigerator. "Bananas it is, I guess…"
Reaching deep into the frigid box, Marlene quickly retracted her hand and wiped it on her pajama pants. "Gross!"
"Expired?" came a somewhat bored knowing tone.
"Uh huh. I hope the milk's at least still good…" Standing, Marlene pulled out the carton of milk, maneuvered around Vincent (who took the liberty of closing the refrigerator door behind her), and brought the milk to the sink, just in case…
After checking the date, Marlene turned to Vincent and asked, "Um, what's today's date?"
Thinking for a moment, he responded, "The fifth, I believe."
"Oh, okay. Vincent?"
"Is it okay to drink the milk on the day that's on top?"
"What is the date?"
"Marlene, it's March…"
Leaning her elbows on her knees, Marlene rested her head in her hands and sighed as she watched the animated commercial selling the cereal which was earlier denied to her. The milk was sour and the fruit rotten, there had been no sugar and when she had opened the box to her favorite cereal, a big old gross water bug scurried out! Now, she watched as an animated rabbit tried to steal her favorite cereal which consisted of strangely shaped marshmallows and multicolored loops of grain that tasted like a combination between varnished wood and cardboard that had been laying in a gutter for too long. She wished Vincent would hurry up and kill the bug so she could go back into the kitchen…
After seeing the unmistakable brown of the water bug after opening the lid of the cereal box and quickly trying to put as much distance between herself and said insect, Marlene should have won an award for long distance throwing. Promptly afterwards, Vincent almost instantly found the seven year old child cowering behind his legs as the small brown creature ran out of the abused box. With the screaming that ensued, he was astonished that the rest of the household (let alone the whole block) was not up and running to their aid. Needless to say, Marlene refused to set foot in the kitchen until the creature was destroyed. That left Vincent in his current situation: hunting a water bug while Marlene sat in the living room and starved while watching her Saturday morning cartoons, not that he minded. He was a little too old to be watching children's shows, despite his youthful appearance.
Now, he stood in an empty almost-kitchen awaiting his chance to annihilate a supreme evil known as 'the bug' and bring everlasting peace and harmony back to the land of 'Barret's House". In all the years he had been alive and everything thing he had seen in those many years, he had never once thought or saw himself as the valiant knight and protector of 'Princess Marlene".
It wasn't that Vincent was some heartless bastard, quite the contrary in fact (the whole ordeal had killed what little appetite he did have as well as killed any chance of him ever eating anything at the Wallace household) but he also wasn't one to indulge little girls and their fears by hunting down water bugs. Sighing, he turned on his heel and walked down the short hall towards the stairway that lead upstairs.
"Kyaaaaaaaaaaaah Vincent!!" Spinning on his heels and running the short distance between himself and the small gray living room, Vincent was surprised by a bright pink and purple blur flying at him and attaching itself to his waist. Before he knew it, his backside was planted firmly on the floor and he had a terrified Marlene on top of him. "Please, it came back!"
"Calm yourself. Now, what ca…"
"The bug! The bug! It's back and it's in the living room! It's after me! I swear!" Peaking over the girl in his lap he looked at the large brown bug sitting on the rod which fastened the window curtains to the wall.
"Marlene. Marlene! It is not, as you put it, 'after you'. It is merely…"
"But it was flying after me and everything!"
"Marlene, that is impossible. That insect can not fly."
Then, as to prove his point, as well as to put his forming migraine to ease, he detangled the seven year old from his waist and marched into the room. Swiftly and silently, he made his way to the table and grabbed an old magazine and rolled it up. Using the same stealth reflexes, he made his way to the window where the bug regarded him with little interest.
Holding her breath, Marlene watched from behind the doorframe as Vincent prepared to destroy that which ruined her Saturday thus far. Right as the magazine was about to make contact with the embodiment of evil, true to Marlene's words, it jumped off the thin metal rod and it's back opened up and two brown wings emerged. In an attempt at intimidation, the small brown bug charged, full speed, at the black haired man and screaming child. A stupid move…
Without even batting an eye, Vincent deftly re-positioned the magazine and smacked the projectile straight into the floor with an audible smack. Dazed, the now grounded bug staggered in a zig-zag before a black socked foot descended upon it and ended its life with a crunch followed by a pop.
"Not the cleanest results…"
"I'll go get'cha some new socks…" With that, Marlene raced up stairs.
It had been nearly two hours since the bug incident and Marlene sat quietly watching her cartoons (making sure to keep away from the bug's final resting place, although, the bug itself had been long since removed) as Vincent sat in one of her father's reclining chairs reading a book.
During the onset of a three minutes block of commercials, Marlene looked up at her protector. She twiddled her thumbs a bit before asking, "So, um…"
"Hmmn?" Vincent didn't look up from his book.
"I'm hungry." When she was met with silence, she continued. "Is it possible to order out or somethin'? Breakfast, I mean…"
"What would your father say?" came the neutral response.
"A whole lot of curse words I'm not allowed to say…." She started. "Then, something about money not growing on trees and a whole bunch'cha other stuff…. Followed by…"
"Followed by no…" She muttered.
"Then, I shall stand by your father's decision."
"Marlene." Vincent warned, his voice booking no room for argument.
"But… he'd then say to eat some cereal or somethin'…" She complained. "…and unless you can cook somethin' that's didn't go bad who knows how long ago or bug infested, I'm gonna starve!"
"Marlene, it takes approximately three to four weeks for a person to starve to death."
"That's not the point! The point's there's nothin' in this house that's eat-able…"
"Do you mean edible?"
"That too! Please, Vincent… I've got some money saved up, upstairs in my room. I'll pay, I promise! Please…"
Sighing, Vincent rubbed the bridge of his nose as he tried to calmly thing a way out of the situation. It was true that there was little, if anything, still edible in the house and it was true that he could certainly afford to get something for the girl to eat.
"Please, I'm hungry…"
"Fine." He all but growled out. "Go change, then, meet me here in five minuets."
Placing her fork down on her plate and wiping her mouth with her napkin, Marlene leaned back against the wall of the booth which separated their booth from the one belonging to their neighbor. "Thank you for the pancakes, Vincent. They were really, super good!"
"You are welcome, Marlene." Replied a quietly content Vincent Valentine. He too had ordered breakfast, though instead of pancakes, he had ordered sausage and eggs. Although he had not been hungry, he found himself enjoying his breakfast with Marlene. Sipping his coffee (black, of coarse) he regarded Marlene over the rim of his mug and asked, "Are you done?"
"Yep! Delicious. I'm so full!" Finishing her milk, she reached deep into the pocket of her light blue corduroys and fished out her savings. True to her word, she intended to pay their tab. Placing the small sum on the table, Vincent pushed the small wad of coins and bills and pushed it back to the child.
"This meal is on me."
"I will not repeat myself, Marlene."
"Okay, okay…" she replied pouting, but shoved the small amount back into her pocket.
Thinking for a moment as he finished his coffee, Vincent looked out the window at the dreary city around them. "How much of your programs have you missed?"
"Not much. Don't really matter though." Marlene replied shrugging.
"I had a lot of fun. Thanks." She said nodding, to prove her point. After placing a couple of larger bills a few coins on the table, the ghost of a smile could be seen on Vincent's face as he slid out of the small booth.
"You're welcome. Shall we?"
With the desire to sleep dripping from every pore of his dark skin, Barret Wallace stumbled out of bed and trudged downstairs. His chocolate colored eyes quickly scanned the small living room as he passed, although they did nothing to detect that the room was vacant, and walked into the kitchen. Slowly, with a still asleep mind, he opened the refrigerator and dug through contents for something to make for breakfast. While scouring, with his larger than normal frame blocking all light from leaving the entrance and his metal prosthetic right arm holding the door open, his eyes met with a carton of eggs. Reaching in with his left hand, he quickly opened the lid (after some trying) and removed a few eggs before shutting the door behind him.
Moving sleepily over to the counter, Barret reached up and opened one of the cabinet doors and removed a bowl while his other hand opened a draw and produced a whisk. Bringing the bowl before him, he cracked open an egg. It too a moment before his mind registered the results.
Even from down the block, Vincent and Marlene could hear the loud string of colorful language and highly imaginative word concoctions never before heard by human ears.
"So he is…"