Chapter I : Catty Suicidal Attempt
"Tempt not a desperate man," – Romeo and Juliet, Act V
Nope. She'd probably end up vomiting and cutting up her patients.
Are you interested in art? The Art Institute of New York –
Right, the only thing that she could draw well and that even looked presentable was stick people. It had been a fond favorite of her's since kindergarten.
Wanted: Full-time baby-sitter!
Tempting, but she had school in the morning. Besides, she was such a pushover that the children would've had their way with her in some way or another.
A position as ateacher at Gladstone High is available. Please call for more details.
The pay was certainly high, but she couldn't teach to save her life. She'd probably stutter and mutter words that were incoherent and barely understandable. She'd be bullied, that was for sure – even by first graders.
Hiring: Erotic services for females overr –
Don't even go there!
Ryuuzaki Sakuno slumped down on her seat, her face titled towards the whitewashed ceiling that was already cracking from years of tear and dust. Closing her dried eyes that had suffered from too much squinting over the classified section, she gave a deep sigh, trying to relieve herself of the stress that had been her companion for the past two years.
Life had been tough for the twenty-year-old, having to move away from her hometown at the age of eighteen to the bustling, noisy and alien city of New York – not that Tokoyo was any different. Still, English was always one of her worst subjects, and living in a place where they speak nothing but that, it was excrutiantingly painful. And all this just to pursue a better education that Japan could not offer.
It had been a wild and exciting adventure at first, as she had been a girl clueless about the world, with the whole world to see, and the future to meet. It really had been exhilarating at the beginning.
Stepping out of the vast, airy airport, and taking her very first step in another country, she had been simply ecstatic to see the bustling cars honking at each other, loud tourists squishing through the mobs of people, and the great a many billboards plastered against endless amount of tall skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. It was the exact image that the Discovery Channel had depicted.
Even the air smelled different.
For the first time in her life, Sakuno finally new what Jasmine from Aladdin had felt when he had taken her for a ride on their magic carpet. There was definitely neither carpet nor magic, but the whole skyscrapers and cars made up for it. Besides, who wanted to see a piece of dry, dusty dessert when there was a Statue of Liberty?
As soon as her happiness had appeared, it faded like water sloshing down the drain. Now that she had made it to her intended destination, she was alone in a foreign country. The only person she had to solely depend on was her self. Her parents had been very against her idea, threatening to disown her if she ever left. It was only due to her grandmother's persuasion that they had finally relented.
Sakuno bit her lips in anger at the thought. Her parents had never taken their role properly, dumping her at her grandmother's and going off to exploit their own pleasures. What right did they have in the first place to dictate where she could or could not do?
As soon as she had settled herself in a small, cramped one room apartment that was only a few blocks away from downtown, she had enrolled into a famous college (her marks were decent enough) and found a few odd jobs here and there, trying tirelessly to pay for her school fees and rent.
It had all been fine and dandy until recently – her stress had finally caught up to her. The work was fine – her bosses were all pretty decent, and her colleagues had all been optimistic and friendly. But with the load of homework she was receiving from school, and her jobs that needed her to jump from one place to another, she never slept for more than a mere four hours per day.
How she survived, she hadn't a clue. Maybe it had been because of her religious consumption of Starbucks coffee, but whatever it was, she couldn't continue to hold on any longer.
She needed a job that was easy and well paying now.
Thus her desperate attempt at skimming through the classified section of the New York Times, though it was to no avail. They were either jobs that required a certain certification, or it was those part time jobs that she was already doing. Of course, her best friend, Tomoka, would have pointed out that there was always the "erotic" section, but really, no matter how far in the dumps she was, she would not ever, ever, ever, sacrifice her dignity and pride for the sole reason of money.
Yet, how very true it was, that money could make the world go round.
Sighing, see resumed her search. Scanning through the black-and-white paper, her eyes settled on a tiny advertisement printed on the very bottom corner of the page, barely visible to the human eye. Squinting, it read:
In need of an easy job that pays well?
Sakuno cocked her eyebrow.
We are in need of a housekeeper who is self-motivated, energetic, and responsible, who can wash dishes, do laundry, simple cooking, and basic house cleaning. Please call for details.
She glanced at the address written under the telephone number, and gasped out loud. This house – no, mansion, was located at the outskirts of the city, where the riches could domicile peacefully, far away from the prying eyes of nosy paparazzi and screaming fans. It was where the people of high social status and mountains of gold in their bank accounts resided.
Picking up the newspaper from her dining table, she crossed her living room and picked up the phone that was settled by the counter, near her window. Dialing the number, she waited as the dial tone beeped. For a few minutes, no one picked up, and as she was about to give up, someone answered.
"Hello?" an old, crackly voice spoke up on the other end.
"Um…hi! I'm Sakuno Ryuuzaki and I - "
"Look honey," the voice which Sakuno presumed to be that of an old woman's, cut her off, huffing and puffing from god-knows-what, "If you're one of his fans, send your love through email, okay? He's never home, so it's stupid to try calling him."
"B-but I'm not trying to call him!" she exclaimed. What in the world was the old woman ranting on about? And who was him?
"Oh," the other side paused for a second, before continuing, "Well, if you're some newspaper reporter or interviewer, go call his manager! This is his house, his private property that doesn't need some other people to stick there nose in it, and I'd like to keep it the way it is, if you please."
"No buts. Do you know how the young master spends his days? He's already holed up in a conference room right now, and he has a competition in the upcoming weeks. If you're that desperate, go to the reporting sessions! And if you're some telemarketer, I don't have the time to deal with some ecology crap! My master already donated millions of dollar to some AIDs fund down in South Africa. Not only that, he sends money to the World Wildlife Fund every month to feed his panda, so no charities either!"
A panda? Sakuno, who had been bewildered at the spunky woman on the other side of the phone, came to the conclusion that the woman would not stop her tyrannical speeches unless otherwise interrupted.
Inhaling a deep breath, Sakuno exclaimed in as loud as a voice she could possibly muster, while still keeping her tone friendly and cheerful. "I'm not a reporter, miss! I'm responding to the position of housekeeper as seen on your advertisement on the New York daily!"
Sakuno then exhale like a balloon, immediately feeling relieved that she had let out her butterflies.
The old woman stopped in mid speech.
"Oh!" she chuckled mildly, her voice immediately softening to a grandmotherly tone, "Why, I'm so sorry, honey. I thought you were some of those pathetic excuses of a dog, you know? They never stop hounding him, always trying to sniff someway into his butt. They never succeed, but it's really quite frustrating to know that they don't understand the term 'failure'. Why, of course I'll hire you! Just come tomorrow at around…" there was a pause, "Eleven in the morning. Just ring the doorbell, and that should be no problem."
"Um…don't you want to see my resume? Or have an interview?"
"No, no, it's perfectly fine. I can tell you're a sweet and hardworking girl. Polite, too!" A big clash of what seemed to be breaking glass echoed from the other side of the phone, followed by a terrified scream, and then a sob of horror.
"Oh dear," the old woman commented, "I better run, honey. See you tomorrow!"
With a click, the conversation ended, leaving a perplexed Sakuno standing there, with her hands still cradling her phone. Years of experience had taught her to be paranoid, and she couldn't help but feel suspicious at the whole thing.
After all, it did seem fishy that they would hire someone with out a resume or an interview. What if she was some sort of assassin seeking revenge on a particular wealthy business man? Either they must be really desperate, or really stupid.
Like some people always said, desperate times called for desperate measures.
Sakuno stood at the towering front gate, admiring the large estate that stood proudly within. She had seen plenty of beautiful mansions, from old Victorian styles to a modern, jazzy style of housings. But the one inside, though smaller than the rest in the neighborhood, had a special quality that the others lacked.
It was a two story building, painted in soft caramel beige with large, towering glass windows settled on either side of the house. A few oak trees stood tall and confident beside the house. Obviously made with a European taste, it was set against a backdrop of rolling glass, with a small, classic barn nesting against the vast expanse of land. It was very, very simple, but elegant nevertheless.
She pressed on the doorbell.
"Hello?" a cracking old voice spoke through the speaker a few minutes later.
"Hi," she replied rather awkwardly. "This is Sakuno Ryuuzaki, and I am supposed to work starting today." Even to her ears, her statement sounded more like a question.
"Oh, right. You're the polite girl!"
There was a buzz.
"Come on in! The door's opened."
Uncomfortably, she opened the gate and walked in, passing by the blossoming tulips and the dancing daffodils. Again, she couldn't help but admire the beauty of the house.
Walking up the tiled steps and towards the door, it opened as soon as she reached there. A short, graying woman stood, wearing a pink apron, her white hair wild and crazy upon her head. She regarded Sakuno with jolly, green eyes. Her face was filled with aging wrinkles which the scars of time had left.
"Ah! You look as sweet as your voice!" she exclaimed, her voice powerful and piercing.
Sakuno bowed immediately. Although this was New York, she had still never gotten rid of this particular habit. As a child, her grandmother had taught her the basis of etiquette: always bow to your elders.
"Oh, child! Don't do that!" the woman cried, grabbing Sakuno's small hands into her own, aging ones. "Here, here, come in and I'll show you what you're supposed to do."
The house was as impressive on the inside as it was on the outside. There was a massive hallway made out of marbles, with a set of red-carpeted stairs leading up to the second floor. The kitchen, with doors leading to a large veranda, was large and airy, accompanied with a cozy family room. The guest room reminded her of royalty – soft, expensive suede sofas, a glass coffee table in the middle, and a large window to view the beauty of the landscape. A display case full of oriental displays of ceramics and potteries were set to the side. An electric fire place was nestled against the wall, with vases of dried flowers here and there to accent the display.
"It's gorgeous," Sakuno breathed.
The old woman grinned at her. "The master has fine taste."
She could not do anything but agree.
As the woman gave her a tour of the house (which included seven bedrooms upstairs, and more in the basement), she gave the instructions to Sakuno.
"Since as you have school in the morning, come after school until eight and do the basic clean up. The laundry room is down in the basement, and there's a blue bucket of clothes to wash in there. Not hard to spot, I'd reckon. Of course, vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, and occasionally, the dishes. The master never really eats in the house since he's almost always away. Besides, I'm in charge of the kitchen and the whole household, so I'll be doing most of the cooking.
"Also, you'll have to clean up the guest rooms – not that it needs cleaning since nobody ever really stays. I'll pay you at the end of every month. Fair?"
"Nanako is usually at home – she's the master's cousin. She's in charge of all the finances of the house and kind of his secretary too. I mean, she takes care of all his schedule and money, but that's about it. She's a sweet girl. You'll like her.
"Oh, before I set you off to work, just a reminder. The master has a cat – he treats him like a child of his own!" the old woman scoffed, as if the very idea was alien and foreign to her. "He had him since he was ten? Quite an old cat, I believe, though what's he doing alive, I don't understand. Be nice to him, or say goodbye to your job. That's what happened when the last maid forgot to feed him. Meowing all the way, I think."
"Uh…what does he look like?" Sakuno asked anxiously. The last thing she needed was to be jobless by a mere kitty cat.
"Oh! Pish-posh! He's not hard to miss. Kind of like a raccoon, with black ears and face, and white the rest of the way. I guess he would be very fluffy and cute in your eyes, but trust me, girlie, dogs are much better."
"Uh…he's not…fierce, is he?"
"Oh, naw. He's more whiny and annoying. If he ever gets on your nerves, say 'shoo, Karupin,' and he'll leave."
Sakuno tried to smile, but failed miserably. "Um…what should I call you, miss?"
"Oh right!" the old woman slapped herself on the forehead. "How foolish of me! Must be my old age, you know? How I wish I was young and tender like you!"
Sakuno flushed. "Um…miss…your name?"
She slapped herself again, making Sakuno wince in pain. She wondered if this was partly the reason why this old woman was so forgetful. Too many slappings and too many lost brain cells, perhaps.
"Oops, silly of me. Just call me Morghanna."
"Please to meet you, Morghanna."
"Of course, of course, darling." She glanced down at her watch, "Oh dear, it's the feeding time. Why don't you be a dear and go and get Karupin? He's probably frolicking somewhere in the sun out in the backyard."
Before Sakuno could agree, the old woman had already strolled off, humming some cheerful tune to herself. Sakuno smiled. Morghanna was really one of a kind.
Going through the kitchen and out the back door, she took a deep breath. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and Sakuno couldn't help but feel her spirits lift. Things were finally starting to look up.
Passing by the swimming pool, Sakuno looked around the patches of geraniums and camellias in vain.
"Karupin!" she called out, her brown orbs swerving here and there for the Siamese cat. "Karupin!"
Tripping over a root, she rubbed her sore knee and muttered, "Stupid cat."
Sakuno's head shot up.
There it was again. Looking frantically, it dawned on her that the persistent meowing was above her head. Staring up, she spotted a fur ball of black and white perching on a thin, weak-looking branch a few good feet above her. It was meowing frantically, its blue eyes staring at her in fear.
Oh darn it! If what Morghanna said was true and the kitty fell and died, the master of the house was going to kill her! Literally!
In a frenzy, Sakuno was torn between running for Morghanna, or actually playing superman and climbing up the thirty feet tree to save the kitty cat. Spotting a bright, silver ladder that was placed securely by another tree a few yards away, Sakuno sprinted over and attempted to carry it back as quick as possible. But the darn, blasted thing was heavy!
Muttering curses under her breath, she set the ladder as securely as humanely possible against the tree, and without a thought, climbed up slowly. With every further step she took, the metal beneath her wobbled, inflicting fear in her heart. She absolutely hated, abhorred, and loathed heights.
This is why you should never be a gardener. Sakuno could feel the other side of conscience reminding her.
Eternity had passed, and finally, she reached the very top, where a now quite Karupin was staring at her rather suspiciously.
"Come here, kitty, kitty," Sakuno cooed, her two hands reaching slowly for the bundle of fur. Miraculously, she was able to balance with just her two feet. "Come here, Karupin, you're fine, aren't you?"
The cat only watched her warily, inching backwards as her hands inched forward.
"Oh come here!" she huffed impatiently, reaching even closer.
Karupin, who had never been fond of strangers, hissed and sprung his paws forward, startling the petite brunette and her balance.
"Oh, shit!" She cursed under her breath, as she felt herself wheeling downwards by the pull of gravity. Why, why, why! She didn't want to die yet! In fact, she was too young to die, damn it!
She'd be lucky if she would only break a few ribs and crack a few bones.
Closing her eyes tightly, she braced herself for the oncoming impact, wondering to herself if she would be able to see her life flashing by her eyes.
But she never saw her life flashing by her eyes.
She only felt a big thud and heard a big "oof."
Cracking one of her eyes open, she looked up and saw the cursed branch with the cursed cat still perching on it. She couldn't contain her glee as she realized that she had survived, and god, it didn't hurt that much! Minus a few bruises and a sore back, she was in a perfectly good form.
"Ne! Do you mind getting off me?" Came an impatient voice from under.
Looking down, she gasped in surprise and sprung up as fast as a startled rabbit, ignoring the sharp pain in her neck.
"I'm s-so s-sorry!" she apologized, staring at the patch of ground between her shoes, not daring to look up at her savior who was in the midst of picking himself up from the floor.
"Are you suicidal?" his deep voice sounded again, staggering Sakuno to look up.
A tall figure of five-eleven stood before her, his jet black hair messy and his cat-like auburn eyes narrowed in irritation. His features were sharp and flawless, and much more mature than the features she had been so mesmerized by eight years ago. Dressed in a blue sweater and a pair of white Fila's shorts, he put on his fallen white cap that had an "R" engraved in the middle.
He was more than handsome, sure enough. Sakuno could comprehend why even fifty-year-old women were obsessed with him. He had the look, the money, and the skills – a perfect package, if she did say so herself. But that aura of cockiness and that arrogant attitude was really unnerving.
Echizen Ryoma rolled his eyes in annoyance. "I said, are you suicidal?"
"N-no." Sakuno flushed prettily. It wasn't the fact that Echizen Ryoma had branded her as an insane girl, but the fact that he was here was unsettling enough. And for the first time, realization dawned on her. That was what Morghanna had meant about nosy paparazzi and screaming fans – Echizen Ryoma, number one tennis player in the world. Oh yes, that's right, Echizen Ryoma had just saved her from ending up with a broken neck.
The tennis star eyed her circumspectly. "Do you need a psychologist?"
"No!" Sakuno could almost die. Not only did he not remember her, he really thought she was insane.
Although she had grown out of her puppy love for Ryoma, she still had to genuinely admire his amazing tennis skills and talent. She had watched most of his tournaments in grand slams and master series, and all she could conclude was that he was simply the best in history.
Ryoma gave her one last weird look before stuffing his hands in his pocket and walking away towards the house, followed by a meowing Karupin.
"Thank you!" she called out, her face still the color of red tomatoes.
A wave of his hand was the reply.
"Stupid, stupid cat!" Sakuno muttered angrily, before setting off for the house herself.
A/N: Wooot! New story! I hope you guys enjoyed it. It was a bit informative, but relevant, I should think. I won't be updating this as much as my other story, since it is my goal to finish Business Intrigue first. But nevertheless, I'll update as often as I can, so enjoy!!