Chapter VI: Soap in the Making
"I grip the wheel,
and all at once
I realize that my life has become a boring pop song
and everyone's singing along."
- Jack's Mannequin, "I'm Ready"
Sakuno didn't really know what compelled her to buy five atrocious buckets of ice cream, but it was on a bright, star-filled night that she discovered herself stuffing spoonful after spoonful of figure-flattening ice cream into her mouth.
The tattered television was on, playing the latest episode of a very highly rated Japanese drama. Like all dramas, this one had a poor, naïve, sweet girl falling for the mysterious resident –albeit "uber" handsome – bad-boy who had some sort of typical prince syndrome and sad, boohoo past that made him an egotistical jerk. Of course, the mysterious resident bad boy was probably already in love with some other gorgeous blue-eyed, blonde starlet who happened to be a nefarious, scheming bitch, and thus, the cute, sweet protagonist was deftly ignored. That is, ignored until the resident bad boy realizes just how much of a gem the cute, sweet protagonist was and thus will have had some sort of magical change overnight to become some super smart guy who then went to Harvard and earned the love of everyone else. If that even made sense.
Sakuno wrinkled her nose as she swallowed another mouthful of her strawberry ice cream. Although she hated to admit it, she did rather enjoy the whole cliché and stereotypical plotline. While the acting was horrible and the plot was predictable, there was some sort of odd comfort to be found in watching the pouty actress trying to find a plan to make the love of her life notice her. Sakuno was sure she could take a leaf out of the protagonist's book – perhaps then, she would actually have a love life instead of pining for one.
Of course, to put it into real life, the evil bad boy would probably be Ryoma, and the girl who would make him realize that life was worth living would be that girl – yes, the pretty blonde-hair, green-eyed girl named Yukino Miyazawa.
She was, for a lack of a better analogy, like a little fairy with her cascade of silky hair framing her petite face decorated with finely sculptured features. Of mix descent – according to Morghanna, she was half-Japanese and half French – Yukino Miyazawa was the very first friend (as in, the type of friend who didn't give a damn if you were the best and probably hottest tennis player in the world) that Ryoma had met when he had settled in the States. A renowned ballerina in the New York dance circle, Yukino was labeled as the next "it-girl" in the world of classical ballet, and the tabloids had also felt the need to point out that she was Ryoma's love interest.
Of course, Ryoma and Yukino had vehemently denied it, saying that they were simply "good friends," but Sakuno couldn't help but have a nagging suspicion that "good friends" was a euphemism for "we-share-hugs-and-kisses-and-warm-beds kind of friends."
Now, Sakuno was by far a very non-judgmental girl as can be, and with her sunny disposition, she was capable of liking everyone. However, when Morghanna had introduced Yukino to her, Sakuno couldn't help but feel a pull of…something for the girl. That "something", oddly, leaned towards the negative side of the scale. If the girl hadn't been so darn genuine, Sakuno could probably label the "something" as dislike. But no, Yukino just had to shoot her a blindingly sweet smile that was devoid of any hidden intentions and greeted her in the most cheerful of manners. Sakuno felt like she was the nefarious, scheming little bitch in one of those teenage dramas.
When Sakuno was about to leave, Yukino had happily volunteered to walk her to the door and see her out, all the while chattering cheerily about how excited she was to see the premiere of the new Batman movie featuring Christian Bale. Ryoma, who remained silent throughout the whole exchange, had conveniently snubbed Sakuno since the blonde girl's arrival, and had continued his snubbing when Sakuno was about to leave.
And it was after she left the tennis star's mansion that she went to the nearest convenience store and dished out her hard-earned cash for the five buckets of ice cream she was now caressing fondly. There was nothing like the joy of feeling the smooth, buttery, and creamy taste of strawberry melting in one's mouth. A perfectly effective remedy for a perfectly horrible day, though what was so horrible about it, she had not a clue.
Sakuno was now spellbound to the climax of the drama, where the evil resident bad-boy-turned-good had just grabbed the sweet, naïve girl by the arm and pulled her into an earth-shattering kiss, both merrily sticking their tongues into each other's throat out in the breezy, spring rain. When the couple broke off, the girl looked at him fondly, tears in her eyes (it might have been the rain – Sakuno couldn't really tell) and uttered, "I…I love-"
Sakuno was tempted to throw her cell phone that had ringed at exactly the right moment. Instead, she picked it up and glanced at the caller ID. Surprised at the caller, she picked it up.
"Is something the matter?" Sakuno furrowed her brows quizzically.
There was a loud screech followed by a horrible sob. Ryoma answered in a pained voice, "Can you come over, now?"
"Um...but Ryoma-kun, its one in the morning."
"So, I have school in the morning, and a test."
"It's an emergency." There was a hint of desperation mixed with impatience in Ryoma's voice. Another screech was heard through the other end.
"I-Is everything okay?"
"No. Come now," there was a pause as if he was contemplating something before saying, "Please."
Sakuno bit her lips. It wasn't everyday that the tennis star said "please." Granted, it was more forced than anything else, but at least, he had the decency to say it. And never one to reject those in need of help, Sakuno reluctantly gave in, agreeing that she would be over as soon as possible.
It was a half-an-hour later that Sakuno arrived by cab in front of Ryoma's mansion, and from the moment she set her eyes on the house, she knew that there something spectacularly wrong.
Every single light in the house was on, and the front gate was unlocked and opened. She quickly trotted in, only to discover that the door too, was undone. Stepping in, she squinted her brown eyes but saw nothing out of the ordinary, so she hastily walked upstairs to be greeted by muffled sobs.
Following the noise, she passed by the guest bathroom only to discover that the toilet had flooded with the water still dribbling. Even more confused, Sakuno hurried her steps and stopped in front of a wooden door where the noise had led her.
Creaking it open, she saw that the room had become a calamity zone, with broken lamps and bottles strewn all over the room. Articles of clothing dotted the polished floors and papers were scatter left to right. In the heap of the entire debacle, sat a gruff-looking Ryoma and a sniffling Naomi.
Ryoma, with sleep in his eyes and a mop of ruffled black hair, shot her the most enervating glare. "What the hell took you so long?"
Sakuno looked at him in disbelief. "This," she said, pointing to Naomi, "Is the emergency?" The little girl only looked tearfully up at her before bursting out into a full-blast shriek that shook Sakuno's eardrums.
"I want mommy!" Naomi screeched, flailing her stubby arms into Ryoma's cringing face. "I want mommy, I want mommmmmmmmy!"
"What the heck did you do to her?" Sakuno shouted over the girl's voluble screams while trying to muffle the decibels of Naomi's vocal chords.
"I don't know! She just suddenly started in the middle of the night! Help me!" As Ryoma barked the order, he grabbed his niece by her legs, and with her head dangling upside down, he none-too-gently passed the girl into a bewildered Sakuno's outstretched arms. This only increased the intensity of Naomi's wails.
"R-Ryoma-kun! You can't do that to a baby!"
"Whatever," he said, clamping his hands against his ears. "Just, please, shut her up!" With that, he stormed out the room in a manner similar to that of someone who was given the chance to escape from hell.
Cradling and rocking Naomi in her arms, Sakuno hummed and crooned, smoothing the girl's soft, blue hair repeatedly. It wasn't until fifteen minutes later that Naomi's sobs had quieted enough for the four-year-old to whimper.
"S-saku-chan," – hic – "I-I want" –hic – "mommy."
"Shhh," Sakuno whispered, brushing Naomi's hair from her tear-stained face. "Mommy's very, very busy right now." Busy with what, she didn't know. But the kid didn't need to know that, did she? "She's out doing something very important, and she'll have a big surprise for you if you'll be a good girl."
"B-But, I m-miss" – hic – "mommy."
"I know you do, but so do I. Mommy will be home very soon, and I'm sure she misses you very, very much."
Big blue eyes stared at Sakuno earnestly. "R-really?"
"Really." The brunette had a sinking feeling lying to the girl in front of her – what if indeed, Nanako was so very busy that she wouldn't be back for another month? Or even worst, what if something had happened?
"But for now, you have to go to sleep so that little fairies can come to you and make your wish come true."
Naomi sniffed. "O-okay. I like" – hic – "fairies."
"I know you do." Sakuno kissed her on the forehand and tucked her in snuggly.
"I-I feel" – hic – "funny."
"Funny." Naomi nodded fervently, pointing down her body. With a glance, Sakuno realized what was wrong – Ryoma had put on the diaper in the opposite way. Idiot.
Naomi muttered something.
"Pardon me, Naomi?"
"Neil? What's wrong with Neil?"
"He-he's on the ground"
Sakuno dashed to the other side. Indeed, Nanako's oldest was lying on the wooden floor, his body a semblance of the crucified, with sheets tangled around his leg and arms and a streak of drool marring his snoring face. Sakuno rolled her eyes. Kids.
After heaving Neil up onto the bed beside her sister – he had somehow remained blissfully in dreamland through the whole ordeal – Naomi looked at the brunette.
"S-Saku-nee-chan, I want" – hic – "S-sugar."
Naomi pointed her stout little finger at a stuffed white teddy sitting lopsidedly by the pillows. Handing it to her, Sakuno watched as Naomi buried her face into her little companion before attempting to snuggle into her brother's outstretched arms.
Creeping out of the room, Sakuno rubbed her temples to clear her head before heading down to the living room where Ryoma was stretched out languidly by the sofa, flicking the channels with a look of pure boredom. Karupin was also curled up by her master's side, swishing her bushy tail in an indolent manner. Together, the master and cat made a picture of lassitude. Sakuno felt a stab of resentment – while she was upstairs, risking the chance of forever losing her hearing, these two were lazing around, doing absolutely nothing. Slugs! They were all slugs!
Upon seeing a disheveled Sakuno, the tennis player smirked. "Hello. You look horrible."
The girl in question shot him a glare. "You call me out at this time of the night; can't you be at least a little bit decent? I want an explanation."
"She pooped. She cried. She won't shut up."
"Didn't you at least think of a way? Instead of calling me out, just use your brain!"
Ryoma shot her a withering glower. "You think I haven't tried?"
"No!" Sakuno cried exasperatedly. "For god's sake, you put her diaper on backwards!"
As if a simple "hnn" would suffice for the mistake. Sakuno fumed, but Ryoma had already turned his focus back onto the NASCAR race on the plasma.
"You haven't explained yet."
"Why Neil and Naomi is at your house."
"Nanako had some emergency to attend to in Japan."
Sakuno gritted her teeth, curbing the temptation to chug the can of Ponta on the glass table at the nonchalant Ryoma. "And, couldn't you have asked Morghanna to help you instead?"
Ryoma looked at her in an "are-you-stupid?" way. "Morghanna is on vacation."
Oh, right. After the chirpy introduction between Sakuno and Yukino, the aging housekeeper had dragged the former by the arm and into the living room, where Morghanna gave her a squawking pep talk.
"Now, I'll be gone to Jamaica by tomorrow, so you better not laze off while I'm not here, you understand? My better judgments tell me you are trustworthy, so I better not come back and find this place infected by pests and dust bunnies, yes?"
Sakuno couldn't help but ponder if Morghanna's sense of judgments was faulty due to her old age or her lack of sensibility. The housekeeper had said Ryoma was the sweetest, cutest, most adorable (by this time, Sakuno had the urge to gag) little boy she had ever had the pleasure to meet in her long life of sixty-five years, but witnessing the picture just now of an indolent Ryoma languishing happily along with his equally indolent cat, Sakuno begged to differ.
"Have you ever thought to bribe Naomi?"
Sakuno rolled her eyes. "Yes. You gave her money. Money. Ryoma-kun, money has no value to kids, much less a five-year-old."
"I told her she could buy candy with it," shrugged Ryoma.
"Well, apparently, she seemed to think that the coins you gave her were some sort of shiny candy. She tried to swallow it, did you know that?"
Ryoma snickered, but Sakuno continued on fervently, "And did you know why she was so uncomfortable? You changed her diaper the wrong way. You – you have absolutely no clue what to do with kids!"
"Which," the tennis star's amber orbs focused on her, a smirk lighting up in those cat-like eyes. "Is why I now hire you as a live-in nanny."
The girl in question could only gape at him.
"Can you close your mouth? You look like a fish, and it's rather unbecoming."
"E-excuse me!" Sakuno blushed furiously in a combination of both rage and embarrassment. "Y-you can't just hire me whenever you feel like it."
Ryoma blinked. "But I just did."
"Well, I – I refuse!"
"You need the money."
"Yes, I do, but I don't have time to clean the house and work at Starbucks and help out with the kids! I have homework and tests to study for! And also, somebody needs me as a tutor."
"Ditch Starbucks." There was an obvious duh in his tone.
"Look, the money that I'll offer you are probably ten times more than what you get for your silly part-time job."
"Well, what happens when Nanako comes back? My silly part-time job will be gone."
"Then find another silly part-time job. Those silly part-time jobs are everywhere."
Sakuno wanted to slap his silly matter-of-fact tone out of his silly face. Refusal was on her lips but he interrupted.
Ryoma gazed at her nonchalantly, "I'll also double your wage for the housekeeping."
"Aren't you six months behind on both your tuition and rent?"
"How did you know?" the brunette gave him a fixing look.
He shrugged. "Nanako."
Ah. The woman had asked for her financial records when she was hired – something to do with tax deductions and what not. Nanako must have told Ryoma about her financial issues, but Sakuno wished that the pretty lady had just kept her mouth shut.
She bit her lips.
"I'll triple it."
"Okay, okay!" The offer was too good to pass on, and Sakuno, though dumb and naïve at times, was no fool to deny such a good deal. If it all worked out fine and dandy, perhaps she could finally be free of the insistent badgering of the landlady to cough up the rent.
"I don't have my stuff."
"I'll drive you tomorrow so you can get your stuff."
"Fine," Sakuno muttered. "Hopefully, I won't jump off a bridge after a week."
Ignoring his triumphant smirk and his "mada mada dane", the petite brunette was about to stalk out of the room when a thought occurred to her.
"Um, Ryoma-kun, I think you need to call the plumber tomorrow. The toilet flooded."
"Nothing. It started to flood when I flushed the diaper."
When his solemn statement was greeted with a ringing silence, Ryoma turned to look at Sakuno with a questioning expression. "Wasn't I supposed to do that?"
Sakuno stared at him with a mixture of amusement, bewilderment, and disbelief. "Mada mada dane, Ryoma-kun."
The next morning, Sakuno received a call from a frenzied Nanako.
"Sakuno, I'm so, so, so very grateful for your help! One of my husband's closest friends just passed away and he's drinking himself into a stupor. Ryoma was my last resort, but he doesn't know anything about kids, and with Morghanna gone…"
"No, no, its fine. I made a promise to live-in and help with the kids until you're back. And I'm very sorry about your husband's friend."
"Thank you, Sakuno, truly. I don't know what I would've done without you. Naomi can be especially troubling and I won't be back for at least two months. He was one of my husband's clients, and he has to deal with the will and everything...and there's also the funeral."
"Don't worry, I'll protect both Naomi and Neil from being accidently poisoned by Ryoma." Like preventing Naomi from swallowing a coin…
"Is Naomi there?"
"Yes, hold on, please!" Sakuno said sweetly, before passing the phone to Naomi, who had been sitting on Sakuno's lap throughout the whole conversation, staring at the phone with her big, blue orbs.
"Mommy!" Naomi squealed happily, giggling into the phone.
Neil, who was banally twirling his spoon in his bowl of cereal, looked up at Sakuno. "Hey, Ugly, when's mommy coming back?"
Sakuno puffed her cheeks indignantly. "Don't call me ugly! You should be more respectful towards your elders!"
Neil shrugged. "Mommy told me never to lie. So when's mommy coming back?"
Deliberately ignoring his first sentence, Sakuno answered, "In about two months…she has to settle some important matters."
"Oh. So you're our nanny?"
"Oh. I thought Uncle Ryoma would have better taste than that."
"Well, I thought Uncle Ryoma would hire someone…hotter, like Yukino."
Sakuno paid no heed to the boy's jibes. She knew she wasn't commonly beautiful nor was she uniquely pretty, but she frowned at Neil's train of thoughts. "Aren't you a bit too young to like girls?" He was at the age where thinking about girls was a massive violation – the price of that violation was to receive the constant jeering and teasing of his pals.
Neil shrugged, popping a cheerio into his mouth. "I don't like girls, but Grandpa Nanjiroh said it's never too young to start appreciating the beauty of the female body. He even showed me some from the books he's always reading."
Having always heard that Ryoma's notorious dad was a big fan of anything female with a big rack, Sakuno wondered if Echizen Nanjiroh's son was as contaminated as his father. "You..you are quite mature for your age, aren't you?"
"'Course," Neil nodded his head proudly, "Uncle Ryoma always said that I'm mature beyond my years!"
"And he's immature beyond his years," Sakuno muttered underneath her breathe as the five-year-old passed the phone over to her brother. She vaguely recalled Ryoma's lack of action in reaction towards Naomi's howling sobs.
The person of their topic then made his presence known, garbed in a simple dress shirt and brown khakis. In his hand, he held a pair of sunglasses and his hideous red hat. In the other, he was dangling the keys to his car.
"Let's go," Ryoma said, and he left without even a glance.
After Ryoma had dropped the kids off at school, he stopped by Tim Horton's and bought them both a cup of hot, steaming coffee. Sakuno quietly sipped the caffeine-induced drink, casting a sideway glance at Ryoma. She was surprised to find him rubbing his eyes uncomfortably. If not for the layer or perspiration dampening his sun-tanned skin, Sakuno would've thought it was merely from the lack of sleep. However, the tennis player's manner connoted his palpable discomfort as he shifted constantly in the driver's seat.
"Ryoma-kun? Are you alright?" she asked concernedly.
Ryoma's voice did not betray his evident distress. "I'm fine."
"A-are you sure? Do you need me to drive instead?"
"No. I'm fine." The finality in his tone bespoke of his desire of ending the conversation, in which Sakuno hesitantly complied though she couldn't shrug off her anxiety.
When they pulled into the parking lot of the university, he urged her to go ahead, and once again, she duly abided by his request and got off the car, but not before seeing him reach for a bottle of cream pills that seemed awfully familiar. It was the same bottle that she had accidently discovered in his room more than a months ago.
Before she could question him, Sayoko's green Toyota pulled up right next to her, and the preppy girl waved cheerfully before bounding over. It was obvious to Sakuno that her friend's chipper demeanor bespoke of Sayoko's ghastly consumption of sugar-high sweets for breakfast.
Sayoko gave her a quick peck on the cheeks before glancing at Ryoma's red convertible. She gave a wolf-whistle.
"Wow, fancy much?"
Indeed, Sakuno may not be a fan of luxury cars, but she had to be an idiot not to know that the sleek, classy BMW convertible (which screamed class and quality) must have cost a fortune – a fortune that Sakuno's five years of hard labor would never be able to achieve.
When Ryoma, who had not donned his horrendous hat and thick glasses yet, stepped out of his car, Sayoko's eyes widened.
She whispered to Sakuno, "Wow, Sakuno, you never told me you had such a hot and rich boyfriend." It was to Ryoma's luck that the law student had absolutely zero interest in tennis. In fact, she had absolutely nada interest in anything that involved the laborious use of her legs.
The brunette flushed. "N-no, he's not my b-boyfriend. H-he's just a friend."
"Please," Sayoko scoffed, looking down at her friend in a way that spelled out her disbelief. Seeing Sakuno's continued assurance that he was really not her boyfriend, the Japanese girl sniffed. "Well, fine, if you say so. But then, you wouldn't mind introducing me to him now, would you?" Without waiting for a reply, Sayoko leapt towards Ryoma, who had just grabbed his book bag from his trunk.
"Hello," the law student piped exuberantly, "I'm Kinomoto Sayoko, a good friend of Sakuno's. Nice to meet you."
Ryoma blinked at her outstretched hands, before looking at her uninterestedly. "Hnn," he said blatantly, before slamming the trunk. To Sakuno, he said, "Let's go," He strolled away, leaving Sayoko fuming and her hands dangling.
"What a jerk!" she commented to an apologetic Sakuno.
You have no idea.
Sakuno knew it was extremely low of her to be snooping around Ryoma's room, but having always been thoughtful of others, she could not ignore what she had seen this afternoon. Ryoma had evidently been bothered by something, and she was going to find out.
Shuffling through the heaps of clothes and piles of rubbish – evidently, Ryoma had kept his room in fine shape even though Sakuno spent at least an hour everyday sorting through his junk – she finally found what she was looking for.
However, instead of her premonition of finding only a clear plastic bottle, she also discovered one of tangy, orange color. Grabbing both, she hurriedly went to her temporary room and opened her laptop, her fingers clicking over the keyboards.
The one of tangy orange color were sleeping pills. Okay, Sakuno could understand that. Keira and even Sayoko sometimes could not slumber due to being overstressed – imagine Ryoma, who had to travel from one place to another in a span of a week. The time change and temperature difference would drive any sane person crazy.
The second one, however, was cryptic. Sakuno furrowed her brows as she quickly scanned over the details.
Trimipramine (TCA): Trimipramine's mechanism of action differs from other tricyclic antidepressants. It is only a moderate reuptake inhibitor of norepinephrine, and a weak reuptake inhibitor of serotonin and dopamine. The main effects are due to considerable postsynaptic blockade.
Sakuno was stumped. By no means was she a science geek, but she was able to realize that Ryoma was suffering worse than he let on – Inui and Nanako had both known. That time, when she had overhead the confrontation between those three, it had been about this.
"The thing is you won't tell us what the problem is, you're not taking the medication that the doctors prescribed, and you just suddenly decide to take a leave off the tour! I've been with you since you were a kid, Ryoma-kun, and I know you better than you do yourself. Please, just… tell us what's wrong."
Those words that Nanako had spoken two months ago echoed loudly in Sakuno's mind. The brunette wanted to smack herself for being so very, very stupid. How could she have overlooked that? At that time, all she cared about was satisfying her desire of meeting Nanako and getting close to Ryoma. She hadn't even consider what they had been talking about – how uncaring could she be?
Determined to override her mistakes, Sakuno made a pact to herself that she would find out what the problem was. Knowing Ryoma would either sneer coldly or blow a tantrum if asked, he was out of the question. Nanako wasn't here, and she wasn't likely to spill anything. Morghanna also wasn't available, and she'd probably fire her if she remotely hinted at the subject.
The last resort would have to be Inui. Even if she had to hold his beloved glasses hostage, she would definitely wiggle the information out of him.
A/N: So, it's been almost four months since I last updated, and I can feel the um…hostility directed towards me. If you guys want excuses, I have two: one, I was so busy that I get four hours of sleep each night (c'est vrai!). You know the drill – exams, work, more exams, competitions, exams, Wimbledon (holy crap, one of the best matches I've ever witnessed). Two, I actually finished half the chapter, and then boom-boom-bam, my hard drive died. Lost absolutely everything! Yes, yes, I know, I'm a failure as an authoress. But, on the bright side, I'm going to update at least twice in August, so, no hard feelings, hmm?
I try to update the news section of my profile as much as possible, so always check to see my progress! And for my other story, I think it's high time to go over and revise it, yes?
By the way, I totally know this is totally out of topic, but as Yukino mentioned in the chapter, you guys HAVE to watch the Dark Knight. Heath Ledger was absolutely stunning, and Christian Bale (drool) was more than hot. I haven't seen a movie that good in years! In fact, I watched it twice in two consecutive days :D
Anyways, hope you enjoyed the chapter…and R&R!!
P.S. Oh, right. I had many awesome people tell me that Karupin is a male – oops. I would like to go back to the first chapter and correct it, but I think I'll do that once I finish the whole story and do a major re-editing. So Karupin can now be a girl kitty.
P.S.S. I hope that Karupin is okay with it. I mean, Ryoma and a girl Karupin sounds better than Ryoma and a guy Karupin.
P.S.S.S. But then again, if I made Ryoma into a girl, I don't think he would appreciate it very much…