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"Yuna! Bring me your backpack so I can check your homework before school please!" I spread jelly on her sandwich and made sure to cut it diagonally into triangles because she'd asked for it like that. I'd gotten a very interesting lecture from my five-year-old about the best ways to eat a sandwich, and apparently to avoid getting jelly on her face, she needed it cut into triangles. So, triangles it is. Licking the excess off the knife, I stuck it in the dishwasher and heard the thud thud thud of Yuna running down the stairs, before she burst into the kitchen backpack in hand and plopping it down next to my chair at the table, climbing into her spot.
"Dad! You have to sign my letter page. We did the upper and lower case of the letter L. I wanna make sure I get a sticker on my page." I smiled as she bounced in her chair and I set her toast and banana in front of her.
"Okay. I'll do it right now, but eat your breakfast so I can do your hair and you can get dressed. We only have a half hour before you need to be there." She gave me a smile and dug into her breakfast. I sure hoped this phase would pass. Two weeks ago, apparently cold cereal wasn't nutritious enough for my daughter, and she'd told me she wanted wheat toast with banana slices until further notice. I'm sure most parents would have insisted that she just eat what I put in front of her, but I figured it couldn't last too long. I sat down with my coffee and opened her backpack to sign her homework.
A few minutes later after she'd finished her breakfast, I took her to the bathroom so I could do her hair and have her brush her teeth.
"Yuna, please hold still. Your braids will be crooked." Couldn't have that. Her rather stuck up teacher had informed me that her braids had been rather messy looking last week, and that I might want to have the maid do ponytails instead. I'd held in my temper, wanting to inform her that I was the one doing my child's hair and not the maid. Whatever. It was a prestigious school, and if it meant that I had to put up with stuck up faculty so that Yuna could get a good education, then so be it. I'd only learned how to braid last week anyways, Youtube being the only practical tutorial I could find.
Teeth brushed, hair done, and her uniform on, I loaded her up into my car and I drove the two miles uptown to her school. She gave me a kiss goodbye and I waved as she ran up the steps to her school, backpack bouncing behind her. Making sure she made it inside before I put my car in gear and headed to my office.
"Good morning, Mary." I nodded to the receptionist as I walked into my office, dropping my lunch in the fridge on the way. Ever since I'd had to start making lunches for Yuna now that she was in kindergarten, I'd actually started making my lunch as well, cutting out the fast food I used to get instead. Who knew that cutting that out would make me feel better everyday? I started my computer and settled into my chair to start my day.
"No, Janice, listen to me, your boss better pay for the job I did in the following two days or else I'm sending my hound dog lawyer to hunt his ass down." Breathing in sharply, I leaned back in my chair, dropping my tablet pen onto my keyboard and then instantly felt bad for treating it so poorly, picking it back up and gently placing it in it's stand instead. Janice was blabbering on about how her boss had in fact paid the bill, that there probably was a delay of some kind. Bullshit. "Bullshit, Janice. I know it, you know it. The bank doesn't screw up, your boss does. Now tell him I want my money, or I'm not giving the artist rights, okay?" She mumbled out an okay, "Good. Have a nice day, I'm sorry to have yelled at you," I really was, "But he doesn't leave me a choice." He really didn't. "Bye." Waiting for her to return the fare thee well, I then hung up the phone, groaning loudly in exasperation.
Every fucking time... I had a strict two week paying policy. I do the job, draw out the drawing they want and in the following two weeks they are expected to pay me. They can also expect me to bitch over the phone when they haven't yet after those two weeks are up. I sucked at this part of the job, I never signed up to yell at people... I wanted to be the loner artist that could stay stuck in their own little bubble. Instead, I spent more time demanding for the clients to pay me then I spent time drawing the actual job they asked of me in the first place.
Figuring I needed a break, I patted my computer's tower and then put it to sleep, knowing that poor thing needed a break as well. It was making vacuum noises again... I seriously needed to think about saving up for a new model. Pushing away from my desk, I let my chair roll over the wooden living room floor all the way across it, passing the couch and TV, ending up before the door so I could stand, push my feet into my shoes and pull my front apartment door open. I needed coffee and I sucked at making it myself. Thankfully, I'd found a pretty large apartment right here in the middle of Hollow Bastion's city center, right across from a coffee shop.
Checking to see if I had change in my pockets, I jingled the little bit I had, smiling at the idea of getting myself a latté. Yes... coffee made me very happy indeed... Since I worked behind a desk, I took the stairs instead of the elevator, that being my main exercise in general. I walked everywhere to make up for all the time I spend sitting down. Thankfully, I didn't really need to work out, I was naturally... well, hot.
Skipping down the stairs, I said hello to Mrs. Lone living on the floor below mine and then ran down the last row of stairs, checking my mail box to see if I had mail, which I didn't so I walked out of the building's door, breathing in the brilliant polluted air of the city. If I had the ability to make coffee, I would have moved to the suburbs five years ago instead of in the middle of the city. I missed the real fresh air. Fresh air doesn't exist in a city, whatever city people claim, they are wrong.
I was about to press the crossing button that would give me the green light to cross the road, but faltered in my step, frowning as I saw a pair of braided tails bounce up and down. The little girl with brown hair couldn't be more then five years old and she determinedly walked passed me, her head held high as she made her way to wherever she was headed. Frowning still, I tilted my head and then slowly followed her... Where the hell are her parents?
Making absolutely sure, I looked over my shoulders and tried to see if the adults walking around me and her were possibly with her... They didn't seem to be though. No... Returning my eyes on the little girl, I wondered what she was up too. Why was she here alone? Was she lost? She didn't look it... Picking up in my pace, I came to walk right behind her, almost going to ask her where her parents were at, but her singing stopped me from doing so right away...
"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me! We pillage plunder, we rifle and loot, drink up, we kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot, drink up, yo ho!" Well that certainly wasn't your regular kid song... Smothering a chuckle, I tapped her on the shoulder, smiling as she whirled around, staring up at me with... funky, one blue eye and the other green.
"Who are you?" Her voice trembled a little, but she stuck her chin out stubbornly.
"Hi," I said, trying to think of the best way to go about this... How do you show you aren't a kidnapper? "I'm not wearing a long black coat and neither am I going to offer you candy." That should be reassuring right? Striking out the cliché's, "I'm Cloud Strife, Miss. I'm just a little worried to see you walking around without a parent in this big city."
"Your hair is funny looking. I'm Yuna Leonhart." She stuck her hand out, apparently offering to shake hands. "I have a parent, but he's at work."
I smiled, taking her small hand in my own and shaking it, "You understand I can't let you go off on your own, right?" Because although I might not be those cliché's, other people in this big city were... "Do you know your dad's number? Or your mom's? You can call them with my cellphone and let them know where you are. I'll stay with you until they get here." I offered.
"I don't have a mom." She told me solemnly, eyes never blinking as she let go of my hand. "My daddy is working right now, so we can't bother him." She was wearing a uniform... I recognized it as many of the kids walking around in this city wore it. It was from that fancy school Tifa was in constant competition with.
"I understand, but I'm pretty sure your dad would like to know you're walking around alone in the middle of the city center." I smiled, "Even if he is working and shouldn't be bothered." I frowned, "Why are you alone?" I crouched down, my eyes level with her own so she didn't have to crane her neck up to look at me.
She looked down at her shoes and I saw her lip tremble a little. "I just wanted to get him a present. It was his birthday last week and he said he didn't want anything, but I wanted to surprise him." Wiping her eyes, I got the feeling that she didn't often cry, as she was stubbornly holding back the tears.
I reached out, tugging gently on one of her braids, smiling, "That's very sweet of you. I'm sure your dad will appreciate the thought very, very much. But considering what time it is, you're supposed to be in school... They probably noticed you aren't there anymore and they must have called your dad to tell him that. He's probably worried." Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a Kleenex, handing it to her so she could wipe the tears away instead of rubbing them away, "I can walk you back to school, it's not very far away. Or maybe you live close by?" I suggested.
Yuna shook her head and gave me a stubborn look. "I can see my daddy's office." She turned and pointed at an architecture firm about a block away on the other side of the street. "You can walk me there." Sticking out her hand, she waited for me to stand and do just that.
I grinned, slipping my hand in hers, "Alright." I walked back to the cross path, pressing the button so the green light would blink on, allowing us to cross the street. "What did you want to get your dad?" I asked. The light turned green, and I held onto her hand as we crossed the busy street.
"He needs new pencils. His are all flat and funny looking." She crinkled her nose. "You can't tell him! Promise?"
"Promise." I agreed, giving her a smile, "Maybe someone could take you to buy those pencils, so the presents is still a surprise, but your dad won't have to worry about you walking around alone." She said she didn't have a mom though.
"Can't you do it?" Innocent eyes stared up at me, earnest and pleading.
Pressing my lips tightly together, I gave her an apologetic look, "Your dad doesn't know me, I'm pretty sure he won't like me taking you anywhere other than back to him." The pout she gave me nearly killed me, "But now that I know where he works, I can buy a new set of pencils for him from you and drop them off there tomorrow? I'll tell him they're from you."
Thinking about it, she nodded. "Okay. No pink bows. His favorite color is blue, and you have to tell him he can't open it until he gets home and I can see it."
I wondered why I'd agreed to this for a moment until I remembered that pout. Yeah... that's why. Nodding at her instructions, I opened the door to the building her dad worked at, gesturing for her to go in first. When she stepped inside, I followed, letting the door swing shut behind me. I blinked as her hand slipped back into my own, closing my fingers around her small hand as we walked to the receptionist desk.
"I'm here to see a..." What was- "Mr. Leonheart." there. The women behind the desk looked up, smiling as she nodded.
"I'll let him know his three o'clock is here."
I frowned, "Oh, no. I don't have an appointment. I'm here to bring back his," I looked down, nodding at Yuna, "daughter."
"Hi, Mary." Yuna peaked over the desk and gave a small wave with her free hand. "Is my daddy busy?"
Mary's mouth dropped open and she then quickly pushed some buttons on the phone beside her, "Well, hello there, Yuna. I'll just see if he is." She murmured, giving me a strange look. I guess that made sense...
"Yuna? What are you doing here? And who are you?" A surprised voice asked, coming from the hall to the left of the reception area. A tall brown haired man with a scar across the bridge of his nose came into view. Clear grey eyes glanced first at Yuna, then the area around his eyes tightened and he looked at me for an explanation. If it weren't for the protective papa bear bubble massively placing itself around him, I could have taken a moment to appreciate how very good looking he was, but...
"Hi, I'm Cloud Strife. I was just coming out of my apartment and saw your daughter," Talk fast before he can hit you, "walking by. She was by herself and I was worried for her safety so I asked her why she was alone and," Stop detailing, he's starting to look angry red, "Anyway. This was just down the street and I walked her here when she told me you worked here." That was all, right? "No more then four minutes, Sir." I added.
His lips were pressed into a thin line and he turned to the receptionist. "Please call the school and inform them that I would like my daughter's teacher to call me. It seems I have the need to speak with her." His voice was scarily calm and his receptionist gulped and started searching for the schools number. "Now. Let's all go to my office and talk about this." Holding his hand out, he gestured for Yuna to come to him.
Yuna let my hand go, walking over to her dad, taking the hand he had offered. Looking over my shoulder, I sent a terrified look to the receptionist, who cowardly ignored me. Sighing, I ran a hand through my hair and then followed the Leonhart's into Mr. Leonhart's office.
Dear lord, I should sue that school. My insides were shaking with rage and fear at the thought of Yuna wondering around downtown by herself. Who knows what could have happened to her? I opened the door to my office and watched as the blonde young man followed Yuna inside. Blue eyes wide and just a little frightened as he looked around. I still wasn't sure he wasn't some pervert or delinquent, but he'd escorted Yuna here, so that had to count for something. Closing the door, I bent down and pulled Yuna to me and hugged her close.
"Yuna. Are you okay?" Deep breath, Leon. She's here, and seems to be okay, don't lose it.
"Yes." Her voice sounded small and I sighed in relief as I felt her arms reach around my neck and hug my back. I stroked her hair, just reassuring myself that it had miraculously worked out somehow. Goddamn that school though. They were definitely going to hear from my lawyer. Taking a deep breath and still holding onto Yuna, I stood up and held her while I looked at, erm, Cloud. Sticking out my other hand so I could shake his, I introduced myself.
"Squall Leonhart. You can call me Leon, and thank you."
He hesitantly placed his hand in mine, nodding at my thank you, "Sure, no problem." He looked at Yuna and then at me, "Ehm... I don't stalk dark allies wearing long black coats or use candy as," He looked at Yuna again with a frown, "b-a-i-t." He spelled. "I just wanted coffee and she was there," Pulling his hand out of mine, he breathed in sharply, looking nervous, "and the big road was right there and if she'd misstepped she could have landed on the road and they drive crazy here."
I gave him a small smile as Yuna glared at him like he was tattling on her. "I really appreciate it. Apparently her school is getting paid way to much to not watch her." I sighed, realizing that I would need to find a new school as soon as possible. "You wouldn't happen to know of any good schools, would you?" I asked jokingly, trying to get him to relax.
He smiled, knowing I was trying to get him to relax and then shook his head before faltering and then nodding vividly, "Yes, I do, actually! I made the website for it. I'm friends with the Principal. Tifa Lockhart is her name. She's feisty. I can assure you she wouldn't let a kid out of her sight."
"Tifa Lockhart?" That sounded promising. "Would you happen to have the number?" I set Yuna down on one of the chairs, and I walked around my desk to find a pen. He fished his cellphone out of his pocket, locating the number before handing me the device, letting me read the number off the screen directly.
"I think there is a waiting list, but I don't mind if you tell her I told you to call, you won't have to wait then." He offered.
I smiled at him again, grateful at least that he was a nice guy on top of saving my daughter. "Thank you, again." Writing down the number and his name so that I wouldn't forget it, I glanced up when Yuna cleared her throat.
"Dad. Where are your manners?" She crossed her arms and looked at me expectantly.
"Invite him to dinner. It's polite!" I bit my tongue and internally shook my head. Dammit. Those parenting books had warned about kids picking up on things and while I was glad she knew about manners, it was definitely inconvenient when she remembered and reminded me in front of people. But I wasn't supposed to correct her either...well, whatever.
Turning to Cloud, I asked, "Would you like to join us for dinner?"
He blinked in surprise, "Oh, ehm... That's very kind, but I'll have to decline. I'm actually going out to dinner with Tifa tonight."
I nodded, not exactly glad, but not too disappointed. The only thing I had in my fridge was leftovers anyways. "Another time then." Walking back around my desk, I told Yuna to wait in my office while I walked Cloud out. "Bye bye, Cloud!" She squealed, and waved at him. "Don't forget!"
Cloud smiled, waving back at her, "I won't, promise." He returned, before turning and following me back out into the reception area.
"Um, I feel the need to ask what you guys are talking about." I couldn't keep the warning tone out of my voice.
He bit onto his bottom lip before pursing them, "Well, I promised her I would keep it a secret..." He looked thoughtful, "I guess I can keep part of it secret while revealing some of it to you so you don't have to worry about me being a," He looked over his shoulder, making sure my office door was closed, "pervert. She was walking downtown to go buy you a present for your birthday last week, she wanted it to be a surprise, hence why she got out of school I guess. She asked me if I would take her to the store before bringing her back to you."
He gave me a pointed look then, "But I told her, and you can ask her this to make sure, that you wouldn't want me to take her anywhere else but back to you. She pouted..." He said meaningfully, "I couldn't say no to that pout! So I told her that I would go to the store for her tomorrow and get you that birthday present and drop it off here in her name. I'm not allowed to wrap it with a pink bow, but a blue one is alright since that's your favorite color," He was practically hyperventilating, "And you're only allowed to open it when you're back home and she can watch you open it. So tomorrow I'll be here with that present because I promised her I would. I'm not telling you what it is, since I also promised I wouldn't tell you."
Damn, I didn't know whether to be glad that I was a scary dad, or feel slightly insulted that I was scary guy. I wasn't really used to being this protective of Yuna, but today had definitely reminded me that she was growing up and making her own decisions already. Every parent's nightmare, I was sure.
"Relax, okay? I'm not going to kill you for rescuing my daughter. I'm thanking you." I stopped us by Mary's desk, which was empty for some reason, and offered him my hand again.
"Yes, okay," He finally breathed, "I just wanted you to know that I seriously didn't hurt her in any way. I'm sure if I were a dad I'd want to know every single little detail, so I'm giving you every single little detail." He took my hand and shook it. "Tifa's school is pretty small, hence the waiting list. She likes to keep it that way and has no intention of expanding as she likes to give proper attention to each and every child without fault. She believes if there are too many children in her school, then it's easy to loose track of one of them..." He grimaced, probably at the other school Yuna was going to leave soon, "Anyway, this was eventful." He smiled, "See you tomorrow, I suppose."
"Oh, yeah." I smiled and nodded as he walked out of my building. That certainly had been eventful. Now, to call that Tifa person and hope that she could take Yuna into her school by tomorrow. I walked back into my office and grinned as I saw Yuna settled comfortably behind my desk and drawing on my calender.
"Yuna, can you move over to the chair so I can make a phone call?" She gave me a smile and went to sit down. Checking the number that Cloud had given me, I dialed and listened to it ring.
"Good afternoon, this is Principal Lockhart, how may I help you?"
"Hello, my name is Squall Leonhart and I was hoping that I could talk to you about enrolling my daughter." I crossed my fingers and hoped that she would have an opening.
"Ah," That wasn't a good 'ah', "I'm sorry, but that won't be possible. The waiting list is quite long as it is..." She then made an annoyed sound before saying, "There's another school not far from mine, it's called Exchange. They don't have a waiting list."
I growled. "I understand. However, as my daughter went missing from that school this afternoon and they didn't even notice, I thought it best to remove her from there. I was told that you are a much better choice." I paused and decided it couldn't hurt to drop Cloud's name, if he had worked with her. "A Cloud Strife was actually the one to refer me to you."
There was a pause, "Ah boy, I love that dude. You should have said so right away that Cloud referred you!" She sounded happy now, "Bring your daughter in tomorrow at eight sharp, she can start while we work out her paperwork."
I sighed in relief. "Thank you very much. We'll be there."
"Great. No uniform required, but make sure she has a plastic apron with her as she'll be starting with finger painting." She said, "Good day, Mr. Leonheart!" And then she hung up.
Hanging up the phone I looked up into Yuna's wide eyes. Oh dear. "Yuna, sweetie. I'm sorry but you will have to change schools." I waited for the tantrum, but all I got was an excited squeal and a hug. "Thank you, daddy! Thank you! I don't like wearing those stupid uniforms and those teachers are mean." I chuckled and patted her back, before setting her back down.
"Okay. Well, I guess that tomorrow you get to start with finger painting, so let's go home and find an apron for you." Laughing at her excited clapping and bouncing pigtails, I grabbed my jacket and laptop so I could finish my work at home. Now I really owed Cloud thanks.
A week later
I stared at the phone and thought about what exactly I was going to say. Cloud obviously hadn't wanted to talk to me again as he'd dropped off the pencils for Yuna to the receptionist instead of asking to see me. Had I been too rude or something? I mean, it's not like I was dying to talk to the guy, but Yuna kept asking about him and I didn't even have his number. Fortunately for me, when I'd gone to pick Yuna up from school, I'd run into Tifa again and she saw each of the kids off and she'd gladly given me his phone number.
Should I really go out of my way to say thank you with dinner? Would that seem too much? At times like this, I wished that Rinoa was still alive so I could call her up and ask her advice. Despite the divorce and the many problems we had, she'd always been a close friend to me, and always someone I could ask advice from.
It had been a little tough when we'd found out she was pregnant, and things between us had gotten so bad that we'd decided to call it quits before the baby arrived. That had been an adjustment, but then she'd been killed by a hit and run driver a year later, and I'd become a twenty-four year old single dad. I thought I'd done pretty good with Yuna so far, she was smart and independent. But it was still hard to be the only one she had to rely on, and I was sometimes overwhelmed by everything.
Still, I could at least call him and offer to take him out to dinner with me and Yuna as thanks again, and he could always just decline and that would be the end of it. Except that Yuna was already so attached to him, and she'd only met him once. She always asked if I'd seen him, or talked to him and so I was secretly hoping that he would accept the invitation.
Taking a deep breath and checking to see that my office door was closed so I wouldn't be interrupted, I dialed the phone number that Tifa had given me and waited to see if he would answer.
A week had gone by and the numbers in my bank account hadn't sky rocketed like they should have! Being paid for that job? I'd be able to take a week and a half off and maybe draw something for myself for a while before jumping back in in the ridiculous routine that was drawing men in suits drinking 'famous' coffee, or smiling people... Ugh. I'd drawn so many smiling people... 'Yes, but Cloud, they need to look happy'. How? How can they look happy when you want them to smile like they do on commercials? It's scary when they smile like that, nobody should be allowed to show that many teeth!
Sighing, I rubbed my temples, hoping my damn cellphone would ring already and bring me some good news... I hadn't had good news in a while, work wise. Tifa had canceled on me because she had to be present at this parent/teacher thing. Some kid stabbed another kid with a fork and now they needed to discuss if the kid who did the stabbing had to just be suspended with a warning or be expelled. I honestly didn't see the difficulty in their decision making... Expelled was the solution, clearly.
My brother had called, Zack had gotten Aerith pregnant... Again... They'd been going at it since high school and now my pretty sister in law was rounding up for the fourth kid. That was good news, I was happy for them... Zack loved being a dad and Aerith got a kick out of being a mom. My parents had ruined the good news with their pressure of course, calling me right after Zack had hung up, 'Why aren't you married yet? Why aren't you making us a grand baby?' I don't know what the hurry was.
Jumping up, I grabbed the phone, not even looking at the number which in about four seconds I would come to regret, "Janice, it's about fucking time! Where the hell is your boss? Should I send my hound dog lawyer loose yet? I said two days, not two weeks!" Granted, it had only been a week, but if I didn't push, he'd try and make it last another one, "If he doesn't cough up that money I'll come down there and..." What? "I'll poke his eyes out with the tablet pen I drew his drawing with!"
"Um, hello? Is this Cloud Strife's number?" A hesitant male voice asked.
See, that's where I regretted the yelling. Would become worse when I found out who it was... "Yeah," I frowned, "You're not Janice. Who're you?"
Whoever he was cleared his throat. "This is Leon, er, Yuna's father."
"Oh shit!" Dammit! I wasn't supposed to curse out loud! "I'm sorry! I thought you were a client's assistant. He's supposed to pay me for a job and he's three weeks late, so..." Well, I was upset. Clearing my throat, I sat down, smoothing out my pants nervously, "I, ehm, hi? How are you?" Why was he calling? "Tifa said Yuna got into the school no problem..." I frowned. What did he want?
"Oh yes, thank you again for that. And that is sort of why I'm calling." I heard a scuffle as he paused. "I would really like to invite you over for dinner as thanks. Yuna has been asking about you, and I promised that I would call and offer. That isn't to say that I don't want you here." His voice was a little frantic, "Just that she is making sure that I invite you. Tonight, if possible. Or tomorrow if that's okay."
My eyebrows raised considerably, "Really? Don't kids have like the attention span of a butterfly? I'd figured she'd forgotten me by now..." My nephews certainly had, "Ehm, well, sure, I guess. I had a great time talking to her in those four minutes we had the chance to get to know each other." I smiled at the memory of the stubborn little thing, "Were the pencils okay? Your assistant said you were busy, so she told me I could just leave the present with her and she'd give it to you."
"Oh, yes. The pencils were great. So, that's a yes to dinner? Do you have a pen? I can give you my address."
"Yes to both dinner and pen." I didn't have a pen... Nor paper. Which you'd think weird for an artist, but I'd gone fully digital since I was sixteen, so I opened a new text file and decided to save his address there, that way I wouldn't loose it, cause I would if it were on a piece of paper. Typing out the address when he voiced it, I saved the file, "Got it. When would you like me to get there?"
"Dinner's at six. And you aren't allergic to anything are you? We're having lasagna and salad with rolls."
"At six?" That was early, "Oh... Right. Kid bed time, got it. And no, I'm not allergic to anything. Ah, well, see you then." This was awkward... Not extremely so, not so much I wouldn't show up. I couldn't even if I had wanted too, that pout Yuna had given me was still engraved in my mind... Thinking of skipping that dinner made that image magically appear in my head and not coming wasn't an option all of a sudden.
"Okay! That's great. I'll see you then, Cloud." Click. Okay, so dinner at the house of a single hot parent with a cute kid that somehow remembered me for reasons I couldn't really see, as I don't think I'd been that interesting. My nephews told me I was boring. Which... If I was to spend dinner with a kid of about my youngest nephew's age? I needed a nap to recuperate and make sure I was up for pony back rides in case Yuna, like my youngest nephew, thought me to be a horse... Blinking at my screen, I put the computer to sleep and then shuffled over to my couch, lying down on my belly, smiling as now I had a good excuse to take that nap I'd wanted to take ever since I'd gotten up this morning.
The walk was a bit longer then I'd expected, and I would have taken a car, but I didn't have a one so that hadn't been an option. Luckily the sun wasn't as high anymore at this hour and the flowers I'd bought on my way to the Leonheart residence weren't drying out.
Arriving at the house, the first thing that entered my mind was that Squall, or Leon, made good money with his job considering the size of the place. Second, I smiled when I saw a pink little bike with two extra wheels on the back big wheel lying randomly in the front yard. Walking over to the front door, I pressed the button to ring the doorbell, and whistled as I waited patiently for someone to open the door.
"I'll get it!" I heard a high pitched squeal and running steps towards the door.
"Yuna! Just a minute!" Came Leon's voice and the door was flung open to reveal Yuna smiling up at me, hair in pigtails again.
I smiled down at her, crouching so she didn't have to crane her neck, "Hi Yuna." Bringing the flowers to my front, I offered them to her. They were daisies, "These are for the lady of the house." To make sure she got that in case she didn't, I pushed the bouquet into her hands, "They'll need some water."
She smiled and reached for them, bringing up to her face and sniffing them. "Thank you, Cloud! Come inside! Hurry, Dad says that his rolls were burning." Reaching forward, she grabbed my hand and dragged me inside. Letting her set the pace, I took the place in as quickly as possible. Earth tones with the occasional warm color, cozy furniture, no white anywhere, not even the walls, which made sense, considering sticky peanut butter or jelly kid fingers.
She guided me into the kitchen, letting go off my hand as she squeezed herself between her dad and the kitchen counter to get to the sink. Staying where I was, I felt a little out of place, not really knowing what to say or do since this wasn't exactly your regular situation... I knew how to act on dates or nights out with Tifa and even when she dragged me along for her girl nights out with her friends.
But this was different altogether. I didn't actually have guy friends... All the guys I came in contact with were either clients that pissed me off, or guys I ended up dating. I was in the home of a straight single guy parent with a lovely daughter whom I'd somewhat rescued if you went about it in the dramatic sense... I really only had helped her cross the road, it wasn't that major... I didn't know how to act here.
Turning around, Leon set a cookie sheet covered in what looked like homemade rolls, just slightly darker than normal, onto the counter. Smiling at me, he took the oven mitt off of his hand and walked over to me, offering his hand.
"Cloud. Glad you could make it. Why don't you just have a seat at the bar and I'll go ahead and serve us up some food. We don't really eat at table." He blushed. "I usually work there." I smiled. That was good, less formal, I'd be more comfy. Making my way too it, I sat down and watched as Yuna seemed to have some trouble filling up the vase what with her being tiny.
"You need some help with that?" I asked.
"No, thank you. I can do it." She said, and Leon cleared his throat, giving her a look. "Okay. May I have some help filling up the vase please, Cloud?" Leon smiled, and nodded at her. I grinned, sliding off the barstool to make my way around the bar and help her with the vase. After filling it, I lifted it for her, setting it down on the counter and then snatched the scissors from her when she tried to get them out of the drawer.
When she glared up at me, I shrugged down at her, "You have tiny fingers, you'd have to use both hands and that's not very practical, right?" When she frowned thoughtfully, I went ahead and cut the plastic that was wrapped around the flowers along with the elastic that held the bunch together. Handing them to her, I stepped aside so she could put them in the vase herself.
"Thank you, Cloud." Yuna gave me a smile and set the vase on the counter next to the food then walked around to sit in what I assumed was her seat at the bar. Leon was cutting up the lasagna and setting portions onto plates. He glanced over at me and looked thoughtful.
"Would you like me to dish it up for you or would you prefer to get it? We also have the salad and the rolls if you want those as well. Yuna, no. Stop drinking that, and eat first." He set her plate on the counter in front of her, pointing at it and pulling her cup away from her.
I took the plate from his hands, "Go sit down, I can help myself and serve you a plate while you watch-" I grinned as Yuna stubbornly reached for the cup again, not saying more as she was making my point with her action.
Chuckling, he snapped his fingers at her, and she pouted but took a bite of her food. "She'll be fine, and you're the guest. Sit and eat. I still have to throw in the second batch of rolls to take out. I keep forgetting to cut the recipe in half and maybe these ones won't be so crispy." Leon turned, wiping his hands on his apron and went to open the oven to check the rolls.
Nodding, I let him do his thing and when Yuna patted the barstool beside hers, I sat down in that one. Leon's back turned, attention on the oven, Yuna grinned as she sneakily reached for the cup again. I remember Aerith telling me that kids like to try things out at leas three times in a row to make absolutely certain whatever they did, didn't work.
Not wanting to rat her out, I pursed my lips and then slid her plate over to me, taking her fork and lifting the bite she'd been about to eat to eat it myself. She faltered in bringing the cup to her lips, setting it down as she watched me with a frown. I remember this working on one of my nephews... And when Yuna asked me what I was doing...
"I'm eating your food since clearly you don't want to eat it." I told her simply.
"Hey, that's my plate, give it back." She reached for it, grabbing the edge and tugging.
"You sure? Cause I don't see the point if you won't eat it... It looks awfully good, wouldn't want it to go cold, right?" I told her innocently. She frowned, wrinkling her nose but then nodded, pushing the cup in my direction before she picked up her fork and started digging back in. "That was a bit tricky of me, wasn't it?" I asked as she glared at me while eating. When she nodded, I sighed, "Well, you can tell me how good it tastes and be just as tricky in return. I have to wait one whole minute before I get my plate." Which was long in kid world.
She smiled then, making a loud 'Hmmmmm' yummie noise, gloating like I'd suggested she do. Which I'm sure wasn't good parenting, but I wasn't a parent so it was all good. Grinning, I tugged on her pig tail and then let her get back to her food. Leon chuckled quietly and put a plate with a serving of lasagna with a fresh from the oven roll on it, in front of me.
"You're good with kids, it seems. You have some of your own?" Putting some salad in a bowl, he put that next to the plate.
I smiled at the plate, happy I wasn't eating junk food like I'd been doing ever since I'd moved out of my parents place. "No, I don't. A bit difficult." Considering my sexuality, "I have three nephews though, another one on the way."
"Wow. I can't imagine having more than just my Yuna here." He winked at her, "She's a handful all on her own." She stuck her tongue out at him and he retaliated by doing the same. Grabbing his own plate he walked around to sit on the other side of her. "So Cloud, what is it you do for a living? You said you design websites for Tifa?"
"Just the one for the school. I don't generally do web design, but it's part of my job description and Tifa..." I chuckled, "She can be rather convincing, so I ended up saying yes when I actually wanted to say no. It's fine though, got a good friend out of it. Anyway, I do freelance illustration. Story boards mostly." I forked up some food, smothering a moan as my taste buds nearly had an orgasm, "This is very good." I told him, "So, architect, huh?" and to make sure Yuna didn't feel left out, "What do you wanna be when you grow up?"
"I wanna be a teacher!"
"Yuna, don't bounce like that, you'll spill."
"Yes. I work as a junior partner at the firm. I gotta say though, your job sounds nice. Freelance." He gazed off into the kitchen, a slightly dreamy look on his face.
I chuckled shortly, "If you do that, make sure you bring the assistant to take care of the billing, otherwise you'll end up shouting through phones like you caught me doing earlier." Although, he seemed like the kind of guy you wouldn't exactly oppose... I was a doormat to my clients. "What kind of teacher, Yuna?"
"Elementary, like Ms. Tifa. She let's us do finger painting." Taking a sip of her drink now that her food was gone, she looked up at me. "Do you have a wife?"
"Mr. Tifa is nice." I agreed and then shook my head, "No, I don't have a wife, nor a girlfriend." I wasn't one to hide who I was, but I had no idea what Leon's views were on the whole gay thing and I figured it best I not say it in his kid's presence in case he wasn't cool with it. Maybe she'd drop it and help me out a bit by letting me off the hook when it came to this subject. Then again, she clearly was the curious kind and most likely would do the exact opposite.
"Do you like boys?" Her eyes were completely innocent but Leon choked on his water, coughing quietly and clearing trying to catch his breath.
"Yuna! That isn't polite at all!" Giving me a rather desperate look, Leon shook his head. "You don't have to answer that. I'm very sorry." I was still a bit stuck on the 'where the hell did a five year old get a gaydar quite as good as the one she got', but managed to shake myself out of it somewhat, giving Leon a reassuring look.
"It's okay." I was curious though, "Can I ask you what makes you think I like boys?"
"Cause you don't have a wife or a girlfriend." I noticed Leon do a facepalm behind Yuna's head.
I nodded thoughtfully, "Yeah, I guess that's a logical way of seeing it." But I couldn't just leave it at that and answer her, no... "But neither does your dad." And if my gaydar was correct, he didn't like boys.
"My daddy says he doesn't need another girl cause I'm his baby girl." Yuna beamed at her dad, and he smiled softly and patted her head. Turning back to me she frowned. "Dad says that when someone asks you a question, you are supposed to answer honestly."
I chewed my food, watching her carefully before nodding, "I like boys." And then to make sure I answered her next question because I knew she would ask, "I don't have a husband nor a boyfriend." She nodded and took another drink, seemingly satisfied that I'd finally answered her questions. Leon gave me a grateful look.
"Thank you for humoring her. Apparently, this is the age that honesty is their main focus. At least," he looked sheepish, "all those parenting books say so. Can I get you anything else?"
Parenting books? Handy. "I don't mind." I told him, "And thank you, but I'm full." I rubbed my tummy, smiling happily as I really was awesomely full. "That was yummy."
"My ex wife's recipe." He took another bite, "She made sure to copy all of her recipes down when we got divorced so I wouldn't starve Yuna." Chuckling, he patted Yuna's head again. "She didn't take into account that you would be such a picky eater. Put your plate in the sink and get your backpack so I can check your homework." Helping her down, he watched as she skipped out of the kitchen. Turning back to me, he glanced at my plate. Reaching his hand out for it, he picked it up and headed to the sink. "Would you like some dessert?"
"Not much of a sweet tooth, thanks though." I frowned, "When I saw Yuna I asked her if she wanted to call you or her mom. She said she didn't have a mom... I don't mean to pry, I'm just curious, really. You don't have to answer if it's none of my business."
Putting the plates in the sink and turning back around, he gave me a thoughtful look. "Rinoa died about a year after we divorced and when Yuna was about six months old. Yuna doesn't remember her obviously, and I don't think she likes it when people know her mom died. People tend to get overly sympathetic and kids don't really understand it." He shrugged, "I don't correct her, but it does tend to make people wonder. You're fine."
"I guess it makes sense. Even as an adult someone would be weirded out by getting sympathy over something that concerned someone you don't remember." I shrugged before smiling sympathetically his way because he did remember her, "Sorry for your loss."
He shrugged again. "Thank you. I'll just wrap the dessert to go then. Thanks for stopping by for dinner, I really appreciate it."
Did that mean that I was supposed to leave? Or was he just thanking me randomly? "Sure, no problem. She's a sweet girl." I slipped off the barstool, feeling a bit out of place again. The main reason I was here was because Yuna wanted me to be, telling her dad to call me. I wasn't friends with Leon though and now that Yuna wasn't in the room...
"Would you like to stick around and maybe watch some TV with us? Play a board game?" He looked a little bit hesitant and unsure, grey eyes searching mine, a glimmer of hopefulness in them.
He clearly wasn't just being polite and asking me, so I suppose it was okay for me to say, "Yeah, sounds good." I smiled, stepping aside when Yuna raced back in, backpack in hand.
"Are you staying, Cloud? I already did my homework so we can play a game, right daddy?" She was bouncing and tugging on his hand, begging.
"Yes, Cloud said he would stay and play a game. Dishes for later than. Let's go." Picking her up, he waved me to follow him and we went to the living room. Yuna was the one to pick the game, choosing Monopoly even if she had some trouble understanding most of the rules, but that was okay because she'd teamed up with her dad, and then throughout the middle of the game she decided to team up with me because I'd been winning the game, and then back to her dad when he'd started catching the luck I'd been latching onto earlier. Made sense, really.
Yuna basically ordered us around, telling us what to do and although very cute and well behaved, she remained a five year old and her investment decision when it came to Monopoly plastic houses weren't exactly the wisest, hence the losing.
The game had gone on and hadn't been finished by the time it was her bed time, and Leon had made up a quick finishing move that wasn't part of the game at all to avoid the temper tantrum she'd most likely throw if we'd tried to convince her to put the game on hold or something. In the end she'd been stubborn about going to bed, saying she couldn't because I was still here.
I'd yawned dramatically, telling her I better get going because I was just as tired as she was, which by the time I got home? I was. And I suppose it was for the best anyways. What were Leon and I going to do after Yuna had gone to bed? I guess we could have finished the game, but he seemed as uncomfortable as I was about the whole situation.
On my walk back home I wondered if I'd be over for dinner again some time, if they'd invite me for another game of Monopoly... I didn't know. Leon hadn't suggested it when I'd left the house. Yuna had said I should come again though, requesting roses as her next lady of the house bouquet, which of course, Leon had informed her it wasn't polite to request such things. She'd done that pout again though, so I knew that if I was to come back, I'd be coming with roses because of that very pout.
A/N: So...what did you think? Reviews? Why yes, we'd love some! *HUGS*