Chapter 5 – Rhyme and Reason

On her way past the kitchen, Karma stopped, noticing the mountain of dirty dishes stacked up on one side of the sink. She had been putting off washing them for quite some time. It was such an inconvenience having to do it herself. She was considering investing in a dishwasher, but until she could afford one the dishes would have to be hand washed, and she figured it was better to get it done now than later. She strolled over to the sink at a snail's pace, yawning on the way there. At midday it was still early for her to be awake. Working the night shift was rough. The late nights led to late mornings which left her with little time to handle business that could only be done during the day. Even now she had a long list of errands that had to be taken care of before stores started closing down. She hardly ever had the luxury of having breakfast.

Karma picked up one ceramic plate that still carried the scent of the noodles she had for dinner a couple of nights ago. She slowly lowered the dish into the warm water flooding the sink, then drew it back out covered in suds and began to wipe it with a drenched cloth. The task was agonizingly monotonous. She felt like she had better things to be doing, and she did. There just weren't enough hours in a day.

As she finished about her sixth dish, the sound of her cell phone ringing in another room interrupted her momentarily. It was probably a client calling her about the little side business she started in order to supplement her income. She opted to ignore the call, but that shrill noise that she chose for a ringtone – precisely for its obnoxiousness – persisted. Eventually it stopped, which was cause for some relief, but it started back up again without much of a pause in between. Whoever was trying to reach her was insistent, so she decided it might be worth her time to answer the phone. She shook most of the suds on her hands off into the sink and half ran into the bedroom to answer the phone before it stopped ringing. It was sitting on the bed where she left it after checking for any messages when she woke up. The glowing screen displayed the name 'Hoshi'. Karma reached for her cell phone, but her hands were still dripping wet. She wiped them hastily on her bed coverings, whatever, and then pressed the button that would answer the call. She tucked her copper hair behind her ear and held the phone up to it. "Candy?"

"Hey, Miya" Came the voice from the other end.

"What's up?" Karma walked back to the kitchen with the phone, pressing it against her ear with her shoulder to free both hands for washing dishes. Multi-tasking was a talent of hers.

"I need a favor," Candy solemnly requested.

"What kind?"

"I need a place to stay for a while."

"What, why? What happened?" Karma stopped scrubbing for a moment so she could focus more on listening.

"They fixed the elevator. We got kicked out," Candy summarized.

"Oh no…" Karma muttered, exercising every ounce of sympathy she could manage. "Of course I'll let you stay here but I don't know where you where you could sleep. My apartment's kinda small. I guess one of you can take the couch, but…"

"Actually, I was hoping you could loan Pockets some money so he could maybe rent his own place..."

"Okay… sure…" Karma's eyes darted pensively around her dark apartment. She normally kept all of the blinds on the windows closed so that the sun wouldn't disturb her sleep. "What about you?"

"I'm gonna go back home…"

There was silence on both ends for a moment. Karma paused with a fork in one hand and a soapy rag in the other while she processed what Candy had just proposed. "… What do you mean?" she finally asked.

"I'll probably be staying at home for a while. Of course it depends on how things go with my mom, though."

"I don't get a say in this!" Karma dropped the fork and the rag and quit washing altogether. Currently she was fed up with it and too distracted now to finish. After drying her hands on a towel, she took the phone in her hand again to give her cramping shoulder a well deserved break.

"Of course you get a say," Candy told her.

Karma sighed loud enough to be heard over the phone. "… We'll still be able to hang out, right?"

"Yeah…" Candy sounded unsure.

"Okay… just give Pockets the address to my apartment complex. You remember it right?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, good. I'll have a room set up for him by the time he gets here."

"Thanks, Miya. I swear I'll pay you back."

"Uh-huh."

Karma set her cell phone down and added yet another item to her already crowded schedule. What a terrible reunion, she thought to herself after hanging up.

.~~~.

Pockets' hands were digging wrist-deep into the pockets of his jeans, something he did often when he had nothing else to occupy his hands with. Though it would seem obvious, he actually didn't get his nickname from this behavior in particular. Indirectly, the nickname had come from Gum. He remembered the insult that birthed the alias; the fabricated rank of Can Carrier was to be his official position among the GG's, so they called him Pockets. Gum… why was he thinking about her now?

Candy walked beside Pockets, leading him with one of the duffel bags she packed full of most of her possessions slung heavily over her shoulder while Pockets carried the other one for her. She strode with intent but her body language seemed to whisper apprehension. The way she consciously watched the ground where she walked, how her arms swung robotically in time with her stride, it was easy enough to see that she wasn't one hundred percent confident, as much as she wanted to pretend that she was. It became more apparent as she knew she was drawing nearer to her destination. She would look up periodically to check what street they were on, and then look back down to count the cracks in the sidewalk before the next intersection.

At the very least, it was a nice day for a walk outside. The clouds were still clearing from the storm a couple days before, and so long as the sun was blocked by overcast it couldn't get too hot. Occasionally, they would be joined by a biker who was taking advantage of the nice weather. Watching the bikers go by made Pockets miss his skates. Functioning on just a few hours of sleep and no breakfast, the fatigue was really getting to him after a couple hours of walking. He wasn't sure he could keep up with Candy much longer, fortunately he didn't have to. She led him down one of the side streets off of the main road they were travelling on, and into a neighborhood. The street travelled straight down for quite a ways, lined on both sides by houses of all similar designs with small driveways as the only buffer zone between them. There was a gloomy atmosphere about the place that was accented by the mostly gray sky perforated with tiny dots of blue. It seemed like the kind of place you would find old, retired people living. He couldn't imagine any children living in such a place. There was no life here. Yet, this is where Candy grew up.

Candy stopped suddenly, letting Pockets continue forward a few paces before he realized he wasn't following her anymore. "This is it…" She nervously announced as Pockets turned around to find her and the building she stopped in front of. It was a medium-sized two-story house with plenty of windows which were all shielded by curtains on the inside. The wooden façade was painted green to distinguish it from the other houses. A slender strip of pavement reached from the sidewalk to the doorstep through the short front lawn. It was almost exactly what would be expected of an inner-city residence.

Is this what a 'normal' life looked like, Pockets wondered. He followed Candy across yard. Her feet were dragging now, making the march up to the front door longer than it needed to be. Pockets stopped a couple feet away from the door with his hands still resting casually in his pockets. "You want me to wait here?" he asked her. He still wasn't sure exactly why Candy invited him in the first place.

"No, I want you to come with me," Candy replied in an almost demanding voice.

Admittedly, Pockets didn't want her to go through with this. Every sensible bone in his body told him this whole operation was waiting to turn sour, and it would only end with Candy being depressed. What if she cried! He couldn't imagine something like that happening; he wouldn't know how to handle it. He noticed his shoulders rising with tension as he watched Candy's hand curl into a fist, bringing itself closer to the brown door until she finally knocked three times on the wood. Then they played the waiting game.

For a few tension filled seconds, nothing happened. Candy looked back at him, maybe for some kind of reassurance, but all he could offer was a feeble shrug and a tilt of his head. She turned back to the door about to knock again, but it swung open before she got a chance. Pockets fully expected Candy's mother to answer the door, but it still surprised him to actually see her standing there in the flesh. The woman bore a striking resemblance to her daughter; they shared the same thin face and shady brown eyes, the same silky black hair, that same look of subtle tenacity. The biggest difference between them was that her mother's hair was tied up in the back and the inevitable aging of her face. Pockets finally had a face to associate with the stories Candy told him about her mother.

The woman's face lit up at the sight of her daughter. "Hoshi!" she cried as she strode forward to embrace Candy in a type of chin-over-shoulder hug that was only possible with two people around the same height. "I missed you so much…"

"I missed you too." Candy was squeezing her back until the two finally released each other.

There was a long pause that continued even after they had both let go. They seemed to have slipped into some kind of trance as they stared each other in the eyes, giving Pockets the impression that they might be communicating on a level deeper than words. It further confirmed Pockets' suspicion that Candy was capable of some kind of seemingly psychic speech, a technique that she must have used on him all the time – or at least he imagined so.

"What brought you back home?" Candy's mother asked her.

Candy abruptly turned halfway toward Pockets and directed her mother's attention to him. "I want you to meet my friend, Souya." She was stalling.

The slender woman accosted Pockets with a friendly smile that reached nearly across her face and pressed her cheeks up into her eyes. She took Pockets by the hand and shook it in a firm yet amiable manner; the boy had no choice but to participate in the gesture. "So you're the boy Hoshi used to talk about?" she mentioned after dropping his hand.

Pockets forced an awkward smile from his face that actually only amounted to a smirk. He could see Candy blush in the background. He wondered what kind of things she said about him. "Nice to meet you, Miss…"

"Ayako Kitamura," the woman introduced herself. "I'm Hoshi's mother, if you couldn't already tell."

"Right," Pockets acknowledged her with a smile and a slight bow of his head to show good manners. Though he made his best efforts to hide it, the tension was still there at the tips of his fingers, but pushed to the back of his mind.

"Mom," Candy started suddenly. "I came here to tell you something..." She was biting her bottom lip quite forcefully as she worked out several ways in her head to break the news to her mother. Her eyes darted around randomly until they finally settled on Pockets. Again, she looked to him, presumably for courage, and again, he didn't have much to offer.

Ayako stood across from both of them with her arms folded in a way that suggested that she was still young. It wasn't an authoritative stance; it was more of an attentive posture that showed interest rather than condescension.

Candy wrapped herself around Pockets' arm intimately. "I've been living with him since I left," She explained.

Candy was obviously putting on a show for her mother; Pockets couldn't remember a single occasion where she had done anything like this before. He felt obliged to go along with the little act, though, and he let her hang onto him, anything to help her cause.

She finished by saying, "… I never actually went to college…" She couldn't look her mother in the eyes as she told her. Instead, she held her head down and prepared herself for the castigation she was bound to receive. She was like a boa constrictor on Pockets' arm, her grip only got tighter as time passed and she braced for the eruption. There was never such an outburst. There was never any discipline. The belittling lecture on the importance of education, likely laden with expletives, which she expected from her mother never actually came.

Ayako's shoulders dropped, though her arms remained folded. She only looked mildly disappointed. "Hoshi, you only had to tell me," She sighed.

Candy slowly relaxed herself and lifted her head in response to her mother's soft admonishment. She expected a lot worse, in fact she genuinely feared what might happen if her mother were to ever figure out that she skipped out on college altogether. Only now did it occur to her that her mother might have known the entire time. She still adhered to Pockets' arm, although a lot looser now. "I'm so sorry," She sincerely apologized, realizing that she must've have caused Ayako to worry deeply. "Can I come home again? And I'll explain everything."

"You can always come back home." Ayako's voice was calm and forgiving.