Chapter 4: Dishes

Looking at herself critically in the mirror, Hiro tugged slightly at the silken shirt that had a high collar like a turtle neck but left her shoulders bare. It was a cream color instead of the hideous pink she took note most of her clothes were outfitted in and she wondered at why her parents would take away her jeans as she looked down at the black pants. There were strange knee high stockings but since she didn't need her knee-high socks for school during the summer she put those on instead because of the rain.

She redid her braid so that it was smoother before walking back out into the kitchen. Cai had finished cooking the pancakes and her heart did a small victory dance. It did an amazing leap when, although she discovered she'd sit directly next to Cai, she discovered she would be sitting kitty corner to Kawa-sen… Mamoru-sama. Everything was set out so all she need do was sit. As she was about to sit, Cai slipped into the spot kitty corner to Mamoru-sama, patting the other side for her to sit down. Her heart fell but she tried not to give herself away.

Kneeling down beside him she said thanks for the food and began to eat quietly as her parents asked Mamoru-sama how he slept and other such things. Looking at him furtively, Emilia saw a good-humored expression on his face and she felt content in spite of everything else. Her eyes flickered toward Cai and she saw an amusingly dark expression that he cleared when he saw her watching.

"Mrs. Ogino," Cai said interrupting another question her father had for Mamoru-sama. The teacher didn't seem put off by it however and simply turned to his pancakes and took a few bites.

"Yes, Cai?" her mother prompted.

"I was wondering if I might take Chihiro-san out this afternoon," he said it more than asked which caused Hiro to choke on the water she was drinking and started coughing loudly. When Cai reached over to pat her back she visibly recoiled causing herself to cough more from the abrupt movement. She excused herself from the table amidst coughs and retreated to the bathroom trying to regain her composure. Her mother would probably have immediately said yes, she thought as she looked in the mirror at her watery eyes.

She picked up a tissue to wipe them as she thought about what her father's reaction might be. She hoped he would unwittingly save her from disaster as he seemed apt to do from time to time seeing as he wasn't all that into the devious plans of her mother for her "happy" marriage. After blowing her nose for good measure, she returned to the dining room to see that Mamoru-sama had already excused himself from the table along with her parents leaving Cai there poking at his pancakes.

He looked up at her when she walked in and smirked when she froze. "So, it would seem you are being punished for your rude manners yesterday," he remarked and she suppressed a sigh of relief knowing it had been her father who had rescued her. "Pity I have things I need to get done today or else I would have suggested I stay to keep you company." He was watching her face for a reaction but Hiro fought against giving him the satisfaction. After what seemed an eternity, he sighed and looked away from her face, standing up and straightening his jeans. She waited silently.

He seemed to be thinking hard about something whilst he stared at their plates of half eaten pancakes. The expression was soon replaced by his mean spirited expression and she took a step back in reaction. He laughed. "I suppose you can take care of the rest of this mess," he said gesturing toward their breakfast before he walked to and past her. Her body relaxed a little before going on full alert once more when he twitched the end of her braid.

"See you tomorrow, Chi-hi-ro," he said distinctly with a chuckle before he walked to the door, slipped his shoes on and walked out the door. Hiro pursed her lips, standing in the entry way of the dining room a few moments more before clearing the table with calm and collected movements. She wasn't going to let Cai Plowski under her skin or her mother's antics to get them together.

"May I help?" asked a gentle voice that caused Hiro to look up more sharply than she intended to. Only then did she realize how hard she had been scrubbing the dish that was clearly already clean. She did not respond as she let her gaze lower to the plate in her hands, ashamed that she had let the morning get to her.

A new pair of hands took the plate from her and rinsed it off quickly before placing it to dry on the rack and picking up the next plate that needed attention. She blankly stood there with her hands braced against the inside edge of the sink as Mamoru-sama continued to wash the dishes—her chore on Saturday mornings.

The man was silent, leaving her to her own thoughts but she didn't want the silence. Not from him. "Mamoru-sama… do you know how it feels to have someone constantly controlling you?" she asked, her tone leaning towards mournful as she looked up at his profile.

His gaze was intent upon the dish he was holding as he scrubbed it and it lightened her mood slightly. At her question however he turned to her with an expression that she could not quite interpret one way or another. "Yes, I am afraid so," he answered. The water continued to run over the dish he held as they looked at one another—his face inscrutable and her own opened like a well read book. She opened her mouth to say more when she heard a squawk come from the entrance between the hall and the kitchen. Hiro looked to her mother, startled and suddenly balked upon seeing her cheeks tinting pink in dissatisfaction.

"Chihiro, why is Mamoru-kun doing your chore?" she asked in a barely controlled voice. Hiro started to stutter while moving to take the dish from Mamoru-sama's hands but he held fast onto it without showing any change in his balance.

"I wanted some time to talk with Chihiro-san and felt bad watching her do the dishes all alone after Plowski seemed to have offered to help her clean…" Mamoru-sama explained, clearly conveying his disapproval of the boy not helping Hiro out. Hiro couldn't help but look at him slightly dumbfounded and when she heard Mrs. Ogino stuttering she turned a cautious face toward her and saw her blushing like a school girl. "So, if you don't mind, Mrs. Ogino, I would be more than happy to help Chihiro-san clean up." Hiro continued to watch the effect he had on her mother but she heard the polite smile in his voice.

Mrs. Ogino finally stopped stammering and just smiled an awkward shy smile before nodding and leaving the kitchen.

Hiro's baffled expression turned slowly from where her mother had just been standing to Mamoru-sama who had continued on to the next dish. When she realized he wasn't going to explain himself by observing the slight upward curve of his mouth, she laughed softly rubbing the back of her hand across her cheek before picking up one of the forks and washing it.

After that their talk turned more toward the weather and her impending grounding to her parents' property for the next few weeks. Mamoru-sama seemed only slightly surprised when she admitted to not minding being confined to the property. Upon his further questioning she answered by looking out the window that hung over the sink and toward the property with a smile.

"In all honesty, I think we have some of the finest grounds around here. Even more so than the parks. As long as I can have free rein over what we consider our backyard, I will be more than content—especially because I know all the best hiding places," she said in a covert whisper, putting a be-bubbled finger to her lips. "That way if Cai comes looking I can lose him just as easily as he can find me in the open kitchen." She turned back to the knife she was holding before she could see his smiling response.

"Perhaps we can make a sort of alliance, Chihiro-san," he said in his indecipherable way.

Hiro looked up at him with a furrowed brow. "How do you mean, Mamoru-sama?"

He didn't respond right away as he finished up the rest of the dishes before grabbing a towel and drying his hands. As he leaned up against the sink, he looked down at her with mischievous eyes. "How about I help you stay out of young Plowski's clutches and you help me with a project I am working on; what do you say?"

"If it keeps Cai away from me, then you have a deal," Hiro said with a grin, stretching her hand out to shake on it. His lips turned up at the corners warmly as he grasped her hand firmly.

Ah, hahaha! I have finally posted! Be ever so proud considering I am struggling through a rather severe writer's block on all my works at the moment. I hope this isn't nearly as painful to read as it was to write.

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