Broken Cookie Jars and Spilled Milk
The Summer Festival had gone smoothly, and some even called it a success and a milestone on the long road they had to walk towards tolerance and equality between the races. The King had congratulated both schools on their collaboration and at the closing ceremony he had given both representatives from each school a large check, to the applause of proud parents and students.
It had been odd standing up there on stage, receiving praise from the King himself when he was in the company of the new representative from Lumineux High. Despite everything that had happened, it was a moment Axel had wished to share with Saïx.
That had been a month ago, and since life didn't wait around for him to finish sulking, he had to dive back into work when a new flock of kids was expected for the autumn.
"Axel, you said that this wouldn't take longer than a minute." Demyx whined from where he sat across from Axel.
It was midday and past Demyx's lunchtime. Needless to say, Demyx was getting impatient.
"One sec…" Axel flipped through some documents and quickly turned to the form he was filling in.
"You're not even listening. You said you would buy me lunch! Where's my lunch, Axel? Why would you lie to me?"
Axel looked up from his papers and sighed. "I asked you if you wanted to wait for me so that we could eat lunch together. You said yes, and then I said that I had stuff to do before lunch and that it would take me at least a half hour to be finished here because I have a meeting with a parent. Then you said that you could wait as long as I paid for lunch."
"I don't remember that conversation taking place."
"Here, you can go and post this for me while I'm having the meeting. Demyx, this is a very important document, so please put it in the right mailbox."
"The yellow one?"
"The blue one." Axel reached the brown envelope to Demyx with a meaning glare when Demyx cackled at the worried expression on his face.
"What is it? A love letter?"
"It's an application form…for a scholarship."
"But you're ancient. What school would want an old man like you attend their classes?"
"I'm twenty-eight, thank you very much! And I'll have you know that I have great shot at getting that scholarship because I already passed the audition with flying colors."
"You're going to clown school?" Demyx dodged the ball of paper with an unimpressed look. Axel had told him about Saïx, and their first encounter in hope that talking about it would help him get over Saïx faster and show Demyx that he trusted him enough to confide in him, but the only thing Demyx had taken away from his story was that Saïx thought that he was a clown, and cookies.
"It's for a pastry chef program, alright?"
Demyx gaped for a second before he reached his hand to point at Axel and let out a laugh.
"Well, look at you, Mr. I'm-offended-cause-Lord-Blue-Blood-thinks-so-little-of-me-and-even-dared-to-gasp-suggest-a-career-change-when-I-have-it-so-good-here-taking-care-of-everyone-while-my-life-passes-me-by-while-I-do-nothing-for-myself-which-is-something-my-good-friend-Demyx-always-has-said-to-me!" He stopped to take a deep breath. "So you finally decided to get your head partially out of your ass. That is good news." Demyx nodded in agreement with himself. "That's actually pretty darn good news. I'm so happy for you that'll I just step out right away and post this before your head gets sucked back in."
"Oh, shut up already." Axel leaned back into his squeaky chair with a small smile on his lips.
"I'll just throw this in to the yellow mailbox then," Demyx said with feigned hurt as he opened the door with a high shrug.
"The blue mailbox!"
"Hello there, madam." Demyx pretended to lift his imaginary hat in the direction of the overdressed lady who passed him by in the narrow hallway right before he made a right turn and left Axel to worry about whether Demyx would put the envelope into the right mailbox.
"I hope I'm not late." The overdressed lady put her exotic green hat away as she sat down across from Axel. She reached into her purse for a cigarette and a fashionable cigarette holder. "It was a nightmare to get here. The roads are even in worse condition than I remember them to be. I had to get off the horse cab a few blocks away and there were no tramcars either. A real nightmare, goodness me."
"Mariam?" Axel stared with a half-open mouth at Saïx's mother who had just found her lighter and balanced the mouth of the cigarette holder between her lips.
"Yes, Mr. Blueberry man. It is I. How very nice of you to remember me, especially since we only met once and then I was somehow not invited over anymore. But we're not here to talk about me." She flashed him a quick smile.
"I- I'm sorry, but I have a meeting soon, and I can't cancel it with such short notice, so I'm gonna have to ask you to–"
"A meeting with whom, dearest? With Mrs. Qua'en, perhaps? I wasn't sure what policies you had about meetings with people such as me, so I preferred to be safe than sorry and made up a little lie. You're fine. I'm your two o'clock."
Axel nodded slowly. She looked out of place in this confined and messy office. She made all the faults glaringly obvious with her glamorous outfit, and Axel wondered how she had dared to walk here looking like that.
"Mr. Blueberry man…" Mariam began.
"Axel," he interrupted. "It's Axel."
"No. Axel. Just Axel."
She rolled her eyes discreetly as she slowly took a puff from her cigarette before she exhaled the smoke.
"Well, Axel, I want to start off by saying that I don't usually meddle in my son's relationships. Sure, I might have done it once or twice, but it's been a while now. Anyway, I heard that you two were broken up over some silly mistake."
"He wanted to deny the application of one of my students on false grounds." Axel frowned at Mariam's dismissal of the unfair action Saïx had tried to get away with.
"I heard," she said in a soft voice and shook the ash away from the tip of her cigarette onto a small ashtray that she had taken out of her purse. "I heard of what had happened and that is why I'm here, Axel. I feel partially responsible for this, and while I can't technically be held responsible for what my grown-up son decides to do, I still think that you should know why he did what he did."
"What do you mean?"
"As you may know, Saïx doesn't get along with his father for various reasons that would take too long to explain."
"I'd like to think that I have a good idea why they don't get along."
"Oh?" Mariam seemed surprised.
"Well, he told me about the scar…"
"Really?" Mariam sat back in the plastic chair, uncertain of how to continue the conversation. She looked back at Axel with her deep-blue eyes shrouded with curiosity. "Have you seen this ridiculous cookie jar that he tends to hide? It has hearts on it and it's kind of big and impractical. It's a set of two."
"Yeah, I've seen them." He smiled and looked away sheepishly. "He was reaching for it the first time we met. He was in the teacher's lounge and he had put the cookie jar too high up on the shelf, and I figured I should help him…" he stopped himself when Mariam raised her eyebrows slightly, putting her hand over her mouth to hide her awe. "What?"
"Nothing. It's just that Saïx is very careful with his cookie jar, and he's easily embarrassed by it as well, which is why he hides it. You see, his father bought him that set quite some time ago when he was on leave. Saïx has always been somewhat of a bookworm, a bit unsocial, and his father wanted him to expand his views a bit, to gain new interests. His father was interested in traditional art and there was a small cultural organization that was holding an art competition at the time. They signed up, and they spent five days talking and deciding what to draw on the porcelain jars. Sadly, Xalbador was called back before they got around to finish them, so Saïx drew the hearts on both of them and submitted them as his competition entry."
Mariam smiled gently and put her cigarette holder away.
"I'm sorry. I should have started on that end. Xalbador is Saïx's father, and Xion is his half-sister. Xalbador got remarried with one of the Mapu tribe's shamans soon after our divorce , I'm sure you've met her. Delightful woman." Mariam's smile grew a little sterner. "Saïx didn't deal with our divorce very well for various reasons…"
"Y-yeah, he mentioned his father's slip-ups. He just failed to mention names."
Looking back on it, there had been subtle hints. Very subtle. Almost non-existent, he decided as he thought about it, and yet he felt like the ultimate jackass when he remembered the toads that had jumped out of his mouth that evening when he had gone to Saïx's house for an explanation.
"Well, he doesn't want to admit that he was hurt by his father's actions. He would much rather stuff himself with those awful blueberry cookies. They are worse than bread with raisins. You didn't hear this from me, but he gets that from his father. Over-indulgence. The poor child didn't have a fighting chance."
Axel nodded slowly. "Did, did he send you here in hope to clear things up, or…?"
"Send me?" Mariam giggled behind her gloved hand and leaned forward slightly. "Oh, sweetheart, he doesn't ask me for favors. He says that it's the doorway for me to take control over his life, but I'm sure you're already acquainted with my son's over-dramatic side. I'm here because he didn't go to the family gathering last week. Xalbador had managed to convince the majority of the family to let Xion attend, his wife conveniently contracted a headache so awful that she couldn't attend, poor thing, but yes, Xion went. I thought that she would sit quietly in her corner of the table, which she mostly did, but she seemed happy to be there."
"I don't think I understand. You're here because he didn't go to a family gathering?"
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back. You see, Axel, I quickly grow accustomed to certain things, like my son writing me letters, or getting in touch with me more than once a year. A couple of weeks ago he asked me for the name and address of the tailor that made his graduation suit."
She paused, her hands frozen in the air and her eyes wide to let her feelings of surprise come across.
"I haven't heard from him in little over a month, now. I'm worried. You're the only one he'll speak to. I'm not asking you to forgive and forget, but if you could go to him and make sure that he's not swallowing cakes whole – if he's cut his hair, than that's fine, he was starting to look a bit like a savage anyway. That said with all due respect, of course." She reached for cigarette holder and smiled politely at Axel who smiled back sternly.
"I'll see what I can do."
"You are a doll! I'll leave my business card here. Send me a letter, or you could come by if you want. Now that you got that girl into Lumineux High, I'm sure there are many who would like to offer you a better position. You can call me about dates and time, and I'll throw together a small dinner party for you to mingle with associates of mine."
"No buts, Axel. When has a dinner party ever killed anyone? I'll be expecting your call. Don't be a stranger, now."
Mariam put her hat back on and hurried out of his office quicker than he could react.
Now that Axel knew that he had gotten to know Saïx's father and his mother, it felt that everything about Saïx made sense.
It hadn't occurred to him until he walked down the familiar road through the picturesque neighborhood that Mariam might not be the selfish and nagging mother she had made herself out to be. Maybe she was out for vengeance. Axel was indirectly responsible for Saïx's resignation, and maybe she was under the impression that Axel was behind their break-up, and he didn't even dare to think of all the other reasons she would have to feel like she should be avenging her son.
This thought wouldn't have occurred to him if it hadn't been for all the people out on their yards, looking at him through their bushes and low fences when he walked down the main road toward Saïx's house.
It took longer than he remembered to get there. Maybe Saïx had changed everything about his house to make it even more difficult to find without a house number, but then he arrived and it all looked the same from the front. The crooked mailbox, the tiled path up to the front door, and the green grass surrounding it, it was all the same.
A small squeaky meow caught Axel's attention and he saw a small kitten hurry toward him. The kitten's fur was a dirty white with dark socks, dark ears, and light blue eyes.
She had a collar around her neck, but Axel couldn't read what it said on it as the kitten zigzagged between his legs.
"Hey, you. You're new here." He reached down to pet her, but she hurried back to where she had been sitting next to a bottle of milk, and she nudged the bottle with her head until the tipped it over. She meowed again when the spilled milk on the floor spread, and she backed away from it slowly to not get her paws wet.
"What are you doing?" Axel sighed and put the bottle in place. He picked up the kitten and turned to knock on the front door only to see that it stood ajar.
Vengeance or not, he needed to talk to Saïx, and hopefully they'd find a way to get over this. As much as Saïx's actions had hurt him and their relationship, he wanted to fix it. Mariam's visit the other day had made him think about this more than he had during this past month. His friends, Demyx especially, had told him to either get over it or do something about it, and as he weighed his hurt with the feelings that still burned strong for Saïx, he realized that he was still in love and it wasn't something he wanted to change.
He just hoped that Saïx would be able to handle it and not run away when he tried to talk to him.
Saïx stood in the kitchen by the oven, pulling out something that had a strange and pasty smell. He was wearing a pair of soft pants and a big T-shirt. He had put his hair up in a ponytail, and he had hairpins to keep his bangs out f his face.
The kitten in Axel's embrace let out a bored meow and tossed about until Axel put her back onto the floor.
"Just a second. I have to put this in a safe place first."
Saïx turned around, holding his cookie jar with obvious fractures in oven mittens. His eyes grew wide and he held back a scream when he saw Axel stand there. The cookie jar slipped out of his grip, and as Axel prepared to hear it crash, Saïx dove after it and kept it from hitting the ground and breaking once more.
"That was close," he mumbled and walked into the living room and put the warm cookie jar on top of a potholder that he had put on the table. He took a moment to take off his oven mittens before he turned to face Axel again.
"Hey," Axel managed to say finally.
Axel took a deep breath. They had been many things these past months, but this was their first falling out, and this awkwardness between them strengthen his determination to put an end to it so that they could move forward, preferably together.
"What happened with the cookie jar?"
"It broke. I was careless and dropped it, so I tried to fix it. It doesn't look that bad, does it?"
"No. It looks good. A bit different from before, but good." He blinked slowly when he found himself staring. "Sorry for scaring you. The door stood open. You should really stop doing that. You don't have to lock the door, but close it at least. You know what they say, open door's an invitation. Anyone could've come in here."
"Yeah, but you're the only one stupid enough to walk in here again after everything that has happened."
"Hey, I'm here because you've apparently cut ties with everyone this past month. I was worried and decided to pop by to see if you were alive and kicking!" He paused when he heard himself raise his voice. "And you've got a cat," he said and pointed at the kitten to change the subject while he tried to keep calm.
"Someone dropped her off at my door a few weeks ago, I couldn't just leave her hanging." Saïx had his arms resting on his hips, and he tried not to frown.
"Look, I'm going to be honest with you. Please be honest with me...Saïx!"
Saïx walked out onto his porch and continued to his small garden outside without as much as a word. He sat propped up against the house wall when Axel walked out with a questioning look.
"What the hell?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
What "it" was, Axel didn't want to know. He sat down next to Saïx on the wooden boxes that Saïx had put together to improvise a bench, and he sighed, looking at his hands before he decided to continue.
"Mr. Madhava is your dad."
"So? So why didn't you say anything? You didn't have to share your life story with me, if that's what bothered you, but you could've at least said that you couldn't help with the application or something, instead of suffering in silence or whatever."
"First of all, I didn't know that I would have to deal with him, I didn't find out until much later that it was his daughter you wanted to get into Lumineux High, and second of all, I didn't suffer in silence. Nothing that man does causes me suffering."
"What do you mean you didn't know? Didn't you read through her papers? Her name's on every one of them."
"I didn't read them thoroughly!" He said with exasperation. "Alright? You wanted her to get into my school, and I thought fine, I'll get her into my school as long as she passed a few tests so that she would at least get into a class with people she had already gotten to know. Her name didn't matter. I'm not good with names."
Axel sat gaping for a few seconds, contemplating what all of this meant. Truth to be told, he liked his conclusions very much.
"So…are you saying that you were doing it for me?"
"Don't flatter yourself. It was a stupid thing to do, and I've made nothing but bad life choices since the second I met you."
Axel reached for Saïx's hands when he looked away again, and he had to smile at the feeling of Saïx's hands in his. The silence between them now didn't hold a trace of the awkwardness from before. It helped taking Saïx by surprise, he was much easier to deal with when he hadn't been given time to reinforce his walls.
Maybe a push of surprise did Saïx some good.
"You wanna hear something funny?" he asked when Saïx looked at him with the slightest glint of curiosity in his eyes.
"I love you."
Saïx's mouth fell open slightly and he took a deep breath which he held in as if he wanted to use it to say something, but stifled croaks was all that came out as he stared back at Axel with eyes wide.
"That's not funny at all," he said finally with a small gulp.
Axel leaned in closer with a grin, trying to hold his laughter in at the genuinely cheated look on Saïx's face. He placed a soft kiss at the side of his mouth before he sat back, Saïx's hands still in his.
"I know that we make an odd pair. We're both a bit messed up, we're at a questionable place in our lives, but if there's anything that I've learned this month away from you, it's that I really love you. This is not a fling for me, you're not just a friend with benefits, although we can be if you want to. If you're not ready for something serious, I mean. You look pale. Are you alright?"
"I haven't changed, Axel." Saïx said instead of answering the question. "I don't want to talk to my father or anyone in his new family. I'm still bad at communicating – I'll probably keep the door ajar even if it bothers you. My working hours are all over the place. I think Zexion's goal in life was to become my boss." Saïx stopped to look over his mental list of why Axel was making a mistake. "I have a cat. That's a great responsibility."
Axel couldn't hold his laughter in anymore. He was shaking already, and the disapproving look Saïx shot him didn't even bother him as he ran his arms around himself while he laughed out loud.
"You're laughing now, just you wait when you wake up one morning and realize that I was big mistake, but by then it'll be too late because you'll already be mad."
"You know what?" Axel wiped his tears away. "For someone who doesn't talk much, you say an awful lot of nonsense. If you don't want to talk to a certain portion of your family, that's fine. I won't meddle. I know that you'll deal with it when you're ready, and you know that if you step out of line I'll let you know. My only question for you now is: do you want to go steady with me?"
"Geez…" he smiled, but looked away to hide the faint blush on his cheeks.
"Want to be my boyfriend?" Axel asked in sing-song and leaned in to embrace Saïx when he refused to look back at him.
"How do you not just die out of embarrassment?" Saïx shifted slightly when Axel nuzzled his neck.
"I'm immortal, embarrassment has nothing on me."
An old man from the other side of the high bushes and low fences, cleared his throat loudly and peeked through the bushes. "Immortal or not, you lot better take it inside or I'll be the one to die out of embarrassment. Don't think I'll hesitate to file a complaint to the housing association, Saïx. This is strike two."
"Sorry, Mr. Smith."
"Strike two?" Axel quickly asked as Saïx led him in through the porch and into the living room.
"Mr. Whiskers have gone over to Mr. Smith's yard when nature calls and she knocks his milk bottles down."
"You did not name your cat Mr. Whiskers."
"I panicked. Suddenly she was there and I didn't know if she was hurt, and when I took her to the veterinary she needed a name and an insurance. Mr. Whiskers was all I could think of." He sighed. "Want to hear something sad?"
"What?" Axel quickly glanced over at Mr. Whiskers and hoped that there was nothing wrong with her. Saïx seemed prone to emotionally attach himself to animals, and having such a sweet and cute creature with a disease promised nothing good.
"I love you too."
"That's just mean. I was ready to hear some bad news about Mr. Whiskers." A smile slowly crept onto his face as he pulled Saïx closer to him.
"Don't teach me tricks you can't handle."
"Does this mean that we're going steady?"
Saïx nodded when Axel leaned in for a kiss. There was a faint taste of blueberries on his lips, and while it was a taste he enjoyed, he had to stand back and glance questioningly at Saïx.
"Did you know I was coming today?"
Saïx sighed. "I might have been slightly aware that you might be showing up. I didn't think you'd show up today, but, y'know…"
"My mother," Saïx agreed with a slow nod.
Say what you will about Mariam, but she still looked after her son in her own, scheming ways. Axel would probably do best admiring her from afar to not cross her.
He licked his lips absentmindedly at the lingering taste of blueberries on his tongue, and he suddenly snapped out of it as he remembered the most important thing to have happened during their month apart.
"Wanna hear something awesome?"
"Axel, please. I can't deal with anymore of your 'wanna hear something' shenanigans." Saïx turned to walk back out to the garden again, but Axel followed him with a chuckle.
"You'll love this!" Axel said, reaching out for Saïx's arm.
"Hey, you two!" came Mr. Smith's immediate protest.
"I'm going to culinary school to become a pastry chef, and it looks like I'll be granted a scholarship."
"What?" Saïx breathed and seemed to hear Axel's news again when he ran his arms around him to give him a tight hug.
"I thought I told you lot to take it inside!"
"Shut up, Mr. Smith! You're ruining our moment." Saïx turned on them to shoot Mr. Smith a glare. The middle-aged man stuttered for a few seconds before he decided to move along.
"How are you going to do with everything else? Are you going to stay at Terne High?"
"I'm gonna work part-time, study, and who knows, maybe get a pastry shop up and running by the end of the year?"
The excitement and glee in Saïx's eyes reflected what he felt at the thought of what this year held for him. It wasn't until he stepped out of his comfort zone that he realized that he had lived a sheltered life, frightened by the possibilities that lay ahead outside the small corner that had been his world. His new life was going to be tough and challenging, but he counted on Saïx being there every step of the way.
One year later…
"Come on, then! This way!" Axel stopped to wait for the group of teenagers to catch up, but they all seemed busy showing Roxas and Naminé every novelty they came across.
"Oh, there's a shop on Cinnamon Boulevard with nothing but material for drawing and painting." Xion had been chatting a lot and pointed at different buildings that led to a cacophony of a conversation when Sora, Hayner and Xion competed to be the one to say everything of importance first. Riku would try talk over them to calm them down, but Roxas would join in as soon as he heard something he had learned too. Naminé would just laugh at them and wait for Axel to tell them to keep it down.
"Hey, how about we get to my shop first, eat something and then we can go out on a sightseeing tour." Axel tapped his foot impatiently.
They turned one final corner to get to Raspberry Street where Axel's pastry shop stood ready for the opening ceremony next week.
The pastry shop was located in a two-story, white-bricked building. The double-door in polished mahogany stood between the large shopping windows where passersby could look inside. Axel had yet to hang up the sign above the door with the name of his pastry shop. Saïx had told him to prioritize the curtains if he was running low on time before he had to go and pick up the teenagers.
"Are you sure this is yours?" Roxas asked with an awestruck face.
"Of course I'm sure. I've been working like a horse. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into this, kids. Nothing in life comes for free."
"Ew, gross." Naminé said with a giggle.
"Yeah, Axel." Sora agreed with a shake of his head as he led the group to the door of the pastry shop and pushed the door open to the sound of a bell going off.
"We're gonna eat, man. Keep your blood and sweat to yourself." Hayner said with a crooked grin right before he stepped inside, holding the door open for Axel.
The inside of the pastry shop was warm and inviting with art decorating the creamy white-colored walls. There were tables for parties of a varying number, from two to six, but for this occasion, Axel had prepared a long-table in the middle of the room.
Roxas walked up to his seat and looked at the chair and then at Axel with an incredulous look.
"Have you won the lottery?"
"No," Axel laughed and hurried behind to counter to get lunch started. Saïx had prepared the food for him, all he had to do was to heat it up.
"Liar," Xion said as she sat down across from Roxas. "These chairs must've cost you a fortune."
"I could fall asleep here," Naminé said and leaned her head back against the back-support of the chair.
"An investor got them for me." Axel said with a smile. "Hey, before you get comfortable, could you set the table? I forgot to do it before I left."
Xion hurried up to Axel while the others went for the cutlery that had been put forward on a table next to theirs.
She had grown and become more of a woman this past year. It had been strange to see. The Xion he knew had been this small and seemingly defenseless girl who had been frightened by almost everything around her. They had both changed while they got adjusted to their new lives.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Did he like the cat?"
Axel looked up from the fourth plate he was dishing up with a surprised look.
"What do you mean? How do you know…?"
Xion smiled softly and played with the cuff of her sleeve absentmindedly as she leaned against the counter. "Did he like the cat?" she asked again.
"Yeah…yeah, he liked the cat. He named her Mr. Whiskers, and, yeah…she's the queen of the house. She has a thing against milk bottles though. She always has to tip them over."
"Great." Xion sighed with relief. "Axel, don't tell him. Please?"
"I, I won't."
He looked after Xion, his mouth hanging open, when she hurried back to the table to help with setting the table. Axel wasn't one to take credit for others work, but he liked to think that he had played an important role in Xion's upbringing, and the person he had seen her evolve into made his heart swell with pride.
"Axel! We're starving!" Roxas called from the table.
"Remember that you had us walking through half the city," Sora added.
"Even though we could've taken a tramcar over here," Riku said with a not so subtle glance at Hayner.
"I thought that if we were going to stuff our faces with cake, we might as well get our metabolism working. I have soccer practice later this evening," Hayner explained with a pout.
"Hang on a sec…" Axel put the plates on a small trolley and pushed it forward.
"You haven't told us what your shop is called." Naminé looked up at Axel from where she sat next to Xion.
"Yeah, how are we supposed to promote you if we don't know the name of your place?" Roxas asked and reached for his plate.
Axel smiled proudly and stood up straight to announce the name of his pastry shop.
"It's called 'Broken Cookie Jars'."