Chapter 1: Taking a Trip
Ichigo's stocking feet hit the cocoa stained maple wood flooring, nearly tripping over the edge of the cream colored area rug in his haste to untangle himself from his headphones to get to his cell phone which lay in the kitchen, only a few feet away. His Ipod hit the bed, its intended target when it was flung over the orangette's shoulder, its screen flashing as it lay on the blue and navy striped comforter next to the now abandoned sketch pad as he streaked past a small gray loveseat.
Ichigo skidded across the tile, snatching the phone on the last ring. He unlocked the screen, puffing his greeting into the phone.
"Hey there, my favorite student! How are you on this gloriously drab morning?"
Ichigo smirked on the other side of the phone.
"I'll be better if you have some good news for me, hat and clogs. You never call unless it's for a good reason."
"Hm, perceptive as always," commented the joyful voice of his previous art professor on the other end. "As a matter of fact, I do have news. Geisha in the Moonlight sold."
Ichigo's heart stopped, and his grip on his Iphone tightened. That painting was large, a 43"x63" and it had taken him a sold month and a half of agonized perfectionism to complete it.
"For how much?" he asked, pushing away from the cheap laminate counter top and exiting the tiny galley kitchen. He sunk into a black wrought iron chair at the bistro set in the small space that served as a dining area.
"Yoruichi sold it to a Saudi Arabian Prince, the woman is a genius. Has it all! Smarts, a gorgeous body…"
"How much, Kisuke?" Ichigo interrupted, annoyed now by the man's eccentricity.
"$30,000 USD after our cut, Kurosaki. The money has already been deposited in your account. You can tell by the price that that painting was by far one of your most brilliant pieces. In fact, I'd call it a master piece. It may help that the prince is in love with a Japanese woman, so Yoruichi played on that some, however, that is in no way a discredit toward your work."
Ichigo felt like he was having a heart attack. He sat in the chair, staring at the 48 square meters of studio apartment that he called his home for the last year and half since graduating from the Pratt Institute with a Bachelor's in Fine Arts. He'd left behind everything to come to America and study art. His father was disappointed he hadn't chosen something in the medical field and followed in his footsteps, but was nonetheless supportive of his son's choice. Ichigo won scholarships into the program and supported himself on being a barista in a small café part time and on the art work he sold. He'd sold numerous things, thinking one of the paintings that Yoruichi had sold for 5 grand was an achievement. Boy had he been wrong.
"You still there, Ichigo?" asked Kisuke.
"Yeah," Ichigo replied dumbly, trying to shake off the shock.
"Well, my young prodigy, what are you going to do now? I'm sure the money is burning a hole in your wallet!"
Ichigo took one more look around the small space, at the white painted brick wall that he hated, and listened to the bustling traffic on the street below.
"You know what, hat and clogs? I think I'm going to take a trip."
"Oh really? Well, I know if a great peaceful place if you're interested!"
Kisuke had told him of a beautiful historic resort in Montana and had given him directions to get there. He scrawled them on a small note pad, thinking to himself that they were incredibly straight forward, pretty much all interstate to get there. Kisuke said he'd call the place and get him reservations. He'd done that, and Ichigo packed his little Prius with everything he could think of needing. The Prius was a gift from his father upon graduation, and with such a long trip ahead of him he was glad for the extremely fuel efficient car.
The trip started relatively well, Ichigo driving from New York to Chicago and staying the night in a relatively clean and cheap motel. He made a mental note to come back to Chicago sometime, there was so much to see, not to mention the deep dish pizza there was phenomenal. He loaded up on Rockstar Energy drinks and set the cruise control to 80, striking out to finish the remainder of his 22 hour trip in one shot.
Things were going great until he got into Montana. He had stopped off to a gas station to get a 5 hour energy, and unbeknownst to him one of papers with directions on it caught the wind when he opened the door and flew away. Where he was there wasn't any service so the GPS on his phone wouldn't work by the time he realized something was wrong with his directions. And then, better yet, about fifty miles after he realized he was lost and had taken an exit trying to find a place to get directions, with no avail, all his interior electrical components started to flicker.
Suddenly, the car seemed to lose all ability to accelerate, no matter how far he pressed the gas. Irritated, beyond tired, and now super stressed, he pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road in the middle of nowhere and shut it off. He leaned his weary head back on the head rest and counted to one hundred. Then he started the car, praying whatever was wrong would reset it's self. No such luck. He was stranded in the middle of nowhere with a car that wouldn't drive and no lights. Super great.
It was the middle of the night in mountainous no man's land, with no cell phone service. He wasn't sure what to do and it was looking like his only option was to wait for someone to happen by. Sighing to himself, he pushed his headphones into his ears and turned on his Ipod to wait for a rescuer. Before he knew it, he was asleep.
Help came in the form of a slender man with messy black hair and startling green eyes. The man was shorter than Ichigo by nearly half a foot, but nonetheless nearly scared the shit out of him by opening his car door and roughly shaking him awake.
"Jesus, man, you scared me!" Ichigo cried, blinking the sleep from his eyes.
The man just looked at him with a frown from beneath a white cowboy hat.
"What are you doing sleeping on the side of the road? It gets about 40 degrees out here at night," he said emotionlessly, taking in Ichigo's apparel of black skinny jeans and a red t-shirt.
"Ha, well you see I was trying to make it to a resort in Helena and I got kind of lost, and then my car broke down."
"Helena? No doubt you are lost, Helena is clear on the other side of the state," the man stated.
Ichigo face palmed. Why did he let Kisuke talk him into coming out here?
The man strolled back to his massive truck, coming back with a maglite, shining it beneath the hood of the Prius once Ichigo popped it for him.
"Can't make sense of this much, not too efficient with mechanics," he replied flatly. "I can tow you, however, back to where I live, and see about getting your car to a mechanic in town tomorrow."
"That would be really great, Mr."
"It's Ulquiorra Cifer."
"Alright, Ulquiorra. I'm Ichigo. Ichigo Kurosaki."
Ulquiorra nodded to him, going back to his truck bed and coming back with tow straps. He hooked it up and gave Ichigo directions to leave the car in neutral and to not let the straps get too lose between the cars, and of course to not rear end his truck, because that would be bad for the front end of the Prius. The little fuel efficient car would do nothing but scrape the hunter green paint of the massive tank of a Ford 350 super duty the short man was driving.
They drove another 20 miles before passing through a small, darkened town. Another 15 miles outside of that they drove through was nothing but winding forest, before the truck began turning into a large gated drive. The gate pulled back as Ulquiorra tapped in a code on the keypad and they drove inside. Ichigo could barely believe his eyes.
They were at a ranch with the most impressive house Ichigo had seen. The house was constructed with a dark stained timber beams, beige stucco and red, beige and gray brick work. It had a wraparound porch and the entrance was built from out of a hill, set down lower than the rest of the house. A flagstone path leads to the entrance that was all windows and decorative brick walls and carefully planned landscape containing prairie June grass.
The house was enormous, if Ichigo had to guess it had at least five bedrooms. A three stall garage was attached to the side, but Ulquiorra hadn't pulled around to it. He stopped the truck and got out, so Ichigo put the Prius in park and followed suit.
The doors opened before Ichigo could say anything, a woman with long green hair and an ample bust rushing toward them.
"Hey Ulqui! Who's this?"
"Ichigo," Ulquiorra supplied. "Found him broke down on the side of the road. Will you show him to a guest room? We'll get a hold of Nakeem in the morning to find out if he can fix it. I got about five hours before I need to be up, so I don't mean to be rude, but I have to get some sleep. Don't think boss will mind."
"Oh sure," the woman said, beaming at Ichigo. "I'm Nel, sweetheart, nice to meet you! Won't you come on in out of the cold and we'll get you settled! Welcome to Espada Ranch, sugar!"
Ichigo grabbed a few duffle bags and followed the bouncy woman into the impressive home, feeling like this vacation just got interesting. His breath was taken away by the house as they walked through it. Gorgeous gleaming dark stained maple flooring stretched throughout the whole house. The living room was furnished in a modern contemporary style, with a dark gray wrap around sectional and club chairs by a massive stone fire place. Built in bookshelves were stocked with books and decorative art, a giant flat screen above the fireplace, and one wall was all glass that gave a spectacular view of the mountains in the distance.
They passed a formal dining room with a table large enough to seat twelve people and a lustrous industrial kitchen complimented with stainless steel appliances, white granite counter tops and black stained cabinetry. They walked by a large den/ office area that was next to a winding stair case. They took the stairs and proceeded quietly down the hallway. Nel opened the door to the one farthest down the hall and stood back, allowing Ichigo to step in first and inspect the room.
It was more than he could ask for, in fact, it was five star hotel quality. The room's windows faced the mountains, so Ichigo suspected that if he drew back the muted red black out drapes he'd have a beautiful view. The room was painted in warm beige, the flooring in the warm stained chocolate and matched the furniture. A king sized bed stood in the middle of the room with a gold colored bedspread and many plush pillows.
"This is beautiful, Nel, thank you," Ichigo said quietly.
She beamed back at him.
"Ok, sugar, you just make yourself at home! Everything is fresh; I change the linens and towels everyday even if they aren't used. We maintain high standards around here. That door there leads to the bathroom. Breakfast is at five for everyone, but you have no need to get up so early, you're a guest. I'll put some food aside so those pigs don't eat it all. More than likely you'll find me in the kitchen if you need me, ok?"
"Alright," replied Ichigo with a smile. "Thank you for being so nice."
"How could I not? You have kind eyes, sugar; I can tell you're a good person."
She mussed his hair, and flounced off, shutting the door behind her. Ichigo dug out some basketball shorts and a white t-shirt, carefully folding his dirty laundry and sitting it atop his duffel bag, as to not mess up the immaculate room. He turned out the light and climbed in the bed, discovering it was one of those memory foam beds that conformed to your body. Oh sweet god, he could get used to this! Before he knew it, he was dead to the world.