The smell of eggs and sausages wafts into the bedroom.
My eyes fly open. New World food!
Kairi must have thought the same thing. We both charge towards the door, only to get stuck in the doorway again.
"Move ya big ass, Harlan!"
"Right back at you, sis."
A hand grabs each of our pajamas and yanks us out of the doorway, screaming. We land face forward on the coarse, wooden floor.
"Try to keep it down, you two. Your mother still needs to rest."
It's the new caretaker, Riley. It's already been three days since he moved in and started helping out. A lot. (He's making me look bad.)
There he stands, Riley, with his hands crossed over his chest. He watches us as Kairi and I stand up and dust our pajamas.
"Sorry." we apologize.
A faint smile forms on Riley's lips. (He's not the kind that smiles a lot, so it's kind of freaky when you see him smile.) "How many sausages do you two want?"
"Ten!" Kairi exclaims at the same time as me.
Riley raises an eyebrow and opens his mouth as if to say something, then shuts it again. "Hurry up and get changed, then. If you get anything on your pajamas, you'll be sleeping in your underwear for a few nights."
"Doesn't really matter in this weather, sir." Kairi grins. "The nights are warm 'nuff without the sheets."
He gives her a strict stare. "Change."
To our surprise, the moment Kairi and I come out of the washroom after brushing our teeth, (Breakfast was pretty awesome, by the way.) we nearly bump into Mom.
"Mom, what are you doing up so early?"
"What kind of question is that, Harlan?"
"Mommy's supposed to be sleepin'."
"I've had a long enough sleep, Kairi." Mom smiles. "Thank you for worrying, but it's nothing that your little head should be troubled about."
Kairi's cheeks puff up like the pufferfishes at the outdoor market. "What? This ain't a small head! It's gotta loada stuff in it."
"Hmm... I'm sure it does, honey."
"Miss Watanabe, why are you up?"
Mom whirls around to face Riley. Her gentle face suddenly goes sour, as if she just ate an unripened Dragon Fruit. "Why do you care?"
"Because it's my job." Riley responds curtly. "You slept pretty late last night. The least you can do is sleep in... ma'am."
"As I've just told Kairi: I've had plenty of sleep. I'll be fine."
"I wouldn't say six hours is enough sleep for an ill woman like you, ma'am."
"Whatever." Mom waves irritably as she begins brushing her teeth. In a muffled voice from the foaming toothpaste, she continues. "Point is, I'm fine. If I collapse later today, you can say 'I told you so' as you help me to my bed."
"You mean 'when' you collapse."
"Don't get so full of yourself."
Riley shakes his head and begins to walk away. He stops a few steps away and, without turning, adds, "Oh, and I won't be 'helping' you to your bed. I'll be 'carrying' you to it instead."
A sharp crack! comes from Mom's toothbrush.
I've only ever crossed the border into the New World once. Once, only because of a school field trip with our Modern Civilizations class. (Another import from the New World.) During the trip there, my friend, Himawari and I snuck away from the class and entered a junkyard. There, I found the most beautiful, beat-up piece of metal and rubber I had ever seen.
It was a Vespa. I had only seen it in the textbooks in our Modern Civilizations class and on some satellite TV commercials from the New World, but here it was, in its dented, slightly-rusted glory, just within my reach. Its blue coating was being chipped away by time and one of its lights was cracked. But, all in all, it was a beauty.
Since it was junk, I was allowed to take it away with me to the Old World. Granted, Himawari and I got into a bit of trouble for straying away from the class for such a long period of time. (We were there for a good hour or two before we even started heading back.)
The Vespa put-puts along the main dirt road of our neighbourhood. Slowly, the scenery changes from old-fashioned buildings of wood, cloth and paper into a cement jungle of neon signs, street lights and painted asphalt roads lined on both sides with rain-cloud-coloured sidewalks.
Half an hour later, the Vespa slows to a halt in front of an old-fashioned-styled building (still made of concrete, though). The familiar rice-paper sliding door is covered with a sign that reads "Sunflower Ramen House and Bar". Red paper lanterns with kanji characters for different good fortunes painted on them with black ink line the protected patio area, swaying in the humid, summer wind.
I can barely hear the cars and trucks rushing by behind me as I park my Vespa into the employee parking spot just outside the shop.
Upon entering, my eyes flashed darkness before adjusting to the dim lighting.
No lights are kept on inside the building itself, save for a couple of pot lights near the bar at the back of the shop and in the washrooms. The front walls of the building are actually windows that span from the top of the ceiling to its base and extend to both sides of their respective walls. The summer sunlight floods into the small ramen shop just enough for the customers to see their menus and their waiters' faces.
"Oh, Harlan, you're early."
My heart skips a beat. I turn to face the source of the beautiful, bell-like voice. The brown-haired beauty in her formal wear and the shop's pocket-lined apron is holding a handful of menus that she just took from the new customers.
"Y-yeah... I left a bit earlier than usual." I chuckle. "Mom's fighting with the caretaker again. Things get pretty violent."
Himawari giggles. "Mr. Walberg is a gentle and strong man. He'll make sure Lady Tanya doesn't hurt herself."
Lady Tanya... Mom and I are still getting used to that name.
Mom - known as Lady Tanya in the downtown district - was one of the social mediators when the New and Old Worlds first collided several years ago. I was still in elementary school at the time. Because of their socially constructive deeds, Mom and her colleagues earned the titles of "Lord" and "Lady", along with their New World influence names. Mom's official name is Watanabe Sakura, but in the New World and the downtown district, she's known as Lady Tanya Watanabe.
"Here are your menus, and I'll be back with your tea."
It's rush hour. The place is packed and there's more people waiting to be seated by the door. I've only been working for two hours and I'm already working up a sweat.
"Himawari, tea for table two."
With a nod, sweet Himawari goes to the back of the sushi bar while I assemble the cups and plates onto the tray.
"Here you go."
My cheeks start to burn. I could have sworn that the hot tea kettle was on both sides of my face instead of on the tray. It's probably only lasting a split second, but holy crap, it feels like forever. Her voice is clear; crystal clear. She's right by my ear, breathing into me. Her body's against mine, too, supporting herself on my crouched back as she places the tea kettle in front of me.
"Harlan, you alright?"
My heart jumps from shock. Dropping from the clouds to reality is probably the number one cause for heart attacks.
"Uh... yeah." I clear my throat. "I'm fine."
I nod vigorously.
"Okay, then..." Himawari sighs uneasily.
I dash out with the tea, cups and plates before she can say anything else.