Suddenly startled by boisterous laughter as he opened the front door, Shion nearly tripped back down the steps to Inukashi's grand New West Block abode. Her howling guffaws carried all the way from the kitchen at the back of the house. As her voice died down, he caught the tail end of a distinct and delicate giggle. Naturally, Safu was with her.
Another fresh outburst and fit of giggles erupted as Shion walked down the hall to the back of the house. He turned the corner into the kitchen to find the two women gasping for breath, tears streaming from their eyes.
Shion surveyed the scene: Unfinished cocktails and a pulled-out barstool abandoned at the bar; the evening's dinner preparations— usually courtesy of Safu's deft hand— left deserted on the counter; Inukashi, with hands pressed to her stomach, leaning back against the end of the bar; and Safu close by, doubled over with one arm braced against the dining table, and the other holding her side. Neither appeared to have noticed his presence.
"You two alright?" He couldn't imagine what had the two of them in stitches like that.
"Shi-hehehee-on!" Out of breath, face reddening, Safu tittered her childhood friend's name. She was too winded to speak, yet quick to snatch up the bag of last-minute ingredients she'd sent him to fetch.
"Sounds like you're having a good time!" Shion strained to raise his voice above Inukashi's sustained belly laughs. Had they been drinking too much? It's not like Safu to get drunk before dinner, even if she isn't cooking…
"Ohh, Sh-Shion… haha ha! You gotta hear this!" Inukashi beckoned him toward the dining table with a frantic wave of her arm. Evidently as breathless as Safu, she settled for spastically pointing at an antennaed device on the dining table, which emitted staticky noises and some muffled sounds Shion couldn't make out. Momentarily, Inukashi managed to restrain her laughter. She wrapped arms around Safu from behind, and spoke upward, into her ear: "Sshhh— let him listen!"
A familiar voice emanated from the gadget on the table, in higher tones than usual.
"—my best obedience to the queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I'll show't the king and undertake to be—"
"That's Nezumi!" The baby monitor was on. The monitor was on and unbeknownst to Nezumi, the girls were listening in as he rehearsed lines in private. "You're—"
"Ssshh! Shion, wait!" Safu waved her hands wildly, imploring he be patient. "Just, just listen— you have to hear!"
Shion was uncomfortable with the idea of deriving such seemingly derisive entertainment at the expense of the person he adored most in the world. But he trusted Safu, so he would wait and see.
"Hehe… heehaha…" a squeal drowned out the static. Shion relaxed again. Of course— Nezumi was putting little Shion to sleep today. "More lady voice!"
"Prithee call thy servant Eve," the feminine voice rang out beautifully. Shion smiled.
"Prith—? Pri… Pretty!"
"You and your grabby hands," Nezumi's natural voice intoned. "You're just as bad as audiences at the old West Block playhouse… or Shion after one and a half drinks…"
Shion turned an instant beet red. Inukashi released her loose hold around Safu's shoulders and dropped to a squat on the floor, covering her mouth with both hands. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes were shut tight and her normally even-toned tan face was taking on a patchy pink hue as she struggled to contain the inevitable gales of laughter to come.
"Nezumi!" Shion whined and then pouted: "I can handle at least two drinks."
Safu fell back against the bar, convulsing so hysterically there were hardly any sounds coming from her mouth.
"Eeeve," he enunciated for the toddler, having returned to using a lady's voice.
"Eeee!" She giggled.
"Sure. Close enough, kid," Nezumi conceded in defeat.
Safu and Inukashi resumed their earlier laughing postures. Even Shion took a two-handed grip of one of the high-backed chairs at the table, and snickered along with them.
Safu was beaming at Shion, her shining lavender eyes framed with brown eyebrows at just the angle to form her unmistakeable 'So cute I could die!' face. Shion smiled back. Knowing Safu, she's going to commence with the Awww!-ing soon.
"Still not feeling sleepy, airhead junior?"
"Noo!" The three-year-old's emphatic refusal was intoned as though Nezumi should have known better, yet punctuated with a drawn out yawn. "I want a lullaby."
"Awww! He called her princess!" Safu enthused.
"Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber;
Whiles hounds and horns and sweet melodious birds
Be unto us as is a nurse's song
Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep."
Nezumi began a series of soothing cradle songs that would surely knock the stubborn little girl out. Like Inukashi, Shion knew well the power of Nezumi's voice. He smiled to himself, suspecting Nezumi learned lullabies just for the little one. Safu Awww!-ed a few more times, each climbing higher in pitch.
As Nezumi's melodies continued, Safu and Inukashi returned to their cooking and Shion kept company, pouring himself a drink in the meanwhile. Absently whisking something in a steel mixing bowl, Inukashi wondered aloud which Shakespearean play Nezumi had been 'inflicting' upon the 'poor girl.'
"Two plays, actually. The passage we last heard was from Titus Andronicus— act two, scene three, I believe. Earlier was The Winter's Tale; act two, scene two."
"Ooooh… somebody's been keeping up with his reading," Inukashi teased.
She's shy about it, but Inukashi picked out Shakespearean verse from some relatively obscure quotations. Impressive. Shion knew well how rare it was for people raised in the region of No. 6 to have seen a book in print, let alone read proper literature. Fiction e-books only began appearing very recently. Did she intuitively recognise iambic pentameter? Or no, maybe the language! I'll have to find out what she's been reading—
By the time Baby Monitor Radio went off the air, Shion was absorbed in thought. He only occasionally sipped his cocktail— until the girls broke his reverie.
"Shiiii-ooonn…" Safu sang, a far-too-bright expression on her face; "What'cha drinkin'?"
"Almost done there aren'tcha? Have another!" He feared Inukashi's devilish grin.
But it was too late to escape this ambush.
"Not working tomorrow, right? Let me fix you another… half a glass!" Safu waggled her eyes suggestively at the last three words, and added under her breath: "Might as well go all the way."
"What?" Shion could feel heat flowing to his cheeks.
"She's just offerin' to put another drink in yer… grabby hands." Inukashi helpfully presented Shion with highly illustrative jazz hands.
Shion was certain he'd gotten better at his comebacks— especially after spending more time with Nezumi. He was mortified he couldn't think of a response to any of this. Sighing in defeat, he deadpanned: "Are you finished yet?"
"Hahaha! You were right!" Inukashi crowed. Shion wasn't sure if he did or didn't want to know what Safu was 'right' about. For some reason, it occurred to him then that soon after Safu moved in with her, Inukashi quit calling him an 'airhead' like Nezumi.
The merciless pair broke into fits of laughter, each with her head over the other's shoulder as they hugged each other for support. A pink-faced Shion rolled his eyes. "You two are really terrible, you know that?"
"Are we? Then maybe Nezumi could top… it upfor you instead!" Safu suggested.
Shion was shocked. Was this really the childhood friend he grew up with? Inukashi! You've corrupted my Safu, haven't you? The innocent girl that… asked for my sperm, a few years back…? Okay, maybe it didn't take that much corrupting—
"If ya need something strong, bet he'd getcha a real stiff one!" Shion's jaw dropped dumbly as Inukashi winked. Other ways of expressing affection for a close friend had to exist...
While the shameless young ladies high-fived over a Shion well-humiliated, an arm slinked around the red-faced young man's waist. Nezumi appeared by his side. "Letting the girls have their way with you again? Tsk, tsk. My airhead's defenseless as ever."
Shion sighed mightily, resting his head on Nezumi's shoulder. "S'nothing another drink won't cure, Eva."