Mako doesn’t make it to bed until very late on Monday night--late enough that it’s technically Tuesday and she has large dark circles under her eyes when Raleigh lurches awake at the touch of her cold feet. “Go back to sleep,” she mumbles quietly in Japanese.
“How late is it?” Raleigh asks blearily, too tired and cozy to pull an arm out from under the covers to check. Mako keeps the A/C in their apartment at approximately 15C because she's a sadist who loves telling people that she married Raleigh for his sweater collection.
“Shh,” Mako says. “Late enough.” She wriggles down between the covers, running her small, freezing feet down Raleigh’s shins and then shoving them between his calves. This is bioterrorism , Raleigh thinks to say, but he’s too sleepy to remember to say it out loud. Mako lifts her head off of the pillow and Raleigh slides his arm under her neck, using the crook of his elbow to pull her head to his shoulder. He rests one hand high on her back, between her shoulder-blades, and uses the other to pull the covers up over her.
“Good night, I love you,” Mako mumbles into his neck.
“Good night,” Raleigh says absently. His calves ache; he rubs her back, thinking that this will warm her somehow, and he falls asleep like that, easily, Mako’s hair tickling his nose and her cool breath condensing against his neck.
The next morning is a classic Tuesday clusterfuck of a day. Raleigh is up first, with the sun, to feed the cat and pack Hitomi’s lunch. The cat eats and then gets back into bed with Mako; Hitomi’s lunch goes into the bottom of her backpack. After only a few hours of sleep, Mako will be too queasy for a big breakfast and too nervous not to eat anything so Raleigh digs through their fridge for some extremely questionable and ancient-looking rice, which comes out of its glass dish in a perfect square and sits sadly in the frying pan for a few minutes before being ruthlessly squashed into submission. There are a few limp carrots in the crisper and a red onion in the pantry that is growing a thick green sprout out of its center; these are chopped and go in with the rice.
“Are we having rice !” Hitomi shrieks when she runs into the kitchen at 7:07 exactly, her face and hands scrubbed and her slippers forgotten somewhere in the hallway between the kitchen and the bathroom, presumably, since she’s not wearing them.
“Shh,” Raleigh says, leaning down to scoop her up and prop her on his hip where she can observe his extremely lackluster stirring. “Your mother went to sleep late, let her have a few minutes to sleep in.”
“Mom’s awake,” Hitomi says, leaning recklessly far out of Raleigh’s grip to stare into the contents of the frying pan. “She let me use her special face wash. Ew, Daddy, are those carrots?”
“Yes,” Raleigh says.
“Yuck,” Hitomi says seriously. She comes very close to being blinded by a grain of rice that sizzles its way furiously out of the pan. “Can I have oatmeal, please?”
“Did you make your bed?” Raleigh asks, turning his hips so Hitomi is swiveled out of range of the stove. She immediately wraps her arms around his neck for stability. She has thin little limbs, long and spindly, like a very small monkey. Similar to a monkey, she has to be monitored at all times lest she get into tremendous amounts of trouble.
“Yes,” she says. “Mom tried to help but I told her no, and then she asked if that meant I was feeling very grown up today and then I said yes and then she said that grown-ups have to use a special face wash and then we washed my face. Now my face smells like rain boots!”
Raleigh risks leaving the rice to its own devices and rubs his face into Hitomi’s hair, saying, “Yep, smells like a boot,” after Hitomi has already started shrieking in protest. She smells like Mako does after her morning shower, a faint chemical tang with an undercurrent that, now that Hitomi has said it, Raleigh realizes is faintly reminiscent of rubber.
“Oatmeal seems appropriate for a grown-up,” Raleigh tells her, dropping her to her feet and inelegantly scrambling to rescue the rice. “Hit boil on the kettle for me, old man, will you?”
Hitomi has to go up on her toes to reach the tab at the base of the electric kettle—which is a feature rather than a bug of their kitchen layout—and then climbs onto her usual chair at the counter, her bare feet swinging underneath her, her nightgown askew. Under the hot spitting of the frying rice, Raleigh can hear the water rushing to the pipes in the bathroom, the low murmur of Mako talking to herself—practicing her report delivery, probably—and, beyond that, the bustle of Melbourne waking itself up to start another day.
“What’s on deck at school today, kiddo?” Raleigh asks Hitomi, giving the rice a few final scrapes before abandoning it as a done deal and dumping the contents of the pan into two bowls. He cracks two eggs into the pan and leaves them to fry as he slices up a banana for Hitomi’s oatmeal.
“We have art class today and Mr. K said that the year four teacher is going to come and teach us about the aboriginals and how they used to do things differently before we came and made them do what we wanted.”
Raleigh interrupts, “Do you want half a banana or a full one?”
“A full banana, please,” Hitomi says. “And then after lunch we have a math test all about addition and subtraction. Only Mr. K said not to call it a test because it’s not about grades, it’s about understanding .”
Raleigh makes the executive decision to give her three quarters of the banana; he eats the bottom of it himself, stuffing it into his cheek and turning around to check on the eggs, which are done.
“How do you feel about the math test?” he asks Hitomi, who has not historically been interested in the math exercises she has brought home.
“Daddy, I just told you,” Hitomi says, irritably.
“How do you feel about your math understanding?” Raleigh revises.
“Like I don’t understand how to take away sevens,” Hitomi says. “Daddy, the kettle is done, can I have my oatmeal now?”
“If you burn your tongue, it’s not my fault,” Raleigh says. “So if your mother yells at me, you have to protect me.”
“I promise,” Hitomi says. She sticks her spoon into the bowl that Raleigh places in front of her and pulls out a giant mouthful, dutifully blowing on it under Raleigh’s watchful eye. “What’s on deck for you today, Daddy?”
“I have a meeting with some contractors to talk about the public housing project,” Raleigh says. He leans back against the counter and uses his spoon to break the yolk, stirring it into the rice. A tentative first bite reveals that the carrots are not quite cooked enough, but it’s better than some of his other on-the-fly breakfast offerings. “They’re going to tell me why they need more money to make the building the way that I want it, and then I’m going to have to tell them that we don’t have more money so they’re going to have to figure it out themselves.”
Hitomi, done nibbling her way around her first spoonful of oatmeal, sticks the entirety of the second one into her mouth and then gasps, pulling it out quickly but not quite fast enough to keep from getting burned.
“Youch!” she says, perfectly timed for Mako’s arrival into the kitchen in a cloud of lemony steam. Her hair is slicked back from her face and she’s wearing a robe over her underwear, revealing an appealing slice of her sternum as she twists over Hitomi to check that the roof of her mouth has survived. Raleigh is, as always, struck somewhat helpless for a moment by his deep attraction to his wife, and then he remembers that he should be done with breakfast by the time Mako makes it out of her shower and shoves a spoonful of fried rice into his mouth.
“Shit,” he mumbles as he promptly burns the roof of his own mouth.
“Look at the two of you,” Mako says, coming around the counter to check on him. “Unbelievable. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Raleigh says, not totally honestly, but he leans down to sneak a kiss and that makes him feel a little better. “Mm, rain boot,” he says, and Hitomi shrieks her way into a giggle.
“Mm, flattering,” Mako says, followed by, “you’re going to be late.”
“Yes,” Raleigh agrees. It feels like the top of his mouth is peeling off but he’s too hungry to let that stop him from eating. “Must be Tuesday.”
Mako pours herself a cup of coffee and then lays in on her own breakfast with more caution befitting its temperature than either her husband or child had displayed. This is why Mako runs an international military organization and Raleigh is a glorified construction worker.
There are a few minutes of loud chewing, the scraping of metal spoons against the sides of ceramic bowls, the slurp of Mako’s coffee, the faint drips coming from down the hall because Raleigh forgot— again , fuck—to buy a gasket to fix the shower head, and then the usual Tuesday chaos reasserts itself. Raleigh leaves Mako and Hitomi to do the dishes and basically dashes in and out of the shower, stubbing his toe on the edge of the bathtub and tripping over the cat in a series of moves designed by some higher power to land him in the hospital. He’s halfway dressed when he goes to tag out Mako, who can pull on her uniform in twelve seconds flat but takes twenty minutes to help Hitomi pick out something to wear.
“This is why we should send her to that military academy Jake went to,” he says to Mako as Hitomi dithers between two pairs of electric blue leggings. “They have uniforms, don’t they?”
Mako says, “Is this the tie you’re going to wear?” appearing in the doorway to their bedroom with said tie in hand.
“I like the ones with zippers,” Raleigh says to Hitomi, who says, “ Daddy ,” in a long-suffering way, inexplicably, and then chooses the other pair. “Yes, that’s the tie I was planning to wear. I’m meeting with the finance guys this afternoon, they’re always wearing red ties.”
“They respect you because you’re not one of them,” Mako says, disappearing back into the depths of their bedroom. Raleigh helps Hitomi select a shirt to go with her non-zippered leggings and then tells her to go pick a pair of shoes while he finishes dressing, which will occupy her for the foreseeable future. In the bedroom, Mako is tying her own tie in the mirror above their dresser, her eyes narrowed on her hands. There is a navy tie on the bed; the red one is nowhere to be seen. “What’d you do with my tie?”
“Sriracha ate it,” Mako says. “Don’t distract me, I don’t want to start over.”
“Did you eat my tie?” Raleigh asks the cat, who looks at him dispassionately and then yawns. “If I find out this afternoon that the company is going bankrupt, I’m going to blame you for feeding my lucky tie to the cat.”
“Raleigh!” Mako hisses, as the separate ends of her tie slither apart.
“Come over here,” Raleigh says, sitting on the edge of the bed and gesturing with a crook of his finger. “I heard you practicing in the shower. You worried about what you’re going to say?”
Mako, who rarely submits to anything, comes to stand in front of Raleigh and tips up her chin with a frustrated jerk that says, yes, she is worried. She smells like lemon and toothpaste and sesame oil, faintly; it’s a smell that Raleigh associates with being home, like Stockholm Syndrome has taken root in his nostrils. Mako has a stubborn chin and it looks even worse at this angle; this is what Hitomi looks like in the depths of a rare tantrum, and it’s so cute. Raleigh pauses in the middle of fixing her tie to lean forward and put his mouth, open, over the edge of Mako’s jaw. She says, “Raleigh!” and then releases her breath in a nearly inaudible gasp. Her skin is so smooth and she tastes so good.
“Fix my tie, Raleigh,” she says twenty or so seconds later, in a strangled voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” Raleigh says, pretending to be meek, and she is startled into giving a low, sexy laugh. Raleigh had never heard that laugh until they started sleeping together and it’s become a private, shared thing that immediately sends Raleigh from his usual state of moderately interested in having sex with his wife to wanting to have sex with her immediately, right this second, DEFCON 2.
“Mako—” Raleigh breathes, pulling the knot in her tie taunt and then moving his hands to her waist, tugging her inexorably onto the bed with him. She’s smiling at him from her eyes, her hair swaying forward to curve around her face.
“DADDY,” Hitomi screams from the living room, “THE CLOCK SAYS WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE.”
Raleigh flops back onto the bed and groans. Mako leans over him, looks him dead in the eye, and gives another one of her private laughs.
“This is in violation of the Geneva Convention,” Raleigh complains to Sriracha, who is asleep and ignoring him.
“Jake is coming for dinner,” Mako says as she steps back to slip into her heels. “I don’t know how late we’ll be; I’m taking the helicopter to Sydney. Oh, and Hitomi needs more erasers. She wants the dolphin-shaped ones again, from that store downtown, by your office?”
“Oh, I remember,” Raleigh says. “I spend more lunch hours there than I do actually eating lunch. How many erasers can one six-year-old use?”
Mako says, “Once she figures out subtraction, I imagine the number will decrease.”
“WE ARE GOING TO BE VERY LATE,” Hitomi yells. “DADDY, I WANT TO WIN THE BEST ATTENDANCE AWARD THIS YEAR.”
“I love you,” Mako says, leaning down very quickly to kiss Raleigh and evading his grasp with practiced ease. “Good luck with the finance department.”
“How will they respect me without the red tie?” Raleigh laments, laughing, and she doesn’t manage to slip past the hand he puts on the back of her upper thigh, tugging her forward as he stands up. “Even if the council doesn’t like what you’ll have to say, they’ll listen to you,” he tells her before swiftly swooping in for the kind of goodbye kiss that he prefers: wet, long, soft, with Mako’s hands sinking into his hair and her thighs pressing against his. Raleigh likes every goodbye with Mako to feel like a hello; it reminds him that even when they’re apart, parts of them are together, always tangled in the drift.
“I love you,” he says, releasing her.
“I love you,” Mako echoes, stepping back and straightening her uniform jacket. Her eyes go to the clock on Raleigh’s bedside table and she grimaces. “Even for a Tuesday, we are very late.”
“I never won a best attendance award and I turned out fine,” Raleigh says, shrugging on his suit jacket and ushering her towards the living room with a polite hand on the small of her back. “Shit,” he says, remembering at the last second to turn around and collect his tie, which is squashed from being sat on.
Mako is helping Hitomi into her jacket and backpack when Raleigh makes it to the living room, fingers quickly yanking at his tie. Their buzzer is going off frantically and Hitomi is chanting late late late under her breath. “Your car is here,” Mako says, presumably explaining their screaming buzzer. “Have a lovely day at school, Hitomi.”
“Bye, Mom,” Hitomi says. “I love you and I love Uncle Jake!” She darts out of the door of the apartment as soon as Mako opens it and then darts back in and says, “Obviously I love you too, Daddy, although we are very, very late.”
“What about Sriracha?” Raleigh says drily. He can’t help himself; on his way out the door, stuffing his wallet into his back pocket, he stops for another kiss from Mako.
“Sriracha puked on my rain boots,” Hitomi says, disappearing out into the hallway. “Daddy, I’m going to call the elevator, we have to go!”
Raleigh pulls back from Mako and makes a face. “We should convince Jake to take that cat back.”
“Ranger Lambert promised to skin her for a hat if he ever saw her again,” Mako says. “Raleigh, you must go,” but she laughs as he pecks her nose and then her cheeks and then her stubborn chin.
“Bye, have a nice day trying to reason with those PPDC pricks,” Raleigh says, and Mako is laughing as she slams the door shut behind him. “I love you!” he shouts at the door.
“Go to work!” Mako yells back.
At the opposite end of the hall, Hitomi, whole body vibrating, hisses, “ Daddy .”
“I’m sorry, kiddo,” Raleigh says, coming down the hall and straightening his tie. “We’ll get the driver to go a little bit fast, okay? But not too fast, or else your mom will be able to tell.”
“Mom always knows everything,” Hitomi says. “You can’t ever give her a surprise party. Does that make her sad?” It’s possible that this is a rhetorical question; the second that the elevator doors open, she grabs Raleigh’s left hand in both of hers and bodily hauls him into the cab, jabbing the button for the first floor.
“You should ask her tonight,” Raleigh says, “but no, I don’t think so. The connection that your mom and I have is very special to us.”
“Ugh,” Hitomi says. The elevator opens onto the lobby and Hitomi repeats her hand-grab, yanking Raleigh along behind her like a demented, determined tugboat. “You guys are so gross sometimes.”
“Yep,” Raleigh agrees cheerfully.
He’s forgotten his sunglasses and he has to squint when Hitomi succeeds in getting him out onto the front steps of their building; the sun is shining from off over the water, out of Raleigh’s direct line of vision but still strong enough to burn off the lingering morning dew. Raleigh’s driver is leaning against the side of the car, his face turned towards the sun and his eyes closed.
“Good morning, Mr. Patterson,” Hitomi says, making a beeline for the back door of the car. Patterson, a twenty-year-old buzzcut on permanent assignment from the PPDC, jerks upright and just barely manages to get the door open before Hitomi plasters herself onto the side of it.
“G’morning Miss Becket, Mr. Becket,” Patterson says, shading his eyes and smiling down at Hitomi as she clambers into the car. “I reckon it’s going to be a gorgeous day.”
When Raleigh blinks, squeezing his eyes shut against the unrelenting glare of the sun, it is Mako he sees as the afterimage against his eyelids, gold and orange and bright, her mouth firmly pressed into the stubborn look that Raleigh had loved from the very first time she had flashed it at him from underneath an umbrella--Mako, always with Raleigh, even when they are apart.
“Yeah,” Raleigh says, getting into the car. “I reckon it is.”