“I want you to meet them.”
Cool air flowed through the cracked windowsill into his tiny apartment. It wasn’t much, and Hazuki would’ve been lying if she said she didn’t mind the cramped bathroom and kitchen that only had enough space for one person to cook. In the back of her mind, she knew she deserved better – lavish furniture, bright lights, and a desk at which to work without first having to clear aside stacks of dirty dishes and mountains of paperwork. In actuality, she knew exactly why she didn’t run screaming from the dump at first sight.
“Hmm? Meet who?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes and put the finishing touches on her braid before lowering herself down into a lying position. Seven took up most of the space on his mattress, which she insisted was too small for both of them, but for the last four-and-a-half weeks, she found herself back here, curling up against his expansive chest. Where she had once found it off-putting, she now found it comforting.
But she wasn’t about to tell him that.
“Nona and Ennea. You do know who they are, right?”
She expected a cutting remark in response. Something along the lines of, “’Course I do. Do you know who they are?”
They tended to fall into this rhythm, and after several weeks together, Hazuki had realized just how much she liked it, liked their teasing and bickering. It excited her, kept her on her toes. She prided herself on her zingers, and the predictability of his casual retorts made her feel like she really was at home.
“You want me to meet ‘em? Really?” he asked, and when she turned to the side, she saw that he’d sat up against the headboard, gazing at her in awe.
Now that, she did not expect.
She raised herself back up into a sitting position next to him, and thanked the gods above that it was a cool night, because the fan was broken, and the repairman wasn’t coming until Wednesday.
“Don’t you think it’s kinda… soon?” he asked, still staring at her with that wide-eyed look she found endearing.
She shook her head, smoothing out the wrinkled sheets over her lap. They were definitely shopping for some new ones next weekend, come hell or high water. She had her eye on an Egyptian teal set. It was a bit pricey, but she’d just closed a deal on a commission, and would hopefully find more work soon enough.
“I’ve told them all about you, and they’ve been thinking about coming for a visit. They’ve been wanting to meet you for weeks, and I think it would be beneficial for you all to meet to discuss… whatever it is you’re all investigating.”
He finally blinked again, and let out a long sigh. “Well, that’s a lot to take in, all a sudden,” he said, raising his arm and scratching the back of his head. “I mean, meetin’ the kids, this soon, it’s, uh –”
“Are you saying that you didn’t expect us to last this long?” A spark of indignance couched in fear, flared up inside her stomach. “Trust me, I would not be making myself at home if you were thinking all this time that this was just a silly fling, and if I ever found out I was wasting my time, I would be out that second-hand door faster than you could say, ‘Freeze.’”
“No! No, babe, I didn’t mean it like that.” Her shoulders were still tense, but the tightness in her stomach slackened at hearing ‘babe.’ He hadn’t called her a ‘demon’ since they first started seeing each other, and instead used pet names with her, names that she mostly pretended didn’t phase her, but secretly made her feel young again. He lowered his arm and took her hands in his, staring into her eyes so she knew he was being serious. “I wanna meet them, I do. Not just for intel, but I wanted to make sure you’re okay with us bein’ serious. I never thought I could settle down and be with someone else again, day in and day out, but with you…” His mouth quirked up into a half smile. “I think I could live like this for a long time.”
Hazuki leaned forward. “Well, we are moving into a better neighborhood, eventually.”
Seven’s mouth split into an awkward, crooked, and gods help her, endearing grin. “If that’s what you really want, then hell, I’ll start packin’ my bags tomorrow.”
“I need to save up some more first. Then we’ll be out of here before that damned fan falls down and kills us.”
When he kissed her and murmured, “Can’t wait to meet ‘em,” all the tension in her stomach was replaced by soaring butterflies.
And she would never tell that to the Elephant Man.
“Where is he?” Ennea asked, twisting around in her seat to glance around the restaurant.
It was one of the higher-end places in the neighborhood – well, technically, the next one over. Hazuki’s daughters had chosen the place, insisting on paying, and she internally filed away their good taste, that they had certainly inherited from her. The décor was a crimson-and-black pattern, conveying an intimate atmosphere. There were square tables laid out in a cavernous room next to the front entrance, and against the windows, there were semi-circular tables, toward which Hazuki and her daughters were escourted. The lights were unfortunately a bit too dim for anyone to see her gorgeous, eye-catching outfit, but that was only a small point against the place.
She wore a seafoam mini dress, opting for long sleeves and a skirt that went down to just above her knee. There was an oval cut-out in the front, which she knew was just enough to make Seven weak at the knees, with a thin strap in the middle of the oval, resting lightly on her bare skin. If heads were turning at the glorious sight of her appeasing figure, that only made Hazuki proud, rather than insecure.
Her daughters couldn’t have been dressed any differently. Nona wore a green dress – not as bright as Hazuki’s, but she still approved of the hue – with a clean white shirt underneath, and Ennea wore a dark brown power suit with Mary Janes that were so shiny, Hazuki could see her reflection in them. More pride swelled up within her as her daughters sat with her in the semi-circular table at the Italian restaurant. She had raised two intelligent, kind-hearted, and successful daughters; their clean looks and healthy cheeks told her she had done right by them, and she had been relieved when she picked them up from the airport.
“He’s probably stuck in traffic,” Nona said, idly swirling her wine around in her glass. Clarksburg, Hazuki had noted when she ordered it, and silently approved.
“Well, I hope he gets here soon,” Ennea said with a sigh, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms. Hazuki couldn’t help but glance at her left hand, which was noticeably bare. That made neither of them married. Good. Hazuki didn’t want them to get married too young, like she was. They had their whole lives ahead of them.
Just then, Hazuki heard the front doors burst open. A large man barreled into the restaurant. He was wearing an orange jacket over a wrinkled grey shirt, that was untucked and flapping over his wrinkled dark grey pants. He slowed his stride before he collided into the hostess at the front, and after speaking with her, he turned to look toward Hazuki and her daughters.
She glared at him as he strode over to them, and she was about to give him an earful for being late, but then he leaned over the table placing one of his large hands flat on the fine dining cloth to steady himself, and took in a deep breath.
“We need t’get outta here. Don’t look like you’re scared or anythin’, just follow me and everything’s gonna be fine.”
Hazuki swept her gaze over her daughters, and it was surreal how quickly they straightened in their seats, maintaining their composure as Nona gathered her handbag and Ennea picked up her phone and wallet from the table. They smoothly slid out from around the semi-circular table with the grace of natural dancers, and Hazuki slid out from behind Nona, her heart pounding with adrenaline.”
“My car’s about four blocks from here. We need to take the back roads to get to it,” Seven said, his tone urgent and quiet as he headed out of the restaurant. Hazuki checked her daughters, their expressions nonplussed as they filed out of the restaurant after him. Hazuki tailed the three of them, and her mind was filled with so many questions, she forgot to thank the bemused hostess as the four of them exited the restaurant.
When she burst out into the cool night air, Seven was already leading the way toward a narrow alley between the restaurant and a duplex. Hazuki quickened her pace to catch up with him, her heels clicking across the cracked pavement.
Seven didn’t speak the entire time. He just kept barreling forward, down the alley, through a narrow walkway, and then down another back-alley. Hazuki wanted to ask him to stop, but something in his demeanor made her realize that this wasn’t the time for questions. Adrenaline flooded her bloodstream, the cool air whipped across her legs, but her heart was racing so quickly that she barely registered the breeze.
As they approached his car, he unlocked it with a key fob. His vehicle of choice was a creaky, two-door dark brown sedan with chipped paint and a faint smell of walnuts lingering in the upholstery, Nona and Enna nodded to each other before climbing into the backseat.
Hazuki got in the passenger’s side – she still wasn’t used to the way cars were set up in America, and she doubt she’d ever grow accustomed to it.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” she said as the mountain of a man squeezed into the driver’s seat beside her. He brightened for the first time that day, turned around, and flashed a hearty grin toward her daughters. “This is Seven. Seven, these are my two daughters,” she paused beaming with pride, “Nona and Ennea.”
They each offered him a small nod, and he said, as though they hadn’t been practically running for their lives, “Oh I’ve been hearing about you two for a while. It’s nice t’finally meet ya.”
They made it back to his place, fortunately without incident. Hazuki badgered him for answers the whole ride back, but he kept making vague responses as his eyes kept darting toward the rearview mirror. It had been obvious from the minute he burst into the restaurant that he was being followed, but by whom, she did not know.
“No one’s gonna find us here, trust me,” he assured her.
“Who? Who is trying to find us?” she blocked his way to the hall, her hands on her hips as she glared daggers at him. “You need to tell us what’s going on, right now!”
“It’s Cradle,” Nona said, and after a long moment of silence – save for the ticking clock in Seven’s bedroom – he nodded at her.
“Why would they be following you?” Hazuki cried, her hand automatically flying up to her necklace.
“’Smy fault, really,” he said with a shrug. “Been tryin’ to investigate them ever since our ‘fun’ little trip out to the desert, and, well…” He ran his hand through his hair, making it stick up a bit. Out of the corner of her eye, Hazki noticed Nona nudging Ennea, a light smile playing on her lips. “Guess I got too close for their comfort.”
“If we’d known a lot sooner, we could have helped you,” Ennea offered, though not unkindly.
“And find you a better barber,” Nona blurted out.
“Nona!” Hazuki snapped, then turned to look at Seven. “You do need a better haircut, though.”
To her surprise, he let out a quiet chuckle, shaking his head and heading to his bedroom. “Guess I better get used to this, huh?”
“Used to what? Hey, where are you going?” Hazuki immediately fell into step behind him.
He rummaged around in his tiny closet, and emerged with a suitcase that was about half the size of him.
“You’re leaving? Now?”
“Looks like we all are, babe. Seems like we’ll be sayin’ goodbye to this place sooner than you thought.” Seven lowered the suitcase down onto his rumpled blanket and turned to face her, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Bet that’s not gonna make you too upset.”
Hazuki considered this. He was right about that, but she had made plans. Then again, when she first arrived in LA to meet him ‘because he owed her coffee,’ she had planned on just visiting for a weekend. Which turned into a week, then two. And…
“Akane will settle everything, once we arrive in Nevada,” Nona said, raising her voice from the living room, although she didn’t have to raise it too much. “She’ll find you both a nice place, where you’ll be safe. You can help us – both of you.”
“Thanks, you two” he called back to her, “For everything.”
“It’s no trouble at all, Mr. Mountain.”
“Yes, can we call you Everest?” Ennea said, and even though Hazuki couldn’t see her, she knew she was hiding her smile with her hand.
Hazuki couldn’t help but beam up at Seven as he continued to hold onto her. That was a sure sign of approval from her daughters, if she ever needed one.
When she looked at Seven, she saw that he was grinning too.
“Well, come on then, let’s get packing!” she said, and lifted her heels so she could kiss him.
Then they began to say goodbye to their old lives, and step into the future together.