It had been a long day for Tationy. Her interview with Hiko had continued, but he had not taken it easy on her. He asked her plenty of tough questions. The one that tripped her up, however, was one that still lingered in her mind.
She had prepared for his business interrogation and thought for certain she knew how she would answer if ever asked, but then he did. Where do you see yourself in five years? Tationy didn’t know the answer because her eyes would no longer allow her to see what laid beyond the veil for her.
There was no way Hiko could not sense her frustration. Despite having tried very hard to keep it from adorning her features it had been there. He simply changed things up, by moving to his desk and giving her several things to deliver around the office. Still, that question had plagued her the remainder of the day and as they made their way through Thacian City it was still lingering in her mind.
“I thought,” Hiko began. As much as she wanted to be truly invested in whatever he said she was not a hundred percent in the moment. “That maybe we would stop to the apartment and grab up a few things. How would you like to spend the night in the new house?”
That caught her attention. Excitedly she asked, “Is that alright?”
“It is. We would be lacking in the furniture department, but if you do not mind crashing on the floor tonight we can do some shopping in the morning. So, what do you think? Want to brave it?”
“Yes, I think I would like that,” She responded enthusiastically.
It felt like they spent a lot of time in the car as they stopped at the apartment, packed up some stuff, and began to make their way toward Hiko’s new place. She loved how he often took the scenic route when heading to anyplace around Thacian City. Which allowed her to see all the sights. Still, she realized rather quickly that he had taken a route that was different from all that came before, “Is this…”
“Aslann University,” He responded.
Everywhere she looked Tationy could see academic buildings. To say she was awed by it would be an understatement as she nipped her lip, “Are you trying to tell me something?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“I just…why are we driving by it? Does Zen not want me to work for him?” There were so many troubling things that rushed through her mind as she waited for him to offer some sort of response, but initially he gave her nothing.
“On Monday, you will check in with Zen. He is aware that you will be fulfilling the position in the design department, but I would be lying if I said he was happy about it. Managing Zen will be a career in itself.” He stated before adding, “While I know that you said this is what you want, I cannot help wondering if perhaps attending a university would be a better course of action for you to take.”
“I am not sure I want to do that,” Tationy responded.
It seemed an easy question. All she had to do was tell him how she felt, but it was nothing so simple. It was not as though she could say things like, I don’t have the money or I am not smart enough. While they might be legitimate reasons, they were not why she was uncertain if it was something she wanted to do.
Part of it was fear of being on her own. All she knew at that point in her life was Hiko and she barely knew a thing about him. Tationy often found herself doubting her strength. She wanted what Tsubaki had; rushing off to live her dream, but Tationy was not even certain what her dream was. Freedom was such a novel idea. Like a child wanting to be an adult, but not understanding what that entailed.
Her lips pursed, “I just don’t want to.” It was not an answer, simply an escape from the conversation.
Hiko let the conversation drop and never once pressed the issue. She noticed he did that a lot. Though she could not entirely blame him. Still, Tationy considered that he might be able to sense the general atmosphere or maybe he simply did not care enough to probe further. Regardless of the reasons the conversation was over as he pulled the car into a small food market and exited quickly.
To say she was surprised was an understatement, even more so when he walked around the car and opened the door for her. “What are we doing here?” She asked tentatively.
“Getting some produce,” He stated as they moved into the market area, not offering any further elaboration. She pursed her lips and pouted as she stood near him while he haggled with a Zenaku whom she assumed operated the place.
“Mr. Kari, for that price it is practically stealing.”
“I can get the same thing from the Kari for cheaper and of better quality,” He stated rather directly.
“Wounding me,” The Zenaku answered and then the two laughed. Tationy was not entirely certain what was transpiring as she remained silent, “I have not seen you in a long time, Mr. Kari.”
“Been busy; have not had many opportunities to get back in the kitchen.”
Her ears perked up, “Hiko you cook?”
It was clear that she had interrupted when both men allowed their attention to fall upon her, “All Kari can cook.” It might have come off as arrogance to anyone that had stepped upon the conversation after all, it seemed ridiculous that all Kari were accomplished in the kitchen. Still, she was given no opportunity to ask further on the matter, “How has business been?”
“That damnable grocery store opened across the street. No one wants fresh these day. It is all about frozen food and discount prices. I swear I owe the Kari in Thacian City for keeping me in business.”
“Different world we live in,” Hiko stated and the man acknowledged with a nod. “How’s your wife?”
“She is doing well. Her mom is sick so she is staying with her in Progmato.”
“The separation must be very hard for the two of you.”
Sagely the man responded, “It is, but we make it work.” The man changed gears, “Forgive me, Mr. Kari. I have customers to attend to, if you need any help just give a holler.”
It was strange seeing him interact with people that might well be considered lesser due to their bloodlines or their financial status. This man was Zenaku, owned a store, and Hiko showed him more respect than she had seen him show anyone from his own family. She could not help wondering why. What made this man different?
“Hiko…” She spoke and gathered her courage to ask several questions though never made it further than saying his name.
“We can get whatever you want. Do you have any favorite fruits or vegetables?”
He distracted her thoughts with the words whatever she wanted. Was he teasing her? She could not really decide at first so she tentatively asked, “Can we get strawberries?”
Hiko smiled and offered a brief nod of his head, “Are you going to twirl now?”
Her lips pouted, “I do not twirl.”
His laugh was slightly amused as the two wandered around the market and looked at everything in sight. They grabbed several produce bags, picked out things they wanted, and it was clear that her excitement was gaining. “What are those?” She asked as she grabbed his arm.
Initially, he had not responded. She considered he had not heard her and had gone to repeat her question only to realize he was looking at her rather intently. Uncertain, she questioned, “Why are you looking at me that way? Did I do something wrong?”
His voice was surprisingly soft as he stated, “No, you did nothing. I was just thinking that if your enthusiasm keeps up we will be buying one of everything from the market.”
“Can we?” She asked.
Her question elicited a brief chuckle from Hiko, “Ahh, but we will have to get some containers for produce. It cannot just sit on the counter or in the fridge without being taken care of. It would never last that long.”
Thoughtfully she stated, “Sorry, I forgot. I … ”
It was clear that Hiko did not need her to explain. She had never been shopping before and got swept up in the excitement of all the different produce available. “How about we make a stop after we are finished here? We can get some sealed containers to process this food into salads and fruit packs for the next couple of weeks and some other necessities.”
“Does that mean that Hiko, Master Chef is going to show me around the kitchen?”
He laughed, “I would hardly call myself a master chef.”
“You can cook though.”
As they continued through the market grabbing up things they wanted Hiko explained, “A Kari child is taught from the time he or she is small to maneuver their way around a kitchen. It is important for survival and a future as a good husband or wife. Family is highly cherished among the Kari. Dinner is when a father, mother, and their children come together to provide sustenance and bond. ”
“Do you like cooking?”
“I do. The best memories I have of spending time with my father were in the kitchen.” He had fallen silent and Tationy wondering why as he paid for their produce and dropped some money in the tip jar.
She considered that his abrupt silence had something to do with his father and their tumultuous relationship. Which led to there being many questions she wanted to ask him about how it was they became so divided. Her mouth opened to speak, but she was silenced when he added, “I think it will be nice to cook dinner instead of eating out. It has been a while for me, I might be rusty. Want to be my assistant?”
Hiko was always distracting her, “Are you going to teach me everything you know?”
“I can if that is what you want. Do you think cooking is something you might enjoy learning?”
Tationy considered that she would probably be horrible at it, but she awkwardly nodded her head, “I would like to try.”
They had stopped to another store, then another, and then another just picking up necessities for the night. It would be hours later before they would actually arrive to Hiko’s new house.
Tationy had changed her clothing, helped unpack Hiko’s car, and assisted him in cleaning up the kitchen. Initially, she did not find anything strange about the experience after all this was what normal people did, but then Hiko had spoken. “Never saw anyone so happy about dusting before. Do you even realize you are humming?”
“Is that weird?”
“In princess movies, no. However, in real life, there are not a lot of people that enjoy cleaning the house. That is why they are called chores.”
She made a thoughtful sound, “I think the problem with people is that they see everything as work. If you do what you love and love what you do, there is always happiness. Besides, when your room has balance it lifts your spirits and offers you freedom. Don’t you think so?”
The silenced response from Hiko Kari pulled her attention away from the cabinets she was cleaning.
“I said something wrong again,” She pointed out though hardly expected him to answer. Just in the short time they had known each other it was clear when he did not want to discuss something he would abruptly end the conversation; Tationy could not fault him for that. She was evasive in her own right.
“No, I was thinking that is a good attitude on life. Do what you love, love what you do.” Despite his words there seemed to be something lingering as Hiko put down the knife and turned to face her, “I think maybe you should take that motto to heart and live by it. I know you are trying to show strength with all that has happened, but I have no doubt that you are holding back. Fear is just going to keep you shackled to the expectations of the Yamada. Trust me, it is something I understand all too well,” He stated as he turned back to the cutting board and began processing fruits and vegetables again.
There was a saying about fear being a powerful motivator. After all, there was no one in the world that had not heard about the fight or flight response. Still, people always seemed to forget that when struggles were real, sometimes people did neither. Instead, they would freeze like a dear staring into the oncoming headlights of a car. It was that shackling that Hiko Kari was talking about. Stress, regardless of what form it took would often force us to react, but that did not always mean we ran or fought. Sometimes, more often than not, we remained stuck in that place. Never progressing.
“Hiko Kari seems to be doing well for a man that understands this,” She stated.
“Measuring someone by their success can lead to one believing that the grass is greener. It is not. It is the same color on this side as it is on yours.”
Tationy began to bustle about the kitchen. Keeping busy would ease her mind and putting away what remained of the groceries seemed a good way to do that. Still, she knew he was not wrong. It wasn’t uncommon for a person to remain in a situation even when they had been removed from it. There was a reason that familiar things brought security even if they were smothering. It was safe and the unknown was frightening.
She was such a contradiction; afraid of everything and yet wanting to experience it all. Sometimes, despite that desire it was the fear that kept her from moving. She was acutely aware of this side of her personality, but what troubled her more was that she thought that Hiko did as well. Even though he did not come right out and say it; it felt as though his words had a bit of subtext to them.
“Do you feel afraid, Hiko?”
“Ahh,” He stated.
“Of what?” She questioned, but again that silence stirred. Tationy thought him frustrating. When she wanted to know something he avoided and when she did not care one way or the other, he would speak up. With a purse of her lips she pouted at least until she realized he was standing before her with a soda in hand.
He popped the top, handed it to her, then turned to lean against the counter. That silence remained there for a long time, “Some things,” He finally stated. As she sipped on her soda she waited for him to continue, “I am not afraid of facing down men of violence, but I am about my own insecurities; my body, my father’s expectations. We all have these sorts of stresses; it is normal, but…”
“We cannot let these things control us or we will never be motivated to grow or improve. Honestly, people that flounder in the bliss of stagnation piss me off. I am too old. I am too busy. They make excuses because they are afraid to live…”
She interrupted him, “Do I piss you off?”
“No. I don’t think you are afraid of living,” He stated as he moved toward the counter and began cleaning up. It was not surprising he changed the topic, “Any time we get fruits and vegetables, they will be processed and then sealed in containers. We can make up lunches and salads for the entire week. Certain foods will last longer, but nothing should be kept more than two weeks. If it smells or looks bad, throw it out.”
“Alright,” She stated.
Hiko had taken charge. He was that type of guy. A natural born leader that new exactly how he wanted things. She liked that about him. It went back to what she noticed early on. There was no wasted energy surrounding him. His way of doing things was always clear and concise.
“I meant what I said about dinner.” She had not realized her lips pouted slightly until he added, “It has been a lot of fun for you to eat out at restaurants and we will do that again, but I would like to make it a habit of getting back in the kitchen and I think it will be a good skill for you to learn. Do you still want to?”
When he first brought it up she was distracted by the fact that he could cook. She liked eating out. Would it taste as good if it were made by her own hands? Somehow she doubted that would be the case. Still, she liked the idea of learning something new and seeing Hiko do something he loved. Certainly she had seen him at work, but never at play. While cooking was probably one of those things people considered a chore in the little bit she had witnessed him prepping food, she could tell he enjoyed it.
“I might be bad at it,” She stated.
“We all are when we first get started. So, are you up for this sort of adventure?”
Her nose wrinkled as she considered it, “Yes,” She reaffirmed. “Do we get to wear matching aprons like the cooks at the Matriarch estate?”
Hiko snorted, “Now I think you are going a bit too far.” Despite his protesting he would quickly add with resignation, “We will see. That is a maybe and not a yes and don’t be getting all sorts of wild ideas in that romantic infused brain of yours.”
It was clear in his tone that he did not want to wear an apron, but Tationy found herself slightly giddy at the prospect. As she wistfully sighed he gave her a rather serious look while adding, “Too late apparently.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” She responded and Hiko Kari simply shook his head and went about making a late night snack for them.
The day felt as though it had moved by so quickly. There were many things that Tationy wanted to ask Hiko about, but even when they had a moment or two he dismissed her questions. She gave him the benefit of the doubt; certain that he had his reasons for everything he did, but even after spending a couple of months in his care she still barely knew a thing about him. That only made her more curious and she found as they spread out upon makeshift beds, she wanted to venture to ask him all the wandering thoughts in her mind.
Still, she bit her tongue while watching him rest his eyes. He had barely eaten any of salad that he made for them, nor finish his beer. She regarded his behavior as pensive, despite the sour expression that she was starting to find rather endearing. How long had she been watching him? She could not say, but it became clear to her that Hiko realized when he stated, “You’re staring.”
“Sorry, I…was thinking.”
“You and me, huh?”
“I do not mean it that way,” She stated quickly.
“What way?” Tationy suddenly felt herself flustered as she stammered. Initially his reaction was rather subdue until he rolled to his side, propped himself up on one arm, and looked upon her. “Ask me what you want to,” He stated clearly.
“When I have tried to ask before you have…you have been rather abrupt.”
“Sharing is not something I am very good at, but then again neither are you.”
As much as she wanted to protest and say she was an open book. Tationy really could not do that. With a sigh she allowed her gaze to pull away from him. It was more rambling than anything when she finally responded to his words, “There used to be a big tree in the backyard. A resting spot for weary travelers going from the heart of Torgahdah deep into the enemy lands of Aslann. Even two of the Prince of Aslann’s elite guards once rested there. The tree though is long gone now; when these lands fell under siege it was swept up in a blaze that consumed all of Thacian.”
Hiko was silent as she spoke, but that did not hinder her from continuing. “I know a lot of stuff that does not matter anymore. Sometimes, I know this nonsense better than my own heart’s desires. I can tell you everything about the Prince of Aslann. Right down to how he felt, but if you ask me if I want soup or salad as a side dish I get frustrated. Truth is, sometimes I do not know where the dreams end and I begin.”
“Does all that medication you take help?”
Tationy took a deep breath before she responded, “My grandmother used to tell me that I became somewhat human when I am on it, but I suppose to outsiders it will not appear that way. You have to imagine moving through the world in a daze were reality seems morphed and warped around you. People that are long dead, having conversations, experiencing life, love, and even death before your eyes. Is it real? Is it a dream? In the veil there is no way of knowing and to survive you have to sacrifice a part of you; your empathy.”
“I could not stop dreaming though. All the time even when I was awake. My grandmother said it was because of my grandfather’s blood. He was regarded as the most powerful of the Tylo, but he could control it. I can’t. Maybe because I never had anyone around to teach me how or maybe I do not know myself. I cannot say, but the medication makes me functional. However, deep down I suspect it is part of the reason I am stuck in this place with these cursed eyes.”
“Do you want to learn?”
“I don’t know. Honestly, I just don’t want to go backwards and become that person again who cannot even enjoy what life has to offer because I am stuck in potential realities uncertain which one is real.”
Hiko had a rather concerned expression upon his face as he stated abruptly, “We have a lot to do tomorrow. It is probably best if we get some rest.”
It should not come as any surprise to her that she did not get to ask the questions she wanted of him, nor that he ended the conversation suddenly. Tationy always found herself wondering what it was that went through Hiko’s mind when he learned things about her abilities, “Are you mad at me?”
There was a certain amount of silence that followed her question and it seemed clear that he was not going to answer. Even as she got up, grabbed her backpack, and proceeded to move toward the bathroom to change it appeared as though he would offer her no words. That worry that she had upset him again was quickly replaced with a heaviness offered when he finally responded, “Tationy, I am sure it seems as though that power is more a curse then a gift, but running away from it will never bring you peace.”