Chapter 1: Night Colors and Quiet Talks
It was difficult to distinguish the color of the room from the walls in the hallway. In the dark only the faintest of pigments shone through, and, when I refused to watch the early morning digits tick by anymore, it became a ritual for me to stare at them until they did.
In these witching hours I would either scoot as far away from Eiji as I could on our shared bed, leave the room completely, or hold him as close as I could. I used to think that it was the memory that brought me to be awake that determined this, but after spending a week with the same nightmare every night, my theory was proven wrong. Tonight, remembering the unpleasant feeling of fingers trying to invade a space they didn’t belong, I chose the first option.
I knew he woke up when his breathing backwards uneven, but I didn’t let him know I was aware of that until he spoke.
“Are you okay Ash?” His voice came out soft, quiet but not so much I couldn’t hear him over the shuffling sheets.
“Hmm.” I wanted to say more, but could only manage a hum through my burning throat. There was more silence. Eiji tried to reach out to me, but retracted, letting out a long breath into his pillow when his hand hit the mattress.
“Do you want to talk about it?” This time I turned to look at him. His eyes were full of concern that he obviously wanted to hide, but couldn’t. Unlike the walls, in the dark his black hair and dark eyes didn’t blur into the surrounding darkness, but rather, became more vibrant and beautiful. If that was even possible.
With shaking fingers I moved my arm over the rift between us, and hesitantly placed it on his cheek. He leaned into the touch and hovered his own hand over mine.
“Go ahead,” I assured quickly. Eiji didn’t look convinced, and pulled the limb farther away.
“I don’t want to push you...”
“It’s okay. Please-...I need this right now.” I could feel the growing warmth in my cheeks, hoping that no blush was visible through the night. He smiled and slowly brought down his hand until I could feel his heat flush against my own.
It was small moments like these that helped to reassure me that everything was going to be alright. Whether Eiji was holding my hand, cuddling against me with his head burried in my neck, or simply within reach when I needed him, he was my safety net. There to catch me when I needed it. There to remind me that even when I fell, there was nothing to fear.
“Is there anything I can do?” He asked with familiarity. He always asked this when I had night terrors or any sort of anxiety in general. To some it might get annoying, but I found it calming. It didn’t matter to me that it sounded like a line from a shrink (which we had both started seeing), it was our way of helping one another. And I loved it.
“...” I waited a moment, “tell me about your day.” He smiled and inched closer, pausing between scoots to give me time for protest. I hesitated for a moment, before nodding him on. When he got close enough, I pulled him into my chest. His raven locks tickled my lips, making their corners curl up. He laughed shyly and nuzzled closer.
“After I left for work I picked up a tea from the café by the studio. The line was really long so I almost decided to just skip it.” As he went on I moved my hand from his cheek to his back, where I drew non existent shapes and ran gentle lines. I only caught bits and peices of his rambling, but nonetheless enjoyed every moment. “Funny isn’t it,” he laughed quietly, “you told me I’d make a good wife, but here you are playing the role set by outdated sitcoms and poorly marketed dolls.”
“I wear an apron and bake you a pie one time and now it’s all I ever hear.” I said in a exaggerated tone, tickling him slightly with one hand. We both chuckled at this, forgetting the night’s curtosy of keeping it quiet and erupting into loud gasps and fits of laughter. When we settled down I gently took his chin and and moved his head so our eyes could meet. Without my guidance he moved forward, bringing our lips close enough to brush gently, before locking.
The kiss wasn’t long, but lasted long enough for us to fall into a rhythm together. We stretched out the moment and let it carry us into a well explored and ever comforting place where only he and I mattered.
When we parted his fingers brushed through my hair gently, coming out over grown waves of gold. I smiled and leaned forward to peck his forehead, before resting my chin on his head and urging him to continue.
“I talked to Max today. On the train ride home.”
“Oh? What did the old man have to say?”
“You sure it’s okay to talk about it?” Knowing what this implied I nodded into his hair and snuggled closer. “He was just giving me an update on the recent court precedings... you might have cleaned up a lot, but there’s still a lot to be taken care of back in America.”
“So what were the updates?”
“They’re currently working on tracking down the kids that were trafficked. You’ll be happy to hear most of them are either being returned to their parents or put in foster care.” I smiled at this, despite feeling as though I didn’t deserve to be so happy about the situation. Was it right that I didn’t feel any envy? The small voice I tried every day to force away told me that I should hold some sort of resentment. Even a little. No one did any of this for me. It all seemed so easy now, so why do these kids get their happy ending? It nagged at me-
I should be envious.
It’s wrong. It’s selfish, sure. But I deserved it right?
“Ash?” Eiji’s voice snapped me out of my daze and caused me to pull back so I could see his face.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“I asked you...” he looked away with pink cheeks, telling me that he probably saw my blush earlier, and placed both his hands flat against my chest.
“Have you ever thought about having kids?”
I laughed nervously, closing my eyes so the jaded jewels wouldn't reveal my uneasiness. Eiji and I had never gone as far as to explicitly talk about our relationship, and now he was bringing up children.
"You do know, Mr. older and wiser, that the two of us don't exactly have the right biology to make babies." To this he bit the inside of his cheek and pouted, shoving me in the chest hard enough to feel but not move me. Pulling him closer to me I stroked the back of his head fondly, filtering small curls of black between my fingers. I thought that would be the end of the conversation as he settled down and relaxed under a barrage of butterfly kisses. But, after a brief silence, he hummed into my chest and crawled up the bed so he was closer to my face.
"Ashu," he prodded, accenting my name by elongating the "a" and added vowel.
"I'm serious." Sighing heavily, I finally opened my eyes and looked at him. My heart ached at the sight of him looking at me with such sincerity and want. It was clear that this was a subject very vehement to him. The slight twitch in his fingers and the way he gazed at me half-lidded, not quite meeting my eyes revealed just how much he really cared about this question.
"Where's this all coming from Love?" My thumb found its way to his jaw line, which I traced up and down as though I was longing over an old photograph.
"I was just thinking about all the kids getting helped because of you and Max and... you know it was just a spur of the moment thought. It's stupid." I wanted to make a smart remark, change the subject and brush off the tension in the room with a bad joke or dig at the boy in my arms. But I couldn't make myself do it. Sometimes it was so easy to put on a brave face and dance around uncomfortable situations, and sometimes doing so much as speaking became the most daunting task I could imagine.
I had never thought about having a family. No strong feelings pulled me in either direction, but at the same time I wasn't simply neutral. I never thought I would live to see the day when having kids was even an option for me to consider. I wouldn't even allow myself to think in what ifs, knowing my dreams would only lead me down a path to disappointment. So I had no idea what to think about the prospect. If he was bringing it up that meant Eiji had, at the very least, toyed with the idea.
"It's not stupid Eiji. You just caught me off guard is all."
"So, what do you think?" I thought for a moment, letting my fingers explore more of Eiji's face. His cheeks were soft under my callus covered skin, delicate and pure just like the
rest of him. I stopped when I knew he caught onto my avoidance.
"I think I'd be a pretty shitty dad." I thought I was smiling when saying this, but I was too focused on the features of my partner to realize the pain in my expression.
"Well," he said while taking my hand and moving it to his lips, "I think you would make a great father." He then placed a small kiss on the inside of the relaxed fist. Releasing an amused huff I let the growing lure of drowsiness take me into its grasp and bring me back into a dreamless sleep, Eiji's warmth wrapping me in a blanket of comfort and serenity.
* * *
We were drinking morning coffee together before Eiji had to go to work, our feet brushing playfully under the small kitchen table meant for two. I took mine black while he bounced back and forth. Most mornings, like this one, he'd have two spoons of sugar and have half the mug filled with milk. Other days he'd blindly squeeze honey into the steaming cup before bolting out the door. The days he went dark I knew better than to ask why.
"So what's your plan for the day dearest housewife?" He asked smugly. The foot that once gently rubbed up and down his leg, kicked him at the comment.
"Says the one who became part of the housewife cult back in New York." We both started laughing, going back and forth kicking at one another and flicking grains of rice at each other. Just as we were settling down, however, the house phone rang. Both our heads snapped towards, the two of us waiting so see who was gong to get up first. Eiji answered it, greeting the other voice in Japanese before quickly switching to English.
"Max?" His face morphed into one full of concern, as he nodded in understanding and brought the phone to his chest. "Ash... it's for you." I quickly made my way next to him, taking the phone briskly and swallowing before speaking.
"What is it?" I asked without preamble. Eiji held my arm loosely and leaned on my shoulder, both to provide comfort at what I was about to hear, and to try and listen in for himself.
"Ash, I'm so sorry to rope you into this, but did you know a girl named Leila who Dino held like you?" I stopped, trying to think back. I knew I wasn't the only kid the old bastard kept around, but as the favorite I was kept away from anyone Dino didn't want me to meet. As long as he could help it that was.
"I don't think so, why?" I heard Max's breath hitch as he struggled to continue.
"Well, it was found out recently that one of Dino's former goons killed her in attempt to keep himself out of court, considering... some of the things she had gone through
because of people like him." I nodded, signaling him on as though he could see me. "And the lawyers were hoping you'd be able to help us put him away for a long time."
"What more can I do? They already have all they need to get the guy on the murder charge am I right?" My tone was harsher than I intended it to be, but in the end I didn't care how it came out. On the other side Max whispered something to somebody before asking me if I was still there. I told him I was -impatiently- and tapped my foot rapidly.
"Actually. We wanted to know if you knew her because you could help confirm if the convict was the one who..." he gagged, disgusted by his own words, "-is responsible for her now orphaned child." My eyes widened. "Again I'm sorry Ash, but if you knew anything you could help make sure this ass hole doesn't get out on bail or through-,"
"I said I don't know." My eyes became warm, but no tears fell. Eiji tightened the grip on my arm and whispered to me, making sure not to get too too close.
"Are you okay Ashu?" I nodded and leaned over so my head rested on his own, not sure if I was reassuring him more or myself.
"Alright... Thanks anyways Ash. I'll keep you and Eiji updated."
"Bye." Filled with unpleasant feelings I slammed the phone back into the wall and pulled away from Eiji, sitting in my old chair with my face in my hands. With a silent understanding Eiji swiftly sent a message to Ibe calling in for work (something he had made a habit of doing when I had bad days) and pulled up his seat next to mine.
"It's okay... I'm here..." We spent the day in an easy silence, moving through the motions steadily and at whatever pace we needed to take them. After dinner we sat on the couch, the red numbers of the TV clock ticking through the hours faster than I would have liked them to. Eiji held me in his arms while I rested my head on his knee, listening absent mindlessly to a Japanese movie. "Hey Ash?" He asked suddenly, chasing away the buzz of white noise.
"You know that you mean the world to me right?" I didn't like where this was going so I didn't respond. "But, I can't keep missing work to help you after every... episode." My eyes fell to the floor. He was right, and though it seemed easy to tell him to just go and forget about me, that was the last thing I wanted. Without my stability I didn't trust myself. My councilor constantly criticized my codependency, but I ignored her. She could give me all the breathing exercises she wanted, but she had no right to say anything about Eiji and I.
"I don't wanna talk about this now."
"But we need to. I'm not trying to start an argument Ash, but maybe it's time to put some new coping mechanisms into practice." I rolled over so that I was looking straight up at him. "At least... it won't hurt us to try." He brushed away my bangs and smiled sweetly. "I want you to be okay."
"I'll think about it."
I didn't think this would get any views but in only 12 hours I got over 100 hits. I just want to say thank you to you all!
Chapter 3: Wooden Furnature and New Additions
As much as Ash would like to ignore the things that drag him back into the darkness... not everything is so simple.
Eiji was never good at hiding things. In New York I could easily assume where his unease came from, but now, that was the hard part. Sometimes I say nothing, while other times I examine his every move and prod for details. I hate seeing him upset, and although I try to respect his boundaries, I always make some effort to figure things out.
He was fixing dinner, swaying back and forth to a soundtrack I didn’t know, and tracing a path back and forth from the sink and stove. After a moment of watching the poor boy try to cook a d clean simultaneously, I got up and began washing dishes. He eye’d me for a moment, before smiling and going back to cooking.
As I was making progress he came over and dumped a load on top of me, smiling with pride as he walked away from the pile.
“Hey now, what’s all this?” I complained in a mock tone. Wipping my wet hands on my jeans and placing them on my hips, I watched the raven haired boy simply turn up the music. “Eiji...” His middle finger flicked in my direction. Sighing I turned walked away from the sink and turned off the pop tune spitting rapid fire Japanese.
“Ash-,” He was cut off when I swiftly pressed my lips against his. He quickly fell into the kiss and turned around fully so he could snake his arms around my neck. We moved together in a messy rhythm, somehow keeping its melody despite a constantly changing beat. My hands fell to the small of his back, and then slightly lower. He jolted at the touch and opened his eyes to look at my smirk.
“Why you acting so shy sweetie~,”
I pecked his nose one last time and moved my hands back to their original spot on his hips.
“You win this round Lynx.” He sighed, laying his head down comfortably on my chest. I ravished in his warmth and breathed in his wonderful scent before patting his head.
“Oh, more than you know.” He looked up at this and quickly noticed the phone in my hand. Frantically pulling away and checking his now empty back pockets, the raven haired boy glared at me.
“Give it back!”
I held it over his head so even with his jumping, he couldn’t reach.
“You have to work harder than that if you really want it,” I bounced backwards, laughing and spinning on my heel so I could launch myself towards the living room. Having admittedly better stamina than me, it wasn’t hard for Eiji to keep up, but he still wasn’t as fit as me so I continuously got away.
I eventually ended up standing on the couch, holding him back with my knee and free hand. He jumped at me trying to get the small device back, but to no avail. The last time he got close I hopped down over the sofa back and started at him victoriously.
“I’ll give you one last chance Ash. Give me my phone or I’m making nattō everyday for the rest of your life!”
“You wouldn’t.” I challenged playfully, only to be met with a serious stare. I hesitated then, not wanting to be poisoned, admitted defeat. “Fine,” I walked over and held it out to him, “here you go.”
He snatched it immediately and shoved it in his sweatshirt pocket on his stomach.
“We are so obviously functioning adults.” He shook his head in exasperation, falling back into the couch. Taking the seat next to him I pulled him into my side lovingly.
The phone rang.
* * *
“Max,” I heard Eiji whisper pleadingly from the other room. He had been on the phone for a little over an hour. Every time I came close I was shooed out of the room, so I was sentenced to the corner to listen in. Max’s voice was but a vibration to me, but whatever he was saying made Eiji look stressed. “I know... I know... but I haven’t got the chance to talk to Ash about it.” A long pause. “I’ll try... let me write that down,” I ducked out of the way so he didn’t see me easdroooing as he went to get a pen out of the kitchen. He held the phone with his ear and shoulder and scribbled something down before standing again. “Sounds perfect... thank you... okay... bye.” He hung up and swear we her head around, probably looking for me.
I came off my wall and into his view.
“What was that all about?” His eyes drifted to the ground, avoiding even my general direction.
“Ash... Max is coming for a visit.”
I thought for a moment. There was no reason for him to act so shy about this, so, giving the straightest face I could, I nodded him on. “And,” he paused to look at his uneaten bowl of food sitting by the stove. “He’s bringing someone with him.” I arched an eye brow and tossed my hair aside with a head roll.
“Are Jessica and Michael coming?” He shook his head and offered me his hands. I took them and looked at him with concern. He took a deep breath and met my eyes. “I offered for us to foster the little girl whose mom was killed.”
My mind spastically pieced together the clues I should have seen the last few days and flooded my mind with different scenarios. I felt betrayed and strangely excited all at once. My stomach rumbled, begging to empty in panic. I swallowed hard.
“When?” I asked in a whisper, trying to avoid deliberately reacting by asking questions. He chocked out a shakey laugh and trembled in my hold.
“Next Thursday. Five days from now.” His gaze ran away again, not returning until I moved closer. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. I just didn’t know what else to do.” He began to ramble, his English breaking as he forced the words out. “No families in the programs they had could take her, and-... she’s in-... protective agencies... They needed to relocate her... you didn’t seem excited about it but Max needed an answer so I said yes and... I’m sorry.” Tears began to prick at the corners of his eyes. Charcoal burned by the most graceful of embers into beautifully cooked stones, just short chared to create a magnificent hue wealded.
My thumbs moved to wipe away the water droplets, while I forced a smile onto my face. I didn’t know why I had to try so hard to make it show, worrying me even more about how I truly felt. Maybe my body knew what my mind didn’t, but I didn’t want to dwell too much on the idea.
“It’s okay Eiji. Take a deep breaths baby.” He sucked in another gulp of air and dropped his head onto my shoulder.
“Shh. Stop apologizing.” I moved my hands around his arms and back with uncertainty. “Why don’t we go to bed and talk about this in the morning.” Now it was my turn to take a deep, stabilizing, breath. “We can go to the mall, and... look at some baby stuff?” I suggested, watching him for a reaction. Humming in approval of the plan, he nodded slowly and pulled away, leading me wordlessly to the bedroom by the hand.
* * *
Eiji and I walked through the mall holding hands. It had been a quiet morning with minimal exchanges and light touches. The shopping center was quiet, with the most noise coming from the sound speakers in the baby furniture and supply store. Going in made everything feel real. All morning I dismissed Eiji when he tried to bring up my potential opposition to the whole foster child idea, and now we were picking out booties together.
“I think if we convert the spare room we can put this table on the far wall and the crib on the adjacent side.” He said with a small grin, rubbing his hand over the dark wood changing station.”
“Yeah?” I leaned over and followed his eyes.
“Yeah. Then maybe we could paint the walls and get curtains to match. Then,” He reached out and picked up a purple bear, “we could also line the window seat with plushies.” After he finished looking at it I took the bear from his hand and placed it into the basket slung around my arm, along with pretty much every other toy on the display. Eiji laughed at the overflowing crate and rearranged the stack so the contents would be less likely to fall.
“Hello there boys,” a women with a heavy accent chirped as she came up to us. “Is there anything I can help you with?” The two of us turned to face her, Eiji finding himself fretting her in a mumble while I gave a cheerful ‘konichiwa’ and ‘yes please’.
“Can we get a few things delivered to our apartment?” I asked, pulling my phone out of my pocket and typing the store name into the internet search bar. The woman nodded and put her arm out to make a clicking motion.
“Of course. Just put in the store code and select the item number, which I can put in for you if you know what you want?”
“Sounds great.” I gave her my phone and credit card. “Eiji dear,” I shook his arm gently to get his attention and smiled encouragingly. “Tell her what you want.”
“Are you sure Ash?”
“You get whatever you want and leave the rest to me.” He stared at he with his mouth agaped for a second before nodding and speaking to the woman in Japanese, pointing to various pieces of furniture with his free hand as he spoke. As he went on my smile twitched; disappearing against my will only to reappear in an action just as much out of my power.
While the worker processed our order, Eiji and I continued around the shop, cooing over onesies and tiny socks with steadily fading sarcasm and growing enthusiasm.
When we left to the parking garage Eiji spoke up shyly.
“Thank you Ash.” I unlocked the car and held his door for him as he got in. When I took my own seat and started the engine I moved my left hand for him to take, bringing it up to my lips to press a kiss before placing them in a knotted bunch on the center counsel.
”You’re welcome love.”
* * *
“Ash, I’m home!” Eiji called from the front room after work on Wednesday. Whipping my hands on my jeans I came out of the spare room and hugged the older boy.
“Hi Eiji.” We exchanged a long kiss then pulled back when I excitedly started pulling him down the hall. “I wanna show you something. Come on.”
“What’d You do Ash?”
He asked with mock concern as I covered his eyes and started guiding him more slowly.
“Just a few more steps, okay! Open!” I removed my hands to reveal the finished baby room. The walls were painted a pale lavender, with darker pattern curtains and cushions on the furnature. Just as Eiji had originally thought up, the window seat was piled with blue, pink, and violate stuffed animals. Somehow, however, there were still enough left over to arrange neatly in the front corner of the crib. In the center of the carpeted room was a fluffy rug, which Eiji imedietly kicked his shoes off to feel.
“Oh my God Ash it’s amazing! I can’t believe you finished it” He explored the small space before turning and running into my arms.
“What? Did you really think that I wouldn’t have a place for our baby to sleep on her first night? I’m wounded Eiji.” He smiled at my words and went back to exploring. This time, the smile stayed.
* * *
Standing in the airport waiting for Max my palms began to sweat. I didn’t understand where this nervousness was coming from. I didn’t doubt that the feeling was there, but I couldn’t tell if I was scared to meet the baby Eiji and I could be caring for for the next so many months, or if I was upset over the situation as a whole. The last few days preparing for this moment had been, in a word, fun. I slowly came to terms with things, but hadn’t completely digested my true feelings on everything. I wrapped my arm around my lover’s waist and pulled him into me.
Eiji’s and I’s phones binged at the same time, and Eiji swiftly checked the message.
“He’s on his way” I opened my mouth to speak, but closed it when I caught a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. Coming down the escalator came Max holding a blanket against his chest. Eiji waved him over and he followed the motion.
“Long time no see kids.” The man sneered gently, pulling us into loose hugs one a a time. When the greetings wee said and done Max looked down at the bundle and smiled, gently peeling back the top so a small spot of peach became visible. “I guess I should introduce you to this one.” Eiji and I leaned in close to look at the squinting face, little brown eyes staring with such intensity for such a small body. “This is Dawn.” My heart clenched,
Sorry that this feels a little rushed, I’m trying to get stuff out amidst the chos of SAT preparation. Hope you like it! The wait is over, baby shinanagins are here, and more fluff is to come!
Chapter 4: Quiet Confessions and Dawning Thoughts
“So it’ll be a year at most. We just need a safe place for her until we know no one will try anything...” Max panned, repeating things I had nervously.
He was still holding the little girl, her face hidden in the blanket she clang to with her small, yet strong, hands. Eiji twitched in little bursts as he nodded along, as though there was something he wanted to say but didn’t.
“How old did you say she was again?” I asked, my voice a little more monotone than I had meant for it to be. The older man brushed the peach fuzz on the infant’s head back and frowned.
“A few months. We’re not 100% sure but she’s definitely no more than four. She’s just small for her age.” Eiji nodded in understanding, the twitch causing his fingers to flick again.
“Can I,” He finally spoke up, “can I hold her?” Max laughed and leaned forward to carfully slip the bundle into Eiji’s arms. The Japanese boy’s smile grew as two sets of brown eyes locked on one another. He bounced Dawn in his arms lightly, whispering quiet hello’s and Hi Baby’s to the babbling lump. It was obvious how excited Eiji was about this baby thing. I wanted to be too, desperately, but I was still consumed by a numbness I didn’t really understand. “Look Ash,” he moved his position to we faced one another on the couch. Being so close I noticed for the first time the growing tuff of blonde hair on her head. I unconsciously tried to match her face to anyone I knew, but thought of no one. “Isn’t she cute?”
I nodded and scooted closer to my love. She was indeed adorable. I had never been around many babies. I knew what they looked like, I wasn’t stupid. But somehow Dawn still seemed like a foreign entity. My finger found its way to her cheek. It was warm, reminding me in that mind-fleeting movement that she was indeed human.
“I have a list here of all the things she needs.” He dug in his bag and pulled out a manila folder with several papers sticking out. “There’s medical records, copies court documents, and a schedule Jessica helped me draft for her,” he handed it to me, “hopefully it makes things easier.”
“Thank you Max,” Eiji chimed, the baby relaxing in his arms.
“Yeah thanks old man.”
The American elder smiled.
“No problem, now if it’s all the same to you all I need a nap.” He laughed, scratching the back of his head.
“Alright, I’ll help you pull out the trundle bed,”
* * *
I took the towel from around my neck and hung it over the bathroom door before climbing in bed next to Eiji. He was scrolling through pictures on his camera, moving his thumb to the options keys every so often. When the bed sank down he set the device aside and turned to wrap his arms around me.
“It’d be nice if Max could stay longer. You two haven’t been keeping in the best contact recently.”
“They’ll be other times Eiji. Plus, you gotta remember, he didn’t come here for a vacation.”
“I know, I know.” He shuffled so he was now lying on my chest comfortably.
“Plus,” I pecked his forehead, “you and I can’t be as cuddly when my pop’s around now can we?” I pulled him closer to my face so I could kiss him without moving.
“Hey now that’s rude,” he scolded, failing to sound serious under my playful tone and onslaught of kisses.” I simply hummed in response and continued, playing with his hair gently while holding his head with the same hand.
There was a long silence between us before Eiji spoke up.
“I can’t believe we’re foster parents now.” He said just above a whisper, glee filling every crack and crevice of his words. I stopped kissing and hummed again. Wrong choice. Eiji didn’t say anything else and every time I tried nothing came out.
* * *
I don’t know how many times Eiji got up to tend to the baby the first night. I was awake for two of them, but judging by the large bags under his eyes in the morning it had to have been more than that. What did he even do when he got up? The baby didn’t stop crying and sleep, so what was happening in that purple room down the hall?
It was a black coffee morning. Max had offered to make it, but Eiji declined, making it himself between long yawns and creaking stretches.
Dawn lied contently on a play mat by the island where she was clearly visible. A few times it looked like she was trying to lift her head or turn herself over, but always ended up returning to her back.
”You look tired kid, you sure you’re still up to being touristy today?” Max asked with an entertained smile, yet still sincere tone. Eiji turned around with a bottle and tilted his head ever so slightly.
”Nonsense.” He handed Max and I our cups then sat down with his own. Dawn let out a small noise and started chewing on a stuffy with her gums. I took a long sip and watched the infant. Her eyes were open more so than they were yesterday, and she seemed to have too much energy for someone that was crying all night. Eiji leaned his head on my shoulder and took a long sip from his cup before continuing. “We can hit some sights, grab dinner, then we’ll drive you back to catch your flight.”
”Sounds great!” He was about to say something else when his watch began to beep softly. It wasn’t loud, but the sound was nonetheless annoying. He clicked it off and rubbed his head. “Oh I forgot this thing was set.” He began to stand up but Eiji seemed to understand the situation and raced to his feet first.
”It’s okay Max I got it,” he picked up Dawn from the mat and came back with quick steps. “Hold her for a second Ash,” before I could protest he slipped the child into my hold and went to warm up a bottle.
She was wearing a pink onesie with dogs on it. I don’t remember buying it, but we must have because Max didn’t bring any clothes with him. On my lap she could hold herself up pretty well, only toppling back if I kept my supporting hand away too long. Her chocolate eyes weren’t as dark as Eiji’s, but they were close. It crossed my mind for a second that she actually looked like a baby we made together, but I chased the thought away. It bothered me for some reason but not because it was unpleasant. I couldn’t explain it.
”Woah slow down Ei-Chan,” Max stood up, undeterred this time. In the kitchen behind me Eiji was trying to hurriedly uncap the powdered formula container and becoming increasingly more frantic as he failed. Max ended up showing Eiji how to prepare the bottle, moving slowly so the younger man could understand. I watched over my shoulder, picking up small bits of conversation about measurements and microwave time. I should have been up there helping Eiji. Starting tomorrow we wouldn’t have Max as a nanny to tell us when and what to do. It’d be me and my love raising a baby. The thought was terrifying.
Dawn reached for my hair, grabbing at the hair around it as though if she kept doing so, the locks would fall into her hands.” Instead of giving her the chance, I slipped my finger into her hold instead. She didn’t even look at she grabbed it, and didn’t hesitate before trying to pull it into her mouth.
”Hey stop that!” I tied to pull back but she held to it. Was I really so weak I couldn’t win a tug of war contest against a baby? But just as she was about to bite me Eiji came around my shoulder with a bottle and placed it in her eager mouth. After she began drinking away Eiji stayed where he was with his arms looped around me. I smiled at the closeness and leaned my head back so there was no space left between us.
leaning up ever so slightly I placed a kiss on his lips, smiling victoriously at the blush that spread over his ears with the contact.
”Break it up you love birds we gotta leave soon if we’re still gonna catch the 11 O’Clock train!” Eiji signed and gave me another quick peck before picking up Dawn and going into our bedroom to change.
* * *
The day went by quicker than I would have liked. Max got a taste of Izumo culture, bought a few trinkets for Michael and Jessica, and left after a few hugs and a baggage check line that was outrageously long for the hour.
Neither Eiji or I were tired when we got home so we decided to watch a movie. That didn’t last very long, however, because every 10 minutes weak cries would work their way around the apartment. The first time I went with Eiji, but had no idea what I was doing and ended up being no help. The second time I offered to help him but he said not to worry. Eventually I ended up turning the tv off and reading a book while Eiji made trips from the kitchen to the baby’s room and everywhere in between.
Then, after awhile, I went to bed. It was a little past 11:30 when Eiji finally came into the room, slipping into a new T-shirt and pair of sweat pants before climbing into the space next to me. His arms looped around my middle immediately, holding loosely onto the fabric of my tank.
”I love you Ash...” the words came quiet and sudden, so much so I wasn’t sure how to respond to them. He had only said the phrase once before, when we reunited at the airport two years ago. There was an unspoken fear shared by us both at the prospect of such words. We were young and dumb, aware of our own naiveness and how much we probably needed to slow down in our relationship. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we never have it an official title. But here we were, Eiji wrapped around me in the home we shared telling me he loved me. The tears that formed in my eyes came with no sound, and I was thankful. I let them fall, unbeknownst to my love to I kissed tenderly until I was taken by the night...
Chapter 5: Messy Firsts and Countless Tries
Hey y’all! Is this showing up under the normal “Ash Lynx/ Eiji Okumura” tag? Sometimes it appears there but most of the time when I search it it’s not. Let me know what it’s doing on your side of the screen. Thanks! Have some Angst
“You sure you can’t stay?” I asked sadly as Eiji slung his camera bag across his chest. He checked his pockets for everything he needed before giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“I’m sorry baby but it’s like I said,” he placed a hand on my shoulder and moved his head from my cheek to my lips for a long second. In my loose hold Dawn squirmed around, her almost falling breaking Eiji and I out of our trance. The Japanese boy helped me readjust my hold on her before letting out a small sigh and hugging us both. “I can’t miss any more work. As much as I would love to stay here with you two.” He looked down softly at the little girl and gave her a peck on top of her soft head. She squealed a bit and attempted to reach out to him, but I held onto her.
“I know sweetie.” The cold immediately hit me like an old enemy when he let go. “Now hurry up or you’ll miss your train. Ibe-San is a patient man, but not that patient.”
He gave me a sad smile before kissing me one last time and running to the door.
“Love you Ash. Love you Dawn. I’ll be home at 18:00 (6:00 pm).”
The door shut.
“I love you too.”
* * *
I was doing the dishes while Dawn sat in her high chair with cereal in front of her. I looked back every now and again to check on her but she wasn’t doing much. Once the dishes were dry I threw down my towel and sat next to her. Resting my head on my elbow I pushed around the contents of her tray and looked strangely at the little girl.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Of course she said nothing. I picked up one of the dry, star-like, shapes on a single finger and held it to her mouth, but, she only grabbed onto it with her smaller hands, crushing it in the process. I didn’t fight it, and just moved my hand around to see how long she’d hold on. In my other hand I typed away on my phone, looking up why won’t my four month old eat? Only to find out that she wasn’t old enough to eat food that solid yet.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
In a moment I swiped my hand away and cleaned her tray off as though she was wrestling me for its contents. I poured the beige kernels into the trash and began blindly rummaging through the fridge while still scrolling the webpage.
“Let’s see, no cow’s milk, no solids, no unpurified fruits or vegetables-... so you’re telling me the only thing we have you can eat is that powdery drink and this weird brown mush?” The sound of glass was loud as I pulled out a jar slightly more green than brown and smelled the top. Through the lid I detected nothing.
I turned around and faced her.
“You want this?” She made a grumbling noise and shoved at her chair, trying to get out but failing. “Okay then.” I grabbed a spoon and sat down again. The moment the lid came off a horrible, rotten sent wafted into my face. “Oh fu-... eww. I feel bad for you. Is this really what I was fed back then?”
“Fine fine, eat.” I held the spoon out and she eagerly took the filled end into her mouth. As she swallowed she hit her hands happily against the chair and whined for more. “Do all girls dance when they get food?” I gave her another bite. This time, a considerable amount fell onto her shirt when she attempted to take it. “Aw man look at you.” I set the jar down so I could grab a napkin, but as soon as I turned around the jar was tipped over and smashed onto the ground. Somehow she had managed to grab a handful to smear on herself before getting the rest to explode on the ground.
“Shit!” I didn’t know what else to do but let my eyes shift from the floor to the now sniffling little girl. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t cry. I’m just gonna-,” I panicked, forgetting momentarily where the broom was, and began to pick up the glass shards in small clumps with fistfuls of paper towels. However the moment I reached for the next round of towels, she began to sob. “No no no no no.” I picked her up and bounced her in my arms, but she kept crying.
Surrounded by glass and holding a child I didn’t know what to do with, I began to shake.
Remember what you’re supposed to do.
I’ve been in worse situations. This was nothing. There was no gun aimed at my head and there was no old man lingering over me with horrible, dirty eyes.
Don’t let this get to you.
Tiptoeing over the glass I went into the bathroom and set Dawn down, now screaming even louder, on the sink counter. There was a medium sized plastic tub in the corner of the room, so, trying to assume it’s use, I threw it into the regular bath and turned on the warm water.
“A bath will make you stop right? Babies like baths! Right?” Looking back I began to pull off her shirt and leggings before finagling the full diaper off and tossing it in the trash. “Okay here we go.”
She continued to cry even as I placed her in the water and rubbed her face with a small cloth. “Shh, shhh. Calm down please.” But she kept screaming. Her face turned red and her gulps of air between wails became harsher and harsher.
I needed Eiji. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t meant to play ‘Dad’ and I knew it. There was still broken glass in the kitchen, her clothes sat in a dirty lump on the ground, and the she wasn’t calming down.
I couldn’t do this...
* * *
When Eiji came home the glass and sopping towels holding half of it were still on the ground. The tub was still full, cold dirty water staining the sides of the marble bath. The rest of the afternoon’s torment filled the apartment in the form of unfinished chores, stains, spills, and a crying Dawn wearing noting but a backwards diaper in her crib.
“Ash?” He called to the air. I could hear him run into Dawn’s room before opening the bedroom door. “Ash.” Around me were two empty beer cans and one half abandoned after I realized it wasn’t enough. The thing I knew Eiji was looking at without even checking was the drained scotch bottle on the night stand. I said nothing. The spot on the bed next to me sunk down, and I couldn’t help but feel spite for the silence. “You’re drunk.”
“I don’t wanna hear it Eiji.”
“What the hell were you thinking!?”
“I said I don’t want to hear it!” His glare burned into the back of my head, and the air became heavy... hard to breathe... more than that- it was suffocating.
“This isn’t over Ash.” The door hit hard before bouncing back off the hinges. It was a full two hours of clanking and mumbled Japanese before Eiji came back into the room.
He sat next to me, farther this time than before, and waited for me to speak first. I didn’t.
“Ash. What happened today?”
“I don’t know Eiji. I thought I could handle all this but apparently I can’t.” My voice was sharp and venomous, but I didn’t care. Something small and evil within the most hated part of my soul saw this as revenge for something Eiji did to me.
“What are you talking about?” He questioned with fading composure. I forced myself to sit and lay upright on the bed, but I didn’t face him yet. I couldn’t.
“Can we just go to bed Eiji.”
“No, we can’t. I leave you alone with the baby for one day and I come back to a destroyed house, miserable child, and you passed out drunk in our room!? I can’t believe you Ash. How selfish can you be!?”
“So we’re gonna talk about being selfish huh? Well what about you now Eiji.” I turned sharply to face the raven haired man, the fangs and claws of a wild animal aimed directly at him. “You went and decided to make us parents. When was I ever consulted about this huh? Tell me, maybe my memory is fading early. I heard that can happen to ‘trama’ victims.” He looked almost afraid. He wanted to speak and reach out to me, but I continued before he could. “Oh I tried to be selfless. I bought you everything for that damn nursery and built it up so you’d be happy. But wanna know something? I’m. Not. Happy.”
“Ash. I think we both need to calm down and-,”
“No, I think I have a few more things to say.” Had I been sober I would never speak to Eiji with such a voice. “I never wanted this! I never wanted to be a dad and now you expect me to play doll house with you. But I just can’t. I’m a terrible human being, and I might be selfish, but I will never match up to someone like you.”
When I finished his eyes were shut tight, as though that was the only way to keep the flood gates from unleashing. But they did, and hot tears began to roll down his beautiful face.
“You think I don’t know that!?” As he chocked the words out my breath hitched. “I know what I did was selfish but I was hoping somehow it would work out.” He sniffed harshly and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve. “I guess that was pretty stupid of me... All I wanted to do was make life better for an unfortunate little girl. And maybe, I thought our lives would also be better. But here it’s only been three days and already it’s like everything is going to shit. I know you think you can’t ever be a fatherly person. It be because of your past or some other inner demons, nothing I say will help. I could apologize, but what would that even be worth.”
I immediately regretted everything, but didn’t know what I could do. I had walked to the cliff’s edge and was falling. Maybe I had already hit the ground. But I wanted to take it all back.
“Eiji, I shouldn’t have said those things. I’m so sorry. What can I do-,” I reached my limp hand out to cup his cheek, but got it slapped away.
“Save it,” he stood up and roughly grabbed a pair of pajamas out of our shared draws before marching to the door. “Good night Ash.” With that the door slammed shut and I was left alone.
* * *
How ever many hours of crying it took for me to sober up, it took for Dawn to start crying again herself. The last two nights this ritual entailed of Eiji wiggling out of my hold to go soothe her, and me waiting for him to get back (that is to say when he did get back). But something possessed me in that moment. Something that carried me out of the lonely room and to the dark one across the hall where the weak sobs came from. Going in I shut the door behind me, hoping Eiji had not, and would not, hear her and wake.
Scooping the baby into my arms I cradled her close to my face and hummed softly.
“I think the people of this house have done enough crying for one day, wouldn’t you agree little one?” Her screams quickly turned into quiet sniffles as I pulled her closer. “See that’s it. You’re just scared and lonesome ain’t cha?” She stretched in my hold then relaxed, curling into my chest. “It’s okay. I am too. And I don’t know if I can get over it but, if you try I’ll try too.” I know she didn’t comprehend anything I was saying, but for a moment, I could have sworn I saw her smiling. “Here now,” I maneuvered her so that she was secured in one hand, before I climbed into her crib. The bed creaked under my weight, but held up nonetheless.
Slowly I brought her to the mattress so that she could lay down comfortably, but -rather than spreading out- she insisted on clinging to my shirt. The position was awkward and probably not the most comfortable for either of us, but within minutes both her and I fell asleep.
Maybe... just maybe I could keep trying. Even if I fail again and again... even if it’s hard and makes me want to quit... if it meant I would make this little girl and the love of my life happy...it was worth as many tries as it took.
When I woke up I was still in the crib, the blonde topped baby lying across my chest with her thumb in her mouth. I pat her head softly and looked at her peaceful face with warm eyes.
“Good morning precious. We gonna have a better day today?” She stirred a little and curled in on herself. “I should say I’m sorry, but I think it’d be better I just show ya I’m not that much of a bum. Hm?” Of course I got no response.
I had full intentions of lying with her until she woke up, but when the clock hit just after 7:00, I heard a knock at the front door. Carfully getting up without disturbing the still sleeping angel, I made my way out of the crib and to the entry way. I opened the door, but was shocked to see who was on the other side. Before I could even react, Eiji pushed past me and welcomed Ibe inside.
“Hi Ibe-San,” He chimed with a solemn, yet forced, smile. “Come in." I stepped back as Eiji seemed to make no room for me and watched as he began speeking to his old mentor in the language I couldn't understand.
"Babe," I quietly interjected, but got no reaction. They kept talking, Ibe ocationally turning to look at me before quickly turning away again. "Eiji I-,"
"Ash." He snapped his gaze over to me. I jumped at the sound and re-adjusted my hold on Dawn.
"Ibe-San is going to take care of Dawn while I'm at work." His voice was so cold. Even when I was being scolded he never talked to me in such a way. He had a way of making his grief still come out in that kind and understanding voice I loved so much.
"But I'm going to be here? I know I messed up yesterday but I was being stupid, and impulsive, and I shoudn't have let my anger and anxiety get the best of me."
"yes, you're right. You shouldn't have." He replied calmly, reaching out to take the stiring baby from my arms. Maybe I should have fought it, or kept up my plea, but I didn't want to dig myself a bigger hole than I already had.
Eiji looked down fondly at the little girl before kissing the crown of her head and handing her to Ibe. When he took her he looked unsure and uncomfertable. I didn't blame him. Not only was he holding the foster child he probably didn't know we had, but he had been thrown in the middle of a domestic dispute.
"Please, Eiji, listen to me!"
"Maybe later. You've already ruined Ibe-San's day off... don't ruin my work." With little more than that he walked out the door, shouting a humble thank you to Ibe before disapearing down the hall of the apartment building.
"Ibe-san," I hurried myself, talking as I back-stepped to the door, "Thank you so much for coming but I'm going to-,"
"Ah, yes... Go ahead." He waved me out so I could dash out the door. I didn't even stop to close it, I just ran. If it took it, I ws willing to run all the way to Eiji's studio. However, I caught him in the hallway and grabbed his hsoulders before he could get in the elevator.
"Ash what the hell-," I didn't hear the rest of the statment. I was too busy trying to will myself away from tears as I pulled the raven-haired boy into my chest. "Let go of-,"
"Eiji I'm so sorry!" The first tear fell. "I'm so so sorry."
"You should be! You had no excuse to shut down like that! You've been hit with thousands of situations a whole hell of a lot worse than babysitting and you've tackled them head on. So why did you act so selfish yesterday?" At this point he had pulled away from my close hold, but had yet to pry my hands from his shoulders.
"I don't know Eiji but I did it. I shut down because, for some reason, I felt like I was entitled to. I didn't want this kid in our lives, but you know what?" I paused, breathing hard. "It's not about me." Eiji's eyes widened and his slow, but obviously adjitated, breathing stopped. "Yes I've had a fucked up life, but I can't ride that train forever."
"Ash." He moved my hands so they were now held gently in his. "I admit that I myself was a little impulsive in making this decision. But you never made it easy to discuss change..." To this I sighed.
"I think we have a lot to discuss." My forehead dropped to rest on his, and Iet out a long breath. "Think you can miss one more day?"
"Well, my boss already did promise to help me out today... how about we go sit down some where and talk things out?" In a slow motion Eiji brushed my cheek and looked up expectantly. With that as my invite I placed a loving kiss on the back of his hand.
"I think that's something long overdue... May I?" with a nod I interlaced our fingers and led us to the coffee shop across the street.
We planned to only stay an hour. But one hour streched into two, and two streched into three. In the end a few things were decided upon.
For one, we needed to talk more. No more dancing around the problems we faced. Secondly, Eiji agreed to ask to me about things without shying away because I might not take it well. That one might have sounded the same as the first, but at that moment we needed assurance. And lastly, I would need to start being more perceptive to change and the needs of others.
Because once we did that, we'd be able to settle down to a romantic dinner, read bedtime stories to unknowing, yet certainly perceptive, ears, and realize how much we had. I was able to lay someone who had noting until us down to sleep, and kiss tha man I loved as we settled into our own bed.
And when she cried that night, I let Eiji sleep as I went to coddle her. I never wanted to be a Dad because I didn't think I could be one. I spent my life fighting to prove I wasnt broken, only to use my frailness as an excuse to go against just that. But I was ignoring the needs of not only those around me, but mysef too.
So I pushed on. Through the hardships and the times I wanted to quite it all, I decided to not fall apart. Holding the baby that would become my daugher and wrapped in the arms of my husband I took a deep breath and awaited the comming dawn.
Hey... it’s been awhile. So I know this might not be the best ending, but I lost motivation for this story and still wanted to give y’all the best ending I could.
Thank you for reading!