It was late at night and Maggie was very upset. First her planned party had been ruined; now her private life was also in tatters. She was emotionally hurt, and there was only one way she knew how to deal with that; retreat. She opened the door to her small closet under the stairs, squeezed her tall body inside, and shut herself away from the world.
Maggie's isolation didn't last long. About thirty minutes later Anita arrived at the apartment with her partner Hisame. The youngest paper sister did not look well. She was bandaged up, almost like a mummy, but remarkably her injuries appeared to be minor flesh wounds- nothing serious. The piranhas had only nibbled skin, quickly ceasing even that after tasting the disgusting goop left from first obstacle. Anita – not to mention the game show itself – had been extremely lucky no one had died.
Nenene's apartment was unusually dark and quiet.
"Hello? Is anybody home?"
There was no reply.
"It looks like no one is here, Ani-chan," Hisami replied.
"You might be right…" Anita said doubtfully, before stopping abruptly at some noises near the stairs. Anita and Hisami looked at each other. Who else could be in there but Maggie? Opening that small door, Antia saw Maggie sitting with her head hanging low, looking very stressed and depressed.
"Ma-nee, what's wrong with you?" she asked with concern.
"Everything," she said in despair. "This party, our relationship, my gift. Everything."
Anita was sympathetic. "I know that the party hasn't gone the way you wanted it, but what does that have to do with your relationship with sensei?"
Maggie, trying to hold back simmering anger, responded with uncharacteristic sharpness. "Well, now everybody on this planet knows about me and Nenene."
Anita and Hisami were shocked. "Huh? Are you serious?"
"Very much. Nenene talked about our relationship at one of her book signings."
"That makes no sense!" Anita exclaimed. "Why would she do something like that? That's so not like her!"
"It was unintentional, but it doesn't matter, it's all on TV now. A lot of people have been calling my cell, asking me questions. I eventually had to turn my phone off."
"I'm so sorry Maggie-san," Hisami comforted her, "but you should come on out of that closet now - it's not so bad out here!"
The joke sailed straight over the head of a still brooding Maggie, who simply unfolded herself out of her bolthole and stretched. Only then did she get a good look at Anita's physical state, and her shock was obvious.
"What happened to you?" She fretted, her own worries forgotten. "You're all bandaged up."
"I was on that game show - Majide." That sentence alone made the notoriously detached Maggie cringe. Anita winced at the likely affect her next words would have. "And I fell into a pool full of piranhas.".
Maggie was stunned. "Oh my God! Are you alright? How did you manage to leave the hospital? Piranha bites?"
"No! No! It's fine! All's I got were flesh wounds. It was the rat traps that caused the most damage…" Anita trailed off.
Maggie's eyes practically bugged out. "What?" she said. "Rat traps? Piranhas? What?" The tall paper sister was truly shocked, even though her docile demeanor showed very little. Anita didn't want to talk about it anymore.
"You can see it all next week on 'Majide'. More importantly, however, I have some good news and some bad news for you."
"…what's the good news?"
"I won one million yen!" she squeaked.
Maggie smiled, although it looked a little forced. "That's great! Well then, maybe it's not too late to go get some stuff for the party."
Anita looked slightly uneasy. "Um... well… the bad news is I won't get the money until two weeks from now."
Maggie felt sad a bit at first, but that was secondary compared to her sister's condition. "Well, all that matters is that you're alive and well."
"I got some money from my allowance," Hisami pitched in, "maybe I can help you guys get some stuff for her birthday. It's not much but at least it's something."
Hisami made a good amount from her writings… but as she was underage, her parents had wisely decided to place most of it in a trust. Until the age of 18, then, the young author was forced to depend on her parents for money.
Maggie gave her a small smile. "Well, it's better than nothing. Thanks."
"No problem!" Hisami cheerfully smiled.
As they were preparing themselves to get some things for the birthday, they heard a knock coming from the front door. Anita opened it and saw Michelle with Leroy, Sachiko, Tyrone and Rei, carrying boxes of food with them.
Anita looked surprised. "Mi-nee?"
"Hey there sis! I hope the party didn't end already, 'cuz we got some food!" The blonde dizzily cheered, holding her box in front of her like a trophy. She didn't seem to notice her sister's bandages. Her irrepressible cheer brought smiles to Anita and Hisami's faces.
Maggie, however, was a bit surprised. "Where did you get all the food from?" she asked.
Leroy immediately butted in. "From Sho Nuff's Chicken n' Waffles, the best Chicken and Waffles restaurant in town!"
"It's the only Chicken and Waffles restaurant in town…!" his sighing wife remarked, rolling her eyes.
"Sachiko, do you have to ruin everything?" he whined back.
"I ruin everything?" she retorted with a bit of a sneer. Maggie chose this moment to intervene, before the argument got heated..
"Errr, who are you guys?" she said plaintively.
"Oh, I fo'got to introduce ma'self. Ma' name is Leroy Jenkins and this is ma' wife Sachiko, and these are ma' kids, Tyrone and Rei."
Sachiko and Rei bowed but Tyrone said, "Yo' wazzup!" Leroy smacked him at the back of his head.
"Ouch! Jesus!" Tyrone said, rubbing the back of this head.
"Boy that's not tha' propah way of greetin' people! That's not what I taught ya, ya knucklehead!"
All this, of course, served to draw Anita's attention to Tyrone. "Oh no, he's here." Anita grumbled. He happened to be a classmate of Anita and Hisame. Tyrone in return noticed the two girls.
"Hey… is that Anita-san?" he said. He came out of the hallway and into the room to take a closer look. "Dang! What happened to you? He said, surprised to see her all bandaged up. Sadly, he seemed to think it was funny. "You're more bandaged up than a mummy! You know Halloween has just gone past, don't you Anita-san?"
His laughter annoyed Anita very much.
"Oh shut up!" she yelled, and then punched him in the stomach. Tyrone doubled over, holding his stomach and grimacing from the pain. Anita surreptitiously shook her hand. The punch had caused more pain to her wrapped knuckles… but it still felt good to give him that one. Anita and Hisami both sniggered at the young boy.
"Just wait 'til school time..." he gritted with pain.
"See son? That's what happens when you don't show propah respect ta' people!" Leroy harangued.
Before things went further, Maggie signaled everyone to come in. Instantly they did so and laid the boxes down on the dining table. These were full, upon opening with various traditional Southern African-American cuisines. Maggie couldn't figure out what half of them were!
"Uh, what kind of food is this?" she asked, puzzled.
"It's soul food, man!"
Maggie frowned heavily. "I'm not a man, I'm a woman."
Leroy felt very embarrassed and ashamed now, "Oops... Sorry."
Maggie didn't let it bother her at all. "It's okay, I'm used to it."
Sachiko said, "It's rather unique here in Japan, but they are very common dishes in the Southern area of America."
"Oh I see." Maggie didn't have much to say in reply to that, although deep inside she was very worried that Nenene wouldn't like it. She looked at Leroy and Sachiko and was curious; clearly neither of them was from Tokyo. "So… where did you learn to cook like this?" she asked.
"Well I'm from Mississippi and ma' wife's from Okinawa. We lived in Atlanta with our kids until two years ago, when we moved here." Leroy explained.
"Oh I see." Came Maggie's response yet again.
"You don't say much, do you?" Leroy inquired.
Maggie looked embarrassed and then wordlessly shrugged. Luckily, Michelle came to her rescue. "Actually Jenkins-san, she was a lot worse." Anita and Hisami nodded their heads in agreement.
"She musta been da life of da party!" was Leroy's response.
The rather sensitive Maggie took the teasing poorly. Sachiko cut in before her husband could give any more offense. "Don't let it get to you ma'am, he LOVES to talk." she sighed.
"And what's wrong with that?"
"You talk more than most women I know!"
"And you whine more than a baby!"
As they started to argue once again, Michelle decided to nip it in the bud much earlier than before.
"STOP IT!" she yelled, loudly. "There's no need to be fighting! It's a birthday party - let's have some fun while we wait for Sensei, OK?"
The two love-birds stopped and looked sheepish.
"Uh, who exactly is Sensei?" Leroy asked timidly.
"Sumerigawa Nenene, a well-known author."
Apparently the family knew who she was. In fact they seemed mesmerized at the sound of her name. Especially Rei - the young lady had just started reading Nenene's books.
"The Sumerigawa Nenene?" she asked.
"Yep!" Michelle responded, pointing to a picture of her on the wall.
"Wow! I really like her books. In fact, I'm reading one of them right now!" Rei said.
"Well that's great - then you'll be glad to meet her when she arrives."
"Until you find out how much of a pain in the butt Sensei is…" Antia muttered, just loud enough for Michelle to hear her.
"Anita-chan!" Michelle scolded.
"What? It's true!" Anita snapped back.
While they were waiting for Nenene, Anita, Michelle, and Hisami mingled with the guests while Maggie listened to the conversations. The taller woman soaked everything in, but didn't say much, typical of her nature. There was music in the background and the party had a lively vibe to it thanks to Leroy's personality. He was telling tons of stories, to which everybody was listening with interest.
About twenty minutes later, Nenene finally turned up. After the farce that was the book signing incident, she had hid for a while at an undisclosed location, trying to arrange a way to secretly get back to her apartment. The news had caught enough attention that there was an inconvenient pack of people waiting for her outside the building. Fortunately, her plan worked; she was able to disguise herself enough to drive an ordinary-looking rental car back to her apartment without problems.
At the sound of someone trying to unlock the door using their keys, Anita hit the light switch. When Nenene finally got in and closed the door behind her, it was to a quiet darkness. She turned on the lights.
"Surprise!" everybody shouted, totally frightening Nenene for a bit. After she got over it, she unleashed her trademark anger on everybody.
"What's the big idea of scaring me like that, huh?" she spat. "You know I don't like surprises!"
The paper sisters, by now used to Nenene's random rages, took it in their stride. "But sensei, you look so cute when you're angry," Michelle teased while hugging her. Nenene was not pleased…
"Get off me woman!" The author snapped, pushing the clingy blonde off. Everybody else was silent, puzzled as to what to do next. They didn't have to worry, since the author had everything under control.
"Well? Aren't you going to sing 'Happy Birthday' to me?" she demanded.
Everybody blinked, shrugged, and started to sing. Nenene smiled, looking around expectantly. To her surprise, no birthday cake was forthcoming.
"Hey... no cake?"
Everyone was panicking by now, especially Maggie, but Anita thought fast. "Umm… I got a gift for you?"
Nenene looked at her with surprised scepticism. "Really?" The author would have thought she was the last of all people would get given a gift by the youngest paper sister.
"Yeah it's a brand new car!" Anita exclaimed, nervous.
Nenene had a beaming, incredulous smile on her face. "Really?" she exclaimed. Michelle had crashed her car a couple of months previously, leaving her without one. However something was clearly not right. "How so? You're not old enough to drive."
"Well... I actually won it at a game show, 'Majide'."
Nenene's eyes nearly popped out. "What? You went to that crazy game show? No wonder you're in bandages! I thought that someone gave you an ass-kicking you deserved."
"Ha ha, very funny…" Anita grumbled.
"So where is it?" Nenene asked excitedly.
"It's right here…" She pulled out a small Matchbox car and handed it over. Nenene looked at it. "Is... is this some kind of joke?"
"Not really. I did win one million yen, but that won't come until two weeks from now."
Nenene placed the car down on the tabletop very, very carefully. Her face was completely blank. Michelle stepped in to see if she can calm her down.
"We got you food, sensei!" she carolled, pointing to the food on the table.
Nenene walked over to took a closer look. She was baffled at what she saw. "...what is this?"
Leroy stepped in once again, "This is yo' birthday food, courtesy of Sho' Nuff's Chicken n' Waffles!"
"And who are you?" she asked with a disdainful look, not liking the way he came up to her.
"I'm Leroy Jenkins, ownah of Sho' Nuff's Chicken n' Waffles and I'm sure you'll like what we brought for yo' birthday today. We have some chicken, some waffles, some of our world famous Honey Bun biscuits, some ham hocks, some neckbones with collard greens, some red beans and rice, some mac n' cheese, some mash potato, and ma' favorite, a bucket of chit'lings."
Nenene looked at him like he was crazy, and she was probably right. "Who eats this stuff?"
"About 200 customers today! Thanks to Michelle-san of course!" he and Michelle both grinned. Sachiko had a scowling look on her face. The unique cuisine didn't please Nenene one bit.
"Seriously Leroy-san, I don't know about this cuisine, it might make me 20 pounds heavier before the night is over? I appreciate your gratitude and all, but I wouldn't mind if there was a birthday cake."
Everybody got nervous again, and Maggie hesitantly grabbed the cupcake from the kitchen. It had a single candle on top.
"Uh… H-h-here's your b-b-birthday cake," she nervously replied.
Nenene couldn't believe it. THAT was her birthday cake? First the Matchbox car, then the greasy Soul Food... and now... it was the icing on the cake, pun intended.
At first it started to look like Nenene was going to get mad… but this was the final straw. Instead of rage, there was only the deep desire to break down. "Mags, can I see you in our room?" She said, trying not to cry.
Safe from prying eyes, Nenene cried her heart out, letting out everything she had suffered during her rough day.
"This has been a cruddy day for me," she sobbed while crying on her lover's shoulders.
"I understand very well. It's been bad for me too."
She continued crying on her partner's shoulders for the next five minutes while trying not to make too much noise.
"I can't believe everything has gone wrong, and it had to be on my birthday."
"Well… we can't have all our days go right all the time." Maggie told her, speaking needed words of wisdom.
"Yeah, but not on a day like this."
"Well, you know, the day isn't over! We've still got a party going on, and we can still make the best of it- both of us."
Nenene lifted her head from Maggie's shoulders and smiled. "You're right. I guess I need to make the most of it. Thank you."
Nenene went further, giving Maggie a soft and gentle smooch - which Maggie returned. It then became a full-out kiss that lasted quite a bit. When they finished, they just smiled at each other.
"Now how do you feel?" Maggie asked.
"Much better. I'm ready for the party again."
Maggie smiled and they went back to the dining room. As soon as they got back, everybody looked at them.
"Are you okay?" Anita asked.
"I'm fine. " Nenene said. "I just needed some time with Maggie-chan. Besides that, this is a party isn't it?"
Nobody said a word until Leroy spoke up. "Yes it is."
"Well then, put on some music and let's eat!" Nenene said with sudden enthusiasm.
There were a few 'alrights' from the crowd- they were happy to see Nenene in a good mood. Leroy started to explain to Nenene what some of the foods were. About five minutes later, a doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Hisami said, looking through the peephole. She saw two female officers, one big and blond, the other skinny with glasses The blond cop was holding a box.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"It's Officer Suzushiro with Officer Kikukawa' we've got something for Sumiregawa-sensei!"
Officer Suzushiro was loud enough for Nenene, the guests, and practically everybody within a 30 foot range to hear.
"Go ahead and let them in." Nenene said to Hisami. She nodded and opened the door. With the way the officer was holding her burden, the youngster assumed that it was a cake.
"Konnichi-wa Sumiregawa-sensei, how's the party going?" said Officer Kikukawa with a bow.
"Okay for now. It stated off a little bad, but now everything is fine."
"Well that's good to hear. Our shift just ended and I was afraid that we would betoo late, but apparently we weren't."
Officer Suzushiro placed the box on the table, right next to the collard greens. There was limited space, but she was able to make some. Then she noticed the Jenkins family, especially Tyrone. "Well if it isn't Mr. Rock-star Jinkies Tyrell."
"My name is Jenkins Tyrone, and it's rap, not rock you mushmouth!"
The officer quickly got agitated and spat, "I don't know what a marshmouth is, but it doesn't sound good. You better not talk to me like that. I'm a policewoman and I'll put your butt back in the hammer."
"It's slam-" Leroy quickly covered his mouth up and apologize for his son. "Sorry about that Officer Suzushiro, he's just had a rough day."
"Well I'll make his day rougher! I'll-"
"Stop it Haruka-chan. It's not worth it. We're here to have fun."
Haruka sighed at her partner "Oh alright…"
"So how did you know about the party?" Nenene asked.
"Margie-san told us today." Officer Suzushiro said.
"Her name is Maggie-san," Nenene corrected.
"Yeah whatever… But listen, Maggie-san helped us catch a criminal earlier today."
"She sure did," Officer Kikakawa responded. " The criminal robbed an old lady and by using her paper powers, she caught him."
Nenene looked to her partner and smiled. "So you caught a criminal huh? That's my Maggie-chan. I'm proud of you." She followed it with a kiss to her lover's cheek.
Maggie was now red as a cherry. "It was nothing. Anybody in my position would have done it."
"Don't second guess yourself! What you did was amazing."
"It sure was. Anyhow, the old lady didn't have much money, so she gave her a cupcake. We knew that we had to get something better for Maggie-san…"
"So that's why we brought you your birthday suit," Officer Suzushiro said, not aware of her malapropism.
When she said that, everybody paused. They were shocked, actually and her partner wasn't pleased; she pulled out her megaphone.
"BIRTHDAY CAKE WOMAN! BIRTHDAY CAKE!" She blasted through the megaphone directly at Haruka's left ear, even though Haruka was only two feet away
"That's what I said!" she shouted back.
"No you didn't!" Everybody in the room responded. The blonde officer was about to argue back but she instead kept her mouth shut - for once.
"Anyhow, the cake is here so let's get started with the song." Nenene suggested.
"Right. Haruka-chan, do you have the candles?"
"Yes I do Yukino-chan," Haruka said as she pulled two small candles from the pocket. "We didn't know your real age, so we just got some regular ones."
"I'm now 24, but it doesn't matter. I'm just thankful that you got the cake for me." Nenene responded with a smile.
"We're happy to help out one of the best authors in Jamaica." Haruka responded
Nenene looked at her and said "Japan."
"That's what I just said!"
Nenene and everyone else just rolled their eyes, not bothering to correct her.
Yukino planted the candles in the middle of the cake and just when she was about to light it, someone knocked at the door.
"I'll get it!" Michelle responded in a singing manner. She looked through the peephole.
"It's Yomiko-sensei with Nancy-san and Junior-kun!" she cried giddily. Nenene's face drew a wide smile when she heard that her sensei had come.
"Well don't just stand there! Let them in!" she carolled back.
Michelle opened the door and let them in.
"Hi there everyone!" Yomiko said in a childish, yet polite manner. "I hope we're not too late for the birthday cake. I love birthday cakes!"
"Hi everyone." Nancy said in her usual, no-frills manner. Junior just politely bowed.
Everybody greeted the couple back, before the two caught sight of Anita bandaged up.
"Oh my Ani-chan, what happened to you?" Yomiko asked with a great deal of concern.
"Majide happened." She responded, not wanting to go any further.
"You mean you were on Majide?" Junior asked.
"Man, that must have sucked." Nancy said. "Did you at least win anything?"
"I won a million yen, but I won't get it until two weeks from now."
"Oh." Nancy said, and decided to not press any further.
"I won't be complainin' if I won a million yen! I'd be the happiest man in all of Tokyo!" Leroy said.
"Excuse me sir, but what is your name?" Yomiko asked.
"I'm Jenkins Leroy and I'm the one who brought all this food her fo' da party, except the cake. That's ma' wife Sachiko, ma' son Tyron and over there is ma' daughter Rei."
Nancy went over the table and examined the food. "Hey, this is Southern American soul food. Honey, remember having some of this when we were in Memphis?"
"Oh yes I sure do. I especially liked the Mississippi Mud Pie."
The couple had gone to Memphis to help Nancy regain part of her memory.
Leroy chuckled and told her, "Those're great, but we don't have them here today. However, we sure do have some chit'lings, some ham hocks, some collard greens, and especially some chicken and waffles, courtesy of Sho' Nuff's Chicken n' Waffles, the best chicken and waffles in all of Tokyo."
"You're beginning to sound like a used-car salesman." His wife chided. Leroy gave her a dirty look but it didn't go any further than that.
"So you're the one who was out there acting like a chicken earlier?" Nancy questioned. "We passed you by earlier."
Michelle blushed an embarrassed red while Leroy smiled, "It wuz Michelle-san- but she was able to get us a lot of customers today!" He purposely omitted the skimpy T-shirt and short-shorts part. Sachiko gave him a dirty look, while Tyrone snickered and Rei stared cluelessly.
"Oh really?" she said.
"Yeah, it was great!" Michelle responded, purposely omitting the sexual assault part.
"Well, we know it's not time yet to give you your gifts, but I think you can make an exception for this one." Nancy said as she pulled out two gift certificates.
Nenene had no clue what they were for. "What are those, Nancy-chan?"
"They are two gift certificates for three days and two nights to the Hotel Sakurai in Kusatsu Onsen. You even get your own private onsen in your room."
"It's lots of fun!" Yomiko said like a kid.
"Wow, that's really great. Thanks!" She said as she took the tickets from Nancy's hand.
"Trust me, you'll love it. We sure did." Nancy ended with a sly grin. Yomiko was now red as a cherry as well.
"Well it's now time to sing 'Happy Birthday'. Shall we?" Leroy said as he noticed how much Nenene wanted to have the cake.
"Yeah, finally!" said his son.
Yukino lit the candles on the cake and then Leroy started Happy Birthday.
"Okay then let's get it started. A one, a two. Happy Birthday to you…"
They sang both the Japanese and English version of the song, and Haruka managed to butcher both versions. After that Nenene blew the candle and everybody celebrated. For the rest of the night, nothing dramatic happened. It was nothing but fun times of eating, dancing, and partying.
The following weekend, during a somewhat chilly Friday night, Nenene was with Maggie at the hotel. They were in their outdoor private onsen, spending quality time together, enjoying the warm waters that offset the cool night.
"So how has it been so far Maggie-chan?"
Maggie was busy reading Jane's World, but she heard Nenene and put the book down on the side of the pool. "Great! The water is warm, the place is small and cozy, and I'm with the love of my life. I can't complain!" she ended with a smile. "So how are you doing?"
"Well besides my stomach still feeling a bit queasy, I'm doing fine. The massage was really great."
"That's good to hear. Maybe I should get one too. Your stomach is still not good?"
"Not totally. That's what I get for eating those chitterlings that Jenkins-san brought over," Nenene said with a disgusted look on her face. "Never again!"
Maggie chuckled. "Thank goodness I didn't eat any of them. Besides that, it was really good food. Jenkins-san sent me his recipe. I'm planning on making some after we return."
Nenene smiled back. "That's fine with me, as long as it not those chitterlings!" Both girls laughed and then Nenene got serious again. "But I do want to say something. I want to thank you and your sisters very much for going out of your way to have my birthday party. I'm really impressed at how much you girls really care about me." She was trying to say it without tearing up, but failed; one teardrop managed to travel down her cheeks.
Maggie blushed and showed a warm smile. "It really was nothing Nene. You know how much I care about you deeply."
Nenene smiled as she looked deeply into her lover's red-brown eyes. "I know, and I'm thankful for it. I'm also thankful for you being in my life."
She then inched closer to her lover and, as usual, Maggie blushed, but she was not nervous. Instead she was looking forward to it. As soon as she got close enough, she cupped her right hand on Maggie's check and lightly stroked it. Maggie responded with her own left hand stroking Nenene's cheeks. Now Nenene was blushing as she was enjoying the soothing touch of Maggie's large hands caressing her.
Finally she uttered softly, yet with a touch of seduction, "My Maggie."
And they closed in for their kiss. I think this will be a good time for us to leave them to their privacy? Well, enjoy your quality time together ladies.