Kitsune Nights

Chapter 3: After the Rain

From the belvedere roof, Kaze watched the girl disappear. Most fools elected to run in a downpour, as though their haste would prevent a thorough soaking. That was nonsense, of course, the quick upturned steps of a sprint merely flung mud onto the runner’s backside. He noted that, at very least, this girl was wise enough to keep her heels parallel to the earth. Haste would save nothing, but hurry would spoil what could have been salvaged.

There was no avoiding the rain, it was best to succumb to it.

Languid eyes watched over the girl, finding neither amusement nor concern in their study. Kaze dropped his head to rest on his upturned palm as he pondered why he had remained – and continued to do so. If he had withdrawn he could have, at least, avoided the damp chill he currently was enduring.

The fire, he told himself. He might return if he recalled the fire.

But, if he came, then what...?

It was not as if it was Kaze’s concern, after all. Hadn’t he been with him from the beginning? Hadn’t he acceded time and time again? The opportunity to be contrary had long past. Now the weight of it all had settled into a searing numbness.

Why should he care now?

It will be annoying if he gets suspicious, Kaze rationalized. It was true, after all. And, above all, Kaze did not want to have to deal with that. It was all too tiresome.

With that in mind, he decide he should probably return. Such obedience would dissuade further inquiry.

And yet, he couldn’t quite will himself to move.

The girl was a mere speck in the distance. He knew he should probably leave... or, at least, seek some shelter.

Not that it mattered. There was no avoiding the rain.

* * * * *

April awoke to the droning of her mother’s calls. Her hand grasped her face, covering her eyes for a moment longer. She was tired. Not the normal lethargy, mind you. She had been out far later than she ever had been. The pink glimmer of dawn had been evident when she crept into her room that night. By the light coming from the window, she’d had barely two hours of rest.

 “April! April! April!” her mother persisted, growing more frantic with each recitation. “Aaaappppprrrrriiiiiilllllll!”

“I’m coming!” She snapped, unwilling to restrain her irritation. The usual patience she maintained had slipped from her control.

She tossed her feet over the side of her bed and flung herself to the ground. Not bothering to smooth her hair or adjust her nightgown, she stomped over to her mother’s bedside. “What do you require?” she asked in an emotionless tone.

“Dear child, what is the matter? I was calling and calling and you did not come. I feared something had befallen you. What should I do if you were to become ill? What would I do if you were to disappear? Oh, do be gentle on my heart, April. You should not allow your mother to fear such things.”

April blinked, trying to regain her composure as Mother paused in her lecture. She did her best not to mentally ridicule her mother’s complaints.

Of course, the silence didn’t last long. Mother began again saying, “April, dear. What is the matter? You look haggard. Are you not well? Oh, I am a terrible mother. My child has grown unwell and I cannot even leave my bed. I shall die a disgrace to all mothers.”

April took a deep breath and forced the corners of her lips to turn up. “I’m fine, Mother. I am just tired, is all. I did not fall asleep until late last night.”

Mother sat up, propping her pillows behind her. Her eyes narrowed and she leaned towards April, “It’s that Benson’s fault.”

“What?”

“That Benson fellow has been harbouring amorous intentions for you. I know it. I can tell. He has always been unscrupulous. He said something to you, didn’t he? Don’t deny it. He wants to take you away from me. And my own daughter spent the night contemplating it. Oh, woe. Woe that I have become so hated by my daughter. Her thoughts linger on the embrace of a young man and not on her sickly mother–“

“Have you anything to say that is of import, Mother? If not, I shall prepare your breakfast and then I am returning to bed.”

Without waiting for the tirade to begin again, April exited the room.

So, in shock at the terseness of her daughter’s tone, Mother did not even protest. Her jaw hung open as she stared at the door.

April’s conscience tinged, but she just wanted to sleep.

It was true; she had lain awake thinking of an embrace, but not the one her mother had accused her of. But how could she not? Months had rolled by with her only contact being her mother’s clammy hand. How could she not be remembering the heat of being pressed into his back? Her hand traced across her arms, remembering the sensation of being held so powerfully, but delicately at the same time.

And as they had all night, the questions bubbled over. Who was Kaze? Why was he at the belvedere? What would have happened if she had been seen by that other person? Would she see Kaze again? Would he be there tonight?

There was a crack as April’s thumb pushed through the egg she had been carrying. “Yuck,” she muttered as ooze dribbled onto the floor. She sighed, knowing she had to stop such thoughts – at least until breakfast was made.

It wasn’t long before her mind was lost again. Should she go to the belvedere again? What would she do if he was there? What would he do if she came again?

The eggs were burning.

“Shimatta!” April grabbed the pan’s handle and dumped her mother’s scrambled breakfast onto a plate. Garnishing it with fruit and a slice of ham, she concluded that chore. With a glass in one hand and the breakfast platter in the other, April returned to her mother’s chamber.

“I’ll come back to check on you in a bit,” April promised as she handed her mother the dishes.

Mother didn’t respond as April stole away.

* * * * *

Taking a deep breath, Benson raised his fist to the door. His left arm was laden with a bouquet and a pouch of sweet almonds – April’s favourite.

He bit his lower lip as he steeled his courage. He would apologize for pressuring her. It was not as though he wouldn’t wait for her. It was just frustrating that there was no progress. But he had made his decision to endure, so he would apologize for being hasty. Someday, April would remember his patience and then she would...

Benson stopped himself. This wasn’t the time to think of such things. He would get hasty if he contemplated that.

For now, he would just be content with April accepting his gifts.

He rapped on the door, eager to mend the distance between them.

The door creaked open and Benson shoved the flowers forward. “For you,” he said.

A hand smacked the flowers down.

“April?” Benson gaped, his gaze following the descent of the bouquet he’d carefully picked.

“We have no need of such things,” a gravelly voice replied. Benson’s eyes snapped to the figure standing in the doorway.

“Sheila!” Benson exclaimed.

Her response was a malicious glare.

“I thought you were unable to leave your bed,” he stammered. “Are you... are you getting better?”

“I am rather worse,” Sheila remarked. “Such an excursion shall surely be my death. But a mother must do what she can to protect her daughter,”

Benson’s eyes looked past Sheila into the house, scanning for another figure. “Is April unwell?”

“Indeed,” Sheila’s voice lowered and she hissed as she spoke, “I know what it is that you have done,”

Benson’s eyes snapped to Sheila’s. “What I have done?”

“You think I do not hear your pleas to my daughter because I remain outside? But I hear everything. Stay away from my daughter. She is not yours and never will be. How dare you try to take her from her dear mother! You know how we have been abandoned by Sheila’s father. You would have her separated from her mother as well.”

Benson’s hands balled into fists at his side at Sheila’s words. “You have no right to keep her chained to you with such threats.”

Sheila did not miss a beat. “I see your mind; you wish me dead.”

“No! I wish her free!” Benson countered.

“You wish her bound to you.”

Benson turned away, unwilling to respond.

Sheila moved aside, “Do your job and then leave my house,” she instructed as she tottered over to the table.

Benson hastily did as she commanded, eager to depart. When his task was completed, Sheila handed him an envelope. “Payment for your employer,” she told him.

Benson nodded, tucking the envelope into his pocket.

“Be sure it gets to him,” Sheila threatened and then slammed the door.

* * * * *

April’s lashes fluttered, stinging in the brightness of the noon light. A frisson of guilt washed over her; she hadn’t meant to sleep for so long.

Silent feet padded through the house, bringing her to Mother’s bedside. “I’m sorry for this morning,” April apologized as she entered the room. “I was not feeling well.”

Mother nodded, a stern look on her face.

“Let me prepare your lunch,” April offered.

“You burnt my eggs,” Mother commented.

“I’m sorry,” April replied. “I won’t let it happen again.”

She stepped into the kitchen and came to an immediate halt. Groceries remained sprawled on the counter. The larger sacks were piled on the floor next to the door. April’s hand covered her mouth; she had entirely forgotten that she had spurned Benson. He must have thought she was ignoring him when no one came to open the door. Oh, if only she had not slept so long! She had meant to reconcile with him that day and now she had double the apology to make. Had he come looking for her? Did he, perchance, enter Mother’s room? She dared not ask. Mother was angry enough.

Needing to move – to set things right – April began restocking the larder. Among the delivery, she found a loaf of fresh bread, a wheel of cheese, bundles of apples, a package of oats, a bag of rice, jars of spices, and salted pork: all foods they were in need of. How long had Benson silently surveyed their welfare, ensuring they never lacked? As April sliced the bread and cheese, portioning out lunch, she felt her body tensing. She needed to make things right. Never before had she been more tempted to march out the front door. It couldn’t wait until tomorrow. She needed him to know now.

“April!” Mother wailed from the next room. “April, I need my medicine. I fear I shall perish with this pain!”

April hesitated, looking at the front door. Someday, she thought. Someday I’ll be able to leave through it.

Grabbing the bread and cheese, April made her way to her mother’s bedchamber.

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© Mara Jule