The room was well-lit, with candles accompanying the lights embedded in the ceiling. It was colourful too, with rich red curtains covering the windows and a plush pink carpet underfoot. Up ahead, she noticed a beaded curtain that led to the kitchen. Someone had been cooking, and the aroma of stewing food made her stomach growl with anticipation. Kit made a beeline for the food.
“Mother dear!” he called sweetly. “Your favourite son is home!”
Anny heard a voice float into the living room, past the curtain of beads. “Oh, Kitsune! I didn’t think you would be home for lunch!”
A woman stepped through the curtain to greet them. She was rather well-rounded, but her face was comely, framed by auburn hair that came down in long, natural ringlets. Her appearance did not betray her age in the least.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, her gaze falling on Anny. “Who’s this?”
“I’m Anny,” she said, timidly holding out a hand.
The woman ignored her gesture and enveloped the skinny girl in her arms. “It’s not often that Kitsune brings a girl home!” Holding Anny at arm’s length, she asked, “Will you be staying for lunch?”
“Actually,” said Kit, “she’ll be staying a lot longer, if you’ll let her. She’s looking for a space and we’ve got that extra room, so I offered.”
“Really? That’s lovely!” She wrapped her arm around Anny and led her into the kitchen. “We’ve been needing to fill that room for some time.”
Anny, swept away by the mother’s spirit, struggled to find words. “W-wait! I don’t have… I mean I can’t–”
“She ain’t got no cash,” said Kit, also migrating to the kitchen.
“That’s no problem,” she assured. “It’s not the cash I need, it’s someone to fill up that room!” She waved a hand at the table, gesturing for the two to sit down. “There’s a bylaw now that every bedroom in residence has to be occupied.” Standing at the stove, she stirred a hot pot of chili. “I had less than a week to find someone to take it. Sure, there were goblins willing to pay a high price for the locale and all that, but I just don’t feel comfortable allowing a total stranger to come into my house. Not while my boys are around.”
The fact that Anny was technically a stranger didn’t seem to cross her mind.
“Smells good!” said Kit. “When can we eat?”
“Right now.” She grabbed a mop from the corner and hit the ceiling. “Okami!” she yelled. “Lunchtime!”
They sat silently, expectant faces turned to the ceiling. There was no answer. She sighed and replaced the mop in its corner.
“Why don’t you go get your brother?” she said, turning to Kit. “He probably has his head plugs on.”
“That’s headphones, Mother.” He looked to Anny. “Wanna meet my little bro?”
“Sure,” she said, genuinely curious to see the rest of the place. It was actually kind of interesting, now that she had arrived.
They stepped through another curtain to the next staircase. “Told you so,” said Kit.
“Told me what?”
“Not to judge the place before you’ve seen it. It’s pretty snazzy, no?”
Anny didn’t reply. This was getting increasingly suspicious…
On to the third floor, the pair entered a cramped hallway. There were four doors leading to separate rooms, all connected by the corridor. Kit took a left and immediately entered the one at the end. He didn’t even knock.
“Yo!” he said, striding inside. “Wassup, Kam?”
Anny followed, practicing a little more caution as she took her first steps into the room. Unlike the rest of the apartment, it was dark. Someone had taped thick, black sheets of paper over every window and shut off the overhead light. But the room wasn’t quite pitch-black. There were tiny lights of all colours, flashing sporadically from the electronics scattered across the floor. Their combined activity gave the room a radioactive kind of glow, like the dim lighting of a secret laboratory. And for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what it was.
Kit’s brother was seated at the other end of the room, bent over his desk while dissecting a circuit board. A small lamp shone over his workspace and outlined his scrawny figure, his back turned towards the intruders. But he hardly moved as they entered, distracted by the music pulsing through his headphones.
Marching across the room, Kit reached over and waved a hand in front of the boy’s face. “Hey, kiddo!” He lifted the headphones and placed them on the desk. “I’ve got somethin’ for ya.”
Kam spun his chair around to face his brother. “I thought you were gone for the night.” His eyes jumped to Anny, standing silently near the doorway. “Who’s she?”
Before she could answer, Kit replied, “That’s Anny. She’s gonna be chillin’ at our place for a while.”
“Oh.” His eyes had that drowsy look about them, and his black hair was sticking up at the back of his head as if he had just woken up. Eyes still fixed on Anny, he asked, “What did you bring me?”
A wide smile spread across Kit’s face. He swung his backpack down and unzipped the largest pocket. “Prepare to have your mind blown,” he said, pulling out a small object from the bag. “Behold! This oughta keep you busy for at least a week.”
“What is it?” asked Kam, reaching for the device.
Kit placed the console in his brother’s hand. “It’s a Supernova Galaxy Gamer! Apparently it’s a whole lot more advanced than your Game Station.”
“Whoa!” His eyes lit up instantly. “This is wizard!” He turned the Galaxy Gamer over, fingering the buttons and the shiny new screen. But he frowned as he noticed a little black box sticking out from the bottom. “What’s this thingy on the back?”
“I dunno,” said Kit.
“Looks like a shockwave graphics expansion,” said Anny.
The two boys stared at her.
She stared back. “What?”
Kit shrugged and turned back to his brother. “Alright kiddo, Mother says it’s lunch. I figure we’ve got five more minutes before she blows her top.”
“Rodger that,” said Kam, turning back to his desk and examining his newest toy. “Thanks a ton.”
Anny stepped back outside as she and Kit made their exit, heading for the opposite end of the hall to check out his own room. They stopped before the closed door and looked it over. It was charred, for some reason. The wood was covered with black spots.
But Kit didn’t offer any explanation, only a smirk. “Betcha been waiting all day to see this, eh?” He pushed the door open, but didn’t go inside. “Ladies first.”
Reluctant as she was, she stepped past him. And once again, her expectations were shattered. Kit’s bedroom was much tidier than his brother’s, boasting scant and orderly furniture instead of cluttered surfaces. She eyed with some interest the phonograph sitting suggestively in the corner, along with various posters that collectively covered an entire wall. There was a large vanity as well, almost a dresser, in addition to a clothes rack which served in the absence of a closet. The whole feeling was that of a backstage dressing room, with the bright lights on the vanity’s mirror frame and the colourful costumes hanging on the rack.
Swinging his backpack to the floor, Kit flopped down on his bed, nothing more than a vamped-up version of a chaise longue, and watched as Anny wandered over to the posters on the wall. They were all drawn up in the same style, featuring a performer in the foreground with a headline that read, The Ace of Clubs.
She stopped and pointed to one of the older ones. “That looks like the lady that almost suffocated you with her boobs.”
“Huh? Oh yeah.” He stood and joined her. “That’s Lavinia. She used to be the big shot at the club, some years back. Now she owns the place.”
“The Ace of Clubs,” she said, reading the title. Her gaze traveled to the foot of the poster as she noticed the inscription at the bottom. “The Queen of Hearts?”
“Lavinia’s old stage name,” he explained. “You’ll get to see it all, soon enough. That backstage pass I landed will come in handy.” He turned away from the wall and made to exit the room. “C’mon. I’ll show you your room and then we can eat.”
She followed without a reply. Suspicious thoughts were stewing in her mind. Back into the hallway, they entered another room. The empty room. Anny’s room.
Aside from a sizable couch, a decent dresser, and a few boxes for storage, the room was bare. But the sole window on the opposite wall was wide and tall, affording a pleasant view of the Market outside. Despite the limited space, the room was far from uncomfortable, and Anny felt fortunate for having been offered it.
Thankful as she was, she couldn’t keep quiet any longer. She closed the door as soon as Kit stepped through.