Akira had thought that he was better than this.
Turns out, he wasn’t.
He indeed received a call from his boss about the temporary closing of the cafe. Then the school’s financial offices had contacted about payment, and bills had rolled in from the gas and electrical companies but his roommates hadn’t shown, and neither had their monthly checks.
Looks like he would need that money after all.
So he packed up his books and what little things he needed, slung the backpack over his shoulder, and started out.
He gave the cafe one last glance as he passed by, his reflection broken by the cracks and the cardboard on the front window. He wondered if Ava would be okay. She’d probably return to school, since she was a good kid and all.
Or maybe she was doing another job with that police guy.
He had noticed, over the months, how sometimes she would leave without explanation, usually with that Officer Luona. And he never asked, because they were merely coworkers, and it was rude to pry.
So he went on.
Dema had said that they would find him… But how and where, he didn’t know. He didn’t want to know.
He hadn’t even gotten a number or anything…
So he stood at the edge of the curb, pretending to be waiting for the stoplight to turn green. But it turned green and red and green and red again, and still he did not cross.
Hello? Where are you?
Didn’t even know what district it was…
When night fell, and he had sat down on the curb, half asleep, a woman came for him.
Yes, it was that woman that he had seen that day. The one with the tattoos. The cool tattoos.
“Dema came to find you?”
“He did indeed.”
“I’m waiting to find him again.”
She held out a hand to help him up. “I’m Kendra. Welcome to the team.”
“You’ll give me the money though, right?”
“Depends on what you’re willing to do to get it.”
They began walking down the lamplit street together. “Have you been waiting long?” Kendra asked.
“Not too long,” Akira replied, lying. “Only all day.”
“Well, it’s not too far from here. You must be hungry.”
“Not sure if we have much food left, but I could probably find you something. You know how to cook?”
“Well, good. You can do it yourself. Now you understand that the police are not to be involved in these matters?”
Akira shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
They arrived at a place that was half underground. Judging by the graffiti on the walls, this area wasn’t very nice. But Akira didn’t mind. He’d been in worse places.
Inside he nearly choked on the lingering smell of smoke. It wasn’t that strong but still…
“Oh, yeah, I smoke, so I hope you don’t mind,” Kendra said, locking the door behind him.
“I - yeah - not that much - ” Akira wiped the edge of his mouth. “I’ll be fine.”
“Good. Here, the kitchen’s this way.”
Still, Kendra ended up making food for him, probably as an apology for leaving him outside for so long. Or maybe because she wanted to get on his good side. Or maybe she just didn’t trust him in the kitchen quite yet.
Soup over rice. Leftovers, reheated probably at least twice. But for being the only thing he’d eaten all day, it was good.
Kendra sat opposite him at the table, filing her nails. But really, she was watching him. He could tell because that’s what people always did: they pretended they were doing something else but in fact, all their attention was on you.
“So what is this job?” Akira asked, but Kendra quickly shushed him.
“Shh. Not now. Later. Where do you want to sleep?”
Akira glanced at the beds scattered all over the place. “Uh…somewhere that’s not being occupied by someone else.”
“Fair enough. Downstairs, then.”
“There’s another downstairs?”
“Yeah. Hope you don’t mind some extra people. If they’re trouble, well, just let me know. I have good hearing.”
Akira swallowed. “Okay…”
He finished eating, then washed up, and Kendra showed him downstairs and locked the door. “Have a good sleep.”
There were two people down there, a girl and a man. The girl sat up from her bed, rubbing her eyes. “Did they kidnap you too?”
“What? No, I came of my own will.”
“Your own will? You’d come of your own free will?”
“Hey, beats getting threatened, alright? Which bed is free?”
“That one over there.”
He went over and sat down his bag, and lay down, tired from the day’s ordeal. “So you guys…were kidnapped?”
“Quite literally, yeah.”
“That guy, why isn’t he saying anything?”
“He doesn’t like to talk. His name’s Ranen, I’m Brycen. What about you?”
“Akira.” He cast her a glance. She was maybe a year older than him. Looked enough like a student. “You go to Ukiyo Uni?”
“Well, what’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
“Reasons.” Akira was silent, listening to Ranen scribble something on a notepad.
Brycen read it and said, “What? No! He just got here! Who knows if the people upstairs are gonna let us go if we threaten him. They want all of us for our abilities, right?”
Ranen shrugged, and rolled over, the bed springs creaking beneath him.
Akira lay there awkwardly, then said, “Well, good night. Hope things look up for you soon.”
“Yeah, same here. Night.”
Once again, Akira wondered why he was here. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Surely.