Emil picked his hair to fluffy perfection. This always ended his morning routine. After all, his family was nothing if not obsessed with looks, whether it be professionalism, aloofness, or in his case, being cute. And despite the life-shattering revelations lately, there’s one thing he didn’t forget.
He had a special day to plan.
The ship seemed a little gloomier in the past few days. Leon couldn’t be the ball of sunshine he normally was, and Emil focused all of his energy on trying not to think about why. Roxie wasn’t affected, but she’s only one person. Everyone could use a little festivity to lighten up the mood. Or maybe a lot. He needed to break out the big guns.
“Morning, Lorie. What’cha up to?” Emil gave his brother a quick greeting after leaving the bathroom.
“Have you seen Ranger Summers lately?” Not even a good morning first? Typical Lorenzo.
Emil spotted Leon in one of the camera panels, talking to Aiden. “He’s right there.”
“The other one.”
“Angelo shows up to jet training, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, but where does he go during the rest of the day?” Light from the camera feed reflected off of Lorenzo’s glasses.
“Oh. I dunno.” To be honest, Emil tried not to run into him. “Why not just ask him then?”
“I can’t allow him to think he’s outwitted me. Now where is he hiding…?” Ironic for Lorenzo to be so hung up on this. It’s okay for him to hide from everyone for days on end, but not someone else?
Before the captain could find his answer, an incoming call message filled up his camera feed, startling both him and Emil. The latter stood up straight in case it was one of their higher-ups.
An older woman’s face filled up the camera. “Oh, is this thing on?” She leaned back to reveal a mail carrier uniform. “Hi. I have a special delivery here addressed to the Celestion-5. It’s for a Leonardo Summers?”
Emil craned his head up. “Oh yeah, we have that guy!”
“Someone by that name is stationed on this ship, yes.” Lorenzo answered more formally.
“Permission to dock on your ship?” she asked.
“Permission granted.” He pressed one button to drain oxygen out of the loading dock. After that finished, he pressed another to open the door. “You may now enter.”
A tiny mail ship parked itself inside. Emil busied himself by digging under his bed until he finally found what he was looking for. His guitar and portable amp.
Lorenzo turned back to him, pressing the same two buttons in reverse. “Accompany Ranger Summers to the loading dock while I keep watch for his brother. Have him open the package there. Do not enter the upper area of the ship until he does. And make sure you wear your helmet and gloves while he does it, just in case.”
“Just in case what?” Emil stood back up.
He rolled his eyes. He remembered alright. “Any envelope might be anthrax. I thought Dad phased that one out. So wait, do you think Rookie’s mailing in poison? Rookie??”
“If the other one is up to something, it only makes sense that Ranger Summers would be involved.” Lorenzo reasoned, though Emil would hardly call it reasonable. “Or maybe he mailed it in under his name.”
Emil sighed, genuinely sad for him. “Lorie. I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Please just wear the helmet and gloves.”
“If it makes you feel better...”
If this was his reaction now, Emil couldn’t imagine what he’d do if he found out what was really going on. Maybe it would take suspicion off of Leon. But more than likely, it would lead to more suspicions down the line.
“I was gonna go downstairs anyway to set up the party. I take it you won’t be coming since you’re busy with the whole finding Angelo thing.” He picked up his guitar. “You want me to bring you back a slice of cake?”
“No thank you.” Lorenzo’s eyes fell toward the ground. They widened when he saw what Emil was holding. “You brought your guitar?? Where were you hiding that thing?”
Emil hugged his guitar, giving it a little smooch. “You know I can’t be apart from him for too long. He had to come with!”
His brother shook his head, no doubt thinking of interrupted–enhanced–study sessions in the past. “I suppose it doesn’t break any rules. Just. Just come back safe.”
“You got it!” He winked and started toward the door with his guitar.
“Remember your gloves!” Lorenzo reminded him, ruining his cool exit. After putting on the gloves, he left for real.
Emil burst into the kitchen, guitar strap slung over his shoulder to an audience of two–Roxie and Jun.
“Yooo, nice guitar.” Jun looked up from Roxie’s phone.
Roxie followed. “You brought your guitar with you!”
“You knew he had one?”
“Yeah, he played it when–”
“Oh yeah, I told her I had one a while back!” Emil aggressively winked to signal that it’d be bad news for either of them if someone happened to overhear that she and Leon were in the captains’ room.
“Ah, yes!” She returned the winking. “He told me once upon a time.”
Jun looked between them, obviously knowing that something was up. “Cool.”
“Anyway, what’re you guys doin’?” The blond started to open the fridge, but quickly realized that he forgot to take the cheesecake out from the freezer.
“Rox was just showing me pictures of her dad.”
“Her dad?” Weird. When he checked the freezer, the cheesecake was nowhere to be found.
“Yeah!” Roxie answered. “My dad has a wall of pictures of me in his office because he’s so proud of me!”
“Who wouldn’t be?” fawned Jun, somehow deadpan while doing so.
“Waaaaah~ So sweet! But I’m also really proud of my dad, so I took a bunch of pictures of him to show friends. Everyone on this ship will see him. This, I vow.”
Emil couldn’t see it, but he swore he felt eyes boring into his back. “I’ll take a look at him in a sec. I’m just looking for something.”
“If it’s that blue box, it’s in the fridge.” Jun directed.
He opened the refrigerator, and sure enough, he saw hints of a blue box hidden behind condiments and leftovers.
“I hid it in the back since it seemed important. Wouldn’t want anyone going through it.” They tilted their head toward the dorm hall. Must’ve meant Aiden.
“Thanks for lookin’ out, Jun!” Emil closed the door. “Did’ja take it out of the freezer, too?”.
“Nah. It was already there.”
“Huh.” That would be a mystery for another day. For now, he moseyed on over to Jun and Roxie, making sure not to hit either of them with his guitar.
Roxie shoved her phone in his face as soon as he got there. “This is my dad!”
On screen was a short, round little man standing with his hands clasped in a car lot.
“He’s a car salesman?” To Emil, he seemed a little meek for the job. He seemed a little meek to be related to Roxie, for that matter. But then again, he and Lorenzo share the same genes. So did Leon and–
“Yeah! Do you notice anything about his head?”
Emil plucked at a few guitar strings. “Well. He’s bald.”
“Exceptionally so!” Roxie pointed a finger. “He’s the baldest man in the whole county, and I made sure everyone knew it. I shined his head every single day. Trust is an essential part of the customer-seller relationship, and you can always trust a man with a shiny head!”
“You can always trust a man with a shiny head.” Jun repeated, as if it made perfect sense.
Emil had questions, but it’d be funnier to keep this going. “Yeah, obviously!”
“I’m glad you’re enlightened to the truth.” Roxie continued flicking through pictures. “Here’s one of him cooking on one of his days off. He makes a really good chicken pot pie! Although it probably tasted better because I was not the one tasked to cook, huhuhu! But I did help.”
“That’s more than I can do. You used to cook all the time?”
“It’s a skill I have in my tree.” Emil pretended to understand what she meant by that. “Since we were only two strong, I had command over the kitchen while he peddled wares at the car shop.”
Roxie was a latchkey kid? “I can’t imagine what it must be like being all alone. Even when Dad wasn’t home as often, Lorenzo was still around. I think I’d lose my mind.”
“Yeah, that’s what happened to me! Here’s one of him on the phone in his office.” She brushed past that comment before Emil could catch his breath. “You can see the wall he’d show his customers. Everyone knew of my achievements!”
Sure enough, behind her dad was a wall covered with pictures of Roxie. He posed with her in some of them. They looked so happy together, it brought a smile to Emil’s face.
“You two must be so close.” He found himself wondering how it would be to have a father who didn’t spend his time drowning in worst case scenarios.
“Yeah.” A weird pause followed. “Yeah.”
Roxie stood up from her seat abruptly enough to nearly knock Emil back. He held his guitar close for protection.
“Nature calls to me!” She announced. “I must be going now!”
“Oh, while you’re gone, can you get the others to come to the kitchen?”
“Will do!” She called back, power walking through the door.
Before Emil could take another breath, the intercom clicked on.
“Lieutenant. The mail.” Lorenzo’s message ended as soon as it started.
“Oh yeah!” Emil slapped his head. “I can’t leave that mail lady waitin’ much longer.”
“Mail lady?” Aiden lifted his head from the refrigerator. “And what’s this blue thing?”
“When the h–? Where did you–? Uhhhh.” Emil stepped back and forth, not sure where to go. He finally shoved his guitar into Aiden’s hands. “Hold this for me until I get back. Jun,” he turned to them, “You take the box out on my signal.” He pointed at himself winking.
“Got it.” Only Jun answered.
Emil gave them a thumbs up as he barreled through the door. He stopped at the next one, knocking as a courtesy.
“Come in.” A faint voice answered.
“Hey Leon, how ya doin’, we gotta go downstairs to pick up some mail for you.” Words fell out of his mouth before he even registered the room in front of him.
“...Mail?” Leon responded listlessly. He sat alone on his bed, staring at his phone the way he had been for the past three days, only coming out when he needed to. The window panel shut out the stars outside. It hurt to look at. But it also made Emil more determined. He would make him smile on his birthday no matter what it took.
“Yeah.” Emil slowed down, leaning against the doorway. “We should probably get going. I got sidetracked for a bit. The mail lady’s probably wondering where we are. Put your gloves on on the way out.”
Without a word, Leon stood up and followed him into the hallway. They passed through the kitchen with nothing more than a lethargic ‘Good morning’ from Leon to Jun. Finally, they made it to the stairwell.