He smoothed out his face and knocked on the door.
The sun’s warmth was gentle and pleasant as it sank to the horizon.
He heard muffled footsteps hurry to the door and then a pause. ‘Is she doing something on the other side of the door?’ It swung open and he struggled not to grin like an idiot.
Ruby had changed into a little pink dress, highlighting her curves. “Hello Mamiya-san, you’re early.”
He blinked. The embarrassment prickled over his skin. “I’m sorry.”
“Takashi isn’t here yet and I’m still working in the kitchen, it just means you can sit in the lounge and wait or come and talk to me while I work,” she smiled at him, her hands fidgeting in front of her. Realising what was happening she shoved them behind her back.
“May I come in first?” ‘Be calm.’
“Oh, so sorry. Yes, please come in.” Stepping back, she waited for him to enter the house before closing the door. “Slippers are there.”
He toed off his outside shoes and slipped on the plain white slippers she pointed out. On her feet were a pair of black and white cats, their eyes rolling as she shifted her feet. He stared at them for a moment too long.
“I like cats,” she mumbled.
He raised his eyes and looked at her face. Since she’d open the door her cheeks were stained with red. ‘Am I doing that to her?’ “I like cats too.”
“Do you have one as a pet?”
“No. I don’t have the time to look after one.”
“That’s a shame. I kind of wished that the people who own this house had a cat, it gets too quiet at night when I’m here. A little furry thing to snuggle up to would be nice.”
“But when you leave, you can’t take it with you,” he rationalised. “What’s the point of getting attached to something that you will have to give up?”
She frowned. “That’s a very cynical view.”
“It’s the way it is.”
“So you like cats but don’t have the time and don’t want to get hurt if you no longer have one?” She tilted her head to the side.
His skin crawled as he felt like she was analysing his personality. “Think what you like,” he reverted back to an old line he used to use when someone questioned his choices. It felt odd to say it so many years later. “Do you need help in the kitchen?”
Like a light bulb had just gone off in her head her eyes went wide and she jumped up the step onto the floor. “I don’t need help but you can sit and talk to me.”
He followed her, shuffling his feet along. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Anything,” she threw back over her shoulder and hurried through the second door on the right.
He glanced through the first open door as he passed and saw the lounge room was neat and tidy. Through the second door he found the kitchen off to his right and the dining room with a simple table and chairs to the left, separated by a bench jutting out from the wall.
His nose was filled with an aroma that caused his mouth to water and for him to follow, turned his face to the kitchen to follow it. “It smells good.”
“Thank you, that’s the roast. When it’s done, I’ll move the food from the pan and use the drippings to make a real gravy.” She slipped on an apron and moved around the space with ease.
Crockery clattered as she pulled plates from the top cupboards.
Without thinking, Hikaru moved into the space and took the plates from her. He stifled the gasp as their fingers brushed. The contact zinged up his arm. “I’ll set the table.”
She looked like she was going to argue but something in her head stopped her and she nodded. “Thank you. I’ll get the place mats.”
“What do you do for a living?” Hikaru pushed out of his mouth as he placed plates on top of the coloured mats she was laying out. It was a strange and clinical question to be asking, sounding stiff to his own ears.
“I’m a translator.”
He blinked. “I thought you had a degree in fine arts?”
She smirked. “So you were paying attention to what I was saying.”
“A little,” he placed the last plate down and went back into the kitchen to grab glasses. Randomly, he opened cupboards until she touched his shoulder and pointed. The tiny space around them crackled with anticipation and heat. He turned and looked at her.
She looked at him.
As he breathed in, it wasn’t just the smell of roasting meat he was inhaling, it was her perfume filling his senses and making him want to… ‘want to what? Snap out of this.’
Shaking his head, he yanked open the cupboard and grabbed four glasses. “What do you translate?” He hurried out of the small space and back over to the table.
She sighed. “English into Japanese. Many authors are trying to break into the market over here, so I help them change their work over. At first I was a book cover designer and then someone was asking if I knew anyone who could do translations. And it grew from there.”
“That’s a pretty big change in plans,” he kept his eyes trained on the table as he placed out the cups.
“Yeah, but it was worth it. I have more work this way and I’m using a language that I love.”
“Well, you are very fluent.”
“Thank you. Lots of practice.”