Chapter 2

 

Soun put down the phone and dashed into the kitchen.
"Akane! Where are your sisters?"

"Hmmm . . .what did you say?" The youngest
Tendo was measuring various powders into a blender. The
decimated remains of half a dozen fruits and vegetables
littered the table.

"Your sisters. Where are----" The Tendo patriarch
finally noticed what his daughter was doing and turned a
sickly green color. "Akane . . .baby . . .what is that?"

"This?" she dumped a final measure of a blood-red
powder into the blender, cracked two eggs and dumped them,
shell and all into the machine, then set it to puree. "This is my
new and _improved_ mega-anti-oxidant super-protein fruity-
fizzy."Soun winced as the abused machine clattered and
bounced across the table, occasionally spitting nasty
mucilage-like bits from under the lid. Happily ignoring the
occasional splat of . . .something . . .hitting the wall Akane
counted down a full minute before she hit the off button. With
a sucking sound she pulled the lid free and poured a glass full
of moss-brown, chunky gelatinous glop. It settled sullenly
into the glass, an occasional bubble rupturing the crust as
dissolved gasses boiled to the surface. "Do you want some?"
She thrust the glass at her father, who resisted an urge to
scream like a girl and run.

"No . . .no thank you." He wiped his brow as Akane
shrugged and removed the offending glass. If he _ever_ found
the inhuman monster who had taught his daughter about
"health food," he'd skin them alive and roll them in salt.

"More for me, I guess," Akane took a healthy swig
and Soun felt his stomach turn over.

"Y . . .your sisters. Do you know where they are?"
Soun asked weakly, watching with disbelief as the level in the
glass rapidly dropped.

"Ahhh . . ." Akane wiped her mouth daintily and
swiveled to look at the wall clock. "Kasumi should be on her
way home from Yobiko and Nabiki . . ." she chewed her lip in
thought. "It's Tuesday?" Her father nodded. "Then I _think_
she's negotiating space for the pachinko machine she just
refurbished."

Soun frowned at that. "I'm not sure I like Nabiki
associating with gamblers."

"Mrs. Taniguchi's Tea Shop is hardly a gambling
den, daddy." Akane finished what remained in her glass with
a gulp, then poured what was left in the blender into her
empty glass. "Nabiki says that tea drinking widows are the
backbone of the industry. Their husbands are dead, children
are grown, so they spend a lot of time and Yen on pachinko
and slots."

"Slots?"

"Slot machines daddy." She hurried on before Soun
could start on a tirade. "Nabiki knows what she's doing. And
she makes a good living at it. In a couple of years she'll
probably own a couple of parlors outright, instead of just
leasing space for her machines." That was the wrong thing to
say, as Soun's face clouded over.

"I haven't been a very good father," Soun confessed,
shoulders slumping. "My little girl shouldn't have to work to
support us."

"Nabiki enjoys it," Akane interjected. "She likes
making money and cutting deals. I think she likes the
challenge more than she does the money."

"I should have been able to support you all . . ." Soun
disagreed. "But I . . ."

"It's hard for a small doujou like ours to compete,
with all the big-name schools." Akane defended. "They're
nothing but McDoujou's," she said dismissively, "but people
go for the flashy name and easy belts. Nobody is
dedicated to the art anymore. A lot of it's my fault, anyway.
If I'd only won the All-Japan tournament, we'd have lots of
students now." She ducked her head in shame.

"Don't you _ever_ blame yourself," Soun put his
hand under Akane's chin and tilted her head up, shocked and
saddened to see a suspicious glint in her eyes. He pretended
not to notice. "You did a magnificent job----"

"But I lost, daddy," Akane said softly. "I lost. No one
remembers the losers, only the winners." She gripped his
hand. "I promise you I'll _never_ lose again."

"Oh, baby . . ."Soun said helplessly. "That's not what
I meant----"

"I'm home!" Kasumi called from the front door.
"And I brought take-out . . ." she stuck her head into the
kitchen and paused as she felt the heavy atmosphere. "I
thought we'd have a treat tonight," she continued blithely,
deliberately ignoring the look on her fathers face, and the way
Akane was clenching her fists until the knuckles were white,
"so I got dim-sum."

"Hey, where is everyone?" Nabiki called cheerily as
she burst into the house, only a few minutes behind her big-
sister, "Something smells . . .good." She faltered momentarily
on entering the kitchen and seeing her father's troubled face.
Kasumi made a brief gesture behind her back and Nabiki
went on breezily, holding up a package wrapped in
newspaper. "Mrs. Taniguchi got in new produce today, so I
let her pay off her losses in hamachi and ebi."She grinned.
"The old lady just can't resist the sound of those little steel
balls."

"Oh, how wonderful," Kasumi took the package of
yellowtail and shrimp from Nabiki. "Well have a real feast."

"You better plan on two more," Soun said, giving
Akane's shoulder a squeeze. "My old friend Genma called,
he and his son should be here in about an hour."

"How . . .how . . .nice," Kasumi said brightly. "It will
be good for you to have your friend drop by for a few hours."

Soun opened his mouth to correct her, then stopped.
Maybe it would be better to wait and see . . .Yes. Better to
wait . . .

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