In Our Image – Volume 1 Chapter 4

Author’s Note: Here’s a bit of a longer chapter for you guys. Hope you enjoy!

Volume 1 – Chapter 4

There was no one around, everyone having either already gone home or to other parts of the school to take part in various activities, which allowed Cat to move even faster than usual. In no time at all, she had left me behind, speeding through the empty corridor and laughing.

I thought she might leave the building without me, but after a few minutes she reappeared, running towards rather than away from me, and for a second I feared we would have a repeat of the incident with that random kid a few minutes earlier.

Thankfully, however, we both stopped before that happened, and Cat instead moved to my side, matching my pace.

“So, looks like things didn’t work out with you and Ayame.” She cocked her head to the side and spoke with a voice laced with confidence, as if she was 100% certain what she was saying was a fact.

“What do you mean?” I asked. If she had been trying to make a point, it flew right over my head.

Cat seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t know.

“You asked Ayame to go to Italy with you, and she said no.”

“I didn’t ask Ayame to go to Italy with me, I asked her to go with us.”

“It’s alright, Asher, you don’t have to explain anything to me.” She gave me a sympathetic look. “I know how tough it can be to deal with rejection.”

“But I wasn’t even–”

“Why isn’t she coming, anyway?” Cat asked, completely cutting off my attempt to explain the situation to her. I decided to let it drop.

“She has to study.”

“She sure does study a lot, huh?”

“Well, it is important.”

“So is having fun.”

She didn’t elaborate, and we reached the main entrance before I was able to come up with a response. We opened the doors, and Cat rushed over to Miller–or, more likely, her frog–while I joined them at a more reasonable pace.

“Hey, you ready to get out of here?” Miller was leaning against the building, the frog in his hands, but Cat relieved him of the responsibility quickly. He wiped his hands on his pants, and pushed off of the wall.

“Yeah, let’s go,” I said, and Miller and I began to take our usual route to Cat’s house.

We didn’t make it five feet before she stopped us.

“Wait! You guys don’t need to walk today!”

Miller turned before I did, and called back “Why not?”

As soon as Cat said that we didn’t have to walk, I had a feeling that I knew what she meant, although I hoped I was wrong. While she was opening her mouth to respond, I was ending up prayers to every god that I knew of that she hadn’t done what I thought she did.

Of course, the prayers went unanswered.

“I called Genji!”

She produced a cell phone from her pocket, as if to prove to us that she had indeed gone through with the act, but it wasn’t necessary–I could already hear his wheels howling in the distance.

About five seconds after Cat broke the news to us, the blazing red luxury van appeared, flying through a final turn before coming to a screeching halt at the main gate. The driver’s door opened and a young man stepped out, taking puffs from the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips as he pulled on his work gloves. He caught sight of us and walked forward with a lopsided grin.

Miller and I let a=out some harmonious groans while the driver approached and waved at him happily. This was going to be painful.

Now, before he makes his appearance, I want to give you a little more information on Genji–I feel it’s only fair you have a little time to prepare.

Genji is, at his core, a parent’s worst nightmare. He has shaggy dark hair that’s probably never seen a comb in its life, a beard that doesn’t seem to be able to decide whether or not it wants to take hold on anything other than his chin, and a grin that never disappears. He smokes for no other reason than he thinks it’s cool–Cat’s told me that when it’s only the two of them he doesn’t even glance at the box–and, most annoyingly, he’s always blasting metal music on the radio.

And that’s just the surface.

When you actually get to know Genji, you find out that he loves to tease, poke, and prod. Granted, it’s all lighthearted, and he follows it up with the assertion that he’s joking, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pain to deal with. Overall, he’s an irresponsible guy with a grating personality–the kind of person you just know will drive him and his friends to a bridge for an impromptu bungee-jumping session.

So, naturally, Cat’s parents hired him as their daughter’s chauffeur.

Although, personally, I prefer to think of him as more of a licensed safety hazard than a chauffeur. There isn’t an inch of responsibility about him, and I don’t believe he deserves the title.

But, questionable parental decisions aside, Genji is a pretty annoying guy, and makes sure to take every chance he has to get under my skin. Today was no exception.

Clambering up the steps towards the gate, gloved hand sliding effortlessly along the metal railing, he made it to us and sunk into a low bow, grinning at the ground.

“Good evening, Miss Catriona. How may I be of assistance to you today?”

Give me a break. His voice was level, reverent, and full of poise–obviously, he was putting on a show to look better to Cat.

And she bought every minute of it.

“Hello, Genji. I have a very important mission for you today–we have a new passenger, and it’s up to us to make sure he has a safe ride home and doesn’t jump away.”

Genji nodded his head religiously, obviously filled with an intense determination to do his duty as a working man, go back to Cat’s place, and await his paycheck. He rose again into a standing position.

Don’t worry, Miss, we’ll get him home safe and sound. I’ve never lost a frog in my career, and I do not plan on starting today.”

“Alright, then let’s get home!”

Cat raced to the car with Genji, and Miller and I lagged behind, dreading the coming trop. As we moved, Miller leaned in, whispering as quietly as he could.

“i know she’s talking about not letting the frog jump and everything, but if it does, shouldn’t she take that as an indicator that it doesn’t wan–”

He was never able to finish–Cat, despite being far ahead of us, was somehow able to catch Miller’s secret blasphemy, and quickly turned to face him with cold eyes. Unfortunately for Miller, he was still turned towards me, and was completely oblivious to the fiery figure approaching as he talked.

That is, he was oblivious up until the point that she appeared in front of him, hand outstretched, the fingernail of her pointer finger making contact with her thumb. He had hardly had time to notice her presence before she let her finger fly, flicking him square on the forehead.

Miller’s eyes grew wide, and he fell back onto the ground with a soft thud and flailing legs. He lay on his back, eyes closed, while Cat pushed the frog to her face.

“it’s okay, Frogger. He’s just a cynic–I know that you won’t run away.”

I stared disbelievingly at Cat for a moment, marvelling at the fact that she had sent two guys to the brink of unconsciousness in the span of twenty minutes, but I pulled myself away and focused my attention on Miller–he needed it more.  Kneeling at his side, I looked at his chest, waiting for the familiar rise and fall of breath, but there was none.

“Cat….I think you killed him.”

She blinked, and stared down at the limp form of our friend, seeming almost as if she was about to apologize. Of course, that’s not what she did, choosing instead to deliver a swift kick to his side, sending, sending him reeling and sputtering, breath exploding out of his mouth. Cat mouth spread in a relieved smile.

“See, he’s fine.”

I wasn’t convinced, and apparently neither was Miller, who had begun to cough and stir on the ground. His eyes were closed, and he let out a low groan.

“Not cool…..”

“You alright?” I asked, but I’m not sure if he heard me. While I was shaking him, trying to pull him from the void, I felt a pressure on my head, and looked up to see Genji grinning down at me while using my head as an armrest.

“Don’t worry, old man. Shorty’ll be fine.”

Disregarding his shameless use of both his nickname for me and Miller and the same sentence, I continued to check on Cat’s victim, whose eyes were finally open. Genji’s grin grew wider as I helped him to his feet.

“So, Shorty, how are you feeling?”

“Shut it, Mazawa,” Miller grumbled. Surprisingly, Genji actually did–he hates his family name, and whenever Miller or I use it he tends to quiet down for a while.

In this case, he was silent only for a few seconds before he opened his mouth and aimed, ready to fire a response, but my luck finally prevailed and Cat stopped him, saying that she and Frogger were ready to go.

Bound by both loyalty and monetary obligation, Genji obliged, leading Cat to the van.

I helped Miller up, and the two of us moved forward at a crawl, eventually making it to the van and sitting down. Cat, already buckled in the passenger seat, turned around quickly.

“You boys ready?”

We simply nodded and, after getting the go ahead from Cat, Genji turned the key in the ignition, beginning our ride to Cat’s house.

It was rough, a fact which wasn’t helped by Genji’s speed and the volume of his music, but we made it, sliding through the open gates and onto the certifiably massive grounds of Cat’s house. Unsurprisingly, the close proximity to Cat’s parents did wonders for Genji’s driving, and he crawled masterfully through the intricate maze of pavement and shrubbery and towards the building.

Cat’s home has always amazed me, on many levels. For one, the thing is huge–it could easily fit twenty copies of my house inside of the building alone–and is a complete architectural marvel, drawing on styles from Gothic to post-modern and back again in a surprisingly intriguing mosaic. Along with the unique style of the building, there’s also a gigantic amount of people who work at the house, tending the grounds, making food, and completing a multitude of other tasks.

And that’s just on the surface.

Simply put, the place is outrageous and over the top, but what else would you expect from Cat’s house?

Needless to say, as we approached the mansion, Miller and I kept our eyes glued above the hedgerow at all times, taking in both the natural and fiscal beauty of the place.

Cat, on the other hand, was fully focused on the ground. A blaring smile lighting up her face, she stuck her hand out of the window and waved at the figures idling by outside of the vehicle. Without exception, each one waved back, and Cat continued to interact with them as we drove, calling out names and even asking questions about their personal lives.

I don’t know how she does it.

Genji soon pulled up to the front porch of the house (carved from pure marble), and I pushed open the door of the van in relief.

“See ya, Shorty. Old man.” That was all Miller and I got from Genji in terms of a goodbye, while Cat got a tip of his hat, a winning smile, and a “Good day, Miss.”

He then rolled off, and Cat waved until the van could no longer be seen among the tall plants and trickling fountains that littered the grounds. Finally, she turned back to us.

“Come on, let’s get inside,” she said, and led us through tall oak doors double my height. As soon as Cat’s foot hit the hard floor, three servants, ranging from about twenty years old to at least sixty, flanked us, emerging from a room that I always forget exists.

Out of the three identically-dressed workers, only the young guy paid any attention to Miller and me, having not been around long enough to realize the value of pandering to Cat. With a bright smile, he approached us.

“Hello, you two! It’s good to see you again, would you like me to hold your bags?”

Amidst the onslaught of words shooting out of his mouth like his tongue were the trigger to a fully-automatic rifle, I tried to collect my thoughts and form a cohesive response, which turned out to be harder than I thought.

Generally, I’m pretty good at turning down requests, but this wasn’t exactly an average case. The guy’s bombardment of greetings and questions right from the start had caught me off guard, put me at a disadvantage right from the get-go. Because of this, as he took my bag from my hands, smiling the entire time, I was still stuck on trying to remember his name (Anderson? Richards?), and remained oblivious to his actions.

They were already gone, rushing off to the guestroom with both Miller and my belongings, before I came to again. I glanced around with a dazed expression, mouth slightly open.

“It was Lyell….” I muttered finally, watching his finely polished pair of shoes turn around the corner.

“Huh?” Miller turned to me slowly. His eyebrows were raised in such a questioning manner that I was tempted to explain myself, but even I could tell that would be pointless.

Instead, I replied “It’s nothing. How about we go to our room?”

Miller responded with a shrug and began to follow me past Cat, who was explaining in the most animated way possible the preparations that would need to be made to allow her frog to live there.  

I only caught a snippet of the description, but it was enough to know that the frog would never be wanting for comfort, and was probably going to have more money spent on it than a professional sports team.

Oh, well, good for it, I guess.

Even so, I didn’t want to end up standing there for an hour listening to frog-talk, and got Cat’s attention with a tap on the shoulder.

“We’re going to go to our room now,” I said, motioning to Miller. “We’ll see you in a little bit.”

We began to walk away together, just wanting to get to our room and, in my case, take a break from the seemingly endless activity of the day but, of course, Cat had other things in mind.

“Wait, you can’t leave yet!” she called, causing Miller and I to, against our better judgement, turn around.

“Why not?” Miller asked.

“My parents are here. They love it when you two visit, and it’ll just break their hearts if you don’t come and say hello.”

Neither of us said anything, but we stayed behind, silently agreeing to see them. Surprisingly, the conversation was over within a minute, and Cat moved next to us.

“Okay, you guys wanna go see mom and dad now?”

“Could you not talk about them like they’re all of our parents?” Miller asked. “It’s awkward.”

Cat rolled her eyes. “Fine. Do you want to go see my parents now, Miller?”

He simply shrugged in response, which only exasperated Cat further. As she took a step forward, planning I don’t know what, I decided it was time to intervene.

“How about we stop talking about it and just do it?” I suggested, catching both of their attention just long enough to prevent something bad from happening. “I’d like to talk to your dad, anyway.”

“Oh, that’s right, he just got back from his conference, didn’t he?” Miller blinked, turning towards Cat. “How was it?”

“Good…probably,” Cat said, looking at the ceiling as if the question hadn’t occurred to her. “i don’t know for sure–mom and dad’s work isn’t really that interesting to me.”

“Ah, I see.”

Miller let it drop, but I could sense a tiny amount of disappointment in his voice. Although I was a little disappointed, too, I had kind of expected the response.

Despite her mother and father being a world-renowned botanist and marine biologist, respectively, Cat’s never shown even an inkling of interest in the subjects. In fact, I would say it’s the exact opposite–she slacks off in science more than any other subject, preferring to sleep or doodle in her notebook than to listen to the teacher.

Honestly, it makes you wonder about the credibility of the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

As I thought, Cat moved forward, windmilling her arms and blasting Miller and me with a gust of electrified air. She pointed to a door at the side of the hall.

“Enough dawdling. Let’s go and see them.”

Miller and I didn’t argue, and followed Cat at a leisurely pace into a wide corridor whose walls were lined intermittently with ancient Greek sculptures and priceless paintings created in Victorian England. It took a few turns, and a couple of detours (Cat just loves to show off her whale-shark aquarium), but we eventually made it to the set of seven-foot tall hickory doors inscribed with phrases in various languages I didn’t recognized, which marked the entrance to what we simply referred to as “their room.”

“They should be in here,” Cat assured us, sounding about ten percent confident that it was true. “I’ll open the door.”

Letting her go right ahead, Miller and I watched as she lay her palm flat on the textured surface of the wood. With a single, nearly effortless push, she forced the heavy slab of wood to swing inwards, silent on its well-oiled hinges.

She turned to look at us with a winning smile. “Well?”

We all went in, Cat taking the lead.

Upon entering, we found ourselves in a brightly-lit room with light-blue walls that could behind the rows of plants, aquatic-life specimens, and books littered around its perimeter.

At the center of the room were two identical leather recliners facing an empty fireplace, two heads barely visible above their tops. Cat began walking towards them, but Miller and I hung back.

“Mom, dad, we’re home!” she called, her voice echoing across the room, bouncing off of the petals of flowers and the fins of fishes before dying a slow death in my ears.

The chairs moved, accompanied by the sound of wood scraping wood, and the two figures stood before walking toward me and the others.

“Hello, Catriona…” her mother said, approaching us with her hands folded behind her back.

For a moment, the only sound in the room was the thundering of her footsteps on the hard ground, but then she and her husband smiled warmly, and asked ‘How was school today?”

“School was fine, I guess, but it was the walk to school that was great. I found a frog!”

At first her parents were silent, her father taking off and cleaning his glasses on his shirt, her mother stroking her chin and seeming to sink deeper and deeper into thought. Cat, the unbreakable fortress of will that she is, stared straight ahead at her mother and father, quiet, unmoving.

Of course, that didn’t last long, and in a fashion typical of Cat’s family, the tense air was immediately shattered.

“A frog?” her mom finally questioned, eyes widening slightly. “That’s great! Where is she?”

“I gave him to Gerald. he should be setting him up in his room right now.”

“What species is it?” her father asked immediately. “Were there any spots on its head? Where did you find it?”

“He was by the swamp at Asher’s house,” Cat said, perfectly happy to recount the story–which she proceeded to do, with great theatrics and even greater exaggeration. She concluded with “Anyway, I think he had a few spots on his back, but that was it.”

Her father nodded and took in everything she said with interest, but by the time he responded, I had mentally clocked out of the conversation and didn’t catch much of it.

Okay, okay, I get that that’s kind of harsh, but it’s really just because of the way her family works.

First there’s her mom, who is about as close as you can get to an adult Cat. A world class experimental botanist (extreme, I know), she spends most of her time improving upon, and even creating entirely new, plants. When she’s not doing work, she’s travelling, playing games, making appearances on TV–basically anything and everything she can do to have some fun.

Then there’s her father. He’s a marine biologist but, unlike his wife, he spends time travelling around to various conferences and lecture halls, focusing his work on teaching others. Overall, he’s a pretty calm guy, but when you get him talking about something he enjoys he gets almost as loud and excited as a certain red-headed girl.

Alone, they’re both very interesting people who are enjoyable to be around, but put them with their daughter, and it gets very draining, very quickly, and I tend to stay back and wait for them to finish with their eccentricities.

Unfortunately, my tried and true method of navigating the mysterious sea that is Cat’s inter-familial relations doesn’t always work.

Today was one of those days.

Apparently, while I was zoned out, Cat and her parents had finished their conversation and come over to talk to Miller and Me, all while I was staring off into space. I had anticipated a much longer wait period and, due to that, was pretty deep into my daydreaming.

By the time that I came out of my trance and realized that I was being spoken to, it was already too late.

“…really going to enjoy it.” That was the first thing I heard, coming from Cat’s dad. Cat and her mom nodded in agreement, and Miller, who was obviously more aware of where the conversation was going, responded.

“I think so, too–Italy sounds like an interesting place. Thank you both again for inviting us.”

Oh, so that’s what they were talking about. Thank God for Miller and his expositional small-talk.

“Yeah, we really appreciate the opportunity,” I said, glad that I tuned in early enough to join in thanking them.

“Oh, it’s no problem!” Cat’s mom assured us with a flourish of her hands. “To be honest, we prefer it when you two tag along with us. You’re a big help in keeping Catriona out of trouble.

‘You make me sound like a little kid, mom,” Cat said, with an inflection that wasn’t entirely adult.

“Ah, you know that’s not how I meant it, dear,” her mom responded, turning to look at her daughter and smiling. “Now, why don’t you take Miller and Asher to their room? It’s nearly time to eat.”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

Cat, who was most likely very ready to start eating, wasted no time in rushing us out of the room without warning, barely giving us time to blink before pushing us down the marble halls, through the series of turns that had delivered us there, and steadily onwards towards our room, the rubber souls of my shoes skidding against the polished floor as I thought of eating and then going to bed.

Little did I know, Cat had much bigger plans for the three of us…

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