Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chronicles of a Love Addict: Painting with Light and Shadow by Travis Sullivan

Chronicles of a Love Addict: Painting with Light and Shadow by Travis Sullivan: An absolutely DELICIOUS excerpt by author Travis Sullivan, who works and lives in Japan (bio at the end of the post!), colours and lights ...

A blog post about me lol

Friday, March 21, 2014

Writing update #25

Okay, I've gotten the synopsis up to date and updated my author bio (it isn't much since I haven't really pushed any publishing yet, but it's done) I'm working on a few other pieces and I just finished editing chapter 21 of PAINTING. I reworked one of the big fight scenes (from chapter 20) with Zack and wanted to see what y'all thought of it. Please check it out and leave a comment below!

            Zack dove forward and painted a Shield with Light then one with Shadow. Two hazy layers of armor-like fields encased his body.
            Boom! The pavement behind him exploded into dust, filling the air.
            He landed on his belly. Thud. He gasped, and a moment later, he rolled to his back and stared at the two who had dragged him from the school — the only two in the alley itself. “Why are you attacking me?” He crab-walked backwards.
            The rain of energy and knives followed his movements to the mouth of the alley. When the first wave of attacks made contact, the Shadow-Shield split down the middle. Crack.
            The fuck is wrong with them? Zack scrambled to his feet.
            Something smashed into the side of his head and destroyed the Shadow-Shield.
            His body lurched to the left and crashed into the building. Vomit climbed up his throat, and the world spun. He glanced behind him.
            The woman swung a massive sword at his neck. Angel, as Keiko had called it, whizzed through the air like a bolt of lightning.
            Adrenaline surged through Zack’s veins. Fuck. He tumbled away from her and released a large glob of Light.
            She hesitated.
            He snapped together a pair of Beams and wrapped them around his left hand. He aimed at her.
            A squeal escaped her mouth, and she stumbled backwards.
            Zack grimaced then whipped his hand into the air and fired a massive beam of energy into the far rooftop.
            Rip. The Light-Beam parted flesh.
            His heart skipped a beat as he turned to glare at the rooftop.
            A blond-haired woman stumbled forward, blood pouring from her missing arm. She swooned, and her body toppled over the edge. The seven other Artists on that rooftop leaped forward, catching her with Chains of Light and Shadow.
            Thiefsy’s dead eyes flashed through Zack’s thoughts.
            His mouth dried, and tears rolled down his cheeks. His knees weakened. The leftover power in his white glove dispersed. I —
            “Snap out of it!” Shinji’s worried voice cracked, rattling Zack’s thoughts.
            Released Shadow and Light darkened the alley.
            Natsumi and Keiko appeared in his mind. Their love warmed his soul and returned strength to his muscles. Their words, “Sometimes you have to kill to preserve your ideals and dreams,” echoed in tune with Shinji’s prodding.
            The man in the alley juked around the wide-eyed woman and brought down a two-handed slash with a jagged sword, demon as Natsumi had called it.
            Zack leaned backwards, and Demon ripped through the Light-Shield, shattering it.
            Demon changed directions, and the swinging blade caressed his neck as it passed, leaving a thin, red line.
            “Get yourself together!” Shinji’s voice riveted Zack’s body out of apathy.
            Zack kicked the man in the gut and spun, backfisting him across the jaw.
            The man crumpled for a long moment, and the woman sprang forward.
            With open hands, Zack raised his arms into the air and widened his stance into a grappling form. For two groups at war with one another, their teamwork isn’t half bad.
            For some odd reason, Shinji panted. “Part of the treaty with American forced Japan to create one of these groups. They are basically American Artists in Japanese bodies.
            The woman shifted into guillotine form and stabbed at Zack’s chest.
            He twisted his hips and batted the blade into the wall behind him. Sizzle. The flesh on his palm melted away, and he gritted his teeth. A scream forced its way from his mouth, and his uninjured hand shot for the woman’s throat. Thump-thump-thump. His heart raced. His breaths became frantic. Sweat rolled down his face. As his joints began to freeze, he pulled the strike up short and shoved the woman to the ground instead. Then, he clambered backwards.
            “Just kill them,” Shinji said.
            “But —”
            Stop attacking me! I’m not Japanese!” Zack painted six Blades — three with Light and three with Shadow — and stacked them atop one another. If I can … . He moved to combine the two Masterpieces, and his body became a statue. The strain of several forces pushing him in different directions created a boiling heat around his eyes. Would they pop? With a grunt, he brought the two Masterpieces closer to each other.
            “No! I forbid it!”
            We need the extra boost that I’m sure combining the powers will give us.
            “I said no!
            Shinji … .
            “I will not change my mind. I cannot allow you to act as a — True Abomination.” Shinji forced the last words out as if he were holding something back.
            Zack sighed. Fine. When the pressure around his muscles slacked, he reached into the Light-Blade with his right hand and the Shadow-Blade with his left. His gaze met that of the man and woman in front of him. “Doesn’t being American count for something?” He drew a pair of longswords.
            “No,” the two said while they adopted fan form and closed in on Zack. The woman swiped high. The man swiped low.
            Zack defended Light with Shadow and Shadow with Light then twirled like a quarterback in a ballerina class. His heart leaped into his throat, but he kicked the woman in the sternum anyways. Vomit filled his mouth, and his vision blurred. It had to be done. It had to be done. He swallowed, and his chest burned. It had —
            Boom! Beams of Shadow and Light filled the space where the woman had been, sending a spray of debris to shred Zack’s suit and flesh. Another blast of energy slammed him into the wall behind him — fraying his tie — and an explosion sent him reeling forward.
            There’s just too many of them. Zack pressed his longswords into the ground to regain his balance then twisted. His muscles tensed, and both blades shot through the air around him like a marry-go-round.
            The woman climbed to her feet then lunged forward. “Die, Abomination!”
            He parried a moment too late, and she gashed him across his arm. A squeal sprang through his quivering lips before his blade of Shadow dispersed. He raised his Light-longsword and flailed it like a three year old with a wooden spoon, fending her off.
            Demon ripped through his gut. Splatter. Blood gushed from the gaping wound in his middle.
            His eyes glazed, and he stumbled backwards. Dizziness slapped him across the face. Impossible. He clutched his wound while he released the last of his ecstasy as both Light and Shadow.
            Last night with Natsumi and Keiko pushed against the pain, clearing his thoughts.
            I no longer care if I kill them, but I need to mix the powers or I’ll be the one who dies. His chest ached as his heart wrenched.
            Shinji growled. No. We will die a much worse death if you do.”
            Death is death. Stop being stubborn! Zack painted a Light-Beam and a Shadow-Bridge.
            “He’s trying to run!” a man on the roof shouted.
            All twenty visible enemies painted Beams. Had Zack managed to injure more than one in that blind shot earlier? Black and white streams of power flooded into the alley.
            Zack huffed then blasted the stones beneath him with all the energy stored in the white glove, filling the air with debris. He Shadow-Stepped around the corner and then again. After one more time, his blood-soaked pants clung to his legs.
            Smoke rose into the sky behind him.
            According to Keiko, this should be far enough that they can’t catch my Ecstasy Trace. Zack coughed up blood when he drew Light from his body. His insides twisted, but he set his jaw and maintained his hold on the power. He painted a Bridge, and he became pure, white energy.
            Shinji screamed. “You have not —” His voice trembled. “— even set up a recall point!
            Fire raced through Zack’s veins. What do you care?
            “You act as if I do not care if we live or die.”
            Do you? Darkness closed in around Zack. Only wanting to get as far away as possible, he zipped into the air without releasing more Light. Thung! His head hit something metal, and his eyes fluttered shut. Just after the smell of rotting garbage assaulted his nose, his body went limp.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Writing update #24

Found a few more beta readers for PAINTING, so I've put BURNING's second draft down for now. I've got 19 more chapters to go in PAINTING's update. This is chapter 18 where things start to turn backwards. Also, this is the cat that my g/f keeps trying to buy/convince me to buy.

I'll try to actually get a 'on writing' blog post this week. I've just been so busy and focused on PAINTING that it's hard to do anything else. 

Chapter 18 (Summer vacation comes to an end)

            Keiko yawned while she ran her fingers across Zack’s chest. Had it already been a week since she and Natsumi had moved in with him? Best. Week. Ever.
            Zack massaged Keiko’s neck. “Are you awake already?”
            After looking up at him, she nodded. “Just thinking.”
            “About what?”
            A smile spread across his face.
            Thump-thump. Her heart raced, and heat coursed through her body. She became wet. Sopping wet.
            His hands moved down between her shoulder-blades and worked the tension from her back. “What about me?”
            “It’s been like a dream come true. I could only ask for one more thing.”
            Zack swallowed. “It’s … not important. Listen. I — never mind.”
            Do you already love me like I love you? A squeal of elation climbed from Keiko’s lungs, but she squashed it before it reached daylight. “Did you ever hear anything back from your friend?”
            Zack cringed. “He said he would email me today, but —”
            Keiko placed a finger to his soft, inviting lips. “I already told you. My father still wants you to get the device, but he hinted to me that getting an exact location in your friend’s company would be enough.”
            “I’m really grateful to the both of you.”
            It was my idea. “We’re just glad —”
            Zack’s phone vibrated, buzzing around his desk in a circular pattern. He sighed then climbed from the bed in nothing but purple, silk boxers.
            She chewed on her lower-lip. When he hangs up, I’ll have some alone time with him.


            Less than a week from Zack’s original deadline, he dropped the towel in the washing machine and strode to the closet. What should I wear to tonight’s dinner with Daiki? He reached out and pulled the closet door open.
            As a cruel joke, Natsumi had tossed all of his clothes onto the closet floor despite his efforts to press the wrinkles from them. Beyond that, she spilled trash onto the floor anytime he tried to vacuum or straighten things. What was wrong with her?
            He sighed then began to rifle through a pile of clothes.
            Behind him, she and Keiko sat on the bed, having a private conversation. They would allow him the opportunity to dress himself — or, so they said before he got into the shower. Did they really throw his favorite pink tie away? They were so frustrating sometimes. Yet … these past two weeks with them had made him happier than he could ever remember being.
            Zack picked through his clothes for the sixth time. The solid black suit it is.
            “Always a good choice,” Shinji said as if he were nodding in approval.
            It has the least wrinkles.
            “So, how will you convince this Daiki to let you into his lab?”
            Maybe a tour or something. Zack pulled the suit out of the closet and hung it over Andrew’s old chair. Any specific tie color?
            “Since you are going to ask for a favor, I would say blue.” Shinji paused. “It will show him that you are serious while not being too forceful.”
            Good call. Zack held out a blue tie with white stripes and another with pink polka-dots. Of the two?
            “Striped. More professional.” Shinji coughed.
            Zack clenched his eyes shut and began to dress. I wonder if finding it will truly be enough?
            I want to say, yes … .
            I understand.
            Natsumi and Keiko glanced at Zack, grins splitting their faces.
            A smile pulled at Zack’s lips.
            Why didn’t he give them a chance sooner? Unlike Sena, they were amazing and treated him — mostly — with respect as if he were a person. And save for the pink tie, and the mess, their actions had helped him move on with his life. The distant memory of Sena began to fade, and the desire for a daughter blazed like an inferno. Though, Shinji was still a secret. They would probably freak out about it.
            While yawning, Zack wrapped the tie around his neck in the Eldredge knot, as usual. “Are you two going to sit around, naked, all day?”
            Natsumi met Keiko’s gaze and cocked her head to the left. Natsumi slowly returned her gaze to Zack. “So, are you complaining that two beautiful women are sitting around your apartment, naked?”
            “No —”
            “Then shut up.”
            Zack straightened his tie and spun. “How do I look?”
            Delicious,” the two said as one. “Good luck.”
            When they stood, he glided across the room and kissed each. “I’ll be back before the last train.” He threw on his new dress shoes and stepped outside, heading off towards Ikebukuro station.
            A five-minute train delay, but nothing to complain about.
            After getting off the train at Shinjuku station, Zack walked through the west exit ticket gate.
            People stuffed the area around the ticket gate tighter than a Thanksgiving Day Turkey. The smell of fresh-baked bread overpowered the sheer volume of sweaty bodies. Lucky.
            When the throng of gawkers parted, a tiny, Japanese man remained, standing outside of the Odakyu department building entrance. His thick, horn-rimmed glasses and cheap, purple tie drew away from what must be an expensive suit. Freckles covered his cheeks, and a humongous grin split his face.
            “Daiki!” Zack waved.
            “He is so short.” Shinji snickered.
            I know. That’s how we met.
            “What do you mean?”
            At a party, I randomly called him short and broke the ice.
            How else are you supposed to be at a party?
            “I see.”
            We’ve been friends ever since.
            “Oh?” Shinji’s voice rose in pitch.
            Well, last year . Never mind. Zack shook hands with Daiki and patted him on the back. “How have you been?”
            “Busy.” When Daiki’s throaty voice flared his nostrils, he adjusted his glasses. “Your Japanese sounds better.”
            He doesn’t sound pissed. “Had a lot of time to study.” I guess he got over it.
            Daiki wiggled his nose. “That’s good. So, things have been good on your end?”
            “I can’t complain.” Zack shrugged. “How about we continue this with a few beers?” It was a beer kind of night.
            “Sounds like a plan.” Daiki led Zack outside and past UniQlo. “I know this place with good deals and the best Yakitori.” They entered a small alleyway.
            Tears glistened Zack’s eyes. “Great.”
            “Is something wrong?”
            I miss Yaki-NJ. “No something caught in my eye.”
            “Ah.” Daiki slid open an unmarked door and gestured inside. “This is it.”
            “Really?” Zack ducked in and sat down at an open table. “Beers?”
            “My thoughts exactly.” Daiki raised his hand, and an alright-looking waitress brought two mugs to their table. “Kanpai!”
            With a smile, Zack lifted his glass. “Kanpai.” Now how should I go about asking?
            Daiki watched the waitress walk away while they drank.
            Zack took another sizable gulp before setting his glass on the table. “What a great beer.”
            “Ain’t nothing like it after work.” Sitting his drink beside Zack’s, Daiki took a handful of beer-nuts and stuffed them into his mouth. Crunch-crunch-crunch.
            “Speaking of work, while I’m on vacation, could you sneak me into your company again?”
            Daiki frowned. “I wish I could.” He shook his head, voice solemn. “I do, but the project we’re working on at the moment is taking up all of my time.”
            “You mean a new game you picked up?” A smirk tugged at Zack’s lips.
            Daiki shook his head again. “I wish. They have me sweating for ten hours a day in the B3 lab.”
            “That sucks.”
            “Tell me about it.”
            The two began to kick back drink after drink, and Zack prodded Daiki until he said the words, “Painted Chains.” In the end, Zack told Daiki every new dirty joke he learned, and they laughed like Junior High School students. Daiki seemed happy the entire time Zack was glad Daiki wasn’t still harboring ill feelings. Missing his last train by the hair on his arms, Zack took a taxi home — luckily Shinjuku wasn’t so far from Ikebukuro.


            Natsumi shot upright as the lock on the front door clicked. Why is he so late? She nudged Keiko.
            Keiko started awake. “Huh?”
            With an outstretched hand, Natsumi gestured towards the door. “He is back.”
            The front door flung open, and the stench of alcohol walked inside just before Zack did. He swayed back and forth. When he tried to take his shoes off, he fell face first onto the hardwood floor. Thwack! His body jerked before his muscles slacked.
            A squeal leaped from Keiko’s mouth, and she hopped out of the bed, rushing to his side.
            Natsumi climbed from the bed, feeling a chill caress her naked skin as the air conditioner made its rounds. She shivered. I hate the cold, but at least it dampens his smell.Let us get his clothes off and throw him in the shower.”
            Keiko grinned then undid his belt.
            Natsumi knelt beside Keiko and unbuttoned his shirt. “We need to get him sober enough to talk before having our fun.”
            Keiko’s lips pouted. “Alright … .”
            With a shake of her head, Natsumi lifted him — naked — by the waist and hoisted his arm onto her shoulder. She dragged him into the shower with Keiko’s help.Welcome home.”
            Despite Zack’s glazed over eyes, he blinked. “Huh? What’s going —”
            Natsumi cut on the cold water.
            Zack screamed.
            A laugh bellowed from Keiko’s belly, and soon, Natsumi joined her.
            While he wriggled in the shower, he huffed, and his teeth chattered. “Enough!” Shadow poured from his left hand, and as indicated by the tingle on the back of Natsumi’s neck, Light from his right.
            Natsumi groaned. “Stop.” Painting as fast as she could, she stacked a Shield and a Bomb — a starburst on top of a circle with jagged rocks and shrapnel moving away from the explosion. With a flick of her wrist, the Masterpiece wrapped around Zack’s glob of Shadow and dissipated it. “Keiko!”
            “I’m working on it!” Keiko held her hands forward and gritted her teeth.
            Zack gasped. His eyes bulged, and he looked up, appearing lucid. “What … ?”
            “It is a type of Masterpiece that temporarily cuts off someone’s connection to their ecstasy.” Natsumi cut the water off and pulled him out of the shower. “Most of the time, it is not worth the ecstasy, and beyond that, it is really hard to hit with it.”
            “Oh.” Shivering, Zack took the towel from Keiko and dried off. “I —”
            Natsumi held a finger up. “Brush your teeth first. Then, tell us what happened.”
            He grabbed his toothbrush and went to work on his atrocious breath. After rinsing his mouth out, he joined Natsumi and Keiko on the bed, still naked. With a drunken slur, he recounted his night — his success and his failure.
            “That should be good enough to shut our fathers up and give us the time we need to … .” Natsumi shook her head then reached between his legs. “Let us have a little bit of fun before we go back to sleep.”


            While Keiko tapped her foot, she pulled her cellphone out and checked the time. It’s already been fifteen minutes. She glanced up.
            Natsumi placed her free hand on the closet door then screamed into her cellphone.
            Keiko sighed. How long does she intend to drag this report out?
            Zack chewed on his lower-lip and paced from the kitchen to the bed then back. With each pass, the burned stink of eggs wafted into Keiko’s nose.
            A grimace crossed her face. She should have never tried to cook. And the fire? I need to go out and buy Zack some new curtains.
            “I have already told you!” Natsumi clenched her fist and slammed it into the wall beside the window. “That is all you will get out of him! He belongs to me now, and you no longer have any interest in him.” After screaming a fifth time, she slapped her cellphone shut. “Your turn, Keiko.”
            “I can’t believe you yelled at your father like that.” Keiko shivered. “I mean —”
            “Ha! What I cannot believe is how stupid he is.”
            She’s so rude. Keiko opened her mouth then shut it. I had better not say that with her in this mood.
            Zack zipped across the room and grabbed Natsumi by the hands. “So?”
            “As you could hear —” Natsumi leaned forward and placed her lips on his before sliding her tongue into his mouth. After a long kiss, she pulled back. “— it is done.”
            He swallowed, and a moment later, he turned to Keiko. “Good luck.”
            Unlike Natsumi … . Keiko smiled. “I won’t need it. My father and I get along fine.” Thump-thump. Her heart raced. “You have nothing to worry about.” I hope.
            Zack squeezed the bridge of his nose and resumed pacing.
            She flipped her cellphone open and called her father. “Boss Mitaka?”
            “Ah, Keiko,” Boss Mitaka said in his fatherly voice, “Good news?”
            Perfect! He’s in a cheerful mood. “A lot actually.”
            Keiko gave Zack a thumbs-up — something every foreigner seemed to do when they had good news. “For one, I have tamed Zack.”
            While chuckling, Boss Mitaka clapped. “That is wonderful news. And his assignment?”
            “Together, we have found the exact location of the device, but there are too many safeguards preventing us from getting to it.”
            Keiko explained the change in her and Zack’s relationship, though she avoided mentioning Natsumi. After telling her father she planned to live with Zack, she detailed the location of Painted Chains and how the Radiance Family should go about collecting it. “And that’s about it, Fa— Boss Mitaka. Words can’t explain how good he makes me feel.”
            Boss Mitaka made a smacking sound. “I am … so happy for you, honey, but would it not be best if the two of you move in here?”
            She shook her head and gulped. “Besides you still scaring him, I —” She winked at Zack. “— have to teach him manners first. But one day … .”
            After releasing a belly laugh, Boss Mitaka gasped for air. “Okay, honey. Just be safe and come to see me every so often.”
            “I will. Love you.”
            “Love you, too, honey.” Boss Mitaka hung up.
            Keiko squealed in joy. “It’s done!” She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around Zack, showering him with kisses.


            A faceless, fat man in a blue suit shackled Zack to the floor. Then, the fat man placed his hands around Zack’s neck and laughed. “You will bow.”
            Zack’s eyes glazed over while he convulsed on the ground. No! He screamed for his body to move, but it didn’t listen.
            The fat man released his death grip. “I have a better idea.” He reached out and picked up the leashes attached to a pair of toy-poodles. He made them dance about and do tricks. The toy-poodles followed each of his commands with disturbing precision.
            Bang! A pack of rabid dogs broke through a wall and rushed towards the fat man. They snarled, spittle flying everywhere.
            He squealed then pulled one of the leashes.
            The white toy-poodle leaped in the way to defend him.
            A vicious set of jaws reached for the cute, little puppy’s neck.
            Zack set his jaw against the pain and shattered his binds. “No!” Despite his soba-like limbs, he forced himself to move.
            The fat man gasped.
            Zack threw the white toy-poodle to the side, and the rabid dog ripped through his throat instead. Blood gushed onto the floor. Splatter! His body jerked back and forth.
            Everything went still.
            He gaped when his spirit left his body. Impossible. He watched himself die.
            “Find peace and let us make a deal, an unseen voice said.
            While Zack trembled, the world around him lurched. Something tied his spirit to his body, and he rose from the floor. His body burst aflame. He was born again. Through gritted teeth, he howled then stuck his arm through the fat man’s chest. “Now what?”
            The man cackled while his crimson life rolled down his chin. He pointed to the sky. “I win.”
            Lightning crashed all around.
            Zack blinked the spots from his eyes.
            The two, towering mountains — black and white — stood before him.
            A shiver like slime brushing across his skin rolled down to his toes. “Why this again?”
            The mountains rumbled; a bushel of boulders stampeded down their slopes.
            He turned to run and froze.
            A fissure had split the ground and trapped the toy-poodles. They whimpered and whined. A pair of rocks leaped over Zack and barreled towards the toy-poodles.
            Zack threw himself between the two rocks and shattered both with his clenched fists. “It won’t end like this!” He spun to face the mountains, and his hands shot forward. “Die!” With an incredible force, he rent the mountains in two, starting from the top.
            Echoing laughter erupted from the fat man’s corpse.
            Zack’s breath caught, and his lips quivered. “How?”
            The fat man’s corpse rose into the air and shuddered until it turned into the Godzilla-like monster. The world burned around Zack while the monster expanded and grew, drawing power from the stars. It howled once it grabbed Zack.
            “I’ve had enough!” Zack blasted the beast with waves of Shadow and Light, but no matter how many limbs he struck off, more grew to replace it. The stars! He looked into the black sky and frowned. Can I actually destroy them?


            The alarm blared, and Zack started. He rolled over and hit the snooze button. What the fuck was that? His chest jerked up and down, but the air refused to fill his lungs. He pressed the pillow to his face tighter. I need five more minutes.
            “Does your vacation not end today?” Shinji used his lecturing tone.
            Zack yawned. I’d rather not think about it.
            “Nonetheless, Natsumi and Keiko know. I doubt they will let you sleep much longer.”
            What do you mean? When Zack stretched, his arms touched no one. He edged the pillow over and opened his eyes.
            Natsumi sat at his computer, going through his porn while the smell of burnt eggs and crispy toast told him that Keiko was in the kitchen. Natsumi turned; a grim frown marred her beautiful lips.
            He faked a snore then closed his eyes in a slow and steady motion.
            She growled, and water cascaded across his face.
            A scream took the little breath he held, and his body bolted up into a sitting position. Cold shit! “What the fuck was that for?”
            Looking irritated, she tapped her fingers on his desk. “Motivation.”
            “Motivation?” With the soft blanket, Zack wiped his face dry.
            “Yeah, to get you out of bed.” Natsumi grinned, and Zack couldn’t help but laugh.
            Keiko stepped out of the kitchen. “What’s going on in here?”
            Long moments of silence passed before Natsumi looked around Keiko. “Less than what is going on behind you.”
            A squeal escaped Keiko’s mouth, and she turned to the fire. “Oh no! The eggs!”
            As he continued to laugh, his sides began to hurt.
            Keiko scramble back to the stove.
            “Well,” he whispered, “at least we don’t have to eat it.”
            Natsumi chuckled. “Yeah, I know. That is why I held her gaze.”
            “Brilliant.” Zack climbed from bed and scratched his balls.
            “Do you have to do that with me sitting right here?”
            Zack shrugged. “You didn’t have a problem with them in your face last night.”
            “There is a difference between bed-play and morning-etiquette.” Natsumi punched Zack in the stomach and stood.
            Zack coughed. “That was uncalled for.”
            “I do not think so.”
            “I do not think so,” she said in echo of Shinji. Then, she strolled into the bathroom.
            Zack shook his head. “Why don’t you close the bathroom door?”
            Natsumi groaned. “Why do you not?”
            “She has got you there.”
            Stop siding with her. “Noted.” Zack stepped past the bathroom.
            Pitter-patter, pitter-patter.
            He massaged his left shoulder. “So, how bad is —”
            Fire had charred the wall black as well as a few unfortunate bowls and plates. Burnt egg and some darker substance coated the fry-pan with a stench that curled his lips. All-in-all, a good day in the kitchen for Keiko.
            Zack’s jaw dropped. At least … she didn’t burn the window screen again. “So what’s the occasion?”
            Keiko blushed. “Well, as you know, today is your first day back at work. I thought —” She ground the ball of her foot into the floor. “— you know, I just wanted to make it special.”
            “Thank you.” Zack leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.
            “Also … my father called me this morning.”
            Tears rolled down her cheeks. “My father wants me to come in. Though, he didn’t say for what.”
            “He — Keiko sniffled and wiped her eyes. “— probably just misses me.”
            Natsumi grunted from the bathroom. “Boss Endo has also told me to report in today.” She spat on the floor.
            Zack glanced at Natsumi. Did she have to do that? “So will you be back in time for dinner?”
            “If we are lucky,” Natsumi said just before a flushing sound escaped the bathroom.
            Keiko embraced Zack and held him tight. “I don’t want to go.”
            “You don’t —” He jumped when an icy hand caressed his naked flesh.
            “Yes … she does. As do I if we do not want them to get suspicious.” Natsumi ran her fingers down his back then pinched his ass.
            A yelp flew from his lungs.
            Natsumi pressed her lips to Zack’s neck then rested her chin on his shoulder. “Do not worry; we will keep your secret safe.”
            He turned to kiss her. “Thank you so much.”
            She pulled away from him and ostentatiously rubbed her belly — it made Zack nervous.
            His dream — no! Now was not the time to bring a new life into this world, under his care. He couldn’t risk more lives, and if either of them gave him a daughter, it would kill Zack to put them in danger.
            She grabbed Keiko by the wrist and pulled her to the door. “We should be going now.” Natsumi blew a kiss to Zack and opened the door. “See you tonight.”
            He nodded as the girls stepped out into the glaring sun and shut the door behind them. Huh. He scanned the room. Without Natsumi to stop me, I guess I should clean then get ready for work.

Next: A fight scene with Zack