August seventeen, year 5784. Cave twenty four.
Several days after the Young Mist Users Conference Jinka returned to work with a heavy heart. The past few days were hard to bear. Informing Troel about what happened and the other kids’ parents, not being there when the kids under her care needed her, when her own daughter, Serah, was assaulted had made her feel guilty and shameful, unqualified as a mother or an adult.
None of the kids’ parents, when learning of the incident and that the one addressing it is Miss Zetsa, had harbored resentment nor blamed Jinka of what happened. On the contrary, all of them were very sympathetic and tried to empathize. When Jinka kept lowering her head and apologizing some of them even attempted to pass it on by concentrating on the part of the glass that was half full, uttering stuff like… “He is fine” or “She came back safe and sound. Let’s trust in Miss Zetsa”.
Jinka heard it all and could do nothing but nod. Just like her daughter was the core in that group of little kids, she had similar relationship with their parents. What they all agreed about was taking their children for a physical inspection and monitoring them themselves for a few days to make sure that psychological damage has not been done before deciding if to take them to a child therapist or not.
Eventually, apart from one, neither of the children suffered any serious physical injury. Serah herself only had a broken tooth. Mentally was a little harder to determine, but with regard to their daughter, after two days Jinka and Troel safely validated that Serah was fine. Her concern for her friends and more than anyone else, Zax, made them rediscover their little girl’s assertive personality.
Jinka stirred the soup of the evening’s menu, unaware of the burning smell until it was scorching in her nose.
“Jinka!” Alinor, the chef of Fourchettes Et Couteaux, rebuked.
“Ah…?!” Jinka was thrown off balance, her stirring hands was shaking and her eyes tearing up. “I’m sorry”. Jinka said in a trembling voice.
“Concentrate on your servings!” Alinor barked at the kitchen’s staff that diverted stupefied looks at their sous chef. Hastily, sound of cutting knifes, meat grinding, ovens opening up and closing, pans falling and rising from the stoves and so on… brought back to initial livelihood of a hard working kitchen.
“Come with me to the back, Jinka. Dutseka, see if you can save the soup, otherwise tell the waiters to take it down from the menu”. Alinor instructed, then turned and exited first through the door to the alley beyond the kitchen. “Spill it, Jinka, what happened to you today? Since morning you are moving around the kitchen as if you are being possessed. I assumed that it’s related to the two days off that you’ve asked for… I didn’t ask in case it’s a personal matter, but this is the evening rush! I can’t let this go on, you know!”
“I’m very sorry, chef, I… I…” Jinka could not hold the frustration inside her anymore. The pressure accumulated in the past few days broke out. She lost her footing, fell on her knees and sobbed and sobbed.
“No, no, no, what happened to you Jinka?!” Alinor grabbed and lifted Jinka to her embrace.
One lived in cave twenty four, the other in cave twenty five. They met each other only at work and rarely got together afterwards with the other kitchen’s staff. Nevertheless, they knew each other for a long time, so even if there was not deep amity between them they still could not avert their emotions when the other was in a time of crisis.
After ten minutes Jinka raised her head, her eyes were red and her fists were clenching Alinor’s chef coat. She opened her mouth and finally felt willing to let somebody in on the agony she had repressed and thought that she was accountable for.
“Oh, Jinka… You should not torment yourself over it. The differences in classes are inequitable. There was nothing which you could have done. Blaming yourself will only make you pointlessly drown in sorrow. Jinka, will you listen to my proposal?”
Although she lived in cave twenty four, Alinor was from the upper middle class. Like the parents of Serah’ friends, she, too, could empathize with Jinka. Furthermore, as the chef of a modest restaurant she was invited, sometimes as a guest, sometimes to cater, to numerous events and so met many of the high class’s faces.
They, Alinor, Jinka, all the people who were close to them were simple people with simple ambitions, simple way of life. To them the saying “Those who do not march on the Martial path would forever be counted among the powerless” did not intend to undermine their confidence or be unfair, much like them it was the simple truth of this day and age and the powerless had to cope.
Anyone below the high class or with insufficient Martial achievements was considered “Powerless”, which were more than seventy five percent of Kingdom Earth’s population.
Alinor could not scheme a grandiose plan to alleviate Jinka’s trauma which was created by the two men of the Martinez family, but she could help her in another way, toward those who truly mattered to Jinka and shared the difficulties of the incident she told her about.
August nineteen, year 5784. Cave twenty four.
Fourchettes Et Couteaux closed early for a private occasion. Per Alinor’s instruction Jinka invited Zax, Dane, Anet and their parents to a compensatory evening in Fourchettes Et Couteaux in the pretense that the owner of the restaurant, Mitchello, want to express his deepest regrets for what happened in the Young Mist Users Conference, because he was the one who urged Jinka to take the tickets to the event and most definitely go.
Of course, Alison took care of everything on owner Mitchello’s end. When the easy going man learned from her about the incident she even had to threaten him to not come so Jinka will not lose face in front of her guests by associating with the person responsible for alluring her to what concluded as a terribly unforgettable day.
Zax, Serah, Dane and Anet sat at a small round table. Their parents were not so far away, at a relative distance so each side will have its own privacy.
The four children were served all kinds of delicacies as appetizers. Fourchettes Et Couteaux did not have children’s menu, so to compensate whatever the kids wanted, as long as the ingredients were in the pantry, Alinor cooked and served with her own touch to take the dish a step farther.
From afar the adults were conversing delightedly. Oppositely, their kids played with their forks or spoons or the food on the table. Since the Young Mist Users Conference they did not see or talk to each other. Their inability to help each other set up an invisible barrier around their friendship and the words to break it seemed feeble.
“I’m… I’m ordering a giant cheese cake with chocolate topping and all the ice cream’s flavors that they have!” Dane jumped up on his sit declaring and was the first to disrupt the silence.
A cheerful waiter that heard Dane approached their table. “A fine choice, young sir”, he complimented Dane who embarrassedly returned to his sit. “Did anyone else also decided?” He asked Zex, Serah and Anet.
“Spaghetti with meat balls”. Anet said in a low voice.
“I want the Chocolate Castle”. Serah, who was familiar with some of the restaurant’s deserts, knew what she wanted from the start but wait for someone else to order first. She ended up being the third one to order, though, only two seconds after Anet.
“Young sir?” The waiter asked Zax.
“I’m not hungry”. Zax responded indignantly.
“You can call me whenever you wants, young sir, just don’t filled up from the appetizers. It will truly be a shame”. The waiter smilingly said and headed to the kitchen with the three orders.
“Why didn’t you order?” Dane asked Zax. He, Serah and Anet noticed Zax’s attitude from the beginning of the evening. Knowing what he has been through, they were unsure of how to talk to him, how to say that they are sorry.
“Cause I don’t”. Zax casted a quick look at Anet and shifted it right away.
Before the quiet could set in again, Dane turned to Serah. “How are you?” He asked, remembering how Gerardo made her spit mouthful of blood when he interrogated them.
“I’m fine now. It only hurt a little bit”. Serah answered. She did not want to mention the broken tooth even though it was already fixed. “Are… Are you, guys, okay?”
“Okay? Why are you asking about everyone when I was the only one who got hurt, what happened to you?” Zax asked mildly irritated. He was conscious when Em and the old man allowed the group of kids from Molten Core to leave the stairwell yet forbade Serah and Dane to do the same. When Serah got hurt he could not recognize anyone anymore, apart from the old man, but afterwards, at home, the thought crossed his mind that his friends perhaps also been through something bad when he was out of it.
“You did not see?” Dane asked and started reciting.
All the while that the three were talking Anet was the quietest one. She spotted how Zax looked at her and how leaned to the right, the opposite side of her, when she asked for spaghetti. For some reason that made her feel like a bone was stuck in her throat. Was it because she gave up her seat? Because she was against fighting with the other group of kids? “Is he… Is he upset with me?”
“She got back with aunty!”
Suddenly with a “BUMP!” on the table Anet lifted her head in surprise and saw Zax looking at her. His light brown eyes were clear from the initial aggression and were stun just as hers.
As if a sea of regret overwhelmed him, Zax recollected the sounds, the sights, even the smell of blood in the stairwell, all of those things that the outer mind of a Mist User might lose track from but the inner mind will record instinctively… His mind was not at that level yet, but he was close, and it happened just a few days ago so remembering under a sudden circumstance was feasible.
“Anet…” Zax felt that he mistreated her, that he mistreated Serah and Dane, too. If it were not for his excessive self confidence neither of them would have been hurt. Tears began to dirty his face, two salty streams that following them he lost total control of his emotions, sat down and buried his head on his knees.
The group of parents that watched from afar since the BUMP on the table stopped themselves from getting up to comfort the poor kid. Marco and Laylen restrained themselves with aching hearts. The pleasant waiter, too, waited patiently holding a tray of refreshments.
Anyone who was not part of the small table just watched as the other three children gathered closely around their crying friend, crouching beside him, softly caressing his head and back, shading their pent up tears and grief while hugging him till all that remained was an unbreakable one loving bond.