Yuki and Claire avoided each other and took to vying for their sister's undivided attention.
Juneau found her chats with them quickly deteriorated to bad-mouthing the other sibling. She was biased in Yuki's favor, for good reason. The Chinese girl was less volatile and facetious, more charismatic and predictable--whatever her emo fashion sense had to say about her. She was also less enigmatic, which meant Juneau knew her better. Furthermore, Yuki hadn't physically hurt Claire in any way. On the other hand, Claire was anything but friendly and had a mean streak, as wide as the Pacific though hardly as conspicuous.
But Yuki had her faults, too. She was a constant chatterbox, always joking around, not always reliable, and chewed like a cow.
For her part, Juneau just wanted her sisters to be what she already considered them: friends--to each other and to her.
On top of all that drama, Juneau had her own problems. She seemed to have hit a wall in her training, and thoughts of young Kato were beginning to take control of her dreams, steering her through a carwash of emotions. She often awoke drenched in her own juices. And there was always her mother to worry about. If Juneau couldn't turn to her mother, who could she turn to? And if Kuni couldn't turn to her, who could she turn to? It was so strange to be surrounded by new family and friends and still feel so utterly alone.
It was First Mother who greased some of the squeaky wheels when it became obvious that the sisters were at odds with each other. She rounded them up for a powwow.
Juneau and Kato arrived first, hardly talking, though the silence between them was convivial, hush-hush. They sat across from each other at the table on the tatami-lined floor Japanese-style, exchanging clandestine glances. The silence deepened and changed character with Hideyoshi's arrival. He sat on Juneau's right at the head of the table. He closed his eyes and fell into a meditative trance. If conversation had occurred to Juneau and Kato as a possibility before, it was no more. Yuki came in next--her face all manner of nasty colors, puffy like choux-pastry. Claire followed soon thereafter, from the exact opposite direction. Juneau snickered to see that lovers and sworn enemies used the same ruse to throw nosy minds off the scent.
After sitting five minutes in silence, Yuki was fidgety. Seated between Juneau and Hideyoshi, she elbowed her sister lightly in the ribs. "Where's Mameha?" she mouthed voicelessly.
Hideyoshi took a deep breath like a man coming up from underwater. He opened his eyes. Everyone at the table was anticipating something, so when he said and did nothing, their combined annoyance reached a fever pitch. Finally, when Juneau thought someone might explode, Mameha entered from the kitchen, bowed forward by a heavy tray of food. It was a little early for dinner, but the rumbling of their stomachs evidenced their enthusiasm. Kato moved to help. Mameha shooed him away with a word. "You're a guest tonight, Kato-san." She placed the tray of steaming dishes in the center of the table. Two young monks came in behind her with other appetizers to eat and tea to drink. Upon leaving, they bowed deeply to Mameha and Hideyoshi, then quickly glanced in Kato's direction. He gave a brief nod.
When the paper-and-wood door was closed, Mameha put her hands on her hips and smiled. "Well," was all she said, clapping her hands together, the billowy sleeves of her kimono fluttering against her pale wrists.
A noncommittal sound erupted in the room like slow-moving lava. However, the mood had improved considerably. Plates went around, accompanied by smiles. Hunger in the face of food dulled even the sharpest of ires, while hunger in the face of famine had caused more than a few wars. Juneau found herself smiling and looking her sisters in the eye, something she hadn't been doing for the last few days. The last thing she'd wanted was to spark another feud, so she'd kept to herself and tried not to instigate conversations. But this evening, she laughed and chatted with everyone and really felt a part of the family.
She was so distracted, first by Kato, then by the silence, then the enjoyable meal, that she failed to notice the obvious: Kuni wasn't there. Juneau felt terrible. But it was done. She now understood what must be every parent's worst fear: being forgotten by their cherished child. She bowed her head, hands in lap, feeling like she didn't deserve any of this.
Claire saw Juneau's expression and misinterpreted. Her voice trembling, she cried, "I'm sorry I used you against Yuki, Juneau!" Then, quickly turning to the other sister, she sobbed, "I'm sorry I used my powers against you too, Yuki! I feel detestable--just wretched! I'll never forgive myself!"
Yuki did nothing at first. She had been chewing on the end of a toothpick, rolling it around her tongue. But when Claire took the floor, she spat the toothpick out and listened, ready to work herself up. But the thunder had been stolen out from under her. She couldn't very well go on being pissed with Claire after an apology like that. Still, her right eye was a puffy reminder, and her jaw still ached (she did have a good right hook). But when she finally looked up and saw Claire's hazel eyes wet with hope, she lost the edge of her anger.
"I'm sorry, too," she said somewhat grudgingly.
Hideyoshi startled them all out of their grave faces by laughing thunderously. It was completely uncalled for and exactly what they needed. First Mother joined him in a more reserved echo. Soon everyone was laughing. Kato hid his mouth behind his hands as he laughed, keeping his mouthful in place. Claire reached over the table to squeeze Yuki's hand. Yuki smiled and squeezed just a little harder than necessary. Claire took back her crushed hand, shook it out, but chuckled all the same.
If only Kuni were there to experience the mirth and merriment, Juneau thought mournfully.