Memories Left Behind
Chapter Four: Begin Again
Sakura was relived with how well the kids had accepted the news of moving to a new house. It seemed like they were as eager to make a new start as anyone. She asked for what they wanted their new house to look like and was sure to include the relevant details into her report that she sent to Ava for the girls to research.
True to the professional work of Ava they found a new location within two days that were to the exact specifications that Sakura had required. Within that time too they had secured it, wired it for security, and had it settled for immediate move in.
Sakura was never more grateful for her friends and coworkers as she was that week. Body guarding kids was nothing new; they'd all taken their turns at it at one time or another. Even guarding three kids was something Sakura could normally handle, but three emotionally scarred kids whose father was never home and had distanced himself from them completely as he was caught in the throes of emotional turmoil himself? Sakura had more than enough to handle without house searching as well.
She had her hands full with helping the kids pack their things. The sound of packing tape seemed to echo off the walls at all hours. Even though the kids didn't have that many things, it seemed like every time she turned around they discovered something else hiding in some corner or crack. Fortunately Kerri could handle most of her own things and was able to even lend a hand to Aria and Nathan when she had a free moment.
Sakura didn't dare touch any of Syaoran's things. For one, it felt like too much of an invasion of his personal space when she was already invading everything else in his life. For another, she was still fuming at him after he still continued to avoid not only her but his children all that week. He left early for work and returned long after the kids were asleep. The times she did catch him, she had noticed a change in his demeanor. He had lost much of his haunted look, but now he looked…well, if Sakura had to put a finger on it she would say embarrassed, or perhaps hesitant was more the word. He crept around with his head down and did his best to stay out her way. The one time she did take a peek into his room she noticed the relieving sight of cardboard boxes scattered around his room. Whether they actually had anything in them though was something she hadn't quite plucked up the courage to check.
When Meiling was told of the move, she couldn't have been more thrilled. She was over as often as she could spare the time to help with the packing, but promised mostly to help on moving day. Sakura strongly suspected that most of Syaoran's things were being packed by her. As long as his things were being packed though, Sakura didn't mind. The sooner they were out of that prettily decorated tomb the better.
"We're here," Sakura announced to the three eager faces in the car with her.
Kerri leaned forward in the passenger seat, her eyes taking everything in, a nervous smile on her face. "This is really it, huh?"
"Mmm," Sakura agreed and took a peak at her. "Are you okay?"
Kerri smiled quickly. "I'd be happy sleeping in a cardboard box, so long as it was far out of sight of that place."
Sakura gave her a wary grin back, silently agreeing.
She opened her door and stepped out before doing the same for Nathan and Aria. The four of them took a moment to stare at the house in front of them, soaking it all in, before the moving truck and extra hands arrived. Syaoran wasn't there, but that was to be expected by now. He had managed to leave a note on the kitchen counter for Sakura to see, apologizing for not being able to help, but that he'd be there later that night. She sighed. Nothing to help for it right now, I'll just have to give him an earful later.
Sakura turned toward the voice and waved, watching Meiling and her daughter locking up their car as Naoko, Chiharu, Rika, and her niece Mika piled out of another right behind the pair.
Raelin immediately ran over to her cousins and began to make exclamations of excitement as they ran across the bright green lawn, making their way quickly to the house. Meiling stopped beside Sakura on the curb of the sidewalk and looked up at the modest two-story before her.
Sakura turned to her, suddenly nervous for some reason. "Are you sure?"
Meiling nodded. "This is a home." She smiled brightly at Sakura. "Thank you, from all of us."
Sakura laughed and waved away her gratitude. "We haven't done much yet, just moved to a new location. This is far from over."
Meiling shook her head, still smiling but let it drop. The girls turned toward the vehicle and each grabbed a box, Sakura sliding out the house keys from her back pocket as she approached the door, shifting the box aside to turn the lock and open the new home to its new family. Raelin and her cousins stood impatiently at the door.
As soon as the door sprung open wide the kids raced inside, making loud gasping noises of surprise and excitement as they raced about the home.
"Make sure you leave your shoes at the door!" Sakura called from behind her box as she concentrated on getting her own off at the entranceway.
She set the box down in the hallway, noticed the four pairs of shoes thrown carelessly on the ground in front of her and couldn't help but smile. They wouldn't have dared in their previous house, and the small sign of dishevelment already showed how much more comfortable they were here.
She saw a flurry of movement near the banister on the second floor as first Kerri and then her siblings' faces poked through the railing. "Which rooms do we get?"
"Pick whichever room you want!" Sakura called from the ground as her friends filed in behind her and deposited boxes in the front room next to her. "The biggest is the master room, that one's for your father but the other three are for you; you each get your own room." Sakura picked up a box labeled "kitchen" before proceeding further into the house, headed for the designated room. "No fighting over a room!" She called as an afterthought, more to cover bases than from any real concern that they'd fight over living space.
Sakura listened to the sound of feet overhead as she began ripping open boxes and pulling plates, glasses, bowls, and silverware out of their protective wrappings and placing them in cupboards.
"Tomoyo's going to be so upset that she missed this," Chiharu commented as she deposited another box on the counter.
Sakura smiled fondly. "She's still on her honeymoon. Besides, she deserves the break." She looked up for a second. "Speaking of a break, your husband is watching your daughter today?"
Chiharu laughed. "Yep! Good ol' Daddy-Daughter bonding time." Her smile grew wide. "I didn't give him a choice."
Sakura laughed with her friend as her niece came in with a lamp in hand.
"Where does this go?"
Sakura looked up briefly. "In the living room," she pointed before resuming her work. She felt a tug on her pants and looked down to see Aria, Nathan, and Raelin at her side.
"They picked their rooms!" Raelin announced proudly.
Sakura smiled. "No fighting?"
Aria and Nathan shook their heads.
"Good!" She set a large mixing bowl on the counter, setting the wrappings to the side. "Where's Kerri?"
"Kerri!" Sakura called, moving back through the house to the foot of the stairs.
Kerri's long, dark hair fell over the banister as she leaned over the rail looking down at Sakura. "Yes?"
"Why don't you kids start grabbing your stuff from the car and moving them into your rooms? Be sure to place them in the corner of where you don't want your bed."
"Okay!" Kerri's eyes lit up in excitement and she all but flew down the stairs, racing to the door with her siblings to throw on their shoes and run out into the sunlight.
Sakura shook her head, still smiling. "Alright, time to find those bed frames and mattresses so we can get this place set up!"
Sakura and Meiling were busy setting up the bed in Aria's room when Meiling finally broached a subject that had obviously been on her mind all day.
Sakura looked up from the directions for assembling the bed frame, screwdriver in hand. "Sorry, what did you ask?"
Meiling sat back on her heels and looked about the room. "Why this place? It's a beautiful house, in a nice neighborhood with lots of families with kids. Isn't it an extra security risk?"
Sakura glanced toward the door briefly, not hearing anyone creeping outside the doorway she answered in a quiet voice. "Don't worry, we've weighed the hazards. Yes, being near so many families is a risk, but there is more of a benefit to this neighborhood than a cost. Carden will hesitate to draw attention to himself with so many families surrounding us – he doesn't want to make a scene, he just wants to make your cousin suffer personally. This area has a neighborhood watch, on top of being an exceedingly tight-knit community. They know exactly who is supposed to be here, who is new, and to be on the watch for anyone suspicious, anyone who doesn't belong." She gave the woman beside her a quick smile. "The more eyes watching, the better."
Meiling looked back with a wary smile. "Ava really does think of everything."
Sakura tried to shrug nonchalantly. "It's what we're hired for." She frowned at the directions before holding up a piece of the bed. "Does this piece go in 'A' or 'B'?"
Meiling burst out laughing before taking the directions in hand herself and trying to decipher the unintelligible directions herself.
After setting up the kid's beds, Sakura was caught by some of the neighborhood moms outside as she was grabbing the tubs containing sheets and blankets and introduced herself and her charges to the neighborhood. She introduced herself as the live-in nanny, as the kids' father worked in the city, apologizing that he wasn't there to meet them at the moment, but would be home later that night.
The mothers made sounds of delight and welcome over the new family moving in, exclaiming over how beautiful Kerri was, how adorable Nathan and Aria were, and how sweet Sakura was. They promised to bring over their families and introduce them, with baked goods and meals to help restart their kitchen so Sakura wouldn't have to worry about cooking for a few days as they got settled in.
Sakura thanked them profusely, all bright smiles and honest gratitude, inviting them and their families over at any time before excusing herself and continuing where she had left off with her friends and unpacking.
It was late that night after the kids had long been in bed from exhaustion, their beds the only things in their rooms that were organized, boxes of clothes and toys spilling out in every direction that Sakura heard the key turn in the lock at the front door. She was in the kitchen, still putting away dishes and cutlery, trying to put them in some semblance of order.
She didn't pause in her work but her ears strained all the same for every sound of movement. "Li-san?" she called.
He entered the kitchen, maneuvering around both empty and half-full boxes, following the sound of her voice.
She glanced at him briefly, noticing him looking around, taking in every detail. "What do you think of the place?"
"It's…nice," he answered after a moment.
"Don't like it?"
"It's different," he admitted.
Sakura shrugged. "You'll get used to it. You are free to move out whenever you want once this entire thing has blown over."
"Right." He glanced over the place again.
"Your room is upstairs," she continued after a lengthy pause. "Straight up the stairs, first door on your right. We assembled your bed this afternoon, but you'll have to put on your own sheets, covers, and unpack your boxes."
There was a heavy silence. "Thanks," he finally responded quietly.
Sakura nodded in acknowledgement. "The neighborhood families missed meeting you today. Make sure you find a time to introduce yourself."
"I'm going to work on a couple more boxes than I am getting ready for bed myself." She turned, balancing several pots in hand, keeping her eyes trained on her work and avoiding his. "Make sure you don't stay up too late yourself." She banged around in the cupboards for several minutes before daring to look up and breathing a sigh of relief that he had moved out of the room. She blew her bangs out of her face. "Chalk up another one for awkward conversations," she muttered to herself.
The week flew by as Sakura and the kids got settled into their new house. Kerri, Nathan and Aria were ecstatic to arrange their new rooms in any way they desired and seemed to thrive in the warm, bright house. When they needed a break, all four would go out into the backyard and play around for a couple of hours, shrieking in laughter as they romped in the warm sunlight and grass. Once Sakura discovered the box containing a few outdoors toys, they began throwing balls around in the late afternoons until it was nearly too dark to see.
Occasionally when they'd be out front with Sakura, some of the neighborhood kids would join in and Sakura delighted in watching the three children interact with others, a tad reluctantly at first but with increasing fervor as time went by.
The only complaint Sakura had, in fact, was that Syaoran continued to come home late. She suspected it was largely from guilt now than the need to distance himself from his children, but all the same, she had rarely seen him herself, the kids none at all.
After a week and a half Sakura was ready to blow her fuse.
She waited up one night, folding emptied boxes and moving them into a corner for recycling to keep her hands busy, listening intently for his return. Finally, she heard his keys jangling in the lock and her hands stilled momentarily. She waited until she heard his footsteps in the front hall before calling out to him. "Could you come here for a moment?" She asked as she returned to her work.
Sakura heard his footsteps pause behind her but she continued her work, not looking at him. "Are you having a particularly involved assignment at your work lately?"
Syaoran frowned at her back. "No."
"Are you meeting clients after work for dinner?"
Syaoran's confusion grew. "No."
"Then may I ask why you are coming home so late every night?" Her tone was nonchalant, giving nothing away.
Syaoran scowled. "What I do is none of your business."
Sakura's hands paused for a fraction of a second, her eyes closing momentarily to maintain her composure. "None of my business," she repeated softly.
"Yes," he continued, oblivious to her dangerous tone in his ire. "What I do during or after work is really none of your concern. That's not your job."
Sakura turned to him fully now. "Not my job?"
"You're just supposed to watch over and protect my kids. I can look after myself."
Sakura resisted the temptation to snort or roll her eyes. Yes, you've done a wonderful job of that lately. "I see." She leaned against the wall behind her, her arms crossed. "Li-san. Do you remember our conversation not too long ago? The one at your former house?"
Syaoran stilled, his eyes narrowed. "Yes," he grit out.
"I thought we resolved the parental issue."
Syaoran's fingers flexed in a grip but didn't answer.
"I'm curious as to why you continue to avoid being home if you no longer have any questions about the biology of your claim." Her eyes narrowed. "That your children need their father."
"That's none of your business," his tone was low.
"None of my business?" Sakura struggled to keep the bite out of her tone. "My business is to protect your children, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Tell me Li-san, how do I accomplish this when I still get asked 'When is Daddy coming home?' every night because your children haven't seen even your shadow in over a week?"
Syaoran glared. "And what should I do about it? Abandon my work and return early? Go in late?"
"I'm not asking you to skive off work," Sakura returned. "All I'm asking is that you try and be home when they're awake once in a while!"
"I have a lot of work to catch up on that I've been neglecting lately and – "
"Why don't you try having a meal with them again Syaoran? It wouldn't kill you to be home in time for dinner a couple of times a week if work is that important to you."
Syaoran threw his hands up in the air in defeat. "Fine! I'll be home for dinner. Are you happy now?"
Sakura scowled at him. "Your kids will be thrilled."
Syaoran flushed in guilt. Sakura noticed but didn't comment.
The two stood staring at each other, Syaoran unable to meet Sakura's glare as he looked aside at the wall self-consciously. The air between them grew awkward until finally Sakura relented with a heavy sigh. "Your dinner is in the fridge. Warm it up if you want it," she moved to pass him and head to her room on the ground floor. "I'm going to get ready for bed. Enjoy your night Li-san."
Syaoran stood rooted to his spot for several long moments before heaving a heavy sigh of his own and trudging to the fridge to warm up his late supper. He sat at the table, eating mechanically as guilt and silence washed over him in increasing floods.
In the deep silence he heard the water turn on from the direction of Sakura's room, idling wondering if she was getting in the bath. His thoughts wandered more fully to the agent currently taking a hot shower in what was now his home and fixated there for a long time.
With a start, Syaoran jerked his thoughts from their current path with a heavy flush and slapped his hand over his face in embarrassment, although no one was around to see him. He groaned in mortification. "Damn it."