An Arrival of a Rival. CH18


(Previous Chapter:https://touchfluffytail.org/story/an-arrival-of-a-rival-ch17/)

Chapter 18

A baby’s first…lift?!

Day Five, Friday.

“Yes! It’s finally the weekend, baby!” Of the time Karika has worked in construction so far, she has never been as happy for the weekends as she is now.

“You alright, Karika?” Witnessing Karika’s descent into madness and fatigue four days prior, Bria couldn’t help worrying for Karika after she downed two cups of double-shot espresso coffee.

“Yeah! I’m perfectly fine!” Bria would’ve been more convinced if Karika hadn’t responded in a manic manner all day.

“Right…Well, good job today. Now you can spend your two days off resting.” Not even two seconds after Bria brought up the word rest, Karika was already nodding on and off. Seemingly out of nowhere, Karika nearly falls on her back before Bria swiftly catches her. Checking to make sure she was alright, Karika was lightly snoring. “Geez…what a handful you are…” Hoisting Karika on her back, Bria carries her outside the construction site, where Faulkner is waiting in his car. “Hey, I have your sleeping beauty here.” Rolling his car window down, Bria flinches when she notices Faulkner has bags under his eyes.

“Oh…thank you, Bria. Karika didn’t fall asleep on the job, did she?”

“No. Thankfully, Tuesday was her one-time occurrence. She collapsed roughly a minute after she clocked out.”

“That’s good. Well, the back passenger seat doors are open.”

“Alright. I’ll put Karika in the back seat.” Being the heavy sleeper she was, Karika was as limp as a noodle. Thankfully, Bria was patient and strong enough to position Karika in the back seat. Putting the seat belt on for Karika, Bria sighs and chuckles when Karika murmurs in her sleep. “Heh, such a pain in the ass.”

“You’re telling me. Thanks for taking care of Karika, Bria.”

“No worries at all. Now, are you alright to drive?” Giving her a thumbs up, Faulkner flashes a grin at Bria.

“Don’t worry. I know I look like shit, but I promise I’m awake enough to drive. Do you need a ride home? You can think of it as thanks for dealing with Karika’s antics.”

“Nah. My husband’s on his way to pick me up. I appreciate your offer.”

“Alright. Well, if you come up with something, let me know.”

“Will do. Take care, Faulkner.” Waving goodbye to Bria, Faulkner rolls his car window back up before driving off. When they got home, Faulkner gently slapped Karika on the cheeks to wake her up.

“Hey, come on. We’re home. You can wake yourself enough to walk to the bedroom, right?” Moaning in her sleep, Karika momentarily opens her eyes and sees Faulkner.

“Oh, hey! When did you get here?” Karika was still under the impression that she was at her work site.

“We’re back home, you idiot. Get out of the car so we can get inside already.” Groggy, Karika steps out of the car with Faulkner’s help. Waiting for them at the front door was Reiza, holding Vey in her arms.

“Welcome home.” Greeting Faulkner with a kiss, Reiza sighs in annoyance at Karika. “Come on, Porky. Shower first, then off to bed with you…”

“Don’t I get a kiss?” Pursing her lips to tease Reiza, she answers by pressing her right palm against Karika’s lips.

“Shut up, idiot. Get going already.”

“Fine…” Watching Karika head upstairs, Reiza shook her head. She then turns her attention to Faulkner.

“So, how was work?” Relieved to be home, Faulkner sits on the living room couch to relax.

“Fine. I have to go to TMRC for two hours tomorrow to train the other Societal Norms teachers.”

“Can’t catch a break, can you?”

“Heh. Well, it’s usually not a problem for me. But the lack of sleep I’ve been getting this particular week’s been getting to me.” Sitting next to him, Faulkner couldn’t help but pat the sleeping Vey on the head. “How’s Vey been doing?”

“She’s fine. However, we might have to go to a grocery store tomorrow and get her baby formula. We’re down to our last bag of Trisha’s milk.”

“Already? I should’ve figured. We should leave early tomorrow. I don’t have to go to TMRC until four in the afternoon.”

“Sounds good.” Slowly opening her eyes, Vey stretches her little arms out before staring at Faulkner. With a smile, Faulkner pokes Vey on her right cheek, causing her to giggle. “So, what’re you in the mood for dinner tonight?” While it wasn’t always the case, they typically go out on Friday to eat somewhere. Since they’re taking care of Vey, they agreed to have food delivered to their house this week.

“Hmm…I’m not in the mood for anything in particular…” Having finished her shower while Faulkner was thinking of what to eat, Karika came to the living room with nothing but her underwear.

“Pizza! I want Pizza for dinner tonight!”

“What the…I thought you were heading to bed?”

“I was. But hunger struck down like a mighty hammer.” Seeing Karika, Vey got more vocal while reaching out to her. “Oh! You want uppies?”

Handing Vey over to Karika, Reiza pulls her phone out to order from the usual pizza place they order.

“Porky…you want your usual?” Looking back at Karika, she alternates between hugging Vey between her chest and gently tossing her into the air. “Sis…”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! Meatlovers with stuffed crust! Large!”

“Big surprise there. And you, Faulkner?”

“Get me a thin-crust pepperoni pizza.”

“Got it. I’ll order a Caesar salad for myself.” While frowning, Reiza pinches a small layer of fat on her stomach. “I’ve been getting a little fat, so I gotta lay off on some of the fatty crap…”

“In that case, why don’t you join me the next time I train?” Reiza was all too familiar with Karika’s training regiment. After coming home, Karika would run four miles outside or on a treadmill. It depends on the weather. Then, she would lift weights and alternate areas of her body depending on the day of the week.

Because they were looking after Vey this week, Karika was too tired to work out doing her share of looking after Vey.

“Work out with you? You’re going to run me ragged.” Karika gently cradles Vey in her arms after she had enough fun with Vey before handing her over to Faulkner.

“Don’t be such a pussy. I won’t push you too hard, I promise. And Faulkner, you need to start working out more often. You’ve been slacking off lately.” Faulkner found less time to join Karika in her workout sessions after grading more papers from an increased volume of students in TMRC and his job tutoring new Teachers to teach societal norms classes. Still, Faulkner wasn’t unhealthy by any means. He manages to maintain his physique since he carefully portions his meals.

“Easier said than done, Karika. I would if I had more time between grading papers and tutoring teachers.” They watch TV while waiting for their meal to be delivered.

“Did Trisha call you earlier, sis?”

“Yeah. Trisha and Markus spent the day collecting souvenirs. Trisha was likely drunk when she called since her speech was slurry. Something about finding the sister spirit of the ‘Azure Bloom’ Sake Faulkner brought over one time.” To keep Vey entertained, Faulkner gently bounces his right leg where Vey is sitting, causing her to rock up and down.

“Hey, I wonder if we’ll get that Sake as a souvenir gift? I certainly wouldn’t mind…” Playing dumb with a coy smile on her face, Faulkner shook his head at Karika after what happened the last time all three of them were drunk.

“Let’s not. The hangover I got from that wasn’t worth it…” When their food delivery finally arrived, Karika immediately downed half of her pizza before falling dozing off again on the couch.

“Unbelievable. Soon as she gets food in her stomach, the dumbass falls asleep right on the couch…”

“Heh. Let her. You saw how tired Karika was when she got here. She probably won’t wake up until sometime at midnight.” Having played with Reiza earlier, Vey nodded on and off before falling asleep in Faulkner’s right arm.

“…” It was a sight Reiza grew to embrace. The gentle way Faulkner carries Vey in his arms. The joy he exudes when he hears Vey laugh. When Reiza sees him with Vey, Reiza pictures the same scenario with their eventual child. “You know, even though this week’s been rough on all of us, I kind of tense that it’ll end soon…” Remaining quiet, Faulkner understood what Reiza meant by that.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Don’t play dumb. I know you’ll miss looking after Vey too when this week’s over. Also, you and Karika probably don’t notice it much since you both go to work during the weekdays, but it gets pretty boring in the house. I keep myself occupied doing house chores, but when I finish those, I get lonely.” Of course, Reiza has several things she could do to pass the time, such as playing video games or chatting with friends over the phone. But lately, she found a deep-rooted desire for more domestic ways of killing time, like cooking dinner, or as she found some joy in recently, child-rearing.

“Sorry about that. I get to spend even less time in the house since I also have to go to TMRC on Saturdays to tutor new teachers. I have to live up to Reiss’s expectations. I can’t afford to slack off, even a little bit.”

“Speaking of Reiss, how’s she been?”

“Busy. Nakoto has been filling in some of Reiss’s duties since she’s in Guatemala. I’ve been relaying my progress to Nakoto in the meantime.”

“Guatemala? Why’s she there?”

“She’s planning on opening another TMRC institute there. Denise is with her to help spearhead the construction there.”

“Denise is there too?”

“Yeah. Denise is also there to do her job as a realtor. There’s plenty of vacant land where she can build exotic houses for certain clients.” When they finished eating, Faulkner carefully moved to Vey’s bassinet before setting her down there. “As for Vey. It’s not like we won’t see her again. If anything, this is only one of many chances we’ll have with her, given Trisha’s schedule and Markus’s college classes.”

“True. Trisha’s even busier than you are. I’m surprised she doesn’t come to work looking like a zombie.” Seemingly amused at what Reiza said, Faulkner chuckles at her.

“That won’t last. Trisha was given less work for the first few weeks after her pregnancy. After her honeymoon, she’ll have a LOT of paperwork to sift through. Fae Fae says as much after filling in for Trisha. Anyways, I’m gonna go take a shower.”

“Sure. I’ll keep an eye on Vey. Oh, and wake this dumbass up too.”

“Be my guest. You know how heavy of a sleeper she is…” Walking up to Karika, Faulkner slaps her on her cheeks a few times.

“Mmmmaahh…stop…” Swatting his hand away, Faulkner sighs in defeat before looking back at Reiza. “I could wake her up if I raised my voice, but then I’d wake Vey. You’re better off letting Karika wake up on her own.” Leaving them so he could bathe, Faulkner went upstairs to their bathroom. Taking his clothes off, he glances at the mirror on their sink. Indeed, he’s still fairly muscular, but the definition of his muscles was starting to fade into his skin.

“I guess I should stop making excuses and find the time to tone back up. I worked hard to get this look so I wouldn’t look like an eyesore to Karika.” Waiting for the water to heat up, Faulkner’s thoughts go back to when Reiza mentioned she was lonely. He knew there was more to it than that, but he didn’t want to delve into the topic. It’s too soon for him to have kids with Karika and Reiza. Before they can have kids, Faulkner wants to plan things out. At the bare minimum, he at least wants Reiza to finish her college courses first and get the job she wants.

However…

“Ah…twelve years. There’s no way both of them will agree to that. And even then, who’s to say one of them won’t get pregnant with how often we fuck. If it wasn’t for the low chance of fertilization, I’d already have a three-year-old to look after with Karika…” Letting the hot water pelt away at his troubles, Faulkner puts his thoughts aside for now. When he finished and dried himself off, he went downstairs to check on the girls. Reiza was nowhere to be found, but Karika was awake and watching TV in the living room.

“Hmm? Hey, Faulkner.” Still sound asleep, Karika was gently rocking Vey’s bassinet.

“You’re awake. How did Reiza manage to wake you up?”

“Tsk. She didn’t. I woke up after my stomach started growling. Reiza went to the computer room to do her online classes after that. Also, can you go to the kitchen and reheat my pizza slices? Please?”

“Ugh…you lazy little…fine.”

“Thanks. I love you…” Blowing a kiss toward him, Faulkner swats her gesture away before walking to the kitchen with her pizza. While waiting for the oven to reheat, he joins Karika on the couch, where she jumps him for a hug. “That was cold of you. Blowing away my kiss like that…”

“You couldn’t bother to get up and reheat your pizza?”

“Not when I’m keeping an eye on this bundle of joy. Just look at her.” He hadn’t noticed it before, but Vey had one of Karika’s plushies in her arms. “This is your March Hare plushie.”

“Yup. Vey’s got one hell of a grip. Once she had it, it was impossible to pry it out without hurting her. It’s fine. I’ll let her keep it if she likes it that much.” With a laugh, this was the fifth plushie Karika willingly gave to Vey since she used them to play with her.

“That’s your plushie. Are you sure?” Karika still sleeps with her plushies in her arms when she’s not sleeping with Faulkner or Reiza. So he knows how important they are to her.

“I’m sure. We all have to grow up at some point, right? I should feel embarrassed that I kept them around for this long. I should’ve outgrown them by the time I was in high school…” It was apparent from Karika’s tone that she genuinely felt embarrassed about it. To comfort her, Faulkner slings his left arm around Karika’s shoulders and pulls her face onto his chest. “F-Faulkner?!”

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I think it’s cute.” Caught off-guard by Faulkner’s words and display of affection, Karika lets out a girlish whimper. “I’ll get you more plushies later, okay?”

“Geez…that’s sweet of you. But Really, I’m fine. I have you and Reiza. And maybe in a couple of years from now, we’ll have kids ourselves to shower with love and kisses…” Remembering what he was mulling through in the shower earlier, Faulkner wonders if he should bring up what he was talking to himself earlier about.

With a sigh, he decides to go for it.

“You too, huh?”

“You too? What do you mean by that?”

“Karika…how long would you wait to have kids? A year from now? Maybe four? What about twelve years?”

“Twelve! Fuck that. I don’t want to wait that long. At the most, maybe four. Why are you asking all of a sudden?” Hesitant to elaborate further, Faulkner sees the look Karika is giving him. If he doesn’t say it, she’ll force him to.

Meanwhile, Reiza was heading downstairs to grab a drink in the kitchen after finishing her online classes for the night.

“I…I’m worried about having kids.” Stopping in her tracks, Reiza was halfway down the stairs, where she saw Faulkner and Karika.

“You’re worried? You were so enthusiastic about becoming a father. What’s making you doubt yourself now?”

“Think about it, Karika. This whole week, we’ve been looking after Vey. How much time do you and I spend looking after her?”

“Easy. We spend half the day with her.”

“Wrong. We spent a collective two hours between us before heading to bed. And yes, while you and I take turns soothing Vey when she wakes up, Reiza takes care of her for the whole morning and half of the afternoon. Reiza’s a clever woman, so I know she’s doing fine with her studies. But. She’s like you in that she’ll hide how she truly feels. I’m certain she’s mentally and physically exhausted by now. But won’t admit it.” Taking his statement to heart, she took his concern for her as an insult. Reiza wanted to go down there and give Faulkner a piece of her mind.

“Okay. I get that Reiza takes care of Vey more than we do. Still, what does that have to do with us having kids?”

“I don’t want to overwhelm Reiza with too many responsibilities. After babysitting Vey for five days, I know the lack of sleep is getting to her. What more if we have kids? It won’t just be a week anymore. There’s also the fact she’ll eventually have to train on-site for her degree. We can always hire babysitters, but that only solves the problem when we’re not around the house. There’s so much to consider here…” As much as Karika wanted to contest him, she knew Faulkner had a point. Money wasn’t a concern as Karika and Faulkner had more than enough money between them.

“I…I guess you’re right.”

“Wrong. Why don’t you ask the person who concerns it most before talking about it behind her back?!” Sneaking up behind Karika and Faulkner, Reiza glares at Faulkner with her hands on her hips.

“R-Reiza. L-look, I didn’t mean to-”

“Didn’t mean to what? Belittle me behind my back? When did I once say that I had trouble, hmm?! You probably think I’m some sort of dainty little thing that needs constant supervision because of the shit that happened between me and my mom, huh?!” Letting their emotions get the better of them, they forget to control the volume of their voices as Faulkner stands up in retaliation.

“Wha-What does that have to do with anything?! I’m talking about how physically and mentally exhausting it is to look after a Vey! You can hide it all you want, but I know you can barely focus on your studies!”

“That’s why you and Karika take over when you get home! Vey’s a good girl who hardly causes problems for me! And, more importantly, the reason you agreed to take the position you did in TMRC is so you can earn more money. Right?!”

“Money isn’t the issue here! Down the line, you’ll have to take classes on campus! Who’ll take care of the kids while we’re out?!”

“That’s what a babysitter is for, you moron!” Overwhelmed by the two, Karika couldn’t find an opening to jump in between Reiza and Faulkner. To her knowledge, this was the first time Faulkner and Reiza had a genuine argument where the two got angry. To make matters worse, the yelling between the two roused Vey from her nap. Their aggressive tone upsets Vey before she starts crying.

“WAAAHHHH!!!” Tensions ran high between Faulkner and Reiza. Unable to think straight, Faulkner makes the mistake of shifting the blame rather than taking responsibility.

“Dammit! And we just put her to sleep! You just had to come over and start yelling!”

“ME?! You were talking just as loudly as I am! Get off your high horse, you fucking idiot!”

“What did you call me?!”

“AAAHHH…WAH…WAAAHHHH!!!” Despite Vey’s cries, Faulkner and Reiza continue to yell at each other. Karika, the only calm person left in this situation, was starting to get angry. Unlike Reiza and Faulkner, she has a good reason to be.

“Grr…will you two SHUT UP!!!” Acting on impulse, Karika punches both Faulkner and Reiza on top of their heads. Thankfully, Karika instinctively controlled her strength and punched them just hard enough to get them to stop arguing.

“OW!” Holding their heads from the pain of Karika’s punch, she picks up Vey and cradles her to calm her down. While Karika was working to calm Vey down, Faulkner and Reiza were rubbing their heads to soothe the pain from getting punched. Then, when Vey had calmed down enough, Karika put her back in her bassinet, grabbed Faulkner and Reiza by their arm, and dragged them to the backyard.

“If you’re going to argue, then do it outside.” Karika didn’t even wait for their response and slid the door close in front of them before locking it to make her point.

“…” Processing what had happened, Faulkner and Reiza simply stand there, unable to utter a single word. It took two minutes before either could think of something to say. It was just a matter of who’d speak up first.

To clear his mind, Faulkner stares at the cloudy night sky. As for Reiza, she stares at the reflection of the sky on their ground pool.

“I-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have talked about something that important behind your back. I’m just worried about you. Really. I didn’t mean to undermine you if that was the impression you were getting.” Sighing in resignation, Reiza knew she overreacted. She couldn’t help herself. She knew Faulkner meant well and had good reasons to be worried.

“Yeah. I’m sorry as well. I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping as long as I have and going off on you like that. You know I don’t like being a burden to others, so…”

“No. You have a point. I know you’re a strong woman. I shouldn’t have undermined you the way I did.” Having calmed down, the two sat on the edge of their patio to talk some more. “I know, alright. Once I finish my online classes, I’ll have to go to the university to study on-site. And yeah, taking care of Vey is tiring. But you know, I don’t dislike it. I enjoy taking care of Vey.”

“I know you do. But it has to be exhausting for you.”

“Faulkner. That’s just how it is when raising kids. It doesn’t matter if all three of us are working long shifts or not working. Taking care of children will always be tiring. That’s why we have each other, right? There are single mothers out there who make do despite their circumstances. I should count myself lucky having you and Karika around for support.”

“Reiza…”

“Look. I promise if things are getting problematic. I’ll let you know. You trust me enough to do that, right?” Staring right into her eyes, the red flames on Reiza’s horns and tail grew. The intensity of her flame’s glow reflects her emotions. Based on that, Faulkner knows how serious she was.

“Okay. You’ve made your point. I trust you, Reiza. But. You’d better keep that promise and TELL me if you’re overwhelmed.”

“I will.” Now that they’ve calmed down, Faulkner and Reiza laugh their worries off before kissing each other.

“Are you two done arguing?” Coming back seemingly at the right moment, Karika unlocks the sliding glass door to check on them. But really, Karika was hiding behind the wall next to the door to listen in to Faulkner and Reiza’s conversation.

“Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Sorry for what we did earlier…”

“How’s Vey doing now?”

“She’s a lot better now, no thanks to you two…” She didn’t want to show it, but Karika was touched by what Reiza said. Still, Karika had to keep up appearances for the lesson of their mistake to sink in. “Seriously. I can’t believe the first real argument you two have had to happen while Vey was around! How irresponsible can you two get?!” Staring at each other for a moment before staring back at Karika. Faulkner and Reiza found it jarring that Karika was scolding them. With a chuckle, both unintentionally laugh since they found it funny that someone hotheaded like Karika was scolding them. Karika was unamused before hitting them on the head again. “What’re you two laughing about, huh?!”

“Oww! Dammit, Porky!” Butting heads again, Faulkner laughs it off before patting them on their shoulders.

“Okay. That’s enough. Karika. I’m sorry for getting out of hand, Karika.” Admitting her fault, Reiza pulls away from her headbutt with Karika.

“…yeah…me too.”

“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Vey. You two made her cry.” With a nod, they head to the living room to do just that. “Geez…what will they do without me?”

Still sniffling from before, Reiza picks Vey up and comforts her with a hug.

“We’re sorry, Vey. We didn’t mean to scare you…” Warming her body up a bit, the soothing heat Reiza gave off helped to calm Vey down.

“I hope you can forgive us, Vey…” Along with Faulkner gently patting her head, Vey eventually stops whining. Though, a few moments later. Vey starts whining. “Ah, what’s wrong now?”

“It’s been over two hours now. So I’m pretty sure Vey’s hungry.” Walking to the kitchen, Reiza pours half of the last of Trisha’s milk into Vey’s bottle before handing it to Karika. “Here. I’m gonna take a shower. Feed her.”

“Sure. Alright, Vey. Let’s get you fed…”. Since Reiza and Faulkner need to get up early tomorrow to have time to get to the store, they went to bed before Karika.

“…” Watching TV to pass the time, Karika decided to stay in the living room for the night to keep an eye on Vey. Hugging the March Hare Plushie lovingly, she rolls around in her bassinet while giggling. “Heh. Gosh. Just like me when I was a kid. How many plushies was it that I surrounded myself with? Maybe I can learn how to stitch and sew things. That way, I can make a plushie for you. How does that sound, Vey?” Though she couldn’t understand Karika, the enthusiasm in her voice let Vey know she was happy. That, in turn, made her happy before she stretched her arms toward Karika. “Sheesh. You sure love to be picked up, don’t you?” Picking Vey up, Karika had some fun playing tug of war with Vey as she pulled on Karika’s right pinky. By the time midnight came around, Vey fell asleep on top of Karika’s chest. Covering herself and Vey with a blanket, Karika gently cradles Vey before falling asleep herself.

____________________

“Hey…did you two sleep well? And why are you two dressed like you’re going out somewhere?” Seven hours after midnight, Faulkner and Reiza came out of the bedroom so they could get ready to head to the groceries to grab Vey’s formula. However, it just crossed their minds they never told Karika about their plans since she was upstairs showering.

“Oh right, we didn’t tell you, did we? I’m sure you’ve noticed that Vey’s milk supply is running out.”

“Ah, yeah. I just finished off the last of what we had an hour ago. As you can see, Vey’s getting sleepy in my arms.” Pointing at Vey’s empty bottle on the living room coffee table, Karika managed to lull Vey back to sleep by rocking her gently in her arms.

“Right. We’ll be back in a bit. So keep an eye on Vey while we’re gone, Porky.”

“Uh-huh. Don’t take too long, you two. And small tits, make sure you don’t choke.”

“Choke, what the fuck are you talking about?” A crude smile forms on Karika’s face.

“Don’t play dumb. I know you’ll suck Faulkner’s dick while he’s driving. You better hope he doesn’t hit a speed bump or a pothole in those cases.” Short on time, Reiza didn’t bother retaliating and chose to roll her eyes in annoyance instead. Faulkner just laughs it off before they leave the house. “Alright, now it’s just you and me…” Still asleep in her arms, Karika sets Vey down on her bassinet.

“Mmm…” Feeling Karika’s warmth fade away, Vey whines in her sleep, unsure of what happened. With quick thinking, Karika hands Vey the March Hare plushie and covers Vey up to her neck with her blanket. Once she felt warmth and surround her, Vey happily hugged the plushie before falling back to sleep.

*Growl*

“Ugh…” As hunger creeps in, Karika takes one last look at Vey. With Vey sound asleep, Karika went to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. Karika and Reiza had similar tastes when it came to cereals. They liked them sweet with bits of marshmallows. The cereal box Karika chose had a WereRabbit holding a bowl of the brand’s cereal. With frosted whole grain bits shaped like cabbages, the carrot-shaped marshmallows only added to what essentially is a sugar bomb. “Bunny Bunches of Nopes. I should text Reiza and Faulkner and let them know to get another box of these.” With cereal in hand, Karika heads back to the living room to watch TV while eating her cereal.

[“Good morning, everyone. It’s seven-thirty in the morning. Today marks the first day of spring.”

“That’s right, Holland. Temperatures are finally rising, with an average reading of seventy-seven degrees Fahrenheit. Today is no exception. Expect rain in the coming days. So make sure you keep an umbrella handy.”

“Now then, onto the current headlines…”]

Texting Faulkner and Reiza before she forgets, Karika paid half attention to the news. Most covered recent developments from laws passed down for Monsters and new development projects around theme park rides that cater to certain monsters’ unique physiology. One story did catch her attention.

[“A few months ago, an incident between mother and daughter took place that shook the lives of many. Meredith will go to trial regarding her drug trafficking and fraud a week from today. The men who were involved with Meredith have all denied involvement with her. The upcoming trial should shed some light on the validity of their claims. So far, no arrests have been made…]

“…” Unsure whether she should tell Reiza, Karika decides to wait until Reiza comes home. Reiza would eventually find out anyway, so there’s no point in hiding it from her. “Hmm?” At the corner of her eye, Karika saw Vey’s bassinet begin to rock back and forth. “Vey?” Looking over the bassinet, Vey was now lying on the opposite side. Perplexed, Karika scratches her head. How did Vey get on the other side, she wondered. She concluded that Vey must’ve rolled her body around, which would explain why the bassinet was rocking around. “Can’t be…could it?” Curiosity got the better of Karika. Now that Vey’s awake, Karika gives in to her curiosity and picks Vey up.

“Wah?” With curiosity in her eyes, Vey wonders what Karika wants from her. Being held close to Karika’s chest, Vey accepts Karika’s embrace and buries her face between them.

“Vey, did you manage to crawl while I wasn’t looking?” Karika knew Vey couldn’t understand her, let alone answer. Instead, she picks up the March Hare plushie. “Hey, Vey. Look here. It’s your favorite plushie…” Waving the plushie close to Vey’s face to get her attention, Karika sets the plushie down on the floor. She then puts Vey down on her belly six feet away from the plushie. “O-okay…V-vey. Go!” Watching over Vey with bated breath, Vey didn’t understand what Karika wanted her to do. All she knew was that Karika was staring at her and was excited about something.

“Goo…” Since she couldn’t comprehend what Karika wanted from her, Vey simply lay there on her belly.

“Was…I wrong?”

*Ding* Taken by surprise, Karika flinched before turning her attention to the front door.

“Hey! Open the door, Porky!” Reiza and Faulkner had just gotten back from the grocery store. While they didn’t buy that much, the amount of bags they had in their hands kept them from opening the door themselves.

“Don’t be a lazy fuck, small tits! Open the door yourself!” Before Reiza has a chance to retaliate, Faulkner talks over her.

“Karika, please. Both of our hands are full carrying groceries.” Looking back and forth between the front door and Vey, Karika whined in annoyance before making her way to the door.

“Here. Weren’t you guys planning to buy only a few things?” Walking past Karika, Reiza sneers at her.

“Well, we might as well stock up on food while we were there. You’re the one who eats the most out of all of us, after…eh?” Looking down at the floor, Reiza spots Vey with the March Hare Plushie in her arms. “I guess you were in the middle of playing with Vey? She seems to really like that March Hare Plushie.”

“Wait, what?!” Running back to the living room, Karika was utterly perplexed. Moments ago, Vey was six feet away from the March Hare plushie. Then, a moment after she turned her back away from Vey, the plushie was in her arms. “How in the…”

“Why do you look so shocked, Karika? It’s just Vey hugging your plushie like usual.”

“I! But, she…” Karika was unsure of what to say. As for Reiza and Faulkner, they look at each other with concern on their faces.

And while that was happening, Vey spotted one of the small dumbbells Karika had left on the floor. Its vibrant pink color calls her like a beacon. Sharing the same color palette as the March Hare plushie, Vey’s curiosity compelled her to grab hold of it.

“Uh…guys…” Getting Reiza and Faulkner’s attention, Reiza points at Vey, who got on all fours. Dropping the plushie in her arms, Vey drags her right knee forward, then her left. Using her tiny hands as support, she crawls toward the dumbbell.

“N-NO WAY!!! She’s crawling!”

“Yeah, I can see that, Porky!” It was slow, but Vey was indeed crawling. “Oh, crap! Porky, start recording Vey with your phone!” Confused, it took a second for Karika to understand Reiza’s meaning before pulling out her phone to record Vey.

*Ring Ring, Ring Ring…*

“She’s not answering…”

“Trisha and Markus are probably asleep by now.”

“Dammit! And I promised I’d call them when Vey started crawling.”

“It’s fine! I got it on camera anyway!” It was only thanks to the self-stabilization in her phone that any video Karika recorded was watchable. However, there was another matter the group did not expect once Vey had reached her goal. Hugging the pink dumbbell did not yield the soft sensation she had associated the color with. Upset at how uncomfortable it felt to hug, Vey defied their expectations again by throwing the dumbbell three feet away. Turning to face Reiza, Karika, and Faulkner, Vey points at them before laughing. All three of their jaws hung down in shock. Karika points right back at Vey to verify what she just saw.

“Okay. So, we’ve all experienced Vey’s strength firsthand, but I didn’t think she could do that…”

“That’s…normal for blue oni’s…I think. I mean, weren’t you that strong when you were a baby, Porky?”

“Mom said I was hard to pull away when she was breastfeeding me, but I don’t think I’ve been able to lift weights that heavy until I was a year and a half old.”

‘That’s pretty impressive all on its own, Karika…’ In deep thought, Faulkner has to remember monster babies would be different from human babies. That thought led to him imagining Karika’s babies lifting sofa chairs and tables at the age of two. And what about Reiza’s baby? Would he have to carry a fire extinguisher around wherever he took her? The thought of extinguishing a baby made Faulkner chuckle aloud.

“You alright there, Faulkner?” Karika was still recording when she turned her attention to Faulkner.

“I’m fine, Karika. I just had a funny thought…”

“Hey! Get back to recording Vey, Porky! she’s crawling back for the plushie!” Pointing back at Vey, Karika quickly turned her phone camera back to Vey.

“R-Right!” Seeing Karika and Reiza’s smiling faces as they watched Vey crawl made Faulkner’s chest warm and fuzzy. His worries from the night before seemed nebulous in the face of their joy. Heck, it made him feel joy just watching them. It made him wonder how warm and fuzzy they were feeling by comparison.

“I think Vey moved faster that time.”

“I think so. Hey, you can stop recording now. Go ahead and send the video you recorded to Trisha. She won’t get it right now, but I’m sure she’ll get it right when she arrives at the airport here in California.”

“Right.” With the plushie back in her arms, Vey rolls around with the plushie while nuzzling her cheeks against it.

“Welp, now that the excitement’s gone, let’s get the groceries out of the way. Reiza, can you help me unpack the groceries?”

“Sure.”

“Karika, keep Vey entertained for now. I’ll make her milk from the baby formula we bought. Hopefully, she’ll drink it like Markus said she would.”

“Alright.” After unpacking their groceries, it was time to test the baby formula they bought. Karika had Vey sitting on her right thigh on the couch as they were watching TV. “That didn’t take long.”

“Yeah. Here, you feed her.” Handing the bottle to Karika. Faulkner and Reiza watched as Karika brought the nipple to Vey’s mouth.

“Vey, are yah hungry?” Getting her attention by shaking the bottle, Vey grabs hold of the bottle and sucks the nipple into her mouth. Right away, Vey stops sucking after her first sip. It definitely tastes familiar to her. Still, she did drink it, albeit slowly.

“She’s drinking it. That’s good.” With a sigh, Faulkner took a moment to relax and sat next to Karika. As for Reiza, it was time for breakfast. And she knows both Faulkner and Karika are hungry.

“Well, I suppose I should get breakfast started. What’re guys in the mood for?” Putting her hands on her waist, Reiza stares at Karika first.

“Hmm…Oh! I want chicken fried steak!” Not surprised at all, Reiza nods before turning her attention to Faulkner.

“And you, what do you want?”

“Heh. I’ll have the same thing. I’m sure you know how we like the rest, right?”

“Uh-huh. Porky here likes her eggs over easy with tater tots. And you like your eggs scrambled with hash browns. Right, Faulkner?”

“Right…” Getting up from the couch, Faulkner stretched his arms up high. Seeing this, Vey imitates him. “Do you need help?”

“Nah. You go to work at noon, right? You go on and relax for now.” Heading for the kitchen, Faulkner has three hours before he has to head to work. For now, he chose to spend that time spoiling Vey with Karika.

“Faulkner…” While waving the March Hare plushie in her right hand in front of Vey, Karika figured she should get a second opinion on the news broadcast this morning.

“What is it, Karika?”

“The news this morning, they were talking about Meredith’s next trial…”

“…I see…”

“It’ll happen next week. Think we should tell Reiza about it?”

“She’ll find out on her own eventually. We’ll bring it when during breakfast.”

“Got it. Oh, and Faulkner…” With a smile, Karika cuddles up to Faulkner with Vey in her arms. “About what happened last night. Make sure you know I’m also here for you, alright?” Blushing from embarrassment, Faulkner kisses Karika on the cheeks as a show of thanks.

“I know you are. Thank you, Karika. You’re both too good for me. Really.”

____________________

”Alright, breakfast is done! Get your butts over here!” The scent of sizzling steak beforehand was already making Karika’s mouth water. Once the food was ready, Karika didn’t hesitate to make a beeline to the kitchen. Faulkner followed shortly after while rolling Vey in her bassinet with him.

Staring at her plate, Karika gave her exactly what she wanted. The mountain of tater tots alone would fill most people up, but the steak Reiza cooked was what Karika focused on. The eggs cooked to perfection in her eyes.

“Fantastic as usual, small tits.”

“Heh, like there was any doubt…” Flashing a knowing smile at Reiza, Karika’s reaction further proves the point Faulkner made to Reiza regarding who was the better cook between the two. Faulkner’s plate is nearly as big as Karika’s. But his has perfectly cooked hashbrowns and scrambled eggs. Reiza’s plate was the smallest of the three. She used the leftovers from the tater tots and hashbrowns she cooked for one of the side dishes, along with four slices of buttered toast rather than eggs.

“Indeed. The hashbrowns on my plate are cooked just right. Nice and brown with a satisfying, crispy bite.” The slew of compliments made the flames on Reiza’s horn and tail grow from embarrassment.

“Okay, I get it. Just start eating already before it gets cold…” With Vey sleeping soundly in her bassinet, breakfast starts with Karika moaning in delight with every bite she took of her meal. Faulkner was more reserved but shared in Karika’s enthusiasm. About halfway through her meal, Karika stares at Faulkner inquisitively. Aware of what she wants to do, Faulkner nods as now is a time to bring up what Karika saw in the news.

“So…uh…sis. I saw something on the morning news today.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“There was a news update on Meredith’s upcoming trial…” Reiza was about to take a bite of her toast before stopping midway. “It’s next week. It’s about the other charges like drug trafficking and fraudulent purchases.”

“I see. I think I’ll skip that trial.” Reiza’s remiss tone made it sound like she didn’t care about it. But the look on her face said otherwise. “I have nothing to do with the other charges Meredith’s involved in. So there’s no point in me knowing about the crap she did behind my back. The only thing we did together was occasionally tag team some guys. But I only did that with her four times. And before you ask, no, aside from selling my body like a whore and having sex while I was underage, I didn’t do anything illegal.”

“I wasn’t going to ask that!”

“Maybe, but you were definitely thinking it…” Karika wanted to prove her wrong, but Reiza’s piercing gaze stopped her. Deep down, she knew Reiza was on point. Karika was thinking of ways to bring up the question without sounding insensitive. Instead, Faulkner did her a favor and answered for her.

“That’s all in the past. What matters now is what you have here.” Letting her shift in her mood get to her, Reiza felt guilty after snapping at Karika the way she did.

“Yeah. Sorry about that. It’s all stuff I’d rather forget, so I got irritable there. I’m sorry, sis…”

“No, I should be the one apologizing…” Things got awkward in the room for a moment. Thankfully, Vey’s cries jolted them out of it before Faulkner stood from his seat to comfort her.

“There, there. What’s wrong, Vey?” A quick sniff told him all he needed to know. “Ah, diaper change. Alright, I’ll be right back.” Leaving with Vey to change her diaper in the downstairs bathroom gave Karika and Reiza some alone time.

“Do you have plans today, lil sis?”

“Nah. What about you?”

“I was thinking of going out to meet up with Tera.”

“You made plans with her?”

“Not yet…” Reiza expected as much. Karika hardly plans ahead of time. She typically leaves it to chance whether or not someone she wants to hang out with is free to do so. If not, she’ll ask someone else or cancel her plans to go out. “But, I think I’ll relax here for the day instead.”

“Good idea. You’ve basically been a walking corpse for the past three days. You can take a nap after breakfast if you want?”

“Eh, and get fat? No fucking way. I’m gonna do some weight lifting.”

“No, you’re going to be washing the dishes first. It’s your turn during the weekends, remember?”

“Right…” Hearing footsteps, they see Faulkner coming back with Vey in his arms.

“Alright. Vey’s got fresh diapers on. Don’t you, Vey? Yes you do, yes you do!” Holding Vey right in front of his face, Faulkner rubs his face on her belly and blows a raspberry on it. Vey’s laughter cheered Karika and Reiza up as the two laughed together.

“Hey, hurry up and finish your breakfast so I can clean the dishes, Faulkner. Karika and I finished here.”

“Uh-huh. Why don’t you play with Vey while I do just that?” Handing Vey over to Reiza, Faulkner made quick work of his meal. After that, he went upstairs to take a shower before work. Karika cleans the dishes while Reiza plays with Vey in the living room.

As for the rest of the day, Reiza played video games to destress while Karika watched with Vey. Faulkner was busy writing a report on the teachers he tutored that day. When he came home, Reiza and Karika saw the frustration on his face, telling them it didn’t go as well as he would’ve liked.

____________________

“Man, I should’ve napped while we were in the airport…” Having just got off the plane they were on, Trisha rubbed the back of her neck in pain with her right hand.

“Right. You were awake on the whole flight to Japan.” With extra bags full of souvenirs from Japan on each arm, Markus held onto them while Trisha carried the luggage bags they brought with them. “Having to leave Sunday night there felt weird since it’s Sunday morning here.” Heading back to the long-term parking garage, Markus started packing their belongings in their car while Trisha went to the driver’s seat to relax.

“Yeah. Timezones are bitch. I should check to see if I got any text messages from Faulkner or his girls…” Turning her phone back on since she was conserving battery life during the flight, she immediately gets text and video messages from Karika.

“Hey, Trisha. Where did you put my-”

“AAAAHHH!!! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOOOODDD!!!” Startling Markus, he banged his head on the trunk of their car. Trisha’s screams of delight echoed throughout the parking garage, garnering the attention of everyone in it.

“Whoa, wh-what happened?!” In a panic, Markus came rushing to Trisha, wondering why she yelled out like that.

“Markus, look! Vey’s crawling!” Showing the video Karika sent to Trisha, Vey was indeed crawling.

“Huh, she did manage to crawl. From the sounds of the video, Karika and Reiza share your enthusiasm.”

“And you don’t?! It’s our daughter’s first crawl! I knew she was strong enough to move on her own already!”

“Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m happy. It’s just surreal seeing a baby. Human or not, crawl at such an early stage of their life…” There was more to the video than just Vey crawling. When Vey picked up and tossed the five-pound dumbbell she crawled to, the color on Markus’s face faded in shock.

“Oh, good. I expect nothing less from our daughter!” As for Trisha, she wasn’t surprised at all. “She should be able to lift something twice as heavy by now…”

“T-Trisha…she’s still a baby…”

“Yeah, but she’s a Blue Oni baby. I could lift twenty pounds by the time I was nine months old! At least that’s what my mom told me.” Markus thought, if this is what Vey’s capable of as a three-month-old baby, he doesn’t want to imagine what she could do when she becomes a toddler.

“Uh…I hope Vey can learn to control her strength early on…”

“That’s why I’ll be handling that part. And if Vey breaks anything, we can always just buy it again. Or fix it…”

“I hope she doesn’t break anything at all. But that’s wishful thinking. I’ll go finish loading up.”

“Alright. It’s a little early, so I wonder if Faulkner or the others are awake. Eh. Faulkner knows I’m coming back in the morning. I’ll just talk to them when we get there. Other than that…” Aside from Karika’s messages, Trisha also got text messages and emails from TMRC associates. “Dammit…I’ll have to swing by Fae Fae’s place to pick up the paperwork she left for me. Markus, I can leave Vey to you after we pick her up and get home, right?”

“Sure, I can keep an eye on her. Gotta get back to work already, on a Sunday?” With all their stuff packed in the car’s trunk and back seat, Markus sits on the passenger seat while Trisha starts the car.

“There’s lots of work to do. I promised both Tama and Reiss I’d work hard for TMRC. It’ll just be a quick visit to Fae Fae’s place. Once I’m done and get back, I’m gonna take a proper rest home…” With a yawn to make her point, Trisha drives out of the parking garage and heads to Faulkner’s house.

____________________

“…hhnnnggg…” Waking up around nine in the morning, Faulkner was the first to get up between the three as Reiza and Trisha were still murmuring in their sleep. Before he got a chance to sit up, he felt a poking sensation under his chin. “Oh…that’s right…” Whispering so he wouldn’t wake the others, Faulkner had forgotten he had Vey sleep on his chest. She cried in defiance the night before. Karika, Reiza, and Faulkner had to take turns hugging Vey to keep her happy.

Carefully, Faulkner moves his chin away from Vey’s right horn. Then, he gently runs his fingers through her hair. ‘So small. Somewhere down the line, I’ll be doing this with Reiza or Karika’s kids. This week’s been so exhausting with the little sleep we’ve got. And I’m sure Reiza’s even more so, even if she won’t admit it outright. But, it did make our lives in the house livelier than usual.’ With a soft chuckle, Faulkner closes his eyes and smiles in his attempt to stifle them.

*Ding…dong…*

“Ugh…what…” Waking Reiza up first, the ringing of their front doorbell wakes her and Vey.

“Hmm…looks like Trisha and Markus are here to pick Vey up. I’m gonna go to the door, you wake Karika up. Then, have her help you pack Vey’s stuff.” Rubbing her eyes, Reiza let out an annoyed sigh before nodding.

“Fine…” Taking Vey with him, Faulkner leaves the bedroom as Vey grabs hold of Faulkner’s shirt. Opening the front door, Vey stretched her arms out toward Trisha upon laying eyes on her.

“Ah! I’m back, my cutie little patootie!” Handing Vey over to Trisha, she twirls around while carrying Vey before pulling her close against her chest for a loving embrace. “I’ve missed you so much!” Happy to see her mother again, Vey giggles in glee.

“Hey, Faulkner. Sorry about dropping by early…”

“It’s fine. I expected you two to come early. Karika and Reiza should be coming down soon with Vey’s stuff.”

“Ah. How did it go looking after Vey?”

“It was tougher than I thought, to be honest…” Watching Trisha nuzzle and spoil Vey, Markus saw a small window to pat Vey on her head. Upon feeling her father’s touch, Vey reached out for Markus next. Handing Vey over to Markus, Trisha pats Faulkner on his shoulders after taking notice of the bags under his eyes.

“It was that tough, huh? You look like shit, Faulkner. Did Vey break anything?” Faulkner wasn’t the only one with bags under his eyes.

“You’re one to talk. Sleeping midflight doesn’t suit you. Aside from our sleep schedule, no. Vey’s been well-behaved. She’s no different from any other baby. Well, aside from her absurd strength, of course. Now then, why don’t you two come on in and relax for a bit?”

“Sure, I’ll gladly take your offer. Oh! And Markus, can you be a dear and bring the souvenirs we brought with us? I’ll carry Vey from here.”

“Alright. Here.” Handing Vey to Trisha again, Faulkner got to brewing coffee for Markus and Trisha. Karika and Reiza had finished packing Vey’s belongings in the living room before joining Trisha and Faulkner in the kitchen.

“Thanks again for looking after Vey, Karika. Reiza. I’m sure it was tough on your sleep schedules.” Grateful for the coffee Faulkner brewed for her, Trisha finishes her first cup in no time before asking for seconds.

“Nah! It was no big deal!” Putting her hands on her hips, Faulkner and Reiza roll their eyes at Karika boasting.

“Really?! And who was it who had to carry your dumbass around when you got back from work?” Butting heads again, Vey had gotten used to Karika and Reiza’s petty arguments and laughs rather than getting scared of them.

“I’m not surprised. Vey can be a handful when she gets cranky. Markus and I didn’t have too much of a hard time calming her down, but how did you guys manage?”

“At least for me, I sang her lullabies while gently swinging her in my arms. If that doesn’t work, her pacifier or playing fighting would.” Giggling softly to himself, Faulkner was glad her toys were soft. Otherwise, he’d have bruises.

“I just made funny noises and pretended to be a big monster for Vey to take down. I’d let her play with my face and chest when she felt like it.” Even after putting ice on them, Karika’s cheeks felt sore after Vey pulled on them.

“As for me, I would tickle her little tummy. Playing with her using her toys also works to calm her down. And, at least recently, she got attached to one of Karika’s plushies. So we’ll give that to her since she’ll probably cry and moan without it.” Evident by handing the March Hare plushie to her, Vey hugs the plushie before rolling around in her bassinet. “Oh, and while we’re on the subject of her care…” Reiza left the kitchen for a few seconds before coming back with a small notepad in hand. Without context, she hands it to Trisha as she flips through its contents. To Trisha’s shock, Reiza had cataloged every noteworthy detail in the notepad. From the times she fed Vey to sudden changes in her behavioral patterns. At the same time, Markus joins the group in the kitchen with two bags on each hand.

“Hey, I’m back.” Setting the bags down, Markus walks over to Trisha, left in awe at the notes Reiza wrote down for them.

“Ah…R-Reiza…what is…” Staring at the notepad in disbelief, Reiza stares back at Trisha as if almost disappointed.

“Isn’t it obvious? It’s a list of things Vey went through for the whole week. I made sure to write down things Faulkner and Karika did with Vey as well..” Now that Markus was here, Reiza handed Markus the cup of coffee Faulkner brewed for him.

“Here you go, Markus.”

“Oh, thank you.” Taking the coffee graciously, he took a hearty sip.

“Markus, you made the right call with the baby formula. Vey didn’t seem as enthused when drinking it, but she still finished it.”

“I see. I knew it wouldn’t last.”

“Aww. I was so sure it would. Maybe if you hadn’t drunk the last bit of it straight from the tap, there might’ve been enough left over for the whole week.” Spitting out his coffee mid-sip, Trisha and Vey point and laugh at Markus while he’s coughing from the coffee.

“W-Why would you tell them that?!” Karika and Reiza tried and failed to stifle their laughter. Faulkner was the only one who wasn’t laughing. Nor would he let those two get away with laughing.

“I don’t know why you two are laughing at him. We might’ve saved an extra bottle if you two weren’t taste-testing Trisha’s breast milk.” Now, it was Karika and Reiza’s turn to get embarrassed.

“Faulkner!” They both said in unison.

“Don’t go laughing at others if you’re just as guilty. You two know better…”

“Oh, you two tasted my milk? Did it taste good?” Rather than get angry, Trisha was more curious about their input. “Markus says it’s a bit sweeter than regular milk. Is that true?”

“Wha! What the fuck’s wrong with you, Trisha?!”

“Hehe. I told you my milk tastes good, Faulkner. The testimonials from Markus, Karika, and Reiza prove it. I can give you a taste too if you want. I just need an empty-” At this point, Trisha played along just to mess with Faulkner some more.

“Shut up.”

“Alright, that’s enough joking around. Karika, Reiza, I’ll swing by sometime next week and give you your pay in cash for looking after Vey.”

“Sure, I’m in no rush, Trisha.” Reiza had almost forgotten they were getting paid for looking after Vey with how much fun she had.

“Same.” Karika had fun as well. But she was tuckered out from lack of sleep.

“Faulkner, I know your stubborn ass won’t take cash as payment, so let’s just consider this a big ‘IOU’ agreement, alright?”

“I…ah…fuck it. You always have to get your way, don’t you?”

“Damn straight! And you’d better get used to it. I’m sure it’s the same way with Karika and Reiza.” With a collective nod from Karika and Reiza, Faulkner sighed in annoyance and chose to stay quiet rather than argue the point. “Putting your guy’s payment aside, I brought some souvenirs from Japan for all of you.” Referring to the two bags Markus brought into the kitchen earlier, Trisha pointed at them before Reiza and Karika walked over to open them.

“Right, you did say you’d get us souvenirs.” Sifting through the bag Reiza grabbed, it had a bunch of snacks and drinks from Okinawa. “Whoa. Look at this, guys.” The first thing Reiza pulls out is a box of assorted shortbread cookies called Chinsuko. Another snack she found was Beniimo Tarts, two candy kit boxes, and a wooden box with a wine bottle inside. Markus found it appropriate to explain what they got for them.

“First, there’s the box of Chinsuko cookies. They’re shortbreads famous in Okinawa. There are also Tarts with exclusive flavors made only in the Naha Airport branch. The two candy boxes aren’t exclusive, but they’re a fun novelty since you can make pretend meals using candy. Finally, there’s Kaiteishu, awamori aged under the sea. As the name implies, it’s a type of wine they age under the sea.” Both Reiza and Karika were eager to try the sweets. As for the wine, Faulkner was optimistically cautious, considering what happened the last time he and the girls got drunk.

“This is a lot, you two. Thanks. I can’t wait to try them out…”

“The cookies are hella good. Be careful when you eat them. Otherwise, they’ll all be gone before you know it!” Speaking from experience, Trisha had already finished two boxes worth when they were on their honeymoon. “Oh, and as for the other bag.” Karika had already pulled out the contents of her bag and set them on the kitchen counter. Three were large wooden containers with a corresponding name written on them. Other than those, there is one smaller box.

“The three large wooden boxes are Kimono’s. I bought one for each of you.” Reiza and Karika immediately open their boxes to see what their Kimono look like. As for Faulkner…

“K-Kimono’s?! H-how much did you spend on those?!”

“Psshh. Don’t worry about it.” With a dismissive wave, Trisha didn’t care to answer because she knew Faulkner would make a big deal out of it if she told him.

“Wow! These are pretty!” Karika’s kimono was black with sakura tree branches and petals design. The pink and red Koshihimo belt ties complement the Kimono well. “Man! I want to wear it right now!”

“Relax, sis. You don’t just wear a Kimono whenever you like. They’re kind of like tuxedo and dress wear. You only wear them on special occasions.” When Reiza looked at her Kimono, she couldn’t help but smile at the sunny yellow Kimono with light blue flames adorned on the front, back, and sleeves. Rather than a Koshihimo, Reiza’s Kimono came with an Obi belt instead. “Thank you, Trisha, Markus. I love it..” Karika realized she had forgotten to thank Markus and Trisha since she was distracted by how pretty the Kimono she got from them was before bowing in sync with Reiza.

“Yeah! Thanks, you two!” With a satisfied grin, Trisha and Markus nod.

“No problem. Oh, and as for the smaller box, there are little trinkets like coin bags and a Churua-tama. They use it as a fishing float. But, they can be used as charms as well.” Markus explains what the items were in the smaller box. Faulkner sees the good mood everyone is in. He decided to drop his grievances rather than bring it up and sour the mood.

“*Sigh* Well, thank you, Trisha, Markus. I appreciate the gifts.”

“Uh-huh. You’re welcome. We should start packing Vey’s stuff in the car. Markus, can you get that taken care of? I have to catch up on things I missed on TMRC, so I want to talk to Faulkner and see what I missed for a bit.”

“Oh, sure.” Finishing his coffee, Markus heads to the living room to pack Vey’s things in their car.

“Hey, I’ll help.” Joining Markus out of consideration, Karika follows Markus to help him.

“I’ll take care of Vey. So you two can focus on your conversation.” Reiza tends to Vey, keeping her occupied by playing with her.

“Well, what did I miss, Faulkner? I plan on visiting Fae Fae today since she’s the one who took over my role while I was gone for a week. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask you as well.”

“A couple of things. I’m sure you know that Reiss is still trying to get caught up with all the work she missed. There are papers you need to sign regarding building repairs and maintenance. Expansion of the cafeteria and additional restrooms are needed. The numbers of students and staff have gone up by a significant margin.”

“Yeah, I’m aware. We’re expanding the eastern wing, right?” In TMRC, the central tower at its forefront houses core subjects. It’s also where the faculty lounge, meeting room, and superintendent’s office reside. As an exception, the Societal Norms class is held in the same room as the English class, only at different times. The Eastern and Western ‘Wings’ sit horizontally from the tower, then vertically inwards, which creates a ‘U’ shape. The space within the ‘U’ houses the indoor-to-outdoor cafeteria area. As for the Western and Eastern wings, they house the elective subjects in TMRC. Like art class, which sits on the Western wing.

“Yup. The Eastern wing is getting a new room modeled for a Music room, Home rec, and Shop. The Western Wing already has Arts, Sports, and Computer engineering. Of course, you’ll have to talk to the new hires once they start pouring in.” Trisha was dreading what more she had to get caught up on.

“G-great. Sounds like I’m gonna have an exhausting week…”

“You and me both. I had to train the new Societal Norms Class candidates yesterday. And nearly all of them were a no for me.”

“Really? Aren’t they all hand-picked by Reiss?”

“Well, two of them are Monster Girls. One’s a Succubus, the other’s a Mothman. The Succubus is pretty self-explanatory. She claims skinship is the best method to get others to understand them. You can’t just randomly touch someone. The Mothman had the right idea, but her approach was too casual and simple to work. The human girl I was training was too biased. For example, If a man refuses your advances, she states it’s an insult. There was one guy there. But I have a bad feeling about him since he was young. He could barely keep his eyes away from the Succubus that was there.” The nightmare of corralling most of the new hires stressed him out to no end. Faulkner reported his concerns with Reiss after the staff training yesterday.

“Yeesh…was there anyone in that group that showed promise?”

“Yeah. One. A Scylla who goes by the name Dorephine. She was incredibly insightful and answered all the questions correctly in the test sheet I gave them.”

“So, Dorephine’s the only good one of the batch?”

“The rest are capable, but they definitely need more time. Also, do you know Reiss is currently at Guatamala?”

“Yeah. I can’t say I expected Reiss to pick that locale first, but it’s a good start.” Coming back to the kitchen, Markus and Karika had finished putting Vey’s belongings in their car.

“Hey, we’re done packing up.”

“Great. We should probably get going…” Finished with her coffee, Trisha walks to the living room, where Reiza plays with Vey’s feet on their couch. “Alright, it’s time to go home, Vey.” Watching Vey hoisted by Trisha, Reiza did well to hide her sadness. However, Trisha’s sharp eyes noticed it. “Reiza?”

“Ah, yes?”

“Markus and I are gonna be pretty busy. I’m ashamed as a mother that I can’t spend all of my time with Vey. And while I know Fae Fae wouldn’t object if I asked her. I know she has her little angel to look after. I’ll probably need someone to look after Vey again in the coming weeks. Is it okay if I contact you first if I need someone who can look after Vey for us?” Markus didn’t notice Reiza’s reluctance, but he did understand the message behind Trisha’s words to her.

“As a fellow college student, I’m sure you know the hassle we go through. I take courses on campus, so I can’t always look after Vey. Mom and Dad don’t mind looking after her. But one of them has to call off work to do so. I’d be grateful if you could look after Vey when we need someone.” Vey reached out to Reiza and wanted to play more with her. Vey likes being around Faulkner and Karika. But with as much time Reiza spent playing with her, feeding her, changing her diapers, and sleeping with her, Vey viewed Reiza almost like her second mother.

Reiza had no way of knowing this, but the moment Reiza held Vey’s outstretched hand, the flames on Reiza’s horns and tail flared in response to her heightened emotions. Specifically, she felt elated. Karika stood next to Faulkner before hugging him close to her right side.

“Still worried?” Hugging Karika back, Faulkner shook his head.

“No. When the time comes, we’ll be ready. Whether it’s today or several years from now…” Walking Markus, Trisha, and Vey out, they smile and wave to them before leaving. When their car was out of sight, Reiza turned to look back at the living room. With Vey gone, it felt empty to her. The momentary sadness didn’t last long as Faulkner and Karika pat her shoulder to reassure her.

“Come on. We might as well cook breakfast now that we’re wide awake.”

“Right. Porky over here must be starving by…” Karika was already nodding on and off. “Ah…never mind…”

“Fuwah…eh? Oh, uh…yeah. I’m gonna go back to bed to sleep a little more.” With a loud yawn, Karika went upstairs and back to bed in their bedroom.

“Tch! Lazy bitch. She could’ve at least helped clean the living room…”

“We can do that later. It’s only a little before eleven in the morning. Let’s have waffles, sausages, and eggs for breakfast.”

“Sure. I’ll wash the cups we used for coffee first. You get started on the waffle batter.” Making short work of the cups, Reiza joined Faulkner in the kitchen afterward and cooked the eggs and sausage while he poured the waffle batter he made into a waffle maker. They set a plate aside for Karika before they sat down at the kitchen table to eat.

“So, do you have any plans? Like going out with Kilala?”

“Huh? No. I have some homework I need to finish. I’d normally get it done on Saturday at the latest, but you know…”

“Yeah. I get you. Vey.”

“But hey, the homework I do have isn’t much. I should finish it in only an hour or two. I’ll take a dip in the pool after that. The weather outside’s just right for it.”

“Now that I think about it…I’ve never seen you in a bathing suit before.” Thinking about it for a moment, Faulkner was right. He had seen Karika in a bikini before, but not Reiza.

“That’s right. We met around fall. By then, the weather had been too cold for swimming. Man, I’m getting excited now. Which of my bathing suits should I wear?” Aware of Reiza’s extensive wardrobe, Faulkner saw little of what Reiza had. A black and white triangle halter bikini, a reddish yellow scoop neck one-piece. A green high waist two-piece. Faulkner’s cheeks turned red, imagining what swimsuit Reiza would pick to wear. “Ah! Getting excited, are we?” Rather than deny it, Faulkner saw no reason to hide how he felt and chose to answer honestly to catch her off-guard.

“Yes. Whichever swimsuit you pick, I know you’ll look stunning in it…”

“Ah…shit. Great, now you got me excited.” Rushing to finish her breakfast, Reiza puts her empty plates in the sink. “I’m gonna go do my homework now. I should be done by one or two in the afternoon. Then, I’ll go take a dip in the pool.”

“Heh, sure. I’ll go wash the dishes and get the pool ready in the meantime.” Faulkner chose to take his time and read news articles on his phone. By the time he finished eating, it had been thirty minutes past noon.

Stepping outside their backyard, Faulkner changes into something more comfortable, wearing a simple white tee and blue swimming trunks. The pool was relatively clean, but he still had to scoop up some leaves floating on the pool’s surface.

In the computer room, Reiza was having difficulty focusing on her homework since she was more interested in seeing what Faulkner’s face would look like once he sees her wearing a swimsuit. The only question is, which one should she wear?

“Agh! I can’t concentrate at all…” Seeing Faulkner down by the pool on the computer room window, Reiza looks over and stares at him. “Wow, he’s putting some work in. Tch, I gotta focus.” Slapping her cheeks, Reiza amps herself up and continues working on her homework. As soon as she finished, she headed straight to their bedroom. On their bed, Karika had her arms and legs splayed. “Guess she was more sleep-deprived than she liked to admit.” Quietly, Reiza went to their closet to look for the right swimsuit. The first one she sees is a black deep V backless mini strap lingerie. She remembered getting it as a gift from an admirer of hers at a yacht party she attended with Meredith.

“Hmm…no. This one’s too sexy.” Sifting through other swimsuits, Reiza had almost too many to pick from. But, as she sorts through them, she realizes most were given to her by Meredith or her ‘admirers.’ While the swimsuits given to her were expensive and would look good on her, she’d rather wear a swimsuit she bought herself. She wanted to wow Faulkner with her taste in swimsuits, after all. However, there was one problem. “Shit, I hardly bought any swimsuits for myself…”Of the swimsuits she had, only five were ones she bought for herself.

“Hmm…the swimsuits I did buy are mostly the cutesy type…” Banging her head for ideas, Reiza nearly reached her breaking point before looking at one of her many hoodies. “Wait…I got an idea…” Putting her idea to the test, Reiza changes into her ‘swimsuit.’ Just as she left the closet room, she saw Karika stepping out of the bathroom. “Oh…you’re awake…” Half asleep, Karika blinked a few times to see if what she saw was real. Rubbing her eyes to be sure, she grits her teeth before walking up to Reiza.

“You sneaky little devil…I know what you’re up to…”

“I-I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re just dreaming.” Seemingly unconvinced by Reiza’s bluff, Karika said nothing before picking Reiza under her arms and walking into the closet with her.

“…” Having finished thirty minutes ago, Faulkner was lying patiently on one of the lounge chairs around the pool and staring at the sky after fantasizing about what kind of swimsuit Reiza would wear. “What’s taking Reiza so long? Is her homework that difficult? Maybe I should help her? Not that I know much about psychology.” After pondering whether he should help Reiza, Faulkner heard the sliding door open. “Finally. Er, I mean, was your homework that hard, Rei…”

“You fucker! I can’t believe you two were going to go for a swim without telling me!” Coming out together, Faulkner was surprised to find Karika joining him and Reiza for a swim.

“To be fair, you were asleep when I checked on you in the bedroom.” While the two argued, as usual, Faulkner took this chance to admire Karika and Reiza’s swimsuits.

Karika wore a pink sports bikini with a striped crop top that pushed her breasts together to create an irresistible chocolate valley and gave attention to her sculpted abs. Her shorts stretched the definition of its name, greatly accentuating her asscheeks. The hole made to let her tail slip through was just big enough to give Faulkner a glimpse at her asscrack.

As for Reiza, she went with an unorthodox choice to wear a Selkie hoodie over her swimsuit. It was hard to tell what kind of top she wore. But Faulkner did see what bottom she was wearing. Choosing a black frilly bikini bottom, Reiza had neglected the last time she wore that bottom was over two years ago. Plumping up since then, the seams of her bottom hug her legs and butt slightly. She tucked her wings under her hoodie while her tail swung left to right, drawing more attention to her bottom riding up against her ass.

“Girls…” Calling them out, Karika and Reiza stopped arguing to look at Faulkner. They didn’t know it, but Faulkner was trying his hardest not to pop a boner in front of them. “You both look great…” Walking up to him first, Karika stopped after standing in front of Faulkner before pushing herself against him.

“Heh, of course I do. This isn’t the first time you’ve seen me in a bikini. So I know what you like…” It wasn’t just Karika’s choice of swimsuit that was straightforward. Right to the point, Karika already knew what Faulkner was thinking. Her frustration of feeling left out made her even more bold than usual. Especially considering they were outside. Before Karika’s eagerness gets to her, Reiza grabs Karika by her shoulder before pushing her to the pool. Swimming up to the surface shortly after, Karika glares at Reiza.

“You bitch! What was that for?!”

“You need to cool your head, Porky. We’re here to swim, not fuck.” Gawking at the small opening on her hoodie while Reiza was close, Faulkner could barely see what kind of top she was wearing except that it was white instead of black. After noticing him gawking at her chest, Reiza zipped up her hoodie more. She teases him with a snarky smile. “Nuh uh uh. You can’t be taking a peek, naughty boy…” Without warning, Reiza suddenly found herself staring right at the sky. It was that brief moment when she realized Karika had grabbed her by her right ankle before slamming her down onto the pool with her.

“You should take your own advice, small tits!” While underwater, Reiza seized this as her chance to pull Karika down with her. From Faulkner’s point of view, he could barely make out Reiza and Karika underwater before they surfaced together.

“Puwah! Th-that hurt, porky! Did you have to slam me on my back?!”

“Serves you right! I swallowed some pool water because of what you, small tits!” Jumping into the water with them before things escalate, Faulkner gets between Karika and Reiza.

“Alright! That’s enough, you two. We’re all here to swim, right? So, let’s relax and swim.” Staring each other down, they let out a sigh together before nodding. With the crisis averted, Faulkner swims back to the edge of the pool to take off his tee. “Hey, aren’t you going to take your hoodie off, Reiza?”

“I don’t have to.”

“What, what do you mean you don’t have to? I’ve never met anyone who swims with a hoodie on.”

“The hoodie’s made from the same materials as a Selkie’s Fur. So I can swim with it on just fine.” Selkie fur is naturally hydrophobic, making gliding around the water as she swam around easy. The hoodie also had the added benefit of making her much more buoyant. However, it’s harder for Reiza to dive and stay underwater.

“Oh, I see…” Demonstrating by staying perfectly still, Reiza stares right at the sky and basks under the sun. Karika, on the other hand, was diving into the deepest section of the pool and doing laps underwater. Resurfacing once she completed a lap, she noticed Faulkner staring at Reiza.

“Hey, join us in the pool already, Faulkner. Let’s do some laps together.”

“Ah, sure.” Joining Karika, she and Faulkner swam laps around the pool. Reiza joins them soon after. But she falls short since she’s never raced someone in a pool before.

“Fuck…you two are too damn fast…” By the time it took Reiza to do one lap, Karika would already pass her by, with Faulkner only slightly behind.

“What, you’re tired already?”

“To be fair, I don’t swim very often.”

“Excuses, excuses. It’d help if your form isn’t sloppy.”

“What’s wrong with how I swim?!”

“I just told you. You’re sloppy. Your arms are way too stiff. And you don’t even move your legs while swimming. C’mere. I’ll swim with you and show you the proper form.”

“Ugh…do I have to?”

“Heh. Well, I guess you don’t have to. You can just doggy paddle like a five-year-old…” Saying so with a shit-eating grin, Karika planned to insult Reiza to egg her into cooperating. Thankfully, her plan worked as the idea of being teased in public by Karika, or worse, other people in front of Faulkner, rubbed her the wrong way.

“Tch! Fine…” Watching them the whole time, Karika beckons Faulkner to come to them.

“Faulkner, you too. You and I should be neck and neck. But your form is getting sloppy.”

“I doubt it’s because of my bad form. You’re a better swimmer than me.”

“Stop being so modest. Besides, think of this as helping Reiza out. If we go to a beach resort or a water theme park in the future, we can’t have small tits over here making us look bad, right?” Reiza wasn’t about to take Karika’s provocation silently. With a flick of her wrist, she splashes water at Karika’s face. She waited until Karika’s mouth was open to do so.

“Whoops! My hand suddenly moved on its own.”

“Pfft! Bleh! Oh, you’ve done it now!” Irritated and vengeful, Karika sought to even the score as she splashed Reiza back in her face. Unfortunately for her, Reiza anticipated her and blocked with her left arm.

“Uh…Karika? Aren’t we supposed to…”

“Shut it!” Cutting Faulkner off mid-sentence, she splashes him after failing to do the same to Reiza. “I’m not teaching small tits here jack shit until I get back at her!”

“Right. As if you’re qualified to teach me.” With the swimming lessons put on hold, Reiza and Karika start splashing one another in the pool. Faulkner got dragged into their squabble after getting splashed by them multiple times.

In the end, they ended up playing the whole day.

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