Mayumi quietly opens the door to the bedroom she shares with Alma and the other Bunnies, and enters, shutting it carefully behind her. Her large, light-gathering eyes quickly adjust to the dim light from the sun-like magical lamp. She sees Starfax, Alma’s phoenix, perched on a branch and sleeping with its head under a wing, and Alma herself asleep on the bed, with Sage next to her and one of the three younger ones, the younger boy, sprawled lengthwise across the foot of the bed. She has to search around a bit to spot Cherry and Merri, on a makeshift nest of pillows and blankets, spooning together, Rosemary in Cherry’s protective arms, and the other two unnamed Bunnies, the older boy and the girl, the youngest of them all, near them, likewise holding each other as if in imitation.
Mayumi strips off her sweat-soaked shirt and shorts, wrinkling her sensitive nose at the smell, and her underpants, tossing them into the corner. We need to get a basket, she thinks. There will be a lot of laundry to take care of. She pads across the room to the pool and slips silently into it, remembering the piping hot, muscle-soothing baths in her other life, her dream life, knowing that she’ll never be satisfied with bathing in this lukewarm water.
Was it really all just a dream? It did feel less...real than this. So many moments, lost to memory, faded away like a dream. She fights to hold onto those memories, to hold them close. They were – still are – her life! Over twenty years! It wasn’t right that it should all just disappear.
She hears movement behind her, and cranes her neck around to see the halo of Cherry’s afro silhouetted against the light. “Hey, sweetie,” Cherry whispers. “Where ya been?”
Mayumi indicates “upstairs” with a movement of her head. “I was training,” she whispers.
Cherry moves closer, touches Mayumi’s face lightly with her fingertips. “You been cryin’, girl. What’s wrong?” She takes a deep sniff, her nostrils flaring, and she looks surprised. “Hey, you been with Inspector Sky,” she whispers slyly, smiling, but then she frowns. “Did he make you cry?”
Mayumi sighs. Can’t hide anything tonight, can I? The thought reminds her of the sphere of mana that the Inspector had given her, and she is glad she tucked it into the back corner of a cabinet in the bar rather than bringing it here and trying to find a place to hide it. “It’s nothing. We just talked. He was kind.” She pauses. “Cherry...do you remember your dreamworld?”
“Sure I do.” Cherry sits on the edge of the pool behind Mayumi, her legs to either side of Mayumi’s shoulders, dangling in the pool. She scoops water up from the pool and starts to gently rinse Mayumi’s hair. “Me and Merri had us a bar.” Mayumi hears the smile in her voice. “We had loyal customers, and great times. A little trouble now and then, but nothin’ we couldn’t handle.” She chuckles almost silently. “May, you should hear Merri tellin’ off a customer for bad behavior. I might be standin’ there with an axe handle, ready to whup some ass, but that girl can make an ogre apologize and beg her not to ban him with just a mean look.”
As Cherry starts to shampoo her hair, Mayumi asks, “Did you have anyone who...took care of you?”
Cherry is silent for awhile. “No,” she whispers. “We took care of each other. I can’t really remember a time when we didn’t.”
Mayumi nods, then shuts her eyes as Cherry rinses her hair. The suds drift away in the water, going...somewhere, and fresh water coming in from...somewhere. Like a stream in a forest. She takes a piece of soap that Cherry hands her and stands, lathering up her body. It still seems almost sacrilegious to her to be washing herself with soap and shampoo in the bath rather than beside it.
Though making as little noise as possible, she sees that the splashing has woken Sage, who is sitting up, looking over at her. Alma, fortunately, continues to sleep deeply. Cherry holds out a towel and envelopes May in it as she steps from the bath, drying her vigorously. May relaxes into the massage, marveling at how strong Cherry is despite being smaller, especially when Cherry wraps her in a tight hug at the end and kisses her on the cheek. “Wanna sleep with us?” she whispers to Mayumi, nodding toward Merri, who is still fast asleep.
May smiles and shakes her head, looking toward the bed and Sage, who has lain back down but is still watching her. Cherry nods and releases her, returning to Rosemary. Mayumi towels her hair a bit more as she steps toward the bed, then tosses the towel on the pile of dirty clothes, and takes a moment to run her fingers through her hair. She climbs into the bed slowly, not wanting to disturb Alma or the unnamed Bunny, and she puts her arms around Sage, pressing her forehead to his.
She listens carefully to Alma’s breathing to make sure she is really asleep, then she says to Sage, her voice barely audible to anyone without ears of Bunny sensitivity, “I’m sorry.” She knows he will understand what she is apologizing for.
“Where did you go, May?” he whispers. She had not answered him earlier in the day.
“It was a café,” she replies, “called the Copper Pot.” She pulls him closer, her skin against his, and she presses her face against his shoulder. “There is a goddess there, who pulls you into song...”