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[personal profile] forcedsimile


II.

Hobin had a much better memory than he pretended to have. He knew all his regular customers by name even if he didn't use it regularly, careful to call them "you" or "Miss" or "Mister" depending on the person. He really had no choice but to know who Shinbi was. As if her looks weren't enough, she was a regular patron. Plus, two of her friends were dating his employees. He didn't know much about her, but he knew she was a model, she liked black coffee with a little cream occasionally, and she liked to sit in the arm chairs the best.

He could also see from the moment she entered Banjul that day that she was completely out of it. When she sat down and looked up at him like he wasn't really there he knew it was only moments until she collapsed. He caught her before her head hit the table. Zion was in a panic, but Hobin picked her up and took her to his office.

"You're going to be all right, Miss Shinbi," he said softly. She was breathing fine, she leaned her head on his shoulder. She was ice cold to the touch, he could feel the chill of her skin through his sleeves. She just needed to warm up. He put her on the divan in his office and covered her with a blanket and his jacket for good measure.
Hobin returned to the cafe and Zion was still panicking. He sighed and put his hands on Zion's shoulders.

"I'm taking care of her. You take care of the customers," he said.

"R-right..." Zion said and hurried off.

He made a quick plan of action. Shinbi needed something to eat, something warm to drink, and possibly medical attention. He could take care of the first two things, but he called Eri and asked if she could come see Shinbi after her shift so as not to draw too much attention for what was something minor. Shinbi just appeared a bit overworked and needed rest.

His assessment proved to be correct. He thought maybe he would have to offer to take her home, but Tei and Eri decided to give her a ride. He observed her carefully. Her shoulders hunched slightly in anticipation of the cold. She gripped her arms, but looked ready to brave the weather again. He didn't care if Tei's car was right outside the door, he wasn't going to let her suffer like that. He gave her his coat and other warm things so that she would have sufficient protection.

She didn't seem to react other than to sigh possibly in embarrassment. He couldn't be sure. Once she was gone, he picked up John and decided finish wrapping up for the day.

"That was very nice of you, Mr. Hobin," Zion said.

"What? Helping that girl?" Hobin said.

"Shinbi. Honestly, you know who she is. It was a very nice thing to do."

"She needed help. What was I supposed to do, let her flop over the table and worry everyone?"

"Well you could have made someone else do it," Zion said.

Hobin didn't want to discuss this anymore. He helped someone who obviously needed it. He didn't see why he should be commended. Zion began to sigh as he wiped the tables. Hobin was preparing for it. Zion couldn't hold back his thoughts for very long.

"It's just that Soi and I worry about Shinbi a lot. She works so hard all the time and she's in school. I know she looks spacy, but she's quite responsible. She's always running from class to a shoot or vice versa. I think it's catching up to her," he said. Hobin ticked John's fur thoughtfully.

"I think that much is obvious," he said.

"I'm so worried. Shinbi hasn't gotten sick in ages. I'm sure she will after today," Zion said.

"Possibly," Hobin said. Honestly, he had lost interest in the girl almost as soon as she left. He really didn't want to keep going over the same obvious points over and over.

"Soi and I will have to look after her," Zion said. Hobin carefully concealed an eyeroll. A girl was getting a cold. It happened every day. Why was he being so dramatic?

"I know that look, Mr. Hobin," Zion said.

Hobin looked up from John, "What look?"

"The 'stop being so dramatic' look," he said.

"I don't have--"

"Yes, you do. I know it's something small to you but we care about Shinbi. Just like you consider your cats to be your family, Shinbi is our family. We take care of her," Zion said.

Hobin raised an eyebrow. Family?

"I'm going to my office," Hobin said.

As he reached the hallway leading to the back, Zion called to him.

"You're part of our family too!" Zion cried.

Hobin paused and glanced back at him. He wasn't sure how to respond to that. Instead of trying to think of a snappy comeback he just went on to his office. He put John down and sat at his desk.

"Family, huh?" he said. He didn't want to think about how that word left a hollow feeling in his chest, or of a turned down picture frame in his house that hadn't been righted for years. He couldn't get rid of it, but he coudln't look at it either. Still, whether he liked it or not, Zion and Soi thought he was family. He took this to mean Eri and Tei also thought of him as family. They all consider Shinbi to be family. So he was in a family with this girl. He tried to picture her sleeping on the divan earlier that evening. So he had helped a family member.

"Interesting," he said to himself.

By the time he locked up the cafe, he had already decided to ignore the notion entirely.

#

Hobin had thought that would be the end of it. He thought that he and Shinbi would go back to being distant and he could ignore the family ties that had been forced on him. He had expected to see Shinbi again and for her to return his things. He only sort of thought that she would buy him a gift, it was an outside chance, but it happened. He hadn't expected her to buy John a gift. A little bow tie with a collar. He picked it up to examine it and picutred John actually wearing it. He didn't know why, but that gift made his guard drop and he couldn't help but laugh. Even though Soi and Zion appeared to be terrified, he couldn't hide his good mood, he just had to wait Shinbi's table.

As he made their drinks, he observed Shinbi carefully. Though he could hear her soft voice, there was a slight rasp to it. When Soi was focused on Zion he saw a slight hitch in her shoulders now and then. She was surpressing her coughs. So she had caught a cold. In addition to her black coffee, he made her a cup of tea, an old home remedy that would soothe her throat and surprsess her coughs. When he returned he insisted that she drink the tea first. He wasn't sure how to read her expression as she sipped the tea. Her eyes were down turned and she wouldn't look at him, similar to the day before when he made her take his coat. Shinbi reacted as though he had caught her doing something bad. This confused him but he decided not to think about it too long.

The girls stayed for a while and then left. Shinbi didn't even wave good bye, she was silent and unreadable as she had wrapped her scarf around her nose and mouth and didn't make eye contact. Hobin decided this was not necessarily unreadable, her silence and reserved behavior said a lot on its own. Zion elbowed him.

"I see you're taking your role in the family very seriously," he said.

"She's sick. I can't just let her suffer while she's in my presence," Hobin said.

"We've had other sick customers come and you didn't give them tea," Zion said.

"She gave me a gift. I could at least help her."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm sure she's grateful for your help," Zion said.

Hobin wasn't so sure. She seemed a bit embarrassed that he helped her. Had he done the wrong thing?

#

Shinbi disappeared for a week. This was nothing new. If she got busy, she didn't drop by the cafe. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't think about it. Soi and Zion continued to sigh and moan because Shinbi hadn't called or texted either of them. Even that he could ignore, but when Tei and Eri voiced some concern over lack of communication with her, he flagged it as a situation he would monitor. Though Zion and Soi were given to theatrics, Tei and Eri were much more level headed. If Shinbi's silence worried them, something was wrong. He didn't know if he should ask about her. The idea that they were all "family" was odd. Did he pry into their business? Was Shinbi any of his business?

It was nearing on day ten of Shinbi's silence when Tei approached him.

"I'd like the evening off," he asked.

"Sure," Hobin said.

"Thank you. Eri and I are going to resolve this Shinbi business once and for all," he said. Hobin nodded.

"Zion and I can manage on our own," he said. Hobin had to admit, he was mildy curious to find out what was going on, even if it was just that she was busy. How was she getting on with her cold? Had she actually gotten sick beyond coughing and a sore throat? He'd leave that all to Tei and Eri and find out about it later.

It was a typical day at the cafe. Tei left for the evening and things were going particulalry slow. Hobin was a bit more exhausted than usual. He sat in one of the arm chairs and closed his eyes. With nothing to do, fatigue caught up with him. He heard Zion approach, but did not open his eyes.

"I'll manage tonight, go home," Zion said. Hobin opened his eyes. "I'm serious. Go home."

Hobin sighed. It wasn't like this hadn't happened before.

"All right. I'll see you tomorrow. Take care of John," he said.

Zion laughed and pushed him toward his office.

"Just go already!" he said in a playful tone. Hobin was all too happy to oblige. He hopped in his car to run a few errands before he went home. He needed a few things from the drugstore, so he made a quick stop. He was only going to grab a box of new bandages, but he saw a familliar shock of blue hair sticking out from under a hat. He walked closer, quietly as though he might scare her. As he got closer, he was certain. Not many women were as tall as she was, not to mention her face was unmistakable, though she was flushed, her nose was red, and her eyes had dark circles aound them. Her face mask that kept her germs from spreading was pulled down to her chin. She swayed with every breath. He vaguely wondered how he always seemed to find her just as she was about to pass out.

"Shinbi?" he said finally. She jumped at the sound of his voice. Almost like a cat. It was kind of cute. She looked up at him, obviously feverish and glassy eyed.

"Mr. Hobin," she said.

"Do you need help?" he asked.

"Medicine..."

He stood beside her and looked at the wall of medication. She pulled her mask over face and started to cough.

"So coughing's one of your symptoms. Fever?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Runny nose?"

"Yes."

"Do you feel aches and pains?"

"Yes."

"Do you mind how your medicine tastes?"

"Yes. I mean, no."

He picked one and she turned it over in her shaking hands.

"I like this one," she said.

"Shall we check out together? I'm getting bandages," he said. She nodded and followed him as he got the box he wanted.

"Why those?" she asked.

He was surprised that she said anything. Her gaze was unfocused but she swatted his hand.

"Put them back. I don't like those," she said.

He suppressed his laughter, "Why don't you like them?"

"No colors."

"I don't like colors on my bandages," he said.

"Then pick these. They're clear and future-y. Better than stupid flesh color ones," she said, pointing to another box. He might have been annoyed had this not been slightly hilarious. He smirked and took them, but she didn't seem to notice.

"We're going to buy these now. I'll pay for your medicine," he said.

"No," she said. In all the years of seeing her at the cafe and interacting with her though the others, he had never seen Shinbi like this.

"Don't pay for me. I'm an adult, I can take care of myself," she said.

"Let me get it for you to say thank you for my gift," he said.

"No!" she said, this time on the verge of tears. "It's stupid! That's stupid. I got you your gift to say thank you for helping me and then you get me my medicine to say thank you for giving you a thank you gift and then I have to give you a gift for buying my medicine and the cycle never ends. And I'm bad at buying gifts. You didn't even like the one I gave you..."

He chuckled, "What makes you think I didn't like it?"

"You laughed. You must think I'm stupid," she said. She looked so genuinely distressed over something so silly. He laughed.

"See, you think I'm a dumb model," she said.

He put his hand on her shoulder, "I laughed because I really liked it. I pictured John wearing his little bow tie and it was funny."

Shinbi was silent for a while.

"Why did you laugh just now?" she asked.

"Because you...you reminded me of how John would look with it on. I should take a picture of it when he wears it," he said. He wanted to say because she was being ridiculous, but he didn't think it would fly very well.

"I'm still buying your medicine," he said.

"I'm buying your bandages then. It will cancel out the cycle and we'll start fresh," she said.

"Fair enough," he said. They checked out. As they exited the drugstore they exchanged bags, he had his bandages, she had her medicine.

"Are you going home?" he asked. She nodded absently.

"Do you need a ride?" he asked.

"It's not far," she said.

"Don't give me the 'I can take care of myself' thing again. You're about to fall over," he said.

"No, no. I can walk just--"

She took two steps before she slipped and he caught her again. He put the back of his hand against her forehead. She was burning up.

"I can walk," she said feebly.

He sighed, "Hold on to my arm, I'm taking you home."

She took hold of him and they went to his car. She leaned on him and didn't speak. He helped her into the car and she put on her seatbelt and kept her eyes on the dash. He started the car and asked her what her address was. She mumbled it and he knew the area well enough to take her to her apartment.

He had her arm as they entered her building.

"This is just so stupid. So stupid..." she kept saying. He ignored her. As the elevator doors opened, they were surprised to find Tei and Eri. Eri had her phone out but let out a small cry when she saw Shinbi. She hugged Shinbi and dragged her onto the elevator. Hobin found himself pulled along because Shinbi would not let him go.

"One of your neighbors let us in. We were just trying to check up on you but you didn't answer! Where were you?" Eri asked.

"Drugstore," Shinbi said.

"I found her there," Hobin said. "Just wanted to make sure she got home safely."

Tei raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. Hobin glared at him over the girls' heads but Tei smiled back. Hobin really hated when he did that. He never knew what that smile meant. They came to Shinbi's floor. Eri hurried ahead.

"Let's get you settled," she said. Shinbi staggered along, leaning on Hobin for support. He could hear her labored breathing. This worried him. Before she could protest he scooped her up. Shinbi whimpered but seemed to be too feverish to stop him. Tei blinked rapidly as Hobin passed him with Shinbi in his arms.

"She was about to collapse," he said.

"Whatever you say, Mr. Hobin," Tei said.

"Give me your keys, Shinbi," Eri said. Shinbi found them in her pocket and handed them over. Eri opened the door and let everyone inside.

"Mr. Hobin, can you take her to her room? I'll be with her after that," Eri said.

"No!" Shinbi said quickly. "Just put me down, I can go by myself."

Hobin did as she asked and Shinbi put her hand on the wall and stumbled to her room. Eri hurried after her.

"I'm going to clean up her house a bit, thanks for your help, Mr. Hobin," Tei said.

"Right," Hobin said. He left unceremoniously. He had done right by his "family." He was done playing with these children. Did they have any idea what being a family meant? The image of Shinbi's flushed face at the drugstore stuck with him, as did the sound of her labored breathing. He could have gone straight home, but he had a few more stops to make.

#

He didn't know why he was back there. It made no sense. He was there nonetheless. He rang the bell, hoping she still had company.

"Hello?" a male voice asked. Hobin sighed in relief, Tei and Eri were still with her. It would be less awkward this way.

"It's Hobin. Let me in," he said.

"I thought...never mind, I'll let you up," Tei said.

When he made it upstairs Tei answered the door.

"Is something wrong?" Tei asked.

"No, I bought groceries and I'm cooking for her," he said holding up a shopping bag. Tei looked at the bag and then back at him.

"All right. Come in," he said.

Hobin did not want to talk. He saw a simple red apron hanging on a hook and he put it on and washed his hands. He set to work cooking, not registering anything else. He made simple dishes, enough to last her for a few days. For tonight, he made her a simple vegetable soup, since she seemed too tired and weak to stomach anything else. Eri came into the kitchen.

"Oh! Mr. Hobin. I thought you'd gone home," she said.

"I came back," he said.

"I can see that," she said. "I'm just getting Shinbi some water. Her fever is pretty high. I made sure that she called her agent and told her she couldn't work for the next week."

"Week?" Hobin said, pausing slightly.

"Oh, yeah. Her fever is worrying me. She's pushing 102 degrees. If she gets any higher, I'm taking her to the hospital," she said.

"That serious?" he said.

"Possibly. I'm probably going to stay the night, just to be sure," Eri said. Hobin continued cooking. He didn't know why he was so nervous about Shinbi's health. He barely knew her. He finished cooking in good time. Eri returned when he was finished packing everything away.

"Oh, can I make her a plate before you put everything away?" Eri said.

"Yes. How is she?" he asked.

"She's all right. Mostly resting," she said. He stayed quiet as she left with the food. He cleaned up the kitchen and hung up the apron. Tei was talking to Eri in a hushed tone and nodding. Hobin was going to say good bye, but he didn't want to interrupt them.

"Oh, Hobin! I'm heading to my apartment. Are you also leaving?" Tei said.

"Yes," he said.

"Wait for me," Tei said. Hobin took the few moments alone to force himself to keep indifferent. He wasn't part of this silly little family they had. He just saw a woman in distress and decided to help. Tei smiled when he met him at the door. Hobin rolled his eyes.

"What's wrong? You look upset," Tei said.

"Let's just go," he said.

They were quiet as they got in the elevator. When they finally got out Tei dared to speak.

"Thanks for helping Shinbi," Tei said. "I know you're just doing what you think is right, but it still warrants a thank you."

Hobin snorted, "Sure."

It didn't really matter to him. He had done his good deed and now he washed his hands of the situation. But...he was still a little worried. A fever of 102 edging on serious. They walked out of the building, both of them going their separate ways. Hobin paused. His mind turned over a few scenarios before he stopped.

"Tei!" he called. Tei turned around, a little startled. Hobin adjusted his glasses. "You call me if you guys need help with her."

Tei laughed, "All right. Good night, Mr. Hobin."

Hobin nodded and went to his car. As he started it, he glanced up at the building, knowing that inside, Shinbi was in her room, feverish and suffering. He heaved a deep sigh. No one was there to hear him. He'd be safe.

"Rest well, Shinbi," he said.
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