“So how was school?”
Leopold glanced up from the pizza pan he’d nearly finished off at the familiar voice. Swallowing, he shrugged and replied that it had been alright. He didn’t really mind Alexei all that much, but there were times when it felt as if he were trying too hard to fill in the role of surrogate father, like when he struck up small talk after school.
“Finished your applications yet?”
“Uh, yeah, for the most part.”
“That’s good. I remember when I was doing them. Seems so long ago. And yet, at the same time, it’s as if you were still a kid just yesterday. Time is funny that way, isn’t it?”
Wiping his fingers on a napkin, he cleared his throat as he stood up from the stool he’d been perched on. Picking up his empty plates, his finger brushed against a small slit in the varnished surface of the bar, making him unconsciously wince. Grimacing, Leopold tried to brush it off. It was fine. So what if it reminded him of the greatest mystery of his life? It’s not as if his reflection, his hair, voice, very being didn’t.
“Do you know where my mom is?”
“She should be in the kitchen. Do you want me to get her?”
“No, it’s fine. Thanks for the snack.”
“Of course,” replied the older man.
Picking up his bag, he slung it over his shoulder and made his way to his mother, who, true to Alexei’s words, was in the kitchen. Placing the dishes in the sink by the dishwasher, he tapped his mother on the shoulder before bending down to lightly kiss her cheek.
“Leopold.” She softly smiled at him. “How was school?”
“It was okay. I found out I got into the PSYO.”
“Oh, that’s incredible! Congratulations, sweetheart. I know how much you wanted to join.”
He smiled shyly as she hugged him. Ducking, he let her kiss his cheek and smooth his hair like she used to when he was only waist-high.
“Congratulations, sweetheart. I’m so proud of you.”
Shifting his weight to his other leg, he glanced at the waiting employee before asking his mother if she needed any help today. Smiling, she shook her head.
“Okay, well, I’m going to go home. I have a test tomorrow.”
“What about dinner?”
“I’ll figure something out.”
“Alright. I’ll be home late tonight, so don’t wait up, okay?”
Nodding obediently, he kissed his mother goodbye before turning to leave. Nearly walking into his previous companion, he skidded to a stop before sidestepping with a muttered apology. Brushing by him, the lanky teenager hurried out and in the process failed to notice the long look Alexei gave him.
“Hey, C.C., is it okay if I talk to you for a second?”
“Later. I have to help Monica with this.”
Of course. Work came first. They were, after all, nothing more than employer and employee in the confines of the restaurant. What happened before hours and after shouldn’t ever interfere with between hours, which was something she had made extremely clear to him. Not that much ever even happened. Ever since that day 14 years ago, C.C. had rebuffed him to the point of threatening to terminate his contract should he overstep his boundaries, which had been somewhat unwarranted as Alexei hadn’t really done anything, but she had been feeling raw and sensitive after the…departure of one Lelouch Lamperouge, which he understood. He hadn’t meant to encroach at the time. He had simply wanted to comfort her the best he could, though he could see how he could have possibly come off as otherwise to her.
Shrugging, he rolled up his sleeves. It was best to just not dwell on those kinds of thoughts, at least for the time being. It was almost time for the dinner rush, and he’d be of better use to C.C. by fulfilling his responsibilities and prepping; not sticking his nose into her business.
And so, rinsing off the dirty dishes – God, the kid had grown up so much; polishing off an entire pan by himself! He could still remember when he’d had trouble finishing off a single, normal slice – Alexei Aleksandrovich inched away from the line his boss had drawn just enough to give her the breathing space she demanded of him.