Naoko got out of the taxi slowly while her driver hurried to take her luggage from the boot. She stood looking at the large, ivy-covered gates, even as three men in black came through it, looking at her as an intruder. The cab driver put the bags next to her and got into his taxi, putting a hand on Naoko’s shoulder as he passed her.
“If you need help, I’ll be here,” he got into the taxi but did not leave.
“I’ll be fine,” Naoko turned and said over her shoulder, but the men were now in front of her.
“May we help you?” the smallest of them (though small was comparative; they were at least six feet and were built like muscle men).
“I’m here to see Bella Orazio, at her request,” Naoko looked up at them, a serious look on her face.
The three of them stared down at her. Naoko stood at a petite 5 feet 6 to them, but they were standing at a respectful distance from her. The distance, Naoko knew, was not for her sake, but for the sharpshooters in the palatial mansion in front of them and the lane she had just come up from. She moved her fingers in a stattaco rhythm while the men were talking to her, as though tapping to a song only she could hear. After a few moments, one of the men raised his hand to his earpiece. When his hand came down, Naoko was looking at him expectantly.
“Master Rinaldo will see you now, Miss Lumos,” Naoko raised an eyebrow at his address to her. No one had called her by her mother’s name for a long time. Naoko turned to smile at the old taxi driver before she followed the man in, his two counterparts picking up her luggage behind her.
Once the large wooden doors closed behind her, the clouds opened and it began to pour. Naoko found herself staring at the large staircase that led upstairs at the side of the room. It brought back memories of her childhood, or more specifically when she had first met her cousin Bella. They had been waiting the moment she and her mother had walked into the house.
A stately middle-aged man was standing in front of the blond haired child who peeked from behind him shyly, watching the elegant but petite dark-haired woman walk up with a miniature version of her. Naoko had inherited her mother’s deep auburn hair and face, but her dark brown eyes were filled with flecks of gold; an inheritance from her father. Outside, it was raining cats and dogs; it had seemed to little Naoko then that even the weather was conspiring to keep matters serious.
“You’re late, Naoya,” the man had said. His voice was very grave and deep, but his hands, Naoko thought, were the hands of a dancer. They were long and elegant, not at all weathered and rough like the male hands she was used to seeing.
“Evening to you too, Father,” Naoya’s voice had venom in it. When Naoko had looked up at her mother though, Naoya had been smiling very sweetly.
“This is your child?” the man asked her mother, looking down at her. Naoko favoured him with a cool look she had learnt from her mother.
“Naoko, greet your grandfather,” Naoya had gently prodded her daughter. “Good evening, Grandfather,” Naoko had curtsied, lifting the hem of her long frilly skirt with one hand while the other still held on to her mother’s.
“Well, at least she’s well-mannered,” The old man sniffed before answering, as though he had not been expecting Naoko’s answer. Naoya tightened her grip on her daughter’s hand as a warning; her daughter was every bit as headstrong and implusive as she was.
“Bella, this is your cousin Naoko. Take her on a tour of the grounds but do not break anything,” the old man had more or less thrusted Bella to Naoko. “Your mother and I have something to discuss,” Naoya turned to her daughter, got to her knees and looked her daughter in the eye.
“Behave, little one,” she spoke in Japanese, “But be nice to her too. It’s ok if she knows your other name, the one Papa calls you by,” Naoko nodded. Her mother then patted little Bella on the head as Bella wished her, “Good evening, Auntie Cassandra,” and then left the two of them alone.
“Hello, I’m Bella,” the blond girl who looked like a porcelain doll introduced herself to Naoko.
“I’m Alexis. Nice to meet you,” Naoko put her hand forward to shake Bella’s hand, grinning mischieviously. When Bella had returned the smile shyly and took her hand, Naoko knew she would have no problems with her. The rest of the afternoon they had spent running in the mansion, and Naoko had managed to make Bella laugh, like how she often did with her sister.