~~~~~ Chapter 2: Diet ~~~~~
Proper diet is essential to the health and good attitude of your animal. Fresh, wholesome fodder must be available in quantities that may surprise those not familiar with the appetites of horses... hay should be supplemented with grains, especially if the horse is called upon to exercise frequently... some attempt should be made to provide a variety of foods.
The Taming of the Horse: An Equestrian's Guide
Ranma came into the main room of the Saotome house for breakfast, dropped to sit at the table, and noticed something different about the table in front of Nodoka. He looked up. "Mornin', Momma," he said. "Where's your breakfast?"
Nodoka bit her lip. "I'll, ah, have mine later," she said, looking down at the bare tabletop.
Ranma studied her. He knew he was a lousy liar, but until that moment he hadn't suspected that he might have inherited it from his mother. He looked down at the small bowl of broth, the modest heap of rice, and the meager portion of pickles before him, and understood. Uh oh. Money's low, and spendin' it is her duty, so she's not gonna admit it. There's not enough food, so she's skippin' breakfast. His fist clenched, unseen under the table. Hell with that!
Ranma jumped to his feet. "Uh, gotta go, I'm late to meet Akane, no time ta eat, I'll get something at school," he said quickly, to override any protest his mother might make. "See ya!" He vanished in a flurry of nearly-silent footsteps.
Nodoka looked after him, and a tear rolled down her cheek. "Ranma...." What a fine son you are. I'm sorry I failed you. She looked at his abandoned breakfast, bit her lip again, and reached out to draw the bowls to her place.
Ranma jumped over the wall of the Tendo compound, dashed through the front door, and almost collided with Akane in the hallway. "Look out!"
"Watch where you're going!" Akane said angrily. Her anger evaporated. "You're early. I wasn't expecting you for another ten minutes. Is something wrong?"
"Nah," Ranma said absently. His nose twitched; aromas from Kasumi's cooking were wafting into the front hall. His stomach growled loudly. "I just got out a bit early, that's all," he said to cover it.
"All right, I'm just about ready. I'll grab my stuff and we'll go." Akane ran up the stairs. Ranma briefly considered seeing if he could cadge a snack from Kasumi, but hadn't thought of a plausible way to do it by the time Akane came back down with her bookbag. She detoured through the kitchen and came out again with a cloth-wrapped bundle. "Ready!" Akane said brightly, slipping her shoes on.
Ranma followed her out the door, sighing for lost opportunity.
Ranma hovered over Ukyo as she fired up her portable grill at lunchtime. Ukyo smiled, pleased by the attention. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach... here I come, Ran-chan's heart! She fixed an okonomiyaki just the way she knew he liked it, scrawled on it with the sauce, and watched in amazement as it disappeared even faster than usual.
Ranma licked his fingers and looked at her hopefully. Ukyo smiled. "Sure, you can have seconds," she said indulgently, starting another.
"Thanks, Ucchan," Ranma said happily. "You're a pal!"
Ukyo managed to keep her smile from slipping. 'Pal'? She flipped the second okonomiyaki off the grill. Ranma gobbled it down as fast as the first.
A bicycle bell jingled. "Nihao, Ranma!" Shampoo slid off her bicycle and stopped. "Airen no fill up on silly pancake," she said reprovingly. "I bring real food!" She opened her delivery box and produced a bowl of ramen.
Ranma's eyes, glistening like broth-soaked fishcakes, locked onto it. "Mmm..." he managed. Shampoo gave Ukyo a triumphant look and presented Ranma with the bowl. Ukyo glared at her over the loud slurping noises.
"Ranma, you baka!" Ukyo and Shampoo turned from their staring contest to see Akane standing stricken nearby. "I'm a few minutes late for lunch and you start without me! I even made your lunch today!"
Ranma drank the last of the broth and put the ramen bowl down. "Sorry, Akane," he said, sounding a bit distracted. "I was really hungry. Ya say ya got a bento for me?"
Akane stared at him. "Sure," she said weakly. "Here...." She handed him the box and sat on the grass. She didn't see Shampoo and Ukyo trade expectant looks over Ranma's head as she started on her own lunch. Ugh. The rice is soggy on one side and hard on the other. The kappa-maki looks like it got run over, and what's that taste? And I tried so hard, too.... She looked up at Ranma, prepared to start crying.
Ranma was licking his chopsticks. The bento box was completely empty. "Not bad," he said. "Needs more wasabi, though." He looked around at three girls frozen in attitudes of complete astonishment. "What?!" All three fell in different directions.
Ukyo was up first. She felt his forehead. "Are you feeling all right, Ran-chan?" she asked him.
Ranma swatted her hand aside, looking annoyed. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Look, I knew you were a human vacuum-cleaner," Ukyo began, "but you just sucked up two okonomiyaki, a deluxe ramen, AND," she paused for effect, "one of Akane's lunches like a starving man with a cast-iron stomach."
"I see pig eat slower," Shampoo added. "And less."
Akane recovered enough from the surprise and joy of seeing Ranma finish the lunch she'd made without complaining to realize that Ukyo and Shampoo had a point. "Are you getting enough to eat at home?" she asked cautiously.
Ranma flushed. "Well, of course!" he said angrily. He sprang up and stalked away, then turned and jabbed a finger at them. "An' don't you say nothin' bad about my momma!" He left.
"Aiya," Shampoo said softly.
"You said it," Ukyo agreed.
The three girls exchanged glances. He's not getting enough to eat at home, they all thought. This is my chance, two of them thought.
Ukyo sniffed suddenly and looked at her grill. "Eek! My lunch is burning!"
The walk home from school was quiet. Ranma seemed still to be offended from lunch. Akane watched him and thought. Finally she broke the silence.
"Ranma? About lunch...."
"Yeah, I know," he said gruffly. "I guess maybe I over- reacted." He chewed on his lip. "It's a matter of face, though. Not mine," he added hastily.
'...don't you say nothin' bad about my momma!' Akane remembered. "I think I understand," she said finally. "Um...."
Ranma finally looked at her. "Yeah?"
Her face was hidden by her hair. "Was the lunch I made you really all right?"
Ranma chuckled. "Ya know, it went down so fast I don't really remember," he said. He patted his stomach cautiously. "Seems to be sittin' okay, though."
"Well... if you like, I could make you lunch every day...."
Ranma thought about it. It wasn't too bad... and if she makes me lunch, Momma don't have to... and since she's my, uh, fiancee, nobody will think there's another reason why she might be makin' me lunch.... "Sure," he said casually. "If ya want to, that is."
Akane reached out, squeezed his hand, and let go without saying anything. Ranma blushed. His hand tingled.
Akane found Kasumi in the kitchen after Ranma had finished his workout and gone home. "Oh, Akane," Kasumi greeted her. "How did lunch go?"
"I quote: 'Not bad. Needs more wasabi.'" Akane leaned against the countertop and fiddled with a lemon peeler.
"Well, isn't that good?" Kasumi asked, puzzled. "You don't look happy about it...."
"I ate the same lunch. It was pretty bad, but Ranma ate it right up." Akane put the peeler down. "And then, on the way home, I asked him if he wanted me to make him lunches from now on, and he agreed. Something's really wrong."
If he liked THAT lunch, something IS wrong, Kasumi thought. "Well, you'll improve with practice," she said tactfully. "I'll help, of course." And keep you from destroying my nice kitchen. Again.
"Kasumi, what can you tell me about Ranma's eating habits?" Akane asked suddenly.
"Well, he's a pleasure to cook for," Kasumi began, smiling reminiscently. "He didn't always thank me in words, but the look in his eyes was always so appreciative, it made me feel wonderful. He told me once that when he came to live here, it was the first time in his life that he'd ever had enough to eat. He has a good appetite, too, probably because he's so energetic, and he doesn't eat too much junk food. Why?"
"Today he ate two of Ukyo's okonomiyaki, a big bowl of Shampoo's ramen, AND the lunch I made him, in about two minutes, and didn't leave a scrap. I didn't see him bring a lunch from home. I don't think he ate breakfast. And I'm afraid he's not going to get much dinner. When we mentioned it, he got really mad, like we'd insulted his mother. I think the Saotomes have problems."
Kasumi looked thoughtful. "Well, we certainly can't offer them money, and we'd have to be tactful about offering food; Nodoka-sama is very proud. I'm afraid all we can do is have you make his lunches that was clever of you and occasionally invite Ranma for supper." She flicked a glance toward the main room and lowered her voice. "We feed Saotome-no-ojisama quite often as it is."
Disapproval? Kasumi? Akane thought. "About tomorrow's lunch...." she began.
Ranma stopped short when he saw Shampoo's bicycle leaning against the post beside his front door, and entered with caution. Nodoka looked up as Ranma came into the main room. "Oh, Ranma," she said happily. "Look what your little friend brought!"
"Nihao, airen," Shampoo said cheerfully, unloading her delivery box onto the table. "I bring dinner! See, yasai soup, ma-bo tofu, shrimp fried rice! Number-one good food for growing boy!" She took the plate Nodoka handed her and started ladling.
Ranma stood for a moment, torn between indignation and the delicious smells wafting up from the bowls. Oh, well, if Momma don't mind, I don't.... He sat at the table and picked up his chopsticks. Shampoo set a loaded plate before him and started serving Nodoka.
"Where's Pops?" Ranma asked after downing his first mouthful. "Looks like there's enough even for him...."
A frown flashed across Nodoka's face and was gone. "I suppose he's at the Tendos'," she said lightly. "Thank you, Shampoo-chan. My, this is delicious!"
"Great-grandmother's best recipes," Shampoo said proudly, serving herself. "Good for body." She rubbed up against Ranma by way of illustration. Ranma managed to avoid choking and tried to edge away, but was trapped by the table leg. He picked up his soup bowl and concentrated on cabbage.
Nodoka sighed happily after everyone, even Ranma, was done. "Thank you, Shampoo, it was very kind of you to bring dinner," she said.
Shampoo waved the hand that wasn't holding on to Ranma. "Is nothing," she said. "Duty as wife to feed husband." Ranma winced at the quick flash of guilt on his mother's face, but Shampoo appeared not to notice.
"Well, I appreciate it," Nodoka said, collecting the plates. "Thank the nice girl, Ranma." She went into the kitchen.
Ranma turned, saw that the nice girl was waiting expectantly to be thanked with her eyes half-closed and her lips puckered up, and cringed. "Tha-thanks, Shampoo," he stuttered.
Shampoo pouted in disappointment, but loaded the bowls back into the delivery box and stood. "I like stay, but silly Mousse and great-grandmother no enough for dinner rush," she told Ranma. "See soon!" She winked and left.
"Good morning, Ranma-kun," Kasumi said pleasantly when Ranma poked his head into the Tendo kitchen the next morning. "Akane is almost ready. I made too many musubi, would you like some?"
Ranma's empty stomach jumped up and started kicking his vocal cords, demanding immediate action. "Sure, thanks, Kasumi!" He ate one of the riceballs quickly and bit into a second.
Akane came in. "Oh, there you are," she said, picking up the bundle on the countertop. "Ready to go?"
"Mngl," Ranma said indistinctly, then gave up and just nodded.
"Honestly, Ranma," Akane said. She put the bundle down and picked a couple of stray grains of rice off of his chin. "You don't have to inhale them, you know. It's not like they're going to escape."
Ranma swallowed. "Ya never know," he said darkly. "Not with my pop around." He followed Akane out. Kasumi frowned minutely, shook her head, and tried not to think about recipes featuring panda.
Ranma stared at the food arrayed before him at lunch time. "Wow." A lunchbox bursting with meat and vegetables, a steaming bowl of noodles, and a newly-invented super okonomiyaki awaited his consumption. Akane, Shampoo, and Ukyo watched anxiously as Ranma unlimbered his chopsticks, each hoping he would eat her offering and not the others'.
Another student wandered by and stopped. "Say, Ranma-kun, if you're not going to eat all of that...."
"Get lost," Ranma shot back. He licked his chops and began.
"I can't believe you ate the whole thing," Akane told Ranma as they walked home from school. "It was amazing. I mean, I've seen you eat, but...." She shook her head. "Nabiki is trying to figure out how to charge admission."
Ranma's contented look changed to mild annoyance. "Like Shampoo said, I'm a growin' boy," he said righteously. "Besides, I worked most of it off running away from Kuno after those damn sprinklers came on."
Akane giggled. "Um... was the lunch I made you any better?" she asked shyly.
"Well, the sausage-octopuses were mutants, the rice was a bit crunchy, and I don't wanna know what you dressed the cabbage with, but yeah, it wasn't too bad."
Akane, who had started to cloud over, perked up. "Really?!" she said happily.
"Uh, yeah. Keep at it for another ten years, and mebbe they'll be good yipe! Hey, that was a compliment, you!"
It sure was, Akane thought as she chased after Ranma, swinging her schoolbag at him and laughing.
"I'm home!" Ranma poked his head into the main room, warily scanning for fiancees.
"Oh, there you are, Ranma," Nodoka said. She indicated the boxes on the table. "A nice young lady from Ucchan's dropped these by just a few minutes ago. She said Ukyo sent her regrets, but she was unable to leave her shop."
That was no lady, that was a kunoichi, Ranma thought. "Great, Momma. Lemme drop my bag and I'll be right there."
"Oh, Ranma, since it's just us, would you change, please?"
Ranma sighed, nodded reluctantly, and left, returning a minute later as Nodoka's daughter. She sat at the table, then uncrossed her legs and knelt on her shins before Nodoka could say anything. Nodoka smiled approvingly and slid an okonomiyaki out of its box and onto her plate. Genma came in and settled at his place. Ranma tensed, prepared to defend her supper, but when Genma's chopsticks flashed out
"Dear." Nodoka's voice was freezing, and it froze Ranma's father. The attacking chopsticks retreated. Ranma relaxed and waited for Nodoka to serve her husband and herself, as Ranma had been taught was proper behavior for a daughter, and then began eating. She took small bites, chewed thoroughly, and thought wistfully about lunch.
"Well, I can certainly see why Dearest wanted to engage you to Ukyo-chan," Nodoka said over the chomping noises coming from Genma's end of the table. "She is a young lady of considerable talent."
Ranma swallowed. "Yeah... uh, yes, she is," she said uncomfortably. "Does this mean you've decided the engagement is valid?"
Nodoka's eyes flashed, but fortunately not at Ranma. Genma concentrated on his okonomiyaki. "By no means," Nodoka said firmly. "Your engagement to Akane is the only valid one at this time. I have not yet decided what should be done to restore honor with respect to Kuonji-san." Genma cringed and rubbed his belly.
Ranma continued her supper in silence, concentrating on maintaining table manners.
There was a panel truck parked outside the Saotome house when Ranma arrived home the next day. He read the lettering on the side curiously. Catering? He shrugged and went in. "I'm home!"
Nodoka met him in the hall. "Go wash up and get changed," she told Ranma in a low voice.
Ranma shrugged again. "All right, Momma." What's the fuss? He went up to his room, visited the bathroom, came into the main room, and stopped.
Kodachi turned her head and stared at Ranma. "Pig-tailed girl?" She looked at Nodoka, who was looking at Ranma with an expression of dismay that was changing to chagrin. "Is this 'Saotome Ranma' girl your daughter, Okaa-sama?"
Nodoka sighed. "In a manner of speaking," she said wearily. "I have only one child, and his name is Saotome Ranma. This 'girl' you see before you is now my daughter, but he was born my son, and he will be my son again very soon indeed, I assure you."
Kodachi rose to her feet, rearranged her kimono, and stepped to Ranma's side. "Hohohoho!" she pealed, prodding Ranma's torso. "What a fine jest! This is a true girl! Even if Ranma-sama were a, er, transvestite, one so masculine as he could never appear so feminine, no matter the skill of the costumer!" Kodachi took in Nodoka's serious expression and Ranma's annoyed look, and a fine line appeared on her brow. "I beg your pardon, Okaa-sama, but this is becoming tiresome. This is not my Ranma-sama. May I ask where he is? I heard his voice...."
Ranma had had enough. "I'm right here, Kodachi." Ignoring her mother's gasp, she snatched up the teapot from the table and poured it over her head. "Ow, dammit, hot!" Ranma picked tea leaves out of his ear.
Kodachi prodded Ranma's torso again, uncertainly. "Pig... tailed... boy?" She looked into Ranma's eyes, took a step back, put the back of one hand to her forehead, and swooned in a flurry of black rose petals. Ranma caught her and looked at Nodoka.
"Put her down here," Nodoka said, coming around the table, "and go get me a damp cloth." She sighed. "Whatever possessed you to become a girl?"
"You told me to! You said 'wash and change'!" Ranma protested.
"Yes, yes." Nodoka shook her head. "I meant change your clothes to something suitable for a nice dinner. Well, what's done is done." She looked down at the girl whose head was resting in her lap. "I take it she didn't know about your condition?"
Ranma shook his head. "I met her more'n a year ago, and she's never figured it out. I think she's only actually seen me change once, though, and nobody ever explained it to her straight. Maybe this time she'll get it."
Nodoka looked up. "Well, go wash and change again, and get it right this time." She looked like she was trying to remember how to giggle. Ranma half-smiled, saluted sloppily, and left.
A few seconds later, he was back. "Who's the guy in the kitchen?" he asked, handing Nodoka a wet cloth.
"He's a chef or a waiter or something. Kodachi-chan brought him." Nodoka applied the cloth to Kodachi's forehead.
"Oh. Good thing I didn't take him out, then." Ranma went upstairs.
Kodachi was conscious by the time Ranma came back. She stared at Ranma. "It's really you, Ranma-sama," she said wonderingly. "I seem to recall Did I really see you change from a girl into a man?"
Ranma sighed. "Yeah, I am the 'pig-tailed girl', and she is me," he said as patiently as he could manage. "Cold water changes me into a girl, and hot water changes me back into a guy, but it's always just me, and I'm really a guy, not a girl. It's Chinese magic. Long, long, long story."
Kodachi's eyes widened and her jaw dropped, and she hastily covered her mouth with her hand. "And Tatchi my brother his 'pig-tailed girl' boy Tendo Akane"
"You got it." Whaddaya know. She can be taught.
Nodoka winced and covered her ears. Ranma waited until Kodachi ran down. "D'ya suppose you could explain it to bokken- boy?" he said into the ringing silence. "I'm gettin' kinda tired of his idea of romance."
Kodachi dramatically wiped the tears from her eyes and snickered. "Oh, I'll wager that you are, Ranma-sama. But no, you ask too much of me. This is just too priceless. Besides, I doubt he would believe me; Tatchi is a bit dim, you know."
'A bit dim', she says! His damn bulb's been out for years! Ranma sighed and looked at his mother. "So, what's goin' on?"
"Just a little get-acquainted dinner for my prospective mother-in-law," Kodachi answered, smiling disarmingly. Ranma shivered. "Since I understand you are a traditional family, I thought it fitting to serve traditional food of our culture." She turned her smile on Nodoka. "And afterwards, perhaps we can discuss the joining of our families is something the matter, Ranma-sama?"
"You poor dear. Perhaps later I can rub it for you? Also, I am curious about this affliction of yours. Some interesting possibilities have occurred to me already...." Kodachi raised her voice. "You may begin serving now!" The man came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with a pot, cups, and a plate of delectable-looking sushi. Ranma's mouth began to water.
"What an interesting young lady," Nodoka said after Kodachi had left. "So polite and articulate, too, if a bit enthusiastic on certain subjects." She looked speculatively at Ranma. "She certainly is a beauty. I understand her family is quite wealthy...."
Ranma's forming suspicion crystallized. "Momma, you can't be thinking...."
"She seems quite taken with you, dear."
"Please, Momma, no. I have too many fiancees already, and Kodachi's a loon, an' her family is worse. Much, much worse. Trust me. It ain't worth it."
Nodoka blinked. "Well, since you are set against it...." She sighed. "What am I thinking? This is how Genma made his mistakes, isn't it."
Ranma managed not to comment.
"Well, all is not lost. She can still be your concubine."
"I'm home!" Ranma came into the main room and looked around. "No girls today?" he asked Nodoka.
"Well, you're home a bit early," Nodoka said, and put down her sewing. Their gazes met, and shifted to the doorway. They didn't have long to wait.
"Nihao!" Shampoo came in, carrying two delivery boxes, and set them on the table. Ranma realized that her hands were now free and backed up hastily, but it was too late. Glomp! "Wo ai ni," Shampoo whispered in his ear, then kissed it. Ranma blushed, unable to ignore the fact that he had an armful of live girl and unwilling to do anything constructive about it.
Shampoo let go reluctantly and turned to Nodoka. "First time see airen today," she explained, starting to unpack the boxes. "I bring dinner for airen family, yes?"
"Well...." Nodoka stopped. A panda had just arrived at the table and was polishing its chopsticks. "Yes, thank you, Shampoo- chan," Nodoka continued. "I'll just set the table." She went into the kitchen.
"Gyoza, cha-su-men, niku dango, tamago soup, gomoku rice," Shampoo muttered, ticking off the bowls on her fingers. The panda sneaked a gyoza while her attention was occupied. "Ah, stir-fry vegetable, very good for reflex." She set out the last bowl.
"That's a lot of food, Shampoo," Ranma observed appreciatively.
Shampoo's eyes glinted. "I hear Kodachi come with truck- man," she said. "I show I better wife, yes? Big, tasty bowl better than little bit raw fish, you see!"
Nodoka waved good-bye to Shampoo and turned to Ranma. "I wonder if she'll ever understand about doors. Dear...."
"Well, it's not that I don't appreciate the lovely meals your girlfriends are bringing, but suppose they all bring food on the same night?"
"Uh...." Ranma's mind boggled. Pray Akane's not one of 'em?
Ranma and Nodoka stared at the towering piles of food. Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi glared at each other, preparing to fight it out over who'd get to sit next to Ranma. Nodoka turned to her son. "Well, there's only one thing to do," she sighed. Their eyes met, and they spoke at once.
"Call your father to dinner." "Get Pops in here."
~~~~~ end of Diet ~~~~~
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