The Unicorn Academy--Episode Thirteen

Episode Thirteen: Song of An Era's End
~What's Really Between Those Two...?

Worthless do-nothing. Is that really fair? Are do-nothings really worthless? I mean, without us, how special would the talented ones be?

I'm Amuro Keiko, and I've got a busy Spring Break ahead of me. First off, I've skipped out on at least six weeks' worth of exfoliating, and I can't remember the last time I gave myself a facial.

Then I need to soak my feet and hands, push back my cuticles, buff my nails...

I'm not a do-nothing. I just do what I want. And I don't see any valid reasons to involve myself in the ridiculous and frustrating social games of Phoenix School. Or of TUA, for that matter.

I have enough to worry about as it is.

"Keiko-chan~!" my father stuck his head in my doorway. "Oh! You're up."

I looked over at my clock. It read nine-twenty. They must've just gotten back from the gym.

'They' being my family, consisting of my Mom, Dad, and brother, Anji. They're all super-athletic. I guess I got the shriveled egg or something, `cause any athletic attempt of mine ends up in me getting hurt or in serious trouble.

"Yeah." I fell back on my bed. "I'm up. Are we making any plans for the festival?"

"We were planning on going as a family." Dad blinked, holding his waterbottle casually. "Anyone you wanted to bring along?"

I crossed my legs, and looked at the bare foot of mine dangling in the air. Such girly toes I had! I relished in the freedom of being able to curl them again. How adorable they were!!

"Well, we'll probably run into most of them anyway." I said, and sat up. "You know--I haven't gotten out my kimono yet!"

It felt a little weird being in girls' clothes again. I mean, even being able to wear pajamas without having to worry if too much leg was showing.

It was easy. Yeah...

Mom gave me a critical look from across the table. "Sit up. you're slouching."

I arched my back. That was the third time she'd said that, darnit.

"I'm not going to allow you back into that school until I'm convinced that you'll keep your posture straight." Mom broke off a piece of a blueberry muffin, and arched her eyebrows.

Ouch. That was harsh. I reached over for a muffin, and saw Dad reaching for his coffee from behind the paper.

"We need to get there early if we want to beat the crowds." Daddy rested the paper on the table, and tapped a knuckle on the article on this year's festival.

I leaned over and looked at the article. Festivals were usually crowded. What made this one any different from last year's?

Anji had a cup of coffee in his hand (I dunno how he chokes down that stuff...), and he casually sipped it. "Looks like you'll be seeing your friend tomorrow."

I kept reading the article, hoping to see what my family was talking about, exactly.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Really. I dunno why I was...

I knocked over my glass of orange juice with my elbow, and it soaked the newspaper.

Anji stood, and blotted some paper napkins over the spill. "I can't take you anywhere..." he muttered.

Once he pulled away the napkins, I blinked a few times, and squinted at the words that cause me to stumble:

"--violin concert by Shiranui Kakeru--"

"Where are your glasses, honey?" Mom asked.

She must've thought I had trouble seeing. I shook my head. "In my suitcase. I'm using my contacts now that I can."

I smiled to my parents, but I could tell by his response that Anji knew what was bugging me.

"S'not his first concert this year." Anji poured me another glass of orange juice, and I took it.

"Who, the Shiranui boy?" Daddy looked up from his paper for a moment, and then looked back to it. "Probably for school money."

"School money?" I repeated. What on earth would Kakeru, of all people, need money for?

"He's got to pay for college somehow." Mom had a sympathetic frown on her face. "After his family's business firm went bankrupt two years back."

--what?!

"I still think he'll be getting scholarships from lots of Tokyo's music academies, the way he plays..." Dad turned the page of his paper.

Anji stood, and left the table. Surely he knew that I wanted this cleared up...the Shiranui family owned a large coorporation. When did it go bankrupt?

...how on earth could Kakeru afford going to TUA?

Unless...could Obari-sama be...?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I don't try to make people understand me. They can't. Because they have simple lives.

You'd think, that in a school full of rich kids, all used to cushy, luxurious lifestyles...one of them would have a grasp of unfortunate circumstance.

But instead, they complain. They whine and moan about how bored they are.

Those wretches don't see how good they've got it. How insanely simple their lives are.

Tragedy happens. Business fail. People die. Some people are just destined to have trials. Why should I be included?

Obviously, my parents don't think they fit into this category.

"Where's mother?" I asked when I got home the first night.

It was our first break since school started. Nothing major, just an extended weekend for the usual Spring festivities. I would've stayed at the school, but previous engagement out of my control prevented me from doing so.

I was at dinner. Alone. With my father. I had already determined that the weekend was not off to a good start.

"She's in Hawaii with some friends." he bluntly said to me--like it wasn't a big deal. I guess he saw the look on my face. I'm usually good at fooling people, but I usually don't care if my father knows what I'm thinking. He acts as though he does, anyway.

The food was wonderful. I don't understand why it kept catching in my throat. Maybe it was hot in the room. Maybe it was the silence in the dining room.

I stood, and excused myself. "I'm going upstairs."

"Take your violin with you." Father ordered.

"Why? I'm not practicing tonight." I said with resentment. I just got home, for crying out loud.

I had my back facing him in the doorway. I could hear him roughly throw his fork down, and he stood.

What, was he going to try and keep me from leaving?

"You need to practice every chance you get, Kakeru." I heard his voice from behind me. It sounded bitter and resentful.

Huh. Bitterness. Resentment. I had him beat.

"Your hobby is all you've got now. Do you think your name alone will get you into a college?" What reason did my father have to be bitter? He didn't have a single good reason to speak like he did. As though it was my fault or something.

"It's not a hobby anymore." I looked down the hallway. I wish he would just leave me alone, and let me go into my room.

"If you had paid closer attention to your academics, then we wouldn't have to rely on your violin playing for scholarships!"

His rough hand was then placed on my shoulder. I knew what he thought. He's told me what he's thought. And I knew by the tone of his voice that he was going to say it again. I'm sick of it.

I slapped away his hand, and pulled back from him. "Don't touch me."

I shouldn't have said anything. I shouldn't have pulled away. I shouldn't have wanted to take my father out.

Because he could tell. And no matter how much I don't care what he thinks, it still hurts when he backhands me.

I'm not sure if it's the actual force of his knuckles and ring against my jaw...or the tense moment before his hand actually hits my face...but for a moment, I can honestly admit to fearing my father.

I don't even look him in the eye after he does something like that. For surely he'd kill me if I let him see the look on my face.

For some people, they express things better through words. For me, I express myself through my music. But experience has shown me that the look on your face, the rebellious glint in your eye, even those--especially those--can cause trouble.

Well. With that said and done, I can go to my room. Like I originally intended.

...I better take my violin up with me...

All I wanted was a bit of quiet. Was my room the only place to have some peace of mind? Probably not. If I actually was able to stay back at the Academy, I probably would've been able to have the entire campus to myself.

I put my violin in some place where I wouldn't be able to see it.

My violin. It was at one time the most precious thing I owned. Now I have to fight myself when I pick it up. Rebellion against my parents, my uncle, Shuu-san, everyone...keeps me from doing what used to be a rebellion itself.

I walked over to my bed. It wasn't late. The chef always had dinner out by six. Father always retired early, he had to commute every morning.

I fell face forward in my bed. It was cold, and hard. It had no smell to it. I closed my eyes, and buried my face in my pillow. I heard a knock on my door.

"Young master, I've been asked to come open your bed."

One of the maids. I still don't understand why we haven't downsized the housekeeping staff.

The door opened. I didn't lift my head. "Go away."

"Do you not want your bed open, sir?" she asked as politely as she could.

"I'm not moving. Leave." I said.

She wasn't one of the more experienced staff, but she knew well enough to simply leave.

My parents. They refuse to give up their extravagant lifestyles. I don't know if it's laziness or pride.

But I don't care. They've probably been like this all their lives. They probably were just like me at one point. I wonder if this is their first time dealing with things not going their way. I wonder if I'd behave differently if I was put in their situation.

What time is it? During introspection, the minutes always seem to dissolve.

Eight-thirty. Why did it feel so much later?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"But why, Otaru?" my mother handed me my laundry, and I took it.

"What do you mean?" I turned around to go to my bedroom. "It's so much bigger of a festival in town, I'd rather go someplace where I could see something new."

The city is so much larger. My father bought a mansion in a cozy suburb, and commutes everyday to his medical practice. The community I've lived with has always been good to me, but...

I guess, I've been exposed to new things. I've met new people, and suburb life is no longer good enough for me.

...not that it's not good enough, but, I just want something different.

"I'd like to go by myself, if that's all right." I didn't want to upset my mother with the request, but I knew a lot of classmates would be there, and I figured...I figured that maybe Sempai's friends would be there.

Either way, there were other reasons I wanted to go. I think Mother knew that.

"Did you read about the student giving the violin concert this evening?" my mother stood in my bedroom doorway as I put away my laundry.

Going through my drawers, I smiled at her keen sense of observation.

"Yeah." I smiled sideways. "I thought that I'd pay him a visit. Show my support, I guess."

Mother's gaze drifted to the floor, and her smile faded. "Such a shame. That family was doing so well."

I nodded. It did appear that the Shiranui family was doing well in every aspect. They were a financial colossus in Tokyo, the husband and wife were glamorous socialites. They were followed wherever they went. They were a beautiful family.

But I noticed that it's easy for a family to be happy and loving when their lives are going well. It came as a shock to me, however, to see Shiranui-kun's family life deteriorate like it has.

Shiranui-kun...

Why has his family's bankrupcy affected him this way, though?

Sempai doesn't seem to understand. He doesn't realize that Shiranui-kun wasn't always like the way he is now.

Maybe--with a bit of work and time--maybe I can get Kakeru and Sempai to get along. It seems I owe it to them, doesn't it?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"And if you run into Gohei?"

"Smile and act clueless. I've never seen him before in my life." Keiko sat on my unmade bed as I went through a mental checklist with her.

...no doubt she'd flirt with the guy. I still hadn't forgotten how she was on our drive up to the Academy. Now she had nothing to hold her back.

"And what about Jiro?" I sat at my desk, and propped my feet up.

Little sister was hesitant in answering. I knew what she was thinking.

"Kei~!" I warned.

The waterworks then kicked on.

"Anji~!" she began to wail. She started kicking off my sheets in a fit. "Do I HAVE to be nice to him?!"

...did I have to go to the festival with her around?! I could just imagine the trouble she could cause.

I furrowed my brow, and got to the question that really mattered.

...mainly because I didn't know the answer to it myself.

"Kei, what happens if you run into Otaru while there?"

Keiko's bawling ceased, and she suddenly got serious. (I could never quite understand how she could fluxuate her moods like that.)

My sheets were completely off of the bed, and in a heap on the floor.

There was a moment of silence for both of us. Keiko looked ot her knees. Her hands rested on my mattress, but she then slowly lifted her knees to her chest, and circled her arms around her legs.

"Run the other way, I guess."

Now I'm not sure if that was the answer I wanted to hear, but something about it...it just didn't sound right.

"You can't do that."

...then what should she do?

She looked up to me. Her eyes had already dried from her previous crying fit, but it looks like she wanted to cry again.

Geez, what is with girls crying all the time?! Do they like it or something?

"...I...I mean..." I felt a bit choked up. I pulled my gaze away from her to regain my train of thought. "Kakeru will be there."

I heard an aggrevated sigh from my sister's direction, and then a few of the springs in my mattress bounce as she toppled over onto it.

"Yeah. The big ol' headline blaring 'SHIRANUI KAKERU' kinda hinted at that li'l fact." Keiko sounded less than thrilled about it. I guess I couldn't blame her. He wasn't exactly the most likeable guy. He was friendly enough, I mean...at least, he was the first year or two. But even then, he had an air about him. Like--as though he had a seperate identity outside of school. Like maybe he was hiding something.

Then, last year--it seemed that everything kinda crashed down for him. With the family business, then the music hall--

It had been awfully quiet. I looked back to my bed, and saw my sister's back facing me.

I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the guy. First that, and now this--Keiko has him all caught up in this mess. He's really set himself up for trouble. And what's worse, he's made a complete fool of himself and developed a crush on my sister. Who hates him.

Although 'hate' is too strong a word, she'd probably say...

"I don't think Otaru would be there, Anji." Keiko quietly interrupted my thoughts. "After all, they have a festival where he lives, and besides--" she turned over to face me. "--he'd probably not show up since Kakeru's there."

Kakeru? What difference would he make to any of this?

"I don't think they're all too fond of each other." Keiko sat up, and crossed her ankles. "They didn't get along well at all at lunch the other day."

"Hmm." I got up from my desk. "Hopefully we're worrying over nothing, then."

Hopefully...

"Anji-chaaaan! Keiko-chaaaan!" Aika's voice came from downstairs.

Keiko looked to me, tilting her head just slightly to the side. "Is that Aika-chan downstairs?"

"Quick, you two! Eat lunch before we get you dressed in your kimonos!" Naoki's voice piped up after my sister finished her sentence.

I shrugged, and smiled. "They're a bit early, aren't they?"

Keiko hopped off of the bed, and made her way downstairs. "But Naoki-chan made us lunch!"

Obviously not as enthusiastic as my sister, I followed her downstairs to only be greeted with two high-school Juniors latching themselves onto both of my arms.

It could be worse. I mean, I don't see how that blasted Gohei could accuse me, of all people, of being gay.

Pfft! Look at me: two cute girls clinging onto me as though their little lives depended on it...

"Hey. You two..." Keiko flatly stared at Aika and Naoki. "Cut it out."

"That's okay, Keiko." I assured Keiko that there was no harm done.

...do I look gay to you? I'm dating the most-wanted girl at Phoenix, I have two heterosexual arm-ornaments...

...and I'm totally manly.

Oh, I am so not gay. Have I made my point clear enough?

Keiko and I were seated at our dining room table, and the two girls graciously served us our lunch. It was simple--veggie sandwiches with an herbed mayonaisse, with fruit slices on the side.

I didn't even get my first bite in before I noticed Keiko glaring at me from across the table. "What?"

Kei leaned over the table, and eyed me suspiciously. "Your sandwich looks bigger."

Geez. "That's because you don't like mushrooms, onions, or olives in your sandwiches! That takes up half of the sandwich size!" I took a bite out of my sandwich, but Kei didn't sit back.

She looked back down to my plate, and then back at me. "Your apple's redder than mine."

Mental grumble. I shoved my plate across the table to her, "Then take mine, for Pete's sake!"

"That's not the point, though!" she got weepy eyed.

"What, do you want two girls fawning over you?" I smirked. "Sorry, but I totally, one-hundred-percent disagree with the same-sex thing, sis."

Keiko looked unamused. "You're still hanging on to that Gohei thing, aren't you?"

Gyack!...drink...down...wrong...tube!!

I coughed, my eyes stinging. Both Aika and Naoki began to pat my back.

Keiko rose her eyebrows, and drank her iced tea.

"Of course not!! Why would I?!" Even if it was a bit of a lie, Kei was the easiest person to fool.

"Because it's pretty easy to believe." Keiko said with a smirk.

Now that was uncalled for. "If anyone should be a queer, it should be you!!"

Keiko slammed down her drink, and sent a lethal glare my direction.

"Anji-chan, that's unfair, now!" Naoki scolded.

"Darn straight." Keiko snarled.

Okay. Two girls easily outnumber one of me. Aika was certain to jump on the bandwagon if I didn't put an end to this.

I cleared my throat, and brought up a topic that would easily distract Kei...

...her two girlfriends would surely follow her lead.

"D'you ladies plan to stay for the concert tonight?" I saw Keiko's eyes widen.

Naoki and Aika squealed.

"The violinist we met the other day is playing, right?!" Naoki sounded way too excited. Then again, she usually does.

"Of course we're planning to." Aika looked to Keiko, then me. "What, were you planning on skipping out?"

"No way!" Keiko blurted ut, her brow furrowed.

...what the...? 'No way'...?

"Keiko-chan..." Naoki murmered.

Keiko looked to Naoki, obviously the least threatening of the three of us. "I'm not missing out on this for the whole world. Not even Obari-sama could keep me away."

There was a pause. Aika and Naoki exchanged glances.

...what was she so excited about? What did she need to see Shiranui so badly for?

Keiko and I got eye contact, and her face began to turn red.

Oh, great. Now what was she thinking?

A goofy grin spread across her face, and she laughed a bit. "Well, Obari-sama could keep me away, if he wanted to..."

...gag...

Naoki and Aika took my sister upstairs while she was still in a hormonal stupor.

"We'll be back in a while." Naoki sent me a nervous smile.

I smiled back, and shook my head. How they managed to get my sister out of these trances of hers, I'll probably never figure out...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"He's seeing Nakaijima."

My heart broke! Why? Oh, WHY?! The one thing I never considered...! Out of all possibilities...!

"Aika-chan, that was awfully harsh." Naoki-chan scolded Aika-chan on my behalf.

Oh...sweet, caring Naoki-chan...

"She's like a pathetic puppy licking her bloody wounds!" Naoki added.

...I'm a pathetic puppy? Now wait a minute!!!

"N-Naoki-chan!!" I whimpered.

Aika began to pull off my clothes. "Get dressed! C'mon! We've not much time!"

I felt tugs from all ends, as two pairs of hands began went nearly over all of my body. (To which there were a few "hey!"s from my side.

"I'd think Staci-chan will be there covering the event." Naoki attempted to make conversation.

"And most likely Gohei from the Academy." I added. "Will they be covering the concert?"

"What if Mai's there?" Aika looked up to me.

I snorted. Mai. "Why should I worry? I mean, she's interested in Kei. She wouldn't give me a second glance."

Naoki and Aika both looked up to me with round eyes.

I felt a chill run down my spine. "What?"

"Are you sure?" Naoki innocently asked.

Am I sure?! What kind of dippy question is THAT?!

"I mean, Keiko-chan..." Aika added. "You might...y'know...emit some sorta 'Fujishige' aura that...you know..."

Both girls looked to each other nervously.

"EWWWW!!!" EWWWWW!!! NO WAY! "NO WAY!!!"

Both of them flinched. Darn straight. Get that sick idea outta their minds before they do something harmful...

They began to put my undergarments on quietly.

Naoki broke the silence. "Oh!"

Aika looked up to her kneeling friend. I looked down, since I was standing.

Naoki looked up to me. "Does Otaru-kun attend the city festival, or his local one?"

How was I supposed to know? "Like I would know?"

"We'd think you'd at least take interest, Keiko-chan." Aika gave me a chastising look.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What was that for?

"He's your best friend, isn't he?" Aika asked.

"No, he's Fujishige Kei's best friend." Ouch. Pang of guilt. "My best friends are you two."

Oooh. Nice recover. My concience can rest a little easier.

Makeup on, kimono in place--the four of us were set and ready to head to the festival.

There's a long strip of temples on the far side of the city. In the historical district. In order to save time (and prevent nasty blisters), we took a bus to a spot about a half a mile from the temple entrance.

The moment we stepped off the bus, we were bombarded with merchandise just begging to be bought.

But nothing could put a price on the sweet aroma of the blooming cherry blossoms falling around us. The warm lantern light bounced off of the pale pink petals.

Anji sneezed horribly loud, totally ruining my 'life is beautiful' moment.

He rubbed his nose, and muttered something about pollen and allergies.

Back to pretty stuff. The cherry blossoms drifted down like delicate snowflakes, and--

"Keiko-chan!" Naoki tugged on my arm. "Do you have a hankie with you? Anji's nose is drippy!"

...geez. I grumbled something I dont' need to repeat, and dug into my pruse. Pulling out a travel pack of tissues, I forked it over to Naoki, and gave up any further attempt at soaking up the prettyness all around me. Anji blew any chances I had at feeling one-hundred-percent girly.

At least for now...maybe if I distance myself...

...now that just sounds like trouble, doesn't it?

I walked ahead of the thre, and scanned the crowd waiting at the entrance to the first temple we came up to. We were supposed to meet Staci at the first photo booth, I think.

...or was it at the fishing pond?

I turned around, and got behind Anji. "You lead the way." I nervously ordered. I didn't feel like getting lost in a crowd of people.

I was early, too. The crowd wasn't even at full-scale yet.

Anji looked confused. He looked forward, and he must've spotted Staci and Rina somewhere ahead, because he called out their names. "Hey, Staci-chan! Rina-san!"

I looked over his shoulder, and saw both girls clearly now.

"Wow, this feels so weird!" Staci went to Anji's side, and smiled a 'hello' to me.

I smiled back. "It does, doesn't it?"

"Rina-san! You pulled your hair up!" Naoki clapped her hands together.

Rina-san always had this look of total bewilderment on her face...like everything said to her is a complete shock. "Uh...yeah..."

Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, with a few soft bangs curled around, just framing her brow. She looked almost like...

"...she's like a blonde Nakaijima-sama!" Aika piped.

Ooh, you should'a seen Rina's face beam at that...

...she was on Cloud Nine for, like, the next twenty minutes.

We began to walk around, watch some of the streetside performances...

Staci came close to my side during a coal-walking act.

"You know, I would've thought Chinen-kun would've been part of this picture somehow." I heard her softly say to me.

That pang of guilt came back. I looked away from the show to look at her. She wasn't looking at me, she kept watching the show.

"...I dunno..." she said a big louder, and linked her two arms around one of Anji's.

Anji blinked to attention. "Hmm?" he looked to Staci.

Staci shook her head. "Nothing. Talking to your sister."

I didn't feel right anymore...just standign there, watching the show...allowing myself to dwell on the thoughts Staci had just planted into my head...

I turned around, and went to the next group of booths.

Aika and Naoki both took notice, and followed me. I didn't really mind. They'd probably help me out...they'd find something to distract me...

"Were youg etting bored with the show, Keiko-chan?" Naoki came up next to me.

I looked to Naoki. She always wanted to help out, even before knowing just what the problem was...

I shook my head, and began to smile a bit. "It was just getting too crowded for me. I wanted to move on."

Aika came up on my other side, "We shouldn't go too far. The others will need to find us still."

I looked around, and pointed to a stand selling cherry blossom tea and little pastries. "Let's go over there. We can wait for them there."

Naoki frowned. "But you just had lunch a few hours ago--"

"Maybe if my sandwich was as big as the one you made for Anji, I wouldn't be starving already." I felt a nice gratification at the nervous smile Naoki gave me, and I led the two of them over to the booth.

Each of us got a cookie and some tea, and we found a soft patch of grass underneath some one of the older cherry trees.

I brought the steaming cup of tea to my lips. I wasn't really mad at Staci for what she said.

...to be completely honest, she wasn't the one who planted those thoughts in my head.

...I wanted Otaru to be part of the picture, too. I wanted him to be my friend, not Kei's friend.

"Keiko-chan?"

I looked up to see Naoki's worried face. "Is something wrong with your tea?"

I must've been staring into it. I smiled, and shook my head. "I'm just waiting for it to cool."

"You haven't touched your cookie yet." Aika pointed out.

...so I haven't. I quickly bit off a piece.

"...and you were the one who was hungry to begin with." Aika muttered.

"I heard that." I said after swallowing.

"You've gotta stop acting weird, Keiko-chan." Aika said. "Or people will get suspicious."

"What people?" I shrugged. "There's no one to worry about."

"Hey! Why are you guys so quick to go off?" Anji's voice came from behind me, and the three of us turned to see Rina, Anji, and Staci coming up to us.

"Keiko-chan wanted a snack." Naoki answered as we stood.

"Figures." Anji said. "We need to start making our way to the concert site. Mom and Dad are supposed to be keeping seats for us."

Staci sighed. "That means that I'll have to get to work..."

Rina nervously smiled to Staci. "But you offered to cover the event, Mitsui-san..."

I looked to Staci. That sounded unusual..."Why'd you do that, Staci-chan? This was a holiday for you."

"Right. I could've easily had Mai cover it for you." Rina nodded in agreement.

Staci smiled, and waved her hands in front of them defensively. "No, I wanted to cover it...! In...in case...you know...maybe the music hall culprits tried to have a go at Shiranui-kun again or something!"

Now Staci-chan was trying to uncover the music hall scandal? Wait a second, here...!

Anji put a hand on Staci's shoulder, and said in a relatively low voice, "You should leave this to Kei and me, Stac."

There ya go, Anji! Tell her! I nodded repeatedly in agreement.

Staci pulled away, and shook her head. "No, Anji! Why d'you let Rina-san get involved, and not let me help you, huh?"

Rina began to feel uncomfortable just then. I could tell, because her mouth moved a few times, as though mouthing a few words. But only a gasp or two came out, and she looked to Anji nervously.

"That's not what--"

"Anji, I want to help you, you know?"

"And I appreciate it, but the most help that you can do right now is-"

"Staci-chan!"

All of us were cut off by a vaguely familiar voice. All six of us turned to see Tyler Manson walking toward us. He was accompanied by Kanzaki Jiro, Toseki Mai, and Hiiragi Gohei.

Rina, Staci, and I all grimaced. Immediately, Staci darted behind Anji, Rina behind me, and me behind Staci.

Anji's shoulders sagged as he sighed, and I heard him mutter, "That foreigner again..."

"Amuro-kun! Aren't you the cassanova this evening!" Mai teased as she walked ahead of the boys.

I shrunk further behind Staci.

"What are you hiding for? You're a girl!!" Rina hissed at me.

"I'm not taking the chance!!" I hissed back.

"I'd say the same thing, Mai-chan..." Anji said, good-naturedly, as always.

Sigh. Honestly. One of these days, I hope his 'please everybody' act bites him in the rear. Where does your loyalty lie, brother?!

"Is this some new festival game that hasn't caught on?" I heard Jiro's voice from behind me.

Both Rina and I looked behind our shoulders, and we saw Jiro standing behind us, leaning over a bit to have his mouth even with Rina's ear level.

Rina yelped, I gasped, and we both backed into Staci, who got pushed up against Anji's back.

I heard Anji gripe something, and both Noaki and Aika cried out a quick "Anji-chan!" before we all crashed over in a heap.

Poor Anji was on the bottom, the three of us girls were fortunate enough to have him as a cushion.

Mai gasped, and the three boys laughed.

"Have you considered football, Amuro-kun?" Gohei laughed, "The position suits you nicely!"

Rina stirred, and quickly rolled off of me. She blushed, the color of her face nearly duplicating the color of her pink kimono.

"Ah! Rina-san!" Mai rose her eyebrows, and folded her arms. "I never imagined you would be associated with this crowd!" Mai glanced at me as I stumbled up.

I glared straight back at her. What'd she mean by that?

"No wonder Kanzaki-kun and I were having such a hard time finding you." Mai tilted her head in Jiro's direction.

Anji and I helped Staci up. I noticed Rina blush a bit more as she looked to Jiro. "Were you looking for me?"

Anji looked over to Jiro, who stood next to Tyler. "Well, I actualy thought you'd be spending your weekend at a nice restaurant or something, since festivals can get so repetitive."

"But then there's the fact that Shiranui-kun was playing tonight." Tyler added, and he looked over to Staci.

Staci tightened her hold on Anji. Anji was still looking at Jiro.

"We heard that you and Kakeru have been on rather...pleasant terms lately. Is that true, Rina-san?" Mai droned in a teasing tone.

Okay. I didn't like where this was going. They were making Rina-san way more intimidated that I wanted.

"Okay, cut it out, Mai." I stepped in at that moment. I was a girl right now. What could they do to me? I had Anji available to defend me, if anything.

Mai looked at me with wide eyes. I frowned, and stared straight back at her. She looked me over. I think she was trying to identify me.

Rina shifted behind me defensively, watching from over my shoulder.

Mai's eyes lit up in astonishment. "It's you..."

...wha?! I felt my pulse quicken, and I sent a panicked ook to Anji, who sent a similar look my way.

Tyler, Jiro, and Gohei all looked to Mai in confusion.

Aika and Naoki stepped to my side.

Mai pointed at me, and looked to the three boys she arrived with. "Don't you recognize her?"

Jiro turned to me, and we got eye-contact.

...I felt as though I was gonna be sick. Any second now...

"It's the Amuro sister!" Mai said. "Amuro Keiko!"

There was a long pause between all of us.

Tyler and Gohei both looked to me, and then Anji. Then back to me.

...then to Aika. Oy vey.

Then to me. Then to Aika. Then to Anji.

Gohei then was the next to point. "Which one?"

"The one in the turquoise kimono!" Mai walked up to me.

I stepped back, bumping lightly into Rina.

Aika and Anji both sweatdropped.

"Typical..." Aika muttered.

"S'not like we can help it." Anji replied.

"So what, Mai-chan?" Jiro spoke up, looking me over again, giving me chills. "We know Amuro's got a little sister."

...okay. This is where Mai can either make or break me...

Mai put a finger to my shoulder very lightly. "Why haven't I seen you at school all grading period, Miss Do-Nothing?"

...do-nothing...

I shrugged away a bit. "I've been studying abroad in America, why?"

"Likely story." Mai rose an eyebrow. "And you came back to Japan just for Spring festival time?"

"What, do you think your family is the only one that can afford that or something?" I snapped back. I was a good deal taller than her, so I didn't mind using my height to intimidate her a bit.

Mai pulled her mouth to a thin line, and wisely backed off a bit.

Rina slowly came out from behind me after she began to see that Mai was beginning to lay off. Nervously, timidly, she jumped on the bandwagon. "It's true! Amuro-san...sh-she's actually quite good at English!"

Well, that wasn't exactly a false statement, you know...

"Here to cover the concert, Staci-chan?" Tyler asked Staci.

Huh?! Wh--HEY! Can we stick to me for a moment, here?! I'm good at English! Let's focus on that for a moment longer...!

"Well..." Staci's eyes got round, and she looked to Rina. "Rina-san assigned me to do it--"

"Mitsui-san, you asked me if I--" Rina was about to protest that claim, but some sort of communication between Staci and Rina...something I just barely picked up on...some message that Staci sent to her cut Rina short.

Tyler seemed interested, much to Staci's distress...what was going on, here? He looked to Rina with his large, Amercian green eyes. "You did, huh, Nimai-san?"

Rina blushed, and sounded choked up. "Well...well, I--"

Tyler smiled. "I've heard about you! Congratulations on your election win this year! That must've been some race!"

Anji narrowed his eyes at Tyler. "You've made plenty of these girls nervous now, Tyler. We need to get to our seats for the concert, if you don't mind."

Jiro smiled at Rina. "Rina-san also works double-time as editor for their paper."

"Ooh! Jiro-kun sounds impressed!" Gohei grinned.

Rina began to fidget with her obi.

Mai was fuming. Delicious. "Okay, you heard the man. They need to get to their seats, now!"

Gohei was the first to begin walking. Tyler sent both Anji and Staci a pleasant smile. Anji scowled, and Staci cowered a bit.

...what was it that upset Staci so much about Tyler? The effect he had on Anji? Their past breakup?

...I really think the only reason Anji was upset with Tyler is because he makes Staci nervous.

...so they're kinda feeding each other's reactions, aren't they?

"Nice to see you, Rina-san." Jiro spoke softly to Rina-san. I was probably the only one outside of those two that heard...

"Same with you, Kanzaki-kun." Rina seemed to be a bit more comfortable now that she knew Mai was leaving. "Will you be at the concert?"

"Of course. Isn't it a duty as President to support the student body?" Jiro stepped a bit closer to Rina, his tall stature nearly dwarfing hers.

I blushed nearly as much as Rina did. Whooooooo boy...

"I'd think of it more as a courtesy." Rina looked to me, and she then saw that I was watching.

Yeek! Then Jiro looked over before I could look away...! Now I know I was blushing more than Rina-san...!

I heard Jiro give a quiet "heh", and then said, "I like your hair like that, Rina-san."

"Oh. Th-thank you..."

"You compliment the cherry blossoms nicely."

"--uh--"

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!! EEEK! EEEK! EEEK!!! I shouldn't be EAVESDROPPING!!!!!

"KAN-ZA-KI-KUUUUN!!!" I heard Mai storm back, and I turned around to see her tugging Jiro away from a flabbergasted Rina. "I said 'let's go'!"

Jiro smiled to Rina over his shoulder, and followed Mai with very little resistance.

...whew!!

Anji and Staci walked up next to Rina. I hung back with Aika and Naoki.

"At least Mai-chan could tell they were over-staying their welcome." Anji retorted, looking at the blushing Rina with a disgruntled expression.

Rina glanced up at Anji bashfully, and then glued her eyes to her feet for the majority of our walk to the garden theater.

Lanterns were hung down each of the aisles, dimly lighting the paths to the mossy concrete benches. It was already getting crowded...can you believe it? People were actually lining up to see him. Shiranui Kakeru.

...I almost felt a sense of pride. Weird, huh?

I saw Mom and Dad...up near the front. Oh, boy...

I sweatdropped, and leaned over to Anji. "Hey, Anji!"

"Hmm?" Anji turned to me. "What?"

I felt a blush creep up my neck. "C-can't you get Mom and Dad to scoot back a few rows?"

...I didn't really feel like being spotted by Mister Pest himself...I'd rather remain one of those anonymous viewers, if you know what I mean...

Staci took my arm, and tugged me forward. "Just what are you afraid of? It's not like he'll come down and eat you!"

I struggled to keep my balance, and Staci pulled me ahead of the others.

Mom and Dad spotted us, and waved us over.

"You guys are a bit early, aren't you?" Mom asked. "Were the booths that boring this year?"

I opened my mouth to reply, but Daddy made a jocular comment. "You know kids today, Madoka. If it doesn't contain microchips or wiring of some sort, they lose interest after five minutes."

All of us 'kids' sweatdropped at that comment.

"Aika-chan!" I then heard Daddy say. "Let's go to the dunking booth and practice your pitch!"

"But Amuro-papa! I'm in my finer kimono tonight!" Aika sweetly protested.

"Of all the times you had to decide to be girly, Aika-chan..." my father faked a sob, to which my mother elbowed him lightly.

Rina flatly stared to me, sweatdropping. "...she calls him 'Amuro-papa'...?"

I flatly stared back, and muttered out of the corner of my mouth, "Since she was eleven."

"...sorry." Rina muttered back.

"You two sit down, will you?" Anji said to Rina and me in a scolding tone. "No use losing our seats!"

I seated myself in-between Staci and Naoki. Rina sat between Anji and my mom, and Aika sat between my parents.

I turned to Staci. She was staring uncomfortably at her blank stenopad. I tried to think of something to ask her, to take her mind off of Tyler.

...but nothing too off-topic...hmm...

"So is this concert really for him to raise college money?" I tried to sound at least vaguely interested.

Staci looked up from her stenopad, and gave me a look of disbelief. "Of course it is. What else could it be for?"

...well, gee, I never thought of it quite that way...

Staci's eyes went round. "You mean to tell me you don't know about the Shiranui's story?"

They have a story?

"Good grief, what do you spend your free time doing, brushing your hair?!" Staci gawked. "I thought everyone knew this!"

...I spend my time doing plenty of other things, Stac. S'not my fault I'm not naturally gorgeous like you...

Staci looked to the stage, and watched them set up, "Shiranui-kun's family had all of his college money invested in the stock market. By now, it should be well into the hundreds of millions of yen..."

My eyes widened. "Wow..."

"He could've afforded to go to any university he wanted to..." Staci furrowed her brow. "But his parents...they're glamorous, fun-loving...and they have a reputation of being frivolous spenders."

"You mean--" I felt my breath go thin.

Staci nodded. "After the family business went bankrupt, they refusd to do away with their numerous homes and cruises...rather than making sacrifices, they instead went into Kakeru's college finances..."

I felt a lump form in my throat...they wouldn't do such a thing! Sacrifice their only child's future...for their own selfish indulgences?!

"You lie." I managed to squeak out.

Staci shook her head. "I wish it was a lie...could you imagine the blow its taken to his pride? Being told to fend for himself, on top of that..."

The crowds began to close in around us. The concert would be starting soon.

...he must feel so abandoned...

The guilt piling onto me now...was...was suffocating.

I began to tug at the layers of the kimono around my throat. It tightened around me, compressing my windpipe.

Staci put a hand on my shoulder. It stung at her touch. "I thought you knew."

Her words pounded in my head.

Was I supposed to know?! Did Kakeru assume that I knew?! Did Otaru assume that I knew?!

...oh...and Otaru has seen me treat Kakeru like dirt...he must think I'm the cruelest, most insensitive...

"Keiko-chan?" Naoki leaned over to look to me. "Keiko-chan, are you all right?"

Both Staci and Naoki were talking to me in a hush, because none of the others seemed to take notice to our conversation.

"I think the crowd's getting to her." Staci put a hand on my back. My back, which began to ache. "Why don't you take her to get some air before concert?"

I'm not sure if Staci was totally cluessles, or if she had a sixth sense detecting just what I needed...because she knows that I don't mind crowds at all.

Naoki took me outside of the garden theater, behind a tiny building, most likely a toolshed. She had me by the shoulders as we walked behind the shed.

Not able to withstand the feeling any longer, I crouched down, and cried into my open palms.

And poor Naoki was left standing there, watching. But the wonderful dear...if she felt uncomfortable, she didn't let on.

"How was I supposed to know?!" I cried. "My life has taken a one-eighty since I started this! Did he expect me to know?! What do I do now?!"

"Do you mean Shiranui-kun?" Naoki crouched down next to me.

"And Otaru! He probably thinks I''m some...insensitive jerk...! Who..." I felt the tears run down my makeup. I took great care not to rub my face--"...who has no regard for...for anything...!"

Naoki took my shoulders, and rubbed them. "Keiko-chan...what happened to Shiranui-kun is sad, and unjust..."

I shook my head, and cried harder. "I can't go back in there...! Watching him play...! It'll...it'll just make me cry!"

Naoki pulled me close. I tried hard not to cry...I didn't want to mess up her kimono...

"There's nothing wrong with that."

I pulled away from her. "I don't want him to see me."

"Keiko-chan, Shiranui-kun has had a tragic past few years..." Naoki gently said, and leaned forward. "But that doesn't give him a good reason to treat you the way he has."

My tears quickly slowed. I turned back to look at Naoki.

"There's never a good reason for anyone to be treated poorly." Naoki said, and stood. "If Shiranui-kun really wants to make things right...with himself, especially...he needs to learn to forgive his parents and move on with his life."

...Naoki-chan really knows more than she lets on...

She extended a hand to me. "Do you think you can watch the concert now?"

I rubbed my nose, and sniffed. With my other hand, I had her pull me up, and we stood.

"Thank you, Naoki-chan."

Naoki shrugged, and smiled. "Don't forget to thank Staci-chan, too. She's the one who could really tell."

I nodded.

Kakeru needed to move on...Naoki was right.

...but...how could anyone possibly forgive his parents, after all that they've done?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Naoki-chan and Kei sure were taking long. Gee, was it that bad?

I turned to look at Staci, to see if I could tell by her expression if it was something I should personally consult Keiko about.

But I didn't notice anything. Staci-chan was hunched over her stenopad, writing away...

I turned back to look at the stage, and sighed. I hope they made it back before the concert started. I knew Kei didn't want to be seen by Shiranui, and walking into the theater in the middle of his performance would guarantee her being spotted.

...and it's not like she would want to be on any worse terms with him...

I wonder if that's what it was about...this entire thing--the Shiranui ordeal--came down rather hard on her. I mean, most people have known about it for a while, but I'm not surprised that she didn't know...

Keiko was like that. She was always trying so hard to focus on the happy things in life, she usually ignored any problematic things around her. This made her ignorant, true. But, I kinda liked it that way...

...but I guess that's the protective big brother part of me kicking in...the less she knows, the less she's hurt, right? That's what I usually thought, but...tonight was proving me wrong, more and more...

...should I have told her about the Shiranui story? Was it wise for me to hold out on information like that? I didn't want to come across as being preachy to her. That's the way it would've sounded if I told her during one of her rants.

But I'm beginning to think...that maybe if I did tell her earlier...I would've spared her a lot of pain.

Kei and Naoki both slipped back into their seats as the orchestra began to be seated in the back of the stage. I looked past Staci-chan to see if I could get eye contact with my sister before the concert started. I stretched my arm behind Staci-chan's back, and lightly tapped on Keiko's shoulder.

Keiko lifted her eyes from her lap, and leaned back a bit to look behind Staci-chan's back, to me.

I leaned back as well, and hissed across to her, "Are you doing okay?"

Keiko smiled, and nodded a bit. "I'm better now, Anji."

...why shouldn't I protect her? She's so precious when she smiles...the idea of someone making her cry made blood race through my veins...

...having a little sister can do that to you. Growing up, taking care of her...and she was so easily dependant...

She shrugged, and tilted her head back to look at the lanterns swaying in the Spring breeze above us. The night sky was now tainted a soft yellow, with the lanterns warmly glowing in the garden theater. Soft pink cherry blossoms fell in abundance with every gust of wind. It was like a painting in motion. I don't think Shiranui-kun could've chosen a better night to perform.

I looked back to Staci, who was smiling back at me.

"What?" I blinked, and leaned forward.

"It's sweet. How you two look out for each other." Staci-chan spun her pen in her fingers slowly.

I snorted a laugh. "You mean how I look out for her." I put my palms on the edge of the bench, and leaned forward more. "I think she'd start bawling if anyone did anything to me..."

Staci-chan put a hand on my head, and ruffled my hair. She did that often, I don't really know if I liked it or not... "I dunno, she's been pretty eager to jump to everyone's defense lately."

"...maybe you're rubbing off on her, Amuro-kun." Rina-san's sweet, quiet voice chimed in behind me.

I frowned, and shrugged, not used to the compliment. Not from Rina-san, anyway.

"Aah! Anji-kuuun! You're bluuuu-shiiiing!" Staci's voice rose, and she pointed at me.

What?! "I am not!"

Keiko perked to attention. "What? What?!" She leaned over, her eyes wide. "What'd she do?"

"I didn't do anything!" Rina's voice rose to a frantic warbling, her face turning red as well.

"Aah! Rina-saaaan! Now you're blushing tooooo!" Staci and Keiko both chimed.

"I am not!" she protested.

"She is not!" I backed her up. Maybe then the two girls would back off.

Huh. Not likely...

"Seeeeeee?" they both cooed, taking a hold of each other's hands. "Rina-san, you're so cuuuuute!"

"Wh-I-I'm not--! You two stop this right now!!"

"Awwwww~!"

"You guuuuys!"

I sighed, and closed my eyes, letting the three girls have at it. Surely the concert would be starting any minute. Then they'd have to quit it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It felt odd being at the festival by myself. Usually, I went with my parents. And this festival was so large...I had no idea it would be like this. Shiranui-kun certainly drew crowds well...

...I wonder how much this would raise...the tickets weren't that expensive. How much of it was actually going to him?

The garden theater was breathtaking. The lanterns were loosely hanging on strings through the cherry trees, slowly swaying in the gentle breeze. The cherry blossoms danced in random loops and twirls before resting on the grass below our feet.

The warm glow of happy faces all around added to the pleasant atmosphere. It was so wonderful seeing children with their parents, laughing, and indulging in the simple pleasures of Springtime: piping hot roasted sweet potatoes, sticky cherry candy, tiny goldfish swimming circles in their plastic bags...they were inexpensive items when bought in town, but something about getting them here, winning them here...made them infinitely more valueable.

I shifted my attention to the stage as the crowds began to hush down. The time was drawing close. Shiranui-kun was scheduled to perform a solo piece written by Senji Akira. I knew very little about this contemporary composer...but I knew Shiranui-kun to be one of unquestionable taste in musical pieces, so I eagerly antipated what he was going to present to us tonight.

Shiranui-kun amazes me. He carries with him such an air of dignity. He always had. You approach him, and you immediately know that he is not one you can overcome. He never loses, he never backs down. He's strong, and powerful.

...he's not like me at all. He has such a demanding presence. Like our Headmaster...I blend in with the crowd, except for the days that I'm beat up so bad, you can't help but notice me...

But I've always hated attention being placed on me. It was never for a good reason, it was always for something going wrong, be it my fault, or the fault of someone else. I figure, if you don't approach life aggressively, you avoid much unneeded conflict.

...okay, so my theory doesn't always work, but imagine what it would be like if I didn't practice this way...

He came onto the stage, in an expensive Armani tuxedo. His vest was a deep burgundy color, and his face was glowing and soft. The stage light bounced off of his tall, long figure dramatically. In his hands were his new violin and bow...polished so that every angle seemed to have a nearly...divine sheen to it.

The sight was...nothing short of artistic.

Shiranui-kun seemed to be in a trance. He ignored everything below him, and all of the preparation going on behind him on the stage, as the conductor walked onto the stage as well. The composer turned to the audience, and then turned around again to face his orchestra.

Shiranui-kun was the only one to lift his instrument. He suddenly came alive at the movement of the violin, and he played the first few chords.

It was a tragic---painful minor key he began in...the orchestra then lifted their instruments silently, simutaneously as he decrescendo-ed, and they softly began to join in with a sad, sorrowful note...Kakeru's playing ceased for a moment, as they continued to move the audience to a mournful mindset...

...then they picked up a bit, and it sounded cheerful--! What a false beginning! Fabulous! Almost like a waltz!

--then, it was unbelievable! The melody Shiranui-kun played...! It was in a minor key, and it...the message he was bringing across...was one of drama...of...such bittersweetness.

Then the key changed, and the mood of the song changed entirely...it became romantic, and the audience was moved once again with the music.

...I got the feeling...from Shiranui-kun, I mean...I don't know if he meant it...but the message I got with his choice of song was...he was in pain...such pain...

...yet...he wanted to please the audience, because...he loved them. He loved music. He loved to play. Or he did. Once.

...but he was battling inside, with something inside him...he wanted the world to know how angry he was, how he didn't want to go on like this anymore. He was too young, too proud, to have to do things like this...his dignity...

But maybe I'm reading too much into it. It's just a song, a pretty song. He's just playing, right? But he's a musician. A true musician. They never just "choose" a song...a song has to speak to them...

...I wanted to know what he meant. Why did he choose this one? It means something. What is it?

It was too short. His performance lasted only a little more than three minutes. But I guess that's wise...leave while the audience is still wanting more. He didn't stay onstage long. He didn't wait for any flowers to be thrown onto the stage, he didn't wait for the composer to bow. He simply kept his eyes lowered, bowed, and walked offstage without as much as a smile.

The audience stood, and clapped louder. I think they were expecting him to return for another bow, but I had a feeling he had no intention of seeing the audience again...

So, before the chance left me, I squeezed out of the row I was sitting in, and managed my way towards the outside of the theater. I walked behind the toolsheds, backstage...

...I knew I'd find him. Shiranui-kun was there, untying his bowtie, unbuttoning his collar. He held his instrument and bow in his left hand, a sour frown on his face.

I stepped forward, and planted a smile on my face. I'll admit, I was nervous. It's been a while since I've actually spoken to Shiranui-kun casually...almost a full year since I cut off communications with him...

"That was an amazing choice of music for tonight, Shiranui-kun." I probably sounded scared silly when I spoke.

Shiranui-kun looked up, and narrowed his eyes. "Chinen-kun." He sounded surprised to see me. He then closed his eyes, and smiled, shrugging. "S'funny, I dunno why I didn't expect to see you here. Are you here alone?"

"Yes." I watched him loosen his collar, and walk over to a stool where his violin case was, open. He rested his instrument lightly in, and set his bow next to it. "I saw in the paper that you were doing a concert, and I thought-"

Snap. Snap. The sound of his violin case shutting cut me off. I don't know why it did...I was a nervous wreck. My pulse was quickening, my blood rushing to my face.

His voice was a low, soft hum. "So you came to see me?"

"...." How do I answer that? I felt my mouth go dry as he walked towards me. His face was shadowed over, but I could see in the little bit of light we had--a sharp gleam lining both of his eyes.

He came within inches of me, and dug a finger into my chest. "I don't need your philanthropy, Chinen. You don't owe me anything."

"...b...but..."

"Get out of here." his gentle voice was threatening. "Don't make me ask twice."

Fear rushed through me. I backed away a bit, and bumped into another wooden stool with a pitcher of water. It fell over, and spilled on the floor. I glanced to it, and quickly brought my eyes back to Shiranui-kun's face. Judging by his expression, I know I made the right choice in not bothering to pick it up, and I simply departed from the violinist's company...

...he's become so bitter. Shiranui-kun...has your true self always been this bitter? Have I had misperceptions of you this entire time?

Have you shown your true self to Sempai? Or am I the only one who knows really?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You know, you should have me carry those."

"Why? They're mine!"

Anji's face was blocked by a mountain of cheapy prizes. Daddy and Aika were behind us, yammering about pitching tactics.

"...you should've seen the look on the boothkeeper's face, Madoka!" Daddy boasted, holding Aika by her shoulders. "He was simply amazed at this girl's arm!"

"...actually, Amuro-papa, I think he was ready to hurt someone..." Aika nervously smiled. "We nearly put that booth out of business with all of the prizes we won..."

"C'mon, Anji! Lemme carry SOME!" I begged. All I managed to get was a dinky paper fan, and that was the lame-o prize of the booth I went to, anyway...I began to tug on Anji's arm, and a stuffed teddy bear dropped onto the ground.

"No way! Go win your own prizes!" Anji protested, and gasped as one of the twenty-something toys fell. "Hey!"

I quickly snatched it up, and claimed it as my own. "You didn't win any of these anyway! Aika-chan won them for you!"

"Keeeei! Give it baaack!" Anji whined. What a baby...

"You don't really plan on keeping these for yourself, do you?!" I gawked.

Staci, Rina, and Naoki were with my parents, at a loss for what to say in response to our bickering.

"Give it back noooow!!" Anji continued whining. "Kei! S'not funny, you know!"

"...but you look kinda girly carrying all of them..." I rose my eyebrows, and flicked open my paper fan. I hid a cunning smile behind it. "And Gohei could be around any corner, camera ready."

Anji turned a bit blue in the face at the mention of the TUA star reporter. Bingo.

"...and what a yummy tidbit that would be for his agenda..." I fanned myself a bit, and let out a quiet "Oh-ho-ho-ho!" for effect.

Within seconds, the toys were as good as mine. Sweet. Now I was fully enjoying the things that make girls what they are...

...even if Anji didn't win these for me...it still looked like it, and it's image that counts, right? Right. And I was a pretty young girl, waiting for love to come a-knockin' at her little heart's door.

At least, for the rest of the weekend. Then it's back to school. Back to being a grimy, sore, geeky, scrawny, awkward, unattractive...

...boy.

Sigh. I pushed all thoughts of The Unicorn Academy to the back of my head. Well, most of them, anyway.

There was one last tradition my family has during Spring festival time. We've always gone out for Chinese afterwards. This time around, we invited Staci-chan and Rina-san along. Rina-san, as always, was petrified to be even asked...but I insisted that she come along. If anything, she balanced out the lame-ness of Anji's behavior...

It was getting late...by the time our meal was over, it was nearly ten. Our bill came, and with it, the wonderful fortune cookies.

Anji and I had this totally bizarre tradition that came along with this, as well--if our fortunes had absolutely nothing to do with anything in our lives...which wasn't terribly infrequent...we had to eat our fortune.

Daddy was first: "You had very nice Chinese meal."

...ooookay. Cute. ;;

Then Mom: "You or a friend will be married within a year."

All of us snickered at this one.

"Did you hear that, Mom?! You're going to be married within the year!!" Anji grinned at Daddy.

Aika was next: "Your current love will not last." She then got watery eyed, and looked over to Anji.

Anji frowned, and sweatdropped. "Wh-what are you getting all upset for?!"

Then Naoki: "Devotion and persistence pay off in any walk of life." She happily gasped, and then looked over to Anji.

Aika got upset at this, and she leaned over to Naoki. "Naoki-chan, you backstabber!"

Naoki nervously smiled back, and waved her hands, "All's fair in love and war, Aika-chan! Didn't you say that once?!"

Staci laughed softly, and cracked open her cookie. "Be confident--seize your inner beauty." She put a hand to her face, and sighed romantically. "Ah, such words of wisdom these cookies have...to see into your heart!"

Aika, Naoki, and Rina all sweatdropped at that. I flatly stared at Staci, who I was fortunate enough to be seated next to. "She did not need to hear that." I mumbled.

Rina quietly opened hers, and blinked as she read hers out loud. "A lovers' passion must be tempered."

....

A blush creeped up her neck, and then her entire face went a bright scarlet.

Staci leaned forward on the table, and grinned. "How fitting, Rina-saaaan!"

Rina sunk into her seat. I could practically see the heat rising off of her face.

"Okay, okay, my turn..." Anji looked away from Rina, and gave me a glance before opening his cookie, as though to remind me of our tradition. I nodded in acknowledgement, and he opened his, reading it out loud slowly as he read it for the first time himself. "Love knows no bounds..." his voice trailed off, and his green eyes blinked, and he looked up to us.

All of us stared at him with identically suspicious looks. "...."

"I'M NOT GAY, ALL RIGHT?!?!?!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, nearly knocking the rest of us off of our chairs.

The entire restaurant looked up at his outburst.

He glared down at his fortune, his hands shaking. "M'not..." he muttered in a pout. He swallowed, and made a determined growl as he crumpled it up in his hands. "You know the tradition...!"

"WAIT! YOU CAN'T DO THAT!!!" I jumped up, and reached across the table to snatch the fortune from him. I heard the clattering of chopsticks and glasses shaking a bit, and everyone else began to reach for them, keeping them steady.

"Keiko-chan!" Naoki gasped.

Anji stuffed it in his mouth, and downed it with his water. "You can't stop me!"

Staci pulled me back into my seat. "What about yours, Keiko?"

I sat back, and cracked mine open. I unfolded it, and read it. "Truth and mind will last a lifetime."

There was an uncomfortable pause. I felt that pang of guilt for what seemed like the millionth time that night. Once again, thoughts of Otaru, the Academy...the entire mess that we were finding ourselves in...filled my mind.

I crumpled the paper in my hand, and set it on my plate. "Isn't that boring..."

All of the girls had sympathetic looks on their faces.

"Keiko-chan..." Staci murmered quietly.

Rina-san looked to Anji with an unreadable look. I certainly hope she wasn't blaming him for putting me in the place I was in. Anji looked guilty enough as it was...

I made a secret resolution...by the end of second grading period...Otaru would know the truth. Even if it meant just blabbing it on the very last day of first semester, if it meant ruining my Christmas so he knew the truth...I'd have to tell him.

Definitely.

End Episode Thirteen

Episode Fourteen Coming Soon!!