Chapter 07:

Rose

"Tatsuki-kun, wait up. I have something for you to do."

Tatsuki looked around at Ito skeptically. He had been packing up his books and was going to leave the classroom with the rest of Cabin Seven, but Ito apparently thought otherwise.

"Yes, Sensei?"

"Oh, don't look at me like that," said Ito upon reaching Tatsuki's desk. "I'm not going make you wear a dress or anything."

Tatsuki was not convinced. Ito put an envelope on his desk. "You haven't been to the girls' camp yet, have you?"

Tatsuki shook his head in a "no."

"Well, we're going to fix that right now. You're a teenaged boy! Surely you must have some curiosity what that side must be like, especially since Valentines is coming up and all…" Ito winked at him. Tatsuki grimaced, but couldn't contradict his teacher. He had been wondering about the girls' camp ever since…

Ever since San had mentioned it, actually. And mentioned Shi's old girlfriend.

"I want you to take this over there. It's very important, so don't lose it," Ito told him, motioning to the envelope, "and I want you to give it to a woman named Nakagawa. She's in charge of their Cabin Seven. I'm sure you can find the cabin on your own. You can get to the camp by following the other path from the parking lot. You know what I'm talking about, right?"

Tatsuki nodded. From the parking lot there were two roads, one to the camp for boys and the other to the camp for girls.

"If anyone asks, tell them Ito sent you," Ito said with a smirk, and sent Tatsuki on his way.

As Tatsuki walked there, he thought about Shi, or more specifically, Shi's girlfriend. Go had mentioned she was part of the girls' Cabin Seven. What had happened to her?

He tried to picture Shi with a girlfriend. It was difficult. Somehow he couldn't imagine him being kind and loving to anyone, even a girlfriend.

Maybe he had been kind once. If he had been, what changed him?

There was no way to guess, so he stopped thinking about it. He reached the gate to the girls' camp, and was so far unimpressed. It didn't look any different, at least from the outside.

He strolled in, and could immediately tell the difference. There were girls meandering about, dressed up in their winter clothes, scarves wrapped tight around their necks.

There wasn't another boy in sight.

Some of the girls walking along in the snow noticed him and glanced at one another. Then they giggled and sped up.

Ah yes, thought Tatsuki, teenaged girls. How he had missed them.

The camp was laid out in way that was almost identical to the boys' camp, so Tatsuki found Cabin Seven easily enough. He knocked on the door and waited.

A bit of commotion could be heard on the other side of the door, but eventually it opened. Before him was a tall, beautiful girl who he guessed was about his age. She had long brown hair that had a bit of a wave to it. She smiled at him.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

"Yeah," said Tatsuki, "I was asked to give this to a 'Nakagawa?'" He held up the manila envelope Ito had given him.

"Oh, Nakagawa-sensei. Yes, she's in here. Please, do come in. It's awfully cold out there."

Tatsuki nodded and followed her inside.

The girls' cabin did not look much different from the boys' one, but with more reds instead of golds. And instead of boys sitting on the beds, there were six girls.

"I'm Ifu," said the girl who had let him in. "Who are you?"

"Tatsuki," Tatsuki replied. Ifu's eyes widened.

"Oh, you're Tatsuki-san? We've heard so much about you!"

The other girls, who had looked only mildly interested, seemed to almost jump out of their seats.

"Wait here," said Ifu with a smile, "I'll go wake up Nakagawa-sensei."

Wake up? thought Tatsuki, why would she be asleep?

Four of the six girls who had been in the room rushed towards Tatsuki. "You're Tatsuki?" one of them asked, but it seemed like all of them did at once.

Tatsuki nodded again. He felt a little uncomfortable with them all crowding around like this. It was like when he first arrived at the other Cabin Seven.

"Guys, we should introduce ourselves, at least," said a girl with short, bob-cut brown hair. "If no one else wants to, I'll go first." She turned to Tatsuki. "I'm Hayama. Pleased to meetcha."

She stuck out her hand to shake with Tatsuki. Tatsuki took it, and she gripped his hand tightly and shook it roughly. She was pretty, Tatsuki thought, but kind of frightening.

Actually, all of these girls were pretty. And not just a little.

This was definitely Cabin Seven.

"Ifu's my sister," continued Hayama. "We're Go's older sisters. He's told us a lot about you." Hayama winked at him.

Tatsuki blinked. So they were the sisters Go spoke so highly of. He could already see how he might have a bit of a complex. Both of them were certainly taller than Go, and gorgeous.

A perfect pair.

"I'm Atsuko," said another girl, waving hello. She had long, extravagantly curled red hair and a hair band with a large bow. Her skin was tanned slightly, even though it was still winter. "It's been a while since Cabin Seven got a new member, so you've been the talk of the town."

"I'm Ai!" said a girl with blonde hair, "and I'm Suzuki!" said another. "We're twins!"

Ai's hair was decked out with a wide variety of pink hairclips, and Suzuki's had dark red streaks in it. They didn't look much alike, but Tatsuki could have known they were twins without being told.

"We're San's older sisters," said Atsuko, pointing to Suzuki and Ai as she said it, as if it explained some unsaid statement. And it sort of did.

The last of the girls in the crowd around Tatsuki pushed her way in front and attached herself to his arm.

"Hello, handsome!" she said, batting her eyelashes up at him. He wasn't sure how to respond, so he didn't. "I'm Yuuki." She had short black pigtails and amber eyes. It took him a while to remember where he had seen those eyes before.

"Are you Ni's sister?"

She blinked in surprise, and then smiled at him. "Why yes, yes I am. Most people never make that connection."

"That glum looking girl over there," said Hayama, gesturing to a dark-haired girl who had not budged from the chair in the corner where she was reading, "is Mikio. She isn't much for socializing, you must forgive her."

Mikio did not look up, even when the door opened again from the teacher's room, where Ifu had gone to get Nakagawa.

A tall, messy haired woman emerged from the room, with Ifu behind her. Tatsuki's immediate thought was that she looked exactly like Ito. Eerily so.

Nakagawa gazed over the group of teenagers in the room before her for a moment before her eyes rested on Tatsuki. Then her expression brightened.

"Oh, he is handsome, isn't he?" she said excitedly.

Ifu giggled, and Nakagawa rushed over to him. Tatsuki was suddenly worried for his physical well being for a moment, and he detached himself from Yuuki so as to protect himself if necessary. He held out the envelope Ito had given him with both hands.

"Ito-sensei asked me to bring this to you," he said before Nakagawa could touch him.

Nakagawa stuck out her lower lip in a pout. "Oh foo. You're not just here because you wanted a little time with the opposite gender?"

"Sorry," said Tatsuki, and Nakagawa took the folder from him reluctantly. She didn't open it, however. Instead she looked back at the boy in front of her.

"Say, Tatsuki, we've heard a fair amount of gossip," Tatsuki wondered what kind of gossip she was talking about, but quickly decided he didn't really want to know, "but I've got to know from the source. Do you have a girlfriend?"

Tatsuki looked at her warily. The other girls in the room looked just as eager to know, except for Mikio, who was still reading. But Tatsuki was almost positive she had not turned the page for a while now.

"I do not," Tatsuki said frankly.

The girls around him squealed. Yuuki grabbed his arm again, offering to be his date if he ever needed one. Nakagawa said they should smoke together sometime, and Atsuko asked if he wanted to have a gaming session when he was free.

When things calmed down a bit, Tatsuki reminded Nakagawa about the envelope. He was a little curious as to what was inside, now.

Nakagawa laughed and opened it up.

At first, Tatsuki thought it was empty.

Then Nakagawa turned it upside down and a small, square bit of paper fell out into her hand. On it was a pencil drawn face winking and sticking out its tongue. Underneath it said, "Nakagawa smells like stinky socks. Love, Ito-chan~"

Nakagawa crushed it in her fist.

- -

February was as cold as the rest of winter had been. Tatsuki did not like it. He had been anxious for fall, and now he was anxious for spring.

But he was curious to what Valentines at Cabin Seven was like.

Back home, he got a fair amount of chocolate from the girls he hung out with and from girls he didn't know. He had gone on Valentines dates before, but none of them had ever been particularly amazing.

Somehow he expected things at Cabin Seven to be a bit different.

A few days before Valentines, Tatsuki began to overhear boys from other cabins talking about a "Valentines Ball."

He asked Nana about it one day after class.

"Well," explained Nana, "It's not much of a ball, really. The two Cabin Sevens get together on Valentines Day and hold a big party for both camps in the cafeteria."

"Can everyone from both camps fit in the cafeteria?"

"No, not quite," said Nana truthfully, "So it spills outside somewhat. As long as everyone is dressed warmly enough, it's usually not too much of a problem."

The camp was beginning to get ready for the party.

Valentines fell on a Wednesday this year. Wednesdays were general fitness days. Most of Cabin Seven goofed off on Wednesdays, but Shi and Tatsuki went to the gym or to the track. This time of year, Tatsuki liked he indoor pool. He would swim laps, since the track was icy and often covered with snow, not to mention it was cold outside.

Sometimes Shi would swim too, but he would stay his distance away from Tatsuki, preferring to use the other side of the pool. Tatsuki tried not to think of it as an insult, but it was difficult.

None of the students were allowed to go anywhere near the cafeteria, because preparations were being made for the party. Lunch was instead served in the auditorium, and Cabin Seven ate on the stage, while everyone else was in the seats.

Tatsuki couldn't help but find that a little silly.

When he was done for the day, it was about four o'clock. As he was heading back to the cabin, he passed by the front gate to the camp, and could see that girls were already starting to be let in for the party. Immediately, he realized they were dressed in semi-formal attire.

He didn't have anything like that to wear.

All he had packed was casual clothing. He hadn't been expecting any parties.

He felt a little worried on the rest of the way back to the cabin. When he got there, he rummaged through his bag to see if he had anything he could possibly wear. He had a couple collared shirts, but the only pants that he had other than the ones that went with his uniform were jeans. He frowned.

The other boys showed up in the cabin almost simultaneously, bringing Ito with them. Tatsuki was sitting on his bed, reading the book Ichi had given him when they first met. He was only a few chapters in.

Nana came up to him. "Tatsuki-kun, aren't you going to the Valentines Ball? A lot of the girls are already there."

"I have nothing to wear," said Tatsuki brusquely.

Ito came over and put a hand on Tatsuki's shoulder. "I can fix that," he said.

Tatsuki didn't really want to know how, but was sure he was going to find out anyway.

Ito led him into his room. "We're about the same size, I think," he said, opening up his closet. He pulled out a simple black suit jacket and pants and held them up to the teenaged boy. "Mmm, yes. I think this is perfect for you." Then he pulled out another set. Tatsuki didn't know a lot about designer clothes, but the names on the labels definitely sounded familiar.

Tatsuki was thus convinced the boys in the cabin weren't the only rich ones.

Tatsuki was bothered by the fact that he and Ito were also the same shoe size, and that Ito had two pairs of dress shoes with him. When he mentioned it, Ito replied with "But you always need options, don't you? Silly boy."

Tatsuki was glad to use one of his own shirts, though Ito offered him one of his. When he left Ito's room, the other boys were getting dressed in the main room.

He was used to this now. With only one bathroom, it would take ages for all of them to get dressed in private. It had surprised him though, the first time, when Shi had started spontaneously undressing for bed.

Roku's tuxedo was radiantly white, like his hair, which was smoothed back. He was difficult to look at without squinting slightly. Ichi was dressed in a simple black suit with a white shirt and tie, not unlike the one Tatsuki was wearing. Nana had a deep purple shirt underneath his jacket, which had long coattails. Ni was dressed blandly. His shirt was gray.

San had a tuxedo as well, but his was a strange cobalt blue, and his bowtie matched. Tatsuki couldn't quite understand why he had chosen that color.

Go and Ni still got changed in the bathroom, out of bashfulness. He almost expected Go to come out of the bathroom in a dress, but he had a suit too. His shirt was a light pink. "Pink, again?" Tatsuki asked him jokingly.

"My sisters buy most of my clothes for me…" the smaller boy responded, blushing and playing with his hair.

That explained a lot, Tatsuki thought.

Shi had a deep red shirt underneath his black jacket, and it only made him look sharper. Tatsuki could believe a girl would fall for him when he was dressed like this.

He put a hand on Shi's shoulder as he was adjusting his tie. "Shi…" he said.

Shi snarled as he looked around. "Hah?"

"You look like a vampire."

Shi just glared at him.

When everyone was ready, they headed to the party. It was already starting to get dark. As their group got closer, the path began to be lined with tall candlesticks. The weather was nice, and there was a hint of early spring in the air.

When the group reached the cafeteria, Tatsuki almost didn't recognize it. It was decked out in hearts and streamers and there was a large space marked outside of it with candles. There were roses everywhere, and the outdoors was completely lit by real candles. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.

Inside was just as impressive. The standard ceiling lights had been replaced by chandeliers, and there was an elaborate buffet with a chocolate fountain and two whole roasted pigs, among other things. The long rectangular tables had been removed and smaller circular tables had been put in, each with a candle.

There was a classy looking jazz band setting up on a makeshift stage, with a attractive lady singer in a long black dress. Tatsuki was looking forward to hearing her sing.

There were already a lot of people gathered around. Tatsuki took quiet pleasure in seeing so many girls in their pretty dresses. The girls of the other Cabin Seven were there, and also dressed appropriately. They certainly stood out from the others. Tatsuki knew his Cabin Seven did the same.

More and more kids from the two camps began filtering inside, and the place quickly became very crowded. Tatsuki was glad the weather was so nice this evening, but he doubted whether anyone would really care, even if it wasn't. Everyone was in high spirits. It was nice to get a break from ordinary camp activities.

Tatsuki was helping himself to some punch when the band started to play. They started the evening off with "The Way You Look Tonight." Tatsuki smiled to himself. He wasn't about to announce it publicly, but this was his kind of music.

"Tatsuki-kun."

Tatsuki looked around. It was Yuuki, Ni's older sister. "Would you like to dance, beautiful?" she asked him.

Tatsuki took a second to look her over. He thought her sparkling dress was a little short for the middle of winter, but that hardly mattered to him. He held out his hand. "It would be my honor, miss."

She gave him a sly smile and took his hand.

"You're a better dancer than I'm used to with the sorry bunch of boys at this camp," she said after a little while, "Of course, that's excluding the Cabin Seven boys. They're all pretty good, as one would expect." She giggled. "You remind me a little of Shi, though. He's so stiff."

Tatsuki pondered that statement, but decided not to think more of it than he had to.

Tatsuki wasn't an excellent dancer, but he had a little practice under his belt. He had been to school dances before, but not like this. This was far classier.

This was a party the likes of which only Cabin Seven could hold.

When the song was over, Yuuki released him and wandered off after blowing him a kiss.

The band began to pick up the pace with "The Best is Yet to Come," and more people headed out onto the dance floor.

Nana was dancing with Ifu, and Tatsuki thought they made a ridiculously lovely couple. Go was too short to dance with any of the girls, so San was dancing with him. Yuuki was now dancing with her brother, and though Ni looked extremely flustered, he was managing not to step on anyone.

Ito was dancing with Nakagawa, but somehow Tatsuki sensed a bit of hostility there, like the two of them were trying to step on each others toes.

Roku was trying to get Ichi to dance with him, but Ichi was resisting. Shi was dancing with Atsuko, and Tatsuki thought they looked pretty good together, despite the fuming face Shi was making. Atsuko's dress was baby pink, with a huge bow around the waist that went down to the floor. She contrasted Shi's dark persona nicely.

Tatsuki frowned, but didn't know why. He served himself more food from the buffet.

He was taking another buffalo wing when the music paused and a teacher took the microphone. "Okay," he said brightly, "It's the time you've all been waiting for! The chocolate exchange!"

Tatsuki blinked. He had forgotten about that. The students around him clapped and cheered. "Alright, girls, go find that special boy you've wanted to give your chocolate to!"

Everyone started moving around. The dancing stopped, but the band began to play again.

Tatsuki was surprised when a girl he didn't know came up to him, holding out a heart-shaped box with a bow wrapped around it. "Ah, uhm, Tatsuki-kun, I, uh, made this for you. Please, um, accept it."

Tatsuki took it, but wasn't sure what to say. "Thank you?" he said, but it came out more like a question than he had wanted.

The girl blushed even more heavily than she had been before and smiled broadly. She curtsied and ran off to a couple other girls who had been waiting for her. They both had chocolate in their hands too, to give to someone. The three of them giggled and whispered to each other before dashing away.

It wasn't even a minute before someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was another girl he didn't recognize. She handed him her chocolate, and left in pretty much the same way as the other one had. Another came right after her.

Before long, there was a line of girls waiting to give him their sweets, some of them chattering to each other, some of them looking simply nervous. And soon, Tatsuki's arms were full of chocolate gifts.

He was wondering what he was going to do with all of it when a cart was rolled in the cafeteria by a man who looked quite a lot like a butler. On the cart was an enormous chocolate flamingo with a bow around its neck and a real rose in its beak. Its wings were outstretched, and students had to move quickly to get out of their way.

There was a large tag on the bow that clearly read "FOR ICHI."

Tatsuki sighed. He knew who the cause of this was.

The butler rolled the cart right up to the bespectacled boy, who looked positively horrified.

Roku materialized from out of no where, spinning dramatically. He plucked the rose from the flamingo's mouth and got down onto one knee before Ichi.

"Ichi-" he began, holding out the flower with one hand, the other hand on his chest.

Ichi turned abruptly in an attempt to escape, but Roku's quick hand grabbed his sleeve, preventing him from leaving. "Master hands have sculpted this chocolate into this beautiful form for you and you alone. Please accept this homemade chocolate of love."

He says homemade, thought Tatsuki darkly, but I don't think he knows that implies making it yourself.

He would have to explain that to him later.

A set of butlers came in when the chocolate exchange began wrapping up and took the mountains of chocolate the Cabin Seven boys had received. Nana explained their chocolate would be waiting for them back the cabin. The others had received more than Tatsuki, but Nana said it was only because he was new and not known quite as well.

The vocalist started singing "Fly Me to the Moon," and the dancing slowly began again. After dancing a few songs with some of the other girls from Cabin Seven, Tatsuki decided he needed some fresh air.

He did not notice that some people from his cabin were no longer in the room.

He took one of the side doors out of the cafeteria. There were unusually large rosebushes in giant flowerpots making a sort of maze around the building, so Tatsuki simply wandered. He noticed there was something in his inside coat pocket. He reached in and took it out.

It was a pack of cigarettes. Ito must have forgotten they were in his coat.

Tatsuki was severely tempted to help himself to them, but unfortunately he had no lighter. He sighed and put the pack away again.

As he got farther into the maze of rosebushes, Tatsuki began to hear hushed voices. He slowed down. They sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite make them out.

"Ito-sensei, we can't…"

Tatsuki stopped dead.

His expression was pure disgust.

He wanted to turn around, and wasn't sure why he didn't. Maybe it was what he heard next.

"Oh Nana, you can't pretend to be shy now."

Ito and Nana?

Tatsuki supposed he shouldn't be as surprised as he was. The two of them must have been right on the other side of the rosebush he was closest to. If he had turned the next corner, he would have walked right into them.

"But someone might find us on accident, Sensei." The emphasis Nana put on the word Sensei was almost unnoticeable, but Tatsuki caught it. It was as if he was only still saying it for the sake of unnecessary politeness. "What will we do then?"

"We'll pretend we were just chatting. And we both know you're excellent at pretending, Nana."

Against his better judgment, Tatsuki peeked through the rosebush. He could only see Ito's back, but he could see Nana smiling just like he always did.

"What an astute observation, Ito-sensei. I wasn't aware you knew me so well."

Ito's next sentence sounded slightly less cheery and more concerned. "Nana, of course I know you. It's been a couple years now, hasn't it?"

"More than that, Sensei. We were acquainted before I came to this camp."

"Ah, that's true, isn't it?"

"Yes, I believe it was when you were still in school when we met. You were such a disagreeable young man…"

"I'm still a young man, you know," Ito said with a sigh in his voice, "And so are you. You speak like an old geezer, though. How old were you then? I can't believe you remember that…"

"I remember everything, Ito-sensei."

"Apparently."

Ito leaned in closer, and Tatsuki knew what was happening, even though Ito's back blocked his sight completely.

Tatsuki heard a rustling in the bushes. He thought he saw someone dash away just as he looked up, but they were gone. Had there been someone else watching?

He shrugged it off. He might have imagined it.

Why was he still there, though?

"I'm going back to the party," Ito said, bringing Tatsuki's attention back to him and Nana.

"I'll be there in a moment," Nana replied, and Tatsuki could see now as Ito placed a peck on Nana's cheek.

Tatsuki suddenly realized that Ito might come his way and was very worried for a second that he might be caught standing there, but his teacher instead turned and walked in the other direction.

Tatsuki breathed a sigh of relief and turned to leave himself. "Enjoying the night air, Tatsuki-kun?"

Tatsuki nearly jumped out of his skin.

Nana was suddenly there behind him, twisting a rose in his fingers.

Had he known he was there the whole time?

"Uh. No. Yes. What I mean is that I uh. I was going out. For a smoke. But I don't. I mean. I don't have my lighter."

Tatsuki was not the stuttering type. When he was nervous he instead spoke in strange fragmented sentences and lied for no particular reason.

"I see." Nana simply smiled at him for a moment, and the silence seemed extremely awkward to Tatsuki. He was glad when Nana spoke again, because he had no idea what to say. "I'm sure they're missing us at the party though. This is one of my favorite songs. Perhaps Ni will indulge me in a dance. The girls are certain to enjoy that."

Tatsuki was suddenly aware of the music coming from the outdoor speakers again. The lady singer was doing a very slow, especially romantic version of "My Funny Valentine," now.

"Tatsuki-kun, you should come back as well. I'm sure there are still some waiting to dance with you." Nana held out the rose he was holding to Tatsuki, and Tatsuki took it.

Nana passed him, heading back to the cafeteria.

Tatsuki caught himself thinking that not even Nana was perfect, but the thought didn't make much sense to him.

He looked down at the rose in his hand, wondering if Nana had picked it himself or if Ito had given it to him. Regardless, brought it up to his nose and smelled it. It was lovely.

He tucked it into his outside suit pocket, then headed back to the party.

There was alcohol-free champagne being served now, and Tatsuki took a glass from one of the waitresses. Roku had finally managed to get Ichi to dance with him, despite Ichi looking extremely uncomfortable. Nana was asking Ni to dance with him across the room, and Ni nodded after looking quite surprised for a moment.

San was dancing too quickly for the song that was playing, and Go, who was still his partner, could not keep up. Ito was with Nakagawa again, and they didn't seem as upset with each other any more.

Shi was not dancing with anyone. He was drinking champagne by himself by the chocolate fountain.

"My Funny Valentine" ended. Another song began.

Tatsuki headed over to where Shi was, making his way past all of the students and teachers in his way.

"Strangers in the night, exchanging glances. Wondering in the night…"

There suddenly seemed to be more people in the cafeteria than Tatsuki had thought, and they all seemed to be blocking his path to Shi. So many couples, all dancing together.

"Strangers in the night, two lonely people, we were strangers in the night. Up to the moment when we said our first hello, little did we know…"

Finally he reached the fountain, but Shi was no where to be seen. Tatsuki frowned in disappointment.

"Hey."

Tatsuki looked around.

"Love was just a glance away,"

Shi was standing there, looking just as handsome and sharp as he had at the beginning of the dance. Tatsuki felt something strange in his chest.

He was happy to see him.

He smiled and held out his hand. "Would you like to dance?"

Shi's scowl became even more pronounced. "Why would I want to dance with you? That's ridiculous."

"A warm embracing dance away and-"

"Just dance with me, you idiot."

Shi turned his head away and closed his eyes in displeasure, but held out his hand for Tatsuki to take.

Tatsuki took it.

This was a good Valentines Day, he decided.