Note: I've been writing too much horror lately. So I've been thinking about a more relaxed one. Here it is, the first chapter of Her First Words. Enjoy~

Chapter 1: A mascot for life?!

"RITSUKO!" my eardrums almost burst when a voice; that was practically screaming with excitement; called out for me. With an annoyed look, I turned around and was shock once more at the sight before me. Nanami was sweating and panting heavily; as if she had just ran a marathon and won. I look at her confusedly. 'I wonder what's making her look so happy' I thought silently. Without wasting any minute, I raised my right eyebrow; signaling her to spill the beans. Nanami took several seconds to calm her ragging breath and when she finally speaks; her voice was laced with pure excitement.

"I got an invitation for two to a new celebrity talk show this Saturday!" she squeals in happiness. I look at her dumbly. I was never one of the girls who would get excited over celebrities. Heck, I practically didn't watch tv anyway! Not that I owned one to say the least. I pouted annoyed. 'Should I congratulate her? But it's just some silly talk show. It's not like she can meet them, right?' I thought to myself. Nanami is my childhood friend and we have been friends for 13 years now. But I still didn't know how to react in this kind of situation. I was a little afraid I could hurt her feelings if I show the wrong expression. So in the end, I just smile at her encouragingly.

"I'm lucky aren't I? But that's not the point. The point is, could you tag along with me to the show?" she asks hopefully. If my eyes could pop out, they'll pop up this very instance! 'She wants me to go to the silly talk show? Oh… ahahaha… no thanks! I prefer to stay at home and rest' I thought while I shook my head vigorously to decline her offer. Nanami looks at me with disappointment in her eyes.

"Please, Ritsuko! I just wanna hang out with you. You've been so busy with work that we practically didn't see each other anymore, except for school. At least spend time with me just this once!" she half begged me to go with her. I felt guilt crashing onto me like a huge stone. It was true, ever since I started working at the fast food restaurant I hardly spend time with Nanami anymore. "Please… just this once!" Nanami said almost wailing. I look down at my shoes, suddenly feeling that it was more exciting than to actually agree with Nanami.

With a sigh of defeat, I nodded doubtfully in reply. It never occurred to me that my agreement would make Nanami crush me into a tight hug. I was having difficulties to actually breathe! I gasp in relief when she released me. Nanami was smiling like a child getting a Christmas gift. "I knew you won't let me down" she grins evilly.

'WHA…?! Did she just trick me?' I look straight into her eyes. Nanami smirks in reply and said "Meet me at Midori's Park at 3pm this Saturday. Don't be late or I'll make you suffer on Monday." With that said, she slips away happily; everyone could see flowers blooming around her. But I could swear I saw little devils dancing a victory dance around her! I gritted my teeth in frustration. 'The nerve… ohh..!! How can I fall to her trap that easily? I'm an IDIOT!' I thought annoyed to myself.

I could almost feel the agony of going to the damn talk show. My sixth sense was alarming me that something was going to happen if I go. Now since I have made a promise with a devil, I could never back away anymore! It's too late for that!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

SATURDAY…

I glance at my watch. It was already 3.10 pm and the devil Nanami was late! I could feel my blood boil in anger every passing second. 'That girl! She was the one who set up the time, and look… where the hell is she?!' I fume to myself. I saw a couple smirking at my direction. They must have been thinking that I was stood up by my date. Well, practically everyone in the park thought the very same thing. I have been standing here; in this cold weather without a scarf to top it off; from 2.45pm!

I bit my lower lip to calm my ragging emotions. If I show my frustration clearly, they would take pity on me. And I most definitely hate it whenever someone took pity on me. In the end, I decided to wear a blank expression mask to avoid anymore stares. Even though my features were showing an angelic smile, only god knows what I was feeling at the very moment. The agonizing wait came to a stop when finally Nanami shows up.

With an apologetic face, she said "Sorry. My mum threatens me if I don't clean up my room before going out, she's gonna grounded me for the next one month. And she only said that when I was already at the door to meet you. You know how messy my room could be, right?" My anger slowly dissipated as I heard her excuse. I have known her mum for a very long time and she was the woman of her words. I can't really blame Nanami if she was late because of her mum. And I do want to stay at her mum's good side too. It was not a good thing to mess around with people like her. I felt a shiver running down my spine at the thought. I nodded at Nanami; signaling that I accept her excuse. I tug her sleeve and point at my watch.

"Yeah you're right. We're late if we don't get moving" she said in agreement. We half ran towards the studio that was hosting the talk show. Thankfully, we made it 10 minutes before it starts. Nanami sat comfortably at her seat while I was looking around to catch a sight of a toilet. Waiting for Nanami in this cold day was definitely making me in desperate need of a toilet. I look at Nanami and show a sign of "I'll be right back" before going for the hunt of the toilet. I left my whiteboard I was holding the whole time at my seat; fearing that someone would snatch it away if I don't leave things behind to show that the seat was taken.

I was amazed at the studio. It was huge and there were many doors leading to different rooms. I felt lost standing at the centre of an unfamiliar place. It was like a maze here. 'Where the hell is the freaking toilet?' I started to panic. I walk further until finally I saw a few female staff walking out of a door holding a tissue paper to wipe their hands. With a sigh of relief, I walk straight to the door and shut it close. Once done, I walk out back. I was so into finding the toilet that I haven't had the single clue from where I came from.

I look to the left and then to my right. Everything looks the same! 'Damn it! Now I'm lost. This is a problem… why did I leave the whiteboard?' I thought worriedly. Without thinking, I took the right path that leads me to a door labeled 'Ben'. 'It looks like a staff room. Maybe I could ask for direction. They certainly have a pen there, right?' I smiled to the plan and twisted the knob.

Inside, there were 3 people arguing with each other. There were 2 men and 1 woman. It looks like something came up and they were having a difficult time. I wanted to close the door back to give them some privacy when suddenly the woman's head snapped towards me.

"There you are!" she said with a face full of relief.

"It's about time you show up!" one of the man said sarcastically while clicking his tongue in annoyance.

"Now,now. We don't have much time. Get her ready" the second men said and drag me into the room.

I blink in confusion with the whole situation. 'Wait a minute! I think they have mistaken me for someone else' I thought panickly. I shook my head vigorously and wave my hand sideways to clear the misunderstanding. But instead, the woman chuckles at my reaction.

"Are you nervous, dear? Don't be. You don't have any lines, you're just a mascot. You only need to interfere once in awhile to make the show livelier. Come on. The director is not a patient man!" she said while started to undress me while the two men went out of the door. I was too shock to even more at the moment.

'What is she saying? And why the heck did she strip me?!' I thought flabbergasted. In one swift movement, I was dressed in a bear mascot. Inside, I was only wearing my undergarments! Not knowing how to react in this critical moment, I started to shook my head and wave my hand again. The woman was giving me a shock look.

'Yes, finally she understands!' my tears of joy almost fall from my eyes. But my relief was crush into bits and pieces when suddenly the woman speaks "Aw… you're definitely suits to be the mascot. You're too cute!"She squeals in delight. I felt like crashing my head to the wall that very instance.

'Is she stupid or what?' I thought frustrated at the woman who doesn't seem to understand what I was trying to say. I was about to try and communicate with her again when the door burst open. "It' time" one of the male staff earlier said.

He pushes me towards the door and drags me towards the studio I was in earlier. I saw Nanami sitting at the audience seat. My eyes widen in sudden realization. It looks like I was at the backstange! I begin to panic again. I didn't have the chance to protest when out of nowhere, the male staff pushes me onto the stage. I heard him whisper a "Good luck" and then, there I was. Under the headlight of the studio, on a freaking stage with a bear costume!

I didn't know what I was feeling at the moment. I felt a lot of emotions swirling inside of me like a whirlpool of never ending despair. I wanted to cry out loud, but I couldn't, so instead I stood still like a stone cold.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The audience's screams was downright deafening when 3 men walk up the stage. It looks like they are the celebrity for the show. One of the; with a dark auburn hair; started to thank the audience for coming to the show. The girls in the audience seat; including Nanami; screams as loud as they could. I was feeling rather light headed with all the screaming and "I love yous" that was thrown to them.

'Arghh! I hate this' I thought grimly. I was standing at the far right corner of the stage; out of sight; with a bear costume. I was still thankful that the show was focusing at the celebrities and not the mascot. I was about to let out a sigh of relief when out of the blue, one of the celebrity said with a huge smile "Now we introduce you to our mascot, Ben-san. He's going to help us with the show every now and then. Give him a big applause!"

The headlight shone at me as the studio darkens. 'Oh crap! What should I do now? Should I do some sort of gesture?' I thought hastily. Without further ado, I bowed a gentlemen bow to the audience. The audience went wild and started to scream "Ben-san is kawaii!" I was taken aback by the positive feedback. Well, at least I didn't do something shameful to embarrass myself… yet!

Throughout the show, I made some appearance when the celebrity talks over several topics. When it was about sadness, I will make a gesture of sadness by putting my hand on my eyes and started to walk miserably around the stage. The audience will blow with laughter whenever I interfere whenever they talk about tears, lonely or something in between. Once I even interfere when one of the celebrity was talking, making him unable to finish his sentence. The audience went "Ben-san, don't be naughty!" and laughs along with the celebrities.

When it was about laughter, I would roll around the floor and put my hand on the tummy to signal the pain I was having after laughing too much. At this, some of the audience will cheer and laughs with joy. Somehow, the show was going smoothly. I was having fun too, since it was the first time I ever make a fool out of myself without people knowing my true identity.

The show lasted for an hour and a half and finally it was time for goodbyes. The celebrities walk towards the backstage when suddenly; the auburn hair guy; trips onto one of the wires. He was about to fall flat on his face but due to my fast reflexes, I manage to save him in time. Instead, he falls right on top of me. There was a moment of silence when it was finally broken; the audience cheers "Yay! Ben-san our hero!" in unison. They clapped their hands in approval. I help the celebrity guy get up to his feet and he musters a "Thank you" to me.

The show finally ended with the guy hugging me; the bear mascot; and the audience go wild with "Aw..!!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I drag myself to the backstage while feeling a little exhausted. Wearing a bear costume wasn't an easy task at all! I could feel sweat trailing down my back. 'Thank god it's all over' I sigh in great relief. It was like a nightmare standing on a stage that was recorded as live and was broadcasted throughout all Japan. I was heading towards the room to change my clothes when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The dark auburn hair guy was smiling brightly at me.

"Thanks for the save, man. I could lose my face back there" he thanked me genuinely. I nodded my head in reply. 'He's not that bad. I thought all celebrities have big ego. Oh well, at least I don't feel regret saving him' I thought happily.

Finally; after getting crushed by the staffs that praised me for the good work; I manage to change back into my clothes. I glance at my watch and it was already late. Nanami must have been worried for my disappearance since in her point of view; I didn't show up for the show at all. I chuckle to myself 'If only she knew!' but I wasn't going to tell her. I rather die than admitting. Nanami is the kind of girl that will haunt me if she knows my deepest dark secret for eternity! I shudder at the though. Never, I'll never tell her! I'm going to bring this secret along with me to my grave… if that's the only way.

I heard chatters outside of the room. The door burst open and revealed the 3 staffs from before. Their expression was clearly showing a confused look.

"We had just received a phone call stating that the one who should wear that mascot was sick and couldn't' make it" one of the man said while eyeing me suspiciously.

"So, who are you exactly?" the woman asks while arching her eyebrows. I rolled my eyes in frustration. 'This is what I've been meaning to tell you, but ohh!! Did you even try to listen and understand?' I thought annoyed.

I saw a pen and few papers stacked on top of the makeup table. Without wasting any second, I started to write a short story about the event and handed them the paper. The staffs eyed the paper suspiciously before reading it. It took several seconds before I heard gasps escaped from their mouths.

"You're one of the audiences?" the woman's eyes bulged out.

"Let me get this straight, so we're the one mistaken you for someone else?" one of the man asks in shock.

"And you're…" the other man trailed off; not having the heart to actually say the word.

I nodded again to confirm their suspicion. I saw a flash of emotions flashing in their eyes. There was clearly shock, awestruck and…; wait is that pity?; in their eyes. They started apologized to me for the big misunderstanding and walked me towards the studio where Nanami was waiting. I saw Nanami sat on the audience seat with a worried look. I bowed and smile to the staffs before heading straight to Nanami.

"Where have you been? You've missed all the fun!" she said in anger mixed with frustration. I put my hands together in front of me and wear an apologetic face. Nanami sighs in defeat. "At least I have fun. Come on, let's go. We're one of the last to get out" she added and walk straight to the exit. I grab onto my things I left on the seat and followed her silently.

After eating dinner, I crash my body to couch and sigh tiredly. How I wish I owned a bed for crying out loud! I gaze tiredly at the ceiling; recalling the time I spent as the bear mascot. A smile crept on my face. I couldn't deny that it was actually fun for a change. As I gaze at the starts through the window, my world begins to darken as my eyes drifted shut. I couldn't exactly recall when I fall asleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was Monday night when my handphone rings a tone of incoming message. I flip it open while my other hand dove into the packet of chips. I throw a few pieces into my mouth before I read it. It was from an unknown number.

"Nakamura-san, could you please come back to the studio tomorrow evening? We would like to discuss a few things with you. Please come at 2pm. We're delighted to see you again" the message states.

I stare at the message, confused. 'Now what? Did I forget something?' I ask myself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

At exactly 2pm the next day, I was standing at the studio's entrance looking around dumbly. I saw the woman from before and greeted her with a bow. "Oh, Nakamura-san. Please come in. The director wants to have some word with you" she gestures towards a door located at the far end of the studio.

I walk hesitantly towards the door and knock on it gently. A voice called "Come in" before I push the door open. Inside, there was a man wearing a jacket with a casual jeans sitting behind a desk loaded with papers. I look at him timidly. 'So… why am I here exactly?' I thought while looking straight at the man. I saw a grin making its way up his face while he puts down the paper he was holding on the desk.

"You're Nakamura-san, am I right?" he asks simply. I nodded my head hesitantly. "Have a seat. I want to discuss something with you" he said while gesturing to a chair in front of the desk. When I was comfortably sat on the chair, he begins to explain the details the reason I was here. Apparently, the audience of the show loved the Ben-san that I portrayed. Most of them had hoped to see more of him in the next show.

I smiled proudly at myself. 'It seems my hard work wasn't in vain. But what's the point of telling me this anyway?' I cast a confused look at the man; who was called as Director Seiji Hikaru.

Understanding my signal, he states as a matter of fact "We would like for you to continue as Ben-san" he said unaffected. I gawk at him while my eyes widen in great shock. 'WHAT did he just say?' I thought unable to process the words he just said. The director laughs loudly at my reaction.

"Don't worry. You'll be paid for doing it. If I'm not mistaken, you're in desperate need of money, right?" he asks with a voice laced with kindness. I look at him once again; a feeling of shock mixed with confusion clear on my face. Shock because I got paid for the work. And confused because the fact that he knew my life situation.

'How did he know?' I eyed him suspiciously. He chuckles aloud this time around. "That's the mystery of showbiz! We even managed to get on hold of your mobile number" he said teasingly. Now that I think back, I never gave my number to any of the staff! 'That's an invasion of privacy!' I thought as a matter of fact.

"You don't have to give the answer now. Think about it. Here's my number when you've made up your mind" he said and handed me his card name. With that, I bowed my head kindly, to show respect and went home. I gazed at the card blankly as I sat in my room after showering. I didn't know whether to accept it or not. But looking at my situation right now, I really do need some money. Especially when the landlord has already given me a warning to pay up the rent. I guess it won't be such a big deal to accept it.

What could possibly go wrong? In the end, I decided to send a message of acceptance. In about less than a minute, I got a reply from the director. 'That was fast!' I thought in amazement.

"That settles then. Please be at the studio this Saturday at 3pm to get ready for the show. I'll give you the schedule then" the message states.

From that moment onwards, my life as a bear mascot; Ben-san; begins.