I glared across the back of the car at the person who had, in a remarkably short amount of time, made it to the top of my "wouldn't mind pushing off a cliff" list, and repeated what I'd said only a few minutes ago. "You have got to be kidding me." Only this time it was in response to the character I'd be playing in the television series that he'd blackmailed me into doing.
"I'm afraid not. And I swear I didn't choose this one. It's the last audition my sister tried for, and it's the only one that hadn't picked someone for the role yet. You have to admit that it's kind of funny, though."
I upped my glare to let him know what I thought of his sense of humor.
Funny isn't the word. Ironic is pretty darn close, though.
I transferred my glare to the copy of the script sitting innocently, too innocently, on my lap.
"I still can't believe it. What are the odds?" I muttered, wondering if I was imagining it that the paper was starting to smoke from the intensity of my glare.
What are the odds that I'd be playing a character who's cross-dressing? I thought miserably. And why is her name so similar to mine?
The character I was playing was named Yua, a girl from a family that had been high up in society but that had then been disgraced in a scandal, when her father was accused of taking bribes and then of murder. She, quite by accident, meets a girl named Mei, the niece of the official her father is accused of murdering. Against all odds, they strike up a friendship, and she learns that Mei's father is trying to force Mei into an arranged marriage, since she's not involved with anyone and it would be advantageous for them. Mei then comes up with the idea that Yua should pose as a suitor for her, a boyfriend, to make her father stop with the idea of marrying her off. Yua thinks it's insane, but goes along with it, since Mei promises in return to do everything in her power to help Yua get back into her place in society and clear her father's name. Then, as it turns out, the one who really killed Mei's uncle and took the bribes was Mei's own father, not Yua's father, and he had paid people to kill his own brother and make Yua's father the fall guy. But then, he hadn't paid all the money to the organization that set it up, and they kidnapped Mei and Yua, who they thought was her boyfriend, for ransom. Things just got more confusing from there.
And that was only the background of the character I was going to be playing.
The main characters of the series, which I'd never heard of, had even more complicated backgrounds which I had given up trying to remember after two characters who had been trying to kill each other turned out to be half brothers with the same mother but fathers that were rival criminals in the smuggling business, among other things. One of the brothers was wanted by the police for a murder that he hadn't committed, but he had been framed by his stepmother, who had committed it after he rejected her advances. She had killed his girlfriend, who had incidentally been cheating on him, in a cold-blooded fit of rage, if there was such a thing.
It was confusing to say the least, and I had the horrible, sneaking suspicion that it was a….
"Koji, this isn't a soap opera, is it? It's not a drama, right?"
Please, I don't think my brain could take it.
"Why, yes, it is," he said, while wearing a huge grin on his face that just spoke volumes to the fact he was enjoying my misery.
I'm seriously starting to doubt that he chose this script by "accident". Sadistic jerk. Why does it seem like everything in my life snowballs? I mean, first it was Shiro asking me to help him audition, and I thought that was bad. But now I'm being blackmailed into being in a drama of all things. A completely ridiculous drama. It can't be worse than Vampiric Dominion, though, right? Because that show actually broke Shouta.
"What's the show called again?"
"'Stolen Hearts'. Because it's about criminals and stealing and smuggling, get it?"
I let out a whimper. I was wrong. With a title like that, there's a very good chance that it might be worse.
Koji was one step away from cackling now and not even bothering to hide his mirth. "I'm sure you'll have fun. After all, you are fond of cross-dressing, aren't you?"
"Jerk," I muttered, giving him the evil eye, something that had never failed to make Kouki cower. Apparently, Koji was made of stronger stuff. Sinking back into the amazingly plush seats sulkily, I lessened my glare at Koji, even if it was only because my eyes were starting to water. "Hey, jerk?"
"Yea- Hey!" he answered before realizing the insult.
I can't believe he answered to that.
"What are you going to do when we get to the set or where ever it is that we're going? I mean, I'm dressed as guy-Yui right now. How are you going to explain that when you're supposed to be showing up with Umeko?"
"Easy," he said, shifting to the side and pulling a bag into sight. "You're going to change before we get there."
I stared at the bag and then back at him. "Say what?"
Please don't tell me he means…
"You mean that we're going to stop somewhere, right?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't really think there's time for that. You can just change in the car; it's big enough."
Something in my brain misfired. "You do realize that I'm really a girl, right?" I finally said blandly.
He, being, well, him, still didn't see the very obvious and large problem. "You're on a guys soccer team, right? So you've changed in front of guys before. What's the problem? It's not like I'm attracted to you, anyways. I prefer girls who are prettier and have more than four brain cells."
Why you… Reining in the extreme urge to throw him bodily out of the moving car, since the driver was looking at us worriedly and would be a witness to the crime, I directed a poisonous smile at Koji instead, and said, "Well, then. You must not do a lot of dating, since any girl with more than four brain cells would realize that you're part of the animal kingdom."
A muscle twitched visibly in his jaw.
My glee was short lived as he shoved the bag at me and snapped, "Just change into this."
And then I huffed. "Fine. Bastard…" Roughly, I opened the bag, ripping it in the process, and pulled out its contents.
This… is actually pretty nice.
It was a dark blue tunic top with silver stitching that went down to mid-thigh with slits up the sides, a pair ever-so-faintly shiny tight black leggings, and a pair of wedge heels. But, no matter how much I might approve of the choice of clothing, I didn't want to change in front of him. I could feel my face get hot just thinking about it. Whatever he said, it was nothing like changing in the guys' dressing room, where I never actually got remotely close to naked. Not that I have much choice.
"Turn around," I ordered.
He rolled his eyes in reply. "It's kind of hard to turn around in these seats. I'm just going to close my eyes. Believe me, I have no urge at all to see you naked."
"Turn around," I growled. I don't care if it's uncomfortable for him.
He opened his mouth, probably to argue with me, but I shoved him around until he was facing the other way, twisted around, and face pressed into the leather seats in what was most likely an extremely uncomfortable position.
"And stay like that!"
Vaguely, I thought I heard the driver trying to smother his laughter.
And then I proceeded to, as quickly as I could, strip off my clothes, keeping one eye on Koji, who was grumbling but still turned away.
If he turns around, I reserve the right to throw him out of the car, witness or no witness.
Approximately thirty seconds later, a new best for me, I was dressed in the clothes he had bought, and opening a second bag that had been in the bigger bag. This one contained make-up and a chunky necklace of blue stones that I slipped on.
"Koji, you can turn around now. And… I can't put on the make-up without a mirror."
He grabbed the jars and brushes from me, huffing, and then snapped, "Face me and don't move."
I think I'm getting flashbacks to when Lolly had Hana put make-up on me.
I jerked my chin away. "No way! You're probably going to make me look like a clown or something."
"You already look like one!"
I hit him with one of the make-up brushes.
"Ow! Fine, you don't. You look like a guy at the moment. A cross-dressing guy. Don't even think of hitting me with that! Just hold still and let me do this. I've know how."
I stopped moving and stared at him at that comment. Why on earth would he know how to…
"I do it for Suki sometimes, especially when we were younger."
Not sure whether I held still due to shock or because I actually thought he knew what he was doing, I did, and he went to work, brushing the tinted powers over my face with surprising gentleness, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
This… is really, really, weird. I've just been blackmailed into acting in a drama which may be worse than Vampiric Dominion, changed in a car with a guy who I loathe present, and now he's doing my make-up. Weird doesn't even begin to cover this.
And now the situation was made even more awkward by the fact that we were so close and I didn't have anywhere to look but him.
He really is handsome. I can admit that to myself. Now, if only his personality matched his appearance. You know what? It would be so much easier if were the same inside and out. Then, there wouldn't be people who look like angels and have the personality of a deranged warthog.
"You know," I said as he applied blush to my cheeks, "You're suspiciously good at this sort of thing."
His eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nooooothing," I said, drawing the word out in an almost singsong voice. I could hear his teeth grinding and smothered a grin. "It's just obviously that you have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. It's okay, Koji. I won't tell anyone that you secretly cross-dress in your spare time. Although, it's a little hypocritical to get on me about it, don't you think?"
His eyes started twitching.
Hee hee. He's speechless! Not that I really think he's cross-dressing or anything… I don't think. I tried to imagine it and then felt my brain cells begin to spontaneously combust. Bad thoughts! Does not compute!
Then, interrupting my questionable musing, the driver cleared his throat and announced, "We've arrived."
I peeked out the darkened windows. In front of us was just a non-descript concrete building, no different than dozens of others I'd seen.
Okay, that's just a little anticlimactic.
"What are you waiting for? Get out of the car," Koji said when I paused for the merest moment before getting out.
I wonder if it's possible to do personality transplants… because he'd be a prime candidate.
"Hurry up," he added as he strode away, "And remember what I told you."
Which part? The part where you told me you knew I was a girl, or the part where you blackmailed me into doing this. I considered it. Probably the latter.
I hurried after him, since there wasn't really anything else I could do, only to see Suki waiting in front of the building, looking as beautiful and fairy-like as ever.
Her eyes widened when she saw her Koji and me, and then apparently the filter between her brain and mouth failed, because that would be the only way to explain what she said next. "Koji! Umeko? Is that why you asked me to meet you here? You wanted to tell me that you were secretly in a relationship with Umeko?"
While Koji sputtered and made a face like he'd just been accused of having improper relations with an alien, I tried to figure out how Suki could have possibly come up with that conclusion. That is to say, I tried and I failed.
I guess she didn't notice that fact that he seems to loathe me, and that the feeling is mutual. How could anyone not notice that?
"Suki! How the hell did you get that idea? I have standards, you know. I like girls to not make me want to put a paper bag over their heads, for starters."
"And I only date my own species," I chimed in.
She glanced back and forth between us. "Okay, so definitely not dating," she said finally. "But then why did you call me here?"
"Well, actually, Umeko asked me to. She has something to ask you."
They both turned to me expectantly.
One day… I am going to drop kick him from the top of a building… into piranha invested waters.
Forcing a smile to my face, I said, "That's right… I wanted to ask you a favor. You see, these people asked me to be in a television show, but I've never acted in one before… So, I thought if someone else did it with me, then… I'd feel more confident about it. Will you do it with me? Please? They even have a part that's perfect for you."
Suki's eyes widened, and Koji gave me a self-satisfied smile.
Jerk. I wonder if I sounded convincing enough. I mean, it's kind of a flimsy story…
Suki paused for a moment, and then crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. "No. I… I know what you're doing, and I appreciate the gesture, but I don't want to get a part because of someone else."
How is she so sweet and good and… related to Koji?
Koji shot me a meaningful look and made a tiny motion with his hands.
I sighed inwardly. "No, Suki, it's not like that. Well, not entirely. Look… I really am interested in doing this, but... I just don't want to do it alone, you know. And then I remembered that you said you wanted to do acting, and I thought you might want to do it with me, and maybe give me some advice. Look, I completely understand about you wanting to get your accomplishments by yourself, but doing this one job with me isn't going to change that. If you're bad at acting, this isn't going to make you successful, and if you're good at it, then this just might be a break for you."
She hesitated. I grabbed her hands and did my signature puppy-dog pout of doom, "Please? I'd really appreciate it, and it would make me feel better about this."
She looked like she was having an internal battle.
Come on. Don't argue anymore. Make my job easier and make Koji stop glaring at me like it's my fault you have strong morals.
Finally, she nodded, a small smile on her face. "Okay."
Suki nodded again. "Okay. I'll do it with you. And… thank you."
"No, thank you, Suki. I don't think I would have wanted to do it by myself." Plus, there's the fact that I don't even want to know what Koji would have done if I hadn't have been able to convince you.
Koji handed her a script. "Here's your part."
She took it but glanced from me to him suspiciously. "Koji… I understand why Umeko's here now, but why are you here… Unless you two…"
I knew what she was going to say even before she said it, and I really didn't want to hear it again. "No! We are not… ugh…dating." It felt so, so wrong to say, like saying pocky was bad or Yuuki wasn't adorable and evil. "Koji's just here… to give you moral support."
I really need to work on my lying skills. But, Suki bought it. "Oh, that makes sense."
No, it really doesn't.
She turned a sweet smile on Koji. "You're such a good big brother."
In reply, he just ruffled her hair, a half embarrassed smile on his face.
I still find it hard to believe this is the same person who's constantly rude to me.
Still half-smiling, Koji strode ahead of us into the building, "Come on. They're probably waiting for us."
Suki let out a little giggle and interlinked our arms. "Koji really is a good brother. He's always looking out for me and taking care of me. He's so sweet."
Completely unable to agree, but not wanting to hurt her feelings, either, I let out a noncommittal humming sound and let her, in her enthusiasm, pull me into the building.
"Come on. We're meeting them on the second floor," Koji called over his shoulder, stepping inside the elevator as it chimed open.
We followed him. It was an interesting mix of emotions in there. Koji was still glowering at me, but seemed pleased at his sister's happiness. I still wanted to throttle him and bash my head against something, even though I felt a slight, niggling happiness at the expression of joy on Suki's face, and Suki was obviously on cloud nine.
Koji leaned over and whispered, "Okay, you managed to do it this far without messing up, now all you need to do is follow the lousy script and then you're free to go home."
Somehow, I don't think it's going to be anywhere near as easy as he says it is.
And Suki was glancing at us out of the corner of her eye. Again.
"Fine. I got it. Now get out of my personal space. You're possibly the last person I want invading it, and I think it's giving your sister ideas about us."
He pulled away quickly.
That's what I thought.
The elevator opened. And there was someone waiting there to meet us. He was a little taller than me, with twinkling blue eyes and a mop of dark brown hair held back from his face with a bandana tied around his forehead. Slightly chubby cheeks with dimples smiled at us cheerfully. He looked like a cute puppy.
"Hi, I'm Tomoya. You must be Umeko and Ms. Oonishi, correct? And… Mr. Oonishi?"
Suki and I nodded while Koji was his usual rude self, just gave a twitch of the shoulder.
Apparently, that was enough answer for Tomoya, because he grabbed my and Suki's hands and pulled us gently after him. "Great! Off we go then. We'll need to get you to makeup and then wardrobe and then we can start shooting."
He was still holding onto our hands.
He caught by glance and then simply shot me a cheeky smile. "What? I know I don't have to hold your hands, but how could I resist having two such lovely ladies on my arms? If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was in heaven. Maybe I am! That would certainly explain the glorious sight before me. I must be the envy of all of the men in the world."
For once, I wasn't the one blushing. Suki's face was redder than a tomato, and I was trying not to choke with laughter.
Is he serious?
"Well, thank you," I finally managed.
He winked at me. "I only speak the truth, oh lovely lady."
Behind me, I could hear Koji choking with either laughter or disgust. Probably both.
Tomoya stopped in front of a door marked, "Makeup and wardrobe," and opened it for us with a flourish and a bow. "I'll be counting the minutes, nay, the seconds, until I see your glorious visages again."
Suki sped past me into the room, trying to hide her flaming face. I followed her in, and then Koji tried to follow us, but Tomoya put out a hand, his face dramatically aghast. "What are you doing? You can't follow those beautiful maidens in there! You blackguard! Do not worry, fair maidens, I will protect your virtue!"
I shut the door as I burst out laughing, but still managed to hear Koji say, outraged. "What is wrong with you? One of them is my sister!"
"Oh, really? Is she single?"
This is just proof that guys aren't human. They're another race entirely. Some sort of animal species… or aliens, possibly.
Sighing, I turned around, and realized that we weren't alone. In fact, there was someone definitely familiar standing in front of us, smiling sweetly, a smile I knew hid a least a little bit of insanity.
"Hana?" I asked unsurely, having flashbacks to Lolly's party, where I'd first met her and the trauma I'd undergone there.
The chestnut haired woman smiled at me. "Umeko! So nice to see again. And nice to meet you, Suki."
I wonder if it's too late to run…
Hana grabbed my arm and pulled me and Suki down simultaneously into seats before grabbing makeup brushes and wielding them at us. "Okay, now, we're on a short schedule, so let's make this quick. You two will hold still and let me do my work, understood?" Even though the words themselves were innocent, the expression on her face was frightening.
I nodded meekly.
And then, to make matters worse, if possible, Ethan stepped out from behind a rack of clothes. "Umeko! Long time no see. I heard that we'd be working with you today. Are you ready to have your hair styled by a genius?"
I could do nothing but stutter.
He smiled at me, hair as spiky as ever, and a slightly disturbing gleam in his eyes.
Why are they both here? And what did I do to deserve this?
Torture seemed to make time expand and last longer, especially when it was torture in the form of a madwoman wielding rather cruel-looking eyelash curlers at you. I'm pretty sure Suki whimpered. I glanced at the clock. It had only been five and a half minutes. The longest five and a half minutes of my life.
I looked in the mirror, and saw the reflection of a guy, albeit a very feminine looking guy, wearing a pair of closely tailored black pants and a grey jacket with asymmetrical neckline, all completed with a scarf.
Why do I always wind up cross-dressing? It wasn't even voluntary this time. So, I'm a girl pretending to be a guy who's pretending to be a girl who's pretending to be a guy? Except that I'm not sure that's quite right, since Koji already knows that I'm a girl, and it's not really like guy-Yui is cross-dressing as Umeko… Why is this so confusing!
I tugged at my hair, which resulted in Ethan smacking me. "Don't you dare mess up your hair," he barked, patting any stray hairs back into the sleek braid he'd done.
I glowered at him. "You just hit a girl."
"You're a guy."
"No, I'm cross-dressed as a guy."
"Well, it's not like it's anything you're not used to," he shot back and then stilled when I stiffened and glanced over at Suki, who was watching us with interest.
He cleared his throat, "I mean, get into character! You're supposed to be a guy, so you should act like one. Now… Now that you two look absolutely amazing, thanks to our impressive skills, go act your hearts out." He threw out his hand dramatically, gazing off into the distance.
I really need to meet some normal people.
Rolling my eyes, I turned to Suki, only to stare. Her long black hair was set in soft curls, and small, pink lips and wide brown eyes were accented in her face. She wore an ethereal, soft, pink dress that clung to her figure.
"How are they not begging you to act and do commercials for them?" I blurted out, making her glance away shyly and blush.
I think I've finally met someone who blushes more than I do.
In reply, she mumbled something that sounded vaguely like, "I'm just not what they're looking for."
"Well, if I was them, you'd be exactly what I was looking for," I said firmly.
"Aw. So cute. Way to get into character, Umeko. Flirting already," Ethan said while Hana giggled.
"I'm not flirting!"
"Suuuure, you're not," he said, nodding as if to placate me. The smirk on his face sort of ruined the effect.
I am not flirting! I can appreciate it if she looks beautiful. That's perfectly reasonable, right? I… I need to get out of here before I start questioning my sexuality again.
I offered my arm to Suki, ignoring Ethan's snickers. "Shall we?"
"We shall," she said primly, accepting my arm, cheeks still pink.
Koji and Tomoya were still waiting outside. The second Tomoya saw us, or Suki to be more specific, he got down on the ground and bowed. "Oh, Kami, thank you for delivering such beauty to walk upon this earth. It's almost too much for this humble man. How can such beings be so perfect?"
"Are you like this all of the time?" I finally asked.
He scampered up off of the floor, grinning. "Only when I have such stunning ladies in front of me."
Koji made a retching sound.
This is so dysfunctional.
"Now, if your beautiful selves will follow me, we can get to the set. I assume that you've read the script and memorized your lines?" I nodded.
That's right. I had a nice and adequate CAR RIDE to read it, thanks to Koji.
We followed Tomoya, who seemed to be focusing his flirtations a little more on Suki now that I was dressed like a guy.
I trailed after them, walking beside Koji, who seemed like he wanted to either disembowel Tomoyo because he was flirting with his sister, or just because of the ludicrous compliments coming out of Tomoyo's mouth.
He spared a glance at me. "I really don't see how people believe you're a guy," he muttered.
"They see what they expect to see," I muttered back, shrugging. "And if there's an extremely girly looking guy enrolled in an all guys' school, then they're not going to think that I'm really a girl, especially when there's a perfectly good all girls' school next door."
And isn't that the truth. I'm just lucky like that. I almost burst out laughing. Lucky and me probably shouldn't be used in the same sentence.
Tomoya threw open another door dramatically and announced, "They have arrived! It is my pleasure to introduce Ms. Oonishi, and the lovely and mysterious internet idol, Umeko! Dah da da DAH!"
I groaned inwardly, trying not to flush. A whole room full of people were now staring at us. There were a few fond mutterings of, "Idiot," which were probably directed at Tomoya, and then a man rushed forward, a smile so oily that it looked like it had been deep-fried and pasted on his face.
Completely ignoring Suki, he said, "Umeko! So glad that you could make it. You can't believe how happy we are that you decided to join our little cast for the day."
More like you're happy about how many more viewers I'm going to bring to this episode of the show.
He hovered, wringing his hands. "Is there anything I can get you? Anything you need?"
I blinked. Is this what it's really like to be famous? It's kind of… annoying. He's completely ignoring Suki because I'm more famous. Not cool. I hate it when people are like that.
I smiled at him. "Oh, no. I'm fine, and it's a pleasure to be here. The only reason I'm really here, though, is because of Suki here. I wouldn't have had the courage to try my hand at acting if it wasn't for her." I leaned forward, still smiling, and said, "She's pretty and talented and sweet and a really good person, and maybe not as well known as I am yet, but I have no doubt she will be. Now, I'm sure you're eager to give her her big break. So, I'll say this as plainly as possibly. If she's not happy, I'm not happy."
His face paled a few shades, and then the oily smile was back, only this time directed at Suki. "And Ms. Oonishi. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. If you need anything, anything at all, simply ask. A bottled water? A massage? Someone to go over your lines with?" He suddenly got a horrified expression on his face. "Not that I'm implying you need to work on your lines or that you're unprepared in any manner!"
Suki looked a little flustered under all of the attention.
I meanwhile, was cackling wildly on the inside and hoping that my expression didn't reflect it.
Muhahahahaha… So, fame really is power. He's being nice to Suki because I told him to, basically. I can kind of see why people get power-hungry and obsessed with it. Next thing I know, I'll be standing on top of a building with lightening flashing in the back ground while I cackle and demand for everyone to bow down before me. Oh, no… Ayano and Yuuki really are rubbing off on me. I know there's that big argument with nature versus nurture, but I have some of Ayano's genes, and I'm around both her and Yuuki a lot, so that would be both nature and nurture. Plus, I could use my new found popularity as Umeko to boost my power, and, if it turned out that I had acting skills, slowly infiltrate the media, making sure that there were subliminal messages scattered through the programs, so that when I finally took over, they'd all be mindless slaves… Oh, my. I really, really need to hang out with some normal people. Yuuki's clearly corrupting my brain.
I shook my head and cleared my throat. "I've never done this before, so I don't really know where to start, but I'm ready whenever you want to start, director."
The oily man's eyes widened. "Director? Oh, I'm not the director."
"I'm the director," a husky, but still soft sounding, voice said.
I whipped around, since the voice was far too close to my ears, and came face to face with…
Is that a girl or a guy?
My eyes flitted over the person, trying to figure it out. They had brown hair, lightened with streaks of gold until it was almost a pale blonde, pale green eyes with absurdly long eyelashes, high cheek bones and a strong chin. The director was slender, too, wearing a jacket and layers of scarves.
She's… he's… They're really pretty. And completely androgynous. I suppose it could be a boy… But it could be a girl, too. I mean, those scarves and layers could be hiding a bust line. And… If I stare anymore, someone's probably going to notice.
"My name is Kin Fukazawa. It's a pleasure to have you two on my set."
Even his… her name is unisex!
"Thank you. We're honored to be here," I said, and Suki nodded along.
"Well, then, if you're ready, we can get started at any time." The androgynous director pointed at the scene before us, which looked like a young woman's bedroom, with pale pastel sheets and delicate furniture. He, or she, continued, "This is the first scene where you two get kidnapped, okay? There's not a lot of dialog, but it's important that we get this right."
Am I imagining it, or is there a bit of a threat behind that?
Everyone, all of the cameramen and people working on the lighting scurried to their places, and Kin gently pushed me and Suki to the center of the arranged room.
This really isn't quite how I thought it would work. I mean, I thought we'd be introduced to the other actors and then talked through he scenes or something… guess not. But, then again, since when was anything been how I expect it? Okay, time to focus.
Suki had settled down onto the bed, hands clasped demurely in her lap. I sat down next to her, turning to face her, and then took a deep breath and gulped, waiting for the cameras to start.
"Five, four, three, two, one… Action!"
After pushing aside the ridiculous urge to laugh at the fact they actually did say "action" like on television, tried to get into character.
Okay, you can do this, Yui. I mean, technically, I'm acting every day to be a guy, so this shouldn't be too different… right?
"I don't think I can do this anymore," Suki said in a wavering voice, staring down at her clenched hands.
Here we go…
"Of course we can. Don't say that. We've made it this far, haven't we? Mei? Look at me!" I slid down to the floor until I was kneeling by her side, gripping her chin gently and forcing her to meet my eyes.
"Mei, the only reason that your father hasn't married you off to someone rich and ten years older that you is because he thinks that I want to marry you, I'm wealthy, and that… I'm a guy. What do you think he would do if he found out the truth? That I'm poor, my family is dishonored, and I'm a girl? How do you think he'd react if he found out we're using each other? You to get out of an forced marriage, and me to find out who framed my family?" I asked her harshly.
She let out a soft whimper, and I sighed, letting go of her chin and taking her hands in mine. "Sorry, sorry. But you know I'm right, don't you? This is the only path we can take right now. But don't worry. I promise I'll protect you. I won't let anything bad happen to you." I smiled at her, giving her hands a reassuring squeeze. "Okay, my hime?"
A soft pink blush appeared on her cheeks.
Did she just blush on command? Furthermore, is that even possible?
She nodded. "Okay, Yua. I trust you."
A faint creak sounded through the fake room, most likely from speakers set up around us.
I jerked my head to the side sharply, and then frowned. "Mei… You saw me shut the windows, didn't you?"
We both looked towards the windows, which of course weren't really windows, and I could just imagine the camera doing a close up of our dramatically lit faces. And then we were grabbed from behind, white clothes with imaginary chloroform pressed over our mouths and noses. Just like in the script, I managed to get an elbow into my attacker before slumping to the floor in unconsciousness.
Well, that wasn't too bad. I sort of expected something to go horribly, unthinkably wrong. But… wasn't that scene just supposed to be between two friends? Because it seemed kind of romantic…
The lights flickered back to normal, and I got up off of the floor. Suki had already been helped up by Tomoya, who was gushing over her acting performance.
Before I could even move, Kin came striding up to me, a frighteningly intense look on his, or her, face, and kissed me, hands cupping either side of my face, on the lips.
My brain momentarily backfired and ceased all function. When my brain did start back up again and processed what had happened, I stumbled backwards and let out a yelp that sounded like someone had kicked a puppy filled with helium.
What the… Please tell me I just imagined that.
I clasped my hands over my lips and stumbled another couple of steps away from the gender-unidentified director. Who had just kissed me for no reason.
If anything, Kin looked completely unaware that I was currently freaking out over being kissed by her… him. And the fact that I didn't know whether I'd just been kissed by a guy or a girl wasn't helping matters.
"That was wonderful! I was so worried that I was going to be dealing with another of those models who have nothing going for them expect their looks, but you can actually act! You just made my day." And then he, or possibly she, just turned around and walked away.
I stared and tried not to hyperventilate.
What just happened? No! I don't want to know what just happened, because if I think about it too much, it's obvious that my brain is going to explode. And… and…
Koji sidled up next to me, staring. "Did you just… Do you know the director?"
I shook my head, apparently shocked into being temporarily mute.
"And they just kissed you out of the blue," he stated.
I made a whimpering sound, but nodded.
I nodded again. That doesn't quite describe what just happened, but it's close enough. I turned to him. "Koji, I keep getting kissed by people." My voice was on the verge of cracking. "Promise me that you'll never try to kiss me?"
He looked nauseated at the very thought, which I found oddly comforting but probably shouldn't have. "That's one thing that you'll never have to worry about," he said without a trace of doubt in his voice.
I really should feel insulted by that, but I don't.
Someone tugged gently on my sleeve, and I jerked, hands flying to cover my lips.
It was just Suki.
Great, now I'm getting paranoid. Or more paranoid to be more accurate.
"Umeko? Director Kin just told everyone to move onto the next set. He's happy with how the scene played out. Are… Are you alright?"
I cleared my throat and tried to pretend that I hadn't just been freaking out. "I'm fine, Suki."
Neither she, nor Koji, looked remotely convinced.
"I'm fine," I said again.
She patted my hand in a sympathetic manner, and then led me out of he room. "That kiss did come out of nowhere, didn't it? I imagine it must me hard to be so pretty and talented and to have so many complete strangers try to kiss you."
This… is a really odd conversation.
She continued. "I want my first kiss to be special, with someone I really like."
I blinked. She hasn't kissed anyone yet? Ah, so innocent and carefree. I barely remember when I didn't have to worry about being kissed by random good-looking people. See, when I think about it like that, it doesn't sound so bad, but it really, really is. One, because I just frankly don't want to be kissed by gorgeous strangers, and, two, because it always seems to get me into even more confusing and perturbing situations. Always.
We arrived at the second set. It was an almost entirely empty room, with white walls and a dull grey concrete floor with a drain inset in it, making it look as though the room was meant to be hosed down. It screamed "sketchy" in a high so high that it put sopranos to shame. The only furniture in the room were two chairs and a small side table with questionable looking implements on it, like screwdrivers, pliers, rope, and tweezers.
Oh, right. The intimidation, torture, and confession scene. This is where one of the delinquents tortures me until I spill the beans about everything. Lovely.
I sat still patiently while someone tie me to the chair and another person made me look "artistically disheveled" as they put it. The light dimmed, and I closed my eyes waiting as the countdown began and the cameras would begin rolling. Showtime.
Someone tapped my cheek roughly, and I stirred, as if waking up from unconsciousness. They tapped my cheek again, harder this time, and I groaned, cracking open my eyes, only to freeze and stare, something most definitely not in the script, at the person standing in front of me.
"Shiro?" I squeaked out. Dressed in what looked like his usual dark clothes and looking as pale and vampirically handsome as ever, was Shiro.
How… I mean, what… Oh, who am I kidding. Of course this situation would manage to get even weirder. Why not throw a vampiric alien into the mix?
Then, I noticed there was an absolute lack of noise, which seemed to spell out doom, and noticed that everyone was sneaking wary glances towards Kin, who was standing on the edge of the set, seemingly calm. Except it was the sort of calm that came right before a giant natural disaster or the far too intelligent rabid raccoon that you'd just found in your tree decides to launch itself at your face.
Kin stalked up to us slowly, and I was pretty sure one of the cameramen was humming Darth Vader's theme song. "Is there a problem here?" Kin asked quietly, which was somehow more frightening that yelling.
I got the feeling that if we said "yes", there would be unimaginable horrors in store for us.
Shiro shook his head silently, and I copied him, saying, "No! No problems. I apologize. I just didn't expect to see Shiro here."
That's the sort of smile that makes me wonder if I'd be being tortured right now if I wasn't Umeko. Scary.
"And will that be a problem that will affect your acting?"
"Good." Kin patted my shoulder, oppressive black aura suddenly disappearing, "Then let's get back to work and try to make it through in one take, okay?" As soon as the director said that, everyone burst into action, although half of them didn't really appear to be doing anything.
Director Kin has a secret dark side that has everyone here scared into submission. I should have expected that. I sighed. Never anything normal. Ever.
I closed my eyes, and redid the scene before I'd freaked out that Shiro was there.
"You're awake. Finally," he said, voice and expression almost bored, but with a touch of maliciousness.
I stayed silent, casting quick glances around the room, eyes widening when they landed on the empty chair next to me. "What have you done with Mei?" I demanded, whipping back around to face him.
He smirked. "Oh, you mean your little friend? She's safe… for now. She looked like the type who'd break completely under torture, so we thought we'd try you first." He squatted down until our faces were at the same height, and said in an almost cheerful voice, "So, it's all up to you. You give me the right answers, and that cute little girl can remain unscathed. You don't give me the truth, and…" He shrugged carelessly. "Well, it won't be any skin off my nose… But it might be some off hers."
I clenched my jaw and glared.
He chuckled. "Impressive glare, but, in case you forgot, you're the one tied to the chair."
I snarled at him silently, which is actually a lot harder to do than it sounds.
When I stayed silent, he made a "tch"ing sound and stood up. "Fine, if that's how you want to be."
"We aren't anyone special," I burst out. "Mei's just the daughter of a corporate CEO, and I'm her boyfriend. I don't know what you want from us."
In a flash, I was backhanded across the face, although it barely touched me and I merely snapped my head to the side to give the desired effect, and Shiro's hand was at my throat. "Do. Not. Lie. To. Me," he hissed, giving me a shake for good measure. "Did you think that we wouldn't check you for weapons when we brought you here? Did you think we wouldn't find out that you're really a woman?"
He let go of my throat suddenly and crossed his arms casually. "Now, let's try that again. We've looked into your past a little, so we know a bit, but we'd like the whole truth. After all, there's got to be a good reason for disguising yourself as a member of the opposite sex." He raked his eyes down my bound form. "Especially when you're such a lovely female specimen…."
I didn't have to fake the shudder I was supposed to give there, although I wasn't sure whether it was because it sounded just plain creepy, or because Shiro looked like he wanted to eat me.
"So," he said, tone changing again and sounding much more business like, "You tell me the truth, because I already know bits and pieces, and you don't know which lies that I'll catch you in. And, this time, if you lie again, it won't be you getting hurt."
"You bastard," I bit out violently, straining against the bonds holding me in place.
"My mother and father were married, actually," he said with a smile, and then fell silent, waiting and watching.
After spitting out some more insults about his lineage having to do with his father and farm animals, several comments about his intelligence and appearance, and several more that I was surprised they even allowed on television, I slumped, still glaring at him, and proceeded to tell him everything, everything about how her, my, family had been of high social status and power, but how everything had been taken away in one fell swoop when my father had been accused of taking bribes, and then of murder. I told him about how I'd met Mei, who was the niece of the person my character's father had been accused of murdering, and how they'd come to an arrangement, even a friendship. I'd pretend to be her boyfriend to help her escape arranged marriages, an idea which I thought was crazy but which actually worked, and how Mei, in return, would help me with anything I needed to do to find out who framed my father and to help clear my family name.
When I finished, he just stood there looking satisfied. "Good choice with the truth, but…" He whistled. "The truth really is stranger than fiction, isn't it? You gave me the truth, so your little fake-girlfriend is safe. Now that that's over… How about we have a little fun?"
Grinning widely in a particularly dark manner, he bent down, fisting one hand in my hair, and trailed his eyes lazily over me. "You are a pretty one aren't you…" He moved closer, lips only centimeters away from mine, when his phone rang, a sound that would most likely be altered to echo in the finished version of the scene.
Frowning, he pulled back, and dug a phone out of his pocket. "What? Oh… Well, yes, I have." There was a pause, and then he sighed. "Fine."
While I tried to get my thumping heart under control, he slipped the phone away and stared down at me with a hint of regret. "Unfortunately, the boss man wants to talk to you, so our play time is going to have to be cut short." He picked up something off of the table, and pressed it against my arm for a moment, before holding it up. A syringe gleamed sinisterly.
"Sweet dreams," he murmured as I weakly fought against my bonds and then slumped forward.
"Cut! And that's perfect! We're making good time today."
I straightened up. Okay, and now to deal with the fact that… Shiro is here. I just should have known that this would have happened! I'm doing something to do with acting and the universe is constantly contriving against me. This just makes sense when you think about it like that.
Shiro, who finished untying me, stepped back, face back into the usual expressionless mask that I'd come to associate with him, now that he was finished pretending to be a rather creepy delinquent who enjoyed torturing people.
"Shiro… What are you doing here?" I knew the answer before he said it.
"Acting. They offered me a cameo appearance in this episode, and this show is so popular that I couldn't turn it down. If the viewers like my character enough, they'll bring me back and elaborate on my character, giving him some sort of dramatic and traumatic past. But… what are you doing here?"
I glanced around, making sure that no one was in earshot of us, and then said in a low voice, "I got blackmailed into this. Koji found out about everything, and sort of used it to blackmail me into using Umeko to help his sister get a part on the series." I quickly explained about him finding the links between me, him, and Ryo, and then continued, " It's… not as bad as I expected so far, but I don't expect that to keep up for much longer. Something is bound to go wrong and I'll probably wind up running from crazed fans." I shuddered.
He merely gave me a tiny smile. "Well, if that does happen, I'll be here to beat them off of you with a bat. As training for my new delinquent role, of course."
Was that… a joke? I think it was. Amazing. I smiled back, his extremely odd reassurance for some reason making me feel better.
"What is it with you? The director said to move onto the next set already. Pay attention. I swear, you've got the attention span of a carp. And that's being polite about it. You can chat with your boyfriend later," came Koji's extremely unwelcome voice.
I don't think he knows how to be polite.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. And he's not my boyfriend!" I snapped.
Shiro nudged me slightly, and murmured in a low voice, "Not that I'm averse to the idea."
Right on cue, I blushed, feeling the heat creep into my cheeks and just knowing I was red.
And, once again, Koji interrupted. "I think I'm going to be sick…"
Such a jerk…
Shiro fixed a level gaze on Koji, who didn't look impressed. "Why don't you go on to the next set? I'll see you later. I think I'd like to talk to Koji for a moment."
I hesitated, glancing back and forth between them. This seems like a bad idea. It seems like a very bad idea. In fact, it seems like the sort of idea that involves Koji's body being discovered days later in a dark alley somewhere.
"Actually-" I started to say, only to be interrupted by Kin calling, "Umeko!" in a voice that was far too calm.
I started to back away from the pair. "Right. No fighting, and no murdering each other. And no making the situation worse. Koji, try not to be a jack-ass, although I'm sure it goes against your nature, and, Shiro… no calling up your vampiric alien brethren to give him a beat down."
And with that, I rushed from the room before the gender-amorphous director decided to come looking for me, just in time to hear Koji say, flabbergasted, "Vampiric alien brethren? What is she talking about?"
And Shiro respond, "I have no idea. It's just one of her quirks. Cute."
I hurried to the next scene, which wasn't hard to find, still wondering how much damage would be caused from leaving the two together. And… Shiro thinks I'm cute! No, focus! That is not the point here. The point is that I just left them together… This just spells "Doom".
And then I didn't have any more time to think about it, because I was at the next set. Oddly enough, the rest of the scenes and acting went along perfectly normally. Or, perhaps normally wasn't quite the right word. The two actors who played the half-brothers turned out to actually be half-brothers, with the same names as the characters in the drama. Apparently, Kin, who I was staying as far away from as possible since he, or she, I still wasn't sure on that part, kissed me, had used them as the basis for the drama. And the main actress in the series, who actually had a degree in biotechnology but acted for fun and raised pigs in her spare time, was in a relationship with one of the main actors, just like in the series. In fact, I'd found so many similarities that the program seemed more like a documentary than a work of fiction, although they all denied being delinquents and smugglers. And the leading lady denied having a secret yen for her boyfriend's brother. I wasn't sure if it all wasn't true.
Plus, Shiro and Koji had reappeared to watch the scenes, and neither of them were bleeding or maimed, which made me feel better.
Finally, after exchanging an impassioned glance with the tall, dark, handsome, and definitely brooding brother who was hiding out from the police after being framed by his stepmother, and who was definitely not brooding in reality but a pretty normal and nice guy, director Kin yelled, with a smile, "And… cut! We're done with this episode. Good job everyone."
I let out a sigh of relief. Nothing completely abnormal happened. Well, except for those cameramen trying to sneak into the dressing room… and getting kissed… and Shiro showing up. But, really, those are just minor things. Hah! Take that universe! No, wait, I didn't mean that. I meant, thank you very much for letting me have some relative normalcy. I wonder if talking to the universe in your head is a sign of insanity…
Suddenly, I was blindsided by someone running into me and hugging me for all they were worth, which resulted in me making a sound like a cat getting strangled with a belt sander, and looked down to see Suki hanging off of me.
"Suki," I coughed out. "Not that I don't appreciate the affection, but could you explain why you're hugging me."
With a flush lighting up her cheeks, she let go of me and poked her fingers together as if embarrassed. "I… This was one of the best days of my life. Director Kin just told me that he has another series that he just started auditioning for, and he thinks I'd be perfect for one of the main characters. He says that I have a natural ability to feel the character that I'm playing. Umeko, he just gave me a job, doing what I love, and it's all thanks to you!"
What? Huh. That worked out well. Koji should be please, which means that he won't tell everyone at school I'm really a girl… probably. And, at any rate, it's good for Suki.
I smiled at her. "That's wonderful. I'm really happy for you. I'm sure you'll become an even bigger star that I am. Maybe you'll give me your autograph on day," I teased.
Her blush became even more pronounced. "What? No! I mean, I hope so. Not the part about giving you my autograph, not that I wouldn't, but about being a huge star. And… I just wanted to thank you because-"
This is so cute.
She was now rambling about how if she could do anything for me just to let me know, and how she'd always be grateful and how she could never repay me.
Cute. I don't suppose I could tell her that it was all really her brother's idea…
Then, without warning, someone knocked into me from behind. I pin-wheeled my arms, trying to keep my balance, only to stumble over an electrical cord and crash into Suki. Or, to be more precise, for my lips to crash into hers.
Her eyes, already wide, widened to a preposterous extend, and my expression probably mirrored hers. There was a fleeting impression of petal soft, surprisingly cool, lips, and then we pulled back simultaneously, pressing our fingers to our lips.
What… just happened?
The entire room was silent, with all eyes on us, showing very shocked faces.
I whirled around to the technician who'd knocked into me frozen in place, a horrified expression on his face.
"You…" I managed to say. He backed away slowly. "I am so, so sorry about that. I.. er. I mean, I didn't mean to knock you into her and…" He finally lost his nerve, turning tail and ran from the room.
I ignored them, and searched the crowd, which was beginning to whisper, for the person I was really concerned about. I found him, and gulped nervously.
Koji didn't look shocked, or he did, but his expression was mostly murderous.
Uh oh. I let out a whimper. I just knew things were going too well. I'm so dead.
Director Kin, most likely having mercy on my soul, clapped his hands together. "Back to work everyone. I don't pay you to stand around!"
People slowly went back to work, and I tried to ignore the fact that Koji was burning a hole in me with his glare, turning back to Suki, who had yet to move. She seemed to be in shock.
Shoot! And that was her first kiss, too.
Since we were in the middle of the room, I grabbed her arms and gently pulled her over to a corner. "Suki? Suki! Are you okay?" I asked, waving a hand in front of her face rapidly.
Please don't be brain-dead. Your brother would kill me… if he isn't planning on doing that already.
"What the hell did you do," a voice growled.
Speak of the devil…
I smiled at him nervously. "It… was an accident?"
His expression was a particularly frightening mixture of a scowl, a snarl, loathing, anger bordering on rage, a sneer, and one of the worst glares I'd seen. It all combined for an expression that I didn't want face and would probably break mirrors.
I edged away slightly, vaguely wondering if flames were going to start shooting out of his ears.
"You kissed my little sister," he said, except it was more of a snarl. It sounded more like, "I am going to stab toothpicks into every inch of your skin before making you swallow dynamite and then watch with glee as you explode and paint the street with your blood, you disgusting excuse for a human being!"
"I didn't mean to!" I yelped, backing away as he advanced. "You saw it, right? That guy bumped into me from behind and then I tripped, and my lips sort of… collided with Suki's. That's all! It doesn't even count as a real kiss! I didn't mean to! I swear."
Then, my saving grace woke up from her kiss-induced coma, grabbing her brother's hand with her own small, pale one. "Koji, she's telling the truth. Someone pushed her and she tripped. It's not her fault," Suki said.
Koji halted, but still glared at me. "Suki, how can you say that? She-"
Suki cut off her brother. "Because it's the truth. I saw it happen, and I'm sure others did, too. It wasn't Umeko's fault," she said firmly.
Bless you, Suki. I think you might have just saved my life.
I shot a grateful smile at her, and she continued, almost scolding her brother now. "Now, go wait for me by the door. I want to talk to Umeko in private for a moment."
He looked bewildered. "But, S-"
"No 'buts'. Go! I'll be there in a second."
With one final confused glance, which was considerably better than him glaring daggers at me, he staggered away.
He's not the only one who's confused about what's going on.
I glanced down at Suki, who was just looking at me, and then my mouth started to run without permission from my brain. "I am so, so sorry, Suki. I didn't mean for that to happen. I mean, you know that. It's just that I want to make sure that you know, and I… umm… What I mean is that I really didn't intend for that to happen, and even though I do think you're cute. No! Wait, I didn't mean that. I mean, I did, but not like that, and… I'm going to shut up now."
She seemed to be trying not to laugh, but said, almost conversationally, "You know, that was my first kiss."
"I know, and it definitely didn't count. I mean, it was an accident."
She just looked at me.
I swallowed. This seems really weird.
Then, she stood up on tiptoes and whispered in my ear, "I'm definitely counting it," before grinning and sashaying away to where Koji was standing.
Several of my brain cells combusted under the pressure of trying to understand what had just happened.
Did she… just wink at me? No. I must have seen that wrong. Or she had something in her eye, or… oh my god… she just winked at me. What is going on here? Okay, don't panic. There must be a reasonable excuse for this. I waited. I couldn't find one. Maybe she's been temporarily replaced by a changeling or an alien. Or me kissing her caused her to have a mental break and develop a split personality. These don't sound very likely.
"Half of the staff believes that it was just an accident that caused you to kiss her, and the other half think that you prefer the female sex or don't mind gender at all," an amused voice said from next to me. Kin had sidled up to me while I had been trying to figure out what was wrong with the universe.
I eyed him… or her warily, in case they decided to kiss me again. I really don't want to get kissed again. Two times in a day is too much.
I sighed. "I don't suppose I should ask why they think I kissed her? The ones who don't think it was an accident, that is."
"It varies from that you're in an secret relationship with her to you just thought she was cute."
Lovely. I sighed again. "I suppose it could be worse."
Kin nodded. "Probably. Now, Umeko, I wanted to thank you for bringing that girl here. I have a feeling that she'll be big, and I'll get credit for discovering her. Secondly, I wanted to say that anytime you feel the urge to act again, contact me. I enjoyed directing you. And, thirdly, I wondered if you'd like to have dinner with me."
"I… wait, what?" was my intelligent response.
I just got asked out by someone who's gender I don't know. Not that that's a problem really, although it probably should be. He/She wants to go out with me as Umeko. I've got people chasing me as both girl-Yui and boy-Yui, too.
Thankfully, I was saved from answering as a particularly harassed man came up and burst out, "Director, we have a problem. Somehow, people found out that Umeko was going to be here, and fans have surrounded the building. There's no way out."
I banged my head on the wall. I knew it. I knew this was too normal to last… not that it's normal at all.
Kin pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fan-girls… and boys. They're worse than cockroaches. Umeko, why don't you go to the dressing room while I try and get this sorted out?"
I nodded, still slightly stupefied and… I have enough fans to surround a building? I probably shouldn't be impressed and/or flattered by that.
Following Kin's instructions, I went back to the dressing room and collapsed in a chair, lolling my head to the side to glance in the mirror. My earlier outfit had been replaced with a rather short dark grey dress that had slits up the sides and a mandarin style neckline with no sleeves.
Someone knocked on the door, and I tensed. Have the fan-boys found their way in already?
Shiro stepped silently in, and I relaxed. "Oh, it's you. I though you were a fan-boy."
"I can't think of a worse insult at the moment."
I grinned. "Sorry."
His lips quirked upwards in response, and he slid into the seat next to me. "Yui… Have you thought about what I said? About my feelings for you?"
My cheeks colored, and I fiddled with my fingers. Honestly, I have… But… Argh! I just don't know. There are so many guys after me, and it's confusing and I know that sounds horrible, but… I just don't know, and I do like him and I probably shouldn't be in a relationship anyways, but…
"Shiro, I do like you…" I said, and then stopped.
He waited for a moment in the silence, and then nodded. "I understand. You have feelings for me, but you're not sure and you have conflicting emotions. Still…" A sudden, heat came into his dark eyes, and he leaned towards me, one hand sliding through my hair, and the other coming to rest at my waist. "Maybe I could convince you a little."
"C-convince me?" I managed to stutter out, while half of my brain was telling me it would be a good idea to move, and the other half really, really wanted to stay put.
"Mmhmm." His lips were almost touching mine now, and my eyes slid shut, waiting for the pressure of his lips on mine.
And then the door opened.
My eyes flew open, and Shiro froze.
A very embarrassed woman stood in the doorway, clutching a notepad to her chest. "I… I am so sorry. I mean, I didn't know that you two were… I mean, I did know that Mr. Sato was here, but…" She pulled herself together, at least a little. "Director Kin wanted to talk to Mr. Sato about a upcoming part!" she burst out and then shut the door, saying, "I'll be outside."
Shiro hesitated, and I pushed at his chest gently. "Go. It might be a big part. Unless something horrible and disturbing happens, I'll probably be here when you're done talking." I thought about it. "Okay, make that a fifty-fifty chance. Or sixty-forty."
His lips quirked into another miniscule smile, and he nodded, standing up. "I'll see you later, Yui." And then he was gone as silently as the vampires that he so resembled, leaving me feeling far too hot and with my heart beating so quickly that it felt like it was in danger of popping out of my chest and running down the hallway.
That was… That was…
"That was so hot."
I jerked upright, looking around for the voice that had come out of nowhere. There was no one in the room.
Great. Now I'm hearing voices that don't even sound like me.
I don't think that was us, Metoo said hesitantly.
A flicker of movement caught my eye and I craned my head up, only to stare and just manage to resist the urge to scream like a little girl.
Unbelievably, against all logic, but totally there, there was a head sticking out of the ceiling. It was a familiar head, too. In fact, it was Dai's head.
I let out a hysterical laugh. I've finally gotten to the point where I actually am hallucinating.
"Umeko… You're even more beautiful in person!" she gushed.
Hang on… I looked at her closer. She's not a hallucination.
She had removed a panel of the ceiling, and was hanging partly out of it.
I'm not sure if I preferred it when I thought I was hallucinating, or the fact that a fan-girl broke into the building. Now would probably be a good time to run away screaming.
"Um… Thank you," I said instead. "And… I'm sorry, but I'm just a little surprised. It's not everyday that people pop out of the ceiling."
She nodded. "I completely understand. I mean, it was sort of a last resort effort. But I'm so glad it worked," she said as if it wasn't completely abnormal.
I cleared my throat, standing up and slowly edging towards the door. I've got to get out of here before she recognized me as Yui! "So, you're a fan of mine, I take it?"
Unfortunately, the small talk didn't distract her from the fact I was, semi-stealthily, trying to run away. "Wait! I mean, please don't go yet. I swear I'm not one of the crazy fans who want to steal a lock of your hair or lock you up in their basement!"
"People actually want to do that?"
She nodded. "Yeah. I'm actually one of the less obsessed fans. Well, I mean, not less obsessed, since I'm definitely your number one fan, but I'm one of the more mentally stable ones, I think."
I'm not sure if this is making me feel better or worse…
Probably seeing that I looked like I was about to flee, she hurriedly added, "Could I please just have an autograph or something? Or a picture with you?"
I hesitated. That couldn't really hurt, could it? Probably. "Sure."
A huge smile spread over her face, and she jumped down from the ceiling, landing nimbly and allowing me to see her shirt, which had my face on it.
My face is on a T-shirt. Huh.
Before I could move, she had a camera in her hand, and the grin on her face was in danger of taking over. This is so weird…
I stood next to her, wrapping an arm loosely around her shoulders, and smiled into the camera. Three photographs later, she was satisfied and hugging me.
She quickly let go, smile bigger than ever and eyes shining. "I… am so lucky. I got to meet you! Thank you for the pictures and, you know, not calling security. I really don't want to have to pepper-spray one again. I barely got away last time. I just want to say, I am a huge fan, and – and I love what you're doing for the female image, and… You're awesome!" The last sentence came out in a squeal.
I smiled, feeling slightly overwhelmed. "Thank you, Ms…"
"Dai! My name is Dai."
"Well, thank you, Dai. It's always nice to meet such a polite, intelligent, and courteous fan."
There was a sudden thumping from the ceiling and the sound of bickering voices. My doom-o-meter is going wild. "Dai…"
She looked positively rapturous that I had used her name. "Yes?" she asked dreamily.
"Why is the ceiling talking?"
"Oh… Some other fans must have had the same idea I did…"
Noooooo! I'm going to be overtaken by fans and have my head shaven bald and then be locked up in a pervert's basement somewhere!
The fear must have shown on my face, because Dai squared her shoulders and said, "Don't worry, Umeko! I will protect you. While I may feel a kinship with my comrades, my first loyalty is to you!"
And, with that, she jumped off of one of the chairs and took a flying leap, gripping the edge of the open hole in the ceiling and pulling herself up. I would have been impressed if I hadn't been so freaked out.
Then, there was loud banging and squeals of pain emanating from the ceiling. It started to shake unstably under the weight of fighting fans, and I heard Dai's voice shout out, "Run, Umeko! I can't keep them back for long!"
And then several cries of, "Traitor!" and "We love you, Umeko!"
I didn't hesitate this time, but turned and ran as fast as I could in heels, which was still a pretty impressive clip.
Noo! The building is no longer secure! It's been invaded by fans. I'm doomed. Doomed, I tell you.
Get a grip on yourself, woman, the other voice in my head snapped. We're not finished yet, and I don't plan to die by suffocating under a pile of fans. We just need to think about this logically. Fans are evolving, getting smarter and smarter. So, where would be the least likely place that they'd look?
Ummm… The front door?
Maybe, but there are probably a few stragglers there.
How about the roof?
Bingo! Why would the fans look there? They wouldn't.
But… you know if you're wrong, I'll be stranded on a rooftop with my two choices being flinging myself off of the roof or facing fans.
I could almost feel the inner me shrug. Well, you'll have no one to blame but yourself. After all, I am you.
So not helpful.
Nonetheless, I changed course and made for the stairway. An uncountable number of flights of stairs later, I arrived at the roof, puffing, out of breath, and with sore legs. The roof was plain and flat, with the exception of a few vents sticking up and marring its surface, but even better was the fact that there wasn't another person in sight.
Finally, sweet, sweet solitude. I sunk down to the ground, closed my eyes, and let out a sigh. I don't care what Koji says or does. If he ever tries to get me to do this again, I'm going to slam something preferably hard and spiky into his face. Okay, so that's probably not true. Argh! I even remember reading that blackmailers don't usually stop at simply blackmailing their victims one time, but keep going until they can't get anything out of the poor sucker. I don't even want to know what he's going to ask, or demand more like it, that I do next. The look on his face after the accidental kiss with Suki didn't bode well… Why… why out of all people did he have to find out? Bad luck… or the conspiracy of the universe against me. Well, at least I'm safe up here. I can just wait it out.
And then, right on cue. I heard noises, and they weren't good noises, either. It was ever so faint, but it sounded like…
I paled. "Oh, no."
Maybe it was my overly active imagination, but it sounded vaguely like people running from guards and saying, "Hurry! She's got be here somewhere!"
I bolted upright. I knew I shouldn't have listened to myself and come to the roof. Not taking any time to reflect on the absurdity of that statement, I looked around for an escape.
My options were depressingly limited. One, jump off the side of the building, trying to use drainage pipes to get down… in heels. Two, hide in one of the vents, some of which were smoking. Not a good idea. Three… get off of the roof by leaping across to the roof of an adjacent building.
I eyed the distance. It didn't seem that far, or that close for that matter.
I'm in pretty good shape, though. I peered over the edge. Besides, there's a nice, soft pile of rotting garbage to land in. I should only get a few broken bones, right?
The noises were getting louder.
I backed away from the ledge, mentally prepping myself. You've jumped farther than that before. I mean, they're practically touching, okay maybe not, but it's still pretty close. Yeah, I can totally do this. I've climbed on the roof before…
Mind unbalanced by the looming threat, I proceeded with the bad idea and ran forward as fast and evenly as I could, heels pounding against the concrete, and then, with one final push, I was airborne, arcing above the gap between building, subject only to the particularly vicious force known as gravity. I only had time for one fleeting thought: The gap looked smaller before…
And then my feet met the floor of the other roof, and one of my heels cracked under the pressure with an awful splinting sound, and I flipped, letting my momentum carry me, rolling over onto my back before coming to a halt.
I gasped and waited for my adrenalin-flooded brain to reboot.
Okay, let's take stock of the situation… I haven't broken anything, maybe bruised, I'm on the next roof, and… I'm safe.
I let out a happy and definitely delirious giggle. "Yays…"
I froze, blood turning to metaphorical ice at the voice. Because I recognized it, and having the person it belonged to see me like this scared me more than thousands of hordes of fans chasing me. I looked up at the person now standing over me, mouth dry.
What do I say?
Hello! And, before I say anything else, I would just would like to say... I'm not dead. If I was, it would explain why I haven't been updating, but the real culprit is... college! I just completed my first quarter as a freshman, and I'm still alive... barely. I even managed to get A's and B's! Yays... But it was completely hectic and I spent every waking moment studying and going to classes. But, then I realized I hadn't been updating on the story, so I spent my winter break writing a new chapter! A super long chapter, that is. It's the longest one I've ever written and took up thirty-three pages in a word document. Secondly, I'd like to say... I'm so, so very sorry that it took me this long to put up another chapter, and I hope you guys are still interested in reading the story. Also, just for this chapter, I'm not going to be responding to reviews, mainly because it's been so long that I wouldn't know what you guys were referring to if it was to do with the story, and if I answered, you might not remember the question. Anyways... I really hope you all like this chapter!