Let me tell you something about being an upperclassman in an honours program at university.

It's the most tiring thing you will ever in your life – especially if you win an award or are selected to partake in research.

It was my bright idea to apply for the Everett Award at the beginning of the year. My other classmates were doing it, and I didn't want to be left out. Besides, it's a chance at a scholarship, not a night in some dive located in the unsavory corners of Downtown that involves shooting up heroin and picking up cheap hookers. It's offered to all students in the faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences, and it involves in-depth research on the subject of their choice.

Being an Anthropology-slash-History major, it was natural for me to apply for the award. I'm a damn good student and University is freaking expensive. Plus, since research comes with the territory, it's good if I get practice now. And, it's a nice little thing to have on the resume and a nice little tidbit to talk about on Masters Degree applications and job interviews.

Hell yes, I applied. I chose to research the themes of sexuality found in Japanese manga created for schoolgirls and young women.

Gee, I wonder what inspired THAT idea?

In any case, I was one of the lucky ones chosen for the award – and it's been one hell of a ride since then. It is one thing to spend time researching a subject, finding the right resources, and working with a supervisor. It's totally different ball game with you're working on a research project AND balancing the hectic demands of schoolwork. It is not pretty, trying to figure it all out. I've been an absolute wreck. One minute, I'm elated, the next minute I'm raging, and yet another minute I'm sobbing like a total nutcase.

For the few months, I have not been a happy person to be around – even with a smoking hot Japanese boyfriend with the sexiest British accent God has ever bestowed upon one single man.

Yeah, I'm very biased.

Ah, Seiji. He's been so good to me ever since we got together over a year ago. I still can't believe how that went down. If you would have told me that I would have been coerced into giving a lap dance to the guy I was seriously crushing on, I'd have laughed in your face and wondered aloud if you were a wannabe romance novelist or something. But that's how it happened – and we've been inseparable ever since.

He's so good to me, my Seiji. Even though I've been such an insane hag because of this research project, he's been so patient to me. He was smart enough to decide that he'd apply for the scholarship next year, so he's taken it upon himself to help out with mine. Even though he's an Economics major (that's too many numbers, even for me), he's been an awesome proof-reader/listener/cheerleader. He's just awesome. Somehow, he's survived my mood swings, crying fits, and impromptu make out sessions for the sake of stress relief.

I don't think he minds that last one, though. I know I don't.

Long story short, he's been awesome, and I'm so glad he chose me. I couldn't have done this without him.

That, and the eye candy is always a plus.

Come on, you get me right? A Japanese man with a British accent? It's like I've found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

… …

Another night, another long period of research and study.

If you ask me how I got to Seiji's house, I can't tell you that. I think it involved buses and trains…and maybe even a magic carpet ride.

I did pass the Steppenwolf Theatre after all.

But here I am, walking up the steps after he buzzed me in. Normally, getting to his house never involves so much work, but I had to do some research Downtown today. Add a few other class assignments to the mix, and you have one very tired lady. I just wanted to slip into my pajamas and rest.

And I wanted him to hold me. I always feel better when Seiji holds me.

He already has the door open for me when I reach his apartment. The most wonderful aroma greets me as I make my way inside. My stomach begins to rumble. All that research made me forget that I was hungry.

"Welcome back." His voice is like a warm wind in the dead of winter. "I hope you're hungry."

"I am now," I say, slipping my shoes off. "Whatever you're making smells really good."

"It's Yakibuta Ramen – roasted pork ramen." I try not to get aroused when he speaks with a perfect Japanese accent, but it's really, really hard! It's just…damn. "I know how much you like eating ramen at Mitsuwa, so I thought I'd try making it myself."

"Ooh, aren't you the gourmet chef?"

"No, just a man who watches Cooking with Dog way too much. I tried calling my mom for some advice, but she just called me crazy and daring. Apparently, real ramen is infinitely more complicated then boiling water, immersing noodles, and using seasonings."

"I see." I walk over and give him a kiss on the cheek. "Is it any good?"

He smiles, but looks a little nervous. "I guess it's time to find out."

I laugh. He's so cute when he's nervous. Hell, he's just cute, period. "I'm sure you did well, Seiji."

"I hope you remember that should you get food-poisoning tomorrow."

"At least I won't have to do any research! Just promise you'll hold back my hair as I'm puking in the toilet."

"I promise – I'll find a lovely scrunchie to supply you with."

"Gee, thanks," I chuckle as I head to the bathroom to freshen up. "You're too kind."

… …

It turns out that Seiji didn't have a thing to worry about.

His ramen was delicious…I mean, very delicious. Like…wow. It was as good, if not better than the ramen I usually have at Santouka, the ramen stall at Mitsuwa. I am aware that I could be perceived as biased because he's my boyfriend and all, but I don't care. The broth was flavorful, the pork was tender and juicy, and the noodles were especially slurp-worthy. I usually find it very hard to finish a bowl of ramen, but I finished this one off with ease.

Maybe I should start watching Cooking with Dog on Youtube.

Now, we're cuddled on the couch, lounging around, just enjoying each other's company. About seven months into our relationship, we started leaving things at each other's houses in case of a sleepover. At first, it would happen ever so often. Nowadays, it happens all the time. If he's not at my house, I'm at his house. You'd think we would have started living together already. I wouldn't mind it at all. But I'm okay with this, too. Seiji means a lot to me and the last thing I want to do is to rush things unnecessarily.

Besides, having our own separate corners is handy, especially when we have the occasional fight.

I don't like to fight with him, but when I do, I always try to expedite the make-up part of it…sigh…

Ahem. Right. Anyway, I like this rhythm we're in, and I don't see the need to mess with it.

"Did you enjoy the dinner?" he asks quietly.

I nod into his chest. The soothing sounds of his heartbeat threaten to put me to sleep. "I did, thank you. It was delicious."

"So, you don't think it'll make you sick, then…ow!"

I smirk after playfully hitting his shoulder. "Are you always this cheeky?"

"Not really, but you make it so easy." He runs his fingers through my hair. If he keeps that up, I'm going to jump him…and not in a bad way. "So…I've been thinking…"

"Uh-oh…that can't be good."

Now, he playfully swipes at me. "I'm serious. I've been thinking about how we're going to celebrate your research project. The fair is next week."

"Ugh, don't remind me. You'll kill the mood." I sigh heavily. "I was hoping to final get some damn sleep," I tell him flat out. "I've been running on fumes since January, and I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to cross the finish line. I had no idea it would get this crazy."

"Sure, you did. And you knew you'd be able to handle it. You've done well, Meera, so pat yourself on the pack."

Ah, he is too good to me sometimes. "Thank you."

"Really, though, I really want to do something nice for you after the fair next week. After everything you've been through, you deserve to have a little fun after such a long time."

He had a point there. "Aww, you're so sweet. But you don't have to. You've already done so much for me. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

"Ooh! Ooh! I know how!" He flails his arms around, as though he were trying to get a teacher's attention. "You can let me take you out to help you celebrate the end of your research project! That would be the perfect repayment."

I burst into laughter, to the point where my sides are hurting, and I'm in desperate need of an oxygen mask. "You goofball!"

"Yeah? So? Seems to me you enjoy it!" I nod in between guffaws. "Do you know what else you'll enjoy?"

"What?"

"This."

He kisses me before I even have a chance to process what's happening. My laughter evaporates into this air. He moves away, a triumphant smirk on his face. I stare at him, dumbfounded.

"Seiji…" I somehow manage to whisper.

"I've wanted to do that since you walked in the door," he says to me quietly. "But this is much better."

I can't find my voice at all. I just stare at him with a mixture of love and silliness. He takes his hands in mine, and looks deep into my eyes.

Damn. He's. Gorgeous.

"Anyway…l really want to treat you to something special," he continues on. "You deserve it. You've been so good to me, and I'm lucky to have you. Now, it's time for me to show you my gratitude…if you'll let me."

If I smile any harder, I'm sure I'll crack my jawbone. "You know I can't say 'no' to you."

"Is that so?" He shoots me a look of mock horror. He cowers when I raise my hand up. "Hey, hey, hey, don't ruin the romantic mood."

"Then don't be a smart-ass," I tell him with a giggle. I reach over and take his hand in mind. "So, what did you have in mind?"

"Ah, ah, ah!" He waves a finger. "If I tell you, then it won't be a surprise."

I pout. "I didn't realize it was supposed to be a surprise."

"Yes, it's a surprise. A very special surprise to which I shall divulge any details of."

"Come on, Seiji, tell me!" He remains tight-lipped – so I start tickling him. He's very ticklish, and I'm determined. "Come on, come on, tell me!"

"Never!" he roars in defiance.

My fingers attack him mercilessly and he does his best to dodge them. But then, he starts fighting back by reaching out to tickle me. This is no good – I'm more ticklish than he is. So we're both balls of laughter waging an all-out tickling war.

We go flying off the couch and onto the floor with a loud, thud. Luckily, he breaks my fall. Luckily for me, that is.

"Seiji!" He looks like he's in lot of pain. "Are you okay?"

He opens his eyes and looks me over. And then, this big grin spreads across his face. Heat rises to my cheeks

"I'm just fine," he purrs. He reaches up to caress my cheek. Oh my… "Just enjoying the view."

He gives me that amorous stare that I cannot resist – and he knows I can't resist it. As he reaches up and pulls me close to him, one thing is certain in my mind.

I hope I manage to be quieter this time. Last time, the neighbor complained. I'm still pretty embarrassed about it.

… …

Meera is such a wonderful woman. I'm so lucky to have her.

I admit, we got together under very interesting circumstances. I mean, usually, if you tell someone you met your future girlfriend at a club while she gave you a lap dance, well, you can only imagine all the unsavory things going on in that person's mind. And then if you tell them that she was coerced into giving you one because of a friend…well, things just went from bad to worse.

A certain song by The Bloodhound Gang comes to mind.

Anyway, I'm absolutely crazy about her. She's everything I could ever want in a girl. She's funny, she's very smart, she's got a sharp tongue, and her curves make drives on the Autobahn jealous. She could have had any other Japanese man with a British accent, but she chose me.

Never mind that I'm only Japanese man on-campus with British accent – at least I think I am. Maybe I should check that out.

Anyway, Meera's lush, and I want to show her how much I adore her. I've been working on this surprise for Meera for a few weeks now, and I hope she likes it. She deserves it. That research project she's working on has driven her to the brink of insanity, and this surprise is exactly what she needs to de-stress.

I…I just can't believe I'm actually going to go through with it.

She's always so good to me. And now, it's time for me to be very good to her.

I just hope I don't look like a fool to her…or worse, scar her for life.

Then again, a Japanese man with a British accent can probably get away with anything.

Right, ladies?

… …

My lips are very sore from all the biting I had to do in order to keep myself quiet.

I'll…let you draw your own conclusions.

The neighbor didn't say anything to us in the morning. So, I'll leave it at that.

Right.

Even though I really need to finish tie up the lose ends on my project, Delia insists on us going to lunch. I tried explaining to her how important it all is, that the research fair is next week and that if I don't complete this project, I would get the scholarship money I desperately needed.

She just stared at me for a while. And then proceeded to demand that I hurry up and buy her lunch because she's really, really hungry.

I literally saw my words zoom right past her head. The speed would make Danica Patrick envious.

Defeated, I agreed to a light lunch at a nearby Thai restaurant – a cheap nearby Thai restaurant. Because poor university students are poor.

"You're looking especially dreamy today," she tells me as she digs into her chicken Pad Thai. "You obviously had sex last night."

I just about lose my appetite, and I'm not about to let this Pad Thai go to waste. "Do you mind? I'm trying to eat here!"

"What? We're both adults here. We don't need to hide things from each other or beat around the bush. I'm your best friend and you can share things with me without reservation."

"Yeah, but some things are sacred in a relationship. And you know I don't kiss and tell."

"You don't need to kiss or tell. It's written all over your face. You're wearing that 'I had awesome sex and I liked it' grin, and trust me girl, you've been wearing it a lot lately."

"No, I haven't." Yes. I have. And now that I'm thinking about Seiji like that, I'm pretty sure that grin is plastered on my face right now. "You're seeing things."

"Ummhmm." She eyes me with a sly grin. "Now, I don't believe that for a second. That man has got you in bloom. I bet the only reason why you haven't lost your mind with all this school stuff is because of him and his many bedroom talents."

"Shh!" My cheeks won't stop tingling. "You're right about Seiji being the reason I'm still sane, but it's not what you think. He's been taking very good care of me."

"Ooh, I bet he has…"

"Knock it off!" I grit my teeth in frustration. "He's helped me by proofreading my papers, making sure that I eat, and just being there for me when I feel like I just want to give up. He's been so supportive of me, and I'm thankful for that."

"I would be, too, if I had a guy like that. Instead, I'll just have to be content with my revolving harem of hot, ripped, and sexy young college men who are always willing to show me a good time. Ah, being single and flirty is so much fun!"

I roll my eyes. Why she'll never ever suggest that I should dump Seiji and start recruiting men for my revolving harem, she never gives up a chance to talk about hers. Don't get me wrong, she's not promiscuous or anything. Her worst crime is being a professional tease. But sometimes I wonder what's the point of dating eight guys at once. I can barely remember my classmates' names, let alone the names of eight dates.

But Delia is Delia – and she is in no hurry to settle down. So, I just let her do her thing with her harem. It keeps her from interfering in my love life.

"Anyway, have you given any thought as to how you're going to celebrate your freedom next week?"

I raise an eyebrow. "Pardon me?"

"You know, the research fair is next week – and you can finally divorce yourself from the project from hell." I snicker. It sounds about right. "I'm thinking we should go to the club that night. I know this hot place downtown where my friend from high school spins as a DJ."

My grin gets even wider. "As lovely as that sounds, I can't."

She pouts. "And why not? Don't you like going clubbing with me?"

"Um…yes…" If I answer any other way, my life is in danger. "It's just that Seiji's already planning something for me that night."

"Ooh! Does it involve whips and chains?"

…Lord. "Is it always sex with you?"

"You know it is. If you remember, it's my insistence that you give that man a lap dance that brought you two together." How could I forget? She won't let me ever forget! I think she's mentioned it to the entire student body – twice. "I'm just your average university trollop."

"Trust me, Delia, there is nothing average about you," I state rather dryly.

That goes past her head, too. "Aww, thank you, you're so sweet!"

Oh, Delia… "Yeah. Sweet."

"So, anyway, do you know what he's planning?"

I shake my head. "Nope. He won't tell me anything. He says it's a surprise."

"Oooh, a surprise." She eats a bit more Pad Thai. "I wonder if he's going to do a dance for you this time."

My fork nearly slips out of my hand. "What?"

I hate it when she looks smug. "I said, I wonder if he's going to dance for you this time. He's all-mysterious with you and everything. Maybe he's planning on giving you a special dance in the dark with sexy boxers on."

"Ugh." I may have a look of disgust on my face, but I'm not going to lie, the thought of Seiji "dancing" for me makes hot under the collar – though I'm not wearing a shirt with a collar. "Seiji's not like that, Delia."

"No man is really like that. I mean, what little boy, playing with his Hot Wheels in the mud says 'I'm going to be a stripper when I grow up'? He'd be beaten on the spot! But it happens, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, it does…" Think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts. "But that would never happen with Seiji."

"And why not?" she asks, incredulous.

"Well, for one, he's a decent bloke," I state proudly. "He's well read, he's intelligent, very respectful…"

"He makes your toes curl, he makes you yodel…"

"Oh, shut up!" I snap. She's right, but I don't have to put up with her shenanigans. "Long story short, Seiji is a nice boy who would never dream of doing that sort of thing, and besides, his mother would lose the plot if she ever found out he did something like that."

"She would probably lose her mind if she found what her son's neighbors have been complaining about lately." My mouth drops. How the hell did she find out about that? "Love is a slippery slope that leads to very interesting things, my dear. I'm not saying, I'm just saying."

I've lost my appetite. "I hate you, Delia."

She blows me a kiss. "I love you too, sweetheart."

… …

Delia frees me from her (evil) clutches, and I go back to working on my research project. I've lost an hour due to her incessant babbling and double entendres, so I have to work extra hard.

I'll be glad when this is all over with.

Seiji and his friends are going out tonight, so I've got a night to myself. Believe it or not, I think that's a good thing. I still need to recover from last night…no, let me stop right there. If I start thinking about him like that, I'll go into this trance that involves a lot of goofy looks and ridiculous amounts of drooling.

I can't help it. He has that effect on me.

Still, I can't help but wonder about what he has in store for me. He sounded like he's really be working hard on it, and it seems like he really wants it to be special.

I'm so lucky.

I've got less than a week to go, and I really want to be surprised.

Hmm…

Is Seiji really planning to dance for me?

No, no, no…I should think about that. I didn't tell Delia this, but he has two left-feet. He couldn't dance if his life depended on it. Let's hope it never gets to that point.

Still…that would be really something…

Goofy stare. Drool. Drool. Drool some more.

Damn it. I need to get a towel.

… …

I can't believe I'm in a place like this with her. It was her idea, and she said it was the best place to go for this kind of thing.

Personally, I think it's shady – extremely shady. This place makes a red-light district look like a Suburban Oasis.

I wish I were somewhere else.

But this is where she wants to go, and I can't dispute her. She's more knowledgeable about this sort of thing – she's the expert and I'm the hapless novice. Also, she said if we didn't do it like this, she'd have nothing more to do with me.

I can't have that. So, I'm pretty much stuck.

"You sure you want to do this?" she asks me. "This isn't for the faint of heart. This is the best place to do what you want, but it's not the nicest place either. So if you want, you can turn back now."

Believe me, I'm tempted to do so. This doesn't feel right at all. I feel dirty – not the good kind of dirty, either. But I need to do this. I need to. So, I swallow all my fears and my complaints and put on a brave front.

"So, we're already here. Let's do this."

She nods and gives me a wicked smile. My resolve falters for just a moment.

There's no turning back now.

In the end though, it'll be worth it.

"What do you think guys? Are the headlights on?"

The room is dead silent. The girls look like their sick to their stomach. The boys look on in sympathy. The man in the middle wants to crawl into a hole and die.

"Just as I suspected. Not even a flicker."

The woman in the center shakes her head as she heads over to an iPod Dock station nearby. The man in the centre looks pained."

"Please, can we take a break? I'm really tired here! I've had enough for tonight!"

"Perfection cannot be achieved if you're always taking breaks." Her tone is ice cold and merciless. "Besides, you're the one who asked me for help. You're the one who demanded my services. And now, you must cater to my whims. After all, you want this to be perfect, don't you?"

He stares at her, offended by her gall and her lack of empathy. She stares back at him, unfazed. They stay like this for a while before he finally looks away, sighing. He nods, relenting.

"Yes. I want this to be perfect."

"That's right – and perfection requires copious amounts of practice." She cues up the song again from the top. "Now…get your ass up and dance…DANCE! And dance more sexier-ly this time! Just put the stank on it!"

The music starts, and he arises from this chair.

For you, baby…this is all for you…

… …

Seiji knows how to keep a secret.

For the next seven days, I'm absolutely relentless in getting him to spill the beans.

Seiji how is just as good at keeping me in suspense.

Every time I try to get him to give me a hint, he always says no. Or he will, but then he'll start speaking in Japanese. This is a very effective method in throwing me off this scent for two specific reasons. One, I can't understand Japanese, and therefore, nothing is spoiled for me. Two, listening to him speak Japanese turns me on, so I end getting distracted, if you know what I mean.

And if by the grace of God that doesn't work, he'll just blatantly attack my weak spot – the back of my neck until, again, I am properly distracted.

That sneaky, cheeky bastard.

I want to be surprised, but I really want to know what this surprise is. I get the feeling that he's really working hard on it, and that whatever the surprise may be, it's going to be amazing.

I just hope that this research project doesn't kill me beforehand. It's the home stretch now, and Murphy's Law seems to rear its ugly head during this time. So far, no disasters have occurred but with less than forty-eight hours to go, there is still plenty of time for last-minute disasters.

Knock on wood.

… …

Tonight, we're at my house, where the neighbors are much more forgiving of…ahem…nightly activities.

But we aren't working on doing that…at least not yet. In fact, Seiji looks rather pensive tonight. He's sitting on the couch while I layer a black tank top with a white one, and put on my favorite boy shorts. Normally, he would attack me while I'm in various states of undress just for the heck of it. But he is completely still, looking very deep in thought.

"Seiji," I begin, sliding next to him. "Are you okay? You look a little out-of-sorts."

"Hmm?" He snaps out of his trance, surprised to see me beside him. "What? Oh, it's nothing. I guess I was lost in my thoughts."

"Is that so? I hope you had GPS in there to help you find your way back."

He chuckles. "Ha ha, very funny."

"Of course. I said it, so it must be funny." I reach over and run my fingers through his hair. "Are you sure you're okay, though? You look like something's troubling you."

He shakes his head. "Nothing is troubling me."

"Are you sure? Because you know you could tell me if it was." I smirk. "Even if it had to do with that surprise you're planning for me…"

"Meera, a surprise is a surprise for a reason." He pats my head in sympathy. "I will not spoil it for you."

"I know you won't! You've reminded me many times." Damn it, these last two days can't go fast enough. "But seriously, if something is troubling you, you can talk to me about it."

"I know I can." He gets really quiet as he looks down at his feet. I don't think I've ever seen Seiji like this before. Now, I'm getting really worried. "It's just…"

His voice trails. "It's just…" I repeat. He reaches out and takes my hand. My heart is sinking. I don't feel very good about this… "Oh my God, you're not breaking up with me, are you?"

He bursts into laughter. "No, no, that's not it at all. Why would I do that?"

"I don't know. You haven't tried to have sex with me, you look glum, you can't look me in the eye, and something's troubling you. That means you're either going to break up with me or tell me you're a serial killer or something." He's practically bellowing now. "I'm glad you find my freak out so amusing!"

"I'm sorry," he manages, wiping away the tears from his eyes, "it's just you're so cute when you're freaking out. You're absolutely adorable."

"Geez." We may not be breaking up, but I still feel like utter crap. "You know what, forget I asked."

I move to get up from the couch, but he reaches out for me the quickness, pinning me down. One kiss, and the will to fight is extinguished. Two kisses and he's forgiven. Three kisses and I'm eyeing my bedroom door.

Yeah, this is pretty much how it is with us, folks.

"Feeling better?" he purrs.

Hell yes. "It's not fair. How can I stay mad at you when you can kiss me like that?"

"You don't." He relaxes his grip on my wrists, helping me up. "I don't like it when you're mad at me. But I do like making up with you." He looks confused. "That's a bit puzzling, isn't it?"

"Not really. Making up is the best. It's the only thing I look forward to when we have an argument." I cup his cheeks with my hands. "Now, please tell me what's wrong. I can't help you if I don't know."

He remains quiet for a moment before speaking. "Okay, I admit. It has something to do with your surprise."

My eyes widen. "I knew it!"

"But don't expect me to give anything away!" he quick adds. I nod, hoping that he totally gives it away. "I dunno, I guess I just want this to be perfect for you. I'm dealing with a few…setbacks, and I'm not sure that I'll be able to do all that I want to do."

"Aww." I'm touched by his words. "Baby, I'm sure that whatever you're planning for me will be wonderful and I'll love it."

"I'm sure you will, but I still want things to be amazing."

"And they will be," I assure him. "You want to know why? Because you said it would be. And I'm inclined to believe you."

A warm smile spreads across his face. "You're amazing, you know that?"

I nod. "I do, but I'm sure you won't let me forget that I am."

"No, not at all." He kisses the tip of my nose. "In any case, I know that you'll enjoy what I have planned for you. Still…" He sighs. "I wonder if I'm being too ambitious."

"I'm sure it'll be wonderful, Seiji. After all, you're the one who's doing all of this for me, so it's already perfect. Save for murder, cheating, and other petty crimes, you can do no wrong in my eyes. Do you know why?"

He shakes his head. "Why?"

Now, it's my turn to kiss the tip of his nose. "Because it's you. And if you're going through all this madness just to please me, then I couldn't be more grateful."

He scoops me into his arms, and I let out a happy little sigh. Ah…just what I need to keep me going for the next forty-hours – his loving warmth.

"I am a very lucky man," he states proudly as we hug. "A very, very lucky man."

"I'm the luckier one." Geez, we sound like we're straight out of a chick flick don't we? "I'll love your surprise, I know it. So don't worry, okay?"

"Okay, I won't."

Seiji ruffles my hair a little more, and I kiss the palm of his hand. In my mind, one thing is certain.

Whatever he's planning for me must be truly special.

I for one can't wait for it.

… …

It's less than forty-eight hours away from the moment of truth.

I'm not going to like – I'm scared as f-.

But I'm going to go through with it, regardless.

Meera is worth it. She may laugh at me, she may tell me to stop, and she may never let me live this down, but it's okay. I know somewhere in her heart, she'll appreciate what I'm going to do for her, and I know that I won't regret this.

She did it for me once. Yes, the circumstances were different, but not really. She put herself out there for me. I'm sure she had her reservations, and I'm sure in her mind, she was wondering what she was doing. But she went through with it because she liked me.

She deserves nothing less from me.

I just hope…she doesn't ridicule me too much.

"Tonight's the night, pretty boy. It's game time. It's you night to shine."

"If you say so."

"What? You don't believe me? Are you having second thoughts?"

"No, I'm not having second thoughts. After all that crap you put me through, I've got no choice but to finish what I've started now. Otherwise, it'll be all for nothing."

"Can't argue with you there. And besides, it's not that bad. When you first started, the headlights didn't flicker. And now, they are…kind of, sort of flickering."

"Was that supposed to be a compliment?"

"What do you think?"

"You don't want to know what I think."

"Wow, that's harsh. And after everything I've done for you. See if I ever help you again."

"Is that a promise?"

"It sure is…HEY! I see what you did there. And I thought British men were supposed to be charming?"

"And I thought you were supposed to be genteel and ladylike – not a veritable task master."

"I never said I was going to be nice to you. You, sir, were a sad case that needed a ton of help. If I didn't push you, you'd be a hopeless case in danger of horribly humiliating himself. So, I did what I had to do."

"Is that what happened with her as well? That you did what you had to do?"

"Ummhmm. If I hadn't worked my magic on her, she wouldn't have opened her mouth – and magic would have never happened. The only difference is that she didn't need as much help as you did."

"…Am I really that bad?"

"Is the sky blue?"

"…Touché."

Silence.

"Anyway…I've got some final touches to take care of before…before I do my thing. I trust you will be there later."

"Of course. I don't say no to free drinks."

"They won't be all free!"

"I know, but some will be. Consider it my payment."

"…sigh…Fine, whatever."

Silence.

"Don't worry too much. She's crazy about you. She always has been. You can do no wrong in all this. Trust me, she'll very appreciative. I'm sure she'll love it."

"…You think so?"

"…I know so."

Silence.

"Thank you, Delia…for everything."

A smile and a wink. "You're welcome, Seiji. Now, go out there and show Meera how much you love her."

"That's just what I intend to do."

… …

I'm almost across the finish line!

The research fair has begun, and now, various instructors, professors, and curious community members have made their way into the Main Hall, interested in seeing which projects were fascinating enough to win this prestigious scholarship. In some ways, I feel like this is more of a thesis defense than the Faculty of Arts' version of a Science Fair. The professors are grilling me hard, and my students who failed to win the scholarship are grilling me even harder.

But the haters won't get me down today. I defend my project as though it were the last bastion on defense. No matter how hard they try, they can't trip me up. And they shouldn't – I've worked my tail off on this project for eight months now. I've prepared, I've studied, and I've meditated.

I got this – no one else can say otherwise.

Ever minute brings me closer to sweet release – and every minute brings me closer to Seiji and his surprise for me. I have been on pins and needles for the last forty-eight hours, and I want to know what it is now. He sounds like he's been really working hard on it, and now I'm dying to find out what the fruits of his labor may be. Is he throwing a party for me? Is he planning a really awesome date? Is he planning to propose to me?

Okay, I admit, that last one was for dramatic effect. I know that's not happening. (And I won't be liable for any heart attacks that latter choice might have caused.)

Ahem…anyway, I really want to know.

This morning, he left me a text message. Tonight is the night I do something special for you. I really hope you enjoy it. You deserve nothing but the best, sweetheart.

Will. This. Fair. Just. Go. Away!

I want to hurry up and be with my man already!

… …

"Everything is going according to plan. I'm on my way to the hot spot. You do what you've got to do."

"Good. You know what you have to do. No matter what happens, you need to complete your mission."

"Man, who are you talking to? You don't need to worry about me. I have my ways. I will do what I need to do."

"Good. Let's do this then."

"Yes. Let's."

… …

It's over! It's all over!

The research fair is done! The professors are pleased with my answers! The guests have all dispersed, and my check's in the mail. Yay!

While I will revisit this research for my honor's paper next year, I don't have to look at this stuff ever again for the next five months. I'm free – FREE – free from such madness. It's over! I completed my objective! And now, I've got money toward my tuition for next year.

I'm such a boss!

And now, as I prepare myself for this glorious night, I can finally discover what Seiji's surprise for me is. I'm making sure that I look especially good for it tonight. I finally get to wear this black silk blouse with a bow in front and a pencil skirt that I've been looking for an excuse to wear. Even if Seiji's planned something casual and laid back, I still want to look good for my man.

No scented body spray for this occasion. I'm breaking out the big guns – my Nanette Lepore fragrance. It's his favorite.

It drives him absolutely wild, so of course I'm going to wear it.

I paint my face (the natural look with a little bit of a smokey eye), I style my hair, and I look at myself in the mirror. Damn, I am a looker when I want to be. I don't want to brag but not only could I compare Delia in terms of looks, I could outdo her, if I really tried.

Just…don't tell her that, okay?

I haven't heard from Seiji all day. I haven't even received a text from him. I try not to let that get to me too much. I think he's just trying to build the suspense. I tried to call him, but never actually place the call. I want to get my hands on him, but I don't want to ruin the surprise, and all the work he's done toward it. I've waited this long! I don't want

The doorbell rings just as I slip on my heels. My heart soars – it's him! It's him! He's come to take me to my surprise! Oh! Oh! This is so exciting! I'm so excited! I'm ready for this! I'm so ready for this!

"I'm coming!" I cry cheerfully, rushing to the door. I take a deep breath and looking myself over in a nearby mirror before turning the knob.

I open the door with the biggest smile on my face. "Sweetheart!"

Delia stands before me, smirking her usual smirk. "Ah, there you are. You know how I can't stand it when you keep me waiting."

"Delia, what are you doing here?" My giddiness is replaced with violent agitation. "This isn't a good time!"

"Nice to see you, too, bestie! But enough chit-chat, we've got to go."

She grabs my arm, and pulls me out of my house. I stare at her, wide-eyed and incredulous.

"What?" I'm amazed at her gall when she grabs my house keys and locks my door. "I'm not going anywhere with you! You know I have plans tonight!"

"I know you have plans tonight! You've got plans with me!" Is she for real? "Now come on, we've got go!"

"I'm not going anywhere with you! I told you, I'm waiting for…"

"Yes, yes, you were waiting for me because you know I wouldn't let you celebrate your scholarship on your own!" She grabs my arms again and drags me down the stairs. Damn, why is she so strong? Does she work out? "Now, come on. The club isn't going to wait for us all day."

"Delia! DELIA! Where are you talking me?" I'm frantic now, trying my best to wrestle myself out of iron grip. "Let me go! You let me go right now! I have other plans! I am going to…"

"Yeah, yeah, you're going to the club with me! I know, I can't wait! Let's go and get our drink on!"

"DELIA!"

She drags me and tosses me into her sleek black car. I'm too stunned by her boldness to fight her. One thought persists within my mind.

What the hell is up with this woman? She knows I'm supposed to be with Seiji today?

Why is she doing this to me?

… …

We drive through the dark city streets. Delia puts on the radio and sings various Pop songs horribly off-key. She tries to get me to join her.

I keep quiet, stewing in my rage.

I demand that she explain what she's doing, but she won't tell me anything. She just sings louder – and my eardrums suffer because of it.

I try calling Seiji to let him know what's going on, but she steals my from me, the little witch. She tells me that I should relax, that it'll be all right.

I'm secretly plotting her demise. I know some people…I could have her assassinated. Only her harem would miss her.

Moments later, we pull up into this dark loft space in the warehouse district just outside of downtown. My heart drops. This place looks really spooky, like a place you'd see on a show like "Ghost Hunters". My blood runs cold. What the hell is going on?

"Come on, Meera!" she sings, obviously unfazed by the spookiness of this place. "Your night on the town awaits."

"Delia, what is this place?" I ask her as I get out of her car. "Just where have you taken me?"

"Someplace special," she answers without a beat. "Can't you tell?"

"No! This place doesn't look special at all. It makes me feel like you're delivering me to a serial killer or something."

"Oh, Meera, don't be silly." Her nasal laughter only heightens my urge to kill her. "Though I'm sure there maybe some kind of "stabbing" later, if you catch my drift." My face contorts in disgust. …Ewww. "Anyway, shall we go inside?"

I look out at the dark, creepy build, and then I look at her. "I don't want to."

"Oh, but you must!" I shake my head furiously. Once again, she grabs my arm, and tightens it with her iron grip. "Come on, Meera, don't be shy. You have nothing to worry about!"

"Says the girl who practically kidnapped me – hey!"

She pulls me into the dark loft building. She's so cheery it's scary. I close my eyes, and whisper a silent, melancholic prayer. Oh, why on earth could I not get a hold of Seiji? He has no idea of where I am! He doesn't know that Meera dragged me out like this! For all he knows, I could be dead, or even worse; he thinks that I stood him up!

Oh, Seiji, my beautiful man with the Japanese accent, I'm so sorry, so very sorry…

Delia drags me into a place I except to be decrepit, dank, and musty…

But when she opens the door, and this beautiful, sophisticated loft space with soft lighting, shiny hardwood floors, and a beige-cream-and-ebony interior design scheme is revealed before my eyes.

And even more importantly, a small group of my friends stands there waiting for me, with Seiji in the center of the room, a warm smile on his face.

"Oh my…" I am breathless. "Seiji…"

"Surprise!" Delia cries out before he and everyone else has a chance to. She's jumping up and down, clapping like a circus seal. Everyone else shakes their head. "Happy Finished Research Project, Meera! Seiji set this up all for you! Aren't you surprised?"

Seiji shoots her an annoyed look. "Delia? That's my line!"

"Oops! Sorry!" She grins sheepishly. "It's just so exciting!"

Meanwhile, I'm still stunned. "Seiji…what's going on?"

He smiles once again. "As Delia already mentioned, this is your 'Happy Finished Research Project' party – my 'surprise' for you. You've worked so hard on this since September, and I thought you deserved a special reward."

Tears well in my eyes. I'm smiling so hard, my skin hurts. It's not sinking in. Is this really happening?

Did he really plan all of this for me?

"Oh, Seiji!" I throw my arms around him and pull him into a powerful embrace. I'm obvious to any cracking ribs.

"I'm guessing you like my surprise then!" I squeeze him even tighter. "I think that's a yes!"

"I can't believe this!" I pull away as realization hits. I look over to Delia, then to Seiji. "Wait a minute! You two were in on this, weren't you?"

"Now, you know I have to have a hand in everything," Delia states nonchalantly. "Though I admit, Seiji did most of the work himself. I just dictated."

"Because, you know, she's compelled to be bossy." Luckily, his jab goes right over her head.

I turn to Seiji, eyes filled with love and gratitude. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I can't believe you did all of this for me."

"What can I say? Love makes you do many things." He kisses me on the cheek. Thank goodness I'm in his arms – I'm sure I'd fall on the floor otherwise from swooning so much. "Come on, let's enjoy your party now."

"Amen to that!" Delia chirps in. "I could use a drink. I'm so excited, I'm thirsty!"

Seiji and I shake our heads. Oh Delia…always has to be the center of attention.

… …

My surprise party is amazing.

I don't know how Seiji did it, but he did (okay, I admit it, Delia helped it), and it's wonderful. All of my friends pitched in and helped him make my favorite foods. Even Delia joined in the fray and made that special fruit salad I like so much – special because it's drenched in Peach Schnapps. He even got one of his friends to be somewhat of a bartender tonight. He even made me a delicious chocolate cake – the one I'm always begging him to make. It's so rich and moist and…yum…

It's the only thing I drool over more than the thought of him, naked.

The loft is gorgeous, the best place to have a party. Apparently, Delia's cousin runs this place – a loft hotel – and was able to give him sweet deal on the place. Only the hip and the wise know about this place. The outside turns off most people exterior because they think that it's nothing more than an abandoned building. But once they come inside, they're blown away by how posh this place looks.

I know I was.

There's dancing and singing, and even a little karaoke. I haven't had so much fun in a long time. Seiji stays on the sidelines, watching me (he's not much of a singer or a dancer and that's okay), smiling proudly. I love him so, so much. I can't believe he did all of this for me.

I'm so lucky to be with him. So, so lucky.

The end of the night comes, the food and drinks are put away, and everyone says their goodbyes. Well, everyone except Delia. She sticks around for a bit and tries to convince up to keep the party going by heading over to a nightclub nearby. Seiji tries to reason with her nicely, but I know better. Eventually, I just grab her the skirt and drag her out of the loft – a little payback for earlier.

"How dare you manhandle me? I thought we were friends!"

I answer her by slamming the door in her face. Oh, we're still friends. But right now, I just want to be Seiji – alone.

"You're a sneak, you know that?" I ask, wrapped my arms around him. "An amazing sneak."

"Thank you – I think." He chuckles, scratching his head. "So that means you forgive me for having Delia drag you over here?"

"Yes, I do…so long as you promise not to do that again. Not gonna lie, she freaked me out a bit, manhandling me and all. I'm surprised my neighbors didn't call the cops."

"Yeah, that would have been dreadful. But it all worked out in the end."

I nod. "Yes, it did. And I can't thank you enough."

"You're very welcome." He's silent for a moment before speaking again. "I have a confession to make."

I look at him, puzzled. "Oh?"

"Yes." Is that…a shy smile? "I have…one more surprise for you."

I raise an eyebrow. "One more surprise?"

"Yes…one more surprise – for you and only you." His voice drops low, and I'm feeling a little turned on. "But you have to go to bedroom for it."

"Oh really? But there's nothing surprising about that. We're way beyond that point…"

"Don't be such a tease!" He gestures to the bedroom door. "Go on. And sit on the chair in the center, will you?"

"Chair…center?" Sure enough, there's a chair in the center of the bedroom, as well as many lit candles. Anxiety creeps up my spine. "Seiji, what are you…"

"No questions, just sit," he calls from outside. "Or I'll lose my nerve."

"Uh. Okay. Wait, what do you mean lose your nerve?"

"Please, just sit in the chair," he says, slightly annoyed. And then, a kinder, "Please."

I sigh in defeat. Nervously, I sit in the chair. Just what is he up to? "Okay, I'm sitting."

Silence.

"Okay, Seiji, I'm sitting down," I repeat. Still, there is nothing but silence. "Seiji?" Still, nothing. "Seiji?"

Silence persists for what seems like an eternity. For a moment I wonder of Seiji's left me all alone here, or if something more sinister is on the horizon. But the beginnings strains of a sensual beat float into my ears, and my heart flutters as a result. My breath hitches, and heat rises to my cheeks.

I know this song. It's "Trading Spaces" by Usher…and it's hot as hell.

Oh my…whatever he's planning, it's sure to be interesting.

He steps into the room, and my heart stops. My eyes widen in surprise. He's still the same as before, but different…darker…and infinitely more attractive. His shirt is unbuttoned – and that hairless, semi-muscular chest is in my sights. He's eyeing me like a big cat on the prowl, and I'm getting giddy. My cheeks are tingling wildly.

I feel like I'm doing something naughty.

At this rate, I might be.

He leans over and whispers in my ear. "Close your eyes if it'll make you feel better. I'll do my best to make you feel really good, if only for a little while."

I swallow hard. I remember whispering those same words to him over a year before. I feel like I'm going to pass out. "O-okay…"

In the corner of my eye, I can see him smiling. "Now, I can't dance as well as you did for me, but I can assure you that I'll do my best. And I hope…" Oh my God, he's hovering near my weak spot, Jesus… "…you'll enjoy me as much as I'll enjoy you." His lips brush against my ear lobe…I feel like I'm about to pass out "Will you dance with me?"

I nod, feeble and aroused. Holy…this is turning me on.

He takes hands and helps me to rise from the chair. On instinct, my arms wrap around his neck, and his pulls me real close. A hiss escapes from my mouth. He feels the music, and I feel it with him. His body feels warm and damp against my clothes, and I can faintly smell his cologne.

Who the hell is this man and what has he done with my Seiji?

I've never seen him like this before. I'm surprised and I'm enthralled all at once. He moves with the music with a sensual swagger I didn't know he had. Seiji, who won't even play "Just Dance 3" with me for fear of him embarrassing me with his inability to dance, is seducing me with his sexy dance. His hands are all over my body. His fingers follow the curves of my hips. His breath is warm against my skin.

I'm drinking in every minute of it.

His lips are dangerously close to mind and in between those few millimeters lie the spark of sensuality, lust, and desire. I can't always look him in the eye because I feel like I'll combust from all this raw passion, but I don't need look his eyes to know that he's into this as much as I'm into him.

"Don't worry," he teases in a whisper. "If you've got a boyfriend, he'll never know…"

"Oh, but I want him to know," I tease back. "I want him to know how much I'm enjoying this, and how good he makes me feel…"

"Oh, really?" He kisses the curve of my neck. Oh my God… "I don't think you have to worry about that…"

Best. Surprise. Ever.

"You keep that up, and I'm going to want to do you." I'm rather direct and to the point.

He gives me an impish grin. "Promise?"

He kisses my neck again. Oh yes…

"I'll do more than promise." My clothes feel so constricting… "I'll just push you on that bed and have my way with you. I won't stop until I'm satisfied. It might take all night."

"You're the woman of the hour, Meera," he whispers against my mouth. "You do whatever you want with me. I'm all too eager to please you."

Oh hell yes…

He doesn't need to tell me twice. I grab two fistful of his shirt and crush my mouth against his. With strength fueled by libido, I drag and toss him onto the bed. I climb on top, all too eager to show him my gratitude – and to keep my promise.

"Thanks for the dance," I tell him a sultry whisper, eyeing him hungrily.

He chuckles. "Hey, that's my line."

My mouth crushes his once more.

… …

Wow.

That's all you need to know.

We're curled up together in bed, happy and sated. My head rests against his chest and I'm lulled by the sound of his heartbeat. He runs his fingers through my hair and holds me close. He's damp and warm, and he feels so good against me.

Again…best surprise ever.

"I didn't know you could do something like that," I murmur.

He laughs. "Neither did I. I must admit, though, that I had a little help."

"You did?"

"Ummhmm. It seems the same person who gave you a little 'encouragement' was all too happy to give me 'training'."

"Delia?" I sit up, suddenly on edge. "She helped you?"

"If you call forcing her way into the situation 'helping', then yes. Now that I look back on things, I shouldn't have said anything to her. She's a bit…bossy, that Delia."

"You didn't dance with her the way you danced with me, did you?" Unconsciously, I hold my breath. "Did you?"

He shakes his head. "No, no, I would never do anything like that." He sighs. "No, she used of her…ahem, many 'dates' to help me out. It was quite uncomfortable, but I think with her, it might have been worse."

"Ah." Seiji learned how to dance sexy with me with another man? I vow to save unbridled laughter the thought brings me for later – and there will be a lot of it. "Well, you did wonderfully. If you aren't careful, I might ask you for an encore."

"You first! I'm still waiting for my encore. You know how much I love you in black lace."

I giggle, hugging him closer. "Oh yes, I'm aware."

"Hmm." He kisses my forehead. "You know, there's one thing that this whole experience has taught me?"

I look up at him. "What's that?"

He looks at me, a mischievous smirk on his face. "Delia has to have an hand in everything, doesn't she?"

I stare at him for one minute, and then right on cue, we burst out laughing.

Yes. Yes, she does.