CHAPTER 1

THAT FIFTH PITCH SCAR ON THE FOREHEAD

Mom never really wanted me to move to the countryside in the first place when she decided to find her own personal destiny. When she was offered a teaching position for a small village of only a thousand with a very small population of children, Mom felt that this offer became a destined call for her to go out to the world and discover her real self. This, however, made me realize that even if you become a lucky wife with a perfect husband with all the goods every individual wanted in their lives that you can never be satisfied with your married life. A simple person with simple dreams; that was how everyone who knew her usually describe her. Mom wanted a simple life, with a husband who can provide all he can to support the family, and at least a son and a daughter to complete it all. There was nothing wrong with that after all. She already had what she wanted: a loving husband who happens to be the famous CEO of a major talent agency, Starcatcher Talent Promotions (StarPros for short), a son and myself, a daughter. A beautiful home with so much space, a floral garden sometimes reminiscent of a countryside meadow, and other extras, from a giant swimming pool to a sports center around the corner of the acres, a palatial life.

All of that, Mom had it all, and yet, she was still not satisfied. None of us, not even Dad, understood what was it that was dragging her down. Dad may have the big name in the industry here and there, but he was a proud and honest man who takes more pride of his wife and mother of his children than his own talent agency or the vast collection of talent that the agency serves. If only Dad wasn't so busy with work that maybe Mom would have just go with the flow with the present and would have stayed home with the family. An honored elementary school teacher, Mom won many achievements and charitable recognitions to her dedication towards educating the young throughout the country. That one charity seeking for educational help at a small remote village triggered the dissolving of what should have been a long lasting married life. Dad was completely heartbroken when Mom decided to leave the city and become a permanent teacher at that countryside village. Along with the terms, Mom decided to take me with her for equal custody with the children. Ah, the life of a legally separated family, but not all the way divorced.

Taisuke-niichan, my brother one year my senior, was only nine, while I was eight, when Mom and I took on the quest to live in a brand-new environment where nothing was bustling and nothing was ridiculous crowded. Since we were under ten back then we really didn't understand what was going on between our parents at that time. Our parents did make arrangements that both Tai-nii and myself would visit each other every other weekend. For example, this weekend would be my turn to visit the city to spend the weekend with Dad and Tai-nii, then the next weekend it would be Tai-nii's turn to spend the weekend with Mom and me. During Golden Week and other public holidays, depending on the schedules, we would have a long vacation together as a family somewhere other than the city that the men live in and the countryside that Mom and I live in. Sadly, around the time I turned eleven, the family visits stopped. Dad became so busy with his talent and Tai-nii decided to become one of those busy idol talents in training that the StarPros became well known for in the entertainment industry. Even if Tai-nii and I regularly communicated with each other regularly I felt bad most of the time. He would send me current photos of himself from home cameras to his professional modeling shoots that would eventually show up on billboards and teen magazines. I, on the other hand, were as nowhere as sophisticated as his photos and ended up sending copies of my official school yearbook photos instead. Dad and Tai-nii would always be busy in their idoling businesses and were always away from home, so even I no longer have a chance to visit and spend time with them.

Starting this week though, the lost contacts will no longer be lost. Two weekends ago, Mom succumbed to the overwhelming destructive powers of aneurysm whom we all thought was just a nasty headache. Who would have thought that the next day after trying to sleep it off that she would no longer wake up. Last week was her funeral that took place here at the countryside town that she decided to dedicate her entire life to. In fairness, Dad, Tai-nii, and all our relatives and friends came to pay their respect and say their goodbyes. I was able to reunite with my old childhood friends, Chie Kondo (slim and pretty but those thick-framed glasses could kill off her natural beauty), Tomi Sakuraba (still as obese as before, not to offend her of course), and Dori Matsuzaka (same as Tomi, except this lucky duck scored himself a sweet and dedicated girlfriend back in middle school and still going strong). I was happy that these three still recognized me from the last time I visited the city, stating that nothing much really changed with me in comparison to Tai-nii, whom Chie and Tomi used to have huge crushes on back in middle school days, but not anymore.

When Tai-nii arrived at the funeral, he brought a long a slim and angelic-looking teen girl whom I eventually learned as his new girlfriend and fellow teen model, Mirai Hanakouji. I will admit one thing: I don't follow as much trends as most teenagers do simply because I live out somewhere in the remote boonies where most kids care about their everyday lives and the basic necessities of young entertainment: music, sports, and traditional Japanese crafts. Baseball, basketball, soccer, American football, track and field, you could say that I follow a lot of sports. Traditional Japanese crafts, I do a lot of origami and kirigami and anything paper-related. I even do some occasional manga-style artwork when I ran out of colored paper designed for origami and kirigami. In terms of music, I listen to a lot of enka and the local bands, plus I was also a former member of our middle school glee club and even the town's youth glee club singing the alto and contralto voices. Most of the time though as a kid growing up in the countryside I did a lot of community service work from farming to selling some produce at the weekly farmers market to reading books and singing songs to pre-school children after school every other day. I only get the trend updates from Chie or Tomi via email or even by text, but other than that I rarely watch TV or listen to the radio.

I mentioned former at the latter statement because of a very simple reason. Now that Mom is no longer with me, that also meant that it was time for me to head back home where my life all began. It was a good thing that Mom did not miss out on my middle school graduation with flying colors. I was the Valedictorian of our class and just hearing that title seriously made me feel good. The saddest part for me now was that even if Mom was looking forward to see me enter high school at the town just two villages apart from here, fate decided that I would be on my own now starting at age fifteen-going-on-sixteen. On the other hand, I know Mom is at a better place now, still watching me from above.

I will be turning sixteen just a week before the first day of high school. Despite the painful tragedy, I also did receive some good news. My high school entrance exams for one of the high schools that I wanted to get in to, the very prestigious college-preparatory high school known as Momiji Gakuen, or Maple Leaf Academy in English, had almost perfect results. In short, I will be attending my high school there. The school is located at the city where I was born and spent my childhood before the separation, but it was also the school that Dad and Mom first met and eventually fell in love by the time they reached their final year. Tai-nii already attended his first year of high school there, and in just two weeks, I will be entering those school gates also. It would be the first time that Tai-nii and I would be seeing a lot of each other under the same campus regularly since elementary school. Chie, Tomi, and Dori were also admitted to that school also, so at least I wouldn't be starting school there looking like a faded wallpaper.

At this moment, I was already packing my bags with boxes of my personal things in my small yet homely bedroom here at our little house at the countryside village. Tomorrow I will be traveling back on train and going back home to the city for good. The original plan was that Dad, Tai-nii, and his model girlfriend Mirai Hanakouji, were to head back home along with me tomorrow, however they had to leave yesterday for some last-minute duties being CEO of an idol talent agency and as idols. In short, I will be traveling by the shinkansen back to the city by myself. Luckily for me, Dad paid for the expensive one-way shinkansen ticket so I don't have to spend my meager allowance for it. Dad's younger sister, celebrity photographer Ibuki Irie, my aunt obviously, would be in the area near the station of my destination, and will be picking me up from there.

How I'm going to miss the open, fresh fields that Nijibei Village is known for. How I'm going to miss all the different colors that filled those grass meadows. I'll surely miss the different scents that nature brings out that brings us out of our own personal shells. And when I wake up in the morning, will I able get to hear the thrushes sing their tune or even the cock of the morning rooster? Will I get to pass by other children walking home to school and hear the flowing currents of the river while I merrily pedal my bike? Will I ever get to sit down, take photographs, write and sing children's songs to the village children about the good life in the country and how we should always respect and appreciate our original roots? Will I ever do corner songfests with the boys and form our own local band, with me showing off my guitar-riffing skills while occasionally sing when the boys needed a female lead? Will I ever get to teach and play baseball to the troubled youth back at Hinasaki just like how I taught baseball to the kids at the village who were unfamiliar with the game's rules?

I wonder how the gardens and the grounds of Stardust House look like now since my last visit last year? Will the trees be blooming with the pinks and whites of the sakura trees? Will the white sakura trees bear the sweetest fruit this summer? Will there be an open patch of land for me to grown my own herb and vegetable garden?

#

Auntie Ibuki even took the time to take some shots of me exiting the station so she can have proof to send to Dad that I arrived safely. She appeared looking more like a model that just stepped out of a fashion billboard than a photographer, strutting out with a simple yet cute colorful mini Gucci dress and stiletto boots, complete with her perfectly-convex curved bob and long dangling earrings. Anyone can mistake her for an early 20s fashionista, but at age thirty-five, the guys see her s one smokin' hot young lady. Her personality though is the complete opposite of her looks: she had more brains than air and is a lot more responsible and serious when it came to family issues than my father. She was the ideal little sister that every handsome man would have, though most of the time her personal interests doesn't exactly meld in with Dad's. She was also Mom's personal consultant when it came to fashion and often times was also her personal make-up artist. No wonder Mom always looked beautiful on special occasions, looking like she wasn't wearing any makeup when she actually does.

She gave me an extra surprise along with the photographs when she brought along Chie, Tomi, and Dori along with her. Chie and Tomi screamed in excitement like those idol fangirls with balloons and pompoms while Dori held up a banner with the words Okaeri, Kairi-chan! Welcome home indeed. Their style of welcoming an old friend back reminded me of a small hero's welcome, even if there were only a few people who sincerely believed in you.

Now that I thought about it while gleefully exchanging embraces with my old friends, it made me feel bad, somewhat. Auntie Ibuki and my friends are present here at the station while father and my brother aren't. It made me think that their "idoling" businesses were a lot more important than the daughter and the sister. It made me feel that other people with no blood relations mattered more to them than those who were blood connected. That included Dad's secretary, Mrs. Saki Mikagami (even though she was married to one of Dad's executive colleagues within StarPros), and of course, Tai-nii's pretty gravure idol girlfriend Mirai Hanakouji.

Before we headed home, Auntie Ibuki treated my friends and I to Cafe Gillette. It used to be called TackBoy's Coffee and Tea when I was living my childhood here, but the owner of that coffee shop also recently passed away. The owner of Cafe Gillette happened to be TackBoy's owner's grandson and decided to rename it after a long talk they had with his grandfather just some weeks before his death. Mom was one of TackBoy's favorite regular customers back then, and still was one of the most remembered customers that shop ever had. Cafe Gillette served a lot of new items, but kept the traditional menu that TackBoy's had. My usual favorite hot White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha still had the same recipe, created using the same methods. Their pastries also included savory ones such as chicken pot pies and beef pot pies, in addition to savory crepes. The most veteran barista that we used to know, Mondonosuke Ito, was no longer a barista of the coffee shop. When TackBoy's became Cafe Gillette, Ito-san was now one of the shift managers, managing the baristas and waitres and all the operations in this establishment. Cafe Gillette's new decor was a lot more like those cute little French cafe shops, compared to TackBoy's old small-town coffee shop style that gave the scenery a more homely ambiance. Life was absolutely good for me thus far.

Just as things were settling down a little during our usual chats, Chie happened to change the subject in to something a bit more intimate. "Other than your mother's funeral, when was the last time have you and Tai-nii spoke to each other?"

I answered Chie: "Not for awhile. I believe before the funeral it was almost over a year since the last time we spoke to each other. Why?"

"Things have changed drastically, Kai-chan," Tomi joined in while nibbling on her piece of the chicken pot pie. "The whole 'who's the popular in crowd of Hinasaki' bit became a big deal for us kids growing up now. It's just like in those shoujo manga and in those cheesy teen love dramas that you often see on TV, girl. The things you've been fearing that you have to face once you reach high school has already happened."

"What's my brother got to do with who's who among the popular kids around the city?" I chuckled nervously. I admit right now that during middle school at one of our online group chats that we did discuss what teenagers usually deal with once they reach high school. Peer pressure was the number one topic with popularity being a subtopic. What I feared of facing the most once I reached high school was already happening, as Tomi already stated.

"Your brother's an idol and a model now, you know that, Kairi," Chie picked up from where Tomi left off. "All the popular kids, practically, from all three middle schools existing all around Hinasaki were all admitted to Momiji Gakuen. It was because of that particular reason that there's so many kids have been killing each other to pass the entrance exams to that school. All four of us here got really lucky. There were rumors that even the parents of those kids have been paying immense amount of tuition money to support the school in exchange for admitting their kids in to their school regardless of their entrance exam scores and get them to give ineligibility to other students who deserved to be in that school."

"Luckily that isn't true," Dori, from out of the blue, finally joined us after sipping a few sips of his mocha. "Momo-chan's aunt is an admissions administrator of that school and oversees the process to make sure that students with acceptable scores do have a chance of getting in. We all did well in those entrance exams fair and square and made sure that we do get our spots in that school. We were all lucky that we got in indeed."

Momo-chan, more known as Momoko Bunchin, is Dori's three-year girlfriend since their middle school days. They're still going strong as ever as a couple. I haven't exactly met Bunchin-san but the friends have been sending pictures of her along with them. She was also the most popular girl in their middle school, but somehow found a rather bulky, chunky boy like Dori attractive. According to a lot of people, not just Dori himself, but also from Chie and Tomi, that Bunchin-san was not a pretentious pretty girl that many stereotyped as some kind of a gold-digging user. She and Dori's love for one another is hands down real. Dori stated that Bunchin-san was more enthusiastic in entering Momiji Gakuen than ever, especially knowing that the popular kids from the middle schools around Hinasaki were admitted (mysteriously?) in the same school. With more of the popular kids around, she would simply be faded from the student body limelight, which meant that she won't have to feel any peer pressure from the classmates regarding her so-called unusual romantic relationship with Dori.

I'm very happy for Dori. Indeed. I wished wholeheartedly that it would be them together all the way till the old age. All young couples and youngsters in love should look up to Dori and Bunchin-san as an ideal example of what young love should be. Once I congratulated Dori several times for his love life, he only replied to me: "Now it's your turn and your time is almost near."

Now that I thought about it, I wonder if I'll ever find my own someone special one day. I hope that this special someone wouldn't be as obsessive and authoritative as some over-jealous, insecure kids who had infatuation and lust prioritizing over true love. I haven't exactly had the time to get to know more of Mirai Hanakouji aside from seeing her in a lot of teen fashion magazines and idol magazines, however she seemed to be the authoritative type. Just by looking at her facial expressions on her face she would look like she would hound anyone who would try to get in between her and Tai-nii even if it wasn't about romance. Maybe I just feel insecure all around Hanakouji-san because I already felt the cold breath on the shoulder during Mom's wake when Tai-nii paid more attention to Hanakouji-san than with me. Not only did I find that embarrassing and disrespectful to Mom but I also found it insulting to me as well.

"You're thinking way too much of things, Kairi," I heard Aunt Ibuki said after briefing my thoughts and concerns regarding family altogether. "This is a very good opportunity for the three of you to bond once more as a family. I personally still feel sad and heartbroken that your mother is no longer with us, however at the same time I am happy that you are back home where you originally belonged."

"I've gotten used to the country life, Ibuki-bachan," I said to her while I sipped a few of my mocha. "When you're a youngster living in a small village, you have plenty of opportunities to choose from in order to live your life the way you want it. You get to experience how simple yet at the same time strenuous life really is. You get to learn the things that your parents, your forefathers, and your neighbors do for a living. You get to experience… well, you know… life. I couldn't ask for anything more."

"But you made a lot of promises to your mother," Aunt Ibuki continued. "Your mom even sent me a long list of them just two weeks before her death and I even promised her that I would keep an eye on those promises. She even vowed that she will watch us from above to make sure that you do fulfill them as time passes. Don't be surprised."

Never have I thought that Mom would ever list them in a piece of paper and pass it on to someone a whole lot more reliable than my father. I guess this was why Aunt Ibuki, even if she was always busy due to her photo shoots with a lot of models and idols and other celebrities, decided to dedicate her life to becoming my guardian.

"You just did the first item in the list of promises, Kairi," Aunt Ibuki smiled happily. "You decided to come home with the family. Your presence should trigger your father's and brother's everyday habits and become more responsible now, especially when you arrive home."

That was one major thing that somewhat irked me a bit when Mom and I had that talk. Somehow reminiscing those days. In some ways I'm realizing that everything was deja vu. Mom knew exactly when her time was during those days which was why we immediately had that talk. She said that if should anything happens to her at any unexpected time that I should head back home. I kept asking myself why I didn't anticipated that this would happen to Mom in the first place. I had somewhat of a clue inside that something shocking may happen anytime soon, but not this soon.

"So I did," I answered Aunt Ibuki. "I'm finally here, finally home. Still, I'm already missing Nijibei and its surroundings and the river that flows through the center of the village and all the series of bridges that we had to go through from one part of the village to the next. I already miss the people there, especially the kids Mom have been teaching for almost seven years. I'm not saying that I don't miss living here at Hinasaki City but…" Rather than letting me continue, Aunt Ibuki and my friends simply stated that they understood where I was coming from, being a girl who grew up in both types of settlements after all.

We continued with our mochas and lemon bars until my friends slowly changed the topic back to being first-year high schoolers and what we would be facing once we entered those gates of Momiji Gakuen.

"Ne, Kairi," Chie began the subject, "do you remember the Hinasaki Park Ballers? Remember, you and Dori-kun here used to be part of that team." Of course, I thought to myself. How can I forget the Hinasaki Park Ballers? Those were the fun days where we neighborhood kids didn't care a thing in our childhood lives except baseball. Dori was an awesome slugger, while Tai-nii was a tricky pitcher. The only thing I was good at in the Ballers team was getting in to base and stealing bases. I thought about the boys from all around our neighborhood, taking turns to be who gets to be on what team during recreational days and training days. I remembered our coach and manager, Ogina-sensei, who was also my elementary homeroom teacher, rather than pushing us to our limits just to show our toughness, he made training a lot more fun by focusing more on training our minds. Last time I've heard about Ogina-sensei was that he was recently hired as a baseball coach and an English teacher at Momiji Gakuen. I hope to have him as a homeroom teacher in one of the three years, if not the first year.

Now that I thought about the ballers, I now had the urge to ride around the neighborhoods and call out the ballers so we can play one recreational game of baseball, just for old time's sake.

"Of course I remember the Ballers," I chuckled. "Why'd you bring it up? That's kinda unexpected."

"There's only seven of us original ballers left here at Hinasaki," Dori joined in the conversation. "A lot of the other original ballers moved out of town or simply just disappeared." Sigh. There goes my urge to play baseball.

"There's rumors I'm hearing from Momo-chan that four of us original ballers are the popular boys from the other junior high schools around Hinasaki. I'm pretty sure that you're very familiar with these four, Kairi, especially the one Momo-chan's fangirl friends call the Crown Prince of Hinasaki, whatever that means."

Say what, I exclaimed to him. I always thought that teenage girls making fusses over the handsome boys only existed in dramas and shoujo anime and manga. Who would have thought that stuff like this also happen in real life also. On the other hand, back at Nijibei Village, none of the kids cared about all that, but instead we were primarily focused on our future goals in life. Love life and romance come in last when you're at this age, that's what the principal and the village elders kept saying. At this point I was trying to look for the right words to answer Dori, since everything, well, if it's rather unusual for you, is all brand-new to me.

"Ichinose Kaito-kun, remember him?" From out of the blue, Chie exclaimed happily while I noticed Tomi's eyes spark and twinkle a lot more than the stars in the night sky. "He's grown really tall, manly, and handsome now. Remember him Kairi-chan?"

Kaito Ichinose. Oh boy, here we go.

"Chie-chan, of course Kai-chan will remember Ichinose-kun, I mean, he was one of the star players of the Hanasaki Park Ballers, but now he's joined StarPros along with Irie-senpai— that is, Kai-chan's older brother. He's aiming to be both an actor and a singer, an all-around actor! He's like every girl's dream come true…" I heard Tomi answer her for me.

"Yeah," Chie sighed deeply. "Irie-senpai is already taken by that pretty model Hanakouji Mirai. You have no idea how many girls all around Hinasaki had their hearts broken because he already has someone whom no one could ever compete with. Even I was heartbroken because I used to have major childhood crushes on him. Remember that Kairi? He was my primary reason why I always come to watch the baseball games— aside from seeing you kick butt, of course!"

The voice inside of me wanted to shout to these girls: "Of course, I can never forget Ichinose! Before I left Hinasaki for Nijibei Village with Mom, he left me a very unforgettable reminder that would disable me from forgetting about him!" but instead I continued searching for the right words to answer him.

Without even realizing it, I found myself raising my fingers to the slight left side of my forehead. As the girls continued on and on about Kaito Ichinose, my fingers gently rubbed that left side of my forehead despite being blocked by my short bangs covering the area. Dori immediately spotted my gesture.

"Um, girls," I heard Dori interrupt them and then continued. "Tomi's right, you know. Kairi can never forget Ichinose. After all, he was the one who got Kairi's mom angry at her for playing such a rather physical, bloody sport as baseball."

Immediately, Chie and Tomi shrieked at the realization while Aunt Ibuki lowered and shook her head. She then reached for my bangs and then slowly lifted them from the left side of my forehead. You may probably wondering why my bangs were covering the left side of my forehead while leaving my right side exposed. Here's the short story.

Kaito Ichinose is one of Tai-nii's closest childhood friends. Tai-nii's other close friends along with Ichinose are first baseman, Takeru Shinoda; Shunta Tenjou, center fielder; and then there's Kotaro Himemiya, the third baseman, the shortest among the boys. One thing that those four dudes have in common with me was that they were all the same age as me. Tai-nii wasn't just my older brother, but he also played the big brother to these boys. Dori played second baseman and sometimes right fielder, depending on the arrangement and the situation of the game. Me, on the other hand, was always behind the home plate, responsible for keeping the ball within the diamond and the sole guardian of the home plate, preventing the opposing runners from scoring. There were other guys in the team that Dori were close with, but I don't know those other guys that well.

We don't exactly live in the same neighborhood but Ichinose, Shinoda, Tenjou, and Himemiya were four of the original chosen ones to be part of the Hinasaki Park Ballers baseball team. Ichinose wasn't just a power slugger like Dori was, but he was also very quick in stealing bases and very agile on defense at the shortstop position and strategically-minded as a relief pitcher for my brother. Even if we were little, Ichinose was one of the popular players in our team, especially among most of the girls, who knew nothing about baseball except that there were a lot of attractive boys among the ballers. Back then, let's just say I was one of the boys and I wasn't exactly the girliest of all the girls you would ever meet at age six, so much that a lot of the kids even mistook me for Tai-nii because we looked so much alike as if we were identical twin brothers. Dad didn't mind me being a tomboy then, but Mom became worried about what I may become when I got older. I guess I should thank my countryside village life for making me become more feminine than I was before. I still love cooking, folk music, rock music, children's songs, playing guitar, and playing baseball though.

Anyway, back to Kaito Ichinose. The entire mess happened during one of our recreational training games where our entire team was split in to two teams. Because of that, Tai-nii and Ichinose became rival leaders of both teams since both took the pitcher position. I became part of Tai-nii's team by random pick. Although we won that game that day, unforgettable, embarrassing things happened on that day.

It was the bottom sixth inning, which is the final inning for Little League standards. Dori was already on second base while Tai-nii was at third base with two outs already. I was already at the plate having my turn with that ball. On the mound was Ichinose, who showed no mercy just by the way his eyes looked at me. Two balls and one strike. The fourth pitch turned out to be a foul ball, but it was almost a home run. The fifth pitch became the most memorable, that is, not in a good way memorable, pitch I have ever received as an amateur baseball player.

"Just one more pitch and you're mine, Irie."

"Cocky, ain't ya? Ha! Just try it, Ichinose. You can't trick me. I can read every little pitch you'll be throwing at me, dude."

Unfortunately, I completely misread the fifth pitch. It did not aim towards the catcher behind me. Instead it headed right towards…

To make it short, a rather huge slash of a scar appeared on the left side of my forehead. I can't exactly remember how it happened, but I did feel a rather sharp edge that came from my helmet. Maybe it slid somehow sideways by the force of that ball that caused the left side of my forehead not just scarred, but I also felt thick red liquid slowly trickling down the side of my face. Once they saw red, everyone in the team panicked. That even included Ichinose himself. While Tai-nii and Ogina-sensei were wiping the blood gently off from the side of my face and added some alcohol and antibiotic cream on that rather nasty slice while biting my bottom lip to prevent myself from crying in pain, I could see a slightly tearful Ichinose gazing right across from me.

"I'm sorry, Irie. I didn't mean it. I didn't mean to hit you."

"We still won the game though, so it's all good. Don't feel bad, Ichinose. There's always a next time."

"I'm not talking about the game. I'm talking about you."

I noticed the girls at the bleachers looking worried about what happened and knowing Ichinose's reputation towards them, I decided to keep it cool and not make myself look weak in front of him, in front of my brother, and in front of the entire ballers team. After all, I was Kai Irie, the younger brother of Taisuke Irie, the team captain of the Hinasaki Park Ballers. Back then, I hated my entire name, but none of the boys ever called me Kai back then except Tai-nii. Eventually we went to the neighborhood clinic to check up on my nasty bloody scar on the left side of the forehead. Both my parents arrived to check up on me, and even if I lied to them to let them know that it was a little scratch, Mom already panicked on the spot as if I was going to die tomorrow.

No one got Ichinose in to trouble, after all, it was an accident, and I believed him. Instead, I was the one who got the berating from Mom, not for being careless and not being alert, but playing baseball in general in the first place. Several times Mom reminded me of my gender and that baseball is specifically for boys. She would not even let me try out for the local girls' softball team if she was so concerned about me hanging out with Tai-nii and Dori and the rest of the boys. She wanted me to be more feminine and find a more feminine hobby, like sewing or cooking or something girly. I like cooking and all, but I can never see myself being a homemaker from sewing to being a fashion designer or a make-up artist. I did pick up music though thanks to Mom's influence in her penchant for writing and singing children's songs. I even picked up acoustic guitar and learned how to play it by myself. There was just no way. Dad was also concerned but advised me to just simply follow my heart. Tai-nii, on the other hand, got so worried about me that he even suggested that I should just quit the team or else I might get bloody. What gives.

Since Mom separated from Dad and took me with her to the countryside and living there for seven years, the scar that Ichinose's fifth pitch left on me never disappeared, which was why forgetting him and his name was very difficult for me. At this point, every time I hear of the name Kaito Ichinose, I could not help myself but to gently rub the long scratch of a scar on the left side of my forehead.

"You haven't seen how Ichinose Kaito-kun looks like now, haven't you Kairi?" Chie asked me curiously while I continued tracing my fingertips on my forehead scar. Was I supposed to see him prior to arriving here? What gives?

"Never mind that," Tomi decided to change the pace of the conversation. I didn't want to think and talk about it, not because it would only give me bitter feelings towards Ichinose, but simply because the past was the past. People do change as they grow up for the better. Sometimes, for the worst. "You're aware that your home is now a boarding house right?"

"I was told," I answered. "It houses certain Momiji Gakuen students. Right?"

"There's also rumors that Ichinose and those other three popular guys from the other junior high schools will be boarding at your house because Momiji Gakuen is only a four-block walk from your neighborhood," Tomi continued with her usual resourceful tone. "It's going to be rather strange having you and those hot guys living under the same roof, sharing the same kitchen, the same restrooms, you know the deal." Just by hearing of it, I already felt awkward at that point.

"Why aren't any of you boarding in my house?" I asked curiously, even though I already know that it wasn't necessary for them to board at my home considering they actually lived closer to the school than I do.

"Already occupied, sadly," Dori shrugged his shoulders. "Irie-senpai's girlfriend Hanakouji Mirai also boards in your house." That really did me in. I know I haven't really gotten to know much about Mirai Hanakouji however she looked like the type who loves to snatch her boyfriend's attention from everyone else in his life which even included his father and even his sister. She already succeeded in taking Tai-nii's attention from us and even from Mother already in her casket during her wake, which really infuriated me at that point.

Ugh, why does that Mirai Hanakouji have to be in my house? Doesn't she have her own house, or rather, aren't other student boarding houses good enough for her? Frickin' hell.

Once we were about to leave, Ito-san the manager of today arrived to welcome me home once more and had a small chat. He stated that starting tomorrow Friday night, Cafe Gillette will be bringing in local music night, where they showcase local talent to perform and entertain customers with original music. Because Hinasaki became one of the capital cities for talent search (of course, StarPros is located in the business area of the city), being featured in the cafe's local music night lineup gives them a chance to get discovered by scouts all around, but majority of these would-be artists hoped that a scout representing StarPros would be able to find them. TackBoy's was a popular spot for finding potential musicians as part of StarPros musical lineup of talent, but was temporarily cut off after TackBoy's went out of business since the owner's death. With new ownership and a new name, they are bringing back local music night on Fridays. I felt excitement then because I would have a chance to fulfill one of my promises with Mom.

"Thinking about sharing some of your music with us, Kairi-chan?" I heard Ito-san hinting me with a wink on his eye. "I've heard a sampling of your recording awhile ago thanks to your friends here and I think you've got this certain raw power that would capture the hearts of every music lover around and about. I can tell just by the way you sing your words that you only wanted to share them to everyone and not necessarily get discovered by your father's agency and then get famous. You and your brother have different goals."

No thank you, I thought to myself. I would love to perform at the cafe every Friday nights if I can, but not to be part of Dad's lineup of talent like Tai-nii is now. I don't think I could see myself being busy doing showbiz stuff every other day while I'm having my school. Tai-nii was always very good at multitasking, but I'm completely the opposite.

"I'll think about it," I replied to Ito-san. "Thank you so much for letting me know. Maybe I'll stop by at the first local music night just to get the feel of things."

We exchanged our goodbyes and we were on our way to Stardust House. Though Chie and Tomi seemed a lot more excited seeing Stardust House than I was, I felt some jitters crawling up my spine thinking about the tenants who are currently living, or are moving in eventually, at the house. Ichinose, Shinoda, Tenjou, and Himemiya will be there. That model girlfriend of Tai-nii's will also be there. Why can't Dad just let some random girl be a tenant in our house and not one of his girl lineup that would cause the Paparazzi to spy on the house for some juicy gossip about Tai-nii and her?

Thanks a lot for making me promise to go home after your death, Mom. I don't mean this as sarcasm either.