"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog. Cryin' all the time. Well you ain't never caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine–"
I shot off Elvis Presley's groovy voice from my phone by reaching for it from the night stand beside me and opening it with a flick of my fingers; putting it by my ear without bothering to so much as open my eyes, or move anything aside from my hand for that matter. I took a deep breath in, before I groaned out, my voice muffled by sleep and the bed covers, "`Llo?"
"Sakura-chan!" I heard a familiar voice greet me enthusiastically from the other line. "Good morning! How did you sleep?"
I yawned, the sound of Naruto's happy voice stirring me from the depths of my sleep world. I rolled over to my back and draped my free arm across my face, covering my eyes from the little sunlight that entered the room. "I slept alright, Naruto," I mumbled into the receiver. "You?"
"Fantastic! I mean, I slept like a little under seven hours, but I feel so great knowing that you're here, I couldn't sleep of happiness!" My lips twitched into a smile. Good ol' Naruto. "So I've been waiting for like an hour and a half to call you – like, I didn't want to call you too early since I know you're still feeling the jetlag from your trip, but if I don't wake you up you won't get used to the time change, and I wanted to talk to you so badly…" and on he went for a few more seconds before my foggy brain woke up enough to process something he said.
"Wait a minute, Naruto," I interrupted him, slowly rolling again on the bed to face the night table which had a modest electric alarm clock/ radio on it. "You said you've been waiting an hour and a half to call me. What time is it now?" I opened my eyes and tried to focus on the little alarm clock, even though I knew my blonde friend will tell me.
"Why, it's six minutes after ten AM!" Naruto said.
"What?" I shot up, sitting up. It couldn't be that late. I've traveled so much my body is now a pro at getting used to time differences in record time. I've been in Japan for four days now, so my body should be pretty much up to schedule; which means I overslept due to laziness more than anything else. Damn it, I'm not a lazy person! I pride myself in waking up extra early just to get a few more hours of work done. A drip of horror snapped me awake as I came to the realization that if Naruto hadn't woken me up, I'd still be snoozing the day away.
"Ne, Sakura-chan, that's not too late for you, is it?" Naruto asked from the other side of the receiver, oblivious to my annoyance at myself. "I know you like to wake up super early, and I doubt that's changed since the last time I saw you since you've always been an early riser and a bit of a workaholic." Well, I guess I was wrong. He wasn't oblivious.
I imagined Naruto in his room, sprawled on his family's couch like a towel thrown carelessly there, with a happy grin on his face and the perpetual twinkle of mischief in his blue eyes. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, silently telling myself the advice I give my friends and patients. It's alright to have one day off, sometimes. It's important to relax and not live by a routine so faithfully.
Relaxed now and at peace with my moment of laziness, I turned my attention back to the small gadget in my hand – or more specifically, the person on the other side of the line of the gadget. "No, Naruto. That's a good time; it's a little late from what I'm used to but I think I deserved and needed it."
"That's great to hear!" he said, and I could hear his grin in his voice. "Does that mean you're good to go?"
"I'm still not a hundred percent adapted to the time change since it is a fourteen-hour difference, but I'm pretty much there, I think." I stretched my arms over my head, twisting my back and rolling my shoulders as I spoke; alternating my arms so I could still speak to Naruto. "I'm probably a ninety, ninety-two percent used to things now. Why? What's up?"
"Sakura-chaaaan! What do you mean 'what's up'?" he whined. "We haven't seen each other since we were eight, and now you're here in Japan! Of course I want to meet up with you and catch up!" I grinned, pulling the covers from my body and swinging my legs over the edge, stood up, and made my way to the little bathroom.
"Naruto, I swear you're scarily similar to my friend Ino," I spoke into the phone, staring at my reflection in the mirror, assessing just how badly I look and therefore what I need to do to look normal again.
"You mean the crazy, celebrity-obsessed girl who lives in a flower-shop and is now somewhere in Australia studying cells?" he asked. After four days of being here, I'd spoken to Naruto a couple times. First of all, because patience wasn't one of his virtues; and second because it helped me stay awake at the right hours and thus help me with the transition of the time difference, not to mention I loved talking to Naruto. It was in the first of those sessions that I gave Naruto my number, which explained why he was able to call me today.
"Yes, Naruto, that's the one," I laughed, walking out of the bathroom towards a desk-drawer where I'd placed half of my clothes three nights ago when I'd been awake in the middle of the night without being able to will myself to sleep. "But you better watch it; that crazy, celebrity-obsessed girl is my best friend."
"I thought I was your best friend!" he whined again.
"Fine; my best girl friend just like Sasuke's your best guy friend."
He scoffed, and I think I heard him choke. "Sakura-chan, don't say that! That sounds so wrong!"
I feigned innocence. "What does?"
"Calling Sasuke my best guy friend! That sounds wrong."
"But he is, isn't he? Out of all your friends, he's your best friend along with me, but since I'm a girl and he's a guy I'm your best girl friend while he's your best guy friend." I picked some underwear from the drawer I'd assigned for undergarments, and decided on simple navy jeggings. Now I was just trying to decide on a shirt. "At least I didn't call him your boy friend."
"Ew! Hell no, that's just…ugh! Why did you have to bring that up? I have goosebumps now!"
I smiled, picking a jolly apple green shirt with white stripes on the bottom, which thinned out as they traveled up the shirt until they disappeared somewhere around me navel. "Because your reactions are still so much fun," I answered.
I heard him grumble gibberish words before he was back on. "You're still as mean as ever, you know that?"
"It's not mean if you laugh with me. Plus you still love me, right?"
"I'm not laughing now."
"But you will later."
"Ew, no! Never!"
"Sheesh, what a drama queen you are, Naruto."
I stifled a giggle, setting down my clothes on the bed and pulling out a small white pad of paper with a simple blue pen from the night table, courtesy of the hotel. "Alright, Naruto, you're not a drama queen. You just have a lot of expendable energy. Now, where and when do you want to meet?" His attitude changed right back into the cheerful, high on life kid I know.
"You still remember Ichiraku's?" he asked eagerly, and I didn't bother to try to hide my laugh this time.
"Still have that fascination with ramen, Naruto?" I asked him through my chuckles. Of course I remembered the ramen stand we used to frequent as kids.
"You know it!" he exclaimed; proudly I may add. I shook my head at his silliness even though he couldn't see me, and smiled at my reflection in the mirror across the bed.
"At what time do you want to meet there?" I asked him.
"Well," he started, "since you just woke up I figured in a couple hours since you'll probably be having breakfast now and since I'm inviting you to lunch I think you'll need a little time between meals." I nodded.
"Finally seen the truth, Naruto?" I asked sagely. His response sounded puzzled.
"Truth? What truth? Truth of what?"
"The sad truth that, as much as you want to, you can't eat a meal every hour." I was pleased to hear his barking laugh, and I knew he remembered our childhood days together – specifically, his shocking appetite back then. Who knew an eight-year-old could hold down so much food?
"Yeah, yeah," he said, laughter still evident in his voice. "So I liked to eat. Still do, in fact. Bite me. I now just do so in a little more moderate fashion."
"Which also happens to be healthier."
"Hey, having you pester me so much about it had to drill that into my head eventually," he teased, and I laughed again.
"Better have, or else I'd worry for you." Before he had a chance to protest, I finished the conversation. "Alright, Naruto, I can eat a small breakfast so we can meet up sooner. Will two hours from now do?"
"For sure, Sakura-chan!" he excitedly yelled.
"Right-io," I said. "I'll see you then, Naruto. I have to get cleaned up now."
"Wait, wait Sakura-chan! Do you want me to pick you up? I doubt you can get to Ichiraku's that quickly from your hotel, plus if I do it means I get to spend more time with you."
"Sure, Naruto. I'll expect you in the lobby at 12:30 sharp. Don't be late, now," I teasingly scolded him.
"Like hell I will. I've been waiting half of my life, and then some, to invite you for lunch – I'm not going to mess this up!" I chuckled, and I heard him do the same, though his voice was a bit more serious than mine. Which I guessed was good, which meant he really did miss me. Plus I also hate waiting for ridiculous amounts of unnecessary time.
We said our good-byes, and hung up. I placed my cell phone on the little desk beneath the mirror, and headed to the bathroom to clean up. I was looking forward to today.
True to my word I had a modest breakfast.
The hotel, though small, had a buffet-style service which almost made me regret my promise to Naruto. But hey, I figured that I would be staying here for awhile. More likely than not I would be spending only a handful of breakfast days outside of this heavenly-smelling place, and that thought immediately gave me the strength necessary to pick out the food I wanted without piling it onto my plate like I would have any other day.
I was surprised to find that they had food from all over the world. I saw waffles from Belgium, plain and chocolate croissants from France, boiled eggs, sausage from Germany, and so on and so forth. There was some food I recognized but couldn't name, and some food I couldn't even recognize. This place had really blown away my expectations. They had just a little of everything, which was a pretty good investment considering that there weren't that many guests.
I finally settled for some whole-grain toast with strawberry jam and light butter, two boiled eggs, some turkey sausages which were about the size of my index finger, a glass of orange juice, and some coffee to get my day going. It was all delicious. Considering that what I took was simple stuff, my mouth immediately started salivating again at the thought that I could try pretty much sample everything the hotel offered; which included the more complex meals.
Oh yeah, I was truly going to enjoy myself here.
Once I finished my meal, I took a napkin and wiped my lips, making sure that I didn't have anything on my face. I was by no means a messy eater, but you never know. Once that was done, I folded the napkin and placed it on my plate, which was soon picked up by a polite waiter after asking permission from me. I nodded my consent, and he whisked the plate away into the kitchen. Man, this was service. I sat there for a second longer, just enjoying the feeling of a satisfied stomach when my eye caught the coffee machine.
Ah, that was probably the best coffee I've ever had. I rose from my chair and looked at it closer. There was a label on each little button, each offering a different type of drink. There was plain old hot water, cold and warm milk, black coffee, espresso, decaf, latte macchiato, and two other drinks I didn't recognize. Above all the bottom, on top of the machine, there was a smiley face sign with the words "OUR COFFEE IS PROUDLY 100% COLOMBIAN." Well, there we go.
I took a deep breath, the smell of the hot, newly brewed coffee making me itch for another cup. But I held myself back, reminding myself that I still had to finish getting ready for when Naruto came to pick me up. However, that thought went out the window when I noticed there were portable carton cups with plastic lids beside the mugs.
I underestimated this place. It truly was heaven on earth.
I grabbed a medium-sized cup, poured myself a latte and added some powdered chocolate, a bit of whipped cream, chocolate-mint shavings on top, and made my merry way back to my room. I was pretty sure I was skipping part of the way, but hey. Who could blame me?
Once in my room, I pulled the rest of my stuff from my bags and placed them in their designated places. When I went to the bathroom to finish getting myself ready, I realized that there was no way I could brush my teeth and enjoy my coffee later. I grimaced; but soon found a solution. I would brush my teeth as best and as carefully as I could without the toothpaste to get the remaining bolus out of my teeth, and take a pack of mint gum with me.
Once everything was done, I picked up my coffee, my room key, and my purse before walking out, flipping the "do not disturb" sign around so the cleaning crew knew that I was gone.
I still had about forty minutes to spare, so I walked around the perfectly manicured garden for about fifteen minutes when my cell phone rang from my bag.
I took it out and identified the number on the screen as Ino's number, so I immediately answered.
"Forehead! Why didn't you call me?" Ino's vibrant, bossy voice yelled into my ear. How nice of her; no "hello, how are you?" or anything of the like. Very Ino-like.
I gave the phone a dirty look for making my ear bleed from the blonde girl's screech, before I answered. "Well, the fact that I just spent the last three days getting adjusted to the fourteen-hour jetlag could account for it, Pig."
"Don't you dare preach me, Forehead," Ino growled. "My jetlag was worse than yours, with a seventeen-hour difference. I almost died those first few days!"
I held back a snort, and made my way to the hotel's main lobby where I knew the reception was best and I could sit comfortably while I chatted with Ino. "That's not that bad, Ino. Just consider it getting up seven hours earlier. I have to get up nine hours earlier."
"Yeah, but you have freaky adjustment powers which gave you a better deal."
"Touché," I said, letting that first remark slide.
"Wait a sec, Tsunade's here. She wants to talk to you." My face immediately lit up. It's been awhile since I last spoke to my godmother, and I enjoyed our conversations. "I'm going to connect her phone to our call since you know I can't share my cell. Hold on."
I nodded, even though she couldn't see me, and I walked into the quiet lobby of the hotel. Patience was one thing I did posses. It paid off, for not a minute later Tsunade's voice sounded through the earpiece.
"Hi, Tsunade," I respectfully greeted her.
"It's good to hear you again, hon. How are you?" Her voice sounded a bit tired, but she sounded healthy and happy. That's good.
"I'm good, Tsunade, thank you for asking. Unlike someone," I stressed the word, knowing full well that Ino was part of the conversation. I heard her 'hmph' at my insolence, then I continued my answer. "Japan's great, so far. How are you and Sydney? The research?"
"All as good as one can hope. It's all looking very promising."
"That's great!" I beamed.
"What am I? Chopped liver?" Ino rudely interrupted us. "How come you didn't ask me all that nice stuff, Sakura? You're so mean!" I laughed. She sounded so much like Naruto at that moment!
Tsunade answered her for me. "Must you really ask, Ino?"
Ino grumbled something after a moment of thinking. I grinned. "Come now, Ino, you really can't expect me to say something nice when I don't even have the chance to speak."
I could picture her murderous look right then, but then I heard a stifled, evil giggle of evil I knew all too well. Uh-oh.
"I'm so, so sorry, Sakura," Ino apologized, with a too-sincere voice. I knew that tone. Crap, I was in trouble now. Who knew what her twisted evil mind had planned for me now?
"But you see," she continued, "I was just too eager to see if in the last three days you've met a nice boy who helped you through the painful transition between time zones."
"Boy?" Tsunade's voice asked. "What boy?" Damn, I was in trouble now.
"Oh, you know," Ino answered her. "Handsome, tall, Japanese with amazing good looks."
"Sakura Haruno, why didn't you tell me you were involved with some boy?" Tsunade demanded, and I heard Ino snicker not-so-subtly in the background. Oh, she was going to pay for this. But first, some damage control was needed.
"Simple, Tsunade," I answered her, trying to make my voice sound as bored as possible, as if Ino's little stunt wasn't that big a deal. "There is not boy. I had to fend for myself here." I cringed slightly at the lie; I had, after all, Naruto with me. But I'll tell them about him when they both have their boy-radars down. "Ino is just too lonely without her Shikamaru by her side, so she had to make up an imaginary companion of the male sex for me to keep her amused."
"That just won't do," Tsunade grumbled, and I had to do a double-take to make sure I heard correctly.
"I said that won't do!" Tsunade exploded into my ear, and I flinched away from the loud volume. I swear, if this is how it's going to be every time I talk to them I'm going to be deaf in at least one ear before summer's over. "You need a man, Sakura! You need to go to a karaoke bar or something and sing your way into a man's heart!"
I pulled my phone away from my ear, and stared at it with a WTF look as if it had magically become alive. After a second, I put it back by my ear, just in time to hear Ino shriek her opposition at Tsunade's plan.
"No!" the young blonde opposed. "Sakura needs to go shopping for some nicer clothes so she can catch a man's eye! Then she can charm him with her amazing brains." I wasn't sure if to be angry at the insult directed at my clothes, or if to be flattered that she just praised my intelligence.
"Uh, Ino, I think my pink hair is eye-catching as it is –" I began to say, but was interrupted by Tsunade's rant.
"She's a beautiful woman with a wonderful sense of style!" I was grateful that she was defending me, and smiled. "She's just socially deficient."
Alright, that was getting out of line. "Hey, look here, I have plenty of friends!" My protests were ignored as Ino threw a smart reply which got them both going.
Aw, man. Today was just going to be one of those days, I can just tell.
As I listened to Tsunade and Ino bicker back and forth about whose idea of what my life would be like here in Japan was the best and more likely through the phone, I laughed quietly to myself so as to not disturb the other guests; highly amused. Leave it to my best friend and my mother figure and teacher to think about those things.
They really need to lay off those romance novels, I thought as I took a sip of my slightly cooler, but still warm coffee. I was a seventeen-year-old med school nerd with a passion for figuring out the puzzles of the human body in order to help someone, and an amateur dancer who taught eight-year-olds how to spin and jump to the beat without getting dizzy, and also hopefully get them to enjoy doing that as much as me. I was not a tragic heroine whom gorgeous, wealthy and adventurous men fawned over.
Knowing that it would be awhile before the two blondes, who were in Australia as part of a program to study stem cells (and pet koalas, at least in Ino's part), would calm down enough for me to get my voice in the discussion, I decided to look around the modest, though beautiful, hotel I was staying at. I hadn't been able to do so before due to that horrible jetlag, but luckily it only took me the four days since I arrived to get used to the fourteen-hour difference between Cambridge in the `States and Tokyo, Japan. Luckily Tsunade and Ino were easy to communicate with; Sydney, which was the city where they were staying, was just a two-hour difference from where I was.
I set my mobile phone down on the smooth redwood table in front of me, the voices of Tsunade and Ino still audible, though faintly. I raised my head to take in my surroundings, my mind finally awake enough to take in the traditional décor of the place. As my eyes traveled across the room I came to fully appreciate its simple beauty.
The floor was a smooth, shiny dark brown wood, and the walls were ruby red where I sat and white at the reception area, which was to my left. The reception desk was also a polished wooden masterpiece, a slightly darker brown than the floor. Behind the receptionist who wore kimonos or yukatas depending whether they were a girl or a guy, respectively, who were busy either taking calls or helping other guests, there was a rectangular indentation in the wall, where a Japanese woodblock print rested flanked by two orchids. To my right, I saw the longish hall that was part of the lounge I currently sat in, with several small scattered tables with cushioned seats skilfully placed so as to make the place look big and not too busy. I saw a few bamboo plants in porcelain pots here and there, and at the end of the hall were the gardens in which I was just walking on, which you could enter by sliding open the traditional paper door.
The garden itself was a beauty. It was wide and spacious, with colourful flowers which radiated their full beauty due to the gardener's diligent care of them. There was a small pond with little orange, yellow, white and red fish; small grey rocks outlining the pond while slightly bigger ones held a small bamboo fountain that carried water into the pond. Over in the corner was what I think is a Zen garden, which guests were welcome to try if they wish.
Yes, this was a wonderful place. It wasn't crowded either, which is always a plus in my book. The size of the place was decent too, about five different buildings all connected to each other through the garden and facing each other. Each building was two floors high and had four to six rooms, which were generously spacious and provided everything one needed for a comfortable stay; and the price couldn't be better.
The location is excellent too. Instead of being in the heart of the city, it was just in the outskirts of it, permitting some relative peace and quiet without being isolated from the busy streets.
As I sat there thanking Tsunade for finding such a wonderful place for me, a little bell sounded alerting the receptionists that a guest had arrived.
I glanced at my phone, which had quieted down but not enough for me to pick up, and shrugged. I tilted my head to the side, glancing at the main entrance to see who the new guest was, more out of curiosity than anything. I saw a man in khaki pants and a dark blue navy shirt come in, wearing a knitted red cap and wide sunglasses. The outfit seemed a little odd, but hey, this is Japan, I reminded myself. Japanese fashion always seems odd to westerners. Just as I was about to turn away, out of the corner of my eye I saw more people come in. Ah, so they were a group.
As I kept watching with mild attention, more and more people walked in, some carrying small standard carry-on suitcases while others dragged bulkier travel bags. They were all dressed similarly to the first guy, as in slightly odd outfits, but with obvious different styles. Almost all of them were wearing some form of hat, which seemed to cover as much of their face and head, and possibly their necks, as possible, and some wore jackets with high collars. A couple of them wore surgical masks over their mouths; which, if you think about it, isn't that unusual. Some people in Japan are a bit paranoid about air pollution. As the last member came in, I counted eleven people. I raised my eyebrow. Either there were separate groups that just happened to arrive simultaneously, or this was a big, jolly group of friends.
I didn't care if there were fifty of them as long as they don't decide to practice with their amps turned way up, I though wryly as I saw a few guitar cases strapped to a couple of the newcomers' backs along with what I could only assume were said amps.
"Sakura?" I heard my phone call out softly, and I returned my attention to it.
"Yeah?" I replied as I set it by my ear.
"Whose idea do you like most?" Ino and Tsunade simultaneously demanded. Obviously they couldn't settle this between them, so they had to drag me into this. Normally I'd be happy if people asked me what I wanted instead of deciding that among themselves, but in this case I neither cared nor wanted what either of them had said would be my great adventure here in Tokyo.
But I knew better than to tell them that. They wouldn't listen to me, and if they did they would chide me, telling me that I don't know what I want.
Pssh. Yeah, right. I've had goals my whole life, and they've always been what I wanted. I got into Harvard, didn't I? And I was perfectly happy with my life right now. I was studying to become a doctor at the best university in the world, I had plenty of friends, a fun job which I loved, I was healthy, I had the brains to achieve whatever goal I set for myself, and I had the rare opportunity to travel to faraway places during my vacations. I didn't need or want a man in my life the way Tsunade and Ino seemed to.
For me, I mean. Tsunade was happily married to a guy called Jiraiya whom she had met in the military. She was a doctor there, and Jiraiya was a sergeant in charge of training new recruits. Long story short, after working together for years they fell in love and got married. Works out well, considering that Tsunade has a short temper and Jiraiya is a pervert. And Ino was currently dating her high school sweetheart, Shikamaru, whom had agreed to attend the same college as her to be close.
I sighed and said, "I don't know, guys. Both fantasies sound nice, but that's just what they are – fantasies." Might as well be blunt, if I can't say something that will appease them both.
There was some whispering by the reception desk; soft enough for me to not understand what the people were saying but loud enough for it to be clear that whoever was whispering was excited about something. I ignored it, focusing instead on the two melodramatic blondes who were trying to get me to "see the light."
"Forehead, you don't know what you're missing!" moaned Ino, using my childhood nickname.
"I agree with her, Sakura – you're seventeen and you haven't had a single boyfriend!" added Tsunade.
They kept rambling on, and I sighed. Once they get started there's no saying when they'll stop.
"Take advantage that you're in Japan! I've seen some pictures of those Japanese guys, and they're hawt. If I wasn't already with Shika and in this program, I would have gone to Japan with you to get me a hunk; or at least some eye candy," Ino rambled on. Obviously, that's what she would say.
"You're in your prime! A beautiful young girl, with a smart head on your shoulders, and very sweet to boot too, and you don't even look at those poor guys! They must be so heartbroken," continued my shishou. Heh, I'm getting into Japanese mode already, calling Tsunade "master" in Japanese.
"Ino, is Tsunade drunk?" I asked. It was common knowledge among those of us who knew Tsunade that although she may be a brilliant doctor, she had a drinking problem. And a gambling problem. It was almost embarrassing. Almost, but not quite.
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"I'm not drrruuunk!" Tsunade bawled. "I just want my baby to get herself a nice boy!"
"She's drunk," I decided.
"Yup," Ino agreed.
"I am not!"
"Uh-huh." Like we're believing that one.
"Hold on, Saku, let me see if I can find her," Ino said, followed by a soft beep indicating she had hung up her cell phone. She never used another phone if she could help it.
While Ino was searching for her, Tsunade took advantage of her absence to try to convince me that her idea for me was better, and she proceeded to tell me in detail what my life would be like from the moment I hung up.
Soon enough I heard a distant voice call for her, and Tsunade cursed. I heard some moving around, so I figured she was trying to hide from Ino. But Ino found her eventually, and the arguing was back.
I laughed. I couldn't help it; they were just so funny. And Tsunade's colourful insults mixed with Ino's witty comebacks only made it much better.
I set my phone back on the table, not wanting to become deaf, and decided to wait them out. This time it wouldn't be as long; a drunk Tsunade gave up an argument if you pestered her enough unless she was super drunk, which she wasn't.
I stretched my arms high over my head, my muscles pleasantly stretching after having sat still for so long. Because of the stupid jetlag, I almost didn't do anything, so my muscles are still a little cramped. I stifled a yawn, covering my mouth for politeness' sake, and turned my head back to the reception desk. The group I had seen earlier was almost done checking in, with only three guys making rooming arrangements with the receptionists while the rest waited for them. Huh. So they were one big group.
"Sakura, are you there?" Ino asked. Seems she was successful in subduing Tsunade and taking the phone from her.
Just as I'm about to pick up my cell phone to answer her, something stops me. I sense it before I see it. It's just a whisper of a feeling, but it's there: subtle, and impossible to ignore.
I turned my head in the direction that's emitting the feeling, not having to search for it since it's so palpable where it's coming from; and I'm mildly surprised to see it's coming from the group of strangers. How do I describe it? It's like a thin veil that's hiding something powerful; an air of normality that's concealing just the opposite. It's like the group is surrounded by an aura of power, so charming and wild with energy it stimulates all your senses; yet there's pride in there too, making it seem smooth and a tiny bit dangerous. It's tantalizing, drawing every spec of your being towards it, and almost impossible to ignore if it wasn't for that thin curtain of mystery that hides it all.
I look at the other guests, trying to see of they sense it too, but there's only a few people here and there and if they notice it, they don't show it. I turn towards the receptionists, and the two females of the three working behind the desk were looking flustered, one blushing madly while the other seemed love-struck. Both were a few years older than me, and since they were pretty much useless in their condition, it seems the only other receptionist, a man in his late forties, was typing something into the computer, looking as pleasant as he did with all the other guests.
So, so far either I was hallucinating, or those two girls were feeling what I did; they just were way more affected than me.
"Sakura? Hellooo?" Ino's insistent voice called me, but I glanced back at the group just to make sure my brain hadn't gone haywire before I answered her.
The group all wore dark colors and had their backs turned to me, and all but one had removed their caps, letting a colourful array of hair colors and styles free. To my utter surprise, I saw every hair color out there; from brown to blonde, to red, to orange, to white, to blue and green. More shockingly though, the one who stood out among them because of the lighter colors he wore and because I could see him the most clearly, turned and looked at me, or what seemed to be me. It was hard to tell if he was looking at me or the room I was in since he had those sunglasses on.
Now that he had my curiosity, I studied him more closely. He was tall, over a good six feet. Maybe he was six-foot-two? And a bit, possibly. It seemed around there. Maybe even six-foot-three. He appeared to be not much older than me, perhaps in his early twenties. Certainly he was no older than twenty-two. He was slim, but I could see he had lean muscles too, the broad chest and matching shoulders evident through his fitted dark blue blouse. His waist was slim, making his upper torso look even broader, and the shirt was slightly baggy around his hips before being meticulously tucked inside his khaki pants. He had runners with a logo I did not recognize, and I saw several bands around the wrist he didn't have tucked in his pant pocket.
As I watched, he checked the rest of the lounge before he gracefully, almost ridiculously so, reached up and plucked his knitted cap from his head and took his sunglasses from his face. I'd be lying if I said I didn't catch my breath. He was handsome.
The second the cap was off, long, silky jet-black hair slid from the top of his head down to the nape of his neck, were it was tied, the ends of the onyx locks reaching his shoulder blades. He had twin long bangs on either side of his face, and two intricate lines running from the inner corners of his eyes down to his cheeks, almost by his nose, and his skin was pale – not in a sick way, not in an I-have-never-seen-the-sun way, but in an I-was-born-with-this-skin way. That feature also made him stand out among his companions, who were mostly fair skinned as well, but were a tad bit darker than him. I could sympathize; my skin was ridiculously pale too; although I didn't look sick either. His skin, aside from being pale, was clear of blemishes and scars, and it hugged his face in an almost tender manner. His cheekbones were defined, as well as his jaw line, but it also showed his neck muscles as he turned his head this way and that. Thin lips were shut firmly, and I could imagine that he wasn't a big talker.
"Sakura? Did the call fall?"
Just as I finished up my inspecting, he turned and looked at me, which is when I noticed his most prominent feature: his eyes. They were the same jet black as his hair, so impossibly dark that I couldn't tell where his iris ended and his pupil began. True, I was at a little distance, but I doubted that there'd be a difference if I got close enough to verify. The more I looked into his eyes, the more endless they seemed. I suddenly understood what those books and poems said about getting lost in someone's eyes. It was like I could get lost in this stranger's eyes, they were so dark, so endless they were like an abyss. It was peaceful, and void of any emotion that would hindrance me. Eternal, calm, and I spend my whole life there and never get anywhere, and I wouldn't care.
I also realized with a hint of déjà vu that those were the same eyes of Naruto's friend, Sasuke. In fact, they were identical save for the fact that this new guy had thick, long eyelashes that girls would kill for. Now that I think about it, he is not only handsome but pretty for a guy, just like Sasuke…
"Stupid, cheap long-distance… Sakura! Are you there?"
It was at that moment that I gasped inwardly. I knew him. Not personally, but I knew who he was. How many times had I seen his face and that of his companions on countless advertisements, in magazines and posters all over the city since I arrived here? How many times had I heard their name in the radio and TV? In the paper? He was part a band that was the number one most popular band in Japan, Asia, and, critics predicted, soon the world.
Itachi Uchiha kept looking at me, and his mouth curved into a tiny smirk.
I almost smacked myself. Of course! Sasuke Uchiha, Itachi Uchiha. They were brothers! Man did I feel smart. But that wasn't the only thing I felt, as the feeling was overridden by the eldest Uchiha's steady gaze on me, captivating me with those smouldering eyes.
Without looking away from him, I reached for my phone and placed it near my lips. "Ino? I'll call you back," I said, and clicked the 'end call' button before she could answer. My senses were never wrong, and they were telling me something was up.
Before I knew it, the Akatsuki were done signing in.
And all of them were looking straight at me.