Birthday: Into the Light
Yuki reported back to me in exactly one hour. His search proved futile, yielding nothing more than a stereotypical teenager's obsessive curiosity with his favorite idol.
I rubbed my eyes, sighing in exhaustion. Intuition has never failed me before, whenever I do listen to my gut, so despite Yuki's misgivings, he consented to keeping an open eye out for anything that may ping the dubbed "Sakura radar." That meant accessing phone records, filtering through Internet searches of my name and alias, and exploring every possibility of either Kaorin or Masahiro making contact with the person in question.
I ignored the guilt building in my stomach. Before this friendship project, I had no problems with these barely legal investigative security measures. Now, I wish I didn’t have to resort to such underhanded measures just to keep a secret from a group I’d grudgingly come to view as decent human beings.
I always thought that Daidouji was a stuck-up goody-goody, but she's not. She's just a girl who is popular because she is herself. Last week when she came to school with a skateboard under her arm and Meiling at her side with a board of her own, the stares people gave her were priceless. Daidouji is genuine is every way. I wished I bothered to befriend her when she first transferred to Tomoeda Elementary years ago. How different would my life have been if I hadn’t lived in fear of Yanagisawa, Mihara, Sakaki, and Amai Jade?
Hiiragizawa, even though he was a fellow outcast for years, I never really knew before. I knew he was smart, but that was it. Now look at him—girls swoon when he walks by and sickly beg for his help on homework. I quickly learned his cool composure was a front to deal with the overwhelming amount of attention his friendship with Li and his surprise admission to the soccer team brought him.
I've known Meiling for a lifetime, but fame and fortune hasn't changed my best friend. She still cares so much for me. The other day, she slapped some jock making some rude comment me as I walked by him in the hallway. It wasn’t lost on me that despite Meiling’s natural charisma, she only hung out with our Morality group. Nobody wanted to be associated with someone who treated the kaijuu as a human being.
But Li's a problem. I swear to God he's a hypocrite or bipolar. During class, he's usually pretty civil to me but out of class, he's a complete asshole. If he’s decent to me when we’re out of class, it’s usually because one of our groupmates is with us. Harassing me in front of the "popular group" is so childish and shouldn't be on anyone’s priority list.
Oh, but they're out to get me.
They're all out to get me.
On this rare afternoon free of soccer practice, I spent it with my cousin, Akizuki Nakuru. Growing up, Nakuru was a constant presence, but since she’s moved out of my aunt and uncle’s home and living on her own, I hardly saw her.
"So Nakuru, how's Yukito?" I casually asked her about her boyfriend.
"Yukito? Oh, things are going great between us. He's so sweet and kind plus he's a great gardener!" Nakuru gushed excitedly. “I don’t know how he does it, but he always manages to make time for me with his busy schedule.”
"Do you know a Tsukishiro Ayame? I believe she's Yukito's sister." I carefully inquired.
“Of course! Ayame-chan works with her brother at Amamiya Entertainment. Though usually when they’re busy with work, I hang out with their cousin Toya. He’s so much fun to tease ‘cause he’s so uptight for a twenty-five-year-old.”
The name rang a bell. “Toya?”
Nakuru laughed and ate a spoonful of her ice scream. “Mhmm. Kinomoto Toya. He works with Yuki-kun too but he won’t tell me what it is he actually does.” She pouted.
I couldn’t stop the question coming out of my mouth. “Isn’t he related to Kinomoto Sakura? Do you know her?”
My cousin's tanned complexion turned slightly pale at mention of the younger Kinomoto's name. "No, I don't."
I studied her carefully. It was hard to tell if she was telling the truth. In the end, I accepted the fact that Nakuru didn't know Kinomoto Sakura, even if she was dating her cousin.
"That’s too bad." I said lightly. “She’s an interesting person. I wondered if she’s just as interesting at home.”
Nakuru rambled on about how this Toya never shares anything with her and how upsetting that fact was considering they’ve known each other since high school. I patiently listened, nodding and offering commentary when appropriate, but my thoughts were not on the current conversation taking place.
What a tangled web we weave.
-Monday, the first day-
At six-thirty, my cell phone rang, chiming the notes to Beethoven's Fur Elise. I blindly answered it.
"Moshi moshi, Eriol speaking.”
"Ohayo Hiiragizawa-san" Daidouji’s soft voice said on the other end. The sound of her voice swept away any lingering traces of sleep. What did she want at six in the morning?
"Please, we're friends aren't we? Call me Eriol."
"Hai, Eriol-kun. I just called to remind you that today starts the week of the surprise present giving. Don't forget that you said you'd give Kinomoto-san something tomorrow."
"I won't, Daidouji-san."
"Please call me Tomoyo." My heart soared when she said that but then I immediately scolded myself. Friends are familiar enough with each other to use their first names. If anything, I was to blame for this closeness by insisting she call me by my given name.
If it was a friendly gesture, then why was I so happy? Was it because I earned her friendship without the interference of Syaoran?
"Okay, Tomoyo-chan. I'll see you at school. Ja."
"Ja ne, Eriol-kun." The line went dead.
I don’t remember getting ready for school, too energized by my early morning conversation. I grabbed my lunch on the counter, kissed my mom goodbye and set out for school. Today, March 28, was a beautiful and wonderful day.
I only hope it will stay that way.
I got to school earlier than usual today. For some reason, almost everyone I knew was already on campus.
Did I forget about something or do I just arrive earlier than everyone else does on a normal day?
I found the majority of the soccer and volleyball teams hanging out near the fountain. We talked about the upcoming spring tournaments and the party Mihara was throwing that weekend.
“Is your sister coming?” Watanabe Mika asked Amai Jade. “I miss her so much! I can’t believe what happened last year. How is she doing at boarding school?”
Amai shifted, clearly uncomfortable with the topic. “Um, she’s okay. Kaa-san says she’s not allowed to come home unless it’s a school holiday.”
Watanabe pouted. “It’s all her fault,” she hissed. “If the kaijuu hadn’t said all those horrible lies and gotten her expelled... I can’t believe she’d stab her own best friend in the back like that.”
My eyes widened. Was this what Watanabe was alluding to the other day? Amai Kaorin was the reliable source?
I knew the older Amai twin by sight but never talked to her despite the fact that we went to the same middle school. She was well-liked and active in the school newspaper and yearbook clubs. Come to think of it, a month after high school started, I never saw her in the hallways anymore.
Riku spotted the familiar head of auburn walking across the school grounds. His eyes took on that mischievous glint and I braced myself for what was sure to come.
"Hey kaijuu! How many babies have you eaten today?"
The group laughed except for me. I watched her carefully.
Another junior spoke up. "Did you dance around a candle, summoning evil forces to do your evil deeds? Oooh! Oooh!" He wiggled around like a limp noodle, eliciting laughter again.
Her green eyes hardened but she said nothing, rooted to the same spot. We made eye contact and unbidden my mouth began to move.
"You guys, you know she doesn't do any of that stuff," I finally said.
Her eyes flickered towards me in surprise.
"Because she's too much of a cold-hearted bitch to give a damn about anyone and curse them. Besides, no one really gives a damn about her either."
Riku howled in laughter and gave me a high-five. "So true man! So true!"
I smiled despite of the hollow gnawing feeling in my stomach. This was my world, my world of crazy stunts, wild parties, and...
... unending guilt.
I looked at her in surprise. How could such a tiny body contain that much strength and force?
"You're an asshole." Kinomoto hissed at me before she turned and walked away, ignoring the several threats that followed in her wake.
“What are you going to do about it—glare me to death?” I shouted back.
I didn’t know what overcame me. I was seized by the sudden mad desire to break her into a million little pieces.
She stopped in her tracks, turning around slowly to face me.
“What the hell is your problem?” She advanced nearer.
“What the hell is yours?” I snapped back, meeting her halfway.
We were practically nose-to-nose.
I spoke again. “You know the guys are just kidding—why do you let them get to you like that? Or is it true? Do you do some strange voodoo magic to seek revenge on the people you hate?”
She snarled, “That’s utter bullshit and you know it, Li.”
“What about Amai Kaorin? Were you so jealous of her popularity that you had to get her expelled? You’re a liar, a certified schizophrenic freak, worthy of your kaijuu title.”
Kinomoto froze, staring at me with wide green eyes. “How did you-“
“So it’s true then?” I taunted. “You do some crazy voodoo shit to pull stunts like that. Wake up Kinomoto! We’re not in the Dark Ages anymore!”
Turning my head to face her again, I began to laugh. “Is that all you can do without your ‘voodoo’ powers, witch?”
Raising her hand to slap me again, I decided to be smart this time and utilize my childhood martial arts training to catch her hand. Leaning forward, I whispered in her ear:
“I’m not fooled, Kinomoto Sakura. Your bitchy-ness is only a cover for your insecurities. You’re wrong. I know exactly who I am. It’s you who doesn’t know who she is.”
She said nothing in response. I continued with my tirade.
“You are nothing. You could never be as good as me so why do you bother trying? It doesn’t fit you. Give up and go bother someone else who cares. Nobody here wants you, can’t you tell?”
I released her. She took a step back, glaring at me.
“I fucking hate you, Li Syaoran.”
I brought one hand to my reddening cheek and dared to glance back at her retreating form.
“Nice man! Serves her right—you put that woman in her place!” Riku crowed.
I grinned, ignoring the stabbing pain in my cheek.
Holy shit that hurt.
When I walked into school, I walked past an extremely pissed Kinomoto-san. Confused as to what could make her tick on this beautiful day, I walked up to Syaoran, who was grinning widely despite the inflamed handprint on his cheek.
"What's up with Kinomoto?" I asked, jerking my thumb to point over my shoulder.
"Hmm… it could be the fact that she's a backstabbing liar who doesn’t know her place in the world," Syaoran answered smugly.
My sapphire eyes grew wide at my best friend's answer. "Please don't tell me you got into a yelling match with her." I dreaded his response.
"Yeah, and she deserved it," was his smug reply.
"Syaoran, how could you?" I said, my blood running cold. He looked at me quizzically, so I continued my little rant. "You're supposed to be her friend. Friends don't put each other hurtfully down."
He dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. "Yeah, well it's payback for all the times she's been so cold and unfriendly when I haven't done anything!" Syaoran exclaimed heatedly.
"Have you ever thought she has a reason for that?" I asked him quietly. He started so say something else but I cut him off. “You always say people deserve second chances and deserved to be seen for who they actually are. Yeah, I know she was bitch to us when we first started running into each other, but what happened to her second chance?”
“Why did you give me a second look and you can’t even do the same for her?” I knew I hit a sore point when the triumph in his eyes dimmed. I saw Tomoyo waving to me a distance behind Syaoran. "Erio-kunl! Come here please!" She called.
"I have pressing business elsewhere. Excuse me." I told him icily. I ran over to where Tomoyo was standing with Meiling. “Good morning, ladies.”
"Yo!” Meiling greeted me back as she scanned the area. "Where's Sakura?" She asked.
"She's in class already, as she usually is. She doesn't spend the thirty-minute free period outside. Kinomoto-san stays in the library or the classroom studying," Tomoyo answered.
"Oh." Meiling looked saddened by Tomoyo's answer.
"Cheer up, you'll see her first hour," I encouraged her. Meiling brightened considerably after that.
"Where's Syaoran?" she asked, once again looking around for her close cousin.
I stiffened. "He's over there, hanging with the assholes," I muttered darkly.
"Syaoran's not an asshole!" Meiling cried heatedly.
"You'd be so surprised, Meiling," another voice said from behind us. There, standing beside the nearby cherry tree, was Kinomoto Sakura, her arms crossed angrily in front of her chest and her green eyes narrowed in anger.
"What's up, Kura? Why the angry face?" Meiling inquired, surprised that her best friend was even outside.
"Your asinine cousin's a reason why I'm so pissed," Kinomoto snapped. Meiling looked taken aback. Her ruby eyes betrayed concern.
"He's not always-" Meiling tried to say, but was cut off by an angry outburst from Kinomoto.
"He's not always like that! He's a stuck-up, bipolar, hypocritical idiot asshole who thinks he’s so cute and attractive and has the world bending to his every will!"
"Why thank you, kaijuu, for the lovely compliments. I must say I admire your vocabulary skills," a new voice said. It turned out to be none other than Syaoran, smirking as usual.
"Leave. Now." Kinomoto said dangerously.
"We shouldn't fight so early in the morning." Tomoyo said disapprovingly, looking pointedly at Syaoran.
"Where's Sakura?" Meiling asked, puzzled. We looked around the area.
She was nowhere in sight.
"She doesn't have the guts to admit the truth," Syaoran said. Meiling glared at him.
“What did you do?” She asked. “What did you say to her?”
He shrugged. “What everyone else knows and what your best friend failed to tell you. You should stay away from her, Meiling. She might stab you in the back one day too.”
Meiling looked like she was going to punch him. "Consider me warned,” she hissed. “Maybe I was wrong, Hiiragizawa. He is an asshole. I can't believe you would say about my best friend!" Meiling said, barely keeping the anger out of her voice. She turned on heel and walked away, Tomoyo following after her.
"Geez, what's with girls today? They are like bombs or landmines, so sensitive and touchy," Syaoran joked.
I looked at him strangely. Girls and landmines related? Yeah right.
"Maybe it's you," I suggested.
"Oh, not you too, Eriol man! Come on, Meiling's just moody."
"No, I seriously think it's you." I turned around and ran after Tomoyo and Meiling, leaving my best friend under the cherry tree, stunned and shocked by my words.
It was worth it. I told myself. He rescued me from the outcasts. I'm going to do my best to rescue her. I easily caught up with the girs. Stealing a glance at Tomoyo, I was surprised by the intensity of her determination and the obvious message in her eyes.
All those times I caught her wanting to talk to Kinomoto, all those times I saw unspoken admiration for Kinomoto, all those kind words, she wanted to be her friend.
Meiling, who has always been Kinomoto's best friend, had the same look in her eyes.
"Hey you guys? Will you help me do something?" Meiling asked us in a low voice as we made our way inside.
"Sure. What is it?" Tomoyo answered warmly.
"I want you to help me bring Sakura to the world that we live in."