"Rukia-san, do you know him?" Akane tilted her head and asked.
"Uh, yeah," I replied before sitting down between her and Yuki. Beside Akane was Nobara while Matsumoto sat beside her and sitting between Yuki and Matsumoto was none other than..."Kurosaki-kun and I studied at the same high school."
"Why didn't you tell us," Nobara asked in surprise.
"You never asked."
"Wow, to think you knew Ichigo-kun all this time," Akane mulled over the new piece of information and leaned toward me. "What does it feel like to know one of the most popular guys in our university?"
"I'm not really that close with him," I answered slowly while quickly glancing at him. He seemed to be quietly eating his lunch while trying not to laugh. Why did it become like this? If I ever needed to eat lunch at the university, I would always eat with Nobara or Akane and sometimes with Yuki. I never knew Yuki and Matsumoto were close friends and I would never have imagined Matsumoto would end up sitting with us and that Ichigo would also be dragged over.
"But you two came from the same high school," Yuki said.
"We weren't involved in the same friendship circles," I explained. Well, I didn't belong in any particular circle in the first place unless Renji and various sons and daughters of brother's employees counted as one…
"Yeah," Ichigo agreed with his mouth full of food. I shot him a frown and he quickly swallowed before continuing. "I was a delinquent and she was the school president so we didn't really mix…"
The girls around me gasped in unison. "You were a delinquent?" Akane squeaked.
"I knew it. That hair colour is just too unnatural," Nobara shook her hair.
"My hair colour isn't dyed," Ichigo frowned. "Just ask…" He trailed off under my look.
We're not close, remember? I reminded him with my eyes and he nodded.
Yeah, I know… My mouth moved quicker than my head.
"He's hair colour isn't dyed," Matsumoto spoke up and interrupted Ichigo and my silent conversation.
"Of course you would know, Rangiku," Yuki laughed quietly.
Nobara nudged Matsumoto and said in a stage whisper, "So are you and Kurosaki really dating?"
"It's nothing like that," Ichigo said hurriedly. "Matsumoto-sempai just occasionally helps me with things. We're only friends."
"Ah… looks like I was rejected, Nobara-chan," Matsumoto said jokingly and Nobara patted her head.
"You two would make a good couple though," Yuki observed. "Right, Rukia-chan?"
"Yeah…" Ichigo looked at me in surprise and I avoided his gaze.
"By the way, a new range of clothes came in yesterday!" Matsumoto announced happily. "Do you want to come over and have a look?"
"Yes!" Akane replied excitedly. "Let's go this afternoon!"
More shopping? I resisted a groan and forced a smile on my face, "Sure. I'll meet you guys after class."
"Better control how much clothes you buy today," Ichigo reminded me. "I heard Ulquiorra-san had a heart attack when he saw you return home with those clothes last time."
"I know," I sighed and shuddered at the memory. "Don't remind me…"
We were walking toward the shop. Nobara and Matsumoto were walking at the front, followed by Akane and Yuki with Ichigo and me trailing at the back. All four were engrossed in their own conversation but I kept my voice as quiet as possible.
"Why are you coming along too?" I questioned him.
He shrugged, "Got dragged along." He then smiled and leaned in close, "Plus, I can see you try out all those clothes."
"Baka Carrot," I rolled my eyes.
"I'm sorry I'm late for my shift, Miyako-san," Matsumoto apologised when she walked into the shop. "But I've brought some customers."
The woman who was putting clothes on the clothes racks looked over and smiled. She had long black hair that was tied in a ponytail and gave us a warm smile. Although there were signs of fatigue on her face I recognised her right away. The girls went to the new clothes section but I stood rooted near the entranceway.
Ichigo tapped my shoulder, "Rukia?"
"I've seen her before," I said with a frown. "She was the woman I saw when I visited my sister."
"No," I shook my head. "I've never seen her before but…"
She looked really familiar but where else have I seen her?
"Rukia-san, come look at this. You must try this!"
"I'll think about it later," I decided and hurried over. Ichigo found a seat and watched us while occasionally checking his phone.
Looking at the shelf for newly arrived clothes I bit back a sigh.
Battle with clothes: round 2 - start!
I was handed 10 different clothes at the same time and was immediately pushed into the nearest fitting room. "Don't I get any say in what I should try on?" I looked at the pile of clothes in my arms and sighed.
"Just sit back and look awesome, Rukia-san," Nobara called. Giving another sigh I picked up the one on the top of the pile, which was a beige sleeveless dress that was frilly near the bottom, and put it on.
First thing I noticed was Ichigo's stare. I shuffled my feet in embarrassment and tugged on my dress.
"You look amazing!" Akane gushed.
"Thank you," was all I managed to say before more clothes were given to me. "Ah… there's a limit to how many clothes I can try, right?" I looked at the shop owner, Miyako, hopefully.
To my dismay, she shook her head. "You are a special case, I guess," she then produced a camera and took a quick photo. "I'm honoured to have you as a model, Kuchiki-san."
"M-model?" I repeated in surprised.
Matsumoto scratched her cheek and laughed dryly, "I... didn't tell you?"
"No, you didn't," I frowned. What did I get myself into?
"Matsumoto-sempai told Miyako-san about you coming to this shop," Akane explained. "And when Miyako-san heard you were coming again, she asked if she could take pictures when you tried on the clothes…"
My eyebrow twitched, "I never heard about this."
"Aww, Rukia-san, don't be angry," Akane clapped her hands together and pleaded. "We had no bad intentions. But if people see you be a model for Miyako-san's shop, they would surely come and shop for clothes here."
"Please, Kuchiki-san," Miyako pleaded as well.
"…Fine," I huffed and shut the fitting room door. I heard them cheering outside while I reached for another outfit…
After trying on my 15th outfit, Miyako had ordered take-away for everyone. When we finished eating dinner, we went straight back to work. It was nearing eight when everyone began to leave. Ichigo and I offered to stay behind to help Miyako close the shop.
"Thank you for doing this, Kurosaki-Kun and Kuchiki-san," Miyako bowed after locking up the shop.
"Ah, it's ok. If you need it, I can always come again," I replied her. "But please make sure I know I'm modelling next time."
"Of course," she said. "I didn't know that they didn't tell you! Oh, and this is a thank you present for doing this."
"Ah, you didn't need to…"
"No, I insist," she smiled warmly at me.
"Thank you," I accepted her present hesitantly. As she waved goodbye and started to walk away, I started to panic. Should I ask her if I saw her that day? What if it was the wrong person? For some reason, I felt like I needed to ask but just as I opened my mouth, she suddenly turned around.
"Have a save trip home, Kuchiki-san. It's not safe for girls to wonder around at night," she bowed slightly and I hastily returned her bow. When she straightened up again, our eyes met. She smiled again and walked away.
What was she trying to tell me? I wondered while Ichigo and I walked home.
"Rukia, I can sense you overthinking," Ichigo spoke up.
"I am not," I objected. "That look she gave me when we parted ways… She was obviously trying to tell me something! She was at the cemetery -the cemetery that is only for Kings' members – even though I've never seen her. And she's also here of all places and-" I stopped when I thought of Matsumoto. "Ugh, let's go home quick. I have a bad feeling…"
"You are overreacting," Ichigo rolled his eyes but sped up his pace as well.
Once we got home I followed Ichigo to his room and settled on his bed. "Ichigo," I called and waited until he looked at me. "Try not to get too close with Matsumoto Rangiku from now on, ok?"
"I knew it!" Ichigo exclaimed and I watched him in surprise. "I knew you were thinking about that." He dragged his chair over so that he could face me. "Are you being jealous?"
"I knew it…"
"KUROSAKI ICHIGO, LISTEN TO ME!" He immediately shut up. "I'm not saying this because I'm jealous!" Well… not the main reason, anyway, I added in my head. There was no way in hell that I would say that to him though.
"Of course," he said with a smile. I wanted to hit him but I also needed him conscious so that he could listen to my next words.
"I have a bad feeling about her," I told him. His barely hidden smirk was getting on my nerves. "Ichigo, I am being completely serious here."
"You're thinking too much, Rukia," he shrugged. "I think you're just not used to being here?"
"I am already used to living in Bunkyou," I clicked my tongue. "Why won't you listen to me?"
"Rukia, you think every stranger you meet is suspicious," Ichigo sighed.
"I do not," I hissed. "She's just-"
"She's what?" He raised an eyebrow.
I bit my lip. No, I promised myself I wouldn't drag him into this… "Nothing."
"Then I have no reason to believe in you," he shrugged. "She's just an upperclassman, Rukia, and nothing more than a friend to me so stop worrying."
"No reason to believe me?" My eyebrow twitched. "Ichigo, you're my boyfriend, why would I lie to you."
"Oh?" he leaned forward in his seat and looked at me in the eyes. "Then tell me the real reason why I shouldn't talk to her?"
I looked away, "I can't tell you now." As if I could tell him his upperclassman might be helping or even belongs to the yakuza organisation that's been kidnapping and killing off Kings' members...
"And why not," he threw his arms up in exasperation. "Why must you always be keeping things from me?"
"I don't want you to be get too involved in these matters, Ichigo," I shook my head. "It's better for you to stay away from this world. It's too dangerous."
"Then what about you?"
"I'm different. I grew up in that world and I know how it works. I can defend myself but-"
"Don't look down on me," he growled.
"I'm not looking down on you!"
"You are. You don't think I have the capabilities to survive in that world."
I rubbed my temples, "Ichigo, you're aiming to be a doctor. You're learning to help and save people. You shouldn't interfere with these matters."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Ichigo, what do I do?" He looked at me in confusion. "You know the answer. As Kime, what do I do?"
"You deal with opposing gangs."
"By fighting them," he replied in frustration. He couldn't figure out where I was taking this conversation.
"Be more specific."
"How should I know? Taekwondo? Karate? Kung-fu?" He shrugged half-heartedly.
"What happened to Shiba Kaien?" I said softly. His eyes widened and he opened his mouth but nothing came out. I stared at the ground, "See, you do know. I can't let you do things like that, Ichigo. I don't think you want to either."
"There's other ways than that…"
"This is what I mean when I say you don't get how that world works, Ichigo," I forced myself to chuckle. "Sometimes, doing that is the only way to solve things. It's hard for you to understand, right? To be honest, I'm surprised you're still willing to stay with me even after knowing what I've done."
"It's not like you want to do it, though…" I could tell he was struggling to find things to say and I commended him for his efforts.
I got off his bed and walked around his room. I could feel his gaze follow me as I paced around and walked up to him. "What if I said yes?"
He frowned but I pressed my finger against his mouth to stop him from talking. "I want to help my brother and I am willing to do anything to help him. I think you know me well enough to know that I won't hesitate to do it."
"You're determined to help your brother and I am determined to help you," was his reply. "Why won't you let me help you?"
"Have you not been listening to a word I said?" I exclaimed at his stubbornness before rubbing my temples. "Enough about that… Just promise me you'll keep away from Matsumoto Rangiku from now, ok?"
"No," he replied blatantly and caused me to stare at him.
"Ichigo, I will tell you everything once it is fixed, I promise. So can you just trust me for now?"
"Why don't you try trusting me for once?"
"This isn't going anywhere," I shook my head.
"I won't do it until you give me a proper explanation," he crossed his arms and started at me. "She is a great friend and I don't want to just lose her because of your silly suspicions."
"You…" I clenched my fists and closed my eyes. Silly suspicions… my mind froze at those words. So he would rather believe in her than in me?
"Rukia, why can't you trust my judgement?"
"I give up," I was surprised by how calm my voice sounded. "Do what you want. I don't care anymore. Don't come crying to me when you get hurt."
My gaze, completely devoid of emotion, swept over him and he tensed, "Recently, I've begun to think about how different our lives would be if we weren't together." I left, shut the door quietly and locked myself in my room. Moments later, I heard him curse loudly before knocking on my door and calling my name but I didn't open it. He cursed again and then it was quiet. The silence was interrupted a few minutes later by the front door of our apartment being opened and then slammed shut.And with that, our relationship began to crack.