High School Never Ends

Chapter 11: Time Skip Part Two

The Conclusion to Spring Break: Swimsuit Vacation!

“This party is seriously cool.” Tetsuko smiled at the multicolored lights and the food carts that were littering the boardwalk of a neighboring hotel. Venders also set up stands to sell their goods to the younger groups why they danced and mingled around the area. Music pulsed through speakers and stereos set up around the pier and a DJ was scratching out tunes on a stage at the far end of the boardwalk. The group was starting to scatter, looking at this stand or mingling with those people and Tetsuko got lost in the crush of people when she was dragged by Pao-Lin and Karina to gang up on some boys they wanted scam money out of. Abandoned for the moment, Barnaby brooded by the railing, the edge of the pier hanging off a small cliff. He uncharacteristically slumped against the wood and stared off to the side, glaring at the blackness of the sky and the nighttime ocean. The sea was calm, its dark waters lapping at the rocks below playfully. Barnaby shoved his hands into his jean pockets, and was surprised to hear the crinkle of paper.

He pulled out a carefully folded note that looked like two diamonds stacked on top of one another. The old lady got me again, the blond thought to himself, I didn’t even feel it in there when I put my pants on. He laughed and opened up the note. Tetsuko had started this little game when Barnaby told her that she couldn’t be sneaky (despite her escape from the hospital) and she was out to prove him wrong. Every once in a while she’d discretely leave a note in an article of the blonde’s clothing, or in his locker or backpack and the point was not to get caught. In the beginning the notes were more along the lines of I-told-you-so messages until they evolved into love letters. Barnaby had just left one such note in Tetsuko’s pajama pocket this morning, she was sure to get it when they got back to the room. Barnaby carefully opened his note and read the hastily scrawled message. Bunny, I love the way you push your glasses up your nose when you’re reading. It makes you look smart. I think it’s cute! ~Tetsuko. Barnaby smiled, blushing, and even alone at a party, the old lady knew just what to do to make him smile. Ivan and Keith joined the boy a few minutes later and Pao-Lin came waltzing back when she lost the other two girls and snagged Ivan-something about teaching her to photo bomb. Keith engaged Barnaby in friendly conversation which the other blond participated in until they lapsed into silence with the party roaring around them.

A few girls came up to ask Barnaby to dance, giggling and blushing. He respectfully declined each one, not wanting to get lost before his girlfriend came back and he had the sneaking suspicion that these girls wanted to do more than dance. Apparently refusing to dance made him even more popular and more teen girls (and a few older ones to the blonde’s astonishment) kept swarming him for a dance or a drink or just a talk. The only thing that saved the boy was when Nathan sauntered over and threw his arms around Barnaby. Nuzzled to death, the black man suggestively almost-groped the blond and crooned something about “my bunny boy” before the girls got the message and scoffed at the “gay” couple.

“Thanks, Nathan.” Barnaby pried the octopus-like man off his body and brushed the non-intentional wrinkles out of his jacket.

“Anytime you’re in girl trouble without our dear Tigress, you can call on me!” The pinkette winked seductively. “I just need compensation for it.” Then a hand pinched the blonde’s butt hard and Keith burst into laughter.

“Ow! Stop that!” Barnaby rubbed his sore backside and pushed Nathan away again.

“Tease!” The black man disappeared again, weaving into the crowd like a snake, no doubt looking for more butts to assault.

Just before Barnaby decided he’d had enough of not being the center of attention (and wishing the girls back, to his horror) he delightfully spotted Tetsuko’s head of dark hair in the crowd. (Her height helped.) His heart sped up at the thought of dancing the rest of the night away with her and then punishing her for leaving him by bruising her lips with his. The only problem was that she was being followed. Three men that were probably her age were trailing the girl as she tried to lose them in the throng of dancing bodies, each blonder and tanner than the next. They were trying to get her to go with them, grabbing at her clothes and petting her skin. Barnaby’s anger flared and he stalked over to save his girlfriend.

“Dude! I told you already that I don’t want to go!” Tetsuko’s voice reached her boyfriend over the music. “I’ve already got a man in my life and I don’t need three more!” Her amber eyes flashed dangerously, glinting like a tiger’s in the flashing lights.

“He doesn’t have to know, sweetie.” The blondest and tannest of the blondes replied, grabbing the brunette’s waist roughly and pulled her close. Tetsuko fought against his grip, pushed against his torso viciously. “It’s just a fling. I don’t want a commitment if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I wouldn’t go with you anyway because first of all I happen to like commitment and lasting relationships, second you’re an asshole and the third problem is,” Barnaby reached the group and seized the wrist of the man holding Tetsuko harshly, “I brought him with me.” Tetsuko finished smugly, narrowing her eyes at the harasser triumphantly.

“I’m going to have to ask you to get your filthy hands off my girlfriend.” Barnaby’s clipped tone sunk dangerously low and his grip tightened, grinding the man’s wrist bones.

“Ow! Dude, let go!” Barnaby released him when his hands were off the girl’s hips. “We were just having a little fun with her, weren’t we doll?” He held up his hands defensively.

“I don’t appreciate that.” The boy wrapped an arm around Tetsuko’s now free waist possessively.

“I didn’t either. It wasn’t fun,” the girl growled.

“Whatever.” The trio turned away. “Let’s go guys. She was a frigid bitch anyway.”

“Frigid bitch?” Tetsuko snapped and rushed the man. The man turned around to find a foot next to his cheek. Tetsuko’s considerable height and gorgeously long legs allowed her to hook her foot around his neck and bring him to the ground harshly. Nice kick. Good form, Barnaby appraised silently. “Bitch? Nobody calls me a bitch except my boyfriend and that’s only when I’m being one!” She crouched down, pinning the bastard to the wood planks with her foot and claws. Barnaby saw the blonde’s eyes flick to peek under her skirt and the boy bristled with protectiveness over his girlfriend. That’s when the groupies made their move. One yanked Tetsuko off the leader and the other rushed Barnaby. Barnaby swung his right arm wide, powerfully slugging the guy in the face and then following with a quick uppercut he’d learned from Tetsuko. “Nice punch!” The brunette called, kicking her captor in the shins and finishing him off with a reverse roundhouse kick, pivoting on her bottom foot to swing around and smack the guy in the face with her heel.

“Nice legs!” He called back, smiling as he took his turn peeking under her skirt. Lacey panties did really look the best on her hips.

“You’re as bad as they are!” Tetusko leapt over her down opponent to run at the leader, who had decided that this was the perfect time to escape while his buddies got pummeled. Before she reached him, the leader was blocked by a man and a man trying to be a woman.

“Where do you think you’re going, hot stuff?” Nathan purred, stroking the man’s neck with a long finger until it stopped just under his chin.

“I don’t think the dream team is done with you yet.” Antonio grabbed the guy’s shoulders and flipped him around as the due dashed towards him. Attacking simultaneously, Tetsuko punched the pervert in the face and Barnaby knocked his breath out with a sweeping kick to his ribs. He crumpled to the ground, gasping out curses at the pair as he clutched his torso in pain. All three goons down, Tetsuko whooped and jumped into Barnaby’s arms, the blond twirling her around as she laughed.

“Why do you always get into trouble when I’m not looking?” He asked the girl, setting her down in front of him, the female still wrapped in his arms.

“It’s because I’m hot.” She teased.

“You are correct,” the boy glanced down at the harassers. “But I dislike it when people follow you.” The blond frowned, the thought that Tetusko might have actually sought them out first crossing his mind. Her actions against the trio said otherwise, but there was still a lingering doubt that Tetsuko was bored with him.

“Don’t worry, Bunny. He wasn’t’ my type.” She grinned mischievously, “I only date guys who are taller than me.”

“Glad I fit the bill.” Barnaby sighed, relieved his inadequate thoughts evaporating as the brunette kissed him passionately. They received some whoops and whistles from the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight.

“It’s getting hot over here!” Nathan squealed.

“That’s gross.” Karina drawled, sliding next to Antiono.

“That’s because you don’t have a boyfriend.” Tetsuko stuck her tongue out at the blonde girl once it was out of Barnaby’s mouth and pulled a face.

“Hey, shouldn’t we get out of here before they wake up?” Pao-Lin asked, returning with Ivan in tow.

“Probably, ‘Suko started the fight. You could get charged with assault.” Antonio responded coolly. The bull-man slapped Nathan’s hand away from his thigh and sighed as Tetsuko began ranting at him.

“Don’t blame it on me! They started it! He groped my chest first!” The brunette shouted back.

“Let’s just go!” Karina stormed away, clearly upset that someone else had gotten to her Boobs. Barnaby wasn’t happy either and his arm around Tetusko tightened.

“I agree!” Keith started, following the girl.

“And again, agree!” The crew chorused with him as they all left the party laughing.

Back at the hotel, the gang disassembled themselves to go change so they could watch their customary movie in Nathan’s suite again because Antonio felt safer with other people in the room with him. Barnaby was already in sweats by the time his roommate rolled into the room. The sweats were hers, the boy had borrowed them from his girlfriend ages ago. They weren’t exactly his size but Tetsuko liked her sweats baggy and her long legs made up for the height difference. The brunette strolled over to her bag and bent down to grab her pajamas.

“Ow!” She gripped her right hip tenderly and stood up.

“What is it?” Barnaby glanced over immediately, his concern instantly directed at the girl who was pulling down the waist of her skirt to inspect her hip. He’d gotten more used to expressing emotions like concern and affection over the months they’d been dating, but someone it surprised Tetsuko every time he worried about her. She looked up at him with a surprised face and then shook it off to look at her skin.

“Damn,” she hissed. “The bastard bruised me.” She yanked up her shirt and turned to the blond, displaying a hand-like mark on her hip bone. A streak of possessiveness shot through Barnaby like he couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate another man’s hand on his girl. It was unacceptable. His expression must’ve changed because Tetusko was looking at him funny. “Bunny? What’s wrong?” Moving with a force he’d never felt before, the blond yanked the girl into his arms, snaking his hand down to her bare hip.

“I don’t like that bruise.” He stated calmly, even though his emotions were roiling inside him like a storm.

“Why? I get bruised all the time.”

“Because this wasn’t gained for helping someone, like they usually are. Also, I didn’t put this one there, so I don’t like it.” Barnaby squeezed her hip, placing his fingers over the marks already there, intent on erasing them with one of his own. He caught Tetsuko’s cry of pain with his mouth, distracting her with a scorching kiss. She moaned into his lips, wrapping her arms around his neck to twine her ginger in his curls. She picked up the fight, wrestling with the boy’s tongue as they fought for dominance of the kiss. The blond growled his approval and they degenerated into an impromptu make out session. Barnaby released Tetsuko’s hip bone, smugly proud of the new bruise forming over the old one.

“Ow, Bunny.” She inspected the mark but didn’t complain about it further. “I didn’t know you were such a sadist.” She ruffled his hair, disheveling the perfect curls.

“That may be true, but I always suspected you were a masochist. You get hurt way to much not like pain at least a little bit.” Barnaby yanked her single cornrow playfully.

“I am not! That’s just because I’m helping someone!”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“Shut up and turn around. I need to change.” Barnaby complied and chuckled at her grumbling remarks about how the bruise would show in her swimsuits. Barnaby was fine with that. In fact, he was pleased. Maybe that’ll ward off other competition. Once changed, Tetsuko patted her pockets carefully and smiled brightly when she pulled out the note her boyfriend as placed in her clothes. She teased him about the meticulously folded edges and carefully opened the message. She read it out loud, embarrassing the blond and making him blush. “’Tetsuko, you’re so selfless and kind that it makes me want to be a better person every time I see you. Don’t ever change. Barnaby.’ That’s sweet, Bunny!” she refolded the note and placed it in her bag with what looked to be the rest of the blonde’s notes and then gave him a peck on the lips as thanks. The pair walked over to the boy’s room hand in hand and knocked on the door.

“What took you guys so long?” Pao-Lin was ordered to go get the door and let them in.

“Tetsuko banged her hip on the sink and wouldn’t stop complaining about it.” Barnaby lied easily, taking over a blanket nest on the floor and dragging his girlfriend down with him.

“Ow! Damn it!” She hissed, rubbing her hip as the flopped down next to him, glaring.

“Sounds like it’s going to bruise.” Antonio leaned over the bed to look at her.

“You have no idea.” She drawled, rolling her eyes. She gave Barnaby a quick sideways glance and snuggled into his side, stealing half the blankets in the process. The night turned into a sleepover when half the group fell asleep during the movie, sprawling over the floor and beds in cocoons of blankets as the evening dragged on.

Barnaby woke up before everyone else, the sun glaring at him through the half closed curtains. The boy sat up rubbing his eyes and instantly feeling around for his glasses. Lenses in hand, the blurs and shapes sharpened into a mess of people and blankets that Barnaby wished he could clean up. Nathan was plastered to Antonio on one side of a bed, leaving plenty of room for Keith to share and Karina and Ivan were tangled in the sheets of the other bed. Pao-Lin was sleeping on Tetsuko’s stomach, her arms wrapped around the older girl like she was a teddy bear and her legs thrown over Barnaby because the brunette had fallen asleep in Barnaby’s arms. That was, until he moved. Now she was lounging on the blankets, muttering in her sleep. The blond draped an unclaimed blanket over both girls and scratched at itch out of his scalp. While Barnaby didn’t have what most people would consider “bed head,” he still knew that when he woke up that he didn’t look his best. Leaving his sleeping friends, the boy got up to go take a shower.

Back in his own room, under the spray of hot water, Barnaby began his ritual of getting ready. Day three of the break was a free for all, the group didn’t plan anything out, and instead they were splitting up to do whatever they wanted. Barnaby wanted to take Tetsuko out somewhere nice, because that’s what couples do, right? Yesterday’s exploring had presented the boy with a perfect idea: a classy restaurant. It wasn’t so fancy that his girlfriend would feel more clumsy and cautious than usual, but it was still nice enough to impress the seriousness of dinner and that Barnaby was trying to spoil her, just a bit. The brunette had also expressed interest in visiting the botanical gardens- surprising the boy with her request-and Barnaby wanted to indulge her. They’d bum around town until the evening and then go to dinner and the gardens afterwards, unless Tetsuko got into trouble of some sort before then.

Barnaby chucked as he lathered soap over his body, enjoying the fact that he actually got hot water when he showered first. It’s not that the hotel’s plumbing was bad, it’s just the hottest water always goes to the first person in and this time it was the blond. He scrubbed shampoo into his hair, vigorously washing his trademark curls to a glorious shine. Next, the boy washed his neck and behind his ears, then his arms and torso (even cleaning his belly button) and then his legs and feet. Squeaky clean, Barnaby shut off the water and stepped into the steamy bathroom. The ties were freezing and the boy quickly hopped over to the carpet mat and wiped condensation off the mirror so he could see his gorgeous face. Barnaby admired himself for a moment, allowing just a touch of his vanity through before getting to work on his appearance. He was drying his hair when a smattering of erratic knocking sounded at the door.

“Yes?” He asked.

“Bunny, is my clean bra in there? I can’t find it in my bag and I can’t remember if I took it in there yesterday.” Tetsuko called through the door. Barnaby blushed reflexively, still slightly taken aback at his girlfriend’s openness, even after all this time. She really has no boundaries, does she?

“One moment.” The blond looked around for the garment, scanning the floor and racks. My pants and shirt from today, her socks from yesterday, a pair of panties that are definitely not mine, there’s her shorts, a tank top, the top of her bikini swimsuit…I’m so cleaning this up. Barnaby picked up all the clothes and divided them into two piles as he searched, straightening up the bathroom clad in only his towel tied around his waist. After a few minutes, he spotted her bra hanging up behind yesterday’s towels, slightly wet from his shower. He shook out the undergarment and refolded the towels nicely, his utilitarian tendencies showing through.

“Did you find it yet?” The girl leaned against the door with a thump.

“Yes.” Barnaby folded the bra up, trying not to think about where it had been.

“Thanks!” The blond was startled when the door opened, remembering that he’d forgotten to lock it. A rush of cold air had him shivering as Tetsuko walked in uninvited. She saw the state of dress the boy was in and a cute blush coated her cheeks. Barnaby was blushing too, but glared at her nonetheless.

“Do you mind? Now who’s walking in on whom?” Hands on his hip, Barnaby gave her a hard stare and watched the girl swallow loudly. She wouldn’t take her eyes off his abs and chest. The blond was getting hot and uncomfortable under the gaze, half wanting to shove her out the door and half wanting her to look some more. Now I know how she feels when I stare at her breasts, he thought. Holding out her bra, Barnaby cleared his throat to get the girl’s attention. She wrenched her eyes away to look at his face. “Here.”

“T-thanks, Bunny.” She took the garment and backed out the door quickly, putting on her happy face. “Appreciate it!” The door clicked shut and Barnaby remembered to lock it this time. He leaned against the door heavily, his face still hot from the encounter. What if I was naked, old lady? Geez, you need to learn to wait before entering a room. The blond chuckled; she would’ve said that right back to me. Barnaby stood up and went back to doing his hair. Once dressed in long tan shorts and a red V-neck, the blond walked out of the bath to find Tetsuko already dressed and ready to go. She was wearing a light summer dress with sandals and that sunhat again and toted a small backpack slung over her shoulder that she bought yesterday.

“Took you long enough! Were you to busy doing your hair to hurry?” She walked over and tweaked his nose.

“No, I took as much time as you usually do in the bathroom, only I came out better looking.” Barnaby brushed her hand away and went to get his shoes and wallet.

“That’s mean!” Tetsuko stated, hands on her hips. “It’s a good thing you’re cute or else I’d punch you in your fat face!”

“Quit yelling at me and let’s go. Don’t make me wait for you.” Barnaby walked over to the door and opened it, gesturing for “ladies first.”

“I was the one who was waiting for you so don’t pin this on me!” Tetsuko stomped out the door and down the hall.

“There they go!” Barnaby heard a soft whisper behind him and glanced back. Six heads were sticking out their doors, watching the couple head to the elevators. The blond shook his head at them and ran to catch up to his fuming partner who was waiting for him to get over here now so she didn’t have to hold the elevator open any longer.

“So, what do you want to do?” Barnaby asked his girlfriend once they were outside. The couple walked down the side walk until they reached the bus stop. As they waited, Tetsuko took out a map she’d found the in lobby of the hotel and unfolded it. “I’ll take that.” Barnaby snatched the map out of her hands.

“Why’d you do that?” She growled, folding her arms with a huff.

“You’d get us lost before we’d even gone anywhere.”

“You suck, Bunny.”

“So what did you want to do?”

“Well, there’s a Chalk Walk competition further into town, if I remember correctly. I found a flyer taped to a store window yesterday. It might be fun to check it out and I know you love cultural arts.” Tetsuko picked at the hem of her skirt, looking up and down the street for the bus.

“And?” Barnaby knew that there was something else she wanted.

“And…it’s really close to a major shopping district, so I kind of want to go there too.”

“More shopping? Wasn’t yesterday enough?” The blond plotted their route on the map, having seen one of the flyers himself and noting the location absentmindedly.

“No! I still have to find something!” Tetsuko flipped her head to look at Barnaby.

“What is it?”

“It’s a secret.” She smiled and held a finger over his lips.

“Whatever, old lady.”

“Hey! I’m not old!” Tetsuko shoved her face into his, jabbing a finger into his chest.

“You’re already almost twenty. That’s old.”

“Is not!”

“Oh look, it’s the bus.” Barnaby leaned around the girl’s body to watch its approach. They boarded the vehicle and Tetsuko slumped into a seat, ignoring her companion for the whole trip. Barnaby occupied himself my looking out the window from over his girlfriend, watching the palm trees and sandy beaches pass them as they headed into town. The brunette still hadn’t said a word by the time the bus had ground to a halt at their stop. “Tetsuko, what’s wrong? Did I hit a nerve when I called you old?” Barnaby asked her as they exited the vehicle and started walking to the arts competition.

“No- well yes- but I wasn’t stewing over that.” The brunette grabbed a hold of her sun hat as a strong sea breeze whisked past them. “I was thinking.”

“Don’t, it’s not a good look on you.” Barnaby teased, dodging the fist she threw at him.

“Shut up! Why do you have to be so mean to me?”

“I read somewhere that when two people quarrel that means they like each other.” The blond informed, beginning the stroll to the Chalk Walk.

“You read too much. We already know we like each other, so why do you keep starting fights?” Tetsuko stalked behind him, slouched over her folded arms like and elderly person.

“Because it’s fun to see you get angry. And you give me such good material to work with.” The blond chuckled as the girl’s face flooded with red, clearly ticked off by his remark.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She shouted, drawing the attention of the people walking around them.

“Nothing you could understand.”

“Bunny, you jerk!”

The whole time they walked around viewing chalk drawings, Tetsuko acted happy, but Barnaby could tell that she was hiding something. They’d stop at an artist’s drawing and discuss the finer points of art (well, Barnaby did, but the old lady just didn’t get it) and Tetsuko would compliment this or that, but her heart wasn’t in it. She was worried about something else. Barnaby couldn’t figure it out and when he asked, the girl clammed up and just walked to the next drawing. She led the blond up and down the street twice, entering the little shops to pass the time before asking to go shopping and then disappeared for twenty minutes when they got to the mall. Barnaby waited for her by a fountain similar to the one back home where they ate hotdogs together. He checked the time on his phone. They still had most of the afternoon to kill before dinner. Tetsuko returned, her backpack suspiciously fuller than when she left, but she was grinning for real this time and Barnaby was relieved. They bummed around town again, the mood definitely happier than it had been before. At the café later that evening, Tetsuko was as lively as ever. She chatted and joked like her usual self and Barnaby couldn’t help tease her about this morning.

“You can be honest with me, old lady. Were you on your period or did you menopause already?” Barnaby asked over his cod. Tetsuko scowled and shoved a piece of steak in her mouth.

“No, just seeing your face pissed me off, that’s all.” She waved her fork at him.

“I can’t believe that, I’ve got a very sexy face. Unlike someone I know.” He shot back, smirking.

“Go play in traffic, Bunny.”

“No thanks. Road burn does horrors to my completion. I’d rather play with you. You’re so easy to irritate. It’s funny.”

“Well, aren’t I special?” Then her mouth went into a spiel about the merits of steak and dinner ended on a good note. Then they were off to the botanical gardens. Tetsuko clammed up again, not saying a word as she skipped down the sidewalk. Barnaby asked what was going on but all her got was a, “You’ll see.”

They entered the garden complex just before sunset. It was a nicely kept collection of buildings, green houses and pavilions all done it white stone and glass. Tetsuko was at a map, searching intently for something in the fading light of the evening. She apparently found what she was looking for because she tapped the glass triumphantly.

“Bunny, I’ll be back!” She dashed off in the direction of the restrooms, leaving the blond in the dust before he could protest. Barnaby huffed, irritated at being left behind again. He read some pamphlets about the gardens and immediately forgot everything he read because it was useless to him. He got a drink at a water fountain and prowled around the women’s restroom for his girlfriend. There was a lot of swearing the cursing going on in there and the boy was pretty sure that Tetsuko smacked the wall a couple times with something. He ambled around for a while, bored of stalking the bathroom. She’s still not out? What could be taking so long? The blond tapped his foot on the tile floor impatiently, leaning against a wall.

Barnaby waited for Tetsuko by the entrance into the actual gardens and played on his phone until he heard the click of shoes coming towards him. The blond glanced up and was blown away. The Japanese girl looked very Japanese at the moment, clothed in a short green yukata with yellow slash marks like tiger’s claws and a checkered obi. She had another sash tied around the obi, the bow hanging almost to her knees and on her feet were some weird looking wooden sandals that were balanced on two pieces of wood. Tetsuko had pinned a pink flower in her hair with a pair of decorated chopsticks and two really long tassels that fell to her waist. She blushed and fingered the silver locket that Barnaby had given her and twisted her toes into ground. She twirled as if showing off, her long sleeves flowing out with the breeze.

“What do you think?” She asked, gesturing to her outfit. God, you look gorgeous. I love it when you go traditional. “Sorry it took so long, I had trouble tying my obi.”

“I like it. You look fantastic.” Barnaby walked up to her and fiddled with her tassels, noticing she had added a black wrist guard to her jewelry. “But why?”

“I’m missing the hanami festival at home so I decided to throw my own little party here. It was really lucky that these gardens have cherry trees or else this would’ve been pointless.” Tetsuko took Barnaby’s hand and pulled him onto the garden paths.

“Hanami?” Barnaby asked, confused by the word. The brunette’s weird sandals clacked on the stone, their earthy sound perfect for the couple’s surroundings.

“A flower viewing party. Traditionally a whole town or village will gather and celebrate under the cherry trees and drink sake and make dumplings and stuff like that, but everyone knows I can’t cook anything right except fried rice. I can make dumplings, but they never taste quite right, even if I follow the recipe to the letter.”

“No surprise there. You can’t do anything right.” The blond teased, tugging on the girl’s sash.

“Shut up. And don’t tug that! It could come undone!” I’d like it to come undone. Barnaby followed Tetsuko until they were in about the center of the gardens. Pink cherry trees were blooming around the teens, like clouds on sticks. A few petals were twisting the twirling in the air and Tetsuko reached out and grabbed on and held it up so Barnaby could see the delicate petal.

“They are beautiful.” He said, pinching the petal between his fingers and blowing it back into the air. The petal danced under the moon which had just risen.

“Yeah, they are. The sakura blossom represents the transience of life.”

“Did you have to look that word up?”

“Yes it did, now shut up. I’m trying to be philosophical.” Tetsuko cleared her throat professionally. “The short growing season of the cherry trees is said to represent life. Metaphorically speaking anyway. This is also a time of renewal with the arrival of spring. The only problem is that as the festivals, most people come for the sake and dumplings.” Tetsuko grinned at Barnaby, “Now I’m done being philosophical…let’s drink!” She yanked three glass bottles out of her backpack and ran to sit underneath a cherry tree.

“What?” Barnaby gaped at here. “How did you get those to fit in there?” He ran over to stop her from popping the lid off the first bottle when a pair of strong arms wrapped around his neck and got him in a head lock. “Hey!”

“Hands off the sake, Brooks.” Antonio’s face came right up next to his, smiling broadly. “She had to smuggle that in here so sh!”

“Where did she even get it?” The blond struggled in the Spaniard’s grip and managed to break free before being pushed under the cherry tree.

“Who knows?”

“Hey, Tets! I bought the cups you wanted!” Karina ran over with eight little cups that could fit in the palm of anyone’s hand. Pao-Lin, Ivan, Keith and Nathan filed in behind her all decked out in pink flowers. Pao-Lin was still fixing the blossoms in Ivan’s hair as they joined the group.

“Thanks, babe!” The brunette waved everyone over with a bottle of sake in her hand. Everyone sat down and Nathan produced cans of soda for the younger kids and Tetsuko began pouring sake into four of the small cups.

“I protest this.” Barnaby sat cross legged on the ground with his arms akimbo.

“Fine then, I’ll just drink your sake for you!” Tetsuko snatched his cup and downed the clear liquid. Pao-Lin had poured some of her soda into the sake cup and was following Tetsuko’s example. Antonio had already finished off three cups of sake and Nathan wasn’t far behind him. Looks like everyone’s throwing the rules to the wind. Why not? It’s just this once. Barnaby snatched Tetsuko’s full cup right out of her hands and drank the burning alcohol in one gulp.

“There’s my Bunny!” She squealed, a cute sake blush coating her cheeks.

“I’m only having a few.” He stated primly, holding out his cup for another drink. She filled it up grinning.

“Sure, you are.” She rolled her eyes and before he knew it, Barnaby had drunk half the bottle without even knowing it. Ivan, Karina, Pao-Lin and Keith (who didn’t drink) were all laughing at the semi drunk teens when Tetsuko started to braid cherry blossoms into her boyfriend’s hair and Nathan was shamelessly flirting and groping Antonio. Somehow the bull-man got into the cherry tree and the black man was left holding his pants. Tetsuko was laughing so hard that she couldn’t breathe and Barnaby was having a hard time sitting up straight as he chuckled at his friends.

“Fun, right?” Tetsuko leaned into Barnaby’s shoulder, resting her head in the crook of his neck.

“Yeah. But next time, no sake.”

“Aw! You’re no fun, Bunny!” He reached up to stroke her cheek, watching Antonio trying to grab his pants as Nathan waved them at him, keeping the fabric just out of his reach. The Spaniard growled in frustration, leaning over too far away from his branch and tumbled to the ground. Nathan threw his pants at him and ran as Antonio swore vengeance and tugged his jeans on. They chased each other around the garden and Tetsuko had to hide the liquor when the garden’s staff asked them to leave. The whole group giggled out of the complex and semi-drunkenly made their way back to the hotel.

The week ended with a few sunburns, a lot of pictures and only fifty extra pounds of luggage. Tetsuko bugged Barnaby the first part of the flight back to Sternbild, making it so the blond couldn’t finish the text he was supposed to read for school on Monday so he could email his progress. Karina and Pao-Lin kept throwing papers at him from their seats and Antonio made Tetsuko switch seats with him after fifteen minutes of Nathan slyly groping him between the armrest. Once she was in the row with Nathan, Barnaby could finally read his book, but found that he was too bored to do so. Instead he looked out the window and watched the clouds drift by and wondered if Tetsuko would make him some dumplings if he asked her too. Maybe we can go watch the cherry blossom petals fall when the growing season is over. But this time I’m taking the sake away before anyone climbs up a tree and loses their pants. Barnaby chuckled and settled back into his seat, content to let the world fly by as he took a nap.

Graduation Celebration

Exams are finally over, thank God! Tetsuko stretched out her arms as she lay back on the grass outside the school building. Today heralded the last day of tests and the girl was waiting for her friends to show up form their respective classrooms. The brunette hadn’t seen any of them for longer than ten minutes outside of school or word and the amazing thing was it was because she’d been studying. Now all there was to do was to wait for the results. Graduation was in three weeks and the girl had already ordered her cap and gown and whatnot, but her sick nervousness was beginning to set in. I worked really hard! I need to graduate! Not only would it be humiliating not to have a high school diploma, but I won’t be able to get a job anywhere. Tetsuko’s stomach growled at her and she sighed and reached for her lunch (fried rice again) and found that when she took it out that her stomach roiled nauseously. Not doing that. She shoved the container back into her back and flopped back down and threw her arms over her face. Twentyish minutes and one short nap later, Tetsuko heard footsteps coming towards her and peeked between her arms to see who it was.

“Slacking off already, old lady? You’re age is starting to show.” It was her boyfriend. Dressed chicly in his white shirt and green slacks, Bunny loomed over Tetsuko like a deadline.

“Well, I can now since exams are over. And I do feel old for once. That was so stressful!” She sat up, patting the space next to her for him to sit.

“You’ve still have forms to fill out for graduation and I know you that you need to go pick up your tassel from the office. They came in today, so you still have things to do.”

“Yeah, well, who knows if I’m going to graduate.” There, she said it. All of her unrest hinged on passing her exams and praying that she hadn’t gotten into too much trouble this year. All the down time in the hospital let her catch up on homework and studying, but was it enough?

“I’m sure you will, you studied hard enough – I think. You’ve been a hermit for weeks so that’s got to count for something.” He laughed softly, his smile reassuring the girl. The blond took out two juice boxes and handed one to the girl.

“Hey, since when did you get so comforting?” She poked a hole in her juice with the straw and took a sip.

“I don’t know. Maybe when I got to know you.” Tetsuko looked down at her hands worried again that not even Bunny’s smile could keep it at bay for long. He reached over and patted her hand.

“It’ll be fine.”

“You know how facts get in my head. They’re in there, but higgledy piggledly and all in the wrong place. I’m not very good at bookwork.”

“Well, your paper work for P.A. has improved so I’m sure you’ve developed good habits.”

“Only because you beat them into me.” She chuckled.

“True, but you didn’t make it easy on me.”

“I just hope it’s enough.” She whispered. Bunny surprised the girl when he threw an arm around her shoulders. He wasn’t one for casual touch (he shied away from her for a second when they held hands and make outs didn’t count- they weren’t casual), even after four months of dating so this was a big step.

“Like I keep saying: you’ll be fine.” He coaxed, trying to cheer the brunette up again.

“How can you be sure?” Tetsuko felt so tangled up in worry and she just wanted to stop. It didn’t feel good at all.

“Because I tutored you in math.”

“Cocky bastard.” Tetsuko laughed, leaning into his warmth as a cool almost-summer breeze brushed her hair out of her face.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Okay, Bunny.”

“My name’s Barnaby.

“But you’re so fluffy.” Tetsuko patted his curls and the blond leaned away from her hand. “And you secretly like it.”

“Do not.

“Do too.”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“Oh look, they’re already fighting.” Nathan sauntered up to the couple, taking his customary seat next to Bunny. “Hey, Handsome. Think you did well?”

“Of course I did.” Bunny scoffed like anything less than perfect was unacceptable.

“Yeah, he’s Mr. 4.0, Nathan.” Tetsuko threw out, and sucked the last of her juice out of the box with a slurp. Bunny glared at her for the noise and she just shrugged.

“I know, but I thought I’d ask anyway.” He stretched his arms up, popping his back and inadvertently displaying some of his dark, toned stomach.

“I’m sick of tests. I’m all tested out.” Karina joined the group, slumping to the ground next to Tetsuko and fixing her green skirt so her panties didn’t show.

“Same.” Tetsuko agreed. Ivan slid next to Nathan, quietly nodding his agreement as well. Keith bounded over a few minutes later with a huge smile and joined the conversation.

“Hello! Hello! We’re almost done with school! Done, I say!” The blond gave Karina an I’m-in-your-personal-bubble-even-if-you-don’t-like-it hug and grinned toothily.

“Yeah, it’s going to be so weird without all of you next year.” Ivan whispered, rummaging in his bag to hand Tetsuko back her manga.

“You’ve still got Bunny so you’ll be fine. And Pao-Lin’s going to need some help so she’ll keep you busy next year.” Tetsuko looked on the positive side like always. She and Bunny hadn’t talked about what would happen to their relationship once the year was over, but she suspected that they both wanted to keep it going even with Tetusko out of high school.

“Got that right.” Karina snorted. “She’s a little firecracker.” The school day was over so the entire group of friends hung out beneath that tree for hours, talking, laughing and teasing until Karina had to go get ready for a gig and the rest of the team had to head to the bar. Tetsuko pushed aside her graduation worry while she was at work, losing herself in the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. She and Bunny both pulled higher in the monthly contest, Tetsuko now in fourth place and Bunny was poised to win for May. And after a hard day’s work, the brunette kissed her boyfriend goodbye and went to some long postponed time-to-do-nothing time. She took an hour long bath, keeping the water hot by refilling the bath multiple times and then went to bed. She got the letter in the mail a few days later.

Dear Tetsuko Kaburagi,

We are pleased to inform you that your repeat year in high school was a success on your part and the school district of Sternbild will be pleased to present you with your diploma at Sternbild High School’s graduation ceremony.

The rest of the letter was all information about practices and ceremony times and the when and where of everything else, but Tetsuko was too relieved to read the rest of it. She ran to tell her kaa-san and they celebrated by going out to dinner that night. Tetsuko called Bunny and squealed to him for an hour about how she was graduating with a B average and how she was sosososososo excited until he told her to shut up and then congratulated her. Nathan gave her a call right after that and she had no idea how the hell he knew about her graduating but they gossiped for another hour and the boy-girl invited her to an after party he was throwing in a club after the ceremony. She, of course, accepted and had a hard time sleeping that night, she was too excited.

They day of graduation rolled around quickly after that and Tetsuko couldn’t believe that she was here. Standing in the alphabetized line to receive their diplomas in a conference center, she was sweating in the white gown. The guys got the green robes and the girls wore white and as Tetsko glanced up at Keith a few people in front of her, she decided he was and overachiever. His robe was weighed down by roped and medals from all his High Honor Rolls and presidential stuff. Tetsuko glanced back and could just barely see Nathan waving at her, his own ropes shining in halls back lights. She waved back and glanced down at her one silver rope. She’d managed to get on the Honor Roll all four terms (Bunny tutored her the last two and a half terms) and was swelling with pride that she had at least done that. Then she swung her head up and the obnoxious green tassel on her hat smacked her in the face. Again.

“Damnit!” She blew the thing out of her face and batted it away again as it came back to haunt her. The line took a step forward and Tetsuko followed, knowing that she’d have to get her picture taken at least twice before she could sit down in the audience. The line moved relatively quickly and soon the girl was up on the stage, under the bright lights. She walked up the steps and waited for the three seniors in front of her to have their names called, blowing her tassel out of the way for the hundredth time. She took a deep breath, the butterflies in her stomach threatening to fly up her throat and out her ears. This is it, Tomoe. I’m almost there! She glanced out in the audience and spotted her mother and brother in the audience sitting next to the Reeds and Kaede. The little girl waved excitedly and Tetsuko gave her a small waved back. And then there was Bunny. He was closer to the front, sitting with Karina, Ivan, Antonio and Pao-Lin (who’d somehow managed to sneak in). Tetsuko could see his smile from here and that buoyed her up.

“Tetsuko T. Kaburagi.” One of the officers called her name and Tetsuko almost didn’t move at all, but the cheers she received from her friends and the student body made her take a step forward. She walked onto the stage and took her diploma sleeve from the school officer who happened to be Petrov and they scowl/smiled at each other. I’ll never have to see him again…hopefully. Tetsuko left him behind and walked across the platform until she shook Principal Maverick’s hand and accepted his congratulations. Then she got her picture taken with him and was herded down the stairs and into the seat reserved for graduates. Once everyone in the line had gotten to their seats, Keith had everyone switch their tassels from the right side of their hats to the left, signifying that they had graduated. The tassel still wacked her face either way. Then she fell asleep in her seat until the end of the graduation program, it was just too long winded for the girl. The graduating seniors refrained from throwing their hats once the ceremony was over and dashed outside to take a million pictures. Tetsuko was just happy with touching her long awaited diploma. She was crying when her friends and family found her.

“Congratulations!” They all shouted and rushed her. Nathan, Keith and Tetsuko all hugged each other, jumping and shouting excitedly. The rest of the gang all gathered in the big hug and Tetsuko’s kaa-san had to dig her out to say how proud she was of her. Antonio smacked her tassel when he came over.

“Finally! I thought you were never going to graduate!” The Spaniard wrapped her into a bear hug.

“I’m too stubborn not too!” She replied, wrapping her arms around the big man. Kaede smacked the brunette in her legs with her powerful hug when she let go of the bull-man. Tetsuko picked her up and twirled her around laughing.

“Good job, mom!”

“Thanks, sweetie!” Tetsuko set the girl down and turned to talk to someone who called her name. Her heel caught on a crack in the sidewalk and she tipped over. Strong arms caught her before she could fall and Tetsuko glanced up to see her boyfriend.

“That was a close one.” He stated, setting the girl on her feet.

“Thanks, Bunny!” She brushed off her gown and threw her arms around the blond. “I did it!”

“I won’t say ‘I told you so,’ but I’m going to anyway. I told you so.”

“You always tell me so.”

“Tets! Handsome! We’re taking pictures! Get over here!” Nathan shouted at them, waving them over to the rest of their friends.

“Yeah, get over here!” Karina called. The couple dashed over and the cameras flashed almost nonstop as the teens switched around and split up into the groups for pictures. Once everyone was satisfied with the sheer amount of pictures (even Nathan) then they all dispersed to get ready for Nathan’s party. Tetsuko changed into black Capri pants, a green lacy tank top and her Oxford flats in the conference center’s bathroom and handed off her cap and gown to her mother before all the teens- dressed in various shorts and jeans now- piled into Nathan’s sports car and went to a club.

“Nathan you invited like, the whole school!” Tetsuko yelled to the sparkly clad man over the blasting music.

“The more the merrier!” He sang back, trying to get Antonio to dance with him. “It’s mostly just the senior class plus a few of the other students!” The Spaniard escaped the man’s clutches and Nathan was off to the hunt, chasing the bull-man across the dance floor. Bunny grabbed Tetsuko’s wrist and swept her up into a dance. He’d gotten much better at dancing since the last time they’d been out and Tetsuko couldn’t find a single thing to tease him about.

“You’ve gotten better!” She shouted in his ear.

“I had a good teacher!” He called back, drawing her closer and wrapping his arms around her as their hips swayed together in rhythm.

“Why, thank you.” She threw her arms around his neck and laughed happily, every worry and care now gone.

“You’re welcome.” He kissed her cheek and they danced for another twenty minutes until Tetsuko had to go to the bathroom. She left her boyfriend on the floor with Pao-lin and went to find the restroom. Done with her business, she walked over to one of many snack tables and got a cup of punch. As soon as the liquid touched her throat, the girl recognized the tang of alcohol and hastily downed her cup. Then she went to tell Nathan, she didn’t want him in trouble for intoxicated teens and well, someone responsible had to know. She weaved in and out of dancers, the one glass of spiked punch she’d had messing with her already compromised balance. The black man had captured Antonio and was dancing with the bull-man pressed up against his body. Karina was trying to escape Keith’s hugs and Pao-Lin was dancing with Ivan while Bunny watched from the edge of the group.

“Hey guys!” They turned to the Japanese girl. “Someone spike the punch!” She pointed to the table. Seven accusing stares glared back at her. “It wasn’t me!”

“Sure, it wasn’t.” Bunny folded his arms and raised one eyebrow.

“I swear it wasn’t!”

“Seriously, you’re the first one who would spike the punch.” Karina pointed out.

“Don’t worry ‘Suko, I’d do it too, but-“ Antonio started.

“But he’s been with me the whole time!” Nathan nuzzled the bull-man’s neck and Antonio leaned away cringing.

“Why don’t you believe me?” The girl wailed.

“Sorry, Tigress. I agree with Barnaby.” Pao-Lin wasn’t even on her side!

“You all suck!” Tetsuko stalked away from the nonbelievers and sat by herself by a floor to ceiling window. Bunny walked up to her a few minutes later, his expression apologetic.

“We found the punks spiking the punch. Security escorted them out and punch was dumped.” Tetsuko folded her arms and turned away from him with a scowl. Bunny sat down next to her and placed his hand on her knee. “I’m sorry, but you can’t blame us for not believing you, troublemaker.”

“I was being responsible for once and you all shot me down.” She glanced at the blond from the corner of her eyes. His own version of the puppy dog face was on: pouting lips and slightly bigger eyes, all shiny and huge. She caved. “I forgive you. Maybe.”

“I’ll take what I can get.”

“Kiss me and maybe I’ll feel better.” Barnaby smiled warmly and reached out to cup the girl’s cheek. His lips pressed gently against her, warm and smooth. Tetsuko sighed into the kiss, cupping his cheek with her hand and pulling him closer. She felt his breath hitch as she twirled a curl around her tan finger and smiled into the kiss. When they broke apart, the couple rested their foreheads against each other’s and watched the party go on without them. Tetsuko was the first to speak.

“Are you sure you dumped all the punch? I kinda wanted some more.”

“You’re impossible.” Tetsuko kissed him again, harder this time as the stars sparkled in the night sky and she was happy that Bunny was here to share this moment with her.

The New Job

Tetsuko was nearly to the point where she wanted to vomit. Her job interview had been fantastic, but what if they didn’t like her at the job? Or she screwed something up? Or broke something? This was too stressful to handle right now as she twiddled her thumbs in the reception hall of The Journal’s building. A silent secretary clicked away at her computer, telling the brunette that her intern leader would come and collect her soon. Tetsuko shivered in her black blazer, uncomfortable in the stiff fabric. She smoothed out her black pencil skit and hoped it wasn’t too short; it fell just above her knees so it should be fine. The girl reached up and loosened her green shirt collar slightly and straightened her customary black tie. Then she glanced at the clock- she was early- then looked at the secretary who was ignoring her, then at her low heeled black shoes. Tetsuko fiddled with the pins in her hair, shoving them deeper in to her hair. She’d decided to grow out her hair and the ungainly pieces were the wrong length to be pinned back securely, so they kept getting in the girl’s face. Tetsuko tabbed her finger against her thigh, glancing at the clock again. Five minutes later, a woman in tasteful dress slacks and a cream blouse walked in a called her name. Tetsuko stood up and grabbed her black satchel and walked up to the red head.

“Tetsuko Kaburagi?” The lipsticked lady reminded the girl of Ms. Agnes when her piercing green eyes stared the girl down.

“Yes.” The brunette managed to keep her voice from shaking.

“I’m your internship leader and trainer until your apprenticeship is up. If the company hires you after that, good for you but it’s all on how you perform during you intern period. The name’s Petra Engberson.” The woman thrust out her hand and Tetsuko shook it strongly.

“Nice to meet you.”

“I hope so.” Tetsuko didn’t know what to reply to that, but the red head didn’t seem to want a response and pivoted sharply to lead the girl inside another room. Rows and rows of desks and cubicles were scattered around the room, most covered with papers and binders and general chaos. Tetsuko wondered if applying to a magazine/journal was the really the best idea. She really liked writing and editing and this was just a temporary thing until she could get into police academy and really get out there and help people, but just being here made the girl nervous. Everyone here looked so polished and accomplished as they typed away at their computers and barked orders into their handless phones. Ms. Engberson said something, but Tetsuko was still looking around and didn’t catch all of it.

“Could you please repeat that?”

“Keep up, Ms. Kaburagi. I know it’s a little overwhelming but try to pay attention.” The woman stopped and turned to the girl with what Tetsuko had dubbed “the lecture look.” The red head’s clipped tone reminded Tetusko of Bunny, only not so fluffy.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Petra. Everyone calls me Petra.”

“Yes, Petra.”

“Good.” She nodded curtly, returning to walking at a slightly too fast pace. “As I was saying, you came highly recommended from your high school. Apparently they were impressed with you writing and comprehension skills even though you did have to repeat your senior.” Petra eyed Tetsuko sharply. “You’re not going to be any trouble are you?”

“No, Petra.”

“Good. Now your duties for now will be to help the editing team proofread finished articles and send them back to their writers so they can correct them. Don’t insult anyone’s writing or you will find a pencil shoved into your eye, it’s happened before.” Tetsuko gulped, not knowing if Petra was serious or trying to make a joke. “We’ll also send you on various errands that include photocopying, deliveries to other departments, and donuts runs.” That doesn’t sound too bad. “You’re also the go-to girl for when the local office printer is jammed so learn how to unjam it.”

“Okay.” They’d reached a little closed off space where three people were huddled over their computers, trying to look like they were working, but failing because the unfinished game of hangman gave them away.

“Working hard, team?” Petra hissed.

“Yes, Petra!” The three adults answered, snapping their heads up. There were two women and a man in this section: one a gorgeous brunette woman with striking blue eyes, the other a black haired, witch-looking woman with dark make-up and pale skin and the man had definitely bleached his hair because it couldn’t be that white naturally.

“Make sure you do.” Petra gestured to Tetsuko. “This is the intern Tetsuko Kaburagi. Ms. Kaburagi, this is your team. They’ll give you the low down on how they do their jobs and make sure you get settled in, right?” Petra eyed the trio menacingly.

“Yes, Petra!”

“Good. Hardwick will be over for the store assault pages and the ‘How To’ column later. Until then, coach the newbie.” Then Petra was gone. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“Is it just me or is there a stick up her ass?” Tetsuko clapped her hands over her mouth the second the words were out of her mouth; mortified that she’d just insulted her superior ten minutes into her new job. The trio staring at her burst into laughter.

“I like her!” The brunette laughed, standing up and offering her hand to the girl. “Don’t worry, Petra’s always like that and we all think the same thing you did. Circe Waverly, nice to meet you.”

“Tetsuko Kaburagi.” The Japanese girl smiled warmly at her, already feeling much better now that Petra was gone.

“Kira Robinson.” The black haired woman smirked as she stuck out her black manicured hand. “That mouth get you in trouble a lot?”

“You have no idea.”

“Yeah, I think she’ll fit in nicely.” Kira chuckled. “Just make sure Petra and Hardwick don’t hear you.”

“Who’s Hardwick?” Tetsuko asked.

“Our boss and Petra’s. She’s even stricter than Petra if you can believe it.”

“Yeah, but Mr. Kristof who runs this joint makes up for the two of them, he’s pretty cool most of the time.” The man spoke up and shook the brunette’s hand. “I’m Markus with a ‘k’ Stanley.” His dreamy bluish-greenish eyes did the customary body check on the Japanese girl and she had to hold back an eye roll. Does every guy have to do that?

“Nice to meet you.”

“Say, do you want to go out with me?” He asked, flashing a winning smile. Tetsuko balked.

“Dude!” Circe smacked him in the arm, “You just met the girl two seconds ago!”

“Got to get an early start!” He snickered and fended off and other smack.

“Sorry, but you false started. I already have a boyfriend.” Tetsuko informed him, guiltily watching the young man’s face fall.

“Damn it! I just can’t score with any of you!” Markus leaned back into his chair defeated and rolled up another one for Tetsuko to sit on. “Seriously I’m the only guy I know who works with three beautiful ladies and can’t get a date with any of them!” He jerked a thumb at Circe, “She’s got a boyfriend and they’re living together now, and Kira’s sworn off men until the devil comes and claims her.”

“Hey, just because I’m looking for the right guy does not mean you get to make fun of me.” Kira shot a rubber band at him from across the collection of desks. That started a rubber band war and Circe yanked Tetsuko’s chair out of the way.

“So, is your boyfriend cute?” She asked, resting her elbows on her knees.

“Gorgeous. He’s a really pain in the ass sometimes, but he makes up for it by being cute. That and he’s a good kisser.”

“Ooo, tell me more.”

“His name’s Barnaby-“

“Barnaby? His parents must’ve wanted him to get beat up.”

“It’s his dad’s name. Anyway, he’s got this really funny thing about his name because I call him ‘Bunny’ and so every time I use his real name, I totally expect him to get a hard on from it.”

“Why Bunny?”

“Because he wears these dorky looking headphones that resemble bunny ears.” Tetsuko put her hands up to demonstrate. “That and when he gets into fights he uses kicks more often than any other attack.”

“He fights?” Kira and Markus had stopped their own fighting and were listening in too.

“We both do. Or did. I’m trying not to anymore.”

“Why, I think fighting’s cool.” Markus rolled his chair over to join in the conversation and so did Kira.

“Because I almost died, like, three times!” Tetsuko counted out the bomb scare, Lunatic and Martinez and decided to throw in that time she stole all of Nathan’s nail polish and the man came after her with a knife.

“Doing what?” Kira asked. “You’re life seems more exciting than mine.”

“Well, I was involved with the bomb scare about a year ago, I picked a fight with Lunatic one time and my friends and I got assaulted by a crazy person called Jake Martinez.” All of a sudden questions were bombarded at the girl in rapid fire.

“Seriously? I totally edited the article about the Fortress Tower when that happened but they didn’t give out any names of the people involved. I guess it was because you were a minor. What was that like?”

“Susan, a good friend of mine from the police department, comes here sometimes to vent stuff to me and said she was working on a case dealing with Martinez! So did he really ambush a whole bunch of high schoolers like she said he did?”

“I’m a huge anti-fan of Lunatic! He’s like seriously cool but I hate that he tries to kill people so it’s kind of a love/hate relationship with me. Do you know how he gets his bolts on fire? Is he the same in person as he is on TV?” For the next twenty minutes the Japanese girl was interrogated until all their questions had been satisfied and she’d told all her stories to everyone twice. Then the boss’s boss came by and Circe went into a spiel about unjamming the printer and how to find separate offices in the building.

“Good morning ladies.” The short woman surprised Tetsuko and everyone stood up at attention like they were in the army. She was wearing a severe cut ladies suit, her gray hair was curled in an old lady afro and her steel gray eyes were hidden behind thick rimmed glasses. And she could’ve been Tetsuko’s grandmother.

“Good morning, Mrs. Hardwick.”Circe replied crisply, introducing the other brunette. “This is our new intern, Tetsuko Kaburagi.”

“I can’t even pronounce that.” Hardwick’s professional tone of voice made Tetsuko stand up straighter just by hearing it. She shook the older lady’s hand, surprised her skeletal grip didn’t break her bones. “Do you have something shorter? Or else I’m going to have to call you ‘intern,’”

“Uh…my friends call me ‘Suko, if that’s better.”

“Hm. No, it’s not. Intern it is.” Hardwick’s tone made Tetusko feel as she had done something wrong when she hadn’t. The woman smoothed out her immaculately pressed suit and began talking again. “Intern, I’m glad to see that you’re settling in. When Mr. Kristof told me he hired a repeat year high school student fresh off the bus I thought he was crazy.” Well, if that doesn’t make me feel good I don’t know what will, Tetsuko grumbled to herself as Mrs. Hardwick continued. “I want to make it very clear that I don’t tolerate misbehavior of any sort and I can’t abide laziness. I want you to be good at your job or I’m sending you packing. Surprise me, got that?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Tetsuko trembled slightly under the cold gaze. This is ridiculous! A midget’s making me quake in my heels!

“Good. Now get back to work!” She snapped at the editing team and they jumped two feet into the air. The little lady clicked her way over to some other team and snapped at them to get whatever it was into Mr. Kristof’s office ASAP and then marched onto her next victims.

“She’s scares me almost as much as my boyfriend does sometimes.” Tetsuko slumped back down into her chair with a sigh like everyone else.

“Really? It’s hard to beat Hardwick.” Markus pointed out truthfully.

“Yeah, but Bunny hates it when I mess with his hair or when I spill something on him. He completely loses it. It’s kind of funny once you get over the scariness. He’s also the one I’m in love with so if he’s unhappy, no kisses and life sucks.”

“Wow, he really seems like a drama queen.” Kira fished out her black lipstick and applied another coat that she sweated off when Hardwick stopped by.

“Yeah and he’s only a senior in high school. I’d hate to see him in college.”

“Wait! He’s in high school?” Circe grabbed onto Tetsuko’s shoulders and shook her.

“Yeah, we met in my repeat year when he was a junior. He starts his senior year next month.” Tetsuko was confused now. What’s the big deal?

“I lost to minor?” Markus wailed and collapsed on his desk.

“Oh, shut up, Marky. You just wanted to bang the intern.” Kira smacked him with the nail file she’d found to prune her fingertips.

“Cougar! You’re a cougar, intern!” Circe giggled, still in shock just a tiny bit.

“Yeah, so?”

“Not fair!” The bleached man cried onto his desk.

“Life isn’t fair, Marky.” Kira smacked his head with her clutch purse and pulled out a mirror to check her eye shadow.

“Why me?”

“It’s always you, player.” The black hair woman threw a tampon at his head next.

“Quit abusing me!”

“Quit whining like a little girl!” The rest of the day Tetsuko was put through the paces of her job and even helped Circe edit an article. She learned how to unjam the printer when it jammed up and was sent on a coffee run to the café downstairs when Markus’ narcolepsy kicked in. All in all it was a good job and Tetusko had fun, even if chills ran up her spine whenever Petra or Mrs. Hardwick clicked by.

Tetsuko dragged herself to Keith’s house after her first day on the job, dropping her heels at the door and slumping against the entrance as her exhaustion melted her body. She unpinned her hair and set her purse on the table. Keith’s mother had left her a note on the table with a sandwich. The sandwich was gone in two seconds flat. The note took longer. To read, not to eat.

I’ve gone out to do some shopping. The kids are in the basement! – Mrs. Goodman

Tetsuko walked through the kitchen, got a bottle of water from the fridge and then went over to the stairs. Sipping her water, she padded down the stairs in her thigh high socks, unbuttoning her blazer and letting herself breathe. She jumped when an uncharacteristically loud Ivan yelled, “And again!” She stood puzzled for a moment as laughter filtered up to her ears. The catchphrase didn’t match the voice and her curiosity got the better of the girl and she dashed the rest of the way downstairs as fast as she could. Bursting into the TV room, Tetsuko arrived just in time to see Pao-Lin poke Ivan in the shoulder, giggling.

“And again!” Ivan shouted heartily, laughing like Keith. The brunette gaped at him, dumbfounded by the shy blonde’s behavior.

“What the hell?” Tetsuko asked. Ivan poked Pao-Lin in the forehead and she opened her mouth.

“What the hell?” She imitated Tetsuko perfectly!

“Ooo! Good one, ‘Lin!” Nathan clapped from his place on the couch. Everyone was all over the place. Ivan, Pao-Lin and Nathan were on the couch, Barnaby was in the arm chair and Karina, Antonio and Keith were sprawled on the floor. Karina prodded Antonio in the stomach, smiling mischievously.

“Drag queen.” The Spaniard’s low tone imitated Karina’s speech pattern.

“What are you doing?” Tetsuko’s sentence was punctuated by a, “Boobs!” Ivan had reached over and poked Keith in the arm.

“We’re playing a game, obviously.” Nathan explained. “When you poke a part of someone’s body, that ‘switch’ mimics someone else.” As if to demonstrate, Bunny poked Nathan in the chest from his chair. “Nee-san!” Ivan’s light voice popped out of his mouth, sending the group into laughs. “See?”

“It’s funny,” Tetsuko said between chuckles, “but why?”

“All because Antonio poked ‘Lin in the back to get to her pass the chips and she said, “you asshole,” just like you do.”

“It degenerated from there,” Bunny finished. He poked Nathan in the thigh.


“That’s mine!” The brunette exclaimed.

“Duh.” Karina affirmed. Keith touched her shoulder. “You old bat.”

“That’s Bunny!” Tetusko giggled. “The stick-in-my-ass tone gave it away.”

“It’s ‘stick up your ass’ and I don’t have one!” Bunny argued.

“Check it out! This switch activates Barnaby’s android mode!” Pao-Lin crawled over two protesting people and poke the other blonde’s forehead.

“Die humans.” Bunny stiffened up, his face emotionless and robotic. She did it again. “Die humans.” And again. “Die humans. Die humans. Die human-die huma-die-die-die-die humans.”

“Stop it!” Tetsuko giggled as a red mark appeared on Bunny’s head below Pao-Lin’s finger. Both girls sat down and Antonio poked Tetsuko’s cheek.

“Old lady.” The brunette growled irritably.

“Barnaby!” Everyone yelled, starting the game back up now that the girl knew the rules. Someone poked Antonio.


“Nathan!” They chorused. Keith was touched next.

“Yes, I made it into the shot!”

“Ivan!” They guessed. Ivan was poked next.

“Yeah!” His voice went low and husky.

“Antonio!” Keith got Tetsuko in the arm.

“Don’t touch my hair.”

“Barnaby!” Nathan touched Pao-Lin’s butt.


“Nathan!” Antonio reached up and poked Bunny’s stomach.

“Bunny!” He sang with a glare.

“The screw up!”

“Hey! Use my name at least!” Tetsuko glared, attacking her friends with pointed fingers. All hell broke loose as everyone jumped on everyone else.

“You asshole!”


“Old lady.”

“And again!”




“Drag queen.”

“You old bat!”




“Drag queen.”

“I made it into the shot!”

“What the hell!”

“And again!” Tetusko was laughing so hard in the pile of people on the floor that when someone (accidently or not) poked her breast, she let out a surprisingly desperate cry, not even realized the word was out of her mouth before it was in the air.

“Barnaby!” The room went dead silent. Staring at both teens, Karina’s had touched Tetsuko’s chest again and despite the quiet, a small gasp slipped out. Heads flipped to Bunny, who was under Keith and on top of Antonio. Uh oh.

“What have you two been doing?” The Spaniard asked, eyeing the blond.

“Uh…” For once the prude was speechless. Nathan quickly set the game plan.

“Quick! Grab his junk!” The black man pounced, aiming for Bunny’s pants. “Let’s see if he screams her name!” Bunny squirmed out of his person sandwich and ran for his pride, jumping over the couch.

“Get away from me!”

“Come on! Just one squeeze?” Nathan gave chase, trailing everyone except Tetsuko (who was laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe) and Karina who hadn’t moved. The brunette didn’t expect the other girl’s hand on her butt, and decided to play along, wailed wantonly.

“Oh! Bunny!” She crooned, hamming it up a little bit.

“Apparently they’ve done a lot!” Karina called, spurring the chase on as Bunny ran around looking for a place to hide.

“You naughty kids!” Nathan chided with an evil laugh.

“Quit damming me, old lady!” Karina prodded Tetsuko’s sides roughly, trying to get her to make more noises.

“Ow! Not so hard!” Tetsuko clapped her hands over her mouth as Nathan let out a surprised noise and ran faster around the basement.

“Quit saying stuff!” Her boyfriend ran past, followed by giggling teens. Karina and Tetusko smiled evilly.

“Oh, yeah! Right there!” Karina’s hand kneaded along the brunette’s back, attacking muscle knots that were basically permanent fixtures on the girl’s body and laughing when Bunny growled in frustration. Then the blonde’s knuckles hit a nasty knot in Tetsuko’s shoulder blades and the girl nearly screamed from both pain and pleasure as the muscles were worked into relaxation. “Deeper! Right there!”

“You didn’t!” Nathan accused, almost grabbing Bunny’s belt loops as Pao-Lin fell over laughing. I bet she she only has a vague idea what we’re referring too, Tetsuko thought. Ivan was nowhere to be seen.

“We haven’t done any of that!” Bunny shouted, dashing for the bathroom, his retreat punctuated by Tetusko’s, “But you want too!” The door slammed shut, barricading the blond safely inside.

“This is not just one sided!” The blonde’s muffled voice spit through the door.

“Yeah, but I’m not a horny bunny, Bunny.”

“No, you’re just a lazy-ass tiger.” Tetsuko squealed when Karina fingers tickled her sides.

“Stop! Stop! It tickles!”

“That’s the point, Boobs.” The girl replied.

“No, go back to ‘harder.’ It’s sexier.” Nathan called, pinching Antonio’s butt while he wasn’t paying attention.

“Massage my back and I will.” The brunette wigged her shoulders imploringly and the girl-boy took over the massage with his talented hands. He had the girl crying out in no time, tormenting the boy locked in the bathroom. With her back relaxed and exhausted from her first day at work, Tetsuko accidently fell asleep on the floor. She didn’t know how long she was out but when she woke up, a blanket was draped over her body and she was snuggled up against her boyfriend. A movie was playing, the lights were off as the girl blearily opened her eyes.

“Awake now, sleeping ugly? I didn’t even have to kiss you.” Bunny whispered, stroking her hair softly.

“That’s not nice, fluffy.” She smacked his chin lightly with her head. “So they let you out of the bathroom?”

“After I had to bargain with Nathan to grope my butt instead of my manhood. I blame you for any nightmares.” He scratched the space behind her ear and Tetsuko purred like a cat, leaning into his touch.

“I take full responsibility, but you have to admit, that was funny.” She whispered back quietly. His scratches disappeared and she grunted irritably.

“It’s not funny when someone else gets you to make those noises. I want to be the only one to make you fall apart like that.” Bunny’s voice went low and husky as his arms snaked tighter around her body. Tetsuko had seen the boy’s possessive side before and it thrilled her as well as terrified her. She speculated that it came from the fact that Bunny had lost everyone important to him early in his life and that he desperately wanted to keep every meaningful friendship and relationship in his grasp for as long as possible. But on the other hand, it made Tetsuko feel special, like she was Barnaby’s treasure and his alone. And that was a good feeling. His hot stare made her heart race and blood pound in the veins.

“Quiet in front!” Karina snapped, causing the couple to jump in surprise. “I’m trying to watch the movie.” I don’t think she heard what we were saying.

“And we don’t need any more funny business today. Even though it’s fun.” Well, Nathan knew. They shut up for a few moments before Tetsuko reached up for Bunny’s ear with her lips and breathed onto his skin as she spoke.

“Maybe one day I’ll let you I let you make me fall apart. I’d love to scream for you, when the time is right, little Bunny.” She bit back a chuckle as the blond gulped, retreating into his shell of control. Tetsuko smiled smugly, proud of the fact that she could influence Bunny’s moods so easily. Then she went into a ramble about work and how everyone there was scary except for her teammates and Mr. Kristof whom she hadn’t met yet until she put Bunny to sleep. Today was a good day, Tomoe, she thought. And tomorrow should be even better because I’m going back to work with my new friends and then I get to come see all my old ones at the bar. It’s like the best of both worlds, ya know? I hope everything works out, but then I always want it to work out. Tetsuko reached out to her boyfriend and poked the left side of his chest, on top of her heart.

“Mmm, Tetsuko.” He mumbled in his sleep. She smiled lovingly up at him. What more could a girl want?

Long Distance Relationship

“Hey, Bunny! I’ve got some great news!” Tetsuko exclaimed through the phone. Barnaby was working on his summer reading list when she called. Right now he was bumming around his apartment in sweats and a tank while he made himself a sandwich. Book tucked under one arm, his phone tucked on his shoulder, the blond spread peanut butter on one slice of bread and jam on the other.

“What is it this time? Your new Yaoi magazine come in?” He took a bite of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fell into his single chair to continue listening to the phone call with one ear and using the rest of his brain power to plow through Crime and Punishment.

“No, hentai! Guess again!”

“I hate guessing games, you know this.” Barnaby turned a page in his book, careful not to get jam on the pages.

“I know, but I won’t tell you until you guess!” So that’s how she’s going to play it, Barnaby thought.

“You’re going to become a tattoo artist?”


“You got arrested?”

“No, thank God! Guess again!” Tetsuko laughed. She’s acting like she’s enjoying this.

“You bought a pet unicorn?”

“Not even close. Come on! Take a real guess!”

“You got promoted.”

“I wish. The extra money would help.” Barnaby didn’t guess again, fed up with the game. “No more guesses? Okay, I’ll tell you then: I’m moving to Silver!” Barnaby nearly dropped the phone.


“Yep! You heard it straight from the donkey’s mouth!” She sounded so smug.

“Uh, it’s ‘horse’s mouth,’ old lady.” The boy decided to pick on her idioms while he processed the information that his girlfriend was actually moving closer to him.

“’Donkey’ sounds better.”

“Does not! Why do you think so?”

“Because you can switch it out with ‘ass.’ You’re an ass, you should understand this.” Barnaby imagined Tetsuko rolling her eyes at him.

“Anyway, so you’re moving?”

“Yeah, one of my co-workers- Circe Wakely, you met her when we went to that luncheon two weeks ago- told me she was planning on moving closer to work (and the fact she just broke up with her like, fifteenth boyfriend who she was sharing an apartment with has, like everything to do with it) and I told her that if she was looking for someone to share rent with, that I was open to it. She totally wanted to room with me since we’ve gotten closer over the past two months and I adore her. It’s going to be so much fun! And I’ll be so much closer to work and you so when we hang out there won’t be such a long drive for either of us. Isn’t that great?” She didn’t even take a breath until the whole mess of words came pouring out.

“Yes, that’ll be perfect for you. Just a little while ago you were talking about how you wanted a change of pace.” Barnaby was still having a hard time believing that Tetsuko was doing something this sudden, but he should’ve expected something like that from her.

“Yeah, as much as I love Oriental Town, it just seems too small for me now. I’m so excited to head deeper into Sternbild! This’ll let us be closer, even though you’re still in high school, we can meet easier, especially since I’m cutting back my hours at the restaurant so I can take on a few more at the journal.” That had been the hardest thing for Barnaby, the fact that now he only had Karina (who’s only focus seemed to be for Tetsuko’s boobs), Ivan (who rarely spoke to anyone) and Pao-Lin (too young to even hold a serious conversation with) in high school. He hadn’t bothered to make any new friends since junior year, he hadn’t needed any. And now he was basically alone without Tetsuko. And on top of that, the girl wasn’t working at Hero’s Bar as often so she could write more for her other job. She had just complained to him yesterday about how once she got into college, she’d have to juggle two jobs and school and homework just to get by. And the blond reasoned that if she was doing all that, he was slowly being shoved to the side for the moment and it hurt.

“I hope everything works out.” Barnaby swallowed the lump in his throat as he shook off his depressing thoughts.

“You don’t sound too happy.” Tetsuko always saw right through him, even if they weren’t face to face.

“I am, it’s just that this is sudden. I wasn’t expecting it.”

“I wasn’t even expecting it. But I’m happy to be closer to everyone, and school and both my jobs. It’s for the best, you’ll see.” She was having one of her serious moments just then, expressing her own surprise.

“I know.”

“You’ll come see the apartment sometime, right? I’ll send you the address.” Her happy tone was back, eager to cheer him up.


I said I’d come see the apartment, not help her move in, Barnaby grumbled to himself as yet another box was shoved into his hands, stacked on top of another. Tetsuko was wading through boxes in the back of the UHaul truck she rented to move all her stuff. She wore a cut off tank and jean shorts in the summer heat, sensibly pairing them with sneakers instead of her usual sandals. Barnaby was in a similar outfit, only his tank was tucked into his board shorts. Both young adults had their hair tied back in short pony tails, especially with Tetsuko growing her hair out. Instead of only reaching just past her shoulders, her dark hair now reached the middle of her shoulder blades and was constantly getting in her way. The girl blew a section of hair out of her face and grabbed another box.

“Now I remember why I cut my hair in the first place! It gets everywhere!” Tetsuko hopped out of the truck and led Barnaby up the steps to the porch of her brownstone apartment and after struggling with the key for a minute propped the door open. “Well, here it is!”

Barnaby looked around while his set the first of many boxes. The apartment was done in warm greens and tans, the kitchen off to the left with a tall counter and stools, and a depressed section much like the one in his apartment that housed the couch and what Barnaby guessed was Circe’s TV and coffee table. The bathroom was behind the kitchen and next to the bedroom. There was a set of stairs at the back of the flat that Barnaby was just about to go investigate before his arm was grabbed and he was hauled back outside for more boxes. Two hours later everything was in the apartment and Tetsuko had managed to make a huge mess.

“Where do you intend to put all this superhero stuff anyway? I only see one storage closet here and you have to share it with someone else.” Barnaby was trying to make sense of how his girlfriend packed everything up, but wasn’t making any headway since the only thing she organized clearly was her clothes.

“I’ll figure that out later, I’m just glad it’s all inside! It was so hot out there!” The brunette was collapsed on the couch, nursing a soda while Barnaby did all the work.

“Get up and help me! This isn’t even my stuff!”

“Bossy Bunny! Take a break already! Sit down and have a drink before you dive into psycho cleaning mode.” Tetsuko tossed him a can from her stash on the table and the blond caught it deftly and popped open the tab.

“The mess isn’t going to take care of itself if you’re going to laze about like a cat.”

“It’s just a break, Bunny. So shut up and take one.” Barnaby sipped his soda and looked around at the mountain of Tetsuko’s things and then scanned the apartment again.

“Are you two sharing a room? I only see one bedroom.”

“No, thank God. Circe is such a night owl and if we shared a room she’d keep me up all night! My room’s upstairs since she called the one closest to the bathroom.” Tetsuko jerked a thumb up the stairs and Barnaby went to check out her room. All that was up there right now was the bed with the girl’s sheets thrown on top of it and a tri-fold picture frame on the nightstand showing a photo of Tomoe and Tetsuko at a dance, one of Tomoe, Tetsuko, Tomoe and Kaede when the child was born and the last was after Tomoe’s death. Another picture frame held a shot of Tetsuko with Barnaby at the beach, both of them soaked and laughing as Nathan snapped the shot. Barnaby walked downstairs again and saw the brunette with her arm thrown over the eyes. He walked over to the couch and kicked her leg.


“Don’t go to sleep, old lady. We’ve got unpacking to do.”

“I know that. I was just resting my eyes.”

“Right.” The blond got the girl up and they began the task of getting everything put away. They were about halfway done when Circe showed up.

“Hi, guys! Hard at work?” The older brunette’s hair was a lot lighter than Tetsuko’s, like a milk chocolate instead of a dark. She had beautiful blue eyes and cream colored skin and the body of a model that looked fantastic even in a grungy T-shirt and shorts. She set lunch down on the counter: Chinese takeout.

“Food!” Tetsuko hopped up, dashing towards the kitchen but was stopped when Barnaby grabbed her tank top.

“Hold up, you’ve got to take your clothes up before we eat.”

“Bossy Bunny.” She pouted at him.

“Just do it.” The girl did as she was told and dragged four boxes of clothes up the stairs and shoved them into the closet before running down stairs to eat. They ate on the floor since the kitchen table and chairs hadn’t been delivered yet, along with Tetsuko’s stereo. The thing was monstrous and old fashioned and Barnaby didn’t understand why she was carting the thing around but the girl said she couldn’t live without it. They laid the take out cartons on the floor and Circe provided paper plates and forks for the group. Tetsuko fished out a pair of reusable chopsticks from her box of kitchenware that was actually labeled “books.” Then she proceeded to eat a whole carton of fried rice by herself. It’s a good thing Circe brought two or else I’d smack her for not sharing. Barnaby ate and chatted with the girls and found that he actually really liked Circe. She was honest and straightforward but had an air of playfulness that reminded the blond of Tetsuko.

“So Barnaby, how do you like the place?” Circe asked before slurping a long string of noodles into her mouth.

“Its fine, I guess.” He really thought that it was too small for two people and was going to get to cluttered with both girl’s things and it clearly showed evidence of the flat’s previous occupants on the walls and floors.

“Not your sort of thing, then?” Circe asked.

“No, he lives in a Gold apartment with a chair. Seriously, Bunny, you need more furniture.” Tetusko waved her chopsticks at him.

“And you need less stuff.” He retorted, stealing a piece of her Teriyaki chicken and smirking at her protest.

“A chair? That’s all the furniture you own?” Circe seemed surprised and Barnaby could understand her point of view. Most people accumulate lots of things over their lifetime, but the blond wasn’t like that. He didn’t treasure possessions like most people and therefore had less stuff to weigh him down.

“Okay, he has a small table, a bed and a nightstand too, but that’s, like it.” Tetsuko prodded Barnaby’s cheek with her chopsticks, trying to get her meat back. She gave up when he didn’t open his mouth and snagged a piece of beef off his plate.

“But still, that’s all you have?”

“Yes, I prefer less stuff.” Barnaby answered the other brunette, smacking Tetsuko’s utensils away when she came back for more beef. “There’s some in the carton still. Have that.”

“But it’s more fun to steal it off your plate!” Tetsuko purred, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder.

“Then here.” He held up his plate to her so she could take the food, tired of her annoying habits, tired of the heat and just plain tired, but there was still work to do. “I’ll eat what’s left in the container.

“No thanks.” Barnaby looked at her, puzzled that she didn’t want the meat she was trying to steal moments before.

“Why? I’m offering it to you.”

“If I can’t steal it honestly, I don’t want it.” Tetsuko grabbed the beef carton and popped a piece into her mouth. The boy furrowed his brows in confusion and shook his head at her, returning the plate to his lap.

“You’re strange.” The conversation lapsed into silence for the rest of the meal, all three of them eating comfortably on the floor. After lunch, Barnaby and Tetsuko got to work again and Circe hung around to help until she ran off to the store to buy some essentials for the apartment. Tetsuko kept trying to distract Barnaby from working, complaining about the heat, taking frequent breaks and bugging the hell out of him. Tetsuko’s roommate came back with toiletries, groceries and a few of her personal things and put everything away so quick that Barnaby had to admire her. She even found a place for all of his girlfriend’s superhero stuff. By the time most of both girl’s belongings were unpacked and put away, night had already fallen. Circe invited Barnaby to stay for dinner and the three adults got the kitchen organized. Tetsuko was in charge of cutting and ripping all the vegetables for a salad (because Circe didn’t trust her with the oven) while Barnaby helped Circe make a homemade pizza. They enjoyed the salad while the pizza baked and Tetsuko whipped out a six-pack of beer from basically nowhere.

“Where did you get that?” Barnaby questioned, reaching across her body on the couch to try and snag the alcohol. The girl held it just out of arm’s reach, leaning back over the arm rest to protect her beer.

“My stash.” She tossed the cans to Circe and the other brunette caught them with no problem.

“I didn’t see any alcohol when we were unpacking! How did you get it in here?”

“That’s for me to know and you to never find out. I keep telling you that I’m sneaky when I want to be, Bunny.” Tetsuko shoved the blond off her and grabbed an offered can of beer from Circe. Popping open the tab, the girl drank the whole thing in one go. “Ah! That hit the spot!”

“I agree.” Circe finished off her own can and Barnaby just gaped at them both.

“You’re fine with her drinking? She’s under age!” The blond pointed out.

“As long as she doesn’t get caught, I’m good.”

“Yeah, Bunny. Circe is fine with it and she’s not underage.”

“It doesn’t matter! You’re not legal yet!”

“Oh shut it, brat, and have a swig!” Tetsuko grabbed as can from the pack and tossed it at the blond. Barnaby caught the can with both hands and stared at it for a moment.

“I’m not drinking this. First of all I’m underage and second: this is a crappy brand.”

“How would you know that if you haven’t drunk before?” Tetsuko popped open her second can and swirled the liquid around.

“I never said I haven’t tried alcohol, I just don’t drink it every day like you do!”

“So Mr. Perfect broke the rules?” Circe relaxed against the couch and Tetsuko slid to the floor to join Barnaby.

“Oh no. it’s a sign! The end of the world is near!” Testuko wailed, breaking out into drunken laughter, somehow already on her third can.

“Slow down there, ‘Suko! We won’t have enough left if you down them that fast!” Circe fumbled for the can in Tetsuko’s hand.

“We’ve got plenty! My brother owns a liquor shop, we’re all set as long as he doesn’t catch me sneaking a few bottles every once in a while.”

“Once in a while? Sounds like ‘every day.’” Barnaby tossed the can back at Circe.

“Party pooper.” Tetsuko bonked him on the head with a pillow.

“Insulting me won’t work.”

“I know, you have and ego that’s as big as Mt. Everest.” She smacked him with the pillow again, messing up his curls and skewing his glasses. Barnaby grabbed another couch pillow to whack her in the face.


“That’s what you get for hitting me!” The blond snapped, trying to put his hair back in order. Tetsuko waved her pillow around again to payback the blond.

“Pillow fight!” Circe yelled grapping her own weapon as the fight got into full swing. Ten minutes later all three people were battered into a mess and the pizza was a little over cooked because they were a too busy whacking each other to pay attention to the kitchen timer. Circe ran into the kitchen, flipping off the timer and grabbing the hot pizza out of the oven. When Tetsuko wasn’t looking, Barnaby hid the last can of beer under the couch. He then grabbed the rolling knife before Tetsuko could cut off her fingers and sliced the pizza for everyone. It was delicious, if a little crispy. After the kitchen was clean again, Circe flopped on the couch to begin typing an article that was due on Monday and Tetsuko lay on the floor to watch some TV. The adults lounged around the apartment and Barnaby realized that he was comfortable here. Even though both girls had just moved in, with the three of them hanging out, it felt exactly like a night at Tetsuko’s house would be, or even like the nights at his apartment. Only messier.

“What’s up, Bunny?” Tetsuko was turned to the blond, he thumb still clicking through channels with the remote. She chomped on her gum while she gazed at the boy, her amber eyes warm in the light.

“Nothing, just thinking.” The blonde stifled a yawn.

“It’s getting late, maybe you should go home.” Circe spoke up, looking away from her laptop screen.

“Hey, at least the drive is shorter!” Tetsuko piped up. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“Why would I need you to come with me? I’m perfectly capable of finding my own house, thank you very much.” Barnaby lightly kicked the girl in the butt from his seat on the couch.

“I’m not going to be responsible for a driving drowsy accident. It’s already eleven.” Tetsuko pointed to the newly hung clock in the kitchen.

“We both know that falling asleep on the road won’t be a problem, so stop nagging.” Barnaby didn’t really want to share his insomnia with Circe; it was just a little too personal to talk about on a second meeting.

“Whatever, I’m still coming with you. I’m in the mood for a race anyway!” Tetsuko cut off the boy’s protests by standing up and stretching her arms above her head to pop her back. “Let’s go!” She ran to get her keys and hurried the blond out the door.

“Are you trying to get rid of me? After all that help I gave you today?” Barnaby was ushered out the door quickly, and waved to Circe. “Thank you for letting me come over!”

“No problem! Visit soon, Bunny!” The other brunette giggled when the blond growled in frustration.

“Now look what you did, old lady! Why does everyone have to call me ‘Bunny’?” He shouted as the door shut with a click.

“I don’t know why others pick it up; I just know that I call you ‘Bunny’ because you’re so cute.” Tetsuko ruffled his hair and clomped down the steps.

“I am not cute!” The boy folded his arms crossly.

“Sure you are!”

“Shut up and get on the bike.” Barnaby leapt onto his bike, revving the engine and taking off before Tetsuko had even gotten on her motorcycle.

“Cheater! No fair!” She shouted after him, dashing to catch up.

“Life isn’t fair!” The blond called back, trying to lose the girl at a yellow light. She narrowly made it through by the skin of her teeth.

“Get back here!” Tetsuko was closing in fast, gunning her engine to come neck and neck with the boy.

“Last one to my place buys lunch for a week!” Barnaby challenged, eager to exploit his girlfriend.

“You’re on blondie!” They zoomed through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic expertly. Tetsuko nearly got into an accident this time, almost clipping a minivan and Barnaby was so distracted by that that he nearly ran over a curb. “Pay attention, Bunny! You nearly got yourself killed!”

“So did you!”

“Yeah, but in know I wouldn’t survived! I’m like indestructible! But you’re really delicate!” She laughed, her voice being pulled away by the wind.

“I’m not delicate, you old bat! And you’re not indestructible!”

“Am too!”

“Are not!”

“Shut up and drive, slowpoke!” The brunette shot past the blond, smirking at him for being distracted again.

“You just shut up!” The blond throttled his bike, fighting to get back his lead. Both kids recklessly battled for lunch, squealing through turns and speeding faster and faster until they skidded to a stop in front of Barnaby’s apartment breathlessly.

“I win.” Tetsuko panted.

“No, I did.” Barnaby glared at her, not actually knowing who won.

“I did!”

“I did!”

“Just admit you lost and buy me lunch! Your bank account won’t suffer, but mine will!” Tetsuko leaned over and jabbed the blond in the arm.

“If you’re having money issues, I could always loan you some…I just have high interest rates.” Barnaby hid his concern behind a barb, wondering if the girl really had enough money to go to school and pay rent.

“Heartless bastard, I don’t need your money.” Tetsuko dismounted and slid her key out of the bike. “I’m fine.” She smiled in a way that made Barnaby’s worries disappear. She is fine. She’ll be okay.

“Whatever you say. But know that I’m here for you too, Tetsuko.” Barnaby locked up his bike and walked with the girl inside his complex.

“I know, Bunny. I’m here for you too.” She grabbed his hand and twined her fingers with his. “And now I’m closer!”

“You’re not going to stop saying that, are you?”

“Not until it gets old.”

“I won’t get old like you do. You’ll keep bringing it up.”

“Hey! Was that jab?”

“Oh, so you are getting better at picking them out.” Barnaby snickered at her face, squeezing her hand lightly.

“Baka.” They made their way over to the elevators and took a ride up to one of the top floors. “You know, it would really suck to have to take the stairs all the way down if there was a fire or something.”

“Hopefully that never happens.” Barnaby dragged her out of the elevator when they reached his floor.

“But still.” Tetsuko followed the blond to his door. “Let’s call the race a draw. I really don’t know who one. We’ll go out to lunch and each pick up half the tab.”

“Sounds good.” Barnaby reached for the girl’s back, still holding onto her hand and kissed her gently, enjoying the feel of her slightly chapped lips on his. Tetsuko chuckled when he nibbled on the bottom lip, asking to entrance into her mouth. She wound her free hand into his hair, messing up his curls in a good way and opened her mouth to Barnaby’s insistent tongue. He delved deeply into her hot orifice, exploring the familiar contours of her mouth with ease as his hand caressed her back. The girl made a noise in the back of her throat as Barnaby scooted her closer, melting their bodies together and fought back. She managed to get into the blonde’s mouth, teasing his tongue with his own before unlatching their mouths and smiling.

“You know, normally it’s the guy leaving the girl at the door with a kiss, not the other way around.” Tetsuko whispered after the kiss.

“We’re anything but normal.” Barnaby whispered into her ear, nuzzling her neck.

“Huh, I guess you’re right, as always.” She petting his head and played with his hair for a moment.

“That’s right, for once.”

“Shut up.” Barnaby nipped at the skin of her neck, loving the gasp he elicited from the woman.

“Goodnight, old lady.” He hugged her, completely happy for at least a moment. He still had a book to finish and a review to write so he could email it tomorrow.

“’Night, Bunny.” Tetsuko said as they disengaged and stood a little apart.

“Hey.” The girl poked him in the chest when he growled at her. Why can’t she just use my name like a normal person?

“Say it, o boyfriend of mine. Give a little to get a little.” She waited for him to comply, head tipped so her ear was towards the boy’s face.


Barnaby.” They stared at each other for a minute in silence.

“We do that way too much.” Tetsuko pointed out.

“That’s because you’re stubborn and won’t call me by my name.” Barnaby replied, unlocking his apartment and opening the door.

“But you started this one!” She snarled, jabbing that finger in his chest again.

“You start all the other ones.”

“Then we’re getting nowhere!” She threw her hands up in the air.

“That’s nothing new for you, being elderly and all.” Barnaby hid behind his door as the girl attacked him.

“Barnaby Brooks Jr. you are a big jerk!” Tetsuko pounded on his closed door.

“I’m just keeping you in line.”

“No you’re not! This is bordering on verbal abuse at this point!” The pounding stopped and Barnaby cracked open the door. Tetsuko was staring in the crack, face shoved against the entrance, waiting for him to come out. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Love me?” Barnaby asked playfully.

“You know I already do.” Tetsuko’s molten eye melted the blonde’s heart, and that was only one of them! She’s being completely serious. She really, really loves me. I already knew that. Well, I love her too.

“I love you too.”

“Good, or else I was going to have to hurt you.” Tetsuko backed away and Barnaby opened the door again. She flipped around and walked away, tucking her hands behind her head and waving back at the blond.

“Don’t get a DUI, you old bat.” He called out to her.

“I’ll call you when my stereo gets delivered! This old lady can’t move it by herself!” She threw back.

“I’m not your personal mover!”

“Funny, I thought that was what boyfriends were for!”

“Shut up!” She laughed as Barnaby slammed the door in her face and decided he’d had enough of girls for the day and went to bed. But not before he texted Tetsuko good night again and got his customary glass of milk. The boy was so exhausted from all the moving that he fell asleep almost instantly for once and fell into dreams filled with boxes, pillows and a really gorgeous girl that he got to see almost every day.

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