High School Never Ends

Chapter 6: Interlude

Part 1: Pao-Lin and Sam

Pao-Lin Huang had no clue how she’d gotten roped into this. All she did was come home to her all girls’ boarding house, change into her yellow practice jumpsuit and take a phone call from her neighbors that lived across the street. That had been that, but her neighbors had guilt-tripped her when the girl said that she couldn’t come over because she had a ton of homework to do (which she wouldn’t do until the next day) and convinced her to baby sit. Now she was sitting in their home surrounded by memorabilia, knick knacks and so much stuff that Pao-Lin was beginning to hate last minute business trips. She couldn’t even practice martial arts in here; she’d probably destroy the place like Tigress would.

She glanced down at the extremely cute black baby in the ridiculous yellow flower hat that she was charged to care for. Little Sam was still asleep in his baby carrier and Pao-Lin just had to wait until he woke up to do anything for him. She’d been given a run down on what to do but all the information was running around her head and getting mixed up.

“This is not going to be good.” The girl shook her blonde head and scrunched further into the plush couch. “I don’t know how to babysit, it’s too girly. I don’t even like babies!” She flipped on the plasma T.V. to watch some action when Sam decided that it was time to wake up. He let out such a howl that it startled the girl off her seat and onto the floor. She scuttled over to child and tried to calm him without touching him. “It’s okay! Sh, sh, sh. No need to cry. Please stop crying!” She tried to play with the boy to distract him but he howled louder. She resorted to Plan B: call someone to get them to help her!

“Hello! And hello again!” Sky High picked up his phone on the first ring.

“Sky High! How do you stop a baby from crying?” Pao-Lin asked, cringing into the phone as Sam’s voice rose to a louder volume.

“Play with him by tossing him in the air and catching him! He’ll love that!”

“Thanks!” She hung up and picked up the boy. “Go sky high!” The girl tossed and caught him a few times but the infant just cried harder. “Not working!” She set him in the carrier again and called Origami. He didn’t pick up. She debated calling Rock Bison but he was another boy who probably didn’t know the first thing about babies. She needed a girl. Fire Emblem picked up, he was girly, right?

“Hello, honey! What’s up?” Pao-Lin explained the situation quickly. “Oh! Give him a big kiss and a cuddle! He’ll love that!” That’s the same thing Sky High said!

“But that’s girly! I can’t do girly!”

“Try it, honey. I can hear the kid loud and clear through the phone.”

“Okay!” Pao-Lin set her phone down and gave the baby a big, sloppy smooch and a cheek cuddle. Sam stopped crying, eyes wide in confusion. The girl smiled and then cringed as Sam started up again full force. “Didn’t work! Bye!” She hung up on the boy-girl and called Karina. She told the blonde to Google it. “But I don’t have access to the internet!”

“Not my problem. Bye.” Running out of girls to call, Pao-Lin tried Barnaby, he was smart, and he would know what to do.

“How did you get my number?” The older boy asked incredulously.

“Tigress gave it to me, but how do I stop him from screaming?”

“I haven’t had much experience with children so all the ideas you’ve told me seemed fine. I’d call the old lady; she took a course on infants in school. It’s the only class she passed with flying colors besides gym. Try her.” Pao-Lin was getting desperate enough to do it. She called the hospital and asked for Tetsuko Kaburagi. The staff paged her through when she told them she was a friend and the brunette picked up with a bright, “What’s up?”

“Tigress, how do I stop a baby from crying?”

“Why do you have a baby?”

“I’m babysitting!” The girl shouted over the crying.

“Okay, calm down. Did you say hello to him?”

“What?” Pao-Lin was confused.

“He’s probably scared because mom and dad are gone, so pick up the kid gently and let him know that you’re here for him until his parents get back.” Tetsuko explained, her smooth voice soothing the frazzled girl.

“Okay, that makes sense, but how do I hold him?”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, you’ll need to pick him up under his armpits, gently, and put the back of his head near your shoulder, by your armpit. Then you support his back and bum with one arm and wrap the other on the outside of his body.”

“Okay.” Pao-Lin put down the phone and turned to the child. Big fat tears were running down his face and her heart broke a little. She picked him up again and did as Tigress instructed. He quieted a little but was still sniffling. The girl felt like she could break him. “Okay, what’s next?” She had maneuvered the phone between her shoulder and ear without dropping the baby.

“Does he stink? A dirty diaper will make him uncomfortable.” Pao-Lin could only smell her own nervous sweat.

“Nope.”

“Okay, and if he’s not hungry you’ll just need to hold him for a bit. Rock him or softly bounce him. Babies like a little movement. It might even make him sleepy.” Tigress explained how to safely heat up a bottle of milk on the stove and gave the girl a few more tips before telling her to visit sometime.

“Thanks!”

“Anytime. Call me if you need anything else!”

“Sure! You’re the first person I’m calling next time!”

“Yeah, just make sure it’s not about toddlers or young kids. Babies love me but the older ones hate me for some reason. Who else did you call?”

“Everyone.”

“They’re all idiots.”

“Yeah, they really are.” The girls shared a laugh before Tigress hung up. “She’s really nice, you know. Weird, but nice.” Pao-Lin bounced Sam around and he cooed in delight. They giggled and then the girl settled him down on her lap so they could watch T.V. together. She fed and burped him with little fuss, actually beginning to enjoy herself. They had a game of tickles where the girl would say, “here I come!” and then tickle the baby in the stomach. He’d squeal and laugh even after she’d stopped attacking him with her fingers. After a few hours, Pao-Lin decided that she really should go thank Tigress and got Sam ready to go out by putting him in his coat and bundling him up in his carrier.

“What do ya say we go for a walk?” Pao-Lin asked Sam. He cooed and that was good enough for her. The sun hadn’t set yet so there was still time to get there and back without traveling in the dark. The pair set off to the hospital, taking the train and then a bus to reach their destination. The whole time Sam was quiet, gazing wide eyed at everything around him. People kept complimenting on her “little brother’s” behavior and she made up some story about how her parents adopted him and they loved him like he was really their own. By the time she got to the hospital Sam had a fan following. “You’re a magnet for compliments, you know that?” Pao-Lin smiled at the baby when a strong gust of wind yanked the flower hat right off his head. “Oh no!” She ran after it, carefully holding the carrier to her chest so not to jostle the baby. She snatched the hat right out of the air and carefully placed it back on the child’s head. “We wouldn’t want to lose your special hat, now would we? Come one, we’ve got to visit Tiger.” They checked in at the desk and were escorted to the room where the brunette was staying until tomorrow when she’d be cleared to go home. Apparently they’d walked in on friend-time because all of Pao-Lin’s friends were clustered around the hospital bed.

“Ow! Quit poking! It hurts!” Tigress wailed as Blue Rose prodded her bandaged shoulder.

“Seriously, how do you always end up in the hospital? You just need a fast pass.” The blonde stopped her poking and leaned back on her hip.

“It’s not like a plan to end up in the ER!”

“Yes, but you don’t plan anything.” Barnaby pushed his glasses up on his nose.

“Shut up, Bunny!”

“But we want you to shut up. Your bitching is giving me a headache.” Rock Bison rumpled the brunette’s hair, earning him a glare.

“They why are you visiting me? Get out!”

“Don’t act that way! We were worried! And again, worried!” Sky High gestured wildly with his hands as he spoke, almost whacking Fire Emblem in the face.

“Yes, sweetie. We wanted to make sure you were alright.” Fire Emblem sat on the edge of her bed and patted her leg.

“I’m so alright, they’ve pumped me full of painkillers that now I’m seeing two of you and that’s not something I’d ever want to see!”

“Be nice!” The black man playfully smacked her leg.

“Seriously, how can you all fit in here? I’d be surprised if we could get anyone else through the door!”

“You did actually, plus a baby carrier!” Pao-Lin made her presence known as she unbuckled Sam and hoisted him into her arms.

“Pao-Lin! What brings you were?” Sky High patted her on the shoulder. Sam sniffled at the loud man and the girl had to quiet him down again.

“Hey, how’s it going with the baby?” Tetsuko strained to sit up further to see the girl. She winced in pain and Barnaby put his hand gently on her shoulder so she could lean on him.

“Much better. Thanks for the advice, Tigress!” Pao-Lin introduced Sam to everyone as she made her way to Tiger’s bedside.

“Tets gave you advice about babies?” Fire Emblem looked doubtful.

“Yes, much better than your kissing idea. He just wanted to be held.”

“What did you tell her to do to the baby?” Tigress pointed her finger at the flamboyantly dressed man.

“Just to give him a smooch!”

“I told her to Google how to babysit.” Blue Rose flipped her hair.

“I missed her call. Sorry, Pao-Lin.” Origami apologized.

“He didn’t like being tossed. He didn’t like it.” Sky High’s smiled only wavered a little.

“I told her to call you.” Barnaby made the injured girl sit back again now that their newest visitor had taken a seat in the only chair.

“You did?”

“I went through your records a few weeks ago and found out that you actually passed a child development course with an A-.”

“You went through my records? You hypocrite!”

“Good thing he did or else I’d still have a screaming kid.” Pao-Lin passed Sam to Tigress and helped the girl hold the baby with her good arm.

“I’ll forgive him this time.” She flipped her hair at the other blond. “He seems like a really sweet kid,” she said regarding the infant. Sam started to sniffle again after a few minutes of being doted on by Tigress and Pao-Lin had to take him back.

“He seems to only get along with me, though.”

“He’s sweet on you. Some kids are like that.” The friends talked and argued for another hour or so before a nurse came in and shooed everyone out. Apparently they had to change Tigress’ bandages and the brunette didn’t want to flash anyone. Visiting hours were also almost over. Sky High called goodbye to everyone, saying he had to go walk his dog. Blue Rose left without calling a goodbye, Antonio had the night off from work and ran off to do something, Origami left silently like a ninja, and Fire Emblem went off into the night doing whatever it was he did at night. Barnaby was the only one who had permission to stay until Tiger’s mother showed up.

Pao-Lin got back to Sam’s house with little incident, she’d only had to punch the lights out of a trio of girl’s who’d tried to kidnap her and the baby. They were still probably passed out in a back alley. “We had a good night didn’t we?” Sam was fast asleep in his crib as the girl talked quietly. “Don’t worry; I’ll be here tomorrow too. You’re mommy and daddy won’t be back until the afternoon, so we’ve got all day to play together.” She smiled and looked at his cute hat again, thinking of the purple pin her parent’s had sent her last week. She didn’t like it when she saw it for the first time, but now she felt like wearing flowers as she drifted off to sleep.

Part 2

Karina’s Big Tip

The first time Karina Lyle had sung at a gig that wasn’t Hero’s Bar related she’d been so nervous. It had to be something about the costume she wore. When she was Blue Rose, nobody really knew who she was, so she could be whoever she wanted to be. It was like putting on a mask. Only now that she was out of costume, she was being herself and that scared her. Karina had practically tripped over her black heels getting on the stage that first time and when she’d looked out into the audience she nearly fainted onto the piano keys. Vowing to never again to put herself out like that without blue hair, she was surprised when a manager of another bar asked if she could perform for his business. Apparently she was better than she thought she was. She took the job and after that, she’d taken more little side jobs so she could sing something that wasn’t hero-themed. Karina actually began to like performing as herself. Her piano skills had greatly improved as well and the blonde loved the applause she received after each song, it was very addicting. As Karina left her boob-obsession sitting in the hospital, she recalled the first time the girl had caught her at another gig, blushing at the mere memory. It had been so embarrassing!

Karina had a bad case of jitters tonight. She breathed deeply to calm herself but the butterflies wouldn’t go away. Her body was on hyper drive, and being this nervous wasn’t good. “It’s just one song, Karina. Shape up, nothing’s going to go wrong.” She coached, quietly whispering under her breath. She smoothed out her black dress and checked to make sure her strappy heels hadn’t come unbuckled in all the pacing the girl had done in the past fifteen minutes. “What is wrong with me?” She tapped her foot impatiently, the toe rapping against the wood in irritation. The faster this got over with, the faster she could calm down.

“Karina, you’re up next.” One of the bar’s attendants called to her from where she was standing by the counter.

“I know that,” her irritation shown through her voice. She wasn’t mad at the guy; her jumpy nerves were setting her on edge. “That’s why I’m standing here.”

“Hey, it’s just a reminder.” The brunette man shrugged his shoulders at her as he walked away.

“Sorry. Thanks for the reminder.” Karina didn’t want him to complain to his boss about her behavior. She usually didn’t act like this.

“Anytime, Lyle.” He smiled, all was forgiven. The current performers left the stage, (two guys and a girl) their jazzy tones hovering in the air behind them. Karina took another one of those cleansing breaths that was supposed to calm her down but did absolutely nothing. She walked up to the piano, the spotlight dimming to create a more soothing atmosphere as she sat down on the bench. Her fingers splayed across the keys, waiting to press down on the ivories. The first cord struck the room with honest simplicity and Karina felt her butterflies settle and she began to sing with confidence she hadn’t felt three seconds ago. Music always did that to her. It calmed her soul and let her speak honestly to anyone that was listening. But she made the mistake of letting her eyes wander during her performance.

There, sitting at one of the bar’s counters was Tetsuko Kaburagi, a drink in her hand that Karina hoped wasn’t alcohol, and giving her that goofy grin she always wore while the brunette tipped her newsboy cap. She had on an emerald button up and had pushed up the sleeves past her elbows, black short shorts, her dorky tie and black and white Oxford shoes that showed her white ankle socks. Tetsuko was the only one who Karina knew could pull off the retro look without even trying. The butterflies were back. Nearly stumbling over the keys, Karina didn’t look her direction for the rest of the song, stalwartly keeping her eyes away from the brunette as she finished up, leaving the words “My Song” hanging in the air like clouds. She opened her eyes; not realizing that she’d closed them, and was met by her upperclassman leaning on the piano.

“What are you doing here?”She covered up her surprise in irritation. She’d gotten caught and now had to face the girl in front of her.

“Muramasa had to make a delivery and bullied me into helping. He needed to leave but I asked him to pick me up later when I saw you were going to perform.” She tipped back her newsboy cap and winked at the blonde. “Not bad. You’re pretty serious about this singing stuff, aren’t you? It’s not just a high school gig, right?”

“It’s what I love to do.” Karina stood up and left the stage for the next performer. She was tailed by Tetsuko, much to her dismay. All of a sudden, something green was shoved in her face. “What’s that?” She took the dollar bill, crumpled from being in a pocket for who knows how long.

“It’s a tip. It’s not very much, but you’ve got a nice voice and I wanted to show you that I appreciate your talent. If you really want to be a singer, I say go for it. Do what you love.” The brunette smiled even bigger and tapped her Oxfords on the floor.

“Thanks, but you’ve heard me sing at work.” Karina pointed out, folding up the dollar bill nicely.

“Yeah, but this time you got to sing what you wanted to. It’s nice to hear your own voice instead of some popped up superhero theme song. I didn’t even know you played the piano. You’re full of surprises, ya know?”

“That’s a good thing right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well then, thanks.”

“And thanks again, right?” They laughed at the lame joke, but Karina really meant it. It felt nice to hear someone who knew her appreciate the work she’d put into her singing. “You’re welcome, Karina.” Tetsuko reached up and patted her on the head, mussing her hair in the process.

“Stop it, I’m not a kid.” Karina blushed and pushed her hand away.

“You here for a while?”

“A bit. I perform again in an hour.”

“Then let’s get a drink!”

“As long as you don’t spike it.

“What do you take me for?” Tetsuko sauntered off toward the bar.

“A trouble maker.”

“Ow! That hurt!” She mock clutched her ample chest which Karina was now staring at. Her own chest seemed so small in comparison when it really wasn’t.

“It was supposed to!” They sat at the bar and Karina ordered a glass of mineral water and Tetsuko picked up her abandoned glass.

“What’s in there?”

“Water.” The brunette took a sip. Karina sniffed the air experimentally.

“Funny, it smells like booze.”

“Well, there was water in it at some point.” The senior showed the blonde a flask she’d hidden in her pocket. The girl shook her waves at the brunette. “’Masa will never miss it. He aged this stuff so long it lost all its color. Now I’ve got, like, twenty bottles stashed away.”

“You’re unbelievable! What is it anyway?”

“Shochu.” They sipped their drinks for a minute until a man’s wallet fell out of his pocket while he was getting up to leave. Tetsuko ran to pick it up. She stopped the man and handed the wallet back politely. The man proceeded to shoot the girl a dirty look and thoroughly check the contents of his wallet and then thank her with a huff. He left and Tetsuko returned to her seat with the biggest smile on her face.

“Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Help people. That guy obviously thought you’d stolen from him. I mean, some people don’t want your help, but you do it anyways. I see you do it all the time with people’s groceries and getting cats out of trees like some stereotypical fireman. Why get involved when you’re not wanted?” Both girls were quiet for a moment.

“Let’s think about this: why do you sing?”

“I love singing and I want to share my voice with the entire world someday.”

“Same goes for me. I love helping people, so I do it. What other reason do I need? If others acknowledge what I do, that doesn’t really matter to me.” Tetsuko paid for the water she’d ordered and took her shochu with her on the way out. “Keep singing, Karina. I just hope you let Ben know you’re doing this.”

“Of course he knows! You’re the only one who doesn’t tell him when you’re running off!” The brunette chuckled and went to wait for her brother, leaving a blonde and a dollar bill alone in a bar where the only good thing was the music.

Karina smiled fondly at the memory as she sat down at the same piano, hands hovering over the keys, waiting for the right moment to start. This one’s for you, Boobs. Karina began her song, the lyrics meaning so much to her and the girl she relied on to back her up when she was in trouble.

“I will stand by you. I will help you through when you’ve done all you can do and you can’t cope. I will dry your eyes. I will fight your fight. I will hold you tight and I won’t let you go.” Half the reason I keep trying is because I know you’ll kick my ass if I give up on my dream, Tetsuko. So I’ll keep going even if you’re not there to hear me sing every time. Just make sure you’re there when I become a star or else I’ll kick your ass. Karina sang and sang like she never wanted to quit and the whole time she smiled, like she had someone to sing for every time she opened her mouth.

Part 3

Antonio’s Night Out

Antonio walked out into the cool evening air, reveling in the nightlife of the city. Flashing lights, crowded sidewalks and the sound of millions of footsteps echoed around him. He felt at a loss for what to do. It was his night off from work and his wingman was in the hospital milking her injury for as much as she could get off it. He shook his head at ‘Suko, knowing she’d try to sneak out sometime in the night so people would stop worrying about her. But now what do I do? We were supposed to hang out tonight, but she just had to fall off a building. Antonio looked around and decided the best thing to do was drive until something struck him.

The bull-man took the speedway out into Bronze, hoping the familiar territory would inspire him to do something. He passed the movie theater that the three of them got kicked out all the time because Tetsuko insisted on smuggling beer in and Antonio would always get into arguments about the plot with Tomoe (way to loudly), especially if there were heroes involved. Tomoe was the expert on heroes, even better than Tetsuko and Antonio himself. They’d banter and joke all the time about which hero was the best, but it seemed every time they entered the movie theater, their little arguments would turn into full on fights, which Tetsuko slept through because she’d passed out from alcohol consumption. He chuckled at the memory and moved on, not wanting to pay for admission just to sit alone with no one to talk to. Chances were he’d end up getting kicked out because he harassed someone in the row in front of him about something they commented on during the film.

Antonio drove on, taking the streets at a leisurely pace. There’s that karaoke place that Tetsuko would drag us to because she said their song selection was the best and there’s that smoothie place Tomoe loved. I remember that store! They always sold trading cards at half-off on Wednesdays. Oh, and there’s that alley that Tetsuko and I got into our first street fight. Antonio pulled over and idled at the entrance between the buildings, remembering that fight from his childhood.

Tetsuko had been the one to beat in her elementary school and her reputation had almost rivaled Antonio’s. He and his gang had always hung around Bronze in hope of catching the girl on her way home from school, to put her in her place, but they always missed her somehow. Until that day, of course. Antonio and his goons had cornered her in the alleyway, set on beating the ever-lovin’ shit out of her. The Spaniard chuckled at the first thing Tetsuko had ever said to him, right before the six-grade punk punched him in the face, the proper uniform completely hiding the wild animal under a pretty skit and bow tie.

“You’re a big bully and I hate bullies! If you can’t use your strength to help people you’re not even worth horseshit!” She’d charged, spiky hair flying in her face and landed a good one right on his jaw. Then everybody jumped in, but she’d somehow managed to beat back everyone except Antonio. Bruised, and scuffed up, Tetsuko wiped off the blood gushing from her nose and squared up to face the leader of the gang. Antonio had to admire her bravery, nobody before this chick had ever stood up to him. He had growled obscenities at her in Spanish and she did the same in Japanese as they slugged it out for nearly an hour until they collapsed. Tetsuko held her ground a few seconds longer before slumping against a wall, declaring her the winner.

“You’re not bad, Kaburagi.” Antonio panted out.

“You’re not bad either. You’ve just got the wrong idea about what to do with yourself.” Tetsuko crawled over to her abandoned backpack and pulled out her pack of tissues to hand them to the boy. “Your nose is bleeding.” Antonio took the tissues and stuffed a few up his nose, surprised she’d offered them to her enemy.

“What do you mean?” His voice was hoarse from all the shouting and running he’d done in the fight.

“About your nose? I think I nearly broke it when I-“

“No, about me. What did you mean? I use my strength to get to the top. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

“Sure that works, but is caring about yourself all you can do?” Tetsuko had scooted over to Antonio at this point and sat next to him, leaning her back on the graffiti sprayed onto wall.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Put yourself first?” Antonio handed back the tissues and pointed to her cheek, returning the favor. “Your cheek’s split.”

“Thanks.” She wiped up the blood and began talking again. “That’s what everyone else thinks. Put yourself first, you’re the most important, look out for number one, but I think strength should be used to help the weak. Like Mr. Legend does!”

“You like Mr. Legend? I watch his show every week!” Antonio was excited to find someone else that still watched the old action series.

“Me too!” And that’s how it all started. Tetsuko had become his best friend, crazy morals and all, and Antonio left his gang. They’d met Tomoe that next year in middle school and became inseparable. The man smiled and drove on, merging back into traffic effortlessly. They’d come a long way from the scruffy kids fighting in back alleys. Antonio had been the best wrestler in both his schools, Tomoe had shaped Tetsuko up and was on track to become Valedictorian in high school and Tetsuko had won a few tournaments for boxing. But that had all stopped when Tomoe died.

Antonio shook away all those dark thoughts, determined not to spend his one night off wallowing in the past. He was just about ready to go home and watch reruns of old professional wrestling matches when he spotted Scarlet. The girl was walking on his side of the street in her purple dress and blue jacket. She also wore her signature pink and yellow scarf wrapped securely around her neck.

“Hey, Scarlet!” Antonio pulled over again and rolled down the window to talk with his co-worker.

“Hi, ‘Tonio! What are you doing?” Scarlet blew her light brown hair out of her face and turned her honey colored eyes towards Antonio. She was carrying books in her arms, a testament to her study session at the library. Scarlet was in an intensive program at her college-prep academy and she’d even take off work at Gyu-Kaku sometimes just to study.

“Nothing, just finished visiting my friend in the hospital. The screw up I told you about.” Antonio leaned over the passenger seat as Scarlet rested her textbooks on the window sill.

“Oh her! She’s in the hospital again?” The Spaniard picked out her cute little moles beneath the corners of each of her eyes, deciding the brunette was too cute for her own good.

“Yeah, but this time it was Lunatic’s fault. Her and her partner cornered him on a roof and he took as shot at ‘Suko.”

“Is she going to be alright?”

“If she’s already complaining about the lack of mayonnaise in the hospital’s cafeteria then she’ll be causing trouble by tomorrow.”

“That’s good I guess.” They laughed quietly and a lull in the conversation made Antonio speak up again.

“Do you have work tonight?”

“Nope. Just got done studying and I was heading home.” Scarlet adjusted her books, getting ready to walk again.

“Wanna go to dinner? I’ll buy.”

“Are you sure? I still have some things to do for school…” She looked to the side, trying to imply that she really wanted to do more studying but failing.

“Yeah. Come on! It’ll be fun! I won’t keep you too long. Besides, you need a break once in a while.”

“Okay, but only if you buy.” She opened the door and hopped in the cab. Antonio was just glad he cleaned out the beer bottles from the last time he and Tetsuko had drunk themselves silly. Scarlet would’ve ripped him a new one about the mess and gotten right out again, dinner or no dinner.

“I was planning on buying anyways.” He put the truck in drive.

“And it better not be barbeque. I’m sick of that stuff.”

“I’m not.”

“Well, not all of us have iron stomachs.”

“So, how about Italian then? I know a great noodle place not far from here.”

“Sure, I’m up for it.” And then the couple went off on their impromptu date. They talked about work and school and Scarlet tried to convince Antonio that applying for college next semester was going to be his best bet right now, but he told her that he promised Tetsuko that he’d wait for her so she didn’t feel so stupid. She laughed at the man and called him a softie. Antonio asked her how her prep classes where going and Scarlet replied that she was drowning in work, but staying above the waves as best she could. They made it to the café without any incidents and Antonio persuaded the girl to order the parmesan chicken on a bed of noodles, it was the house special. They chatted about movies and books that Antonio should read if he ever got out of the gym to read them and the conversation slowly boiled down to a comfortable silence as they slurped their noodles.

“I’m glad you asked me out. I’ve been so stressed lately that I haven’t had any time just to hang out with anyone.” Scarlet smiled as she pointed to Antonio’s face, he’d gotten sauce on his cheek. “Here, let me get it.” She brushed his hand out of the way and used her napkin to wipe up the mess.

“Thanks.” Antonio blushed and smiled back. “I’m always a text away if you need to get away from school.”

“You’re so helpful, ‘Tonio. Most people at work think you’re a delinquent or a bad guy, but you’re nothing like that. I know you told me you were in a gang a while back, but it makes me wonder how a rough guy like you ever developed that kind of morals if you really were a troublemaker.”

“Oh, it was nothing really. I just learned from the best, once I got some sense smacked into me.” Antonio smiled and asked for the waiter. He definitely wanted some dessert after that compliment. He drove Scarlet home after dinner and waited until she’d gotten inside. Tonight was a good night, Antonio told himself as he drove home, still intent on watching those wresting re-runs.

Part 4

A Goodman’s Best Friend

Keith loved his dog. John was his best friend in many ways and his companion in hard times. One of his most favorite things to do with the golden Labrador was going for their nightly walks around Sternbild that let Keith connect with the people. He loved being out and friendly with everyone who walked by him and John was just as friendly, licking and barking happily strangers who passed by his wagging tail. After stopping off at the hospital to visit Tetsuko, the blond had gone home to get his friend and take the dog out for their nightly walk. His mother had asked him to go grab some things from the store while he was out and always happy to help, Keith took off to kill two birds with one stone.

After stopping at the grocery store (John had waited patiently outside for him) they headed for the park. Keith had stopped to look at some ads posted on a billboard when John snatched his leash of the blonde’s hand and ran off.

“John! Come back! Heel!” Keith took off after his pet, careful not to drop the bag of food in his hands. The chase felt like it hauled him halfway across Silver, the dog ignoring all of his commands and staying just out of reach. In reality, the run only lasted a few minutes and took him to the park they were originally headed for. John stopped in front of a bench and growled at the girl sitting there. Keith was star struck. The girl had bone-white hair and pale skin with the most beautiful blue eyes. She wore a striking red dress and white ruffled jacket with a headband to match. She stared straight ahead, not looking at the animal barking at her. Keith kneeled and tried to sooth the agitated dog.

“Cut it out, John.” He petted the pooch’s fur softly and looked up at the girl. “Sorry about that ma’am.”

“I am fine.” Her voice was hollow, but sad at the same time.

“Oh, good.” Keith got John to sit next to the bench and took a seat himself, right next to the girl. “Do you mind if I join you?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Keith didn’t know where to start. The girl still wasn’t looking at him. “He’s a pretty good dog most of the time.”

“Alright.” Her response startled the blond. He looked away suddenly nervous and commented on the weather.

“It’s a beautiful evening.” The clouds were a pretty mix between pink and orange with just a hint of purple higher up in the sky.

“It is.” She stared up where Keith’s eyes were looking just a moment ago. Now he was looking at her, wondering what her name was.

“What’s your name?”

“Cis.”

“Well, Cis, it’s very nice to meet you.” Keith held out his hand around his groceries. She looked at his hand, her blue eyes blank and eventually took hold and shook it. Her hands were soft but cold. She didn’t say anything after the handshake and Keith felt a little uncomfortable again, like something was wrong. But nothing was wrong. The park was teeming with people, but not enough to be claustrophobic and the fountain behind them was making merry water noises. Nothing was wrong, but it felt like something was wrong. Even John was nervously scratching his ears with his back paws. He only did that had home when no one but Keith was around. “So, do you come here often?”

“No.” Well that killed any conversation dealing with the park.

“Do you have any pets? Like a dog?”

“No.” So much for talking about animals.

“That hair band is an interesting shade of red. My favorite color. Is it yours?”

“No.” That threw all conversations about clothes and girl fashions out the window. And Keith had even asked Nathan to coach him on fashion so he could relate to girls just a little bit. Just my luck. I finally meet a girl that’s not obsessed with Barnaby Brook Jr. and she’d not even into fashion or dogs. Keith’s popularity had dropped this year with the arrival of the new hall monitor and at first he’d taken it very hard. It was not fun not being looked up to by the students, but with time, he and his rival had gotten better at getting along. The hall monitor and the SBO president respected each other and with Tetsuko Kaburagi as a go-between for all their friends, Barnaby was beginning to feel like one of the gang. But it still hurt, just a little, not to be the one that everyone wanted advice from or would go to when they had a problem.

“Would you mind if I got some things off my chest?”

“No.” That answer worked for him!

“You see, I used to be the best at what I did, until recently, and now nothing seems to click at all. It’s not that I crave the spotlight at my school, but everyone used to have these expectations of me, and I don’t want to let anyone down. But I feel like I failed at what I’m supposed to do and I don’t know how to fix it. And with the way things have worked out at school recently, I’d be better off quitting and letting this other guy take my place.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s popular and well liked and so much better at what he does than I am. I’m worried that everyone will lose faith in me.”

“Why?”

“Because, because…I don’t know.” Keith felt lost and confused, but a little better now that he’d told someone, even if she was a complete stranger. “Sorry for unloading like that, especially to someone I’ve just met.” Silence ensued and John yawned. “Look, it’s late. Can I walk you home?” Keith’s Good Samaritan act came out as he offered his free hand to Cis. John would follow him anywhere, on or off the leash.

“I am fine.” Cis looked at him with her deep blue eyes, calm and collected like Keith wanted to be.

“Then, I’ll see you later. Goodnight.” Keith left the girl on her bench and thought about her while John walked him home. “She was nice. Maybe I’ll meet her again sometime.” John barked at him. “I know. Let’s get home, John.” Keith sped up the pace, holding onto his companion’s leash like an anchor. They got home and deposited the groceries on the table. John followed Keith up to his room. Keith too the bed and John took the floor, expectantly waiting for Keith to tell him about his day.

“Well John, school was fine. I helped some students settle a debate before it turned into a fight, my administration came up with a few great solutions for stopping littering on school grounds, Pao-Lin called me looking for baby advice and I visited Tetsuko today in the hospital. She’s as lively as usual and really, really cranky. Karina wouldn’t stop poking her hurt shoulder and Antonio kept teasing her. Barnaby was there to calm everyone down and Nathan kept pinching Antonio’s butt. Pao-Lin showed up later with Sam. He’s the baby she was looking after when she called me. And then I came home, had a snack and took you for a walk where we met that nice girl.” Keith paused, staring up at the ceiling. “I think today was a good day. Hopefully tomorrow will be the same.” Maybe I’ll stop by the park again and see if Cis is there. Or maybe I won’t see her ever again. John licked Keith’s hand, whining sympathetically when he saw that his master’s face was sad. Keith chuckled and scratched the dog’s ears. “Thanks, John. I know that you’ll always be here for me. You’re such a good dog.” John barked, as if reminding Keith he still had things to do but was grateful for the praise. “Alright! Let’s get this homework done! I’ve got to keep on my A game if I’m going to be a help to anyone at school tomorrow!” John settled on the ground, ready for a nap while Keith took out his backpack and prepared to spend the night studying if he needed to. So many people were counting on him and he didn’t want to let anyone down.

And once the lights had been all turned off, one big golden Labrador snuck up onto his master’s bed and fell asleep with his muzzle on Keith’s chest, letting him know that he’d always be there. On the bad days and the good days.

Part 5

Ivan’s Phone Call

This is going to be awkward, Ivan said to himself as he stared at the phone. It seemed like a good idea when he left the hospital, but now he wasn’t so sure. What if he doesn’t want to talk? What if I leave a message and he doesn’t answer me? Ivan’s doubts were swirling around his head like demons and he couldn’t sort them out. I’ll just do it! He picked up his cell phone and called the prison. He ended up leaving a message for Edward that kind of when like this:

“Hey Edward, its Ivan. I’d like to talk to you if you want, sorta try to start over. But if you don’t that’s okay but you know where to find me. Well, not where to find me since you can’t leave prison yet- oh I shouldn’t bring that up should I? Sorry I’ll shut up about that now- but give me a call if you want to talk. But if you don’t that’s okay. Bye now, I guess.”

“I’m such an idiot! I sound like a dork and I rambled and he probably hates me for putting him back in prison and most likely doesn’t want to talk to me at all and, and, ug!” Ivan collapsed on his bed and wallowed in embarrassment and frustration. He threw ninja stars at a dartboard to vent some anger and then folded origami to calm his nerves. He tried meditating to clear his head and attempted to do some homework to pass the time. Ivan then resorted to reading manga and Japanese magazines to get some new material for his Origami Cyclone routine. The whole time he was waiting for the phone to ring, it had become the elephant in the room that just wouldn’t leave.

He took a walk outside for a half an hour, watching what few stars there were and practicing ninja moves on the sidewalk. His phone didn’t ring the whole time. He came home hot and sweaty from his exercise and sat in his bedroom staring at his Japanese posters. He left the room to take a shower, the hot water turning the bathroom into a sauna in the process. When he got back he dashed to his phone, still dripping wet and towel-less.

No new messages.

The blond put on his sleeping yukata and tied it firmly shut. His family called him down to dinner where Ivan just wished he could have a bowl of Miso soup, his stomach to upset with the impending doom of a phone call to hold anything down. He was the last to the table and the first to leave; dashing upstairs to flip open his phone for the millionth time.

No new messages.

Ivan nearly screamed in frustration and chucked his phone against the bed where it bounced off and slid into the crack between his bed and the wall. The blond flopped onto his futon and buried his face in the pillow, defeated. He’s not going to call me. He hates me. I hate me. Why does this always happen? I always screw things up. Ivan dozed off for a while, until a shrill ringing ripped him out of sleep. His arm had gotten pinned under his body and was completely numb. He shook it until pins and needles crawled up his skin like a jorogumo while he fumbled under the bed for his cell phone. He reached it on the last ring and opened the call.

“Hello?” Ivan opened and closed his hand, trying to get it to work properly again while holding the phone in between his head and shoulder.

“Do you know how late it is?” A gruff voice asked through the phone.

“Edward!” Some of Ivan’s tension receded now that his friend had called him back, but the bad thing was, what had he called Ivan for? To tell him to never contact him again? Or to try to make things better for their friendship.

“Who else? You called me remember?”

“Yeah, I, I…”

“You sounded like a dork in your message.”

“I did? Yeah, I did.” Ivan blushed, grateful that he wasn’t face to face with Edward. His friend would’ve laughed at him.

“But I expect that from you.” Edward laughed at him anyway. “I had to basically plead to the guards to let me call you. Visiting periods were over hours ago, but I wanted to take your message. So, what did you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to talk, I guess.” Ivan twisted the cloth of his yukata in his now-working hands.

“Do you have any idea why you called me in the first place?” Edward sounded annoyed and Ivan hated when he was annoyed.

“I just wanted to bridge the gap between us and I felt really sorry about getting you put back in prison and I wanted to say sorry about the accident a couple years ago and, and-“

“I forgive you.”

“Wha?”

“You heard me.”

“Yeah, I did but I can’t believe it.”

“So, let’s start off easy: how’s school going?”

“Great! I’m doing well in all my classes for the most part and my friends and I all work at the same restaurant. In fact I have a lot of friends now. Not that it makes you any less not my best friend but I have other people that I can rely on as well as you. Well, I guess I can since you’re talking to me now.”

“You’re rambling again.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. So you have a job now?”

“Yeah, I work at Hero’s Bar which is this place that run by Mr. Ben Jackson and we get to wear superhero costumes when we work. My hero name is Origami Cyclone and I’ve got a really sweet Japanese-looking suit. I’ll show you some pictures sometime when I come to visit.”

“I’d really like that.”

“Oh and I work with a girl we call Dragon Kid and she’s a middle school kung-fu champion and she’s friends with Blue Rose who wears the skimpiest costume I’ve ever seen but Wild Tigress’ is now worse than hers. She’s seriously not wearing anything basically and I blush every time I look at her. It’s a good thing I wear a mask or else Fire Emblem wouldn’t let me hear the end of it. He’s gay and likes to pinch Rock Bison’s butt all time but he likes Sky High’s as well and Barnaby’s. Mine too.”

“He pinches butts?”

“Yep. All the time.”

“I don’t want to meet him.”

“He’s really okay, and has great fashion sense but I don’t like his butt pinching either.”

“Who’s this Sky High?” Edward asked.

“Sky High’s this really awesome guy who’s actually the SBO president at my school. He’s got a really nice dog and is nice to everyone, even people he hates!” Ivan paused here, thinking. “I actually don’t know if he hates anyone.”

“And Rock Bison?”

“He used to work at Hero’s Bar but he got a better offer and took it. That’s why Mr. Jackson had to hire Barnaby. You met him the other day with Tigress. She’s the girl that’s paired with him. She’s in the hospital because Lunatic shot her and had to have surgery on her shoulder. She fell off a building, that klutz.”

“It wasn’t my fault, right?” Edward sounded concerned.

“No, she’d have gotten shot even if you hadn’t been there. That’s just the way she is, but apparently Barnaby stayed with her the whole night afterwards. He really did think it was his fault. Of course, Tigress brushed it off as nothing but when Blue Rose was poking her arm tonight it really looked like it hurt. I feel sorry for her. She likes to be up and moving but is now confined to a hospital bed for, like, days.”

“Tough break.”

“So, how are you doing?”

“Fine I guess. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in here, so any visits will be nice.”

“I’ll visit you.”

“I’d appreciate that Ivan.” They talked about mundane things, and Ivan figured that Edward just wanted to hear what was going on in the outside world. So the blond told him everything he could and promised again to visit soon.

“Bye, Ivan.”

“Bye, Edward.” Ivan hung up, and sunk back onto his futon. He clicked on his pictures and scrolled through all the old snapshots of him and Edward. They looked so happy. Maybe they could be happy again, be best friends again. The boy scrolled past images of him and his new friends, hoping that someday all of them could hang out together. Even if Ivan was always in the background, at least he was happy. And photo bombing always left him many opportunities to get the best pictures. Like that one he just passed where Nathan had a handful of Antonio’s butt. And the one where Pao-Lin and Keith tried sushi for fun once and spit it out in each other’s faces. And the one where Karina had chest raped Tetsuko in the school yard (yes, he was taking hentai pictures at the time while trying not the look). Also that one where Tetsuko was flipping Barnaby off behind his back. All these were precious to Ivan and hopefully one day he could share them with Edward too.

I think he’ll like meeting everyone for real next time he’s out of prison. Ivan got ready for bed as he flipped off the light, hiding a few throwing stars under his pillow when he crawled under the covers. Feeling significantly better, it didn’t take the boy long to fall asleep, plans of visiting his impounded friend already dissipating into his dreams, just waiting to become reality.

Part 6

Seymour in the Night

People are so guarded during the day, hiding all their secrets from the daylight, but at night things are different and anyone who looks gets the chance to see more than there appears to be. It’s time to go spy! True to his thoughts, Nathan had some snooping to do. He prided himself on being well informed about everything and everyone and was not above using dirty methods to get what he wanted. He knew Keith had met a girl in the park and the pinkette had listened in on Ivan’s phone call to Edward, surprised that the blond talked so much. He didn’t need to follow Pao-Lin because she brought the adorable baby boy to him and his driver tailed Antonio on his sort of-not really date. The black man had gotten madder with each passing mile, watching his sweetcheeks flirting with a girl! How dare he take some other girl to dinner! I’m right here, you know!

Nathan pulled his flamboyantly furred coat around his shoulder, the pink and black mess tickling his skin. The transvestite stewed in the back of his car, binoculars plastered to his face as he watched his ‘Tonio and that girl laugh at something. His driver was parked on the other side of the street, discretely in the most perfect spot for Nathan’s spying. Said boy was glaring at the girl, but the viciousness was undermined by a huge yawn. He set down the binoculars to make notes about his night. Not as productive as I’d like it to be. Nothing really sizzling going on. This evening’s almost as bad as the night I looked up Handsome’s past for Tetsuko. Nathan had spent hours in the library that night they were attacked by that robot, trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle both he and the brunette had managed to gather. That and he was definitely not walking up seventy floors to his penthouse while the elevators were out of commission.

The past was more horrible than they could’ve imagined.

Barnaby’s parents were famous roboticists, working on projects that were creating the first androids until their untimely deaths. Murdered, they were murdered and right in front of their four year old son. A fire had consumed the mansion where they lived and Barnaby was passed into the Brooks’ good friend Principal Maverick, who had him educated far away from the city where his family was killed. Barnaby had only returned to Sternbild to continue searching for the murderer as far as Nathan knew. He sighed and put his pen down.

“I’m so tired that my feathers are deflating. Let’s get something to eat and then get out of here.”

“Yes, sir.” The driver started the car’s engine and drove Nathan to his favorite dive in the Silver Stage. Firelight Club catered to the bisexual and gay community of the city, boasting both attractive men and women for visual pleasure. The dive was strictly professional but one could have some monkey business after hours. For a price, of course. The lively mood of the club usually lifted Nathan’s spirits, the low lights and stylish company always caught his attention and excitement. The people here cared about fashion and beauty as much as, if not more than, he did. But tonight it was just not working. The pinkette was emotionally strung out from recent events and a night of snooping and he was dog tired at this point. It wasn’t until Sade, his bodacious blonde confidante, wiggled over to his table that he paid attention to anything happening in the club.

“Hey, ‘Than, what’ got you down, sugar?” Sade and her slinky black dress slid into his booth. She flipped her short, blonde curls and checked her chocolate skin for blemishes. The woman always had an ear to the ground when it came to gossip and she exchanged information with Nathan almost on a daily basis.

“Tonight’s just not a good night for gathering information.” Sade touched up her red lipstick with her finger while she looked in her bejeweled compact mirror as she listened to her friend. “I just saw my man fetish go on a date with another girl and it bummed me out. Seriously, everyone around me seems to be finding love of some sort except me. Doing this alone isn’t fun like it used to be. And I don’t mean to discount my driver, but he just stays silent for the most part.”

“Yeah, spying on people is more fun when you’ve got someone to giggle with.” Sade popped he gum and leaned over the table as she gazed at her immaculate nails.

“Ooo, I love that shade of coral!” Nathan perked up as he complimented the woman on her fingers.

“I know, right? And I got the polish for such a steal! If you go to the shopping district on the west side of Silver on Tuesdays, all the beauty parlors discount their merchandise. But only if you’re in the know.” She winked at the boy, glad to see him finally smile. Nathan’s fuchsia colored contacts lit up.

“Really? Oh my gawd I’ve got to go now! I’ll probably binge and buy their whole stock!”

“Just what I’d suspect from you.”

“Oh, and because I was stalking my crush I now found a great little Italian café that I’ll probably never go to because he took that girl on a date there, but here’s the address if you want to check it out.” Nathan wrote the café’s location down on a napkin that Sade promptly folded up and shoved down her boobs.

“Thanks, sugar.” She began hashing out her latest gossip as she and boy chatted the hours away. They discussed the finer points of aquamarine and how overrated (but fabulous) glitter nail polish was. The conversation turned to politics at some point and then skipped over the recent attacks by Lunatic and Nathan ended up spilling his adventures to the blonde. She ate up the action like a fat kid with a cake all to himself. By the time Nathan had gotten some and ate it, he felt much better.

“Hey, thanks for the listen, Sade. I don’t know what I’d do without you, girl!” Nathan squeezed her in a side-hug.

“You’d be lost without me and you know it!” The woman teased reaching into Nathan’s pink pants to grab his phone.

“You know I play for the other team, so don’t get any ideas down there!” Nathan giggled as the blonde’s had searched for his mobile device.

“I know that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly, right?” She yanked out the cell and unlocked it, already knowing Nathan’s password. “If you ever need a wingman on your nights out on the town, you give me a call and I’ll bail here. They can survive without me.” Sade punched in her contact information under “Babe Sade” and handed the device back to the pinkette with a blown kiss.

“Thanks girly! That means a ton to me!” Nathan squealed as he took back his phone.

“Jeeves is back.” Sade pointed behind Nathan, letting him know that his driver was here to pick him up.

“Well, I guess it’s time to say goodbye, but I’ll be back for any new dishes you pick up!” Nathan slid out of the booth, gracefully unfolding himself.

“And I’ll be waiting for yours as well, sugar.” Nathan was driven home quickly and quietly, the late hour getting to both the chaperone and the chaperoned. I still have to update my blog, but maybe it can wait until tomorrow. They passed the hospital where Tetsuko was and Nathan had a moment of premonition about Tetsuko and Barnaby. They had acted mostly normal that evening, but Nathan could tell something had gone down between the partners. Something was different about them tonight, like they worked stuff out but didn’t tell me! Ooo! Now I’m interested! I’ll have to watch closely until they slip up and they will slip up because Tetsuko sucks at keeping secrets for too long. Nathan giggled in his seat, his fire for getting juicy secrets rekindled at the mere thought of stalking the two. Watch out you two! I’m coming for your butts! The girl-boy let out an evil cackle and did a little dance in his seat, formulating the perfect plan to begin his stalking.

Part 7

Tetsuko’s Kiss

Tetsuko hated waking up in hospitals. It made her think of what she broke to get in there. But this time was different. As she rolled her head to the opposite side of her stiff pillow, she cracked open her eyes to check what time it was. Five ‘o’clockish in the afternoon, she guessed. She groaned and clamped her eyes shut again and turned away from the sunlight, tweaking her injured shoulder in the process.

“Kuso!” She muttered as her arm flared up in pain and agony. It did not like being moved at all, even in a sling.

“Was that a swearword?” She finally noticed that she wasn’t alone. Bunny was sitting in her visitor’s chair, looking not quite put together. His glasses were crooked, he had dark circles under his eyes, his clothes looked slept in and he was uncharacteristically wringing his hands together.

“Yes, it was. ‘Shit,’ in fact. What are you doing here? You look like you didn’t get any sleep last night.” The drugs still in her system were making her words come out all slurred and her ears felt stuffed with cotton.

“I didn’t sleep. I was worried.” Bunny looked away, not meeting the girl’s steady gaze.

“About what?”

“You.”

“Why?”

“Why?” He asked her in a shocked voice. “You are in the hospital because you took a crossbow bolt, a flaming crossbow bolt, to the shoulder and fell off a building all because of me! How could I not be worried?” Bunny stood up began to pace. He looked all worked up and stressed out. Tetsuko hated seeing him that way.

“Aw, that’s sweet! You really do care, Bunny!” She laid on the charm thickly to calm the boy.

“Don’t joke at a time like this! You could’ve seriously hurt yourself or worse!” He stopped pacing and slumped back in his chair. “All because I couldn’t protect you.”

“You didn’t need too, this time I protected you, idiot.”

“Why? Why did you do it?” He looked up and stared at the girl intently.

“Why did I protect you?” He nodded. “Because we’re partners, Bunny. Even if you don’t think so, I think of you as my friend so I wanted to protect you. You can’t duck worth shit anyways.”

“Friends?” He looked doubtful.

“Yeah, friends. It’s what normal people call ‘family you choose’ and I choose you, Bunny. We’re friends.” Tetsuko smiled at him and reached out her good arm to hold his hand. She couldn’t quite reach and scooted her body over gently to get a better angle and ended up jostling her shoulder again. “Kuso!” Bunny snatched her hand up almost desperately.

“Are you okay?” He carefully pulled back the sheets to look at the bandages wrapped around her arm and upper body.

“Ug, I’m wearing pink. I never wear pink.” Tetsuko noticed her hospital scrubs in the girlish color and groaned in disgust.

“Are you okay, old lady?” Bunny repeated, insisting on having his question answered.

“Yeah, it looks a lot worse than it feels.” She grimaced and began to inch her way into a sitting position. Bunny stood and reached over to brace her back and let the girl sit up. Tetsuko sighed heavily once she was comfortable and glanced at her companion. “Come here.” She reached up to the blonde’s face and he ducked in closer. She fixed his crooked glasses and then brushed his curls into some semblance of order. He probably would’ve done it if he’d seen his face in a mirror. He must really be preoccupied if he can’t even do his hair properly! “What’s on your mind, Bunny? And don’t say my injuries because we’ve already established you’re concerned about that.” Tetsuko leaned back and released the slightly blushing boy. Barnaby sat down and stayed silent for a moment, as if debating whether to broach the subject or just let it drop.

“I care for you.” He let it spill out unembellished. Tetsuko couldn’t think straight.

“What?”

“I like you, old lady.”

“What changed? Yesterday you couldn’t stand me!”

“You fell off that stupid building and gave me a heart attack, that’s what!” He pinched the bridge of his nose, miffed that she couldn’t understand the simplest things. “I thought something horrible had happened when you disappeared from the roof! When you fell, I fell with you. That’s when I realized was getting attached. I couldn’t imagine any day without you’re goofy smile, or meddling ways or you breaking something.”

“Ya know, you’re the only guy I know can compliment a girl and insult her at the same time.” Bunny blushed squirmed in his chair. “So you like me?” Tetsuko waggled her eyebrows at the blonde, “Like, like me like me?” She was touched by his confession. It’d probably been really hard for him to say that, considering that Bunny hid most of his true feelings behind his show pony act. Tetsuko had also been getting used to the blonde, actually wanting to see him most of the time instead of just wanting to irritate him.

“Is that even a sentence?”

“Answer the damn question before I call a nurse in here to kick you out.”

“Yes. I like you like you.” Bunny stared her straight in the eyes, serious as a funeral.

“Good, because I like you like you too, and probably have for a while now.” Bunny looked positively shocked. They looked at each other for a moment, trying to decide if they could work this out. Whatever “this” was. “Are we going to try this?” Tetsuko asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I think we should.” Bunny looked like he realized this was the moment that he should kiss her. Tetsuko knew that he knew it was time, but the boy looked scared because the only other kiss they had was initiated by the brunette and they had almost died. So it was kind of a glad-we-didn’t-die kiss and not an I-like-you kiss. I’m getting pretty good at reading between the lines when it comes to Bunny. Tetsuko was nervous too but she smiled at him like he was the most precious thing in the world and to her, he was at the moment. Right up there next to mayonnaise. He looked like he’d made a decision and Bunny stood up and leaned in closer. Tetsuko closed her eyes, stretching up to him as far as she could and their lips met in the middle.

It was even better than their first kiss. Gentle and sweet, the kiss held all of their raging emotions and unspoken words. Tetsuko hadn’t felt this completely at peace in a long time. She felt whole again. Maybe it was her way of finally learning to let go of her past, her Tomoe. It’s time to move on, isn’t it Tomoe? I still love you, but maybe I can love Bunny too. Bunny threaded his fingers into her hair and stroked her cheek with his other hand. She brought up her good arm and slung her arm around his neck as best she could. They broke apart, but stayed very close, green eyes looking into amber.

“I fell for you.” Tetsuko chuckled as how much meaning was packed into those four words.

“I know.” Bunny smiled softly and Tetsuko decided he looked even more handsome when he smiled. “Just don’t do it again, I don’t ever want to feel that way again.”

“So you really were worried!”

“I said I was!”

“I didn’t believe you.”

“You’re impossible!” Their banter broke the romantic atmosphere. Good thing too because Bunny had to go home to freshen up and then Pao-Lin called her about baby advice and then all Tetsuko’s friends decided to show up at about the same time, including Bunny. Karina poked her arm and everyone made fun of her until a nurse kicked everyone out. Bandaging hurt like hell and her stitches yanked in all the wrong directions, but Bunny got to come back in afterwards so that was okay. He stayed and talked with her (nicely this time) until Tetsuko’s kaa-san came to spend the night with her.

“It’s gonna feel so awesome to take a shower when I get home! I feel so icky!”

“I’m surprised that you’d pick hygiene out of all the things to complain about.” Barnaby was glancing through some papers from the school.

“Was that a barb?” Tetsuko glared at him.

“Maybe.”

“Just wait until you’re holed up in a bed all day, you won’t even complain about the food when you’re sitting in your filth all the time.”

“My complaint is that the lighting in this room is terrible. The florescence glares off of every surface.” Tetsuko huffed and went back to complaining. Anju Kaburagi walked in about an hour later, surprised that the pair hadn’t broken anything while they were alone. As the lady settled in for the night, the new couple kissed one last time while the older woman wasn’t looking and Bunny took his leave.

The next day what so hectic with all the last minute tests and examinations that the second Tetsuko got home, she wanted to crash into her bed and never wake up. Bunny had insisted that he invite himself over, to make sure she was comfortable, which happened to include lots of pillows, lots of blankets, lots of painkillers and lots of little kisses. She really didn’t mind the last two. Bunny helped the girl’s kaa-san make dinner and stayed to berate the brunette at her lack of homework she’d completed over the past few weeks. Then they had a study party that Tetsuko fell asleep during because her meds kicked in and Bunny ended up carrying her up into her room and laid the girl on her bed. Tetsuko slept soundly and the blond ended up staying the night in the guest room.

The embarrassing part was that in the morning when she was trying to change by herself, Bunny didn’t knock and walked in on her. The girl was in her bra and underwear without her sling, wrestling with her jeans and he just stared at her. She didn’t notice for a few moments because she was too busy trying to undo the button with one hand since her other was still aching from the surgery.

“Ha!” She triumphantly held up the open pants and spotted the blond frozen halfway through her door. “BUNNY! Get out!” Completely mortified that he’d seen her almost naked (not that he didn’t every time they went to work, but this was different) and tossed her pants at him. He slipped out and slammed the door shut to miss getting hit the face.

“S-sorry!” Tetsuko heard him stutter from the other side of the door. She was blushing furiously, checking to make sure she’d been covered all the way. Bra clipped, check. Panties pulled up, check. Annoying bandages that itched and scratched, check.

“Knock next time!”

“Yes!” They were silent for a moment.

“Did you enjoy the show?” She teased, hiding her embarrassment behind jokes.

“I’m not answering that!”

“If you do I’ll let you come help me put my shirt on with your eyes open. If you don’t, you’ll still have to help me but with your eyes closed!”

“You’re a perverted old lady!”

“Yep, and you’re the pervert who just walked in on me.” Tetsuko smiled at her door and went to pick up her jeans. She only fell over once (on her good side) when shimmying into her pants. Since Bunny never answered her question, she made him close his eyes as she maneuvered into her T-shirt, but that didn’t stop him from cupping a feel of her breasts. It felt nice, but Tetsuko wasn’t about to tell him that.

“I felt that.”

“Felt what?” Bunny acted surprised as Tetsuko let him open his eyes so he could help her into the arm sling. His face practically shined with innocence. Sneaky, bastard.

“You know what.” She slipped her arm in the sling and let Bunny buckle it securely.

“No I don’t.”

“Of course you do!”

“No I don’t, actually.” He turned and walked away with a parting smirk.

“Bunny!”

“Hurry up, old lady. Breakfast will get cold.”

“No you’re the one who’s cold! Just admit you felt me up and we’ll be good!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Liar! If you’d just admit it I might let you do it again!” She trudged after him.

“Really?” He looked way to eager to not have intentionally felt her up on purpose the first time.

“Not now!” She stomped past him to get the stairs where she slipped in her socks. Bunny caught her as carefully as he could, wrapping his arms around her torso and shoulders. He squeezed her boob again.

“Gotcha.”

“Bunny!” He just laughed at her.

Part 8

Barnaby’s First Date

Barnaby Brooks Jr. was a complete mess. This shouldn’t be that stressful. It’s kind of like when we go to meetings together or interviews, only that it’s just us and there’s no adults pushing us around. Oh god, what have I gotten myself into? He wrung his hands, struggling for the calm mask that usually was so easy to put on. It was one thing to mess around with Tetsuko at the Kaburagi’s place, her mother was always there to make sure no funny business was going on (they wouldn’t do anything, Tetsuko was still injured even if her arm was out of her sling) and it was all in good fun. But going out in public opened up a whole can of worms that Barnaby didn’t want to deal with. What if someone from school saw them? What if the old lady’s friends saw them? That would be even worse! Random people from school will most likely thing that we’re just taking a break from interviews, but the others will know something’s up. This could be very bad. Very bad.

Barnaby was driving to the hospital to pick Tetsuko up from her hospital visit. She’d tried to get out of the check up, but alas, her doctor insisted. Barnaby insisted too. He wanted her healthy and on the mend since it was his fault she was hurt in the first place. He wouldn’t let their date jeopardize her progress in getting better. There was that word again. Date. It was Barnaby’s first date. He took his foot of the accelerator, slowing his bike as if trying to delay the inevitable. What am I worried about? It’s just Kaburagi! Tetsuko’s always good with anything and she really seems to just like hanging out with me. What’s there to worry about? A lot. There’s a lot to worry about. Does my hair look okay? Is riding on a motorcycle with her arm going to be okay? Will she like the place we’re going for dinner? What if she gets bored during the movie? What if we start fighting for real and she wants to leave? Should I driver her home it that happens or will she just want to get away from me? Of course I drive her home! What an idiot! Arg! Why is there so much to worry about? Barnaby sped up again, this time trying to get their quicker so this night could get over with. He pulled up to the hospital and waited for Tetsuko to come down in the lobby. He didn’t really look around, just stared down at his hands, thinking. Closed up from the noise of the hospital, he didn’t hear his name being called. Nor did he realize his date was trying to get his attention. It wasn’t until she bent over, stuck her face in his and blew a raspberry that he jolted back into his body.

“Bunny!” His head shot up and smacked the wall behind him. “So you’re awake. Can we go now?” Tetsuko laughed at the startled boy and took his hand.

“Can’t you ever be subtle?”

“What’s the point? If you’re gonna live, why not stand out?” She wore a pair of black dress pants, green flats, an emerald-sequined tube top, a black, three-quarter sleeved cardigan that covered most of her bandages and her watch and beaded bracelet were in their place on her wrist. Her promise ring also glinted in the bright lights of the hospital. She’d actually put on more striking make-up tonight, the gray eye shadow perfectly accenting her bright eyes and she wore lip gloss.

“Speaking about standing out, you look good.” Barnaby tried to start off the date being at least a little nice. “But it’s a little chilly outside tonight, did you bring a jacket?”

“Crap, I left it at home! It was nice today, so I thought it the weather would hold.” She stopped pulling Barnaby and stood just inside the doors, glaring outside.

“Here,” Barnaby took off his black jacket and draped it over her shoulders. He had on multiple layers of clothing, an undershirt, his red T-shirt and the black long sleeved shirt he wore over that. Paired with jeans this time, but he still wore his “hooker boots.”

“Oh, thanks.” She carefully slipped her arms into the sleeves with Barnaby’s help. She grinned up at him and took his hand again, yanked for him to hurry up.

And that’s when Barnaby decided that Tetsuko knew just how to calm him down. The little exchange relaxed the blond and he began to act like they always did together. They made it to the restaurant without any incidents; he just had to tell the girl when he was turning so she could grip him better with her good arm. The café was the kind that was nice, but not overly expensive so that Tetsuko wouldn’t clam up and try not to move so she didn’t break anything.

“It’s good to see you eating something.” She pointed at his plate with her fork, swallowing her chicken before talking.

“I eat.”

“Not really. You’ve gotten skinnier.”

“And you’ve gained a little weight from sitting on your butt all day.”

“You’re not supposed to point it out!” She pouted and Barnaby noticed she actually cared about her weight, even if she put mayonnaise on everything.

“You don’t look fat, it just make your curves a litter curvier.”

“You would know, you’ve felt me up before.”

“Do you have to bring that up every time we talk?”

“Yep. It makes you blush.” Barnaby was, indeed, blushing at this point. “So cute!”

“I am not cute!”

“Would you prefer, Handsome?”She fixed him with a hot look and imitated Nathan perfectly. A shiver shot up Barnaby’s spine, half-expecting the transvestite to pop out and grope him.

“Go back to ‘cute.’” She chuckled and took another bite of food. They left the café intact and drove off to the movie theater to catch a romantic comedy that Tetsuko just ate up. It wasn’t Barnaby’s type of movie, but he did get to hold her hand and let the girl sniffle into his shoulder when the main couple broke up and then got back together at the end of the show. He even got in a few kisses when Tetsuko wasn’t paying attention to the movie at all. Barnaby hadn’t planned anything after the movie and was about to take his date home when she spoke up.

“Hey, let’s go to that new club on the other side of Silver. They cater to people our age and are actually open until two am. What do you think?” She didn’t look tired at all, eagerly pleading with her eyes to go dancing.

“Are you supposed to be dancing with your injury?” Barnaby gestured to her arm with a raised eyebrow.

“Party pooper! You don’t need to keep worrying. It’s been like, almost three weeks! I’m fine!” She placed her hands on her hips and gave Barnaby her own eyebrow raise.

“Fine, we’ll go.” Barnaby started to sweat. He didn’t know the first thing about dancing that wasn’t ballroom. Tetsuko was suddenly looking behind him with a nervous glance. “What is it?” He started to glance in the direction she was looking.

“Don’t look!” He stopped. “We’ve got visitors and they’re totally stalking us.” Barnaby’s head supplied dozens of names and faces in about two seconds. “When I say ‘go,’ get on your bike and speed away as fast as you can without getting pulled over. We’re getting rid of them.”

“Who?”

“Super-stalkers.” Oh no, not them. “Go!” They both moved at lightning speed and sped away. Barnaby heard six voices voice surprise and two cars start up to follow them.

“Step on it, Bunny!” Tetsuko clung to him as the blond gunned his bike. He finally took a glance back and saw a huge green truck and a red sports car following them.

“Damn, how did they find us?”

“I have no clue!” Barnaby watched her from the corner of his eyes as Tetsuko laughed and flipped off their friends. They were chased through the Silver Stage and were nearly caught a couple of times, eventually ending up near the club Kaburagi wanted to go to. Not that Barnaby planned to lead everyone there. Maybe he did. The blond curbed his bike, giving up on the chase and waited as the six heroes plus one driver tumbled out of the cars. The couple met their stalkers with folded arms and fierce glares.

“I knew it!” Nathan Seymour was the first to reach them in his flashy outfit.

“Knew what?” Barnaby asked.

“You’re on a date!”

“What gave you that idea?” Tetsuko got into the black man’s face.

“I’ve been watching you for weeks and I saw you in the café! You were giving each other puppy eyes!”

“I don’t do ‘puppy eyes.’” Barnaby denied being cute.

“No, he does violent rabbit eyes.” Tetsuko poked him in the arm.

“And then Nathan called us to confirm it!” Pao-Lin piped up. “You’re so cute together!”

“I’m surprised you’d date Brooks, ‘Suko. You said you hated him.” Lopez clapped the brunette on her good shoulder.

“Yeah well, he hated me too.”

“True.” Barnaby said, trying to avoid a hug from President Goodman.

“This is wonderful! Truly, truly wonderful!” The joyful man finally won out and Barnaby was enveloped in a hug.

“I’m just sad you’re off the market, Handsome.” Nathan’s wandering hands wandered low on Barnaby’s pants.

“Hands off my date!” Tetsuko forcefully removed the pinkette’s hands and stuck them on Lopez. She then took Barnaby’s arm and glued herself to his side.

“Ooo! How cute!” Nathan clung to the bull-man now. “But, I’ve got my sweetcheeks now!” Nathan attacked Lopez’s butt and the Spaniard dashed away quickly.

“Aw, damn. Now he gets to touch your boobs!” Karina looked put out, pouting on the fringes of the group with Ivan.

“He did already! And without my permission!” Tetsuko glared at Barnaby, opening up a whole other conversation about what the hell had happened and how far the blond got.

“Can we not talk about this?” Barnaby was blushing again because Karina wanted to compare gripping techniques and was asking all sorts of personal questions about Tetsuko’s breasts that the boy didn’t want to answer.

“You’re blushing again!” His date crooned as she fended off Karina’s hands expertly.

“Shut up and just get in the club!” Barnaby gestured to the club and the herd dragged him along then they heard he was paying the entrance fee.

Once everyone was inside, blinded by flashing lights and loud techno music and strangers, the blond felt very small. He felt awkward and out of place, like a puzzle piece that had all the wrong edges. Standing at a counter with a soda in his hand, Barnaby was not having fun. He looked around and saw Lopez and Seymour popping up and disappearing in the crush of people as they played there never-ending game of chase. Karina was pushing around every guy she could get her hands on while Pao-Lin cheered her on as she danced. Ivan was nowhere to be seen and Tetsuko was attempting to keep President Goodman tethered to the ground in his excitement. She gave up and began dancing with the girls, always conscious of her shoulder. The brunette smiled widely and laughed as Pao-Lin began adding kung-fu moves into her little dance routine and tried to follow along. Barnaby was content to watch her twist and move in a hypnotic dance that got him all flustered. Then his date got pissed at a boy who tried to grope Karina’s butt. She talked the guy’s ear off until she was blue in the face with her mother mode. The boy looked like he’d pissed his pants. Barnaby chuckled at his counter and took a drink.

“Bunny! Get over here and dance with me!” As much as he’d love to dance with Tetsuko, Barnaby’s fear of making a fool of himself rooted him on the spot. His date waved at him again with a come on gesture! Then she said it. “Come on!” Kaburagi began walking over, mischief in her eye.

“No, I don’t feel like dancing.”

“You’re the one who invited us here! Shake an arm; it’s time to have fun!”

“It’s ‘shake a leg.’” She yanked on his arm and when he didn’t move the girl got behind him and shoved. His drink had disappeared, his spot invaded and Barnaby just blurted out what the problem was. “I can’t dance.”

“What?” She stopped pushing and hooked her chin on his shoulder. “Mr. Perfect can’t dance?”

“Not like this,” he said as he gestured to the writhing bodies of people anywhere from twelve to eighteen. “I know how to perform classical social dances.”

“Eh?”

“Ballroom dancing.”

“Come on, this is easier than that frilly feet stuff.” She managed to get him on the dance floor and turned him around to face her. “Let’s start with the head bob. Move you head to the beat, like this.” Tetsuko began nodding her head to the music and Barnaby followed. She began to laugh.

“What?” Barnaby snapped at her.

“You look like a stiff board. Loosen up!” Barnaby glared at the brunette. “Oh, I forgot you’ve got a stick up your ass.”

“How did you get that one right?” She actually said an idiom correctly!

“It’s got a swearword in it, duh.” She shook her head at him. “You know, if you can pose in front of cameras wearing preppy, girly boy-clothes, you should be fine with dancing, Bunny.

“How did you find out about that?” Barnaby panicked. He’d used to model clothing for prep schools and high society types, which was fine but he was not proud of the underwear shoots he’d posed for. What if she’s seen those?

“I Googled your name once for fun and found a link to a modeling sight. Cute butt buy the way. The pink and blue striped Speedo was my favorite” She smirked. She did see them! The blond was mortified and almost melted into the ground. He blushed and hoped the flashing lights hit his red cheeks. “Dancing’s just like stringing all those poses together, only with a lot of jumping, head banging and shaking.” She instructed Barnaby in what to do and corrected him with a smile when he looked like a fool. After a few miss starts, the boy got the hang of this type of dancing and began to have fun, but what he really loved was when Tetsuko would throw her arms around him so they could dance close. Barnaby put his hands on her waist and felt her rippling muscles beneath her clothes. She pressed closer, gluing their torsos together.

“Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?” Seymour appeared to give the couple a teasing look.

“No, it’s very warm in here! And again, warm!” The SBO was completely clueless as he spoke, jumping high into the air. He winked at Barnaby, disillusioning the clueless remark.

“Don’t corrupt him, ‘Suko!” Lopez popped up as far away from Nathan as he could be to join in the banter.

“I don’t corrupt people!” Tetsuko began arguing over Barnaby’s shoulder, stepping on his foot in the process. He bit his complaint back and retaliated by pinching her butt. “Ow!” She pulled away to glare at him. “See, he’s already corrupted!”

“I thought that was fine.” Nathan commented offhandedly.

“Why do you always take his side?”

“Because we’re tired of taking your side. You always lose!” Pao-Lin and Karina joined the groups and laughed at Tetsuko’s face when she pouted. Ivan finally came out of the back ground to nod his agreement. They stayed in the club a few more hours until security kicked Tetsuko out for having beer.

“Where did you even get the alcohol?” Barnaby asked as drove a slightly tipsy Tetsuko home.

“Antonio’s car. He’s got a bar in there! Owow!” She whooped into the night and leaned back off the bike.

“Stay on the bike, you delinquent!” They’d almost reached her house and Barnaby didn’t want to get into an accident. She reversed her direction and desperately clung to the blonde’s torso.

“Paaaaaarrrty pooooooooooooper!” She slurred teasingly, nuzzling his back. He pulled into the Kaburagi’s driveway and unlatched his date from his body to walk her to the door.

“Stand up straight!”

“I am straight!”

“No, you’re sideways.”

“Well, it looks straight.” They made it to the door with very few problems and just before Tetsuko made it through the door she flipped around to her date. “So, how was it sharing our first date with friends? I bet all you other dates were perfect and sparkly and-“

“Actually, I wouldn’t know because this was my first date.”

“What?” She looked pretty sober now. “You went on your first date with an older woman? An older, drunk woman?”

“Well, yeah. That’s why you shouldn’t get drunk.” Barnaby’s hall monitor mode switched on as he began talking in his lecture voice.

“I’m blown away,” she stumbled into the door and gaped at him. “You’ve never been on a date before? But, but-“ she began pointing at him, struggling to find the right words.

“I never felt the need to date until now. I’m only seventeen for heaven’s sake, not ancient like you are. Watch your head.” She’d almost wacked it on the doorframe. Barnaby reached out to steady the girl but she collapsed into his arms, wrapping him in a tight hug. Surprised, the boy stiffed for a moment, and then tentatively wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

“I’m sorry it wasn’t perfect,” she whispered into his shoulder, seemingly more sober than she was acting.

“It’s okay; I’ve sort of learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to you. I-“ he was cut off by a searing kiss on his lips. It quickly deteriorated into an impromptu make-out session that Barnaby enjoyed thoroughly. There was really nothing better than Tetsuko’s body against him and her lips latched onto his own, but the second his hands drifted lower to her ass, the girl pulled back with a laugh. “Naughty Bunny.”

“Teasing old lady.”

“I know your hormones are out of whack but you can’t jump me whenever you feel like it.”

“I haven’t jumped you. Yet.” He gave her a predatory glance.

“Ooo, scary. Okay, so you can’t grope me whenever you want to.”

“Why not?”

“We’re not that serious yet. We’ve only been together a few weeks and you do it mostly to embarrass me or get a rise out of me.”

“But I still like it.” Barnaby couldn’t deny it. He was attracted to Tetsuko: her body and her crazy personality.

“You’ve got a lot to learn, grasshopper.” She pecked a kiss on his nose and patted his cheek. “We’ll play when you’ve grown up, ‘kay?” She tossed Barnaby’s jacket into his arms as she turned away.

“I’m more mature than you and-“ he protested, his body already missing her warmth as she walked away.

“Goodnight, Bunny.”

“It’s Barnaby.” She grinned back at him and slid the door shut.

“Thanks for the evening!” She slid the door back a crack to add that. When she closed the door again, Barnaby heard her trip and swear on the other side. Clumsy, old fool. Barnaby ran his hand through his curls and walked back to his bike, hoping the cool night air would stifle the uncomfortable heat in his clothes. It was a fun date. I think I’ll take her dancing again. My way this time. Then we’ll see whose incompetent, old lady. Barnaby chuckled as he squealed away on his bike, evilly planning revenge as big amber eyes watched him drive off into the night.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.