High School Never Ends

Chapter 7: Trouble in Paradise

Bunny’s fan base took it the hardest. The second he and Tetsuko went public with their relationship, the girls shit themselves. Man, I’m getting death glares on all sides today! Thanks, Bunny. Tetsuko walked down the hall to the cafeteria, avoiding all the girls in her vicinity. And it was totally his fault that this is happening! It was so little and he did it on purpose, that asshole! The brunette had been late to school so she had to hang out in the ceiling until homeroom period. She came in before Bunny and was minding her own business and when her secret boyfriend finally decided to show up, she’d nearly fallen asleep at her desk. Then he walked up and kissed her on the cheek to wake her up, calling her a lazy bitch. Well, he didn’t say bitch, but it was implied.

Okay, Tetsuko wouldn’t have minded the kiss so much but first of all, Bunny wasn’t really affectionate in public, second he loved his suave/untouchable persona for school and third they hadn’t discussed going public at all! (Their track record with communication sucked.) Lastly, Tetsuko nearly pissed herself where she sat.

“WHAT?” The whole female population of Sternbild High shrieked, because someone had viral texted the kiss all around the school. Every single girl who hadn’t known about the relationship had rushed the couple and tried to kill Tetsuko.

“Bunny, look what you started!” The brunette yelled at him from under a desk as hands clamored for her and Bunny, grabbing at anything they could. The blond was also crawling away from the lynching mob, an evil grin on his face. “I’m gonna kill you!”

“You have to catch me first!” They both jumped up and ran for their lives. The girls charged and Tetsuko ran to the one place no one wanted to be, including her. She dashed down the stairs and dodged students in the hallways until she slammed the door to Yuri Petrov’s office shut and locked it. She leaned against the door, catching her breath until someone cleared their throat. Petrov was watching her, one pale eyebrow raised in question.

“So I hear you and Brooks are dating.”

“Um…yeah.” Well, that took all of thirty seconds for everyone and their dog to know including Petrov! I hate you, Bunny! And that was the beginning of the most awkward conversation Tetsuko had ever been a part of. She was actually glad when Mr. Lloyds dragged her back to class. Now she was cringing into her starched collar and slunk to her usual lunch seat. She waited and avoided eye contact with everyone until all her friends swarmed the table and started babbling about what had transpired in class. Nathan was absolutely gushing, updating his blog as he spoke. Karina was laughing her head off and Keith was patting her on the back. Bunny sat down in his usual seat and was followed quickly by Ivan who snatched up the last seat so no one could accost Tetsuko where she was.

“I hate you.” She glared at the blond with curls who just smirked back. “Now hold my hand!” She grabbed his pale fingers before he had the chance to move them.

“Why?” He asked, looking at their joined hands.

“That way if they go for me, they’ll get you too!” Tetsuko proceeded to eat her lunch one-handed and ended up sharing her bento with Bunny.

“That’s so cute!” Nathan cooed, taking a picture. “This is going on the blog!”

“It’s like one of those love-story anime series.” Ivan noted, munching on his sandwich.

“The only thing that could make this cuter is if Tets had made the bento herself, instead of her mother.” Nathan sighed, imagining the possibilities of adorableness.

“I think it’s disgusting. They’re eating off of the same chopsticks.” Karina pointed her fork at said utensils that Tetsuko was using to shove a piece of sushi into Bunny’s mouth. She kept moving the chopsticks around so he had to go fishing for it. When the blond finally snagged the food he chewed and swallowed before speaking.

“I don’t have any complaints.”

“I du. You’re gutting ree ood.” Tetsuko didn’t bother with manners as she spoke through her onigiri. She’d forsaken the chopsticks to eat her second favorite snack with her free hand, accompanied with mayo, of course.

“Chew your food before you speak, old lady.”

“Quit calling me that!” She sprayed some rice on his face on purpose. Bunny wiped his cheek primly.

“Quit calling me Bunny.”

“Never.”

“Then get used to it.”

“I have to get used to all the girls trying to kill me because of you!”

“I thought it was best to get it out in the open now that this rabble knew about us.” Bunny gestured to Tetsuko’s friends. “Nathan’s blog would’ve spoiled all the fun.”

“You call this fun? The only places I can hide are Petrov’s and Principal Maverick’s office! Otherwise I’ll be dead before the bell rings! I never wanted to tick off your fan girls but you just had to do it yourself!” Tetsuko squeezed his hand hard, trying to break his fingers.

“Calm down,” he didn’t even flinch at her violence. “It’s much better this way.”

“So you say, but all the females just weep around you, completely heartbroken that you’re dating. When I walk through the halls I feel like they’re going to stab me in the back!” Tetsuko glared at the boy until he opened his mouth again.

“When you’re done with the rice ball can I have one of those octopus shaped wieners?” She shoved the onigiri in his face and didn’t speak to him until their next date.

“Bunny, I feel their eyes on me.” Tetsuko grabbed his arm, clinging but not, as they walked down a Silver sidewalk on a breezy Saturday morning.

“There’s no one from school here.” Bunny batted her arm and moved it to take the girl’s hand instead. “And even if there was, just ignore them. You’re with me; you don’t need to pay attention to anyone else.” She snorted at him.

“That’s a little egotistical, don’t you think?” She swung their hands back and forth between their bodies.

“No.”

“Pig.” The girl leaned into the boy, resting her head on his shoulder. It was a nice bonus that Bunny was slightly taller than her or else that action would’ve been quite uncomfortable.

“Oink, oink.”

“Was that a joke?” She looked up at her date.

“An attempt.” He looked down at her, curls lit by the sun bathed buildings.

“It’s as bad as mine.” She chuckled and squeezed his hand.

“Yours will always be worse.”

“Why does everybody keep saying that?”

“Because it’s true.”

“I still don’t get it.” She turned away to wait until the traffic light turned green so they could walk across the street.

“Just drop it. I have no desire to discuss the merits of bad jokes with you.” Bunny turned away, leading Tetsuko down the walk again.

“How about superheroes?”

“Don’t you dare.” Tetsuko smiled at the first time the blond had discovered her obsession. He’d come over to dinner because the girl’s kaa-san had insisted and one of the closet doors had burst open in the hallways. The falling boxed had almost clubbed Bunny in the head but when he went to pick up a box its tape bindings had snapped under the pressure of being closed for so long. Inside that particular box were all of Tetsuko’s old action figures, trading cards and magazines dealing with heroes. She’d squealed when she saw the blond holding her stuff and yammered his ear off the whole night about which super powers were the best and whose costume was the most stylish. He’d avoided the subject ever since.

“Come on, I see Karina and Ivan!” The girl raced ahead, pulling the blond with her.

“Of course you see them. They’re waving at you.” They were meeting at the recreation center today with some of their friends. To do what? Nobody had bothered to tell the brunette. The friends had paired up for a sort of group date: Keith was with Karina and Ivan asked Pao-Lin to come. Antonio had training at work so she figured that’s where Nathan was, spying.

“Pick up your feet!” Tetsuko shot ahead and Bunny ran with her. They breezed over to the group and entered the monster of a rec center. The center boasted the state of the art exercise and recreation equipment all housed under the most high tech facility this side of Gold. They passed the ball courts, the game rooms and pools before Tetsuko spoke up. “So, does somebody want to tell me what we’re doing?”

“Nobody told you?” Pao-Lin walked backwards in front of the brunette.

“No.” She glared pointedly at Bunny.

“We’re going ice skating!” The middle school girl flipped around again and Tetsuko halted in her tracks.

“God, no.” She broke out into a cold sweat; the warm clothes Bunny had told her to wear now making sense and causing her to overheat.

“What’s wrong?” Said blond stopped with her, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“You’re a bitch! You know for a fact that I’m clumsy and you want to put me on frozen water with thin pieces of sharp metal attached to my feet? This is going to be a disaster!”

“You’re overreacting. Everything’s going to be fine.” Bunny tugged on her arm, trying to get her to move.

No, it won’t!” I’m like a-like a…” The girl couldn’t recall the phrase she was looking for. Tetsuko wracked her brain. “Give me a minute.”

“We could be here all day,” Karina pointed out, playing with her hair.

“Uh…um…” Tetsuko tapped her foot on the ground, thinking.

“Come on! Let’s go!” Pao-Lin giggled at the brunette’s dilemma.

“Oh! It’s the one about the Chihuahua on a tile floor! Or something like that.” Tetsuko knew she hadn’t gotten it completely right, but she was close. Didn’t that count for something?

“We let her think about it and she still gets it wrong.” Bunny shook his curls and began forcibly dragging her towards the ice rink. “It’s ‘as graceful as a dog on a wood floor,’ dummy.”

“I was close!” The girl pouted as she pulled back.

“No you weren’t!” The group managed to get a resisting Tetsuko to the renting booth and had to manually put the skates on her feet and tied the knots so she couldn’t take them off easily.

“This is torture!” She whined as her friends put on their own skates.

“Quit harping and take my hand.” Tetsuko could see that her boyfriend’s patience was fraying. She sighed in defeat and grabbed his mittens with her own. She snuggled into her green felt coat and-no other way to describe it-waddled over to the entrance of the rink. She looked out onto the frozen water and her heart shuddered. It was at least three times as big as the rink in the Bronze Stage. “The last time I did this I broke my arm,” she admitted, chewing on her lip. A finger touched her mouth and pulled her lip back into place.

“That’s a bad habit.” Bunny gripped her hand reassuringly. “No broken limbs today.” The blond smirked as the brunette shifted uncomfortably on her blades. Keith, Ivan, Karina and Pao-Lin bolted past them and leapt onto the ice with various amounts of experience. Karina started gliding and performing spins and jumps that had Tetsuko gaping. Ivan managed to stay on his feet while Pao-Lin fought for her balance as she slid around laughing. Keith chortled and moved around with an airy grace. As she watched her friends, Tetsuko’s heart sped up and her sweat came back.

“I can’t do this.” She waddled backwards but was stopped by Bunny. He took her face in both his hands to yank her attention away from the ice.

“You can face a rampaging robot, take out robbers, help me disarm a bomb and challenge a maniac with a crossbow but you can’t spend a few hours on the ice?” His green eyes bore into hers, effectively distracting the girl.

“I’ll take Lunatic any day.”

“Come on, old lady, we’re getting on that ice.” He bent down and before the girl knew it, she was in his arms, clinging to Bunny’s coat.

“Princess carry!” Pao-Lin called, snickering as Keith parroted her. The child was holding onto Ivan’s purple coat as she gained her feet.

“Bunny!” He stepped out onto the ice and Tetsuko stopped trying to get down, terrified of falling. He glided to the other side of the rink and tried to put the girl down. Now she wouldn’t let go.

“Get off me!” He took away both his arms in an attempt to drop her. Tetsuko curled up, her arms taking all the weight and flaring in pain as she glued herself to his chest.

“You’re the one who put me up here!” They argued for a few more moments before Tetsuko’s right shoulder gave out and she tumbled onto the ice. Bunny caught her torso before her tailbone smacked the ground. Tetsuko scrambled for purchase on the ice with her blades and after a few seconds, she stood completely still on trembling legs.

“Well, that was fun.” Bunny helped her stand up straight.

“Shut up and get me to the wall.” The brunette tiptoed over to the support with the blonde’s help and collapsed onto it, breathing heavily.

“Do you know how to glide?” Bunny skated around her gracefully, arms folded.

“In theory.” Tetsuko’s legs felt about ready to give out. She hadn’t felt this unhinged since the day the school notified her she’d be repeating a year.

“Well then, let’s test it out. Hold my hand and put the other on top of the wall.” Tetsuko did as she was instructed. “Now, keep the toe of your skate up and push off with your less dominate foot, holding your other one on the ice.” They tested out a few strokes, wobbling and tipping all over the place. “Keep your core strong, stand up straight.” Bunny coached her as they glided around the rink a couple of times until the girl could glide clumsily holding on to just his hand. They didn’t leave the wall, it was Tetsuko’s safety blanket and she wasn’t giving it up easily. They both watched as Keith and Karina skated backwards hand in hand and laughed when Pao-Lin dragged Ivan around the ice. Then Tetsuko’s toe dung into the ice, forgotten, and caused to her trip forward. Bunny instantly let go of her hand to keep his balance and chuckled when she tumbled onto the ice.

“You asshole! Help me up!” Tetsuko growled, on her hands and knees as her date reached down to pull her up. They went around the rink a few more times before Bunny slowly coaxed her further and further away from the wall. Tetsuko held both his hands now as he skated backwards to face her. She’d let him know when someone was behind him, but mostly tried not to look down at her two left feet. Karina laughed at her tense expression and Pao-Lin poked her in the side, sending the older girl into a frantic slid. Bunny eventually let go of one hand and they glided along with some semblance of stability. Then someone called to Bunny, pulling his attention away from Tetsuko.

“Barnaby!” It was a girl from school. Tetsuko recognized her as one of the leaders of the fan girl club and once again feared for her safety. The girl was wearing an innocent smile to match her bright pink coat, but Tetsuko saw bodily harm in her eyes and stance. She was gliding over to the couple when the brunette acted without thinking.

She let go of Bunny’s hand, pushing backwards with her skates. The blond looked at her with concern, thinking she was falling again but realized she was still on her feet. Tetsuko then swung around on her ice skates and preformed a perfect 180-turn and bolted off to the far side of the rink, directly through pairs of skaters. She put on speed, wanting to be as far away from the fan girl as possible. Bunny called out for her but she didn’t turn back. She pushed forward powerfully, dodging and weaving through skaters as she came to them, hair flying and a cold breeze smacking her face. She panted with exertion and realized with horror that the end of the rink was approaching her, fast. Arms slightly out for balance, she turned her skates sideways and bent both legs, struggling to reduce her speed. Crashing was not in the plan this time. Tetsuko skidded to a stop a foot away from the wall and sighed with relief. She then turned around to look for Bunny. He was all the way at the other end of the ice rink, stunned that she’d moved so fast. The girl smiled with pride as Pao-Lin and Keith cheered her. Then a small boy skated past and smacked the brunette’s leg. She was swept off her feet the hard way and fell backwards, barely conscious enough to hear the sound of her skull hitting the ice and register the searing pain in her head before blacking out.

“I think she’s coming around.” Tetsuko heard voices through the blankets of fog her in brain. Her body felt heavy and she didn’t want to move at all. What happened again? Do I have a concussion? Because my head feels like it’s going to explode.

“Hey, Tetsuko. Boobs. Boobs. Tits. Booooobs, wake up!” Karina’s voice was right in her ear, loud and clear.

“I didn’t do it.” Tetsuko’s mouth opened before she’d even had a chance to think.

“Oh, she’s fine!” Karina huffed and Tetsuko tried to open her eyes. Light blinded her and she clamped her eyelids shut.

“Shit, this is worse than a hangover! Somebody turn off the damn lights!” She threw her arms up to cover her face.

“Yep, she’s fine.” A chorus of voices agreed.

“Don’t write me off so quickly, I might have a concussion.” The brunette opened her eyes a millimeter and took a peek around. Bunny was sitting next to where she was lying on the ground and she’d gathered quite the crowd. “Geez, I haven’t been this popular since I ran through the school in my underwear.”

“You did what?” Bunny was suddenly right in her face, glaring at her.

“Nothing.” Now accustomed to the bright lights of the room, Tetsuko managed to sit up with a little help from Bunny. “What happened again?”

“Some kid knocked you over after you speed skated across the arena. I had to go over and pick you up like a sack of flour because you were out cold. How did you move so fast anyway?” Bunny’s hands were in her hair, checking for blood, but he only found a huge goose egg. Tetsuko purred into his touch, loving how his long fingers tickled her skin.

“I saw a fan girl and it just happened.”

“We could put her on a speed skating team, but only if one of Barnaby’s fan girls joined as well so she could chase Tigress.” Pao-Lin chuckled at her idea and Tetsuko rolled her eyes and decided that her head didn’t like that very much. Inspection done, Bunny removed his hands and Tetsuko whined in protest.

“Well, so much for an uneventful activity.” The blond shook his curls as if it was all Tetsuko’s fault.

“Hey, it was an accident. Not my fault this time.”

“We know. Can you stand?” Bunny stood and brushed his butt off. He reached down and helped haul Tetsuko up when she was ready. Everything tilted and twisted for a moment, but then the world straightened up and Tetsuko felt ready to move. The group began walking out of the rec center, checking to make such the brunette was still on her feet. Bunny wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her and pulled the girl close. His body was warm in the brisk air and Tetsuko sighed into his touch. They walked along chatting with Pao-Lin and watching Keith wave at everyone while Karina teased him by flat tiring his shoes. They friends parted ways at one of the many subway stations and called out that they’d see each other at work that night. Tetsuko and Bunny stayed topside as Karina and Ivan both took the subway back to their homes and Keith escorted Pao-Lin to her boarding house. The couple kissed for a few minutes before the girl invited her boyfriend back to her place.

“I’ve got to go meet someone.” Bunny said, pulling out of the embrace.

“Who could you possibly be meeting?” Tetsuko rolled her eyes good naturedly, pushing her bangs out of her face. She said it as a joke but Bunny took it the wrong way.

“You know I can meet people other than you and your posse.” His hard tone grated on the girl’s nerves, causing her to narrow her eyes.

“Geez, I was only teasing. Go meet whoever it is!” Tetsuko covered up the hurt in her face with a miffed, but unconcerned look. “I’ve got to nurse a headache.” She walked away, flipping her hand over her shoulder in goodbye. The bus ride home wasn’t as fun as it had been on the way up to the rink, mostly because Tetsuko was alone and now had a throbbing head. She was surprised that Bunny acted so defensively, he usually just justified everything and didn’t care if Tetsuko gave a damn what he did. He hadn’t really snapped at her since the robot incident. Did I hit a nerve? Or is Bunny just on his period? Was it something I did? Tetsuko chewed her lip and then stopped. Bunny was right, it was a bad habit. When did I start caring so much about what he thought of me, Tomoe? I’m acting like a love-struck tween! This happened when we first started dating too. I’d always ask you those silly questions about how I looked or if you liked my eye shadow until you told me I was always beautiful. Even with bed head and a big-ass hangover.

Tetsuko got off the bus when she realized that she’d be better bumming about Silver than going home and then coming right back an hour and a half later for work. The brunette wandered around the glittering sidewalks, reveling in the cheerful afternoon sun. She stopped at a drug store to get some painkillers for her headache and then got some food to take them with. The girl then made her way over to Hero’s Bar for work, getting all ready to go before Bunny even made it through the door. Tetsuko was beginning to worry when he hadn’t shown up by the time their shift started and was pleased when the blond breezed through the door looking a little disheveled. His curls were messy, his clothes wrinkled and askew and his glasses were crooked. He rushed into the dressing room before the brunette could fix his lenses and came out a few minutes later looking completely perfect. Tetsuko shrugged her padded shoulders and linked arms with her boyfriend as they began their work.

Bunny acted completely normal during their shift, but Tetsuko was dying to know who he had met with. The only reason she didn’t outright ask him was that they were never alone for more than a few seconds, like the blond was trying to avoid meaningful conversation with the girl. As the night wore on, Tetsuko became more and more put out, not even Mr. Legend could cheer her up when he came on (even though she took her usual break for the show). They had their customary race to the speedway after work and Bunny acted like he always did: cocky and arrogant, but Tetsuko had a hard time trying to win. Thoughts of his meeting kept swirling around her head, and she didn’t know how to broach the conversation without him getting defensive like he had that afternoon. In the end she did nothing. Just lost the race and drove home with more questions than answers.

She lounged around all Sunday morning and tried to be productive in the afternoon by getting all her homework done. It worked for a while, but the girl got distracted by her phone when Anotonio messaged her and they texted for hours, talking and joking back and forth before stopping at nine ‘o’clock at night. Then Tetsuko debated whether or not if she should text Bunny and find out whom he met, the cat’s curiosity welling up inside her. She messaged him, but never got up the guts to ask her questions, just settling for the conversation instead. She purchased some action figures over the internet between texts, took a shower and pampered her hair like Bunny thought she never did and then hid under her covers so her mother wouldn’t confiscate her phone when she should be sleeping. Tetsuko knew Barnaby had insomnia most nights (one of the few things she managed to drag out of him) but was surprised when he stopped texting her relatively early in the night. Then the brunette tossed and turned all night, until she finally passed out from exhaustion.

“You look like hell.” Bunny observed the next morning in homeroom.

“Thank you for pointing that out. I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Tetsuko yawned widely, tears of sleep gathering in the corners of her eyes. She stretched her arms above her head and slumped further into her seat. Bunny chuckled at her.

“I didn’t keep you up all night, so what kept you up?” He sat on her desk, content to talk with the girl until the bell rang.

“My brain wouldn’t shut off. You know, the usual stuff: where did my other blue sock go, if ‘Masa had the new order of bourbon in yet, I was curious about whom you met the other day, if that essay was due today or Tuesday-”

“Wait, what was that last one?” Bunny was suddenly very interested in what she had to say.

“About the essay?” Tetsuko yawned again, scratching her head.

“No, the one before that.”

“The sock one or the liquor one?”

“No the one in the middle!”

“About where you went?” Tetsuko decided that right now was as good as any time to ask. “I was just curious about who you met. You never did tell me.”

“And I don’t have to tell you.” Bunny turned cold again and stood to take his seat and Tetsuko had to be content to throw paper airplane notes at his head during class.

What’s wrong, Bunny?

Don’t call me that. Nothing’s wrong.

You keep shutting me out.

Stop meddling and maybe I’ll tell you what you want to know.

Why don’t you just tell me now?

Maybe I don’t want too.

That’s fine, but I’ll just keep bugging you. :3 Kitty face!

She never did get that last note back because Mr. Lloyds confiscated the airplane and stuffed it down the trash bin. At least it wasn’t my phone this time. The last time Lloyds had caught her texting, she had to wait three whole days before she could get it back. Tetsuko rested her head in her hand as Mr. Lloyds continued his lecture and her eyes began to flutter shut. A wad of paper hit her in the face causing her to freak out a little and fall out of her chair. The entire class started laughing and Lloyds turned around again to look at her disappointedly. Tetsuko smiled at him, embarrassed that she got caught napping again.

“Tetsuko, I know this isn’t the most interesting lesson in the world, but the least you could do is stay awake until the bell rings.” His unemotional voice almost caused the girl to fall asleep again.

“Yeah, teach. Sorry.” She picked herself up off the floor and plunked down in her chair again, glaring at Bunny. He pointed to the paper that he’d thrown at her, smirking. She grumbled and picked it up off the floor when Lloyds returned to the whiteboard. She smoothed out the sheet and read what he’d written on it.

Stay awake and maybe I’ll tell you. The girl flipped him off before he turned around to be a good little kiss-up and answer every question Lloyds threw out. For days he held that stupid meeting over her head and it was about killing her not knowing what was going on. She seriously considered tearing his skull open and getting the information out herself, but she’d probably be charged with manslaughter if she did. The brunette decided to let it go until he brushed her off on an invitation to the movies the next week. Same spiel: I’ve got to meet someone, sorry I can’t go, maybe next time…blah, blah, blah.

“Seriously, if you’re just ditching me because you can’t stand being near me, then just say it!” Tetsuko crossed her arms, her miffed mood clearly showing up in her voice.

“It’s not that!” Bunny, went back to colleting his books and putting them away meticulously.

“Then is it a girl? Are you cheating on me?” It seemed more and more like he was actually seeing someone else.

“No! Can’t you just trust me?” The blond whipped around, looking as angry as Tetsuko felt.

“I would love to, but you’re being so secretive it’s hard not to be suspicious.”

“I’ve got a lead, okay?”

“What? A lead?” Now Tetsuko was confused.

“A lead to my parent’s murderer.”

“Seriously? What is it? Let me help you!” Tetsuko instantly offered not to let him go this alone and completely getting shut out, again.

“No. I want to do this by myself and you’ll just probably mess this up.”

“Geez, thanks for the vote of confidence.” Little jabs like that were happening all the time now; like Bunny thought just because they were dating he could insult her whenever he wanted. When she insulted him it was because her reason was legit, or she was just teasing, but with Bunny…it all seemed serious and it ticked her off.

“I just…don’t want to lose this one, okay? Ouroboros has slipped away from me so many times, and this time I might catch them.” He seemed to be telling the truth, his green eyes completely open for once.

“Fine, do what you want.” The girl left him, her curiosity far from satisfied.

Okay, you are being completely paranoid here, Tetsuko. You can’t stalk Bunny just because you can. Tetsuko was waiting for Bunny to leave the school. Hiding in her sneak-in tree, she watched the blond finished hall monitoring and then went back inside for twenty minutes (probably chatting with Petrov) and then he came out again to hop on his bike. It was their day off this week and Tetsuko wasn’t going to waste it by bumming about at home, she intended to find out where Bunny kept going without her. Maybe he’s lying about Ouroboros. I bet he’s going to a strip club or something like that. Maybe he’s a drug dealer and all these meetings are to sell crack. She waited until he was halfway down the street on his motorcycle before leaping out of her tree and dashing to her own bike. She discretely tailed her boyfriend into the nice part of Bronze, hiding behind other cars and staying a good distance behind him the whole time.

He comes to Bronze to meet whoever it is? Seems below his attention. Wait, he comes to Bronze to hang with me…but that’s different! Great! Now I’m degrading myself! Tetsuko shut her brain up and concentrated on what she was doing. Bunny turned off the highway and wound through the streets in the outer ring. He stopped and parked at a club called the Snake’s Tail, a bar known for its wacky patrons. Tetsuko had never been in it and she’d planned to keep it that way. She parked her Chaser across the street and down a block or so and camped out in a bookstore so she could keep an eye on the neon club while she waited for Bunny to emerge. He did, about an hour later with a girl hanging his arm. Tetsuko dropped the comic book she was browsing through into her lap and gaped out the window. That liar! That lying son of a bitch! Tetsuko watched him from behind a bookcase. They passed under a streetlight and Tetsuko got a good look at the chick hanging off of Bunny’s arm.

Who is that? Can it be..? No. No way would he be seeing her. The brunette glared daggers at the black-haired bitch leaning on her boyfriend. Kriem was rotten to the core, manipulative and cruel. She would chew Bunny up and spit him out like a stale piece of gum when she was finished with him. She sported a bob-cut with straight bangs with the same stupid black bowler hat she’d worn for years. Tetsuko noticed she’d added a ribbon with card suits on it near the brim. She wore a while halter top with a black collar and tie, her signature diamond cut-out jeans and red strappy heels. The woman’s long, red fingerless gloves reached up almost to her shoulders, covering the collage of tattoos the brunette knew she had. Bunny helped her in a black leather jacket as they walked and then the bitch snagged his arm again, twirling her ever-present umbrella around her wrist. Kriem pursed her purple lips in a pout as she blinked sensually, showing off her spade drawn eyelids. Her half diamond tattoo with under her left eye looked sinister under the shadows of her hat. Damn, every time I see her hanging around Jake or not, I just want to punch her in the boobs! The black haired woman was known to be Jake Martinez’s girlfriend, so what was Bunny thinking? Kriem didn’t seem like his type (even if Tetsuko wasn’t as well). Tetsuko fumed as Jake Martinez’s twenty-something girlfriend clung to her seventeen year old boyfriend.

“Uh, ma’am.” One of the bookstores attendants tapped her on the shoulder.

“What?” Tetsuko ripped her attention away from the liar and the slut.

“You’re going to have to pay for that.” The girl pointed at comic book crushed tightly in Tetsuko’s fist. She’d picked it up at some point when she stood to glare out the window and had now ruined the glossy pages.

“Oops. Sorry.” Tetsuko blushed in embarrassment and loosened her fist. “Yeah I’ll pay for this. Will you ring me up?” By the time the girl had gotten out of the store, Bunny and Kriem were gone. “Kuso.” She swore. “I’m gonna kill him.”

Tetsuko muttered to herself as she hopped on her bike. She was fuming that Bunny was not only possibly cheating on her, but he lied to her about it! Right to her face! And with the girlfriend of one of their known enemies! “First I’m gonna key his stupid motorcycle, then I’m gonna wring his neck and disembowel his lying guts. I’ll tear his damn curls out of his skull and make a sweater out of them and then I’ll burn it. I’ll break his kneecaps, rip out his fingernails and tear his arms off! When I’m done with him, his own mother won’t even recognize him!” Ranting to the sound of her powerful engine helped calm the girl down as she sped away to anywhere but where she was. I finally date someone after Tomoe and he turns out to be a bigger asshole than what he presented himself to be. Typical. Every relationship I’m in somehow gets screwed up. Testuko’s heart clenched painfully as her sad thoughts ran around her head. She stopped by Antonio’s apartment to break in a steal some booze to help her forget the irrational anger of being a girl being cheated on and then she just wanted to get sloshed after her fourth can. By the time she rolled into her driveway, it was after midnight and she could barely see straight. Her kaa-san was already in bed at Tetsuko stumbled upstairs to imagine more dead Bunnies. She never even made it to bed and threw up alcohol in the toilet and then passed out on the tiled floor.

She avoided Bunny all the next day at school and stepped on his feet every time he tried to talk to her. The blond eventually just left her alone, probably just assuming it was one of those days where Tetsuko Kaburagi was on her period. The girl didn’t even stick around long enough to wait for him so they could go to work like they usually did and at work she was always three steps ahead of him and well out of the way. The day after that, Tetsuko ignored Bunny completely and got into another fight with Jake Martinez’s goons, ending up with a few big bruises and a split lip. At least she narrowly avoided breaking her nose, this time. The gang was getting bolder, even with their leader behind bars. Apparently Jake had landed a sentence of a couple months for something he did, but Tetsuko couldn’t be bothered to find out. Bunny gave her a lecture when he saw the state of her face and clothes, but this time she didn’t even pretend to pay attention and just walked away.

Three fights later, Tetsuko learned that Jake was now out of prison, mostly because he kicked her in the stomach and she had to deck the bearded bastard’s face in. This time, Bunny had to bail her out and she didn’t thank him this time, just walked off to nurse her bruised ribs. Tetsuko’s rage had died, but she still didn’t feel like confronting Bunny about Kriem just for the fact they were going to fight and she didn’t feel up to fighting, for once. Man, I couldn’t feel shittier. She slumped over the sink and cried for the first time in what felt like forever, big fat tears rolled down her face as the illusion of her happy life shattered around her. She was unhappy and didn’t want to tell anyone or really do anything to change it because it would just make other people unhappy. When did I become so helpless? What if he really doesn’t like me anymore? Is this his way of telling me I’m not what he wants? The girl nursed her breaking heart with gallons of ice cream and endless hours in the gym after work and school, not letting anyone in. She brushed off Bunny’s attempts to hang out or date, saying she had familial commitments or just plain taking off after work. She didn’t want anyone butting in on her pain, choosing to hide it behind her fake smiles, just like she did three years ago when her last love broke her heart.


Tetsuko was being very evasive as of late and it was bothering Barnaby. She’d go to all their scheduled meetings, but disappear afterwards without a word to the blond. She did the same at work, completing her shift and letting the boy hang onto her hasty goodbyes. They never got together just to bond or hang out. They never kissed any more or talked. Barnaby might’ve not been in any other relationships, but he knew when something was wrong with one. Tetsuko’s been acting strange lately, Barnaby thought to himself as he watched his girlfriend laugh at Nathan’s outfit. The pinkette was wearing a studded lavender jacket with a black sequined top and black leather pants. He kicked the girl with his purple boots and picked at her get-up: a black graphic tee for a band Barnaby had never heard of, neon green skinny jeans and those sinful black stiletto boots. Her ratted jean jacket was thrown over her backpack and poke through with buttons and patches with more bands and organizations Barnaby didn’t recognize. Both girl and boy-girl were joking around like normal. But there was nothing normal with his picture because of one thing: Tetsuko was ignoring the blond and it ticked Barnaby off because he hated being ignored.

What’s her problem? She’s been doing this for days now, starting with that day when she kept stepping on my toes. She ruined a pair of perfectly good dress shoes doing that! Barnaby studied his girlfriend again, chiming into the conversation when appropriate to make his presence known. Tetsuko looked at him when the blond spoke but never longer than a few seconds. The blond noticed that their friends had noticed something was wrong and needed to be fixed. After lunch Nathan cornered Barnaby, literally, and wanted to know what was up.

“Hey, what’s wrong with Tets and you? She’s being colder than Blue Rose on an ice rink at a fundraiser.”

“I have no clue it started last week and she’s been like this since then.” The blond smacked the black senior’s hand away from his rear end, wishing Tetsuko was here so he didn’t always have to be on his guard.

“So, trouble in paradise and you don’t know why.”

“Basically.”

“I’ll see what I can dig up, but only for a price.” Nathan waggled his eyebrows suggestively, trailing a finger up the blonde’s tan jacket.

“I’ll buy you that new perfume from Bloomingdale’s.” Barnaby was not doing any sexual kink favors or cross-dressing for the man’s enjoyment. Perfume was the next best bet.

“Deal.” Nathan flounced off with a wave of his fingers. At work he still hadn’t come up with anything and Tetsuko was still dodging the blond. He sat back and waited, content to be patient for the time being. The next day he got a text:

Nathan Seymour: It’s something that you did but she won’t tell me what it is.

Now Barnaby was really stumped. Why is she mad at me? What did I do? I can’t remember pissing her off. He wracked his brain for the answer but came up empty. He tried getting her to talk to him but she avoided all his questions with fake smiles and strained chuckles. He tried being especially nice to her but she was still cold. Over the next few days, Barnaby warmed Tetsuko up enough that she was almost back to normal, but he still hadn’t figured out what had upset her.

One day while he was staring out the window during class, it began to snow. The little snowflakes that would melt as soon as they hit the ground, but they were still beautiful to watch and while watching, the blond realized that he and his girlfriend hadn’t gone out since that day at the ice rink. That mostly was because he’d been trying to meet with Kriem in his free time and the whole reason he was meeting with her was to get information on Jake Martinez. That was Barnaby’s main goal: find out if Jake killed his parents. Martinez had a connection with Ouroboros somehow and the blond had found a snippet in the library catalogue that led him to believe that Jake had killed his parents. Just thinking about it made the blonde’s blood boil. Jake was in prison when Barnaby found his lead and by the time the blond was set to do anything the guy had been out of jail and kicked his girl in the gut and disappeared before he knew it. That and the fact that while Martinez was in prison his cronies had seen fit to harass the student body at school and get the snot beat out of them by Tetsuko didn’t help the situation at all. From his final meeting with Kriem, he’d learned that she helped him get his release and then they both went underground, dropped off the map completely which frustrated Barnaby to no end.

Gone again! Damn it, why can’t I ever make any headway? Barnaby cursed his bad luck as he attempted to ask Tetsuko out. He wanted to get away from his failure (again) for a little while and decided working on relationship problems was a good place to lose himself for a while. Twice she slipped away before he could approach the subject but the third time being the charm, he finally engaged her in a conversation outside the parking lot before they went to work.

“Hey, do you want to go out tomorrow? That new superhero movie is out and I thought you might want to see it. With me.” Barnaby stood by her bike as she hooked her bag onto the rack.

“I’d love to go, Bunny, but I have a commitment tomorrow.” The blond felt his face fall, all his plans for getting Tetsuko to tell him what the hell was wrong with her splintering. She glanced up and saw his disappointment before he could hide it. She then wrapped him a hug which was weird. Normally that would’ve been fine and normal for Tetsuko, but with how she’d been acting towards the boy it just came out as awkward. “I’m sorry, but I can’t back out of this one.” She gave him that soulful look that Barnaby would never tell her melted his heart. She took his hand, seeming more her old self now than she’d been twenty minutes ago.

“I understand.” No I don’t, but she seems sincere.

“But next week when we’re off I can go, ‘kay? We don’t even have to see that movie if you don’t want to.” She’s trying to be nice, that’s an improvement. Well, she should be. She’d treated me like dirt for far too long. But Barnaby’s cynical thoughts didn’t match the soaring of his heart. Maybe things will get better from here.

“Whatever you want.” Barnaby squeezed her hand, loving how it fit so perfectly into his.

“Thanks, Bunny.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips and the blond didn’t even comment on the nickname. Then she raced him to work, just like normal. Barnaby won, again, just like normal.

Things got better like Barnaby hoped they would. Tetsuko talked to him, made him the butt of her jokes again and so on. The boy started to feel better about their relationship until she canceled their movie date over a freaking text.

Old Lady: I can’t make it. Sorry.

She didn’t even have the decency to call me! And if that wasn’t bad enough, she had to take a personal day at work and then when she was actually working, Tetsuko was distracted and clumsy. It was infuriating for Barnaby to watch her be so inconsiderate to him, so unprofessional to the customers they were serving and mostly just being a clumsy ass.

“What’s going on, old lady?” Barnaby confronted her after a particularly bad day at work. People were rude and grumpy and complained about everything and Tetsuko had broken no less than seven dishes. And two of them had meals on them when they crashed to the floor.

“It’s nothing, Bunny. Just a bad day.” She wouldn’t look him in the eyes as she began unclipping her shoulder pads.

“It’s not that.” He took her chin in his fingers and made the girl look up. “Something’s bothering you and it’s affecting our performance at work and yours at school. I know you fail your two exams on Tuesday. Tell me what’s wrong.” She flinched at his words, her golden flitting around his face.

“I can’t.” She gripped his free hand with both of hers. Barnaby could feel her pulse racing in her veins through both their gloves.

“Why not?” He was pissed that she wasn’t fessing up. Usually people did what he wanted and Tetsuko not doing that was ruffling his feathers. This game they were playing was growing tiresome and the blond was done with it.

“It’s complicated and I want to tell you but I can’t right now.” She smiled softly, blowing some of her spiky hair out of her face. “I’ll tell you soon, okay? Just trust me for now.”

“Fine.” Like hell you’re leaving me in the dark. Barnaby was going to get to the bottom of this if it killed him. Tetsuko was going to explain herself, but first the boy was going to see where she kept spiriting off to.

On a Saturday morning much like the one where the group went to the ice rink, Barnaby followed Tetsuko as she sped along the highway into the privileged part of the Silver Stage. I’ve sunk so low to be stalking her, but the old lady’s a closed book. What could she be doing here? She doesn’t shop here, work is on the other side of the Stage, and none of the others are meeting her all the way over here. Barnaby had asked around her friends to see where Tetsuko went in her spare time. Nobody really knew outside their usual hangouts and they’d all assumed that the blond would be the one to know that (since they were dating and all). Even Nathan only knew of work, school and where she usually hung out in Bronze and the outer part of Silver, nothing pertaining to this section of the Stage had crossed his radar. This was nowhere near any place she’d been before with any of her friends.

Tetsuko zoomed through the streets with the experience of a professional racer, probably gained from challenging Barnaby to beat her to work, which he did. She only stopped once, to buy something at a toy store and attach the bag to her bike rack. Barnaby watched her with a critical eye, tailing her every move carefully and out of sight. She drove into one of the residential districts and wound around the houses until she stopped at a house with a sprawling front yard and smelled of money. She parked her bike in the driveway behind a Mustang and a BMW and whistled as she practically skipped up to the door. By this point Barnaby was up a tree watching her from through binoculars in a neighboring property, his bike hidden a street over. Tetsuko put on her biggest grin and rang the doorbell, her package tightly held under one arm. Barnaby didn’t expect what happened next.

“MOM!” A little brown haired girl in a bright blue coat and boots rocketed out of the house and tackled Tetsuko’s legs, causing both of them to crash to the ground. Mom? Barnaby’s brain short circuited as he watched the scene unfold.

“Kaede, sweetheart! How are you today?” Tetsuko pinched the toddler’s cheeks and hugged her tightly.

“Good! Now let me go!” The bright eyed girl blinked her baby browns at the teenager as she struggled to break free. She was wearing striped stockings over her skinny jeans and Tetsuko zipped up her blue coat over the black shirt underneath.

“Sorry, Tetsuko. I tried to stop her.” A middle aged woman with blonde hair an eye for style waltzed out the door in a stunning red top and black skirt. She was followed by a man who Barnaby assumed was her husband. He had the professor look: thick rimmed glasses, muted sweater and tan dress slacks paired with dress shoes.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Reed! I’m just happy to see her feeling better!”

“She really wanted to see you again, because last time you left in such a hurry.” The man spoke with a soft voice that Barnaby had a hard time hearing.

“Yeah, sorry about that, Kaede. Tetsuko had to go back to work, they needed me there.” The blond boy remembered that day: Tetsuko had left suddenly and Mr. Jackson had called her back to finish her shift. So, that explains it. She’d been coming here on those days when she’s not on a date with me. I don’t know whether to be relieved or hurt. “Shouldn’t we go inside? I mean, Kaede was just sick.” Tetsuko set the little pale girl on her feet and stood up.

“No, she’ll be fine. She’d been cooped up for a whole week, right sweetie?” The woman smiled down at the girl.

“Yeah! Momma had me eat icky stuff! And I couldn’t play outside!” The girl hugged the blonde woman’s leg and made a face. So she’s momma? Then why did Kaede call Tetsuko “mom”?

“That was medicine, Kaede. It was going to help you get better.” The man reached down to fix the yellow ribbon holding the girl’s hair up in a side pony tail.

“It was icky!”

“Yeah, I think so too.” Tetsuko laughed and Kaede spotted the package in her arms. Her eyes got really wideand her face erupted into a smile.

“Is that for me?” She reached up, clenching and unclenching her hands.

“Yep! It’s for you, peanut!” Tetsuko presented the package from the toy store to the bouncing toddler and she basically ripped open the bag.

“Mine!” The girl yanked out the fluorescent pink teddy bear and hugged it close. “Tanks, mom!”

“Kaede, we’ve been through this.” Tetsuko kneeled down to the child’s level and ran her hand through the pony tail. “Mrs. Reed is you mom and Mr. Reed is your dad. I’m Tetsuko, okay?”

“No, you’re mom. I came from here.” Kaede pointed to the brunette’s stomach, holding tight to her new bear. Wait. What? Kaede is Tetsuko’s daughter? Barnaby nearly fell out of his tree. This was monumental. Tetsuko was a mother. A mother. Barnaby’s stomach disappeared and his brain did that thing again where he couldn’t move past the word “mom”. This was her big secret? She’s got a kid. That’s pretty huge. Barnaby felt betrayed, not knowing something this big about his own girlfriend. He started to sweat, his hands trembling as he held onto his binoculars.

“Yes, sweetie, but these are you parents.” Tetsuko pointed to the Reeds, her eyes hiding huge amounts of pain as Barnaby watched from his tree.

“I know.” The girl pointed at each parent in turn, “Momma. Dadda. Mom.” She pointed at Tetsuko with a look on her face like this should be the easiest thing in the world to understand, similar to the look Barnaby gave the brunette all the time.

“Don’t try to explain it away, Tetsuko. She’s already got it in her head and you’re part of the family now. The whole family.” Mr. Reed chuckled as he shrugged on his coat and offered his wife hers. They stepped outside and shut the door behind them. “We’ve tried to tell her all that too.”

“Hey, Kaede, why don’t you show Tetsuko how far you can count? I’m sure she’d love to hear it,” Mrs. Reed prompted her daughter.

“One, two, three, four, six, five, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen!” Everyone chuckled at her, congratulating the child even she’d mixed up two numbers.

“That’s amazing, Kaede! So smart!” Tetsuko picked up the girl and swung her around a few times above her head as she squealed and giggled. Then she settled the child on her hip to ask her more questions. “What else can you tell Tetsuko?”

“I can name colors!”

“Okay, let me hear ‘em!”

“Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, black!” Kaede pointed at the colors she could see outside as she rattled off her list.

“Good job! You’re learning so much!” Tetusko tickled the toddler, causing her to squeal again.

“Yes, she can also brush her teeth and enjoys talking our ears off with her questions.” Mrs. Reed gave Tetsuko a side-hug as she joined the teen on the walkway.

“Oh, really? What sorts of questions?”

“Like why it rains, why can’t she go outside, when you’re coming next, why she has to eat dinner before having a treat, why she has to take a bath and things like that.” Mrs. Reed sat down on the porch as he made his own list.

“Well, it’s official. You’re too smart for your own good!” Tetsuko tossed the girl into the air and caught her again.

“Stop! Stop! It tickles!” Kaede squirmed until Tetsuko put her down and started chasing her. She ran around the yard screaming loudly as Tetsuko followed her, threatening the girl with tickles if she got caught. The teen eventually snatched the girl and tickled her viciously. They lay together on the ground, staring up at the sky with Kaede resting on Tetsuko’s chest. The toddler suddenly flipped around and poked the brunette’s breast, earning a startled gasp.

“Why don’t boys have boobies like mom and momma?” Kaede’s question caught all the adults off guard and Barnaby blushed up in his tree. His legs were aching in his crouch so he shifted to a sitting position while he tried to figure out the whole familial situation of the people on the ground.

“Uh, because boobies are for babies and only moms can have babies.” The teen thought up an answer quick. Boobies are for boys too, you liar.

“Nice save.” Mrs. Reed patted her on the back as she took Kaede off Tetsuko. Kaede got set on the ground again and ran around some more asking question about the grass and the sky that Tetsuko answered the best she could when Barnaby knew all the correct answers already. Then the child yammered about her next birthday and how she was going to be five and get so many more presents than her last birthday when she tripped and fell forward on her hands. The adults were in motion instantly.

“Kuso!” The little girl swore in Japanese with such ease it startled Barnaby.

“Kaede where did you learn that?” Mrs. Reed walked over to her daughter, her face a mask of displeasure, but her eyes were shining with laughter.

“Mom. She says it when she forgets something. Or when she hurts somewhere.” Kaede giggled, thrilled at getting such a comic reaction out of Tetsuko, who just gaped at her from the ground.

“Sweetie, that’s a bad word. You’re not supposed to say bad words until you’re at least Tetsuko’s age.”

“Are there more?” Kaede looked ready to memorize every swearword thrown at her in the moment.

“Yes, but I’m not telling you any of them.” She fixed her daughter’s crooked pony tail for the millionth time.

“Damn.” The little monster pouted with her arms crossed. She is seriously cute.

“That’s another one you’re not supposed to say.”

“That one too?” Kaede looked completely heartbroken that her vocabulary was getting shortened.

“Where did you hear that one?”

“Mom.”

“Any others like that? Like when she stubs her toe or breaks something?” The Reeds knew Tetsuko as well as Barnaby did. Well, they have to, I guess, since they adopted her…her…

“Shit too?”

“Yes, you’re not supposed to say that.” Mrs. Reed gave Tetsuko a glare that rivaled Barnaby’s and the brunette just shrugged, laughing off her foul mouth.

“She was going to learn them sooner than later anyway.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to teach them to her.” Mr. Reed was talking to the teen in the lecture voice as he stood to join his wife.

“She’s an ass.” Kaede chimed in.

“KAEDE!” All three adults shouted and the little monster outright burst into laughter. The morning turned into afternoon and Tetsuko had to leave to and “finish some things” before she went to work. Kaede whined and begged her to stay longer and after promises of calling more and bribing with promises of gifts the girl finally let her go.

“Can you visit soon, mom?” She gave Tetsuko the soulful look that Tetsuko used on Barnaby, they were definitely related.

“Not as often as I have, okay sweetheart? This week was special because you were so sick. I’ll still call, I promise.” She wrapped the little cherub into a warm hug and sent her off to her parents. By this time, the blond boy had decided that it was best to confront this situation right now and had climbed down his tree quietly. His stomach was roiling around and he wanted to vomit. She’s a mom and she didn’t tell. She’s had sex with another guy and didn’t tell me. Why didn’t she tell me? This is huge! This is not something you keep a secret! Barnaby silenced his thoughts as he listened to the last of the goodbyes from behind his tree. He stepped out when he heard the door to the house shut.

“So you’ve got a kid.” He brought out his lecture voice and glared disapprovingly at the girl who looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Bunny! You scared me!” She’d jumped at his voice, her hand on her chest. “What are you doing here?” Her own glare came out as she realized that the blond had followed her.

“Finding out what you’re doing here.”

“Did you follow me?”

“Yes.” No point in hiding it.

“You couldn’t just let me wait to tell you?”

“Why did you keep her a secret?”

“I told you: it’s complicated! Only Antonio knows about Kaede out of our friends because he was by my side when I was pregnant!” Tetsuko looked completely lost, like a fish out of water, looking everywhere but at Barnaby now. She shifted on her feet and clenched her hands together.

“So you couldn’t tell your boyfriend that you slept with another man and had his child?” The hurt leaked into the boy’s voice and his insecurity as well.

“Why does it matter to you? I was a stupid fifteen year old who made a bad choice.”

“So Kaede was a bad choice?”

“No! She’s such a darling. She deserves better than me, so I gave her up. But that still doesn’t explain why you’re here, Bunny.” Tetsuko was angry now, glaring and getting right into the blonde’s face.

“I wanted to know what was going on with you! Why you’d been skipping work and our dates!”

“I could ask the same of you!” They were both yelling now, getting all their pent up frustration out in the open with one big fight.

“What?” Barnaby snapped at the brunette. She was meeting his gaze steadily now, her anger blazing like a fire.

“I wanted to know why you were avoiding me two weeks ago, why you turned down all my invitations to hang out. I saw you with Kriem, you lying asshole!”

“You followed me? You’re such a hypocrite!”

“You weren’t so forthcoming with information so I went to find out myself! Turns out your just a lying son of a bitch who was too much of dick to tell his girlfriend that he was cheating on her!” Tetsuko shoved Barnaby’s shoulders making him stumble back a couple steps. He shoved back just as hard.

“I was not cheating on you! I was getting information from about Jake Martinez! He’s the one who killed my parents!”

“Good! Glad that’s all cleared up!” The brunette threw her hands in the air sarcastically. “But it still doesn’t justify you lying to me.

“You’ve been lying to everyone this whole time about your kid! Well I guess that proves what everyone says about you.” Barnaby spit out the words, not meaning any of the filth that was pouring out of his mouth. Okay, he meant it a little bit.

“What?” She snapped clearly pissed off.

“That you’re a slut and this whore baby proves-“ Barnaby didn’t expect to get punched in the gut. He clutched his torso, glaring up at his girlfriend.

“You can say whatever you want about me, but leave my daughter out of it.” She growled, baring her fangs as a threat.

“Whatever.” Barnaby stood up, catching his breath and squaring off with the brunette. “I guess we’re through then.” Tetsuko looked at least a tiny bit shocked, but her eyes turned cold and she nodded.

“I guess we can’t work this out. Whatever ‘this’ was.” She gestured in between them bitterly and turned away to straddle her bike.

“Well, if you can’t trust me, I can’t trust you. We can’t base a relationship off of something like that.”

“Yeah, you’re right, Bunny. You’re always right. I hope you’re happy now.” She revved her engine menacingly and swerved it around towards the road, narrowly missing knocking the blond over because he’d jumped out of the way. Barnaby brushed off his jacket.

“The name’s Barnaby, old lady.” He sneered.

“I don’t fucking care at this point.” She flipped him off and screeched out of the driveway. Barnaby began walking back to where his bike was, feeling empty and depressed. That was his big break up and it felt nothing like novels made it out to be. The blond dejectedly trailed to his bike, all his anger evaporated when he heard the slide of a window.

“FUCKING ASSHOLE!” Kaede was leaning out her front window to curse at the blond, apparently taking her birthmother’s side. Then her eyes got wide and she blushed bright red. “Cute fucking asshole!” Then the window slammed shut.

The next day’s lunch was quiet without Kaburagi there and Nathan was smart enough not to ask questions. If Barnaby thought things were bad before, they were even worse now. Everybody knew about the break up and he was swamped by his fan girls every waking moment without Tetsuko to fend them off. She didn’t even look at him or acknowledge him now at all, staying out of trouble just so she didn’t get carded by the boy. Their work partnership was strained and tense. Their friends had no idea what to do and Barnaby was losing his mind. First Jake was gone and now Tetsuko, two anchors that kept him rooted to the ground. Revenge and friendship. Poof! Gone.

The day it happened their Friday afternoon hang out session was quieter than usual because Tetsuko was gone (but Barnaby didn’t care, maybe), President Goodman had a mandatory meeting and Ivan had mysteriously disappeared from school, no biggie – he was always sneaking away to do whatever it was that he did in his spare time. But then it happened. It arrived by their window seat (it was too cold to be outside by the tree) before they got there, wrapped up in black paper with a red bow and addressed to “Revenge Boy,” which they decided meant it was for Barnaby. When the blond opened it, crowded around by Karina, Pao-Lin and Nathan, he discovered a red laptop. There was a note card inside, decorated with creepy little stitched up bears that were grotesquely grinning up from their card. The note read:

To Revenge Boy and friends: Mr. Jake and I would love to play a game with you, one where we test you all because of the trouble Kaburagi and Brooks have made for us. Please open the laptop and type in the password Ouroboros and then hit enter. Open up the internet and get into your email account. There’s a message under Game Rules that you need to read before you can play. All will be explained there. Thanks for playing! Game on!

Kriem

“What the hell?” Nathan leaned over Barnaby’s shoulder to read the note and then pass it to Karina and Pao-Lin.

“Well, do it. Let’s find out what this ‘game’ is.” Pao-Lin opened up the laptop and turned it on setting it on Barnaby’s legs when he sat down by the window. The middle school girl took the floor while Nathan and Karina took the seats next to him. Barnaby typed in the password and entered it into the computer. When the desktop popped up, the Ouroboros insignia was the background and Barnaby’s heart started to race. He opened up his email and found the message Kriem sent. He clicked on “Game Rules” and stared at the message in front of him:

GAME RULES:

-Mr. Jake and I will be sending you videos which you have to watch to play the game.

-Everyone must play the game in some way, whether by watching or participating.

-The videos must be watched as they come in, or else there will be dire consequences-the laptop will ping when you get a new message.

-If you notify the police, whichever of your friends is in the video will die and we will come after you.

-Ouroboros thanks you for playing! Enjoy the show!

-And P.S. Barnaby you’re such a dear for letting me know all about you and your friends, otherwise none of this would be possible! Thanks a ton! Kisses! Kriem

“That’s just morbid!” Nathan clutched his chest.

“And we can’t contact the police. What does that mean?” Pao-Lin asked.

“It means that Jake and Kreim are doing something against the law and they holding us hostage until their plan is complete. I don’t know what they’re trying to do but it’s not going to be good.” Barnaby tapped the key board, once again ready to vomit. She used me while I was using her? How is that even possible? His thoughts were interrupted as the computer pinged. There was a new message. Barnaby clicked on the email labeled ROUND ONE and opened the file. Inside was a video link, only a few minutes long. He clicked play.

“Welcome to round one of our little game!” Kriem’s mocking voice filtered in through the speakers. She was recording from and abandoned building, debris strewn all over the floor. “In this round, Mr. Jake’s taking on the little Japanophile from your clique of friends. Will the little wannabe survive his encounter?” The camera swung around to a bound and gagged Ivan lying on the floor. He squirmed in his bonds. Jake Martinez walked into the shot, swaggering in decked in his crazy clothes and an insane smile.

“Well, well. Cut the kid some slack, huh? Let’s get this party started!” He cackled as Ivan’s bonds were cut. The blond tried to run, never one for confrontation, but he was stopped when Jake cut him off and kicked him in the stomach and sent him tumbling to the ground. Ivan got up and dodged kicks and punches as best he could, fear evident in his eyes. Kriem kept singing Jake’s praises as he pummeled Ivan into the ground. The blonde’s head was bleeding, his clothes torn as he fought to stay conscious, suffering from multiple open wounds. Three minutes of hell later and the boy was out cold with a crooning criminal dancing around his body lying limply on the floor. Then the man became bored and picked his teeth.

“That was too easy. Next time give me a challenge, okay? That almost wasn’t worth my time.”

“Well, looks like Mr. Jake is undefeated! We eagerly await the next round! Bye, bye for now.” Kriem’s face entered the shot and gave the viewers a Cheshire cat grin and then winked out. Barnaby felt sick, his face clammy and his hands trembled. Pao-Lin was curled on the floor, trying to block out Ivan’s screams of pain. Karina was staring blankly at the screen and Nathan had turned away and was visibly sweating. Barnaby’s phone rang and startled a scream out of everyone. The blond picked up and shakily said, “Hello.”

“Barnaby Brooks Jr.?” The woman on the other end asked.

“Yes?”

“We have an Ivan Karelin who was just admitted into the hospital anonymously. We have contacted his parents but before he went into surgery he asked us to call you and tell you to be careful. I don’t have anything else to tell you, but would you please notify anyone else who would need to know about Ivan?”

“Yes, I will.” Good he’s getting help. That little thought did nothing to ease the growing dread in Barnaby’s stomach.

“Thank you. We’ll contact you if anything else comes up.”

“Thanks.” He hung up and relayed the message to the others. They stared at each other and the computer screen. Barnaby didn’t want to look at the video’s paused screen a moment longer so he shut the laptop. They notified Mr. Jackson that Ivan wouldn’t make it to work for a while because he was in the hospital. The four teens sat around trying to process the fact that they were being hunted down.

That night as Hero’s Bar was subdued, all the pieces playing their parts, Barnaby and Wild Tigress avoiding each with glares and Origami Cyclone was knowingly absent. Sky High never showed up and after work long after everyone had left (including Tigress and Mr. Jackson), the four who’d seen the first video got together to discuss the other blonde’s absence. That’s when the computer in Barnaby’s backpack pinged again. They all jumped, fear spiking through the air. Barnaby logged in, his fingers barely working. His email had another message labeled ROUND TWO. The blond clicked open the file.

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