A New You
Nothing out of the ordinary had taken place in recent weeks, but the young players in fate’s cruel game knew that things tended to happen when it was least expected, so on their guard they would have to stay.
On this sunny morning the grating sound of her alarm clock woke Aiko from her pleasant slumber, which had been filled with delightful dreams and whimsical fantasies. The groggy girl reached blindly for her alarm clock but inadvertently knocked it to the floor, shutting it off in a less conventional manner.
Looking more like the living dead than her usual lively self, Aiko crawled out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. Her first order of business was to brush her teeth. Aiko swished her toothbrush across her teeth, then took in a mouth full of water. She then took a long look at her reflection. Having had enough of the pitiful sight, Aiko spat her foamy water at the mirror, sparing herself from having to gaze upon herself any further.
That afternoon Aiko sat down with Jaycee and Sage to have lunch. The three had chosen the same classroom as always to eat in and, as usual, Jaycee and Sage dined on meals that consisted of little more than a thin sandwich. Aiko, on the other hand, feasted on white rice and various delights from the sea. Though her meal was fit for a queen, Aiko was in no mood to eat it as more pressing issues were weighing heavily on her mind.
Jaycee and Sage had failed to notice the morose state Aiko was in, so the troubled young lady was forced to drop subtle hints to gain their attention. She let out a sigh but neither paid her any attention. She then let out another, this one far less subtle than the first.
“Is something wrong?” asked Jaycee.
“Is it that obvious?” asked Aiko.
“Something must be wrong,” said Sage. “You haven’t touched your lunch.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” said Aiko. “I just have this feeling, like a change needs to be made. Has either of you ever felt this way?”
“Not really,” said Jaycee. “What kind of change do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” replied Aiko. “Any kind of change, I suppose.”
“Is that all?” asked Sage before taking a bite of his sandwich. “That’s nothing to worry about. At one time or another, everyone goes through something like this. The best advice I can give is to ride it out. The feeling will pass.”
“I guess you’re right. I’m worrying over nothing.” The usual smile then returned to Aiko’s face. “I’m starting to feel better already.”
“Helping people is what I do,” said Sage.
“Right,” said Aiko before letting her focus become fixated on the doorway. She then pointed in its direction.
Jaycee and Sage looked in the direction of the door but found no one there. When they turned back around, they discovered Aiko had eaten every bite on her plate. “So, who’s going to share the rest of their lunch with me?”
The sky blanketing the city had become aglow in orange. The students had since gone home for the day but Vice Principal Takagi remained in her office. Only the faintest amount of light was able to penetrate through the blinds.
“You called for me, my queen?” asked a feminine voice from within the shadows.
“I did,” said the vice principal. “You see, something just occurred to me. When engaged in the heat of battle, taking out the opponent’s strongest link can bring any army to its knees. But thus far trying to do so has yielded us little more than failure after miserable failure. So it dawned on me. Why not take out the weakest link first? Work our way up. Give our army some much needed morale by lessening our opponent’s numbers.”
“A brilliant strategy, as usual, my queen. But why have I been given the privilege to serve you on this mission?”
“The reason is simple. Your appearance is quite similar to these adolescent fools, which gives you the freedom to walk amongst them.”
The demon that went by the name Kana walked into what little light had seeped in through the window. Her appearance was just as described. She looked to be in her teens, though her true age was measured by centuries, not years.
“So, who is it that you wish for me to destroy?” asked Kana.
Vice Principal Takagi placed a picture on her desk. The subject of the print was Aiko, who was winking and making a V sign with her fingers. “This one has been more trouble than I had been expecting. She’s even had the audacity to say hurtful things to me. And you know how sensitive I am.”
Kana took the picture. “My queen, consider this one already dead.”
The next morning Jaycee and Sage were waiting for class in the hall when Aiko arrived. It didn’t take long for the two to notice a change in her.
“Aiko?” asked Jaycee.
“Yeah, I was just as surprised as you when I found how cute a girl with glasses could be,” said Aiko, now donning a pair of corrective lenses.
“Is there something wrong with your eyes?” asked Sage.
“No,” replied Aiko. “You see, I was thinking about it last night, and realized a man had no business giving me advice.” She then placed her hand on Jaycee’s shoulder. “In these matters, girls have to listen to what other girls have to say.”
“But I didn’t tell you anything,” said Jaycee, who feared she might soon become the reason for an argument between the couple.
“If you don’t want my advice, then I won’t give it,” said Sage.
“Don’t feel bad,” said Aiko. “Besides, I like my new look. I look smarter and I even feel smarter. Take for instance the quote I came up with on my way to school. When visiting a friend’s house, always make sure to flush twice. Pretty good, huh?”
Aiko’s father, who was speaking at a very important meeting, was trying to read from a vital document. He relied heavily on his glasses to read such fine print but had forgotten to put them on. He reached into his coat pocket but found nothing. He then checked his pants pockets but once again came up with nothing. It was clear to the others at the meeting that the man they had planned on doing business with was unprepared.
“Not prepared,” said one of the men to his associate.
“Not worth doing business with,” said the associate.
“Where are my glasses?” asked Aiko’s father, once again checking every pocket. “I never take them out of my coat, never.”
Unbeknownst to Aiko and the others, Kana was making her way down the hall. She took a good look at every female student she came across, more than once receiving a strange look in response. As she approached the three, she took a long look at Jaycee. The inspection came to an abrupt end when Aiko backed into her.
“Watch where you’re going, you damn geek!” shouted Kana, who wasted no more time on Aiko before continuing down the hall.
“I don’t really look like a geek, do I?” asked Aiko. “These are my father’s glasses, but I still think they look good on me, don’t they?”
Later that day it occurred to Aiko that it would take more than a mere pair of glasses to shake her out of her rut. The fact that her eyes couldn’t take the strain of such a prescription also aided in her decision. “How can my father see with these things?” she whispered before removing her glasses just so she could make out the writing on the blackboard.
On his way home Aiko’s father was having difficulty seeing the road as he drove. His vision was so impaired that he soon found himself driving in the wrong lane. Seeing an oncoming car and hearing its horn forced him to swerve and slam on his brakes, sending his car careening and stopping across both lanes of traffic. “Where are my glasses?” he asked, slumped over the steering wheel.
Vice Principal Takagi was sitting within the shadows of her darkened office and awaiting Kana’s report. “Tell me what happened,” she said in a less than pleased tone. “I’m just dying to hear what kind of excuse you’ve cooked up.”
“I couldn’t find her,” said Kana. “She must not have shown up today.”
“I checked the attendance sheets,” said Vice Principal Takagi. “She showed up for every one of her classes, so come up with a better excuse.”
“I searched the school from top to bottom. You must believe me.”
“I grow tired of constantly listening to excuses.”
“Please, my queen, I beg of you,” pleaded Kana, dropping to her knees. “Give me one more chance. I swear I won’t fail you again.”
“You had better not,” said Vice Principal Takagi, sliding another picture of Aiko onto her desk for Kana. “Study this picture as if your life depends on it. Because it does.”
The next morning Jaycee and Sage were once again standing out in the hall waiting for class to start when Aiko arrived. The perky young lady wore no glasses today. Instead, she wore a wig colored a playful shade of red.
“What do you think?” asked Aiko. “Do I look even cuter today?”
“You look . . . different,” said Jaycee.
“Of course I look different,” said Aiko. “That’s the point. Oh, Sage, tell me you like my new look,” she said, pressing against him. “Don’t I look younger?”
“This feels wrong,” said Sage. “Besides, why would you want to look younger? You’re still in high school.”
“I thought you of all people would like my new look,” said Aiko, pressing harder against Sage. “With me changing my look, it’s kind of like you getting to have a new girlfriend every day. But don’t worry. I’ll make sure Aiko never finds out.”
“Why me?” asked Sage.
“You need to support me,” said Aiko, pulling away from her boyfriend. What she didn’t know was that Kana was passing by behind her. The two collided, then crashed to the floor. Sage helped Aiko up, while Jaycee did the same with Kana.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, you brat,” growled Kana, pulling free from Jaycee. “You could have killed me.”
“Sorry,” said Aiko. “I guess I need to pay more attention.” It was at that moment when she spotted something on the ground that Kana had dropped. Aiko picked it up and found it was a picture of herself. “What is this?”
“You would be wise to keep your hands off of other people’s property,” said Kana before ripping the picture away from Aiko. She then stormed away from the scene.
“That girl, could she be . . .” thought Aiko.
Aiko’s father was downtown showing two prospective clients around a local department store. “As you can see, our company deals with many different businesses,” he said. “Take this department store, for example. It’s the finest in the city. There’s not a single thing out of place.” It was at that moment when the three came upon a mannequin that had no hair. “Where is this mannequin’s hair?” asked Aiko’s father.
“Not prepared,” said one of the men to his associate.
“Not worth doing business with,” said the associate.
It was the time of day when Aiko got the chance to excel. Her PE class was soon to start, and that was where Aiko took a back seat to no one.
With tender precision, Aiko slipped out of her school uniform. “So perfect,” she thought, taking a long look at her body. She then stretched her arm out and gently caressed it with her fingers. “My skin is so soft and smooth and just the right shade of milky white.” Aiko then looked at her chest. “So petite, just the right size. I don’t care what anyone says. What man could resist me? Then again, what woman could say no?” Aiko then noticed Jaycee had arrived and was now undressing beside her.
Jaycee slipped her top off to reveal a chest that was a full cup size larger than Aiko’s. All positive thoughts that had been running through Aiko’s mind quickly disappeared.
“What is it?” asked Jaycee, who had noticed Aiko’s staring.
Aiko was startled, having been caught. “Uh, I just realized that I have the same bra at home,” said Aiko, putting up a brave front. When Jaycee resumed changing, Aiko turned away. “Of course, mine just happens to be a lot smaller than yours,” she thought.
Kana stood before Vice Principal Takagi’s desk. And like the day before, the news she had to report was less than satisfactory.
“You had better not have the same excuse as yesterday,” said the vice principal, who was hidden within the shadows.
Kana threw herself to her knees. “I have no excuse, my queen,” she said. “I have failed you and don’t deserve another chance. But if you give me one, I swear I won’t fail again. I will find that vile little creature and eradicate her. You have my word.”
“Stand,” demanded Vice Principal Takagi. Kana did as was told. “I’m going to give you one last chance to find her. But if you fail me, then I won’t be held responsible for what happens to you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly clear, my queen,” whimpered a trembling Kana.
“Tomorrow you will find that girl. And it won’t be easy to miss her. She’ll be the only boy dressed like a girl! Her hair is shorter than most of the male students’ and her chest is as flat as the walls around you! So find her and kill her!”
“Yes, yes, my queen,” said Kana. “I won’t fail you.”
“For your sake, you had better not,” said the vice principal.
The next morning Jaycee and Sage were once again standing out in the hall waiting for class to begin. As the two were waiting, a perky young blonde with dazzling blue eyes and a chest that far exceeded what a girl of her size should have arrived. She immediately took her place beside the two.
“Can we help you?” asked Jaycee.
The girl did nothing but smile.
“Do we know you?” asked Sage.
The girl wasted no time in wrapping herself around Sage’s arm. “That all depends,” she replied. “Do you want to get to know me?”
Sage immediately pulled free from the girl.
The girl began giggling. “I really had you fooled, didn’t I?” she asked. “You two had no idea that it was me.”
“Aiko?” asked Jaycee. “Is that you?”
Aiko nodded. “It’s me, alright,” she replied. “And let me just say that you did a fine job of rejecting temptation,” she told Sage, nudging him in the side with her elbow. “It takes a man with an iron will to turn down a girl as pretty as me.”
“Well, there wasn’t much I could do with Jaycee standing here,” said Sage.
“Your eyes are blue,” said Jaycee.
“I’m wearing blue contacts,” replied Aiko.
“Your hair looks real,” said Jaycee.
“That’s because it is real,” said Aiko, twirling it with her finger. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s really mine,” she said with a wink.
“What about those?” asked Sage, staring at Aiko’s chest.
“What do you mean?” asked Aiko. “I’ve always had these.”
Jaycee poked at one of Aiko’s breasts with her finger. “It feels like you stuffed your bra with a sock,” she said, poking again.
Sage took the opportunity to poke at the other breast. “By the feel of it, I would say this is a very sturdy sock,” he said. “Possibly worn while playing sports.”
Aiko pulled away. “Fine, they’re not real,” she said, covering her chest with her arms. “We can’t all be as endowed as some people, Jaycee.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jaycee.
“What gave you the idea to choose this look?” asked Sage.
“According to a recent study conducted by a very prominent magazine, this is the look that men most favor,” explained Aiko. “And, as we all should know by now, you can always trust what you read in prominent magazines.”
“What kind of magazine are you talking about?” asked Sage.
Aiko’s father had returned home early from work. “What a week I’m having,” he said, sitting down on his bed. “Nothing has gone right.”
Knowing just how to relieve his stress, Mr. Nakamura turned his attention to his night stand. “There’s only one way to unwind at a time like this,” he said with a grin, opening the drawer. His eyes bulged when it was discovered that the drawer was empty. “Where is it?” He then began searching his room frantically.
It didn’t take long for Mr. Nakamura to come up with a most startling hypothesis. “Aiko couldn’t have taken my magazine,” he said. “No, she would never do that.” He then resumed turning his room upside down. “She must never know that I look at such things!”
Kana was once again making her rounds, looking over every female student she passed. When she wasn’t inspecting girls, Kana scanned the picture of Aiko. “This face,” she whispered. “This face has burned itself into my brain. It’s the only thing I can think about. If I don’t find this girl, it’s going to be my head.”
Unbeknownst to Aiko, Kana was passing by behind her. The two collided, then were sent crashing to the floor.
“It’s you again,” said Aiko when she found who it was.
“You damn bubble-brained, air-headed bimbo,” exclaimed Kana. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” Kana then got back to her feet. “It’s girls like you I can’t stand the most. You think just because of how you look you can do whatever you want.”
“I never thought of it that way,” said Aiko.
“Do yourself a favor,” said Kana. “Change the way you look. Maybe then someone will actually take you seriously.” With those words of advice, Kana departed.
“What was that all about?” asked Sage, helping Aiko up.
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Aiko. “That girl is one of my fans. She must be devastated to see me looking so different these past few days. That must be why she was carrying my picture around. She misses the old me.”
“That’s an interesting theory,” said Jaycee.
“There was nothing wrong with my old look,” said Aiko. “I was the only one who saw a problem. I guess you shouldn’t tamper with perfection.”
“There was wisdom in that girl’s hateful words,” said Sage.
“Yeah, I should thank her the next time I see her,” said Aiko.
The school day had come to an end and Kana once again stood before her master’s desk. The petrified young demon shook more visibly today than on any other day as it seemed she had just run out of second chances.
Vice Principal Takagi slammed her fist on her desk. “The simplest of tasks I gave you,” she exclaimed. “And you failed. Time after time, you failed!”
“Please, my queen,” said Kana. “I searched for her every possible moment, but I couldn’t find her. It was as if I was hunting someone who no longer existed. She must be more clever than you had thought.”
“You dare try to blame this on me?” asked the vice principal, rising from her chair.
“No, my queen,” said Kana through quivering lips as she backed away from her now oncoming master. “I swear to you, that’s not what I meant.”
Vice Principal Takagi backed her underling all the way into the door. Kana then closed her eyes, seemingly ready to accept her fate.
“I don’t know why I’m going to do this. Perhaps being around these creatures has made me soft. But I’m going to give you one more chance.”
“You’re going to show me mercy?” asked Kana.
“It was a mistake to send you after that girl in the first place,” said Vice Principal Takagi. “She’s only a minor player in all of this. Our real enemy is this one.” The vice principal then held up a picture of Jaycee. “She’s the one we should have set our eyes on from the start.”
“I’ve seen her,” said Kana. “This one won’t be hard to find.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. And she won’t be hard to find, because she always has her hair in that stupid pony-tail.”
Kana dropped to a knee and took her master’s hand. “My queen, your mercy is exceeded only by your beauty and wisdom.”
“Now, how can I possibly deny something that’s so true?” asked the vice principal. She then broke out in a fit of laughter that could be heard all the way down the hall.
Aiko had just returned home from school. “Father,” she shouted. After not receiving an answer, she made her way to the kitchen and called out again, but in a far more authoritative tone. “Father, where are you?”
It wasn’t long before Aiko noticed a piece of paper on the counter. She picked it up and read it out loud. “Aiko, things have been stressful at work, so I’ve decided to take a short vacation to help me relax. There’s a sandwich waiting for you in the back yard, and if you need money, I left you some in the refrigerator. See you in a week.”
Aiko crumpled up the note. “It’s just like him to leave for no reason,” she said.
The following morning Sage and Aiko were in the hall waiting for class to begin. Neither paid any extra attention when Jaycee arrived, but something about her appearance forced them both to take another look. Jaycee’s hair was no longer in its usual pony-tail. Rather, it was fixed straight and flowing gracefully down her back.
“What do you think?” asked Jaycee, cheeks blushed.
“It looks good,” said Sage.
“She looks even better than before,” thought Aiko. Noticing that Jaycee was staring at her, Aiko shook out of her current state of self-pity. “You look almost as pretty as me now,” she said before letting out a small laugh.
“Seeing Aiko change how she looked made me think maybe I should try something new,” said Jaycee. “But so far everyone’s just been staring at me.”
Kana was once again making her way down the hall. But unlike before, she now carried a picture of Jaycee with her. “Ponytail, ponytail,” said Kana. If she could find the girl, then Kana would surely find the hair.
“This look is nice,” said Jaycee, “but I don’t think I’ll keep it.”
“Why not?” blurted out Sage.
“Well, I’m just so used to my old look,” said Jaycee. “Doing even the slightest thing to make myself look different makes me feel like a different person.”
“That’s right,” said Aiko. “You were fine just the way you were. Why change something that doesn’t need changing?”
“You could have told yourself that three days ago,” said Sage.
“Tomorrow, I’ll go back to my old look,” said Jaycee. “It’s been less than a day and I already miss my pony-tail, but I kind of like the attention.”
“Tomorrow’s not soon enough,” whispered Aiko.
“What was that?” asked Jaycee.
“Oh, it was nothing,” said Aiko, backing away. What she didn’t know was that Kana was walking by right behind her. The two collided, then crashed to the floor.
“Damn it,” exclaimed Kana. “Who the hell ran into me this time?” Kana’s eyes bulged when she came face to face with Aiko
“It’s you,” said Aiko. “We really should stop meeting this way.” Aiko got to her feet and offered to help Kana up but Kana refused to take her hand.
“No,” exclaimed Kana. “Stay away from me!” Kana then turned her attention to the others and found Jaycee. Her jaw dropped when she found no pony-tail. “What’s going on here?” she exclaimed. “What is this place?”
“But I want to thank you for what you told me the other day,” said Aiko.
“I told you nothing,” replied Kana, getting back to her feet and backing away. “I don’t know any of you!” She then sprinted away. “None of you!”
Vice Principal Takagi was sitting within the shadows of her office when the door was kicked open, then slammed shut by her stressed follower. “I’ve had enough,” exclaimed Kana. “I can’t take it anymore!”
“What’s the meaning of this?” asked the vice principal.
“You shut up! What I’ve been through is more than anyone should have to go through. I’m not doing it anymore. So you can go right ahead and destroy me now. I don’t care! Just get it over with, you power hungry old witch!”
“Old?” exclaimed Vice Principal Takagi. With nothing more than a snap of her finger, the vice principal dismissed Kana within a puff of black smoke. “No one gets away with calling me old.”
After school Jaycee, Sage and Aiko walked home together. Jaycee’s hair was back in its usual pony-tail. “Really,” Jaycee told Aiko, “you didn’t have to put my hair back like this. I told you I could do it on my own when I got home.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” said Aiko. “What are friends for?”
“Who needs friends like that?” asked Sage in a voice he thought no one else heard.
“Did you say something?” asked Aiko, looking Sage square in the eye. Aiko was given no reply. “Come on, Jaycee,” said Aiko, taking Sage by the arm. “Let’s get Sage back to my place. We can give him the new look this time.”
“Don’t even think about it!” exclaimed Sage, trying desperately to break free.