* *

It all started a cold December day. The gang and I had just left the movies and Joey wanted to take us out some where. So, me, Tea, Serenity, and Isis squished into Joey's bucket of bolts, while Yami Yugi, Yugi, Malik, Yami Bakura, Bakura, Tristan, Grandpa, Mokuba and Kaiba, rode in Kaiba's luxury limousine and tailed Joey's car.

"This is a dream come true!" exclaimed Joey as he started the car. "What is? You squashed in a car with 4 beautiful women?" asked Isis. He shook his head," No. The car's starting with out spewing any oil." Serenity rolled her eyes," What a wonderful dream," she said sarcastically. He glanced in the review mirror," Yeah.it sure is."

Tea looked up from the window," So where are you taking us?" I crossed my legs and jiggled my foot," To the bathroom, I hope," I muttered as I winced with every bump. "I told you to go earlier!" said Isis. "But I didn't need to go then!" I complained as I chewed my lip. "Okay.here's a gas station. You can go while I refill the tank," Joey said, making the car swerve and bounce into the station. I nodded and hopped out the car as soon as he stopped (which seemed forever to me). I came back a few minutes later just as Joey finished getting the gas.

"How do you feel?" asked Joey as he slid into the car. "Very relieved," I replied, following him. "Yuck!" said Serenity, making a face. I started to laugh; "No-I didn't mean it like that. I had to add some more makeup and I couldn't do it with Joey driving. I mean-what if they're were really hot guys where ever Joey's taking us?" Isis and Serenity laughed, but Tea sighed." Mai-you are SO boy crazy!" she exclaimed.

" Don't hate." I replied, flicking open my mini mirror, admiring my reflection. "Come on, tell us where we're going!" demanded Serenity," Or else!" Joey laughed, thinking that there was nothing she could blackmail him with," Or else what, little sis?" Serenity grinned evilly," Remember when you got really drunk and-" "Okay! Okay! I'm taking y'all to this great skating rink. You'll love it." I panicked," Skate?" "Yeah. Do you know how to?" My chest tightened," No!" "I don't know how to either, but it might be fun to try," said Tea. "Me too!" chirped Isis. Serenity shrugged," I guess so.you can skate, right Mai?" "No!" I whimpered. "Uh huh," said Joey. "I can't skate! It's a curse or something!" I insisted. "Yeah, right," scoffed Joey. "Yeah. I am right!" I said. "You can't be that bad, "protested Isis. "Yes, yes I am!" "Mai- you are going to skate whether you like it or not!" said Joey. I gave a mock laugh and sneered," And how are you going to do that?"

* * *

It turned out he really did know how to make me skate whether I liked it or not. Some pictures and bribing got to change my mind really fast. "What if I fall and break my neck and die?" I whined, "Then you'll be sorry!" Joey rolled his eyes," No one ever died from falling down while skating." He said. I frowned," Yes they have! Lots of times!" "Like when?" asked Isis. I blushed slightly," Well-there's always a first time!" I said quickly. Joey parked the car," You always look on the bright side, don't you?"

* * *

I bit my lip stubbornly as I glared at my friends. "I'm telling you, I can't skate!" I said exasperatingly for the hundredth time since we had gotten there. Tea shrugged as she wrapped a hand knit scarf over her neck, "It's okay, Mai-no one knows how to skate either except for Joey." "Still..." I muttered. Tristan looked up after he laced up his skates, "Don't worry, Mai," he joked," You won't break a nail!" The gang laughed as my face began to burn.

"I'll help ya Mai," said Joey sincerely." Skate for me, please? We can stop whenever you feel like it and go home, okay? I promise-if you fall- we'll go back home." I sighed-his eyes melting a hole in my heart, "I'll try then, I guess," I mumbled. "Oooohhh!" crowed Mokuba," Mai and Joey sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby car-" " Argh! Shut up, B-R-A-T!" I yelled as I whacked him with the skating brochure, "Just because Joey's going to help me skate, doesn't mean I have to marry him and -ick- have kids with him!" Yugi cheerfully slapped me on the shoulder," That's the spirit, Mai!" he said happily (not really getting what I said), "Now lets go skate!"

With that-my friends stiffly walked to the rink while I laced up my skates. I silently watched them goof off and play around as I knotted the last lace. I sat here for awhile-imagining myself sprawling on the ice, looking like a complete fool. But I was happy to know that I wasn't alone. Yami Yugi wobbled like undercooked Jell-O as he made a weak attempt to stand up after he fell. Yami Bakura had slid into a wall for the fifth time after 3 minutes and Kaiba kept on knocking down poor innocent skaters. Malik was worse and kept on cursing whenever he fell-in front of little kindergartners.

With some courage-I made my way to the rink. When I first stepped on the ice, my heart felt like it was making it way up my throat. Using baby steps, I crawled my way into the middle of the rink- grabbing the rail in a death clutch. When I thought that I could try to stand, I let go of the railing and rocked at bit until I was steady. Then-I tried to walk and slipped instead. I closed my eyes tightly, waiting for the painful impact on the ice-but felt nothing. I slowly opened my eyes and saw Joey, smiling. He had saved me from the fall. He helped me get up in a standing position. "Come on, Mai-skate with me!" he laughed. He pulled me by the wrists and swung me around the entire rink. "Stop!" I squealed as we whizzed around the calm winter scenery. I giggled, which surprised me. I hadn't had a good giggle in a long time.

* * *

When Joey finally slowed down, I breathlessly collapsed into his arms and stayed there for awhile. His legs must've gotten either tired or he must've gotten dizzy, because he had suddenly pitched backwards and both were lying flat out on the ice. I struggled to sit up while Joey unsteadily got up to his feet.

"Whoa!" I slipped and he caught me again. We stared at each other for awhile in the awkward embrace. He gazed at me strangely and I could hear his breathing. "Uh, Joey, can we go home, now?" I said quickly. He blinked, "What?"

"Hey Joey!" A ballerina type girl suddenly called across the skating rink. "Hey, its Kathy!" said Joey surprised. He turned to me; "Can you hold on for just a second?" Without waiting for an answer-he sped towards the girl. I frowned. I didn't mind when they were talking; I minded when Kathy had given him a pretty serious kiss. Watching them lip-lock made me feel weird pangs of anger. I gave him a cold look as he skated to me with a strange expression on his face.

He finally glanced at me, "Well-I promised. You fell and now we go home. Looks like Yugi and them already left for the fast food place a couple of blocks away. Do you wanna stop there for awhile?"

I shook my head and we left as soon as we took off out skates. We went to his metal scrap of a car and he began to drive-not saying anything until I broke long silence. "How long have you known Kathy?" I asked, trying not to sound jealous.

Joey straightened up, "Kathy?"

"Yeah, Kathy, the girl that had her lips planted all over you." I said with a touch of bitterness. " Oh, I sometimes act in plays to earn so fast cash and we did a couple of plays together last year. We're old friends-"

"Yeah, but we're old friends too and you don't go around kissing me." My voice trailed off. Joey looked at me, "No one's stopping you from kissing me Mai-"

"I bet I could act better than that toothpick you were mauling. Even better!" I said with a frown. "What do you have against her?" Joey asked as he made a sharp U-turn (He drives like a maniac!).

"She just a face, Joey, that's all. She can't-"

Joey started to laugh. "Are you listening to your self?"


"You're a jealous woman, Valentine."


"You can only keep your hormones on a leash for just so long, Mai. Then- sooner or later they'll-"

"You're crazy!"

"Oh am I?"

"Yes! You are!"

"Some day-you'll just go over the edge and scream out your true feelings-"

"Let me ask you a question-did your mother drop you when you were little?"

"Face it Mai, some other female has invaded your territory and your insanely jealous."

"You have an absolute faculty for-"

"I wish you could've seen the look on your face-"

"You have an absolute genius for-"

"-When Kathy was kissing me."

"-Misinterpreting everything I SAY!"

"-I guess it's only normal for you to feel a little possessive."

"Don't make me laugh!"

"Why not?" Joey looked at me; "It is pretty funny-isn't it?"

"Yeah! Very!" I looked away from him so he wouldn't see me so upset. "Okay, maybe it's true. Maybe I've gotten attached to you so long-I'm just not willing to share you with any other girl." "You don't have anything to worry about, Mai."

I looked at him with surprise. "I don't?"

"No. Kathy's nothing compared to you." I didn't say anything on the ride back home and he didn't either. I felt much better and still couldn't find out how Joey always said what I needed to hear and when I needed to hear it.

* * *

The next morning, Joey took me to the playhouse he worked in. He told me that he wanted me to be an apprentice there so we could work together. I-of course accepted the idea. I could make a little money, get a little fame, and get closer to Joey. On the way there- he told me the important stuff, like what the play was (A Christmas Carol) what he was playing (the young Scrooge) and other stuff. He also told me that Kathy was playing Scrooge's girlfriend. Frankly-I didn't really care. After what he said last night-I felt too good to be bothered by Kathy.

As soon as we got there-he introduced me to a bunch of teen-agers his age that worked around the playhouse often. Before he introduced me to Ben, the director-he told me he took his coffee black-which I thought was some theatrical joke or quirk. When I met the director-he wasn't as old as I thought he would be. He looked about thirty-six and gave me a big smile when he saw me. "Welcome to the glamorous world of the theatre, Mai. Joey'll show you where we keep the coffee and would you pass out these scripts? Thanks-its great having you with us."

With that-he gave me a stack of stapled papers and an empty coffeepot. I glared at Joey. "I'm not supposed to really make coffee-am I?"

"Yes, Mai. In between the time you collect your Oscar, and Emmy, you have to do those little crummy jobs no one else wants. "

"WHAT? Joey-I swear I'm going to strangle you.!"

"Mai-your being dramatic!" he said.

I glared spikes and daggers at him," This is a playhouse-I WANT to be dramatic!"

"Come on, Mai-stay. Without you-who'd make all of the coffee?" He laughed at his own joke. "Joey-do you not understand? I don't do coffee!"

He heaved a sigh, "Mai, once upon a time-I did coffee, Ben did coffee, and now it's your turn!" He said it as if he were sealing my fate or something. So the entire afternoon was wasted on me running around with coffee in Styrofoam cups, running for cream and sugar. I felt like a damn waitress.

The only "theatrical" thing I did was passing out the scripts. I gave Joey the last and delivered it airmail and it bounced off of his scrawny chest. Before I 'gave' it to him-I doused the inside with coffee so it stuck together. Then-Little Miss Tongue Depressor of America waltzed into the room. She gave me a fake smile.

" Hey, Joey. Is that your girlfriend?"

He blushed, "No.she's my friend and she's going to work here as a apprentice."

She smiled," Don't worry-it'll get better. Ben usually tries to give the apprentices a chance to do some acting before the play closes."

I returned the smile, "How quaint."

Joey looked at me- a, "Remember-What-I-told-You-Last-Night,", look. I didn't care, though. I still wanted to wipe that smug look off of her toothpick face.

"So-you and Joey go back real far, huh?" she asked, opening her script. (I wish I could've drenched it with coffee too!).

"No," I breezed," Not too long ago." Joey tried to pry the pages of his script open," You got coffee all OVER this!" I waved it away." Don't worry," It's decaffeinated."

* * *

I sat in the back of the auditorium, watching Kathy and Joey rehearse. I almost walked out, really. I didn't spend all of my college time on an acting scholarship just to run around getting coffee for anyone and watch Joey salivate all over some little Junior Reject from the Q Tip Company.

I was fed up with the work, that piece of twine, and Joey, especially. When we went home-I didn't tell him so because he'd get all over the Kathy discussion and make me laugh. I didn't feel like laughing. Back at the playhouse when Joey did a bunch of silly stuff that made Kathy laugh-I felt truly envious. I had always thought that I was the only one that he could make laugh and that he was here to make me happy.

* * *

I finally got a chance to act. It was a week before Christmas - the plays due date, when Ben came up to me. "You have Kathy's costume-right?" he asked. I rummaged through the mountain of costumes I was holding and found it. "Yeah," I replied in a muffled voice with a mouthful of ruffles.

"Do you think you can fit into it?" he questioned.

What was going through my mind that time was one big important question, like," What the hell are you talking about?"

Instead, I said," Pardon me?"

"Kathy can't make it," he answered," She's cramming for midterms. Do you want to take her place?"

I stared at him," Go on for her.?" "Yeah. Curtain goes up in an hour and you can go ahead and learn her lines.there aren't many."

"Um.but Kathy's much uh thinner than I am. The dress probably won't fit." I said quickly.

"It'll fit you better than it'll fit Joey," he responded," So you up for it?"

I thought about it. "What the heck?" I sighed, "All right."

"Okay. You can go get Joey to learn your lines." I nodded as I started to go towards the dressing room, "Thanks!"

I went and knocked the door to the men's dressing room, "Joey-you there?" After a couple of minutes, I heard Joey say, "Come in."

I opened the door and saw Joey alone. He was in his underwear- a boxer with cute cartoon black skull dragons on it-the one that Tea got him as a gag gift for his birthday a couple of months ago. I tried to keep a straight face even though I had seen him without his underwear before in a very embarrassing incident that had involved the wrong dressing room at GAP and a very bad timing. "Hey Mai- I think left my shoes in the car-I don't suppose that you'd-" I threw his costume at his face.

" Forget it Joey. I'm through being your slave. I've been promoted." He started to wriggle into his shirt," Promoted to what?" he asked.

"Kathy's not here today," I replied-digging for her costume (again). "Really?" he began to put on his pants (thank god! I was about to die of embarrassment.) . "Yes-I'm your new co-star. Surprised?" I finally yanked it out. He put on a blue velvet vest," No. I'm just trying to figure out how you did it." I searched through the shoe bag to find Kathy's heels, "Did what?" He buckled his belt; "You know-get rid of her. Did you poison her or push her down the stairs or something?" "Don't be a jerk," I muttered, as I took off my outer clothes.

"She's studying for a test." "Uh huh." said Joey in an unbelieving voice. I picked up the dress, "I need to change-can you turn around?" He gave me a sarcastic look of shock," What? After all we've been through?" I gave him a deadly glare, "TURN AROUND!"

He shrugged and turned around while I took off my underclothes. "You know what Mai? A lot of famous people have started out this way. The star breaks a leg and the understudy goes on and what do you know? There's a talent agent from MGM in the audience." I frowned at the back of his head; "You're laughing at me-aren't you?"

"I am not!" I pulled the dress over my head," You think this is funny!"

"I do not!" I wiggled into it, "Let me tell you something, Joey. You've done about 50 plays out here so this isn't a big deal to you-but it's my first play here and it's a big deal to me. Understand?"

I saw him nod. "Yeah. I do." I poked my head out from the dress and pulled my arms out and straightened the gown, "Good. Now zip me up."

He turned around and began to tug at the zipper," This is gonna be one tight squeeze, Mai!" he said, pulling on it. "God, your hands are cold!" I said, clinging onto the dressing table. He grimaced," Yeah-that's what Kathy always says." I tried not to laugh, "Very funny! Gaaa!" Joey finally managed to pull the zipper up and I could barely breathe.

Joey scratched his head, as he examined me, "Not so bad, Valentine-you'll fill in a lot better than Kathy does.but Kathy doesn't have.Kathy's not as.she's a little less."

"I know there's a compliment they're somewhere Joey. And I accept it, okay?" Then-Ben yelled," Come on Mai and Joey! We're doing a quick run through!" "This is it," Joey said as we walked out of the dressing room, "A star is born!"

I shook my head," Joey."

* * *

Ben nodded at us as we walked across the stage in our costumes. He handed me a script and the run through started. I had to tell you, I was pretty excited. I skim read the pages, flipping them.

It was pretty nerve wracking, jumping in the middle of a play like that and knowing that even if I was lousy; they were stuck with me just because the dress (barely) fit.

Me :(playing Belle, about to kiss off young Scrooge: It matters little! It matters little to you that another idol had taken my place!

Joey: (playing the young Scrooge) What idol, Belle?

Me: In these last six years a golden one!

Joey: I am not changed toward you, am I?

Me :When our contract was made, you were another man-

Joey: I was a boy!

Me:Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are.

I was actually doing some real acting! Maybe it wasn't an Award winning performance, and maybe it was only kids' show, but I was rehearsing for a real play! I felt like the first time I drove a car without smashing into something: scared (that I might hit another car), excited (that I probably won't have to buy my neighbors a new mailbox) all of that.

"Not bad," said Ben when I had finished." One thing though, Mai, we've got an audience full of kids here, so you're gonna have to be loud enough to drown their talking."

"Kids make an interesting audience," said Joey," Once when I was doing a play here, I had a kid walk across the stage, tug on my pants, and ask me to take him to the bathroom." What did you do?" I asked. I knew how much Joey hated kids; I never thought much of them myself. "What could I do? I took him." "In the middle of the play?" He frowned," Well, I thought about not taking him, but considered the consequences."

"That kid took a curtain call with you, didn't he?" asked Ben. Joey nodded.

* * *

I re-read the script as the Ghost of Christmas Past brushed my hair and curled it. She made it look soft and fluffy instead of spiky like dragon claws, as Joey likes to call it. It was a good thing I was a quick study. When I finished practicing my lines, I attacked my face with more makeup like what Kathy did with hers.

Joey looked at me skeptically when I was done. "Man, Mai-you have enough makeup for everyone," he said," You had enough before you put on the makeup!"

I stuck out my tongue, "And you had enough hair before you put that wig on!" "Ha Ha. Are you ready?" I cleared my throat, "Yeah, I'm ready."

* * *

It was pitch-black back stage except for the low dark stage lights. Ben motioned us to take our places behind the curtain. Standing back there was the most nerve-wracking thing ever. I poked Joey in the ribs," Hey-I think I'm nervous." "You don't have time to get nervous. If it'll make you feel better-I'll remind you to get nervous after this," Joey whispered back. I rolled my eyes in the darkness," You're always so practical, Joey." I saw his shadowy form shrug its shoulders," One of us has to be."

We heard the Ghost Of Christmas Past give us out clue," My time grows short! Quick!" The stage manager threw a switch and the lights on stage came up. Joey and I ducked around the curtain and stepped onstage. I must've caught my dress on a nail or something because I fell flat on my face in front of the audience.

It knocked the wind out of me real good. Even though I was for about 2 seconds, I felt like it was forever. Joey helped me up," Look at me. Come on; you're okay." I looked at Joey blankly as he helped me to the middle of the stage. All of the words I had memorized had been knocked clear out of my head. I was too numb to speak and felt paralyzed.

"Belle, how many times do I have to tell you," Joey said, changing his cowboy accent into a French one, Stay away from that rum punch; you know what a kick it has." The audience roared. Some applauded. I was vaguely aware that Joey had pulled me away from a tight spot. I just sat there frozen while Joey re-wrote the script. It was like this:

Joey : I know you think a golden idol has replaced you in these last six years, Belle.

Slowly, things came into focus. The pain started to register where I whacked my left knee and the whole humiliation angle began to sink in. I sat there, watching Joey bail me out, and I knew I was going to cry. I was going to cry a lot and I couldn't wait to get off the damn stage.

* * *

I think I got off of the stage without anyone seeing me break down. I brushed past Ben and heard him say something like," Look, try not to get too upset," but I didn't stick around for the rest. I pushed open the stage doors and clanked down the metal steps to the parking lot. I leaned back against the building and watched snow flurries slowly drift to the ground. I didn't know what the hell I thought I was doing, crying all alone in a parking lot at night. I do some really dumb stuff when I'm rattled.

"Christ-what are you doing here?" I looked up and saw Joey making his way down the stairs.

"Joey, just leave me alone for a few minutes, okay?" He stared at me," You don't look too good, Mai." I turned away," I'm okay." He gently got me by the shoulders and turned me around and put his hand under my chin and tilting it up so our eyes met (I'm about a head shorter than he is and even shorter with all that hair he has!). "You always do that. You always say that you're okay even when it's perfectly clear that you're not okay at all."

I pushed away from him," I said I'm OKAY!" He glanced at me, "Alright, Mai. Be tough. Have it your own way." I just stood there, chewing on my lip and staring at the parking lot. I was barely hanging on. Joey took off his coat, wrapped it around me and pulled me close to him. I rested my cheek on his chest and started to cry hard.

"I'm never going out on a stage again!"

"Sure you are."

"I'm supposed to be an actress and I can't even walk across the stage!"

"Mai.you know how many people screw up the first time they go on? It's practically a theatrical tradition-"

"Ben will never let me go on for Kathy or anyone else again-"

"Yes he will."

"I'll be lucky if I even get to make coffee again!"


"I'm not kidding! God, I can't believe I walked out in front of hundreds of people and feel flat on my face!"



He hugged me tightly, "Shut up." I shut up.

Now, listen. You remember the conversation we had a while back in front of the gym? You remember that?"


Yeah? You remember how crummy I did at that try out? You remember how I screwed up?"

"Yeah. I remember."

"Everybody messes up, Valentine. It's a big club."

"I'm never going out there again, Joey."

"You have to take a curtain call."

"Are you crazy?" I pulled out his handkerchief out of his vest and blew my nose, "They're going to laugh me off the stage!"

"No one's going to laugh at you."

I took off his coat and tossed it to him, "No one's going to laugh at me because I'm not going out there. Not after what happened."

"You have to. Especially after what happened."

"I don't believe in all that, 'the show must go on,' crap, Joey."

"If you don't go back out on that stage now-you never will."


He took my hand. "And I hate to see that happen, Mai, because I know how badly you want to act."

I frowned at him; "Joey let go of me."

"After the play, Mai."

I tried to pull away, "Joey, this isn't funny! Let go of me, dammit!"

He picked me up and slung me over his shoulder, "Later."

"You're crazy! I won't go with you!"

"No?" he started up the stairs. It wasn't fair. Even though Joey looked as scrawny as a chicken, he was pretty strong though he swayed at bit as he walked.

"Joey, I just want you to know that as of know you can consider our friendship permanently canceled!"

When he put me down-I thought that he gave up but he was really tired, so he dragged me to the stage instead.

"Joey! Did you not hear what I said?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"You think I'm kidding?"

"No, Mai, I don't think you're kidding."

He opened the stage door and yanked me inside. He didn't let go of me either. When I saw Ben, I wanted to breeze through the doors like before, but this time I couldn't.

"You okay?" Ben asked," You didn't hurt yourself, did you?"

I cleared my throat, "No. I'm okay. Thanks."

"Well. It'll be better next time. You'll see." I heard the audience applauding, so I assumed that the play was over. Most of the actors that were hanging out backstage started lining 2 by 2 for the curtain call. Joey very casually walked me over there. Anyone who didn't know better thought that we were such good friends that we just naturally wanted to hold hands.

'I'll never forgive you for this, Joey!"

"You're getting to upset over nothing, Mai,"

"I mean it! Never!"

The couple in front of us stepped around the curtain and onto the stage.

"Ben likes us to do a little bow before we do the curtain call," Joey whispered. "Forget it! I'm not bowing! I'm not doing anything!"

Joey shrugged. "Do whatever you want." He walked around the curtain and pulled me with him. I honestly thought I was going to pass out. I didn't know what I expected: a hostile audience, a bushel of tomatoes and a couple heads of cabbage, maybe. The stage lights were up and Joey and I walked to the center stage; then that jerk let go of me. He turned to the audience, bowed, and exited stage right. I stood there, all alone on the stage like an idiot. I took a quick bow.

The audience kept on applauding, and no one hurled any vegetables at me. I actually got off the stage without being laughed at, without falling on my face, without anything happening. Backstage, no one came up to me to tell me I had ruined the play. They were to busy undressing while talking and laughing. * * * I changed out of Kathy's dress and back to my sweater and jean skirt. I washed my face and combed out what was left of my curly ringlets. There was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" I asked while sliding into my black boots.

"Your former friend,"

"Go away!"

Joey opened the door and stuck his head in," I told you no one would laugh at you, didn't I?"

"You have an interesting Me Tarzan, You Jane approach to the entire male and female relationship, Joey. Has anyone ever told you that?"

"Oh, come on-I did the same thing you did the day I blew my audition."

"Yeah, except yours was physical."

"You know something, Mai-sometimes it seems like we're an old married couple. No matter what happens between us, we always end up back together again."

"Maybe its time for us to think of a divorce, huh?" He stepped up to me," You really mad or what?"

"Let's just put it this way Joey: It's been a hell of a night."

He sat down in the chair next to mine and stretch his legs out and put his hands behind his head," I didn't want to see you throw a whole theatrical career away just because you had a little spill onstage."

"I'm glad you did it."


"You heard me."

He sat up, "So the divorce is off?"

"I couldn't ever divorce you Joey. You'd be helpless without me."

He cracked a grin," I guess you know me pretty well, Mai."

I shrugged," I guess after 4 years, there isn't much we don't know about each other."

"Let's go home, okay? I think we've had enough show business for one night."

"Joey, wait a second.thanks for covering for me onstage.after I fell.thanks for doing my lines."

He stood up to get his coat," No problem."

"No, really.I don't know what I would've done if you weren't there. Sometimes it seems like you've been rescuing me from one thing to another all this time."

"Come on Mai."

"I'm not kidding. You're really not like anyone else I know, Joey."

Joey wasn't much on compliments, but that was okay with me. He cleared his throat a couple of times and ran his finger tips through his hair, "Look.Mai.I never know what to say when you talk like that."

"Very simple, Joey," I stood up and put my hands on his shoulders and started to steer him out of the dressing room," Just let me drive this time!"

* * *

I drove to my aunt's office to drop off a present and to get my ears pierced again. My aunt is a hospital psychiatrist and she pierced my ears when I was little. Joey was pretty shocked that I wanted another pair of holes in my head. He told me that too many holes could cause you to die since all of the brain juice leaks out. I told him to shut up.

He knew I was terrified of needles and that was only because I got a little freaked out when we took out tetanus shot together. Maybe I did run screaming-but that was last year. I'm more mature now. When we got there, it was almost empty except for a girl about 20 that sat behind a desk. I guess she was a receptionist or something.

Joey poked me in the ribs," Hey-do you know that girl?" he asked.

"No." I said, "I've never seen her before."

"Good. Wait here."

"Why? What are you going to do?"

"You'll see."

I grabbed his arm," Joey, you're going to do something crazy, aren't you? You're going to go up to that girl and do something crazy and embarrass me- "

"Oh, come on. I'm just going to have a little fun-"

"Fun? This is a psychiatric floor! If you start acting weird around here- they'll lock you up!"

"Excuse me," the girl called from the desk," Can I help you?"

"Yes," Joey said. He walked over to the counter and talked to her in a low voice," You see that girl right there?"

The girl looked at me and nodded.

"She's a patient here," Joey said," This morning-while no one was looking, she sneaked out. I found her down on State Street, talking to herself."

"Oh my God," I groaned.

"I don't know how that happened," the girl said," Who's her doctor?"

"Dr. Valentine," Joey said.

"She's not my doctor!" I yelled.

Joey leaned closer to the girl," She's hysterical."

"I see," the girl said.

"You don't see!" I said. "Look- my friend here has a warped sense of humor. Dr. Valentine is expecting me. She going to pierce my ears again-"

The secretary stared at me," Your psychiatrist is going to pierce your ears?"

" She's not my psychiatrist-she's my aunt!"

"Uh, of course she is," the girl said," I'll go get her. Don't go anywhere."

Joey laughed and leaned against the counter.

"Don't forget the straitjacket!" he called out after her.

"God, what is the matter with you?"

"Mai, you take things entirely too serious. You've got to lighten up a bit." He jammed his fingers into my sides and started to tickle me.

"Stop it!" I started laughing. I tied to tickle him back, but he kept out of reach so effectively that by the time my aunt and the secretary came back, he was the one in controlled and I was rolling on the floor laughing like a hyena with tears streaming down my face. My aunt stood there quietly with her arms folded across her chest.

"Dr. Valentine, I almost mistook you for Mai's sister," Joey said. (My aunt is about 38, but looks 26).

She smiled," I've heard a lot about you. You must be the charming young man Mai has mentioned about," She said.

I wiped away my tears," Don't believe everything you hear," I muttered.

"Rosalie, this is my niece, Mai and her friend Joey. I wouldn't want to swear to it, of course, but I'm reasonably sure neither of them is crazy. All right you two," my aunt said," Follow me."

"Catch you later, Rosalie," Joey said.

"Uh-huh," Rosalie answered.

We followed my aunt down the hall to her office." Why don't you go on inside while I get the equipment," my aunt said.

I followed Joey into her office," She said equipment, but she meant needles," I whispered to him.

"What did you think she was going to pierce your ears with," Joey asked," Polo mallets?" * * * My aunt's office wasn't what you'd expect a psychiatrist's office to look like. It was bright and sunny with some original artwork that my dad made. He's a professional artist and some of his stuff got put in the Domino Museum of Arts. He paints these terrific portraits and does amazing graphics. He actually did some graphics, designs, and drawings for duel monsters. I have one of his pictures in my apartment, a picture of the Harpie Sisters.

Joey was looking at a medium sized watercolor painting of a morning view of Domino High." Your dad did this, right?" he asked. "Yeah. It's from his new collection." I replied. "Hey-doesn't your dad ever get a little nervous that one of your aunt's wacko patients might walk off with one of his valuable artwork?"

"They're not wacko. Just a little disturbed. Like you." I answered smartly.

He walked over to the bookcase, where there was a coffeepot and a stack of Styrofoam cups. "You want some coffee?" he asked. I never wanted to see another cup of coffee ever again in my life ever since I started my apprenticeship. I was also jumpy enough." No." I said," Caffeine stains your teeth." He raised a brow as he stared into the half filled cup in his hand," Never mind." He said as he put it down.

I chewed my lower lip and started to pace around, wishing that my aunt would hurry and come so I could get it over with. Joey saw how worried I was. "Maybe your aunt will give you some anesthetic," he said. "Don't be stupid," I said sitting down on the couch," You don't have to stick around if you don't want to."

" Who says I don't want to? You don't think I'll let you go through major surgery alone, do you?" I tried not to smile. I didn't want him to think I need him, but I was glad he was there. He was always there when I needed him.

My aunt came into room with her arms crammed full of medical looking things.

"Don't do anything too drastic, Dr. V," Joey said," A frontal lobotomy will do just fine. "

My aunt smiled and set her equipment down. "It won't be as bad as you think," she assured me," Do you have the earrings?" I handed her the earrings. Joey sat down on the edge of my aunt's desk and took a packet of peanuts from his pocket and started to munch on them.

"Ho can you just sit there and eat peanuts?" I asked.

He looked at me," What do you want me to do with them?" he asked.

"I can think of a suggestion or two," I said.

My aunt pulled my hair back into a ponytail," Do you want to sit up or lay down?" she asked.

"I think I'll sit up," said Joey.

"Listen," I said," you're not helping any. You're driving me nuts. Go talk to Rosalie or something." My aunt was cleaning off one ear with an alcohol drenched cotton swab. " Aunt Lo, aren't you going to give me any Novocain or something?" "I don't think you'll need any, honey," she replied as she pinched my ear lobe, making it numb. "This might hurt a little, but you can handle it. You're allowed to scream if you want."

Whenever my aunt does anything medical, she dos it pretty quick. I never got a chance to see if the needle was long or not. I never got to see it at all. Before I knew it, the first earring slipped in. "You okay?" my aunt asked as she handed me a wad of cotton," Here. Hold this until the bleeding stops."

Joey leaned forward and watched with great curiosity," What does it feel like?"

"Just peachy. You should try it sometimes," I said.

"Thanks, but I live dangerously enough carrying my sisters ballet shoes in a tough neighborhood."

"Hold still now," my aunt said," I'm almost through."

I felt the second earring slip in. "There you go. Now that wasn't too bad, was it?"

"I guess not."

"Well, you're set to go. I'll see you later, Mai."

I stood up," Okay. Thanks, bye."

"Hey-what's that?" Joey was pointing to a picture of a naked goddess running around in a forest

"Joey-it's time to go!" I yanked him out of the room and dragged him to the car.

* * * After that, we went to Kaiba's mansion. When I said mansion, I meant it. There was about a gazillion floors and thousands of rooms and halls. White Christmas lights were strung everywhere you can think of and there was a herd of reindeer on his lawn. Kaiba was having a Christmas Eve party, a taste of what his Christmas party would be like.

Joey and I went inside and saw that everyone had came. "Hey!" greeted Yugi cheerfully (I can't understand how it seems like he's always happy) "Just in time! We were going to have dinner without you guys!" "Dinner? Without me?" gasped Joey as if he couldn't believe it. Serenity laughed," Without you, there wouldn't be a dinner-at least for the rest of us," she joked, Everyone started to chuckle and when it finally died down, Tea glanced at me," What took you guys so long?" she asked. "We just had to do some.stuff," I said, wanting to show them my double pierced ears at dinner.

"What kind of stuff?" asked Isis. She and Serenity started to giggle. I immediately turned red and before I could protest the ridiculous comment, Kaiba's butler rang a little bell," Dinner will be served," he said. He wasn't that old creaky family butler kind of type. He was real cute and looked about 22 with dark hair and bright blue eyes. I think I saw him in one of my college classes as the new kid-but never paid much attention.

I smiled at him and batted my eyelashes, trying to look sexy and seductive. Tea saw me and looked up at the ceiling with exasperation. The butler looked at me and grinned while everyone crowded into the dining room.

The dinning table looked as big as half a playground field. Food reached to the ceiling like a cheerleading pyramid each piled up on top of each other. The table groaned and creaked with all of the weight of the food. Joey's eyes shone and he began to drool ten times more than I had ever seen him drool, especially with Kathy.

'It's just like Joey to drool over food more than he does to girls,' I thought. The dinner went pretty well and Kaiba even remembered my strict vegetarian diet and threw in some salads, fruits, boiled vegetables, and soups.

I was just about to get some more lettuce, when something wet, slimy, and hot slapped me on the neck and started to slide down my new blouse and into my cleavage. I looked down and shrieked. Brown, thick, meat gravy was spattered all over my chest! It was an insult to vegetarians! I glared suspiciously at everyone sitting at the table.

My gaze wandered off to Joey, who was trying to not laugh. His cheeks were large and pink and snorts and guffaws were escaping his nose and mouth. "You're going to pay, Joseph Wheeler!" I screamed as I stood up, knocking the chair down. I picked up a fat slice of pumpkin pie and hurled it at him, but he ducked and I hit Yugi's big hair. "What the.!" Yuge yelled as the pumpkin mush started to drip into his face.

He got a handful of mashed potatoes and threw it at me but his aim was way off and he hit Serenity's face. Serenity got really pissed and tried to smack some sense into Yugi with a drum stick, throwing it like a boomer rang, but missed and hit Tea who.well, you get the picture. So the Christmas Eve food fight went on and on, with people missing their target and hitting other people and so on. It didn't end when the food was gone, though; we just scooped the bits of yuck off of us and threw it around.

Even Kaiba, your typical big brother protector type, actually hit Mokuba in the butt with cranberry sauce since Mokuba had flung a huge spoonful of Ranch dressing on his hair when he tried to hit Malik. Kaiba's cute butler tried desperately to clean up the mess while the war raged on, but found himself flinging food too.

Everyone soon stopped when they were too tired to even pick up a napkin to wipe themselves up. I mustered all the strength I could to get into Kaiba's bathroom to wash myself up. I looked at myself in the mirror. I had bacon bits on my eyelashes and hair, gravy on my chest, roast beef smeared all over my skirt, and macaroni cheese bits stuck everywhere you could imagine.

When I finally cleaned myself up, I walked down to the den. Everyone (with food still stuck on them) was opening gag gifts. I came just in time to see Tristan open a wrapped gift from Joey. Tristan took one look at his present and cracked up. I went a little bit closer to see better and saw a brown colored wig that had the exact same hairstyle as Joey. It was supposed to be an offense to his pointy hair, but Tristan (who was so drunk on wine that he could've shocked Pegasus) put on the wig sloppily and grinned dazedly.

"Hey, Mai! Catch!" Bakura called, tossing me a box," It's from Tea, open it!" I neatly opened the ends and took the box out (I always open things nice and neat, not ripping it to shreds like some people) and opened it. I held up my present, a plain white T-shirt, and held it to my body. In italic letters on the front, it said: "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful", and on the back in bolder letters: "Hate Me Be Your Boyfriend Thinks So!"

Everybody laughed because they knew I was totally conceited and the shirt matched my personality. "Ha Ha, thanks Tea," I said dryly. I actually thought it was frivolous and wanted to wear it and show it off. Joey opened his present from me next: a pair of scissors for cutting hair. The gifts went on and on.

While the others opened gifts, I went to the kitchen to flirt with that butler babe. He was on his knees, scrubbing the tile clean. "Need help?" I asked. He looked up and smiled," Mai-right?" He stood up and stretched. He sure did have nice biceps. I laughed flirtatiously. "You catch on quickly." We talked a bit about ourselves. I learned that his name was Danny and he was earning money during Christmas break to finish his college education. I felt kind of funny towards him. I was always a duelist-never a lover. I broke some of hearts and some broke mine so I sort of gave up on guys and flirting and concentrated on dueling and earning money to buy cars and clothes. What made this guy so different? Why not Tristan, Yami Yugi, Bakura, Yami Bakura, Malik, Kaiba, or even Joey?

We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and he went back to work. I returned to the living room and saw that they were still opening the gag gifts. After many presents and laughs, Joey and I finally left.

It was about 2 o'clock in the morning when I arrived at my apartment room. I stumbled in the darkness and fell on top of my bed, too tired to change my clothes. I kicked off my shoes and buried myself in my comforter. My Persian cat, Lady, jumped onto the bed and licked my face until I shooed her away. I slept restlessly and dreamt up a strange dream.

I was on the beach at night Danny. I was wearing a white long dress and we were sitting on the warm sand in the moonlight. The dream seemed so real. I could actually smell the salty air and feel the icy ocean water nipping at my toes. Danny was staring at me with his sexy dark hazel eyes and.wait a minute! Danny had blue eyes-not-brown ones! Danny changed into Joey and I woke up feeling a bit disappointed. I wanted to dream about that hunk not my best friend that could never possibly be my dream guy. But what was that dream telling me? I mean- Joey and I were just best friends, nothing more or less. Right? Right?

* * *

I woke up late in the afternoon and forgot about the dream entirely. I spent a couple of hours doing some last minute shopping, then went home to take a quick shower and get ready for Kaiba's party. As luck would've had it, the water in my showerhead was clogged up and I was a little bit late. I wanted to go to the party early to talk to Danny for awhile and it wasn't going to be possible couldn't take a bath. So what choice did I have? I put my clothes in a bag and went to Kaiba's to ask him if I could take a bath in one of his million bathrooms. He said yes, of course and I sternly reminded him to tell everyone to not go into the bathroom on the second floor and the guest room, were I was planning to take a bath and change.

The shower was absolutely delicious. Hot water spraying from the pure silver head, warm soapy suds, and Lilly smelling shampoo. I took my precious time, forgetting about Danny for a bit. I was in a good mood and felt like partying and getting wild. I dried myself and blow-dried my hair, feeling better each minute.

Wrapping the towel around myself, I sped to the guestroom and made sure no one saw me. I slid into the lacey teddy that Yami Yugi got for me as a gag gift and told me he needed to see me wear it. It was pretty naughty with the wide lace cutouts and fine silk. Wearing it made me feel sexier, which is a feeling I don't get from my plain white underwear. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if anyone would see me wear it besides the girls in the locker room at my school. Guys in particular. I adjusted the straps and turn around and looked over my shoulder to see how I looked from another angle.

I heard a familiar voice," It looked as nice from the front as it did in the back. I whirled around and saw Joey standing by the doorway.

"Jesus!" I gasped.

Joey looked around," Is He here too?"

* *

"What are you doing here?" I yelled.

"Enjoying the view."


"You've got to stop name dropping like that, Mai."

"Joey, do you mind?" I looked for something to shield myself with but couldn't find anything.

"Oh, come on. I've seen you with a lot less on. Remember when I accidentally-"

"That was a long time ago!" My face burned." I still can't believe you still remember that!"

"It was one hell of a Kodak Moment."

"Didn't Kaiba tell you not to come in here?!"

"No. He actually told me to put my coat up in here."

"Oh, God am I going to shish kabob him!"

"I'm kidding! He told me not to go in there but I was way too curious."

"If I had the slightest idea that you were going to be here-do you think I'd be standing here right now?"

"It's a little hard to take that speech seriously when you're not wearing any pants." Joey started to search for my clothes.

"Joey-get out before I wring your neck! What if someone finds us here?!"

"All right, Mai.if that's the way you want it." He stood up and grabbed one of the pillows from the bed. "Why don't we settle this physically?"


"A pillow fight."

"You're out of your mind!"

He started swinging at me." Remember when we used to have pillow fights? A good pillow fight always cheered you up."

"That was 4 years ago, Joey. We're not 15 anymore and I'm not going to fight you."

"Arm yourself, Valentine-"

"No! This idiotic!"

"Defend yourself!"

"Quit swinging the pillow at me, dammit! You almost hit me on the face!"

"I'm not aiming at your face, Valentine." He swung the pillow at me again, and this time, well, lets just say that he got me south of the border.

"You're asking for it, Joey."

"Tell me about it."

" I refuse to lower myself to your level!"

"That's right, Mai. Let's be all mature about this."

He hit me across the shoulders.

"Joey Wheeler, you do that one more time and I'll-"

The pillow came down on my head.

"All right! You want a war-you got it!"

I snagged the other pillow off of the bed and gave him a hard whack in the stomach. He countered by letting me have it in the back. After a couple of minutes of vigorous warfare, Joey collapsed on the bed. I jumped onto the bed and then pounced on him stomach first like the wrestlers on t.v. "Omph!" The jump sure knocked the air out of him. He tried to get me back by tickling me, but I dodged I and before I could get him back, I heard a voice at the door.

"Well-doesn't this paint a pretty picture." Joey and my head turned and saw Kaiba with Yami Yugi, grinning. I guess it was pretty awkward that I was on top of Joey in a teddy with our hairs messed up and the pillows and blanket on the floor. "Uh." I got off of Joey sheepishly," It's not what you think."

"Don't listen to a thing she says, Yami. She attacked me! She had me pinned to the bed, and for a second there I didn't know what she had in mind-"

"Joey, just go and cram about a hundred Ritz crackers in your mouth so you can't talk, okay?" "Okay. See you in a minute."

He and Kaiba left, leaving only Yami Yugi and me. We stared at each other in embarrassed silence until he finally spoke up.

"I, uh, found your clothes.they were still in the bathroom."

He gave me the bag with my clothes, looking down and blushing fiercely. "Thanks." I turned a deep shade of red. "Uh, Yami?"

He looked up," What?"

"Have you ever seen a girl in her underwear? I mean, um, you sort of-"

"That is okay," he said," And you are right. I have never seen a lady in her under garments before, well, except for Victoria Secret catalogs."

I raised a brow," Really?"

He looked down again," Yes. Do not tell anyone. I'm supposed to be a Pharaoh and I haven't seen a lady in her under clothes for Gods sake."

I smiled crookedly, "Well, all of that changed right about now."

* * *

Yami left after awhile and I changed into my clothes, a bright red silk blouse and short black skirt with black stockings. I went down into the dining room, hoping that no one knew what happened in the room and what Kaiba had assumed. I also hoped that there wasn't any meat gravy.

When I walked into the dining room, Serenity, Tea, and Isis started to choke on the water they were drinking. I frowned at them, then Kaiba, who guiltily looked away. I sat down and dinner started. It was pretty much like yesterday except for the food fight. I noticed that there wasn't any Ranch or gravy on the table.

When dinner was finished, we all trouped into the living room to open Christmas presents. One by one, we each opened a gift, hugging and thanking each other. I picked up the gift Joey gave me. It was a small box wrapped in snowflake decorated paper.

"Oooh! Maybe it's an engagement ring!" cooed Isis. She and Serenity laughed. I ignored them as I carefully unwrapped it. It was a small blue velvet box. "I knew it!" gasped Serenity as she burst into giggles. I slowly opened it and instead of a ring, there was a pair of amethyst studs that matched my loops.

"Thanks Joey-they're so beautiful." I gasped. I slipped them on. "There's more," said Joey. He dug into his pocket and gave me a ticket.

"Duel Monsters on Ice," he said," It's at the Rink."

I laughed," Thanks Joe!" I hugged Joey, which surprised him a bit.

Then, he opened his present from me, a wool green sweater that I had bought earlier "Hope it fits," I said as he wiggled into it.

"Very classy," he commented," I'll wear it tomorrow at work to impress everyone at work."

"Do you really like it?"

"I really like it."

"Well? Aren't you going to thank me?"

"Thank you."

"That's not exactly what I had in mind, Joey."

"Come on now, Mai-"

" I want a Christmas kiss and I want it now!"

"Not now."

I stared at him. Not now? What was "not now" supposed to mean? I wanted a kiss and I wanted it now!

He took notice of my glaring and staring, so he tried t make an excuse," There's no mistletoe-"

"Since when do you need mistletoe? I didn't see any mistletoe when you were kissing Kathy-the-toothpick!"

"All right!! You want a kiss?" He reached down, pulled me to his feet, put his arm around my waist, and suddenly there I was-staring at the ceiling-my head parallel to and nearly touching the floor.

"Didn't you see this in a movie?" I asked.


'Joey Wheeler, if you let go of me and drop me-"

"I know what I'm doing, Valentine." He kissed me, a very nice kiss. then he dropped me onto the floor.

Everyone howled.

I stood up to brush myself off, "Good friends aren't what they're cracked up to be." I sighed.

* * *

The next morning, I was woken up by the beautiful sound of Joey yelling. "Come on, Mai-I'm going to be late!" I rushed to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and jumped into my clothes.

As I was just setting my hair out in rollers, Joey called from down below." Hurry up!" I stuck my head out of the window," I'm hurrying, keep your shirt on!" "I've got an appointment today at work, you know!" he hollered," Traffic's going to be heavy today!"

"I have to do my hair!"

"Do it in the car!"

* * *

"You look like the Cat Woman of Mars," Joey greeted as I got into the car," You're not going to do that thing with the mirror, are you?"

"You mean this thing?" I turned the review mirror so I can see what I was doing while I took the rollers out.

"Yeah. that thing."

"Well, its your fault," I said," Why are you in such a hurry?"

"I want to get there early. It's a compulsion with me."

"I know. Your dad even told me that you were even born a week early."

"Well, I had to get into the world early, Mai, so I'd be here to look after you."

"Ha!" I dumped all of the rollers into my purse and started to brush my hair again. "God, it's freezing in here! Why don't you turn on your heater?"

"It's broken."


"You cold?"

"Yes, Joey, those of us without coats are cold today."

"Why didn't you wear a coat?"

"Because you told me to hurry!"

"I told you to hurry, Mai, not to run out of the apartment without a coat."

Well, you did it. You just said I was stupid."

"No. No, I didn't actually come out and say it-"

"You implied it, dammit."

"All right now, Mai, Let's not get profane here."

"Joey Wheeler, I'm getting frostbitten!"

"It's not that cold. You just happen to have a low temperature threshold."

"You're the one with the jacket," I said.

" Nag, nag, nag. Take the wheel." I leaned over and steered while he took off the green jacket he always wore." Here," he said, tossing it to me." I understand that there are more entertaining ways to warm up a friend, but this is the best I can do while I'm driving-"

"Don't flatter yourself," I said. I put on his jacket and wrapped it around me, rolling up the cuffs so that it would fit. I looked over at him." You're wearing your new sweater."


"Joey, my hands are cold."

"You can have my gloves, Valentine."

"Nobody loves me and my hands are cold!"

"God loves you and you can sit on your hands."

"You are so chivalrous."

"I'm trying to drive."

It was too cold to do much talking. I stuffed my hands into the pockets of his jacket, watching the houses and cars speed by.

When we got into the city, Joey drove down the street and pulled up alongside mall. "All right," he said," Let's see the hands."

I pulled out my hands from the pockets and he started to rub them." I'll pick you up at two fifty and we'll get something to eat, okay? If I'm going to be any later, I'll call you."

"How about that new deli down the road?"

"Anything you want. Your hands warmer now?"

"Yes, thank you."

"See you in about four hours."

"You want your jacket?"

"You can borrow it."



* *

After walking in the mall for a good hour and a half, I had bought everything I wanted and decided to get something to eat at the food court. After 30 minutes, I re-traced my steps in the mall and found some old friends. I followed them around and talked for about an hour until they left. Becoming bored and restless, I stood near the exit, looking for his car.

After that, I went outside for a better view. For the first time in history, Joey was late picking me up. I had to stand there in the bitter cold, in the dark. It was about 2 or 3 and I got worried. I pulled up the collar of Joey's jacket up around my neck and walked up and down in front of the mall. I learned a long time ago it's not a good idea to remain stationary for any length of time in the city. It has to do with my theory about weirdoes finding it harder to hit a moving target.

After an hour in the cold, I was mad enough at Joey and the cold enough to get out my cell phone and call him at the theatre. I didn't care if they were offering a deal of a lifetime. With numb fingers, I punched in the theatres phone number. After three rings, I finally got someone to pick up the phone.

" Hello?" It was Ben. "Ben, is Joey still there? He had the ten thirty appointment."

"I know," said Ben on the other side, "We've been trying to reach him."

"Reach him.?"

"He never showed up."

"But he left for there hours ago."

"Maybe he had car trouble. When you see him, can you tell him that he can re-schedule tomorrow at the latest? We can only hold the job offer only for one more day."

"Uh.okay, I'll tell him. Thanks."

I hung up and decided to stay in the mall, away from the snow that was starting to fall. It wasn't like Joey not to call. Even when he had car trouble-which was certainly possible the way that old heap of his kept falling apart-he would've found a way to get to a phone. If his car had stopped in the middle of all the traffic, someone would have called a tow truck. And how long would it take a tow truck to reach him? Fifteen minutes? Maybe twenty? I'd give him another hour. Then, I'd definitely call someone. His sister. Or the police. I walked outside.

I must've stood there for a long time. Long enough for my fingers and toes to turn light blue. Long enough to count over two hundred cars. Three times, I saw Joey's junk bucket, three times, I was wrong. He never came, and my mind turned to practical matters: How do I get home? I had little cash on me, not enough for a cab or train fare. I was thinking about calling one of my friends when a sleek black Toyota pulled over. It was Yami Yugi.

"You must be frozen," he muttered," Get in."

"But Joey-"

"I know. I'll tell you all about it. Get in."

I got in and barely had a chance to slam the door when Yami's foot went down on the accelerator. I had just now noticed that Yugi was sitting in the back with red rimmed eyes and he was sniffling. "What wrong with Yugi? Is he sick?" I asked, pulling over my seat belt. "No and don't worry about him. Listen to me now," he said in a low and calm tone," Joey's been hurt. There was an accident-"

I looked at him" What do you mean hurt?"

"There was a car accident. We're still not sure how bad it was-"

"What happened? He's all right, isn't he?"

"We just don't know. Your aunt's in the emergency room right now trying to find out what's going on-"

" But I don't understand!" I said," He's a careful driver even though he drives a little fast! He's always been a careful driver!"

"The police said that the other driver had been drinking. Apparently, he jumped lanes and skidded into Joey's car who couldn't stop-"

" What did my aunt say? Joey's not unconscious, is he?"

"I didn't have enough time to talk to her. I dropped Serenity off at the hospital and came over here to pick you up."

I glanced down at my hands. They were shaking." I knew something was wrong.when he didn't come."

"Yeah.he was all ways there and on time." Yami's voice cracked. I thought I saw his eyes grow moist.

'Even big bad tough Yami his shaken up,' I thought, feeling more worried. Needing some comfort, I rested my head on Yami's shoulder, wishing that it were Joey's.

* * *

Yami, Yugi and I flew through the doors of the hospital. My heart felt like it was climbing in my throat and I couldn't swallow it down. We raced through the busy hallways, pushing our way to our destination. I kept on thinking over and over in my head,' Everything's going to be okay.Joey will be fine,' but each time I thought that, my hopes got thinner and thinner.

We took the elevator up stairs and hurried down the hall. I was getting a terrible stitch in my side from running. We passed a lounge were Joey and I had played cards when Yugi got his wisdom teeth pulled out. He had beat me roundly-he always did. I still owed him $4.80. Just thinking about him made me feel a stab of pain in my chest.

We turned a corner. My aunt was sitting there holding Serenity's hands and talking to her in a low voice. I knew by the way that she was talking that Joey was dead. Nobody had to tell me.

"No."whispered Yugi," Oh no."

He went over to Serenity, to try and console her and I sort of shuffled into the back round. I didn't understand. I didn't know what to do. Joey dead? I had just seen him a few hours ago. I was still wearing his jacket. How could he be dead? I turned around and walked back down the hall. I didn't know where I was going-I just automatically started walking. I went around the corner and bumped into Kaiba. He must've been there for a time and knew that Joey was gone, because he tried to put his arm around my shoulders to comfort me, but I pulled away and kept on walking. I went to the lounge and sat on the couch and tried to make my hands stop trembling. My heart needed to slow down and it felt like I had drank several cups of coffee. I couldn't think.

Suddenly I felt my aunt's hand on the nape of my neck." I've been looking for you," she said. "I didn't want anyone to see me like this." I didn't like not being in control. I know this place too much importance on the way I appear to the outside world, and I keep things inside too much. I don't like to give pieces of myself away. There are very few people I'm willing to do that for. Joey and my aunt were one.

I looked at her. She seemed very concerned." I'll get through this," I said," I'll handle it." "Of course you will."

Yami walked into the lounge and stopped and looked at me. His eyes were as red and scratchy as Yugi's and his breathing was kind of heavy. I wanted to cry too, but I couldn't. It was like there was a curtain of glass between the part of my brain that knew Joey was dead and the part that could feel anything about it.

"You know, don't you?" Yami's voice was soft.

"Yes," I said.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes," I said. I put my hands in my pockets so that no one could see them shaking.

"I think we'll quiet you down a little," my aunt said. She sent Yami to go and try to get some diazepam, some kind of tranquilizer or something. I was too blank to listen.

When he left, I stared at my aunt. "I want to know how it happened," I said," I want to know how he died."

My aunt didn't say anything right away and sort of stiffened." Joey was thrown about 100 feet from his car. He was in a coma when they brought him in and he never regained consciousness. He died of massive head injuries."

"He was in a coma? When did he die?"

"About fifteen minutes ago."

"Did you see him?"

" I was right there," My aunt said," I held his hand."

"Where is he know?" I asked." The body, I mean. Where is it?"

My aunt looked pained, but I was firm about it." I have to know," I whispered," Where is he?"

" The body is in the emergency room," she said," The mortuary is going to pick it up."


Yami walked back into the lounge and handed my aunt a capped hypodermic needle. I think I was a little nuts.

"I'm not going to take it off," I said.

"Take what off?" my aunt looked confused.

"The jacket," I said," It's Joey's. I'm not going to take it off."

Yami looked even more confused than my aunt and stared at her. "It hasn't caught up with her yet," My aunt said. She rolled back one of the cuffs of Joey's jacket and pushed back the sleeve." You don't have to take it off, honey."

"My heart," I whispered," I can feel my heart."

"I'm going to give you some sedation," my aunt said," It'll make your heart stop pounding and calm you down so the shaking will stop. Yami handed her and took out an alcohol pad. As my aunt swabbed my arm, I pushed away.

" I don't want that," I said, "I mean it. I don't need a shot." "I'm sorry sweetie-this is something you just don't have any choice about." She uncapped the needle and squirted a little fountain of liquid in the air. "It will only hurt for a second."

She brought the needle down against my arm and I looked away. 'Damn you, Joey,' I thought.' Where are your lousy jokes when I need you?' I felt a sharp sting, then bit by bit, the shaking stopped. My heart slowed and I was able to breathe and see. "It feels funny," I murmured," Like I'm floating or something."

"Mm-hmm," my aunt said. She handed the empty needle to Yami and looked at me," Are you feeling sleepy yet?"

"Sort of."

"I'm going to let Yami and Yugi take you home tonight, okay?" She pulled Joey's sleeve down. "Yami.would you go and have someone bring your car around so that you can take Mai home?"

"Of course," Yami said.

Yami and my aunt talked for a while, but I could barely sort out what they were saying. I must've dozed off, because, the next thing I knew, Bakura and Tristan were helping me to the entrance, their shoulders around me. Aunt Lo was standing outside near where Yami's car was. "Okay, come on," she said," Yami's going to take you to the game shop."

"I can't walk," I said," My legs feel strange."

" They make your knees stiff," my aunt said," Come on, now." She opened the door. I crawled into the back seat and laid my head down on the window, feeling drained. Aunt Lo buckled my seat belt and closed the door. I watched my aunt, Bakura, and Tristan get smaller and smaller as we drove farther and farther away from the hospital. I felt drowsy and closed my eyes. The world turned dark.

* * * * * * * * * *** * * * * * * * * * *** * * * * * * ** * *** * * * * * * * * * *** * * * * * * * *