Disclaimer: I do not own Gakuen Alice or Band-aids.
Chapter 2: Princess
"What's so weird about your mom having a boyfriend?"
"I don't know. There's just something about him. I mean, she's been happier ever since she met him but he just seems . . . creepy." I sighed, stabbing my fruit salad with my fork.
"How? Maybe you're just bitter that your mom has her attention someplace else." Sumire said haughtily, shoving a piece of iceberg lettuce into her mouth.
"I am not!" I huffed. How could she even suggest that!? I wanted my mom to be as happy as possible.
But it was weird how my dad and Rei were opposites in probably every single way. My dad loved bright colors while all Rei seemed to wear was black (besides his lab coat). My dad was very touchy-feely and always handed out free hugs and high-fives while Rei seemed to keep to himself. My dad loved animals while Rei avoided my terrier, Piyo, as much as humanly possible. My dad was very open; he would cry, laugh, and shout whenever he needed to, but Rei only had one personality: polite and closed.
"He's a pharmacist." I added, throwing a grape into my mouth. "And we all know pharmacists are cree-ee-eeps."
"Hey, Nonoko wants to be a pharmacist." Anna grinned, nudging her twin.
"Besides Nonoko, of course, who will be the best pharmacist ever."
Nonoko laughed and put down the wad of crumpled napkin she was about to throw. "Thanks, Mikan."
"What did you say his name was, Mikan?" Ruka asked, feeding a baby carrot to his bunny.
"Rei Serio. More like Rei Serious." I joked, but I noticed that next to me, Natsume grew stiff. A look of worry crossed Ruka's face for a second too. "Do you guys know him?"
Ruka shook his head, but I wasn't convinced.
"Your jokes suck, Polka." Natsume stood up and started walking away, abandoning his lunch again.
"What's his problem." I huffed, slightly disheartened at the empty seat on my left. With lightning speed, I shoveled the rest of the fruit into my mouth and zipped my lunchbag. "See you guys later!"
I jumped up from my seat and followed suit. Natsume already disappeared from view, but I knew where he was. I hurried through many empty hallways until I opened the door that led to the main entrance. It was warm and breezy out, a perfect day. I walked toward the big sakura tree in the middle of the yard. Pink petals littered the ground, a mingle of rosy green. "Nat-su-me." I called, peering up into the big tree. "I know you're here."
"What do you want, Polka?" A gruff voice came from above.
I grinned. "Help me up, will you? And I'm not even wearing polka-dot panties, okay."
Natsume looked over at me lazily and extended a hand.
"Yeah, okay. That's totally going to help."
He sighed and jumped down to a lower branch, holding his hand out. I took it and used it as a steady hold as I climbed the base of the tree. Once I reached the thick branch he stood on, Natsume started climbing back up. I copied him, panting hard when I finally reached him. He watched me, looking smug and sweatless.
"Did you come here to prove you're not wearing Polka Dots?"
I blushed and turned away from him. Stupid natural reflexes. "Stupid Natsume. I wanted to ask about what happened at lunch." His face hardened and he turned away from me this time.
I sighed and gently tugged at his hand. "It wasn't nothing. What bothered you about Rei Serio?"
"Nothing bothered me. It was your stupid joke that bothered me."
"What?! It wasn't stupid, it was a pun. And puns are hilarious! There's this one kid in my class who tells the funniest puns ever; you're the weirdo for not laughing!"
"No one laughed."
"I laughed." I mumbled.
Silence followed. I watched Natsume nervously, my eyes flickering from his face, to the branches, and back to his face. He didn't seem to notice behind his closed lids. His chest rose slowly, gradual with his breathing. Hair as black as ink, smooth, flawless skin, full lips; he reminded me of a modern-day Snow White. I imagined Natsume in a long dress, yellow and blue with red accents to match his eyes. I could see him twirling in circles with the same, stoic look on his face. Except his eyelashes would be fluttering and a red blush would be present on his cheeks. Immediately, I erupted into giggles.
Red eyes met mine. "Why are you laughing, Polka."
I couldn't stop laughing. "Natsume-in-a dress! Twirling!"
His eyes narrowed and he looked disgusted. "Oi, little girl. Stop imagining that shit. I'm not a weak, pissy princess."
I stopped laughing and paused to wipe the tears out of my eyes. "Princesses aren't weak, Natsume."
"Yeah, they are. They need rescuing. They're always in distress and stuff." He countered.
"No, they're not! Like Mulan-"
"You're always in distress."
"Wha-" Before I could get any words out, Natsume jumped down from the tree. He landed and briskly started to walk away. Was that an insult? He said I need rescuing. What did he- Suddenly, I found my face flushed again. Did he just call me . . . a princess?
Then it occurred to me. He left me stranded in the tree.
I grumbled all the way home. Scrapes and cuts littered my exposed arms and legs from climbing down the huge Sakura tree branch by branch. "Stupid, stupid Natsume. Could've at least helped me down." I was still pondering what his comment meant. Did he mean to insult me by telling me I was always in some sort of trouble or did he mean I was a princess? I had racked my brain hard thinking about it for the rest of the school day. I was distracted as a result, Jinno yelled at me for zoning off in his class.
I reached my house and saw Piyo curled up and sleeping in a new doghouse. So that's where he's been . . . When did we get that? Mom must've bought it on the weekend or something. Pushing the thought from my mind, I unlocked the door, stepping inside. The smell of beef stew hit my nose as soon as I arrived. I took a deep whiff and exhaled happily. Yuka made the best stews. I took off my shoes and walked into the kitchen. My mom was busy at work, chopping away at a few green onion stems.
"Hey mom." I called, swinging my bookbag around one of the chairs. "Need any help?"
"Oh, welcome back, Mikan! And yes, please. I need you to cut up some veggies."
I was cutting carrots into little flower shapes when I felt a tug at my skirt. I looked down and saw Youichi pulling on my school skirt, Mr. Bear in his other arm. I washed my hands and dried them before bending down to eye-level with Youichi. "How you feeling, You-chan?"
I held the back of my hand against his temple and was relieved to find that his temperature was almost back to normal. Youichi ran over to the fridge and jerked it open, staring inside. He took a mozzarella stick out and peeled the plastic wrap down as he stumbled away. I sighed and closed the refrigerator. I could hear Yuka chuckling lightly behind me.
"So mom," I said, resuming to cutting the carrots. "What's the occasion?"
She looked at me, astonished. "W-what do you mean?"
"You only make beef stew when someone special comes up. Plus, you made way more than usual this time."
She smiled shyly, and I could swear I almost saw a blush pop up. "Rei's coming over for dinner."
And with that, I accidentally slid the knife into my thumb.
I still kept looking at my mom, until she started to freak out. "M-Mikan! Your finger! Your finger!" I looked down to find blood pooling all over the carrots. I cursed. I had taken so much care in cutting them. In an instant, Yuka had grabbed a handful of paper towels and was wrapping my finger in them. "Hold the towels against it until it stops bleeding. Then put disinfectant on and wrap a bandage around it." Begrudgingly, I tossed all the carrots in the trash before stomping upstairs. I shuffled to the bathroom and slowly removed the towels. And then almost fainted.
The amount of blood was alarming. There was so much that it was starting to seep through the last layer of paper towel. I peeled the soaked napkins off and turned the faucet on 'warm'. I hissed as the thin stream of water hit my wound, turning the water a light pink color. When most of the blood had washed off, I gingerly patted the cut with toilet paper. I held the soft tissue there as I left the bathroom and opened the closet. Then I remembered that Youichi had tripped on concrete the other day. He skinned his knee and there were tears at the corner of his eyes, so I kissed the booboo and wrapped it up. Meaning we had no more bandages.
I groaned and shut the door a bit hard, then marched to my room. Shaking my head, I peeled off my school uniform and changed into a pair of comfy pajamas. I discarded the tissue and started to hop down the stairs to continue helping Yuka with dinner. The moment she saw me, she screeched, "Change your clothes! Rei will be here any minute!"
I threw my hands up in defense and started to scurry back up the dress, not before catching a view of her in a red dress. A red dress she told me my dad had bought. I ran to my room and shut the door, sighing. I threw my pajamas off and examined my closet thoughtfully. What am I supposed to wear to eat dinner with my mother's boyfriend? In the end, I chose a simple black tee and a red plaid skirt. I tied my hair into a ponytail and posed approvingly in front of the mirror.
After I finished fluffing my hair, I skipped to Youichi's room to help him get dressed. I opened his closet and pulled out a thin, grey sweater and a pair of blue plaid shorts.
"Have you met Rei yet?" I asked Youichi as I helped him pull the sweater over his head. Youichi shook his head and I sighed, holding the shorts in two circles to help his little legs jump through. "He's really different from dad."
Youichi didn't say anything as he took hold of my hand, but I noticed a pondering look on his face. I turned off the lights in his room, illuminating the stars and planets, and together, we went downstairs to get ready for dinner.
"Ah, Mikan. Can you set the plates on the table, please? The nice ones." Yuka was in a hurry. She was buzzing all over the kitchen like a queen bee, cutting a lime into neat, thin slices. I raised my eyebrow.
"You're making Bloody Marys?"
"Yeah, it's Rei's favorite." She blushed, sticking the lime wedge onto the side of the salt-coated glass.
But you hate it.
I didn't say anything as I pulled four heavy plates from the cupboard. We hardly used these. Gold and silver lining traced the expensive, porcelain plates. I waited as Youichi set down white, lace placemats before placing them on top. Yuka carefully carried over the two, tall drinks and fixed them on the corner of her and Rei's placemats. Then, she hobbled back to the counter and grabbed a wooden bowl of fresh salad and a basket of bread. As she put them down in the middle of the table, I commented, "Everything is so fancy. Is the president coming, too?"
Yuka shot me a quick glare before sighing, taking me aside into the hall. "Mikan, please behave. I know it's a lot, but I want everything to be . . . perfect."
I crinkled my nose. "Is it really necessary? I mean, he's a person not a robot. Everything doesn't have to perfect."
She didn't answer that. "Mikan . . . I really like him. Please just be nice?"
I sighed. As much as I was suspicious of Rei, I wouldn't sabotage her little dinner date just to please myself. "Yeah, I will. Sorry, Mom."
"Thank you, honey. And we can also have Rei take a look at that cut on your finger. See if he can prescribe something for it." She gave me a quick smile and hug before running off to spoon thick beef stew into bowls. I returned to the kitchen and watched my mom place the last of the bowls on the table, not having enough heart to tell her that I'd rather fall down a cliff than have her boyfriend touch me. She rushed to the bathroom, turning to and fro in the mirror, fluffing her hair and smoothing her dress. The doorbell rang loudly and a nervous smile graced Yuka's face as she hurried to the door. She cleared her throat and opened the door, revealing Rei dressed in a black turtleneck and tailored pants.
"Welcome." She peered up at him, batting her coated eyelashes.
"Thank you for having me, Yuka. You look-" His eyes flickered over to me. "amazing."
My breath abruptly got caught in my throat. I felt nauseous and my hands were clammy. Was that intentional?
But Yuka flushed and stepped closer to him, grabbing ahold of his arm. "I made dinner. Beef stew."
"It smells delicious." He breathed walking toward the kitchen with Yuka attached to him. I tensed up when he walked near me. Taking another deep breath, I followed them.
Rei stopped out of nowhere. And turned. "So Mikan, Yuka tells me that you cut your finger. Let me take a look at it." He stepped closer.
"N-no! It's okay, it wasn't deep and I don't feel anything right now. It's okay, I'm okay." I waved him away, stepping back. All of a sudden, Youichi appeared behind me.
"This is my son, Youichi." Yuka introduced, waving Youichi to come over, but he just watched, refusing to move. "I'm sorry," she pouted. "He doesn't talk much."
"It's alright," Rei waved off. "Don't get infected, Mikan." Yuka pulled out a chair at the head of the table and he walked over, seating himself. She sat down next to him and motioned for me to sit across from her, next to Rei. I pushed my worries aside and sat, rigid. Youichi scooted his chair next to mine.
"Please dig in."
I started taking small spoonfuls of stew, ignoring my throbbing finger. It was delicious, of course, but the table was quiet. Youichi wasn't eating, and Yuka and Rei kept stealing glances at each other. He took a piece of bread and dipped it in the soup, eyeing her as he took a bite. She giggled and stared at him as she took a bite out of a buttered piece of bread. I wanted to retch. C'mon, there are kids here. They continued ignoring us and seductively eating their food as I tried to calm my stomach from letting everything out. My appetite was gone. Rei took the Bloody Mary and was about to take a drink when-
I could only watch in shock. Youichi had thrown a piece of bread at Rei, knocking the glass out of his hand. The drink splattered all over him before hitting the ground, shattering into a million sharp pieces. For a moment, everything was dead silent. Then, Yuka gasped and started to apologize over and over.
"Rei! I'm so sorry! I'm so so sorry! I don't know why he would do such a thing! I-I-I'm so sorry! I can't believe he would do something like that! I'm so sorry . . ."
As Yuka kept apologizing on the verge of tears, I jumped out of my seat and grabbed Youichi, wheeling him out of that situation. I pulled him into the dark living room and crouched down. I opened my mouth, but found myself speechless. I didn't know what to say; what compelled him to do it, whether I should praise him or scold him. Instead, I just held onto his hand with my mouth open. "W-wha-?"
"You don't like him." My mouth slammed shut. "He makes you uncomfortable. I don't like him either."
I stared at Youichi's face. He had no regrets; he didn't look guilty. He looked almost smug. After a moment, I started to laugh. I tried so hard to hold it in, so Yuka and Rei didn't stomp in, looking enraged, but I couldn't help it. I felt so proud to be his older sister. I took a moment to breathe and calm myself.
"Just don't tell mom you did it on purpose, okay? She likes him whether we do or don't. And she's happy, so let's not ruin it for her." Youichi nodded in understanding and I grinned again. He was such a smart, little kid. "Now, let's go apologize to him."
Youichi's head snapped up to look at me, disgust in his face. "Why?" He hissed, trying to tug his hand out of mine.
I held on. "So mom doesn't get in trouble. Please? It doesn't have to be real, alright? Just make it sound sincere enough."
Youichi scoffed. I swore, I should've never let him meet Natsume.
We walked back into the kitchen, and I saw Yuka dabbing at Rei's clothes, picking off bits of garlic and olive. She saw us and a furious scowl graced her face. "Why did-?!"
"I'm sorry." Youichi had his head bowed. I could've burst out in laughter right then and there with how surprised they look.
"It's alright." Rei mused. I looked up to see him examining both of us with his dark eyes. Yuka watched us worriedly.
I forced my eyes away from his. "Mom, I'm going to help Youichi wash up and get him to bed." I made myself bow. "Good night, Rei. Thank you for having dinner with us." I didn't take another glance and ran up the stairs, Youichi right behind me. We ran into his room and quickly shut the door. I high-fived him before shuffling over to his closet, looking for PJ's. I pulled out a pair covered in Marvel characters and grabbed a towel. I handed them to Youichi and he quickly snatched them and ran off to the bathroom. He was growing up pretty fast.
Satisfied, I went back to my room and just as I was shutting the door, I heard a tapping at my window. I walked over to pull the sheer curtain back and almost screamed. There he was, perched on a tree branch, in all his glory, Natsume Hyuuga.
"What the-" I wrenched the window open and was suddenly face-to-face with Mr. Egotistic. "Why are you here?" I demanded.
He simply held up a box of bandages and jumped into my room. No invitation. Straight trespassing.
How had he known? I frowned and looked down. My room was on the second floor. Of course his tree-climbing skills would come in handy. I turned and saw him watching me so I sighed and shut the window. I sat down on my bed and watched as he opened the box. Natsume pulled out a pack of bandages and kneeled down in front of me, a peeled back band-aid ready in his hand.
"I can do it myself, you know."
"Tch. You'll probably put it on wrong."
I opened my mouth in defense. "How can you put a band-aid on wrong?!"
"You'll miss the cut. Or accidentally stick it together instead of on yourself."
I grumbled, but reluctantly held my hand out. I had missed my cut before. But I'm sure other people stuck the sticky sides together before putting on.
Natsume scowled. Grabbing my finger, he demanded, "What's this?"
I blinked. "A cut I got this afternoon. I thought you knew?" He didn't answer me. He just kept observing my wound. "Wait, then what did you come here for? If you didn't know about this?" Natsume held onto my finger, but he pointed at the scrapes on my legs. My mouth dropped.
"How'd you get it?" He asked again, staring at my finger.
"I was cutting carrots and I cut myself."
"Only you can cut yourself when cutting carrots." He spat.
"What?! That's ridiculous! Everybody gets cut at one point when they cut vegetables! I was just distracted!" I defended.
"By what?" He gingerly wrapped the band-aid around my finger despite his furious tone.
"News. My mom told me her boyfriend was coming over for dinner and I was caught off guard."
Natsume's face hardened. "Rei?"
"Yeah . . . how'd you know?"
He rolled his eyes, taking a seat next to me on my bed. "You were the one who was babbling about it at lunch."
I didn't answer and turned, watching his expression for a minute. "Who is he? How do you know him?"
"Natsume, I know you're lying. You always say that, but you get all moody when he gets brought up."
For a second, I thought he was going to ignore my question again, but instead, he asked, "Did something happen?"
"You're jumpy. Nervous. What happened?"
Natsume glared at me and his eyes met mine, intense and dark. He hopped off my bed and walked over to my window, thrusting it open.
"Thank you for the bandages, Natsume!"
Looking back at me one last time, he said, "Next time, get thicker curtains, Panda-print." Natsume propped himself on the window sill and hopped out onto the branch. He deftly jumped off, landing smoothly on his feet. Then he wandered off, disappearing into the night. I stood and gawked out the window.
"Panda-print . . .?" I gasped. How did he . . .? "NATSUME!" I screeched, shaking my fist before slamming the window down. "Pervert." I muttered, grabbing a towel and swinging it over my shoulder. "Can't believe him." I growled, picking a white t-shirt and blue shorts. "Always doing what he wants." I snarled, marching into the bathroom. "Trespasser." I ripped my clothes off and threw them over my shoulder, turning on the warm water. I stepped in, feeling my anger ebb away with the soapy water down the drain.
After cleaning myself thoroughly, I dried off with a towel and put my clothes on. I could the front door shutting downstairs. It was probably time to apologize. I trailed down the steps and watched as Yuka locked the door.
She jumped a little and turned. "Mikan . . ."
"I'm sorry Youichi and I kind of ruined dinner and bailed."
Her eyes softened and Yuka walked up to me, pulling me into a hug. "It's alright, sweetie. Rei said it's normal for a kid to feel that way. He said, after all, that he was another male figure in the house so it was normal for Youichi to feel threatened. He also said you were very mature."
My eyebrows knit together. I was pretty sure that the Youichi part was BS, but I decided to ignore the last comment. "I'm going to go to sleep. It sucks that we couldn't finish your beef stew since you don't make it that often."
"Don't worry about, honey. I'll wrap yours and Youichi's bowls and put it in the fridge so you guys can eat it after school."
I thanked her before going back upstairs into my room. I jumped onto my mattress and pulled my fluffy blanket all the way up. I really was tired from all the commotion today. I closed my eyes and let myself drift away . . .
But I couldn't seem to fall asleep, despite how sleepy I felt. Natsume and Rei clouded my mind, keeping me awake and curious. How were they associated? What did Rei want? Why was Natsume so defensive about it?
Princesses need rescuing, huh.
Funny thing is, I went to a Korean BBQ AYCE place the other day for the first time and we all ordered lemonade or soda. Then, when the waiter was coming with our drinks, he tripped and everything splashed on me and my phone. Naturally, I freaked out a bit. All was good and delicious (and mostly free) though: a pretty memorable experience if I do say so myself.
Now, I understand it's not realistic to compare one person's exact traits to another person's. But Mikan had a close bond to her father so, of course, she'll be resentful and sort of want someone to replace her father in a way, treat her like her father used to. She holds Rei to her father's standards since he's in the same position her father once was in. Intuition also plays a part in judgement.
And please don't be offended, present and future pharmacists.