That evening, after her perfect café date with that Kousaku boy, Kaori returned home, cackling gleefully to herself. Her plan was going perfectly. Hibari, Kaori's most powerful rival, was so jealous after school that it was radiating off of her in waves. That jealousy would almost certainly have turned to rage by now, and Kaori couldn't wait to get a glimpse of it tomorrow. It would only be a matter of time until Hibari exploded in jealous rage at school, instantly ruining her image and her popularity. Then Kaori would step in to fill the gap, claiming her rightful place as the most popular girl at Wakaba High. It would be glorious.
Positively bursting to inform her parents of her most promising scheme yet, Kaori tossed open the door to her house and removed her shoes as quickly as she could manage. Surely they would be just as thrilled as her about this ingenious new plot!
The smell of cooking food wafted through the air, adding to her ecstatic disposition. But that mood quickly soured, as she was faced with the reality of her parents' less-than-enthused reactions to her big news.
"It's a decent start," her mother said, staring at her with that typical critical look in her eye. Kaori's mother was the pinnacle of beauty and grace, with long, straight, black hair, perfectly applied makeup, and the most fashionable outfits that money could buy. Her gaze could make even the strongest of warriors quiver fearfully in their boots. "Even if this plan actually works, which, of course, would be a first, it will take much more than that to truly overtake Hibari in popularity."
Finding it difficult to maintain eye contact, Kaori stared silently at the bowl in front of her. Of course her mother was right… it was foolish to think that this plan was good enough to defeat Hibari once and for all. A plan that would take out Hibari all by itself would require a more intelligent mind than the one Kaori possessed.
"You're running out of time, you know," her father said, sitting across from her and pointing with his chopsticks. Of course she knew; she was reminded every day. Her father was a rather plain-looking man, especially compared to her mother, with a nondescript haircut and a light beard. To make up for this lackluster appearance, he had proved himself more intelligent than virtually all his peers, quickly rising the ranks at the firm he worked at. "You only have one more year of high school after this one, and if it's anything like this year...
Bowing, Kaori said, "Of course, Father, you're correct. As are you, Mother. Thank you for your words of wisdom; I'll be sure to reflect on them."
They both gave her a curt nod, and returned to eating. There wasn't another word said to or by Kaori at dinner that evening.
Before the start of class the next day, Kaori gathered her three friends - Kenko, Naoka and Michiko. A few ideas had come to her last night on how to keep the ball rolling with her scheme, and she was eager to make sure her friends knew what roles they had to play.
"As you're all aware, yesterday Kou…Kouse…."
"Kousaku," said Michiko, Kaori's brown-haired and most irritating friend.
With a dismissive wave, Kaori continued. "Yes, yes, Kousaka. Anyways, yesterday he and I had an absolutely perfect date. He's clearly head over heels for me - and we need to make sure that's also clear to Hibari."
"If it's really that clear, won't she know without our help?" Michiko said, with a small smirk.
Glaring, Kaori slammed an open palm into Michiko's shoulder, pushing the other girl roughly to the side. "Anyway. That's where you all come in. I need you three to talk about what a cute couple Kouseku and I are, within earshot of Hibari. Mention how very into me he is."
"Into you in a metaphorical sense?" Michiko said, still smirking and deftly dodging Kaori's retaliatory strike. Koari was beginning to resent how often Michiko managed to elude just punishment for that smart mouth of hers.
"How much embellishment do you want?" said Naoka, the short-haired girl that was also Kaori's most competent friend. Why did Kaori even bother keeping Michiko around, when Kenko and especially Naoko were so much more helpful?
"Embellish within reason," she said, still glaring at Michiko. "Nothing that would besmirch my reputation."
With an eager grin, Naoka bowed. "Of course! We would never." Standing back up to her full and significant height, she said, "No need to worry, Kaori, we've got this."
Yet again, Kaori was convinced that her plan was going perfectly. Naoka and Michiko's seats in class were near enough to Hibari that they could talk just loud enough for her to hear, but without drawing Iwasaki-sensei's notice. Kaori wasn't close enough to hear, but from her seat she could still see the scowl that overtook Hibari's face, along with the irritated glares the blonde-haired girl tossed Naoko and Michiko's way.
At one point, Hibari pulled out her phone and angrily started typing something. A minute or so later, Hibari's scowl grew tenfold as she received a response that was clearly not to her liking. Kaori had to stifle the urge to cackle; she barely managed.
Once lunch rolled around, Kaori was unsurprised and silently thrilled when Hibari marched up to her for another "talk."
"Kousaku doesn't like you as much as you and your friends seem to think, you know," Hibari declared, arms crossed. The waves of hate emanating from her were almost tangible.
Playing it cool, Kaori feigned mild concern. "Oh? What makes you say that?"
Sighing in frustration, Hibari said, "He's only dating you because of some stupid bet he made with a friend back in Kyushu." Oh, was that where he was from? Kaori had just assumed he was a Tokyo native, like most people at this school seemed to be. "He would've gone out with any girl that asked him."
Stepping up to stand next to Kaori, Michiko said, "So why didn't you?" Judging by her simultaneously confused and outraged expression, Hibari had not been remotely prepared for that sort of question. Ah yes, that was why Kaori kept Michiko around.
"B-because I'm not interested in- You don't-" Snapping her mouth closed, Hibari took a deep breath. "This isn't about me, this is about Kaori being used by Kousaku! He doesn't actually care, he just wants-"
"To go with me to the movies tonight?" Kaori finished, adding a sinister smile for the proper emphasis. "Yes, I know, he told me as much himself." She'd been waiting the entire conversation to play that particular card, and it was clear from the shock and fury upon Hibari's face that she'd picked the perfect moment.
Turning on her heel, Hibari spat, "Fine, I don't care," and stomped off, everything about her body language indicating the exact opposite of her words. Images of Kaori - victorious, beautiful and popular - flashed in her mind. She was so close.
The evening's dinner and movie date went just as perfectly as the café date the night before. Kousaku was undoubtedly head-over-heels for her, and soon his love would be impossible for Hibari to deny. Then her anger would boil over into madness, and the utter destruction of her reputation. Kaori couldn't wait to bask in Hibari's downfall. Victory would taste so very sweet.
The first half of the next day felt familiar. Kaori briefly conferred with her friends, her friends talked up Kaori and Kousaku's relationship, and Kaori tried her best not to cackle at Hibari's increasingly upset reactions. Any moment now Hibari's anger would burst forth in an ugly display, Kaori was sure of it.
At lunch, Kaori and her crew gathered in the hallway, talking amongst themselves about nothing in particular as they waited for Hibari to pass by. Soon enough, the target was within sight. It was time for Kaori's final attack.
"He was so affectionate, too!" she said to the group, much louder than was needed. "At the movie, he wrapped his arm around me, pulling me close whenever I got scared." This was completely untrue, of course, but Kousaku wasn't around to dispute it, so it hardly mattered. A brief glance told her it was working, too: Hibari had stopped, and was looking her way, fists clenched. The gun was cocked - time to pull the trigger. "And then, as the credits rolled..." She giggled. "He kissed me!"
A sharp wail pierced the ears of everyone in the hallway, instantly drawing every head towards it's source - Hibari Oozora. The blonde girl's eyes were filled with tears, her body shaking, as she shouted, "I get it! You won!" Eyebrows shooting up in elated surprise, Kaori felt overwhelming joy rise within her as the moment she'd been waiting for finally arrived.
Then it all fell apart.
"He gave you his heart, so why do you have to rub it in!?" Hibari screamed, tears running down her cheeks. Covering her face with her hands, Hibari dropped to her knees, loud, ugly sobs wracking her body.
Instantly, every nearby girl save for Kaori and her friends flocked to Hibari, bending down and offering words of comfort, one even wrapping an arm around Hibari's shoulders. One of the girls that couldn't get close enough to offer comfort instead turned toward Kaori, shooting her a heated glare. "Just leave her alone, you monster!" the girl cried, holding out a hand as if to ward the horrorstruck Kaori off.
Time froze and the world began to tilt, throwing everything off balance. Kaori's eyes moved slowly from the angry, accusatory girl, over to the still sobbing Hibari. Ever so slowly, Hibari's face rose to look back at her. Despite the tears still in Hibari's eyes, for the briefest of moments Kaori could swear she saw a smirk cross the demon girl's lips. That smile was like an arrow shot directly through Kaori's lungs, instantly robbing her of breath.
No… No... NO! NonononononoNO. This wasn't the way things were supposed to go! How did Hibari manage to turn it around on her again? How did Hibari manage to completely outplay her again!?
The weight of the situation gripped Kaori's chest with such ferocity that, for a moment, she worried that she, too, would crumble to her knees. But no, she couldn't - she wouldn't! Pivoting to face the other direction, she bolted down the hallway without a backward glance.
Kousaku. She had to find him. That was the only way to reverse this, or to at least stop the damage from spreading further. If she could cut it off with him, there'd be no more reason for the other girls to demonize her, right? Right! And regardless, it was the only solution she had right now.
It didn't take her long to find him. Sitting back in home room, Kousaku appeared to be blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding just a few hallways away from him. Grabbing ahold of his arm, Kaori immediately started pulling him away, with absolutely no explanation.
"Wh-whoa, Kaori, what're-?" As he looked at her, his expression quickly shifted from mild confusion to utter surprise. "Your face is white as a sheet! What happened?"
Shaking her head emphatically, Kaori continued to tug at his arm. "It's nothing! But we have to talk." She stopped tugging for a moment to look directly into his eyes. "Please."
Maybe it was the desperate look in her eyes or the pleading note in her voice, but Kousaku stopped resisting, and quickly rose to his feet. "Alright, lead the way."
Silently, Kaori made her way to a nearly-unused hallway on the third floor - a place she went to sometimes when she needed to be alone. It was an area she'd discovered within her first few weeks at the school last year; she had only just moved to the neighborhood, and hadn't even gained Michiko as a friend yet. She hated thinking of that time, and thus she hadn't been back here in quite a while. But she needed to talk to Kousaku alone.
Coming to a quick stop, she swiveled around to face Kousaku, with as determined a look as she could muster. Somewhat surprisingly, he wore a similar expression, and more surprisingly, he started speaking before she could.
"Kaori, we need to talk," he said, his body tense.
Blinking rapidly for a moment, she said, "I… yes, I know. I thought-"
"It's just not going to work out between us," he continued, a bead of sweat on his brow. What… what was happening? Kaori was at a complete loss for words, which seemed to work to Kousaku's advantage. "Sorry, you're a nice girl." Was she? "But it feels like I'm stepping into the middle of something going on between you and Hibari." ...He didn't know the half of it. "And honestly, it seems like you're more interested in her than you are in me."
Kaori's mind, which had been floating along in a mild daze as Kousaku spoke, suddenly screeched to a halt. "WHAT!?" she shouted, eyes bugging out of her head as the full weight of his implication fell upon her like the wave of a tsunami.
Wincing, Kousaku took a small step backward. "I-I, um, well... Like, at the café, Hibari was pretty much the only thing you talked about. I tried to steer the conversation other places, but you always circled it back." ...Had she? In truth, she remembered little about their first date. She certainly didn't remember enough to reliably refute him, even if she knew he had to be wrong. "And then, at the movie, whenever I tried to whisper a comment to you, there was no response, and I'd look over and see you on your phone, endlessly refreshing Hibari's feed." With a short laugh, he added, "I was just glad we were in the back, or someone probably would've complained about your phone's light." But… but she had to see if Hibari was vagueblogging about how upset she was! It was important to know the moment it happened…
"I… I don't-"
Reaching a hand out to lay on Kaori's shoulder, Kousaku said, "Hey, look… It's fine. I'm new to trying to understand that whole sort of… lifestyle. But I'm not going to jud-"
Slapping his hand away as forcefully as she could manage, Kaori stepped back, a look of utter contempt and disgust upon her face. "H-how dare you!? I am not-! Not a… I'm not like that!"
Though he seemed a little hurt and surprised about her slap, Kousaku seemed less than convinced by her denials. "Fine, fine. Look, that doesn't matter anyway. I just needed to say that we're done. I wish you well, but no more dates, okay?"
"As if I have any desire to go on another date with a vile monster like you!" she practically screamed, turning on her heel and stomping away, fists clenched tight. Her only hope was that she'd turned quickly enough that he hadn't seen the tears in her eyes.
During the rest of the day, Kaori did her best to ignore the glares she got from various other girls. She also ignored every attempt made by her three friends to comfort her, and even ignored them when they just wanted to talk. There was nothing she wanted to say to them right now, and there was definitely nothing she wanted to hear from them right now. A few times she glanced over at Hibari, Kousaku's words repeating in her head despite how much she tried to push them away. One of these times, Hibari looked back at her, and the cocky grin the blonde-haired girl shot her direction made her decide to avoid eye contact with other people altogether for the rest of that day.
That evening, she didn't speak a word to her parents, which they didn't seem to notice. After dinner, she immediately went to her room and pulled out her diary. The small, worn notebook hadn't been used in months, but she still knew exactly where to turn to for a blank page. As soon as it was open, she began scribbling furiously, pressing the gel pen so hard into the page that she wouldn't be surprised to see it had stained the next ten pages.
Beneath a similar line about Hibari, Kaori wrote the words, "I vow to destroy Kousaku Sakamoto before I finish high school. HE WILL PAY."