The Kiss That Never Was, Part Eleven

Chapter Sixty: In the Light of Morning

Motoko was the first one into the teahouse the next morning. Not only was she an early riser and less hungover than most, but she also wanted to get there early so she could face down the others one by one rather than as a group. Had she come in late, she knew that everyone would stop and stare at her, wondering about her strange behavior last night.

Shinobu came in not long afterwards, feeling like hell from drinking far more than she normally did when she drank at all, but still determined to help cook breakfast for everyone. She waved hello at Motoko from across the teahouse, but also gave her a funny look. Motoko walked over and tried to explain, but at first no words came out. "Um, about last night…" she started, but then she faltered and the silence grew even more painful.

Finally, she thought, Damn, I can't do this with everyone today. I need help. I'll tell her what happened and see if she's offended. "Shinobu, look. Um… I know what I did last night seems very strange. It's not something I wanted to do, but I was trying to stave off disaster. You see, and I hope you'll keep this confidential, I discovered that one of the bottles of sake we were drinking had some of Suu's aphrodisiac in it. That's why everyone was acting so strange. You know, like Haruka and Haitani."

"Ooooohhhh…" Shinobu looked like a light bulb went off over her head, as everything was made clear.

"Yeah," Motoko added nervously. "I had to break things up somehow. And, I have to admit, the bottle was mine. I was keeping it in a hiding place, looking for an opportunity to use it on you know who. But someone else found it and shared it without knowing. I feel so ashamed to even think of using such a thing, but I guess love makes a person do strange things. Please don't tell anyone!"

"Okay, I won't," Shinobu said agreeably. "And I understand completely how you feel. In fact, I know far too well!" Shinobu thought back to her own temptations and indiscretions in her attempts to keep Keitaro from getting a girlfriend. But then, more guardedly, she asked, "But why are you telling me this?"

"I don't know. But last night it seemed like you did me a good turn when you dared me to hug Keitaro. I don't know why you did that, but I really appreciate it. I felt like, maybe that…" Motoko struggled to articulate complicated feelings. Finally she cut to the chase. "It's hard to explain, but after you did that I felt like I owed you the truth, and that maybe you could understand and not hate me for it."

"Hate you? Motoko-sempai, why would I hate you?"

Motoko didn't want to bring up the fact that everyone knew but never said out loud, that Shinobu had a desperate crush on Keitaro. So she brought up another reason important to her. "I try to live a life of honor. Tricking someone by altering their mind with a drug is very shameful. The lowest of the low. If my sister could see me now: the way I dress" - Motoko once again wore the new, red bikini - "my loss of self-control, the foolish things I do… I think I'd die for shaming my family."

The two of them stood in the middle of the teahouse dining room, all alone. Suddenly Shinobu reached forward and hugged Motoko tightly, and started to cry. Motoko held her hands away at first, puzzled by what the girl was doing, but eventually reciprocated and tentatively hugged back. After some moments, Motoko couldn't help but ask, "What did I do? Why are you crying?"

Shinobu pulled back and thought to herself. Motoko is a good person. I've caused her so much pain and suffering! If it weren't for me, she and Keitaro would be a couple already. I need to make it up to her. But at the same time, I can't keep beating myself up over that. I can't undo the past, and whom Keitaro picks as his girlfriend is not something I can control. I tried to undo it last night by putting them together, but that didn't really have an effect. I'm not the scheming type, anyways. But here's another chance for me to at least restore Motoko's reputation and maybe help her out some with Keitaro. But this is the last. I'm going to let what I did before go, and move on. That what Sempai said I should do. I need to be mature.

Shinobu sat down in a nearby chair, as if weighted down by heavy thoughts. With tear stained eyes she looked up at Motoko and said, "I don't think what you did with the bottle was shameful at all. I really understand. And what you did last night was honorable. Let me help. Let me talk to the others about last night. I'll say what you did was to help me." After some more discussion Motoko allowed Shinobu to convince her to make herself scarce so Shinobu could try to fix things.

Shinobu told all the others that she had gone into the teahouse just after Motoko did, told Motoko there that she was feeling very uncomfortable about the game, and begged her to bring it to a halt immediately. Memories were so hazy that no one recalled Shinobu in fact never left the fire. Suddenly Motoko's efforts were seen in a new and sympathetic light. Motoko felt better about herself, and Shinobu felt like the guilty weight she'd been carrying for wronging Motoko and Keitaro was largely lifted. The two of them also felt closer to each other than ever before.

As the morning progressed, one by one the others staggered in to the teahouse. Each person felt worse than the next, but this was no time for lethargy and nasty hangovers. But today was finally the big day of the Star Wars play. Cup after cup of coffee was consumed as everyone tried to snap into shape for the final hours of practice before the big night.

Motoko's bizarre attack was quickly forgotten not only because of Shinobu's explanation, but also because of something even more attention-grabbing. Nearly the last to come down from the hotel were Haitani and Haruka, arm in arm. The two of them basked in the glow of new love. The effect of the love potion didn't end for them with Motoko's attack. After they fell back to the hotel, they made passionate love all night long, even as everyone else but Mitsune and Keitaro tossed and turned in erotic frustration, until the aphrodisiac finally wore off hours later.

Now that the morning had come and they were completely free of the potion's power, the new, odd couple found they were still in love, or at least in lust. Haitani always had a thing for older women, and the fact was, Haruka was a hidden gem. She actually had a very sexy body and attractive face, as the bikini she'd been wearing all week clearly showed. But she too often hid behind a sullen countenance, dumpy clothing, and constant smoking. During this beach trip she'd been flattered by Haitani's constant attentions, and had started to let her hair down. She'd had sex for the first time in ages, and decided she wasn't in any hurry to go back to her celibate and mostly lonely life. Seta was a great guy, but he was also absent-minded towards the feelings of others and just plain absent most of the time. It was suddenly clear to her why she'd been holding back on committing to him - he wasn't giving her what she wanted emotionally.

Haruka was ten years older than Haitani, but that morning they didn't care about that in the least. They stuck to each other like glue, boldly advertising their new relationship for all to see. Seta, who still didn't even know about the kissing the night before, was in the teahouse when the new couple came in. Needless to say, he was beside himself with shock. He took Haruka aside, outside the teahouse, and the two of them talked in private for some time. Then he got in his van and drove off without speaking to anyone. Haruka also left to return to the hotel, but she left with Haitani.

It was as if a tornado touched down in the teahouse. Everyone was astounded. Their kissing the night before was shocking enough, but to actually have the romance last into the light of day was infinitely more surprising. Haitani had his good points, but the chubby, immature, and nerdy guy wasn't exactly anyone's obvious candidate for Mr. Right. At least he took the events in stride and mostly kept his mouth shut instead of strutting around, boasting of a new conquest.

Motoko had come back in time to see the whole encounter between Haruka and Seta. Both Motoko and Shinobu had an extra reason to be amazed, because they alone knew the role of the aphrodisiac in bringing Haitani and Haruka together. It was also known that the turtles Tama and Mecha-Tama had gone from ignoring each other to permanent lovebirds after the love potion was used on them, to say nothing of the addition of Taro. Both Motoko and Shinobu had the same thought: could the drug not only increase arousal, but actually bond two people together?

Also widely known was the fact that Keitaro did not bond with Suu even though both of them used the drug and were put together in a very romantic situation. Furthermore, everyone had the drug the night before, but it only dramatically affected Haruka and Haitani. So the drug wasn't all-powerful. But after seeing what happened to Haitani and Haruka, Motoko and Shinobu were extremely tempted anew to try the drug on Keitaro.


Chapter Sixty-One: Paying Attention to Detail

The arrangements for the play carried on despite the morning drama. Haruka came back to take charge, but Seta did not reappear. Haruka wouldn't say where he had gone or if he'd be back in time for the play, if she herself knew at all.

It appeared she thought he might not return, because she took advantage of Kentaro's recent arrival to recruit him into being a last minute understudy for Seta's Obi Wan Kenobi role. Like many people he was very familiar with the Star Wars movies and had no trouble remembering how Obi Wan Kenobi was supposed to sound and act like. But he had no sword skills, and if Seta didn't return the fight scenes would suffer badly. Now Mitsune had to try and teach Kentaro the fight moves Seta had been teaching her, but it was like the blind leading the blind.

Everyone sincerely hoped Seta would return, but the afternoon progressed and he didn't even call to tell an increasingly concerned Sara of his whereabouts.

The Haruka teahouse summer play had made a big splash the year before. And while much of that performance was a disaster and even threatened the very lives of the audience, there was no doubt it was just about the most exciting thing to happen in the boring beach town in a long time. So demand to see the new play was tremendous. The teahouse itself was far too small to hold the expected crowds. A local theater was on stand by in case it rained, but the weather forecast looked fine so the plan was to have the play on the beach itself. There was a natural amphitheater carved out of the rocks in a very scenic location not far below the cliff their hotel was perched on, so the play would be held there. It could hold nearly one thousand people. The only downside was the volcanic rocks in the area were sharp and there were no chairs. The handbills and notices strongly recommended that people bring their own cushions.

The evening came and the weather held, with not even a cloud in the sky. Haruka was too busy making sure that the event ran smoothly to have time to worry about how Seta felt about her. Haitani still followed her around as an assistant, and they were more inseparable than ever.

Everyone had practiced their parts and memorized their lines. There was enthusiasm to do a better job than the year before, and hopes ran high. With Suu and her creations as a sort of secret weapon, the play was going to be much more elaborate and effects-laden than a play of their size and locale had any right to be.

Since the movie Star Wars was so long, they focused just on the middle section where Luke Skywalker leads a gang to rescue Princess Leia from the bowels of the Death Star. That allowed them to greatly simplify the set design, as most all the scenes took place in the hallways of the Darth Star. Suu devised the set to be modular and entirely on wheels. Entire walls could be rolled away and replaced by new ones within seconds. The actors all perfected a trick whereby they walked or ran while standing in place, and meanwhile the walls slowly rolled forwards or backwards. It gave the illusion that the actors were traveling from room to room inside a vast enemy spaceship when it reality they only had a limited stage area to work with.

Suu had worked out many other clever effects. For instance, she'd made light sabers that looked and acted just like the light sabers in the movies. One could turn them on and go from just holding a handle to holding a glowing blade. The play was destined to be a success, if only for the presentation and special effects alone.

Haruka ran a tight ship, and all the equipment was in place in the natural amphitheater and ready hours in advance. All that was left was for the actors to practice their scenes for the last time. The attention focused on fighting scenes involving Obi Wan Kenobi, in case Kentaro had to step in for the still missing Seta.

Suu and Mutsumi found themselves sitting together at the side of the stage, watching Motoko, Mitsune, Keitaro, and Kentaro work on the Obi Wan Kenobi fighting scenes. Mutsumi had been very busy lately practicing her Princess Leia role, and Suu was even busier not only getting ready to play Chewbacca, but more importantly getting all the effects together. This was a rare moment of rest in a very busy day.

They'd been watching the others quietly, but out of the blue Suu asked Mutsumi, "Mutsumi, why do you like Keitaro?"

Mutsumi was a bit surprised, but took it in stride. A smile came across her face as she thought of Keitaro and all the reasons she liked him. "Well, you know him as well as I, so you already know that he's kind, caring, tho…"

Suu interrupted her. "Yeah, I know that. I don't mean that. I mean, why do you like him instead of someone else? You're cute, sexy, fun to be with, smart, rich, warm-hearted, friendly, and you like watermelons."

Suu added this last one as a joke, and Mutsumi laughed. She joked back, "Why, Suu-chan, I do believe you're coming on to me!"

Suu laughed too, but continued, "You could have your choice of just about any eligible bachelor in Japan. And now that you're going to be attending Toudai, the very most impressive young men in the whole country are going to be after you. I know Keitaro has a lot going for him, but other women here love Keitaro very much. So why try so hard with him against all the competition when you could have you pick of anyone else at the best university in Japan?"

Mutsumi laughed gaily. "Speaking of competition, sounds like someone else here would like Keitaro all for her own." She playfully nudged Suu, who blushed. "But that's okay. I understand what you're getting at. There are some people here who maybe have Keitaro as their only serious chance at this time to have a boyfriend. Whereas I only need to walk onto the Toudai campus and faint, and a whole army of cute guys will come to my rescue. Not even Mitsune has such an opportunity."

Suu wondered at Mutsumi's comment about the fainting. Could the innocent Mutsumi sometimes stage her fainting for strategic purposes? Hmm. I'll have to think about that. She remained silent and let Mutsumi continue.

"The fact is, Suu-chan, Keitaro is the only man who interests me. Ever since we first kissed many months ago, I haven't thought of anyone else. He has a very special place in my heart. I wish I could say why exactly, but some of it I can't put into words and some has to remain a secret. But he and I go back a very long way, to when we were small children. When I'm with him, I feel so happy and loved. And comforted. Maybe it's like finding an old photo album from earlier in your life, and you open it up and your heart is filled with happy memories."

"It's like that. No one else can compete. Sure, there are lots of guys at Toudai like that Kentaro from last night. Rich, handsome, smart, suave, driving around in a fancy red sports car, and all that. But I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl. I don't like that kind of person; someone so slick and so perfect. It's not that I love Keitaro despite all of his faults, I love him because of all of his faults. When he does something silly or immature, it actually makes me happy to see it. And not just because he's so endearingly cute and funny when he falls down or frets. It's because I see us growing older together and becoming better people together."

Suu looked at Mutsumi, who sat in her usual, angelic pose with her hands at her chin and eyes nearly closed, almost as if in prayer. She wore her usual beatific smile as well, a smile that radiated kindness and joy to all who saw it. Suu was impressed with the depth of Mutsumi's feeling. All she could say was, "Wow."

Mutsumi giggled, and leaned in to Suu's ear, adding, "Just between you and me, I really, really love him. I know there's a lot of competition, but I'm going to do anything it takes to get him. Because he's my special one."


Chapter Sixty-Two: Liddo-kun's Very, Very Good Friends

Mutsumi leaned back and focused again on the play. Suu thought about all that Mutsumi said. Maybe Keitaro is right. Maybe my feelings for him are still not mature. Mutsumi seems very sincere and very determined. How can I compare against the likes of Mutsumi when they've known each other practically since they were babies? There's nothing I can invent or do that could compare with their long history. It's not like I can invent a time machine! I'm no good at this romance stuff.

Suu sighed a heavy sigh. She didn't want to think about these problems any more at the moment, especially with the play weighing on her mind. She said lightheartedly to Mutsumi, "Your competitors for Keitaro's heart had better watch out. Although, I think you're not the only one who could make such a case of such heartfelt feeling. Frankly, I don't know how he's going to wind up with just one woman. He may find he's stuck with all of us forever."

Mutsumi laughed. "Wouldn't that be fun? If Keitaro had a whole gaggle of wives? I'll bet we could make him really happy."

Suu laughed as well, but was uncertain if Mutsumi was joking or not. The Okinawan girl was very unusual and hard to read.

Mutsumi continued, "Come to think of it, that reminds me of a Liddo-kun cartoon. Do you remember them, the cute stuffed teddy bear animals who had their own TV show 'Liddo-Kun and Friends' many years ago? I used to have a Liddo-kun doll when I was a little girl."

"Yeah, I remember," said Suu. She recalled Narusegawa's Kiddo-kun doll which was always laying somewhere in the Hinata Inn. The yellow doll was short with stubby arms and legs, and a cute innocent face that had buttons for eyes.

Mutsumi brought her hands back to her chin and it looked as if she strained to recall the show. "Yes, there was this one episode about the main Liddo-kun character and his attempt to find love. Liddo-kun had three friends and they all lived in a cave together. One was fat, another one wore weird spirally glasses, and the third one had extra long ears. It was hard to tell, but Liddo-kun was male, and the other three were females.

"One day Liddo-kun announced that he was lonely and looking for love. The other cute creatures all immediately said they wanted love too. But he couldn't decide on just one of them, as they were all his friends and they'd shared many adventures together. So they all jumped into his bed together and had a wild, passionate orgy. I remember watching as a little kid and I was quite surprised at the things they showed! Those dolls are a lot more anatomically correct than you'd guess at first glance, at least once they get excited.

"Anyways, Liddo-kun lived in a dangerous land with many evil creatures about. He and his friends were so busy making whoopee all day long that no one watched the mouth of the cave, and eventually a giant troll walked right in. The troll saw them all bouncing up and down on the bed and just reached out and greedily skewered them with his long claws. Then he roasted them over a fire with them still sticking on his claws, just like roasting marshmallows. And then he ate them up, one by one. It was quite a sad ending, now that I think about it."

"That's not how the episode went!" Suu said incredulously, upset at the fate of the cute creatures. "You're making that all up!"

"Am I?" Mutsumi asked herself out loud with a perfectly innocent expression. She continued with a straight face, "Well, in any case it goes to show that having more than one lover at a time never works, because you always end up getting eaten by giant trolls."

"It does not," Suu complained. Again, she couldn't really understand Mutsumi. Her story was obviously bogus, but she seemed so honest and told it so sincerely.

Mutsumi looked back at the stage and saw Keitaro waving to her. Now that she saw him, he shouted, "Princess Leia, we need you for this next scene."

Mutsumi got up. "If you'll excuse me, Suu-chan. Wish me luck in the play tonight."

Suu said, "Good luck," but just as Mutsumi was about to walk away, she added, "Mutsumi? I must confess. If Keitaro has to choose just between you and Motoko, I hope he chooses you."

"Oh really? Why is that?"

"It's selfish of me, but it's also a serious consideration. Motoko sleeps in the same bed as me every night, as you know already. I've never been able to sleep alone my whole life. If he picks Motoko, then what will I do? I don't want to be alone. I wouldn't be able to sleep at all!"

"Oh. I see," Mutsumi said noncommittally. "Hmm. I must be going. Nice talking to you." She walked off towards the others at the center of the stage.


Chapter Sixty-Three: The Force is With Them

Finally it was eight P.M. and the time for the Star Wars play to begin. The show was completely sold out and the crowd was very receptive, but the actors were nervous. They mostly worried about Seta. The fact that he was missing was actually a blessing in disguise, because it focused their minds on his problem instead of their own worries about how they would perform.

At the last possible minute, Seta came in, already dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He swept into the room with blood pouring out of his forehead - obviously he'd had trouble parking his van again. "Sorry I'm late," was all he said to the rest of the cast, who stood as a group behind the curtains that hid them from the audience.

"A-ha!" Keitaro said happily. "I knew you'd show up! Didn't I tell everyone you'd show up? You live for these plays. No way you'd miss one."

Seta smiled. "You're right about that, young Luke." Then he looked over and saw Haruka, standing at the side of the stage with a clipboard. Beside her stood Haitani. The smile dropped from Seta's face.

Haruka walked up to him and said, "We need to talk some more, but now's not the time. The crowd is growing restless. Let's just do the best play that we can, and have our discussion when we're back in Tokyo tomorrow? Okay?"

"Alright," Seta said sadly.

Sara rushed into his arms. "Papa! Where have you been? You could have called! I've been so worried!"

While Seta comforted Sara, Haruka turned to Kentaro and said, "Sorry, buddy. No Obi Wan for you. Thanks for helping us out though - we all owe you one. And we still have that Stormtrooper role, if you want it." She tossed him a white Stormtrooper helmet.

"Thanks," he said. "I knew this would happen, but it was fun practicing with you guys. I'll take what I can get." He went to go get the rest of a Stormtrooper uniform.

Haruka then said to the group, "Everyone set then?" There were nods all around. "Good. Go out there and break a leg!" Dressed in a formal and elegant black evening gown, she walked through the part in the curtain to address the crowd and introduce the play.

In the Hinata Inn telling of Star Wars, the story began on the deck of Han Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon. Luke (Keitaro), Obi Wan Kenobi (Seta), Han Solo (Motoko), Chewbacca (Suu), C-3P0 (Shinobu), and R2-D2 (Sara) sat around as the ship flew between planets. Obi Wan was using the down time to teach Luke more about the ways of the Force.

The setting looked perfect. A cutaway of the Millennium Falcon was displayed in the middle of the stage, and on the sides all one could see was the blackness of deep space and the lights of many stars. Keitaro and Motoko feathered shaggy wigs that made them look remarkably like their characters. Between Motoko's wig, clothing, and taped down breasts, no one in the audience could tell Han Solo was being played by a woman. Seta wore an impressive beard. Seta, Suu, and Shinobu were all deeply buried inside their respective costumes. The only obvious nod to practicality was that R2-D2 was much taller than in the movie, and had a pair of feet sticking out from under its round shape.

Han Solo's ship came under attack by enemy Tie Fighters, and Suu's special effects handled the scene very ably. The part of the stage that was the Millennium Falcon rattled and shook, and laser beams shot through the sky outside it. Small models of the enemy ships held up on strings helped make for a convincing battle, and each enemy was blown up one by one. But then the ship was caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star. After more shaking and a security sweep of the ship after it had landed inside the Death Star, the curtains were closed and the stage was reborn as the interior hallways of the Death Star.


Chapter Sixty-Four: Corrupting the Children

The play proceeded without incident, and everyone was doing a marvelous job. Luckily, Haitani played the role of Governor Tarkin, the enemy commander of the Death Star. That meant his character never met Seta's character, Obi Wan Kenobi, during the entire play. No doubt those scenes would have been fraught with tension and difficulty. Even Haitani's double duty as the occasional Stormtrooper extra never put him in contact with Seta's character.

In the story, Luke and Han Solo disguise themselves as two Stormtroopers and pretend they are escorting Chewbacca as a prisoner to the prison section of the ship. Their plan is to rescue the rebel leader Princess Leia (Mutsumi) who's being held there. Obi Wan Kenobi goes off to confront his former student Darth Vader elsewhere in the ship, and C-3P0 and R2-D2 tap into the ship's computers to help with the prison rescue.

The only problem the actors had was a big one: the underlying romantic tension and competition surrounding Keitaro. This first showed itself when the rescue team burst into Princess Leia's prison cell, and Luke announced, "I'm here to rescue you!"

As Motoko was playing the role of Han Solo, she wasn't enamored with the plot of Luke rescuing Princess Leia played by Mutsumi. She also wasn't pleased by the fact that Mutsumi looked beautiful in a flowing white robe while she had to be bundled up in men's clothes.

The focal points of conflict were the kissing scenes. The Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia characters kiss several times during the entire Star Wars movie, but during the section performed in the play, there's only one kiss. So Mutsumi suggested that several be added, especially one at the end, and Keitaro naturally thought that was a splendid idea.

The first one came when the rescuers were trying to break out of the prison block. They found the entrance to a garbage chute, and as laser guns shot at them, their only hope was to jump into it. In the script, at the entrance to the chute, Princess Leia clung to Luke and kissed him on the cheek before they jumped, saying, "Be careful!" But in the play, Motoko saw that coming and made her own edit. Right before the kiss was to happen, Motoko pushed the two other characters into the chute just before they could kiss. Then she jumped into after them and they all ended up on a pile of trash.

Much to Motoko's chagrin, Mutsumi wasn't dissuaded. After landing on the trash mound, she kissed Keitaro then, and said the "Be careful!" line. Motoko grumbled inwardly, but the play went on.

It was a long time until the next kiss. The heroes ran up and down the corridors of the Death Star, shooting their guns and dropping enemy Stormtroopers at every turn. Everything ran smoothly, and the audience loved it. Then the story came to a scene where Luke and Leia have to jump across a great chasm. The enemy shoots at them from several directions while Luke hooks up a rope so he can swing across the gap with Leia clinging to him. To make this scene realistic, Keitaro and Mutsumi actually were put up on high scaffolding to make a very real chasm open up below them. It was only five meters high and there were cushions down in the darkness to break any accidental fall, but it seemed scary enough to both the audience and the actors.

At this point in the story, Leia was to kiss Luke briefly on the lips and say, "For luck!" before they successfully swung across the chasm and again eluded the enemy. Leia and Luke had become separated from Han Solo and Chewbacca by this time, so Motoko was in no position to stop the kiss. In fact, she watched it on the stage along with everyone else.

The kiss went as the script demanded, but Mutsumi, perhaps as a little payback for Motoko's attempt to stop the first kiss, wasn't satisfied with just a quick peck on the lips. Her Leia kissed Keitaro's Luke, and kissed him hard. Before Keitaro knew what was happening, the two of them were French kissing passionately. The excitement of having to shortly make a very real jump across a very real chasm and the fact that a thousand people were watching fueled the intensity and thrill of the kiss. The only thing that stopped them from going on much longer was that they couldn't ignore all the Stormtroopers shooting at them. So Mutsumi said her "For luck!" line and they swung across the gap.

Motoko was steamed. She was naturally against having these kissing scenes in the play at all, especially the added ones. She said it would corrupt the children watching, but of course her real objection was that she wasn't the one being kissed.

In the movie, there is a grand finale where the heroes are awarded medals in a ceremony attended by a vast crowd. Leia winks at Luke in this scene, further setting up the love interest for the next movie. But the play was to end when the Millennium Falcon took off from the Death Star, after Princess Leia was successfully rescued. To have more of an emotional pay off, Mutsumi successfully lobbied for another kiss just before the Millennium Falcon took off. That would mark the end of the play and the curtains would come down as the heroes would run up the gang plank from the deck of the Death Star onto the Millennium Falcon.

However, after that last prolonged and obviously incredible kiss, Motoko was determined not to see Mutsumi and Keitaro share another. It wasn't so much that she was mad at the kisses, per se. She was more angry at herself. The play marked the de facto end of everyone's beach trip. There was to be a party after the play at the house of a local who had helped get the play all arranged. Motoko knew all the main actors would be thronged by many in the busy crowd who wanted to extend their congratulations and so forth. She knew she wouldn't have another chance to really speak to Keitaro one on one until they were both back at the Hinata Inn.

In other words, she had blown it. She'd had a golden opportunity to develop her romance with Keitaro during their extensive time at the beach, but she had little to show for it, if she looked at it in competitive, zero-sum terms. At best, she was in a draw with Mutsumi, but now thanks to these kisses in the play, Mutsumi would get the edge over her. Motoko had no doubt that Mutsumi would make the final kiss to end the play as passionate and as prolonged as she could possibly get away with.

Meanwhile, there was Mitsune. Keitaro was getting better at hiding his emotions, but those who knew him could still read his face like a book. Motoko knew that Keitaro had slept with Mitsune the night before. The two of them were touchy-feely and giggly with each other the morning after their lovemaking, and that was getting to be an all too common sight for Motoko. She knew the two of them had slept together several times on the trip. Worse for her, they were coming together emotionally as well, especially in the last day or two.

So between Keitaro's sleeping with Mitsune and kissing Mutsumi, Motoko felt that the two-way competition was becoming a three-way one, and she was falling the farthest behind. But what was really strange was that she more upset by the prospect of Keitaro and Mutsumi kissing during the play than the fact that he and Mitsune were sleeping together. Part of it was the difference between Mitsune versus Mutsumi and part of it was theoretical knowledge versus actually seeing with one's own eyes, but that's how she felt. She had the intuition that what happened next, while seemingly inconsequential and just part of the play, in fact would be extremely pivotal. She needed to do something and fast to stop the last kiss from happening, but she didn't know what.


Chapter Sixty-Five: A Star Wars Finale, Hinata-style

While Motoko was brooding over this, the play was focusing on the characters of Obi Wan Kenobi (Seta) and Darth Vader (Mitsune). Mitsune had done a very competent Darth Vader, mimicking the heavy breathing and deep voice well enough to make James Earl Jones proud. Seta also made a very convincing Obi Wan. Now the two of them had the climatic light saber duel that Seta spent several days tutoring Mitsune with.

Darth Vader and Obi Wan fought up and down the hallways of the Death Star, with every blow choreographed and carefully practiced in advance. The light sabers were harmless if one got hit, but still the fight had to look real and exciting to the audience. The two of them battled their way towards the spot where the Millennium Falcon was docked. A crowd of Stormtroopers (played by all seven extras) and all the other heroes from the story, even the robots, stood on the other side of the landing bay, watching the fight. The Stormtroopers and heroes were too transfixed by the pivotal fight to notice each other and fight amongst themselves.

Obi Wan Kenobi had been maneuvering himself close to the Millennium Falcon so the saber fight would serve as a distraction and allow the others to get safely on board their ship. He didn't plan to make it out with the others. Instead, he stopped fighting and let Darth Vader strike him down.

Luke saw this and loudly yelled, "No!" The Stormtroopers thus noticed the presence of the others and started firing at them. Luke was transfixed by the shock of Obi Wan's death, and didn't move quickly into the Millennium Falcon, even though he stood near the gangway leading up into it. In the play, the idea was Leia would snap him out of his daze by kissing him on the lips. Then the two of them would rush into the ship, shooting at Stormtroopers all the way. And the play would end to the happy cheers of the audience.

The only problem was, Motoko was supposed to stand right by in her Han Solo role and watch while this kiss took place. Han was to say to Luke, "Come on, kid!" Then Leia was to cry, "Come on! Luke, it's too late!"

But Motoko, still desperately trying to think of a way to stop the last kiss, didn't say the line she was supposed to say. With laser guns shooting from all over, Motoko/Han said, "You can't kiss her, kid!"

Keitaro/Luke understandably replied, "Hunh?"

Motoko yelled more insistently, "I said you can't kiss her!" At this point she had all but abandoned rationale, and was willing to do just about anything to derail the kissing scene. The Stormtroopers pretended to keep firing. Chewbacca and Leia pretended to fire back, and every now and then one of the Stormtroopers felt obliged to fall to the ground and fake a death. As there were only seven extras to play Stormtroopers to begin with, the scene was running out of living Stormtroopers with every passing second. Meanwhile, Darth Vader was supposed to have been trapped on the other side of a heavy door at the end of the saber fight and thus was out of the picture.

Mutsumi tried to move the play along by shouting her line, "Come on! Luke, it's too late!" Then she moved back down the gang plank towards Keitaro to kiss him.

But Motoko stood directly in the way. "No! Don't!" she cried. Scrambling for something better to say, she suddenly thought of something from the second Star Wars movie. "Anyways, you can't kiss her! Don't you know? She's your sister!"

The crowd gasped. A majority of them had seen the Star Wars movies and knew Leia was Luke's sister, but they also knew that revelation wasn't supposed to happen at this time.

"What are you talking about?" Luke said dumbly. The last of the Stormtroopers pretended to die, since it was absurd for them to shoot at each other from such close range and have everyone miss.

From the side of the stage, Haruka groaned, "Here we go again!" Last year's play had been wildly off script. Haruka had been pleasantly pleased by how smoothly everything had gone this time around, but now, right as they reached the finish line, it looked like the whole thing would fall apart.

Haruka looked around, scrambling for something to do. Her eyes fell on Mitsune, still in her Darth Vader costume. Mitsune was watching the final scene from the sidelines.

Haruka said to her, "Go back out there! Come at them with your light saber so that idiot Keitaro will get his ass onto the ship and the damned play will end! Hurry!"

So Mitsune strode back onto stage, pretending that the Darth Vader character had made it past the door that blocked him. Motoko, Mutsumi, and Keitaro remained at an impasse. All three now stood on the gangway leading up into the ship. But Motoko still stood between Keitaro and Mutsumi and the ship's entrance, and wouldn't let him pass. He didn't know what to do, and just stood there.

They all turned around and watched Darth Vader/Mitsune coming. Mutsumi, who seemed to be the most alert to trying to keep the story moving, gamely shot towards Darth Vader, but her shots were deflected by a swinging light saber, just as in the movies.

Motoko was thinking much more of her real life romantic situation that the plot, but was still trying desperately to somehow stop Keitaro slipping away from her while keeping the play going. When she saw Mitsune coming, she shouted at Keitaro, "You can't kiss her either! I meant him! You shouldn't be sleeping with him!" Realizing how ridiculous she sounded, Motoko couldn't help but feel a twinge of panic. Pulling a plotline from another Star Wars film, she shouted, "Don't you know that Darth Vader is your father? Anyways, he's a woman!"

That was so unexpected that everyone just froze. The audience held its collective breath and tried to make sense of what was happening on stage.

As all the actors were standing like statues, Motoko walked over to where Mitsune/Darth Vader stood, and took the helmet off. "You see?" With the helmet off, Mitsune's very clearly female head was revealed to the crowd. The blushing Mitsune turned towards the audience and gave a tiny, embarrassed wave.

Mutsumi snapped to enough to say, "Luke! And, um, Han! We can't just stand here! Let's get on the ship!"

Motoko shouted, "No! Don't go! Don't choose her! Go with me! I'm the one who loves you."

Abandoning the pretense of the play completely, she walked up to Keitaro, who still stood there, unable to fathom what was happening. She placed her hands on his shoulders and looked him intently in the eyes. "Keitaro, I love you. I've always loved you. Please. I can't take it any more! Tell me you love me. Tell me you'll choose me!"

Mutsumi desperately wanted this over and the play to finish. She cried, "Han, what are you talking about? You're a man!"

"No I'm not! I'm a woman! I'm all woman!" She ripped her wig off and shook her long, silky, black hair free. It cascaded down her back and the crowd let out another gasp. She tore open her shirt and threw it to the ground. The wrapping that bound her breasts tightly was now there for all to see. The crowd gasped again at that - even with the tight binding, the audience could see there was no doubt Han Solo was played by a woman.

More tenderly, Motoko leaned closer towards Keitaro's face and said, "Keitaro, it's not fair for me to ask you to choose right now; I know that. But at least promise me that when we get back home, you'll date me. You can see the others too; I don't care. Just tell me please I'm not out of the running!"

By now the audience was realizing the play was over and they were seeing a real life soap opera unfold before their eyes. They took it in stride fairly well, as these new developments were quite entertaining. Haruka and the others didn't know what to do that wouldn't ruin the play even more, so they just watched the drama unfold.

Keitaro finally managed to reply, "Motoko, I love you too. But you're not the only one I love. I can't make up my mind. I've spoken to the others, and I think everyone would agree if I just openly date for a while."

"So it's not over?" Motoko said excitedly.

"No, of course not."

"But the way you kissed her earlier, I thought…" Motoko interrupted her own sentence and impulsively kissed Keitaro on the lips. The crowd gasped again, especially those who were somehow still under the impression Motoko was supposed to be Han and Keitaro was supposed to be Luke.

Mutsumi was too polite to physically break up the kiss, but as the kiss went on and on, and then kept going some more, now she felt herself to be the desperate one. She knew something like this was bound to happen eventually, and knew that Keitaro would be dating other girls when they went back to Hinata Inn, but that didn't quell the hurt she felt at seeing Keitaro and Motoko making out right in front of her. Like Motoko, she had the intuition these moments were very pivotal. She wondered what she could do to break the two of them off, but nothing came to mind.

But then she thought, There is one thing. My secret. Our secret. Maybe he'll think I'm a liar, because I lied to him about it once before. But that's when I thought he and Narusegawa were a couple for sure and I had lost all hope. I thought a white lie would make them happy. How foolish I was then, to give up so easily! Why do I hold back now? Every second I wait, the further he slides away from me, right before my eyes!

She urgently tapped Keitaro on the back. "Kei-kun. Kei-kun."

He broke off the kiss and looked at Mutsumi. He blushed with shame as he realized she'd been standing right next to them during the entire kiss, but still Motoko held onto him tightly. "What is it?"

"I have something important to say. Do you know your childhood promise? The promise you made way back when, to get into Toudai? Well, I lied when I said it couldn't be me. The fact is, it was me. I'm the girl of your promise!"

Keitaro felt like he'd been hit by a bolt of lightning. In an instant he realized what she said was true. Something about that promise has been nagging at me, and now I understand. It was impossible for Naru to have been the girl of my promise. Mutsumi and I were the same age, but Narusegawa was too young. She couldn't have made the promise at a time when she was just learning to talk! We ignored that fact and readily believed Mutsumi when she said the girl was Naru because we both so desperately wanted it to be so. But it's clear to me now. It had to be Mutsumi. It had to!

He looked to Motoko, still in his arms, and then turned back and looked towards Mitsune. She was walked towards him and was practically upon him now, but she clearly didn't know what to say or do. Then he looked back at Mutsumi.

He was terribly torn and confused. But does it matter now? Does the promise matter? I'd convinced myself that Naru was the one for me, promise or no promise. So why should it matter now? But the promise is there. … But I love all three of these women so much, not to mention Shinobu and Suu. Everyone is staring at me. One thousand strangers are staring at me! They want me to say something. But how can I possibly choose?

Again he looked back and forth between the three women. Suu, Shinobu, and Sara had their masks off now too, and they were also inching closer to him, as was all the other members of the cast. Even the dead Stormtroopers were now standing or sitting up to see what he would do.

Suddenly he let go of Motoko and shouted to all the people he knew, "Listen! Don't make me decide! You can't make me! I'm not ready! How could I be? You're all so wonderful."

He turned back and focused his attention solely on Mitsune, Motoko, and Mutsumi. His eyes went from one to another. In a more subdued voice, he said, "I know that I can only choose one of you. But I need time. Please. Let's try this open dating idea. I know it's not fair to drag this out, and Haruka said postponing a decision is the one thing I shouldn't do, but it's the only way. Is that something you could agree to?"

Mitsune, Motoko, and Mutsumi all looked at him gravely and nodded. Then all three of them closed the short distance to him, and the four of them embraced in one group hug.

To the side of them, Haruka stood with cigarette hanging from her mouth and said, "Aaah. That's a good ending. Haitani, please pull the curtain."

Haitani had been doubling as one of the Stormtroopers when he wasn't needed in his Governor Tarkin role. He got up from where he'd been sitting and ran off the stage to the cord that controlled the curtains. He pulled on it hard and the curtain rapidly fell down.

The audience sat there, silent, staring at the curtain now blocking the view of the stage. One person clapped. Then another. Soon, the entire crowd was clapping enthusiastically. They all were extremely perplexed by the play's ending, but no one could deny that the play was remarkably well done overall, and the ending, while bizarre, was nonetheless quite entertaining.

On the other side of the curtain, the Hinata gang broke into laughter as they happily realized the play hadn't gone over as a total disaster.

Now everyone was walking around, hugging everyone else. Mitsune commented, "Actually, now that I think about it, compared to last year, that was a big improvement! Keitaro, do you recall how you took Naru's bra off in front of everyone? Maybe there has to be a Hinata tradition to end every play by a woman baring her chest." There was more laughter.

The audience cheers continued until eventually the cast felt obliged to go out in front of the curtain and take a bow. That led to even more cheers. Everyone was happy.

Everyone, that is, but Keitaro. While the others were laughing, hugging, and slapping each other on the back, his mind was racing as he jumped from doubt to doubt, question to question. What of the promise, now Mutsumi's promise? Or my recent closeness to Mitsune? And that kiss with Motoko? What a kiss! And speaking about Naru, what about her? My God, I'll probably be seeing her in a matter of days now that class will be starting! What'll I say to her? What'll she say?

What the hell am I going to do?!?