Weeks started to pass in a blur. For some reason I wasn't able to understand, Haruko's attacks stopped. As swiftly as they had started, they were over. Because my school grades had started to drop, Grandpa ended up firing me. That was okay with me: I hated the bakery anyways, and my father had just started sending money to me from where he worked in the United States. Eri wasn't struggling in school at that time, but then she never seemed to have trouble with her classes. She somehow got Grandpa to lighten her work load so that she could spend more time with me. Grandpa had to hire a few new employees, so he was understandably furious.

Our first day back to school after Eri and I shared our first kiss found us being stared at as we walked up to the building holding hands. That became part of our daily routine: we'd get up and eat, hold hands for our entire trip to school, then hold hands as we walked home.

Grandpa couldn't afford to replace Eri's demolished bedroom, so she was forced to move into my top bunk. It made life for me a little more complicated but, since coming to the realization that I loved the dark haired girl, I easily coped with the situation.

Atomsk--Jordan Randal--took me on as an apprentice of sorts. He couldn't actually show me how to use my powers since his had abandoned him, and he couldn't walk me through control while I was using the power, either.

That's the interesting thing about my new abilities: the only thing that could bring them out was a direct threat against Eri. Not the threat that I knew Haruko was, but only a direct threat against her life.

For the most part, life went on as it had before Haruko had turned up again. There were some differences, of course. Before, when I had gone to the river to think, I had been there alone. Now I would find Eri sitting there with me. Now if I went shopping, I couldn't just go to stores that I wanted to; I would have to visit some more "girly" stores while I was there. But I was feeling happier and more relaxed than I could remember ever feeling in the past.

I came to a sudden realization one afternoon, while doing some "theoretical training" with Atomsk. We had just finished our session, and were walking towards my dark haired girlfriend, when it hit me. I stopped, and slowly turned towards my "mentor."

"Haruko's expecting us to do this, isn't she?" It was more a statement than a question. I already knew the answer. "We're doing exactly what she wants."

"But, of course," Jordan gave me a curious look. "I had thought it obvious. Raharu thinks that she can absorb your power only after you fully realize it."

I stared at him, openmouthed, wondering why he hadn't just told me to begin with. Jordan turned to look at my guitar--which Eri was holding--and tapped his chin with his forefinger as a thoughtful look began to dominate his visage. "You will need a new weapon, though," he mused. "Your old guitar just wont hold up if you have to fight her."

He snapped his fingers and spun to face me, fixing me with an intense look. "I just figured out a way you can use your N.O. right now. Go get your guitar.

If confusion was a color, I would have been painted head to toe with it. Obediently, I retrieved my treasured instrument and returned to stand in front of Atomsk. "Now," he told me, "I want you to hit me as hard as you can. With the guitar."

Even though I was confused as all Hell (again!), my lips quirked into a smile as I recognized the quote. I gripped the neck of my guitar like a bat, and swung it as though I was trying to hit the game winning ball.

The tall, gangly, balding man was knocked flying; he skidded to a halt several feet away, lying flat on his back on the pavement and staring up at the darkening sky. I stood there, rooted to the spot, hardly able to believe I had just done what I had. Before I could move to help him, the older man groaned and pushed himself to a sitting position. He slowly rearranged his legs so that he was sitting cross-legged; he motioned me forward.

"You didn't have to be so enthusiastic," he grumbled.

"I'm sorry," I choked out, fixated on the huge welt that was forming on the side of his head.

He waved away my apology. "I told you to do it. Why should you apologize?"

I stood there and stammered like an idiot for a few moments, Eri watching us with a mixed look of concern and amusement on her perfect face.

"Are you done?" Jordan asked when I paused to take a breath. All I could do is nod. "Then there is one final step: picture what you think is the perfect guitar, then stick your hand into my head."

Images of several guitars, including Haruko's double necked one, ran through my head. I decided that I needed the most powerful one I knew of, a copy of Haruko's. Bt I balked at actually trying to shove my hand into this man's skull.

"Don't think!" Jordan barked. "Act! Thought leads to doubt, and doubt to failure. There is no failure for you: there is only action!"

Startled into movement, I stiffened my fingers and jammed my hand into his skull. It didn't feel anything like I expected. I thought my hand would hurt from ramming my fingertips into such a hard surface. Instead of hard, it felt like pushing through a thin layer of JELLO. I looked down to see my hand disappearing into his forehead nearly up to the elbow. Now, my hand felt like it was flailing around in the air until I finally latched onto something hard. I pulled with all my strength, pushing against Jordan's body with one foot. After what seemed like an eternity, the object I was holding pulled free, sending me sprawling.

I looked down at the guitar I held in my hands. It wasn't what I had thought I was going to pull out, but I was stunned by the beauty and artistry of it. I was actually awed at being able to hold such a beautiful instrument again.

Not surprisingly, I recognized the guitar from the last time I had held one, while merged with Atomsk. "Amazing," I heard Jordan whisper.

"What is it?" Eri asked in a similarly hushed voice.

I hardly heard what they were saying. My sight was filled with the beauty of the instrument I held. "It's the most powerful one out there," Jordan told my girlfriend. "Raharu is going to be very angry. It's just like the one I summoned while I was in his body. This a 1961 Gibson EB-0; actually, it's the first, the original.

"It was the last gift I gave her. And now it's his."