His Lingering Caress

Written by: L. Amari Espris


Tapping the Veins

Even though I'm already at the healthy, chaste, and college graduate age of twenty-four, the memories of my childhood still haunt me. It sidetracks me from my work and from my friends. I think they, my friends, I mean, even believe me to be an extreme oddball of all of humanity, if they haven't thought that already. They complain from time to time about my peculiar habit of spacing out in the midst of the most awkward situations.

Take the time at Naru's, 'oh-so-wonderful-and-splendidly-enjoyable' wedding reception as an example. Or, better yet, the preparation I had to go through before the reception even started. Actually, cross those two theories. Let's start from some time before the wedding started.

You see, I was Osaka Naru's infamous maid of honor. It was definitely a great privilege for me to do so, and she actually trusted me to do the job correctly. She and her man, Umino, had planned this wedding for so long. If I remember correctly, it was during our third and last year of high school, and their second year of being an item, that they've started all this meticulous planning for their wedding in the future. I was her best friend, and still am her best friend "in the whole, wide world!" according to her (boy, isn't that a childish phrase), throughout our high school life, so it naturally placed me as the one she would rely on in her time of wholly matrimony.

One downer: I'm the biggest ditz in the country of Japan, once more, according to my dearest Naru. I wouldn't be surprised if I was the number one klutz in the whole world, really. There wouldn't be a minute without me receiving a moment of embarrassing clumsiness. I would always be in contact with the ground, face first. That was done by tripping, falling, crashing, colliding, stumbling, and bumping into all kinds of objects, stationary ones and moving ones alike—humans included.

That being the case, it was obvious that being the beautiful bride's maid of honor would prove to be quite difficult for me to manage. Yes, indeed, it was a difficult task to accomplish. How difficult, you ask? Well, I shan't get into too much detail about that. It's too humiliating and too painful to recall all the incidents (yes, it's plural, thus meaning more than once!) that I, as well as all those part of the wedding, had to suffer from. Let's just put it this way. I am only lucky that Naru is my best friend. My crazy klutz attacks are also fortunate enough to be dealt with by the most patient and gentle soul that I know of in this small world of mineâ€or as kind and tender as they can get, anyway.

Alas, all the pain and torture that I've put everyone through has managed to not be put to such valuable waste. And besides, with all the threats they gave me to, "Tsukino Usagi, if you even dare to fall one more time before making it to the altar, I ( insert deathly and tempting threat here )," I had to make sure it went well. My body, I suppose, was shocked and convinced enough to not take a small 'holiday escape time.' It was the one being threatened the most, after all. Oh, the gruesome torture my wild imagination had to go through with picturing all those evilâ€uhâ€I'll cease with the ramble of that.

The wedding day came, and went with no dilemmas whatsoever. Well, other than the occasional hallucinations and vague loss-of-sanity flashes from the bride from time to time, but it was nothing a little slapping and yelling here and there couldn't cure. The military commands came in handy, too. A little bit of bonking on the head once in a while with my younger brother's childhood play toy, the plastic squeaky hammer, was a nice finishing touch of persuasion, too. But I digress.

I think Naru's parents were the ones that wanted to kill me the most. With their bare hands, too. I swear, their faces were as red as the ripest tomatoes that you could find in a farmer's harvest field when they found out that I had toppled over their married daughter's wedding cake. Yes, it was the most embarrassing moment in my adult life. I say adult life because the childhood boor attacks weren't really all that splendid either, but that's a completely different story.

Ah, you might be wondering how I managed to pull that 'ruin the wedding cake for your cherished best friend's wedding' charade, right? I can summarize the whole cause of it in one word. Care to know what that is? Oh, boy, will you be surprised! The cause of this whole disaster is because of some lame heels. To be more specific, high heels. And just to be even more specific, three-inch high heels that are hidden completely from the world by your elegant, "you have to wear that for my wedding, Usa! It's just perfect for you!" Bridesmaid gown. Those were Naru's wonderful words of encouragement again. I shouldn't listen to her anymore.

Oh, I almost forgot, I was also reflecting back on my childhood years when that happened, so I guess it is also partially my fault. The heels have a life of their own, so it's not really a part of me.

To add to it even more, I injured some people along the way. In other words, I dragged them down with me when I fell. That included the groom, Umino in case you're forgetting, and his best man, who I accidentally had, and still have, forgotten his name. I think I also pulled the other maids down with me. It was their own fault. They should've known better not to help me, or even attempt to at that. Naru was the only one wise enough to steer clear of me and those killing heels of mine.

How I can have such a wise, graceful, and sweet friend be so harsh and brutal with me all at once, I never knew, I still don't know, and I will most likely never know for as long as I live. And maybe some time after my life, I still won't know. Just my assumption, though.

The cake was ruined, no doubt about that. It was all over me, actually. Thus, the reason why I had to change. Thus, the reason of why I was late to the reception. Nonetheless, I still don't know what they had put in that cake that was so difficult for me to get out of my hair. I believe I used my whole two bottles of shampoo that day. Hair that flows all the way past your knees and ends about mid-calf isn't easy to manage. Oh, that reminds me. I still need to kill the maker of that cake.

Naru came prepared, though, and it shocked everyone, and I mean everyone. She had called up one of our high school friends, Makoto, a few weeks before to make a request. That request was a replacement wedding cake. Of course, Makoto obliged to such an order, and went straight to work. Needless to say, she had outdone herself. It was the most beautiful cake that I have ever laid eyes upon, and believe me, I know. If I know Makoto, she loves to cook, and she always tries and tries until it is beyond perfection; she's so refined when it comes to cooking. At least I know who shall be doing the cake for my wedding—if I ever do wed, that is.

Amazingly enough, again, my best friend's parents grudgingly forgave me when they saw the amateur chef's delicate work of a cake. I didn't have to worry about my will, which I had a faint sketch of in my mind in case I did have to die soon in life. After all, with all those death threats (refer to the rehearsals for the entrance of the wedding) screeching at my disbanding piece of wood that is a poor excuse of a door, I had to think up of all the precious heirlooms of mine that I had to give away, right? But of course, my lovely journal from high school shall be kept and cremated with my dead carcass. Maybe my cat, too, but for other reasons.

But one thing that I still can't quite figure out. I don't know if I should be thrilled and relieved or distressed and appalled by the fact that Naru expected me, the maid of honor and her best friend "in the whole wide world!", to ruin her wedding cake. But then again, maybe she thought that me, Tsukino Usagi, the biggest ditz in all of Japan and also the well renowned daydreamer and hopeless romantic of the entire world, should ruin a terrific bride's wedding cake. That's the bigger picture, after all, right? Oh, woe is me! Really. It is

It has been four years since her wedding and that dreaded "I'll kill you for ruining my baby's wedding! Oh, but I forgive you know; your pathetic excuse for a life has been spared, but only for now" episode. Four years of remembrance of that special occasion. Four anniversaries for the wedded and happy couple, 'Mr. and Mrs. Umino Gurio.' It's been three years, however, since the birth of their beloved, angelic blessing, Ichiko.

Ah, that little adorable, and oh, so darling baby Ichiko. She looks more like her mother than anything else; sparkling green apple cider eyes, rosy, pink and chubby cheeks, a pert little nose, and pale, creamy smooth skin. She also has her mother's smileâ€and her bite. The only thing that she has inherited from her father is the hair—a deep and rich chocolate brown, but with a tinge of her mother's impressive red hair.

Hopefully their daughter won't inherit her father's worse trait: creeping around, nosing in other people's affairs, and wear those weird thick goggles that he called glasses back in high school. I just hope that Ichiko turns out to be like Naru. I pray for it every night!

Did I mention that the married couple gifted me with the most wonderful birthday present? It was after they found out that Naru was pregnant with Ichiko, which was somewhere in June. As I recall, it was in the beginning of June. They had found out about the baby, but they kept it from me. How cruel is that?! They kept the baby from me, their best friend!

Well, actually, it's Naru's best friend, not Melvin's, but same difference! It was later that I found out, on my birthday, that she was pregnant. I jumped with joy at that news! Not only was I turning a nice twenty that day, but I also learned that my best friend was pregnant with her first child.

It was the happiest moment of my life! Why? They also wanted me to be their child's godmother! Boy, did I want to faint at that news. Wait, I think I did. I don't remember, though, so oh well. They didn't even ask me to be the godmother. Naru was having one of those lovely pregnant mother's mood swings, and she pretty much threatened me, at knife-point, to be the godmother of their child. Being in such a position, I couldn't refuse. I literally saw my life fly past me in a flash when she told me, but I did learn a lesson on that day:

'Never allow Naru into your kitchen when you have your lovely new collection of kitchen knives (butcher knife included) out on display for the whole world to see.'

Kind of long, huh? But, I did revise it later when she came into my kitchen again the week after my birthday and her demand. I did hide my stash of beautiful knives away, but she threatened me with my cooking utensils and then with my precious eating utensils at the dinner table with my family. On that day, I learned a new lesson, thus the shorter version of my first lesson on "How to Tolerate (the Pregnant) Naru." It goes something like this:

'Never allow Naru into your kitchen ever again. (If you are to dine with her, be sure to strap her down in the seat, and give her plastic, non-pointed eating utensils.)'

Okay, so it's not as short. Who cares? It's my life at stake here!

I keep dwindling away from the main point here. It's such a bad habit of mine. I pity those that have to put up with me daily. Such people are the ever-so intelligent, Mizuno Ami, the psychotic pyromaniac, Hino Rei, the thunderous chef, Kino Makoto, and the chaotic matchmaker, Aino Minako.

Need I add that Minako is also my twin! We are definitely not related at all, in any way possible, but she and I look pretty much exactly alike: blue eyes, golden air, a cute little button nose, and the rest of that shenanigan. There are only slight differences and that's that my hair has a tinge of silver in it whilst hers is all an opulent cream of sun colored blonde, and her eyes are a tad bit of a lighter hue than mine are, too. Facial features, a trivial difference there. Hers are more defined whereas mine a bit more soft.

As I was saying at the very beginning, my memories of childhood still haunt me. I drive everyone insane when I space out, mostly because they don't understand why I do what I do. See, I've never told anyone about my past, or my memories. I was cared for, and worried over so many times before. Even now at times. I keep my past to myself because it's nothing I should worry my friends about. It's nothing of importance, anyway; it was all in the past. I need to focus more on my present and my future.

Speaking of the present, I am currently located in my measly tiny apartment with the stereo blaring some random songs that I've burnt onto a CD some nights ago. I'm splayed across the couch in one of those "lazy couch potatoes" poses and reading a novel that I bought just this morning at the local bookstore. It's quite an enthralling book, mind you, but Minako and Rei might beg to differ. They always get into such a haughty mood about me and my books. Probably because they don't enjoy them as much as I do. Oh, well.

I'm quite lucky for now, though. The girls are out right now. Minako went shopping again. Rei is visiting her grandfather at the Temple and will be staying there for about a week, I think. Oh, and Ami is at the library, hitting up those lovely medical books. As for Makoto, I'm not really sure. She didn't tell me what she was going to be doing this morning when they all decided to come and wake me up at 7:30 in the morning, but most likely, she's at her small bakery shop that she opened not long ago. It's filled with such tasty treats!

The girls all live in the same apartment complex as me. Minako stays with Rei, Ami with her boyfriend, and Makoto with her boyfriend, too. Of course, their apartments are nicer than mine, but that's only because they can split the cost of the monthly rent with their roommates. I can't for I live on my own. The girls all come to keep me company, however, since they don't want me to be alone. Either that or they're just bored out of their minds and have nothing better to do with their time, nor mine, and come up to irritate the hell out of me. But that's no problem for me if I'm in a good mood.

What do I mean by "if I'm in a good mood?" That is a simple explanation. There's a guy that I happen to come across ever so often, if not daily, out in the streets that seems to have troubles keeping his thoughts and attitude to himself. What I mean by that is that he bugs me. Therefore, my bad mood. Just because I accidentally spilled his hot coffee and my poor sundae on his lap when I was walking to get a seat with my gang at the Crown Arcade, he has to come and taunt me on a daily basis ever since. It's been about a year since that meeting took place. If meeting him just at the Crown Arcade wasn't bad enough, I just so happen to meet him wherever I end up going. Today, however, is my lucky day—as I've said before. I haven't seen him anywhere today, and I want it to stay that way. Thus, I shall remain in my small, wimpy, but humble, abode for the rest of the day.

As if right on cue, I hear the phone ringing its annoying octave. I seriously hate the phone sound. It's too shrilly. Or maybe that's just my phone.

"Note to self: Buy a new, non-shrilly phone, and toss this one out the window." Sighing, I stand up from my laid back position on my cream colored sofa, and saunter to the little desk in the corner of my living room near the kitchen's entrance door. 'It's too far away from my T.V. and couch,' I notice. 'Better find a better place to put the phone.'

"Ah, crap," I muster under my breath. I walked all the way from the couch to the little desk just to be greeted with the phone's cradle. The actual phone is no where in sight. "Where did I put the phone again?!" Another piercing chime from the dear phone twinges through my ears and creates an infinite echo inside my mind. I let out a cry of frustration and grip my head in pain. I feel a massive headache coming onâ€how pleasant. "Oh, curse it all! Where did I place that blasted, pitiable excuse of a phone?"

Yet, another ring to add to my pain. Hastily, I rummage through my whole apartment looking for that wretched telephone. Is this the punishment for having a cordless handset? I thought it would be nice since I always had to lug around this place and work at my desk in my bedroom. It's less of a hassle at least. I couldn't have a phone in my room since my desk was too jammed pack with my supplies and computer already, so I thought getting a cordless one to place on the small table in my living room would be a nice idea.

The constant ringing hasn't ceased yet, and it's really making me crazy. I have already flipped my couch inside out, and no phone. I went to my bedroom, and pretty much ransacked the place, and still no phone. I even went to my bathroom and searched in my small tub. Still no phone. "Blast it all!" I storm my way to the living room again, and plop down on the cushion-less sofa, only to meet the hard bone of it with my own hard spine. Damn it all.

The stupid nuisance is still calling. Shouldn't the answer machine pick up now? How many rings have it been already? Five? Ten? Twenty rings? And it still won't stop. Now I'm beginning to wonder who can be so desperate as to call me after hearing the ringing monotone for so long on the receiving end. Growling, I jump up and stomped around the couch a bit, not caring about the complaints from the occupants below my feet that I will most likely get tonight. I make my way up to the cradle again, and stare at it. If looks could kill

The ringing comes again, and I glower at it even more.

'Maybe if I glare at it long enough, the caller will get the message and stop.' Ha! Fat chance. Another ring comes to ruin my wonderful theory. I'm about ready to tear the phone line out of the wall now. And another—

"Oh, shut up, you damn phone!" I shriek at it, and bend over to unplug it from the wall. I stop halfway, though. I blink a couple times and muster up all the courage that I could find not to kill myself right then and there. It was very little. I try to resist the dreary urge to slink my way to the kitchen and get out the lovely knives out to slit myself with. The ringing of the phone seems to help me control it, too. I think it's laughing at me. It sounds as though it is, and it's creeping me out.

I abusively snatched the phone off of the ground. It was under the table all this time! Another ring escapes from it while residing in my life-escaping grip. I hear the phone's thick plastic shell cracking. I immediately push the 'On' button, and put it to my ear.

"Hello?" I growl. A dial tone is all I am able to hear as a response. I believe that a twig of my patience tree that grows inside of me just snapped. "Oh, so now you decide to quit with the call, huh?" I say aloud, hoping that the person that was calling got my message. "The nerve" Taking a deep, soothing breath, I place the phone gently down on the cradle.

Even before I am able to take my hand off of the body of the phone, it starts up again. Screaming a lovely string of curses, I push the button and wait for the light to turn green before putting the phone to my ear again. In as sweet of a tone that I could manage without puking, I begin to speak. "Hello? This is Tsukino Usagi speaking." Silence is all I received from the other end. "Hello?" I start again after a while. No reply again. "Usagi speaking here. May I knowâ€who's" I trail off as I hear a hushed 'click' and then the hateful dial tone.

I am quite aware of the fact that my patience tree just lost a thick, once unbreakable, bough. Staring at the phone, warily, I mutter some curses that sound like gibberish to my ears and then stalk back to my evil couch with the phone still clutched dangerously in my hand. With my free hand, I start to pick up the cushions that lay haphazardly on the carpeting. I don't even get the chance to finish picking up the second cushion because the phone crazily starts to notoriously ring for the umpteenth time.

I don't even bother trying to maintain my cool and calm self. I just pushed the button, and growl with a voice that could even shock the dead enough to shudder in their graves. "Listen here, you freakin' idiot; either you start speaking or I will be sure to hunt you down and kill you with my lovely collection of knives and daggers I have stored in my apartment. Don't think I won't! I have Caller I.D., " That's a lie, really. I don't have caller I.D., but I am most surely getting a handset with it tomorrow when I go phone-shopping. "And I will make sure that you'll live to regret this day. Start talking before I am the one to hang up, you dolt!"

"Usa, I don't think all those fed-up lies will do the trick. Your threats are empty, useless, and silly. And anyways," I recognize this voice. "—how dare you even talk like that to one of your dearest friends! And you don't have caller I.D., you loot! I was the one that got you the phone, so I should know!" the voice screams. It's Minako. She's the only one that actually talks like this to me, except for Rei, of course, and Makoto from time to time. I wonder why she is calling†Wait. Did she just say she was the one who bought this phone?

"You're the one who bought this phone for me, Mina? When—"

"When you started college, Usa. I got it for you as a birthday gift, remember? Your old phone was bad, and you wanted a new one, so I got it for you. How could you forget, you dodo brain?" she wails. Yep. It's definitely Minako. No one can wail like her. Alas, she shall be wailing even more when I reconcile my kitchen and her. Who knows what kind of surprises I have in store for her. Maybe I'll invite Naru over, too.

"Sorry, Mina. You know me. I always forget things!" I chirp. At least talking to Minako's lightening my mood. I hear her melodic laughter on the other side before speaking,

"Yes, you forget, but I still love you, Usagi." I smile at that. She's so nice when she wants to be, and this is one of the times I need her words. Prank calls are things that can cause a person to lose his, or her, sanity within a blink of an eye. For me at least. "Anywhat, the reason why I called you was to ask you if you wanted to have lunch with me. It's so lonely here by myself and I thought, 'Hey, why not give my favorite girl a call and invite her to come dine with me?' So, here I am!" I raise my eyebrows at that comment. She's up to something. I just know it. Whenever Minako begins acting like this, something's either wrong or she's trying to set someone up with a date again.

I still remember the time when Minako deserted me at this one fancy restaurant called Alte Vienna. I waited for her for twenty minutes and was about to head on home when she called me on my cell. Obviously, I was upset, and I scolded her for being late when she was the one that invited me. Turns out, she had found a date for me, and wanted me to have dinner with him. I felt bad about leaving the poor man by himself, so I caved in to my pitiful emotions and sat through the whole dinner with him. Oh, the misery.

He wouldn't stop talking, and he was too conceited. Seriously, I thought he could pretty much pass as some of those snooty cheerleaders that I met at my school with the way he was talking at a non-stop pace, and the way he kept running his hand through his hair, playing with a few loose strands from time to time. He was too perky and upbeat for a guy. That was what scared me the most.

I got tired of being stuck with the egotistical and girly man, so I stood up, and left him with the pricey bill. On my way out the door, I was almost certain that I heard a high pitched scream and a thud from the table that I was eating at. It made me smile at the mere sight of him passed out on the velvet carpet with the waiters and waitresses fanning him with the burgundy painted menus.

Zoning back to the present, I sigh. "Mina, you better not be setting me up with someone again. If you do, I won't talk to you, nor will I allow you into my apartment when Rei goes crazy with her lighter again."

"Oh, the horror," she says with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. I roll my eyes at that. I hear her voice starting up, "Usa, I don't think I can set you up with any boy. Not after what you did to Maida." Oh, so she does remember that girly man! "But I do need to say this: you need to find yourself a boyfriend, girl. I've never seen you with a boy in almost a decade!"

"That's because all the boys that I've taken a misfortunate liking to were all stupid, suck up jerks that never had a heart or a life to start with. But back to the main point of this call," I add quickly before she could start another one of her infamous lectures on how to find Mr. Right. I relax my shoulders a little and stand to a side, "I'll take up that chance, Mina. Where's the place you want to eat at?"

"Good. At least we're getting somewhere. There's a new place down here, and I want to check it out. It's called Antiquate. I'll pick you up, 'kay?"

"Sure. I just need to get ready." I stop as I listen to the knocking of my apartment door. "Hold up."

"Sure." I walk to the door, and turn the knob, revealing—

"â€Mina" She smiles at me meekly, and talks into her pale, metallic orange mobile. I take a side note of the clothes she chooses to wear for today's shopping bonanza.

She has on an orange colored choker with a small crystal pendant at the center, complementing the cute pale ginger halter top that is lined with a golden satin-like material. She is wearing on a mahogany pleated mini skirt and knee high ebony boots with only a little bit of elevation at the heels. About half an inch, maybe. Only a small portion of her silken hair was clipped back with a huge orange lacey bow. The rest falls around her shoulders and to the small of her back. All in all, it was a cute setup for her, and it suited her figure appraisingly well.

"I'll just wait for you in your living room," she says. I knit my brows together in confusion and smile at her. After letting her in, I hang up the phone, place it in the cradle, and turn to her. Sure enough, I find her gaping at the messy interior of the apartment. "Kamiâ€Usagi," She whirls around to look at me. Her crystalline blue eyes are even wider than usual, her creamy skin drained from her fair face, and her mouth hangs open and vastly enough for a whole colony of bees to rest in for the winter. I wince at her high pitched tone. "I leave you alone for no less than five hours, and you destroy the place! I helped you clean this whole apartment just last week and this is how you repay me?!"

I feel really guilty now. "I ruined this whole place because I was looking for your cordless phone!" is what I want to tell her, but after playing that sentence in my mind, I figure it wouldn't be a wise choice to make. She seems as if she's ready to color me silly with her cosmetics, dress me up in a tutu, place me on top of a totem for the whole world to see me while in that get up, and then kill me with a katana. Instead, my stupid mind functions an "Oops" as an answer to her outburst. Mentally, I kick myself and prepare for the screeches that I will soon face. Shockingly, it never came.

"I'll deal with you later about this. For now, hurry and get ready. I'll help you fix your couch, though," she states in a quaking squeak while shaking her head. A breath of relief escapes my lips as I give her a curt nod, and dash off to my bedroom. I try to swallow down the feeling of remorse, but it's useless. 'Well, there you have it, folks!' I announce within, dryly, ''Tis, yet, another blunder by the sorrowful Tsukino Usagi!'

Shutting the door, gently, behind me, I make my way through the maze of bed sheets, files, books, and dirty clothes to my wonderful walk-in closet. Minako didn't tell me whether or not the new diner was a fancy place or not, so I decided to dress in a semi-casual appearance. It doesn't hurt, right?

I change out of my morning rags, which is my cute bunny print pajamas, and into a simple baby blue sleeveless, button down blouse that is accented with lacey white trimmings along the V-cut neckline and the diagonally cut hem, and a pair of boot-cut stretch jeans in a shade of cobalt. To complete the apparel, I add a lovely diamond and ruby jeweled chain belt around my waist, matching with a silver ringlet for my wrist, sapphire studded earrings, and a silver chained necklace with two small pieces of jewels, a pearl and a peridot, as pendants dangling at the hollow of my neck.

As for my hair, I just choose to do something simple with it: a ponytail. My silver-blonde hair flows only down to my upper thighs this way. I leave a few front strands to flow and curl freely at the sides of my face, giving it an appealing outlook and matching my silly getup quite well. I must say, I'm happy with this attire.

I glance at my reflection in my full-length mirror, and keep looking until I'm happy with the look. Adding only a slight hint of lip gloss to my lips, I nod to myself, smile, and bound out the doorway to Minako's dwelling.

"I'm done!" I sing to her, catching her attention with a jolt. Guess I shocked her more than I thought with my messy living room. Smiling at her, I continue, saying, "I'm sorry for the mess, Mina. Someone kept calling me this morning, so I searched for the phone, and, well" I motion the room with my hands. "Apparently, this is what happened during my gruesome quest. I am terribly sorry. I am so happy that you can spare your better time to help someone like me clean my home, and I just come and mess everything up. I'm terrible, I know." I bow my head a little, ashamed to look at her in the eye. "Please don't be mad at me, okay? I'll clean this mess up for sure," I promise.

That seems to do the trick because she comes to me and hugs me while cooing, "Aw, it's quite alright, Usagi. I forgive you. You just owe me," I yelp at this. "And you'll repay me when I ask for it, okay?" I swear, she's up to something. I don't like that look in her pretend angel face. I don't think I'll like the favor either. I give her a wary look, but all she does is smile her little conniving smile. I'm right. She's up to something.

After a bit of bickering about Minako's awful driving skills in the car ride, we finally make it to the dining place safe and sound. Honestly, no matter how much I might love Miss Aino Minako, I can never get over the fact and nightmare that I might as well get ran over by her one of these days. I'm thinking that it's going to be my death day. Still, I don't understand how anyone can tolerate her driving skillsâ€I pity her future husband's and her kids' well being.

"Usa, c'mon! Lighten up, will you? My driving isn't all that terrible, is it?" she coaxes, but when I remained as silent as the still of night, she worries. "Usa? Usa, you still in there?" She taps the side of my head for emphasis. It annoys me.

"I pity your future husband, Minako. No offense, but your driving is soâ€reckless. Sure, it's fun and cool in a way" I trail to a short pause before continuing. Mina's eyes go wide with happiness, and I decide to pop her pretty bubble. "If you choose to die by flying off a cliff and into the depths of the deep blue sea with nothing but the clothes you have on you at that moment." At that, she laughs, loudly. I think a few people are giving us a look, but I don't care. Minako doesn't appear to mind either. We've done so many more embarrassing things before. All my friends have. Even the shy introvert, Mizuno Ami, has.

"Oh, Usa, no need to worry. I'll marry a husband who's driving abilities are far worse than mine. It's not that hard to find, I think. Not sure," she pipes, nonchalantly, and adds to it with a shrug of her defined shoulders. I roll my eyes, and give her an 'and the sky will end up collapsing on us tomorrow' look. This time, she rolls her eyes. "Usa, shut up for once, will you?"

"Sure. We're eating soon, anyway," I tilt my head at the entrance way to the Antiquate restaurant before us. "The line is really short. Lucky for us, huh?"

While nodding her head, she replies with a word of "Yep" and takes hold of my arm with hers. Laughing along the way, we make our way pass the sliding doors of the restaurant and up to the front counter.

"A table for two, please," Minako states. I notice her take a small glance up and down the busboy, and she comments with a wink, "You're kind of too cute to be serving here, aren't you, Sir?" Oh, drat. Mina's in her devil flirting and taunting mode.

"Mina, leave the poor man alone. He doesn't need a girl that doesn't even know the correct way to parallel park without hitting the fire hydrant or newspaper stands to be bothering him," I start, nudging the coy girl next to me. I direct my next words to the blushing amber eyed heartthrob with a gentle grin. "Now do you, Sir?"

"Now, now, ladies. What do I see here? Picking on a helpless lad with your incomparable beautiful faces? That's quite sad, isn't it?" says a deep baritone that I know all too well. The smile that I had on my face just earlier fades away into a menacing scowl. I am sure my eyes are flashing with disgust and abhorrence.

Without even turning around to meet the man that is standing behind us, I mutter, "What's it to you, Mr. Chiba Mamoru? The man here before us is most definitely more charming than fifty of you put together. Cuter, too, may I add, "I chide at the end with a wink that I picked up on from my 'Goddess of Love' comrade. "Don't you have anything else better to do than to bother with us, Chiba? Why don't you go and play with your dolls? I'm sure the women you keep locked up in that poor, stuffy, and all too spacious home of yours are getting quite lonely." I hear Minako stifle a giggle beside me. In a moment all too soon for my liking, I feel a breath against the tip of my ear following a low rumble of a chuckle. I jump a little at the unexpected change of closeness to himâ€especially to him.

"Oh, but this man likes to play with his this 'doll' right here. The others can wait. You're the one I'm after, Usagi," he whispers to me a little too huskily for my taste. His words always sent shivers running through my spine. Albeit, I don't enjoy them at all. Oh, no, no, no. It's all quite the opposite of that belief. I hate it! The nerve of this thick headed man! Not only is he just an egotistical, dimwitted, and tenacious jerk, he's an insensitive womanizing egotistical dimwitted, and tenacious jerk. "So, why not let me tame you, Usa?" I feel his strong arm sliding across my waist to claim a hold of me. My woman's instinct kicks into gear and I elbow him, hard, in the ribs. Then, I squirm away from his reach, but never once turn around to meet his gaze. It would be a fatal error to do such a deed. His expressionless eyes are of such deep cobalt paint. I can't help but get myself lost in them. It's all too weird.

I never feel this way towards any other man but him. But maybe not. The whole female population of Japan seems to be in love with this huge dolt. Oh, but I'm not in love with him, mind you. It's the contrary. I loathe this man with such a passion that even the whole universe can't fill the well of passion that I have in despising this womanizer. Everyday, he always ruins my time with his presence. Just once, I'd like at least a precious and charitable day—a whole day—without him to make my life even more miserable and despicable than it already is. I'm sure it won't be that much of a challenge for him to find a replacement.

"Get lost, Chiba, I have nothing to do with you. Go waste your time on someone else. You sure are wasting mine," I hiss. Glancing at Minako, who seems to be enjoying this too much, I call out to her, "Minako, how much longer do we have to wait here? The precious air is being polluted with the insufferable stench of that—" I motion my head to the giant behind us, disgustedly. "—gigantic lab rat there."

"Miss." I turn my head to the new feminine voice. "Your table is ready. Please, follow me this way." With a slight bow and a gesture of follow with her hands, the waitress escorts Minako and me to our table. Talk about perfect timing, eh? I love people like this. This waitress shall be my new diner acquaintance for she has saved me from further dealing with the chauvinistic pig. The copper haired and emerald eyed waitress smiles kindly at us, and bows once more. "Please, enjoy your meal. My name is Hikaru. If you have any questions or requests, just look for me and I'll be of your service." A gentle nod of her head follows those words. After that, she walks away.

"So," I hear Mina's voice chime in chirpily. I blink at her a couple times and bob my head for her to continue. She rolls her eyes again. "What's happening between you and that Chiba Mamoru, Usagi? Do I hear any distinct wedding bells in the near future?" She wriggles her eyebrows at me, eyes glistening. I couldn't believe my poor ears! Here I am, sitting with one of my best friends, trying to enjoy some time alone with her and the food here, and she's asking me about me and that old coot! Such a sad fate for me, indeed.

"What?! How could you even dare to say such a thing, Aino Minako? You already know how much I hate that—that—" I struggle a little with the right words. "—that stupidâ€womanizing, insufferable, intolerable, chauvinistic, insensitive, careless, reckless—"

"—bastard, poor excuse of a man—nonetheless a human being of this world, or this planet—and so on and so on and yada, yada, yada" my blue eyed twin continues for me, impassively. I just sit there and glare at her. How can she even think such a thing? Me, wedding that bastard rich boy. Ha! How laughable is that? The day I even come close to agreeing with anything that man says shall be the day that, as the old saying goes, pigs fly and roosters bark. Okay, so that's not how the saying goes entirely, but, it does in my proverbial state of mind.

"Mina, darling, how can you possibly think that I shall ever wed him? I don't even like the man at all!"

"Ah, sweets, you do know that saying right?" She watches me with her vividly tinted cerulean eyes. I wait patiently for her to continue, although, it's not really as much as I had with the phone quest. When topics come to revolve around the charlatanistic skunk, my temper is always at a negative zero percent, if not any lower than that. "There's a fine line between love and hate, my dear Usagi. You might say you despise the man, but I doubt that is the real case here."

"Mina, don't you go telling me about love. I told you this before. There's no love for me out there. There isn't. And the line of bad boys that I've encountered before is proof enough," I whisper. It's a painful subject for me to discuss about, but it's something that should be talked about moreover. My clone sighs and her eyes turn into those of sadness and longing. I know what's coming next and I change the topic. I never like it when people try to help me through with my issues. Issues with men in particular.

I pick up the menu that was placed beside us from the start of arriving at our table and babble about how my hunger is starting to morph angels into delicious, tender morsels. It is somewhat true. My double is starting to look like a piece of turkey to me. That earns me an amused laughter and a playful glare that shows her accord with me about my taste for food.

A few moments after we had ordered, my time alone with my dearest and loving doppelganger best friend is interrupted by a rich, low and thundering man's voice. 'Oh, gee, I wonder who that can be.' Gripping my glass of water as if it was my stress ball, I force a smile upon my glossed lips. Mina is the first one to speak.

"Oh, Mamoru! It's nice to see you hereâ€ahâ€again. How" She pauses here to take a good look at me. "â€quaint to know that you'll be joining us for lunch, too," she squeaks before earning herself the 'you say anymore and I'll make sure you're dead by the next sunrise' scowl. Once again, the jackass is speaking besides my sensitive ear, thus the reason why I am deepening my scowl and snarling now.

"Well, I'd be more than obliged if this goddess before me—" I know he's talking about me being the goddess. I'll kill him in his sleep with my beautiful Magnum someday. Well, once I can buy a Magnum, that is. I already know what type of model I want. I just need the money to buy it. "—accepts me to dine with you ladies. I'd like to have the pleasure in dining with my favorite queen." I shriek when I feel him nip the sensitive peak of my ear with his alarmingly warm, soft lips. I take a deathly large gulp of my water and settle it back down on the table with a knowingly thunderous boom and clatter, never once releasing the death grip I had on it. Distinctly, I hear and feel the glass cracking in my hold, but I could care less.

"U—Usa?" the twin worriedly piques. "Honey, you okay?" She places her hands on top of mine, then attempts to take the glass away from me. She must be crazy. Can't she see that if she takes it away from me I will be releasing all of Hell and so much more upon the whole restaurant? "How about I ask Hikaru or one of the other people here to refill your glass for you? Just let go" Apparently not.

The glass splits a little more as I clench it tighter. I snarl a nasty one at Minako's attempts and she gets it. I need to apologize to her about this behavior of mine later. How come I always show my ugly side whenever he's around? He's like a plague that won't cease to torture me nor allow me to escape the pain by reason of death. What does he want from me anyway?

Finally, my savior comes—Hikaru and our meals. "Um, here are your orders, Miss—"

"Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!" I interrupt, shamelessly. Sure, I know it is a rude trait to interrupt others, but what can I say? I am hungry, and I am on the verge of losing my mind because of the bigot behind me. I prod him again in the sternum part of his body. He backs off, but only a little. At least he isn't as close to be as before, right? It's improvement. It's so nice to see that this boy is learning how to obey my commands. Now, if only he can do that all the time

Clearing his throat, he speaks, "Well, seeing that you two have your meals now, I'll leave you two at peace. How about that?" I look up at him, but am surprised by what I see. In the year that I've known him, I've never seen his beautiful eyes show the expression he is showing now. It's a little clouded over, holding some emotion I can't pinpoint exactly. I take a deeper peek into his cobalt orbs, but as soon as I try to determine the feeling that is within them, it disappears. They change right back to his heartless ones.

'What the hell?' I think, annoyed. 'That's the first time I saw him like this. What's he hiding?' Without thinking, I reply to his comment, "Yes, go on and leave us alone. You must be dining alone today, right? That's got to be a first, eh? I swear, everywhere you go, there are women clinging on each of your arms, you bigot." That earns a cocky smirk from him to me. He leans in to me, and hums to me in that tantalizing tenor of his,

"I wouldn't be like that if I get a hold of you, my dear Usagi," and then he takes his seat behind me. Something about that comment shakes me up. For some odd reason or another, I feel disturbed and appalled, but I also feel†I feel relieved and a little bit happy. Is that natural? I should be angry, right? I should be disgusted, right? It's the womanizing demonic beast we're talking about here. Right?

I find myself peering at his back, broad and sturdy shoulders, and trimmed and proper ebony black hair. This man earns my utmost dislike of men like him for more than one reason. One is a given fact already. He loves to taunt me and humiliate me beyond belief. Two is because he confuses me beyond any logical reasoning. Three is because he makes me feel as if I'm weak and pathetic compared to him. I hate it when men try to show and act like they are the superior being that God has created. Four is basically a repeat of three, but more general. I hate the very fact that he makes me feel anything about him at all!

"You find my back attractive, Usagi?" I hear a teasing voice call out to me, snapping me out of my daze. I find myself gazing into mischievous dark blue eyes. For some odd reason, I find myself wanting to fall even more deeper into them. I feel a slight flush of heat upon my cheeks. I know I am blushing. God, I hate him.

Without saying a word to him, I twist around and grab the fork that rested on my napkin. Mumbling a few curses under my breath, I play with my noodle dish a little before I start to eat. I hear a conspicuous chuckle of that voice I dread so much. I can still feel his eyes on me, too. Oh, why me? Why must I be tormented like this? By a man like those perverted lechers even?

"Mina, what do you want to do after eating here?" I say, trying to sound casual and trying to forget about the man with the impish gaze still on by back. I swear, he better turn around or else my fork will be the last thing he'll ever see.

"I don't know. I'm done with my shopping for today, so how about we just go and see what's up at the bistro?" Mina replies, much to my pleasure. I smile.

"So Mako's really at her shop, huh? You sure that's a good idea? You do remember what happened the last time, right?" I hint with a smirk.

"Oh, Usa, you can be so cruel at times. I told you, that was an accident! It's not my fault Makoto didn't tell me about the new manager," she whines to me. That remark deserves a laugh. The last time we were at Makoto's small shop, we faced a littleâ€problem.

A few weeks ago, my bold twin came over to my apartment, and woke me up a little too early for my liking. She woke me up at 9:00. Yet, another one of her shopping sprees she wanted to take me on was in her agenda for the day. I agreed after a couple moments of persuasions on her behalf, so we headed out to Mako's bistro to see if she wanted to tag along. All the other girls were busy with their own things. It wouldn't hurt if Makoto left her boyfriend to run the place for a few hours, right?

The sight we were greeted by at the street of the shop startled us and worried us. There was some man all dressed in black and carrying some bags with him, picking the lock of her bakery's door. This is such a cliché, is it not? Obviously, we had to take action for one of our dear friends. Mina was the first one to act, however, and it wasn't a pretty sight. She beat him up. I called Mako on her cell phone to see how she would like to deal with the situation.

When she came, she nearly fainted. She did, sadly enough, start hallucinating and nearly cried. It was a little later that my double and I learned that it was her new manager, Irata Yuki. She had hired him about a month ago, but we didn't know about him, and he was supposed to open the store that day. Why was he picking the lock? Easy. He lost his copy of the bistro's key.

Boy, did our brunette pal get mad. She's the toughest one of us five girls, so there's no doubt about the very verity that she could kill us with one move if she wanted to. Alas, we ran for our lives and didn't cross her path for about two weeks. After countless apologies and gifts of amnesty, she forgave us. The manager, however, didn't. I think he still works at Makoto's café, but he's scared of us now. Ken, the co-owner of the place and also Makoto's man, had a field day with it. It's amazing that we, twins, haven't formulated a plan to assassin him yet. After all, we have to destroy all traces of that embarrassingly dangerous day, right?

"Hey, Mina, do you think it's a good idea? After all, you wouldn't want to traumatize the poor boy with your face again. Or do you?" I hint, slyly, towards her, nudging her ribs lightly.

"Usagi! You're insufferable," the twin complains and sniffs. I laugh even more. Who says I don't know how to push the right buttons?

"But of course! You think after all those years of being teased in high school wouldn't make me this way?" I counter. With one last scoop of her strawberry flavored ice cream, we finish our meal and wait for the bill to come. She leans back in her seat, lazily, and flashes me her movie star smile.

"But of course," she mimics me, and continues her sentence after widening into a grin of suspicion, "Odango Atama." Oh, damn it all. That was the nickname I went by for so long during my younger years because of the peculiar hairstyle I fashioned.

It was two balls that I made from my hair on either side of my head with all my excess hair flowing down from them. It's basically pigtails with spherical twisted hair to hold them in place instead of the use of hair ties.

"Damn you, Aino," I growl. She laughs at my sudden change in moods, and then sighs.

"Oh, Usa, you already know just how much I love to tease you, don't you? Sorry if I got you mad. But it's a cute nickname! I think so at least."

"Ha ha," I laugh, sardonically. "Try being called that throughout high school, and college by a shortly fused fire-freak in a not so affectionate way. Daily, too, if I can add."

"As I said, there's a fine line between love and hate, Usagi. Remember that."

"Hate, I understand. Love? Ha! Don't make me laugh. I don't believe in such things, Mina. You know that already." Oops again. I let that slip from me so easily today. How odd. My blonde companion in front of me slowly dips her head.

"Ah, so I do" she trails off with a knowing and sad look in her crystal orbs. At least it's not pity or sympathy. "But I wish someone, if not me or any of us can help you with your pain, Usa. You're my best friend. A sister even. Seeing you hurt to the point you lost your faith in love, it hurts—" No mushy business at this moment! No mushy business in a restaurant!

"Minako, it'll be fine. We've talked about this before, so you should know my reason, right?" She answers me with a curt nod of her head. I manage a broad smile and go on with my talk. "Then don't be so worried. That goes the same with everyone else, too. I got hurt and I'm taking my own time to heal. Toâ€justâ€heal†I haven't lost faith in love." I just don't want to believe in it anymore. "All you have to do, Mina, is to be there for me. That'll be enough. Don't encourage me into something I'm not ready for and it's more than enough."

"Usa, you didn't just get hurt!" she cries out in outrage. I shake my head, causing her to pause with her comeback. Taking her hand in mine, I say as I look reassuringly into her blue eyes,

"Mina, just believe me," I maintain my smile, despite how much my body was against it, and give her a heartening squeeze. She calms down after that.

The check comes a while after the uncomfortable silence we, or more like I, created. We decide to split the pay and then head off to the bistro in silence. I forgot that the jerk was sitting behind us at the restaurant, meaning he had overheard our conversation about the whole 'love' issue. Ah, such a position the gods have placed me under. Hopefully he wasn't paying attention to us. If he was, I know I won't live it down. Just great. Another burden to overcome and killâ€if necessary.

The rest of the day was fun pretty much. Without the occasional dwelling of my past, that is. Makoto had said that she was able to join us to "explore the city," as we have done so many times now. She left the shop in the hands of her boyfriend and had threatened him to no end with a simple "If you dare allow this shop to collapse into ruins, I, Kino Makoto, will be sure to have you dead by the time of midnight tonight, Love." He had to agree to that, and took an oath even! My Mako can be so harsh at times. But then again, who isn't? She loves the shop with her life. Those kinds of actions of hers are expected. Defend those things that you love, right?

It's nighttime now. Probably around 10 o'clock if I'm correct by the look night sky. Ah, well. I'll retire early for tonight. Walking around and racing from place to place around the metropolis is tiring, you know?

I slip out of my day clothes and step into the shower. Afterwards, I brush my teeth like any hygienic person would do, change into my comfy and wonderful blue bunny nightie, and plop down on my twin sized bed. I'm so happy I bought the downy comforters and pillow; it's so soft and comfortable.

I perceive sounds of a cat near my balcony. Luna's here. "Guess she wants in now." Humming, I get up and away from my secure divan and slide open the gallery a little for the black feline to slip through. She meows and purrs at me as a "Welcome home and thank you."

Smiling, I waltz back to my lonely twin bed and fly onto it. I hug my pillow close to me after wrapping the covers around my body. A slight impression resides on the edge of my bed.

"Hey, Luna. You going to sleep with me today?" I tease her. She responds with another meek mewl, staring at me with her sparkling mauve painted orbs. I turn off my lamp light, kiss my kitty on her furry head, and then close my eyes, hoping for the sand man to come and claim me soon. No luck. "Lucky tomorrow's a Sunday" I grumble with my eyes half open.

I turn to face the ceiling and stare at it while letting my thoughts dwindle elsewhere. Sadly enough, my brain decides to wander to the man with ebony locks, bitter yet tauntingly arresting night tinted eyes, and alluring rose lips. "Ah, curse you, brain," I groan. Out of all people, why do I keep thinking about that Chiba Mamoru? My mind flashes back to the time at the restaurant. The time he nipped at my ear.

Doing a 180 turn on my bed, I wind up face down, into my pillow and scream. My body reacts in recollection of the warmth he sent racing through me when his pleasantly warm lips and breath pressed against my ear. It starts to heat up and I feel my cheeks flush again with excitement, embarrassingly enough. My heart starts to race and sting for some odd reason. I don't even know why. I don't understand why this man could make me feel like this.

His caresses leave marks on my body somehow. I can still feel his lips on my ear and his arm around my waist. My body recalls the very places that were pushed against his own. It was so warm and firm. 'No doubt that he works out,' I find myself commenting before mentally kicking myself in the head for judging such things.

I put a finger to my temple. Sure enough, the thumping of it was there, quicker and harder than usual. "Curse him." He's the only one, out of all the guys in the world that I know of, that can ever make this tempo course through the veins in my body. He's the only one that can ever make me this flustered about the male species and I hate him, with my life, for that.

'I take hold of the chains

That bind me to my fate,

And with my bare hands,

I break them.

How was I to know, then,

That the consequences

For such acts of freedom

Were to be dire?

Must I pay for those

That I've lost before?

Was it truly my fault?

Was it, really?

The nagging feeling

Still thumps, wildly,

Against my skin,

Tapping the veins.'