Love Panic

Chapter 3: Ran Kotobuki

By: Diana-Jae

"Rei! Wait up!" Eyebrow raised in wonder, Rei turned his head over his shoulder and watched as Ran pushed through the crowd of gossiping students and trudged down the steps of the school to where he stood along the sidewalk.

"Kotobuki?"

The young woman was bent over with her hands resting on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. "Yuuya told me you weren't coming with us," she breathed softly as she stood up and fixed the strap of her bag that had fallen to the bend of her forearm.

Rei gingerly rubbed the back of his neck and eyed the bright red streak in Ran's honey tresses and looked indifferently to one side. "I'm going home to get some rest. I was actually suffering from insomnia last night so I haven't been thinking straight the whole day."

When Aya had come back home the night prior, it was nearly eleven o' clock. He didn't say anything, but from the tiny opening of his bedroom door, he could see the subtle glow of light coming from beneath Aya's door in the darkness of the hallway, and for some reason, he found himself not able to sleep. His mind was clear, concentrating on nothing but the small patch of light in the hallway, and it wasn't until nearly two o' clock in the morning, when the lights went off, that he fell asleep.

Since that night in the park, he hadn't seen or heard from Aya. He had expected to see her at the breakfast table that morning, at least, but to his surprise, Miss Okanishi, one of the household maids, had informed him that she had left shortly after his parents had gone off to work. His arrival at school proved only to cause more bewilderment when he discovered that Aya was nowhere to be seen. Yuuya had even vocally wondered about her during lunch hour, piquing the interests of Ran and Miyu, who brushed it off rather quickly when the subject shifted to a get-together at a small café at the Shibuya shopping center.

"Oh." Ran immediately dove for her bag and began to rummage through it until she was able to grab hold of two tickets, which she presented to the taller youth. "That's your ticket. You're still going tonight, aren't you?"

Rei stared at the pair of tickets and tentatively accepted them. Ran had announced the Friday prior that her father had received a set of six tickets to a concert, but since it wasn't the type of music that he could appreciate, he handed them over to Ran. Trick City, a fairly new and rising Osaka-based band, was becoming quite popular with the teenage community so Ran had decided for everyone that they should all go. Besides, she had argued, it would be a waste if no one went.

"Yeah. I'll call you later, Kotobuki." Rei was about to turn and begin his walk home when he stopped and inquired why she had given him two tickets.

"Mami just called Yuuya and told him she couldn't make it tonight because of a family affair, and Yamato can't go either," she explained with a silly grin. "He has patrol duty. So we had two extra tickets, and I gave Yamato's to Tatsuki. Miyu and Yuuya didn't know what to do with Mami's ticket so they thought maybe you knew someone who wanted to go."

"I do?" Rei asked puzzled.

Ran shrugged and began walking back up the steps of the school. "I don't know. You can give it to one of your fans or something. Just call me later. I'm on duty for classroom clean-up with Miyu and Yuuya today."

Rei watched Ran's small figure retreat up the steps and weave past the students still loitering about before she disappeared into the school. He had liked her for a really long time now, but despite his cool and confident disposition, he couldn't quite get himself to confess to her. He entertained the idea that maybe it was because she was so loud and wild, but it wasn't like they were from different planets. If they really were opposites, they wouldn't have become friends in the first place. Besides, Kotobuki was a genuinely good person. A wry smile crept its way onto his detached expression and dared to wonder about the possibility of confessing to her that evening.

Aya let out a sigh as her hazel eyes gazed out the window into the courtyard where a division of the soccer team was practicing scoring goals. She could feel the effects of lack of sleep taking its toll on her body as she leaned her forehead against the window, her mind now a dizzying a whirlpool and her body feeling heavy and sluggish. She hadn't meant to stay up so late the night prior, but she had gotten so caught up in looking for job ads via the Internet through her laptop and wireless access. And once she had found a few that seemed decent and convenient, she had meant to turn the lights off and go to sleep but found herself reading a novel instead. Subconsciously, she had still been bothered about the progression of the day and turned to a book for comfort. It wasn't until late into the night when her vision had suddenly diverged, indicating that she was, indeed, tired.

Then early that morning, she got ready for school early, and when the Otohatas had kindly wondered why she was up so early, she had managed to find it in herself to tell them that there was a school committee meeting that she had to attend, which she really did not. She just needed to stop by the two shops that she had found during the night and see if they would hire her. Fortunately for Aya, her first choice, a café that was en route to the school and to the Otohata residence, had immediately hired her and told her she would begin work the following day. Skipping off to school, she had completely forgotten that she had not eaten anything since the night before.

"I feel like I'm going to die," she mumbled to herself as she clutched tightly upon the strap of her book bag. She still had not eaten anything, not even during lunchtime because she had been too preoccupied in wandering around the school campus and inquiring about the clubs and extra-curricular activities. Using her weight to push herself away from the windowpane, she slowly plodded down the corridors where she was suddenly knocked down by a rushing teenager.

Aya's small voice managed to deliver a vocal expression of pain as she fumbled blindly for her things that had scattered on the floor.

"I'm so sorry. Here, let me help you with your things." Aya stopped and tried to concentrate on the fuzzy image before her. When her vision finally cleared, she was able to make out a girl with thick, wavy tresses, a distinct red streak off on one side, grabbing a hold of the contents that had fallen out of her bag.

"No, I'm sorry," Aya began as she tried to pull herself up. "I should have been watching where I was going."

The other girl only laughed as she held out the things she had picked out to Aya. "I'm Ran. Kotobuki Ran."

Aya blinked and gingerly received her things, which she clutched to her chest as she introduced herself. "Hoshino Aya."

"Hoshino?" the girl asked with a puzzled smile. "I don't think I've ever heard that name before. Are you new here?"

"Yes. My parents want me to finish high school here."

Ran's face brightened even more as she asked Aya if she were so privileged as to be living on her own. Her query merely produced an embarrassed expression from Aya, who immediately remembered that she was living with the Otohatas.

"Actually, I'm not," Aya replied shyly. "I'm living with the family that my parents know."

"Oh, that's cool," Ran said, a smile still plastered on her features. "At least you don't have to worry about paying rent."

Aya blushed even more, and looked away. She almost wished that she really did die from weakness and her hunger. Thankfully for her, Ran had suddenly blurted out that she had to finish a classroom duty so she had to leave. "It was nice to meet you, Aya," she called over her shoulder. "Let's hang out sometime, okay?"

Despite having been embarrassed, Aya actually found herself smiling. She was the first person who had tried to carry a half-way decent conversation with her the whole day, and she was almost certain that if Ran were aware of her predicament, she would not have mentioned anything that would have reminded her or her current situation, thus, their conversation would have been more pleasant. Turning back around, she decided that she should head back to the Otohata residence and perhaps get something to eat before taking a small nap, but even before she could take a step forward, her vision suddenly went black, and she fell unconscious onto the ground.

Author Notes: This is actually one of the few fics that I have where the chapters are short. I do hope to make this longer in the future though, and I promise that there will be more Rei and Aya interactions in the chapters to come. I'm hoping that by the next chapter, I can have them having more of a conversation instead of something simple and boring.

It was necessary to have Ran's introduction early because she will play a big role in Rei and Aya's "developing" relationship. So yeah, that's why you get a big chunk of Ran here and also why I disclosed Rei's infatuation for her. The story will progress soon, so I hope you guys don't lose interest just yet.

Comments, suggestions, flames, reviews, constructive and destructive criticisms are most welcome and deeply encouraged.

Thank you so much for reading.

Standard disclaimers apply.