She sighed and turned back to the kitchen. "Hai?"
"I need you to work today," Takenouchi Toshiko looked at her daughter helplessly. "Ayumi called to say she couldn't come in."
"Fire her," Sora replied automatically, brushing her bangs away from her face with the back of her hand.
"I wish I could," her mother replied. "I'll see you after school."
"Bye." Sora walked to the door, picked her keys off the hall table, and shoved her arms into the sleeves of her black wool pea coat, quickly buttoning the front with long, nimble fingers and wrapping a grey flannel scarf around her slender neck. She exited the apartment quickly, before her mother could ask anything more of her.
She had figured that things would always stay the same. She would always be the one with the ripped jeans, the tattered soccer shoes, the cheekbone-length bangs, and the thick auburn hair that never seemed long enough for a ponytail. She would always be the tomboy, the girl with the stick-like figure, the girl never pretty enough to date, the girl who loved soccer more than she loved mirrors.
She had counted on Taichi and Yamato to be her best friends for all time, for Mimi to remain her soul sister, and for Jyou and Koushiro to always be there as support. She hadn't counted on Hikari or Takeru for anything; they had only been eight at the time, and guaranteed to change.
She had also thought they would be in Odaiba forever.
Some things had changed, and some hadn't. She was still the girl with the ripped jeans, tattered sneakers, and the cheekbone-length bangs. Now, her cheekbones were higher but her bangs were longer (to compensate), her auburn hair had finally grown out to past her shoulders, she was slender and had slim curves, and now she loved tennis more than she loved mirrors.
Mimi was still her soul sister (in all senses of the words, literal and figurative), Jyou and Koushiro were still always there when she needed to talk or needed help with differential equations or pathogenic microbiology (or both…), and Hikari and Takeru had been true to her, changing enormously, at least physically.
Hikari was still the sweet girl she had been at the age of eight, and hair was still short and shaggy, the ends barely grazing the collars of her shirts, with the bangs that she pinned back with large pink clips. She had grown taller, but by no means was she of an impressive height. She loved photography, she still had her sweet laugh, and she loved to help Sora in the flower shop if she had free time.
Takeru had become a bit more outgoing, a bit more hormonal, and a lot taller. His hair was still the same length, still choppy, still tawny-blond, still generally under a hat. His eyes still crinkled in the corners when he laughed, and he was starter for the school basketball team. He also had raging hormones and an immense crush on Yagami Hikari.
Yamato was Yamato, and Taichi was Taichi, and when Sora thought about it, nothing much had changed with either of them, besides the changes expected from puberty. Yamato was still brooding and musically talented, still amazingly blond and blue-eyed, though taller, less argumentative, and even quieter, if that was possible. Taichi was still loud, rambunctious, and a soccer freak (though sans the goggles), though also taller, less prone to accidents, and a bit more apologetic.
They weren't in Odaiba, though. All of the Digi-destined had picked up and moved to New York City, though by no choice of their own.
The Yagami family had been the first to move. As soon as the "digital incident," as the parents liked to call it, had come to an end, Taichi and Hikari's mother and father took all their money from the bank, packed up all their clothes, and moved out.
Yamato and Takeru had moved separately, to the chagrin of the concerned older brother. Originally, their mother had planned on staying in Los Angeles with Takeru, while Yamato lived in New York with their father, but after many arguments, fights, and all out battles, the family was reunited in New York.
Sora's mother had picked up and moved to Tokyo, initially. After living in a small, cramped flat (because they couldn't find any other accommodations), they had moved to New York also. Sora's mother had opened up a flower shop, which was doing better than excellent, and they lived in a spacious apartment. Sora's father, who had moved to the States earlier to teach at Stanford University, had opted to stay in California.
Sora hadn't expected anything more of him.
Mimi had moved to the City soon after, after crying and yelling herself hoarse for three weeks straight, refusing to eat until they moved so that she could be close to her real friends.
Jyou and Koushiro had followed, and they were all reunited in school. Koushiro, being the genius of the bunch, had skipped to junior year to be with the majority of group, and Jyou was a senior, heading off to Duke University the next year.
Takeru and Hikari attended a junior high school a few blocks from the high school.
Sora had hated it at first. She had learned English back in Odaiba, but she deplored her Japanese accent, and after many late night sessions, had perfected her speech, with only the slightest hint of an inflection.
She'd hated the classes, hated that she had been forced to take French I because she was fluent in Japanese, but Mimi and Yamato had played dumb and allowed to take Japanese III. She'd hated the lockers, her initial inability to talk to anyone.
She'd gotten over it. They all had.
And now they were here. Seasoned city-goers, relatively native New Yorkers, and she could hail a cab like no other.
It was home.
Or as close as it would get.
Sora jumped a mile, knocking the dial of her combination lock off the right number, and swore. "Fuck."
"Tired?" Ishida Yamato leaned down and peered at her, and Sora smacked him away quickly and began spinning her combination again.
"It's nothing," she snapped, popping her locker open and swearing again and yelping when two books fell out and landed on her right foot.
"Well done, Sora-chan," Yamato said, smiling, as he bent down to pick the books up. Sora took the old differential equations text and shoved it into the tattered messenger bag slung over her right shoulder and brushed a lock of hair behind her shoulder.
The blond frowned at the nickname and shoved her lightly in the shoulder, and Sora took a step back, giving him a small half-smile and holding her hands up defensively. She zipped up her bookbag, dropped it on the floor, and slammed her locker shut. Leaning against the lockers, she slid to the floor and looked up at Yamato expectantly.
He looked down at her and blinked once, twice. A sweet, mischievous half-smile spread across his face and, much to her annoyance, he kept standing. Her neck hurt from looking up for such a long time, but she couldn't stop; she didn't want to stop.
He was perpetually intense, whether it was deliberate or accidental, but his eyes flared and brightened and dimmed and darkened as his mood did, going from azure to cerulean to sapphire all in turn, sometimes to cobalt or Prussian blue, but they were pretty, pretty, pretty. His thick, straight hair was that perfect shade of natural, healthy gold, spiky and wild, with random strands falling onto his forehead and over his eyes.
Her eyes strayed from his broad shoulders to the slope of his slim hips, and she followed his long legs down to the ancient Reebok sneakers on his feet, which were covered by the tattered hems of his too-long, loose-fitting but not-too-baggy jeans.
He was wearing a very nice ensemble comprising a white long-sleeved undershirt and a dark brown tee with a worn logo across his chest in small, tan print.
He smelled pretty damn good also, woodsy and spicy and comforting.
He ran his fingers through his perpetually messy blond hair and waved his hand in front of Sora's face.
She blinked a few times and rubbed her eyes before fixing him with a stare. "What?"
"You…" He paused. "Never mind."
There was momentary silence.
"You didn't come to the movies with us yesterday."
"Ayumi's a bitch. I'm working again today."
The final bell rang. He smiled slightly and held his hand out to help her up. She ignored it and hoisted herself to her feet.
"You know," he said, as they made their way down the hall, him with his pencil behind his ear and notebook under his arm and her with her messenger bag hanging from her shoulder and her five-subject notebook hugged against her flat stomach, "you didn't answer my question."
Sora looked up at him and rolled her pretty crimson eyes. "Immensely, Yama."
The redhead groaned and pushed the blue math book back into her locker, hoping dearly that her hair wasn't out of place or something silly like that.
She turned around to greet Mimi, and was enveloped in a huge raspberry-scented hug.
"I didn't see you all weekend!" Mimi exclaimed, watching as Sora put her books away and reloaded her bag.
"I was working," Sora replied, digging into the pockets of her jeans, pulling out a five-dollar bill, and putting it away.
"Ayumi was sick?"
"Naturally." Mimi tousled her honey-brown hair absentmindedly, watching Sora as the auburn-haired girl rummaged around in her locker, searching for some loose change. "Are you working again today?"
"Sorry," Sora said apologetically, coming up with two quarters and a few dimes. "Is Ayumi here today?"
Mimi nodded, rolling her gorgeous hazel-slash-brown eyes and smoothing her hair away from her face. "You wouldn't believe how sick she looked in biology. Quote, unquote."
Sora laughed and grabbed her text of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, stuffing it into her messenger bag, which sat on the floor.
"Liplocking with – "
"Mimi, please, I don't care," Sora said quickly. "School's over, and I'm not going to think about her if I don't have to."
Mimi nodded understandingly and adjusted the large pearls of the necklace hanging around her slender neck so that it hung in such a way that she made it look like haute couture, and not something she had picked out at the mall on whim.
Sora envied her friend for that. She'd never really had interest in being trendy or fashionable or even pretty, but when she was around Mimi, she felt grossly inferior and far less pretty than she was.
Here was Mimi, resplendent in her black dress pants and pale pink off-the-shoulder top and stiletto heels that matched her shirt and purse, and her pearl necklace and matching earrings and bracelets, her immaculate makeup and perfect hair. Perfect was the word to describe her best friend, and Sora couldn't help but feel a little jealous.
Here she was, wearing her slightly faded denim flares with the tattered, ripped bottoms, a dark grey long-sleeved T-shirt that, granted, fit her slim form very nicely, the three silver piercings in each ear, and her hair was pulled back into a haphazard ponytail that probably wasn't even centered at the nape of her neck. She wore no makeup, and she sure as hell wasn't wearing nice shoes. Instead, on her feet were a pair of ancient Reebok sneakers, her lucky shoes that helped her win all of her tennis games.
Mimi was pretty, Sora was the tomboy, Mimi got all the boys, and Sora was content to be an observer, a bystander.
Those were the roles they had fallen into since their fateful meeting at summer camp. Mimi, of course, would drag Sora to the mall and wheedle and plead until Sora tried some ridiculous ruffled shirts or impossibly short skirts on, and then she would come close to tears when Sora run off to the sports store to look for a new tennis racket or buy another can of tennis balls.
"Sora-chan! Mimi-chan!" a voice called down the hall. Mimi's face lit up and she beckoned the person over, and Sora turned to look.
Yagami Hikari ran down the hall to them, her chestnut hair coming loose from one of the large pink clips holding back her bangs, and her smile wide.
"Are you busy now?" she asked breathlessly, coming to a halt in front of the two juniors.
"I'm not," Mimi said, "but Sora has to work."
Sora groaned and pulled her coat on, wrapping her scarf around her slender neck and slamming her locker shut.
"Do you mind if I help?" Hikari asked, jamming her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
Sora laughed and pulled her into a brief one-armed hug. "I love you, Hikari. You can come, but don't you have other things to do?"
Hikari shook her head, and her pretty hair caught the light. "I finished my homework in class (why they won't move me up to pre-calculus is beyond me), and you can help me on English if I come to the shop."
Sora rolled her eyes but couldn't help smiling. Hikari was just too cute.
"Are you sure?" The redhead nudged Hikari in the side and nodded to their right, where Takeru stood by the doors, obviously waiting for her.
A light pink blush stained the apples of Hikari's cheeks when the blond boy waved and yelled her name.
"Go," Mimi said, prodding her in the small of her back. "Hang out with him. Forget the flower shop. If Sora wants help, I'll give it to her."
Hikari bowed quickly, muttered a quick arigatou, and ran off to Takeru.
"She's cute," Mimi said, smiling.
Sora laughed and nodded, wiggling the strap of her messenger bag and walking a bit faster. "Are you really going to come and help?"
"I will if you want me to," Mimi said staunchly, offering a winning smile, and Sora nodded.
"Haven't seen Taichi all day. He wasn't even in English."
"He's sick today," Mimi informed her, whipping out her pink cell phone and showing her the text message he had sent her during lunch. "Hikari gave him the flu she had last week."
"She had the flu last week?" Sora asked absentmindedly. "Wait. Why didn't Taichi text me?"
"You never look at your messages," Mimi pointed out, pulling Sora's cell from her back pocket and flipping it open. "Look at that…ten new messages…and most of them are from Yamato, oh la la."
"Shut up," Sora said, snatching her phone back and snapping the lid shut.
"Sora, come on, tell your mom that you don't want to work today. She'll understand, won't she? She has those two other women to help her." Mimi put her hand on Sora's forearm and looked at her seriously. "We could go to the mall…" she offered, smiling wickedly.
Sora laughed. "Well, that clinches it," she said wryly. Still the cell phone came out of her pocket, and she held down three to speed dial her mom.
"Mama? Is it okay if I don't come today?" Sora paused and rolled her eyes. "I know, but Mimi wants to hang out. She's having a minor crisis and I told her I'd help her out." Another pause. "What? Oh, she can't find a dress for the spring formal and she wants me to go to the mall with her so I can help her pick out a dress."
After a few seconds, Sora smiled beatifically and snapped her phone shut. "She said fine."
Mimi squealed and wrapped her arms around Sora, then quickly linked her elbow through her's and marched her off.
"Since I do need a dress for spring formal, and I really do need a second opinion, I guess we'll actually being doing what you told your mom."
Sora groaned loudly and tried to release herself from Mimi's grasp.
Her best friend held onto her tight, chattering cheerfully and smiling beautifully, and eventually Sora gave up struggling because she realized that there really wasn't another place she wanted to be.
Going to the mall with Mimi was just fine with her.
A/N: More to come. Reviews make me smile.