Lessons in Life
(A.N.) Another installment has arrived! I hope you all enjoy this one! Jessie J is one of my favorite recording artists, and I think her songs are fun and/or meaningful. Happy reading!
Mai groaned in frustration, burrowing her face into the book in front of her. I'll never pass this test. She truly loathed English. The sounds were impossible! Her tongue tripped clumsily over digraphs, and forget about making the "L" sound!
The young brunette kept her face firmly in her textbook. "Hey, John-kun."
"…Are you alright?"
"That's a matter of debate."
"I see." There was a pause. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Can you give me your brain for a week?" She finally picked her head up and looked at the priest with obvious distress.
John's blue eyes were wide, eyebrows attempting to become part of his hairline. He said, "I'm afraid that might be a little difficult."
Lips twitching into a smile, Mai shut the book and leaned her elbows on the desk. Some of her tension drained from her shoulders. "It was worth a shot. Thanks for offering to help, though." She finally gave him a true, friendly smile. "Anyways, what brings you here?"
"I was hoping to speak with Naru-san," he said, folding his hands behind his back.
Mai's smile widened. She had everyone involved in SPR, including Masako every once in a while, calling her boss Naru. Even now that they all knew his real name was Oliver Davis, the nickname had stuck like chewed gum to the bottom of a shoe. Of course, it did help that Naru was simply the Japanese pronunciation of the British diminutive of Oliver: Noll. Madoka would approve, Mai thought gleefully.
She stood from her desk chair, smoothing her short pleated skirt, and said, "Well, he's hiding in his office, like always. I'll go tell him that you're here." She headed toward her boss's office. More like his Fortress of Solitude.
"Thank you, Mai-san."
She looked at him over her shoulder. "You can call me, Mai-chan, you know. We've certainly known each other long enough."
The young priest just smiled gently.
Naru heard most of the conversation taking place outside his office. The walls at SPR were not especially thick and it was a quiet day. Usually, Mai played music when there was nothing but general office work to do and no clients were expected. He suspected she was not playing music today because she was trying to concentrate. He'd heard her grumblings about her studies.
The knock on his door was anticipated. The sound had barely registered before he granted entry. "Come in."
Mai poked her head in the room. He chose not to mention that he forehead had a giant red spot from where she'd dropped her face into her book. "John-kun is here to see you, Naru," she announced.
"Did he say why?" he asked, quirking one dark eyebrow. He knew the priest had not, but he did not want Mai to know that he could hear everything in the outer office area. It was more entertaining for him this way.
"Nope. And I didn't ask. But I figured that since it's John-kun, you would see him regardless of why. I'll bring tea in as soon as it's ready."
Naru was silent for a moment. He wasn't sure that he liked how well she'd anticipated him. He chose not to acknowledge it. "Tell him to come in."
"You got it, boss-man." She pushed the door open wider and turned to wave John in. Naru let his eyes wander over her, his attention caught by the swish of her rather short skirt. "Come on in, John-kun!"
Then Mai was gone, presumably to start the electric kettle. Disappointment flooded through him, briefly, and then John was there, seating himself in the chair in front of Naru's desk. "What can I do for you, John-san?"
"I have a case for SPR."
Mai, while waiting for the water to heat, pulled out her cell phone, fingering her Ghost Hello Kitty phone charm thoughtfully. She supposed that she could ask Naru for help with her English, but found the idea of his mocking response unappealing. I'm not that much of a masochist, she grumped silently. It also didn't help that she was still very much in love with the damn narcissist. It would be so embarrassing to have to ask for his help.
But she really needed to pass this test. She wouldn't be able to graduate in the spring if she couldn't pass English. And asking for advice certainly couldn't hurt.
So, she speed-dialed Michiko. Maybe her friend would let her come over so they could study together or something.
"Are you sure this will work?"
"Of course. This is how I always study for our oral exams."
"It just seems so, well, so silly."
"Silly makes it fun."
"Well, it certainly can't make me any worse. Which one do you suggest?"
"Here." A silver disk passed between them. "This one is one of my favorites. She's really good."
"Jessie. Jessie J."
A hesitation. "Jessie J."
"Yes! See? You're pronunciation is already better!"
"Maybe this will work after all."
"I'll load it onto my iPod. You can borrow that. It will be more convenient."
"You're the best, Michiko!"
The next day found Naru, Mai, Lin and Takigawa Houshou meeting outside a four-story brick building about two hours outside Tokyo. It was plain looking, with a simple sign out front which ready "St. Anne's School for Girls". John was waiting for them next to the heavy wooden door.
Naru's face remained stoic as the group entered the building. From what John had reported the day before, the SPR team was here only to determine which young woman at the school was causing the phenomenon, not to exorcise a ghost or any other kind of spirit. Then again, things could always be more complex than what John suspected, which was why Hara-san would be coming the following day to do a walkthrough.
Naru would conduct a full investigation, if only for the sake of thoroughness. To do less would tarnish his (and, he supposed, SPR's) rather formidable reputation.
It would also cause him to be rather disappointed in himself.
He paused his thoughts to coolly greet a severe older women dressed in a long black dress, an opaque hair veil, and sensible shoes. John introduced her as the headmistress of St. Anne's, Sister Benedict. The interaction was brief as the woman seemed incredibly busy with her various charges. The school, John explained as he led them to an unoccupied classroom, also doubled as a boarding house. Sister Benedict, with the help of just two other nuns and a nurse taught and cared for about forty girls from ages twelve to eighteen. Even though one of the good sisters had taken the girls out for a nature field trip for the afternoon, he was not looking forward to interacting with a group of forty teenage girls. Naru thought this sort of environment sounded more like Hell more than a school, but didn't voice it.
Takigawa had no such qualms. "Don't things get a bit hellish?"
John looked at the monk, clueless. "What do you mean?"
"All these women in one house is what I mean. It can't be stable."
"Some are just kids, Monk-san," Mai pointed out as she hauled a box full of cables onto a table.
The older man snorted. "Passed the age of eight, all girls are just little volatile women waiting to explode."
"That's a horrible thing to say! No wonder you don't have a girlfriend," Mai huffed, crossing her arms in front of her.
"See? You're exploding."
"You are an insufferable—"
"But you love me."
"That is hardly the point."
"Sure, it is."
"I don't pay you two to talk," Naru ground out. He found it slightly annoying that Mai agreed so easily to the monk's assertion. His eyes narrowed.
Monk and young woman glanced at each other. "Of course not, Naru-bou," Takigawa commented with a roll of his eyes. The monk exited, presumably to finish unloading the van.
"What?" she snapped, irritated. He smiled inwardly. He found infinitely more attractive when she was upset with him, though he wasn't sure precisely why. He was reasonably sure that it had something to do with how her eyes shone and her cheeks flushed and…
And that's enough of that train of thought, Oliver.
"Make yourself useful and start setting up the cameras. Remember that you can only put them in the halls, the kitchen, and the classrooms." The headmistress's restrictions, not his own.
She bent down to grab a stack of tripods, her skirt (though longer than usual) exposing far more leg than was appropriate. Then she grabbed the handle of a wagon they'd begun using so Mai could do set-up by herself. She grumbled, "Yeah, yeah." She loaded the tripods and started piling cameras onto the trolley.
"Don't take your sweet time. You still have to make tea."
He grinned in satisfaction as his lovely assistant stalked out of the room.
Mai fumed as she stuffed the buds into her ears. He thinks he's so great! He's infuriating is what he is! Infuriating, arrogant, ridiculous, cold, gorgeous son of a— She pulled up short in her own thoughts and sighed. Get over it, dummy! Been there, done that!
The young woman took a deep breath and tapped the screen of the iPod, selecting the artist Michiko had recommended. She chose the shuffle function. She'd been listening to the music since the previous evening. She'd also kept an earbud in for the ride over to the school, though she'd kept the sound low to avoid annoying the ever irritable Naru. So, she was generally familiar with the playlist, even memorizing the more memorable parts of some of the songs.
Forgetting about her short-lived anger, Mai pulled the cart down the hall as she sang to herself. "Oh, I will be your sexy silk…"
She thought she sounded better already.
That thought put a little skip in her step and swing in her hips as she strode through the halls, setting up camera after camera along the way.
Naru glanced impatiently at the clock. It was the third time he had done so in ten minutes. Mai had been gone for almost an hour. There was no reason for such a simple task to be taking so long. Perhaps he had miscalculated the danger here? Though when John had described the events thus far, it had been pretty standard. Knocking sounds, objects moving in the middle of the night, mysterious messages carved into walls… At no point had there been an incident where anyone had been in even the slightest danger of injury.
Another glace at the clock. For the love of… Naru, stood from the table he had claimed as his desk and walked briskly to where Lin sat with the monitors. "Anything?" the ghost hunter asked, his eyes skipping from screen to screen. Mai was clearly doing her assigned task, just not as quickly as he'd hoped. A small knot of worry he refused to acknowledge loosened in his chest.
Leaning over the dark-haired young man's shoulder, Takigawa interjected, "Hey, there's jou-chan!" A long finger pointed at the seventh screen, the second-to-last camera that Mai was supposed to set up. "But what on earth is she doing?"
Naru's eyes narrowed. His assistant was twirling and sashaying down the hallway in front of the camera. Is she possessed? He'd never seen her move quite like that before. "Lin. Audio."
The Chinese man flicked a few switches on the control board, then turned a knob on the monitor itself. There was a brief blast of static.
"Is she…singing?" Takigawa asked, somewhat stunned.
"I… Yes. Yes, she is." Naru was equally as stunned. How he kept it from his expression was simply the result of long practice.
"What is she saying? I'm not getting most of it. English, right?"
Lin and Naru exchanged a look. There was something amused in Lin's eyes that made Naru have to fight down a blush. No. I am not having this conversation.
"Guys? What's she saying?"
Lin studiously ignored the monk, turning the volume for that camera off. He then resumed his own work on his laptop.
"Hey! C'mon! I want to know!"
Naru left the base without replying.
Mai was on her last camera, and on her third round through the short playlist. It apparently was only made up of the artist's released singles and an additional song that Michiko just loved. She was on her third repetition of that song now, and she could certainly understand why Michiko adored it. It had a great beat, a little jazzy. Of course, she wasn't quite following the meaning of the song, but that wasn't the point of the exercise. It was pronunciation.
So, she kept up her singing as she flipped out the last tripod.
"I'll be your pussycat licking your milk,
Right now down, down, down,
Oh, a kiss can last all night!
You'll have to seduce me, nibble and bite."
The L's were still troublesome, but she found that the sounds were rolling off her tongue instead of tripping over their shoelaces off a rocky cliff. And she could bite off the ending consonants much more crisply than before. She was of the opinion that this was good enough for a C grade. As long as she passed with a C or better, everything would be just fine.
"I've got butterflies within."
Mai couldn't help but dance along as she finished up with the camera. Since she was busy with her hands and arms (Kami, these things are heavy!), most of the dancing was vigorous swaying of her hips and some flicking of her feet.
"Boy, your gonna win,
Say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
You're under my skin."
She finished with the camera attachment. Whooping with the song, she shouted, "Oh, I think I like you!" She knew she was loving this song.
However, her delight did not last long.
A hand suddenly gripped her shoulder and snapped her thoughts away from the music. She screeched, jerking her body forward and trying to spin all at once. In her panic, her slip-on shoes slid on the polished hardwood floor and she knew with utter certainty that she was about to fall flat on her unobservant face.
The arm that locked around her waist changed the course of that fate. She instead came to rest against a warm, inky blackness. Her face flushed as red as a tomato. Of course, it had to be Naru. Taking advantage of the position she was in, she kept her head down, nose buried in the soft cloth of her boss's shirt. There were three reasons for this. One, he couldn't make fun of her blush if he couldn't see it. Two, she didn't want to risk getting drawn into what she liked to call Naru's Mesmerizing Blue Eyes of Doom. And three, well, he always smelled really good.
Well, except for that time they'd had to crawl through a sewer, but that was a case best not remembered, anyway.
"Can you not do anything without falling down?" Naru chastised, hands gripping her upper arms to make sure she had her footing again.
"Well, excuse me!" Mai flicked an offended glare up him, then looked back down. Must. Not. Stare. "You shouldn't have startled me."
"I did try calling your name, but you obviously couldn't hear me."
Mai reached up to touch her ears, realizing that one of the buds had fallen out. The playlist was still playing, though it had moved on to another song. "Oh, I was, um, listening to music."
"I noticed." His voice was colored with reproof. "In fact, we all noticed."
Mai flicked her eyes towards his face for a second time. Her gaze lingered. He could tell the exact moment she figured it out, her head snapping around to look at the camera. Though the lens currently wasn't pointed in their direction, he could see her accusatory look. "You mean—"
"Oh. Well, this is embarrassing."
His lips twitched. Barely. "There was audio, as well."
Mai covered her eyes with one hand, the other still lightly resting on his chest from when she'd regained her balance.
He decided to hammer the point home. "Lin and I chose not to interpret the meaning of the song for Takigawa. You should thank us both." When the young woman just blinked owlishly up at him, he realized she had no idea why. "Mai, you do know what the song implies…don't you?"
"Um, not exactly?" She added quickly, "I'm only using it for pronunciation practice! I have a test on Friday and Michiko told me to try this!"
"Your friend has interesting taste in music."
"Oh, Kami, it was a sex song, wasn't it?"
A part of Naru's brain was not dealing well with the word "sex" coming out of Mai's perfect mouth. The rest produced the brilliant response of: "That depends."
"Which lyrics you're asking about. Some were more…provocative than others."
Mai actually hid her face completely in his shirt. I really should push her away, he thought critically. Though, for some reason, his arms did not comply.
"You're saying this on purpose this to embarrass me."
Naru didn't answer. He simply waited for her to peek up at him, her pale face framed somewhat what his dark shirt. It was, he had to admit, an appealing sight.
"It's time to go back to the base," he finally said, prying her gently from his chest.
Mai bit her lip. "But you haven't told me—"
"Ask Matsuzaki-san. It's time she does something useful."
It was also time that Naru put some distance between himself and this topic before he embarrassed himself.
The case was a piece of case, in Mai's book. They'd collected all the necessary readings and footage in one night. Masako had then arrived the next day to sweep the house and confirm that there were no spirits in residence. Naru and Lin had conducted their little poltergeist-hypnosis test. In just three days, they had pinpointed the thirteen-year-old with the unusual name Tsuna as the cause of the phenomenon at the school. Mai provided the girl with some cheerful attention, and Naru had handed the girl a referral sheet for where she could learn to control what powers she had.
Mai, though still using Michiko's iPod, kept her signing soft and her dancing minimal.
And, despite Monk-san's insistence and her own efforts, Naru never explained that song to her.
That Friday, Mai had two things on her agenda. The first was to pass her oral exam. The second was to meet Ayako for tea.
Mai was nervous at first when she entered her exam room, but slowly grew more comfortable as she was able to answer every question the examiner threw at her. She even got creative enough to throw in a few extra grammar constructions she knew hadn't been on the study sheet.
While the stern-faced man conducting the test never smiled, Mai didn't sense any frustration from him at the end. She felt pretty confident that she had actually done well. Too bad I didn't know about this study method before now!
He told her they were finished. She stood, bowed, and thanked him for his time. Then she was rushing out the door, tripping a little over her own feet, in the hopes she could catch the 12:07 train to Shibuya district.
She did not make the train, which meant that she was a few minutes late to meet the priestess. She apologized immediately, especially since she was the one who had picked the time. She hadn't wanted to wait to have the conversation at SPR. Privacy, for once, would be preferable.
"Mai, just sit down," Ayako snapped, exasperated. "What did you need to talk to me about? You made it sound like life or death."
Mai flushed as she rummaged through her bag to pull out the note pad where she'd written the lyrics to "the song". Ayako looked torn with feigned boredom and interest. "What's this?" the older woman asked as Mai slid the book away from her with a little more force than necessary.
"It's a song I was using to practice English with. My friend Michiko recommended it, and I didn't know what the words meant really… I mean, I got the literal translation, I suppose, but.."
Ayako waved the girl silent and read. "Let me guess. Someone caught you singing it out load and wouldn't tell you what could mean?" Her eyes continued to scan over the page. Her English was a little rusty, but it was still good. Her parents had insisted on English to compliment her degree in medicine, saying it would allow her to attend international medical conferences and such without being encumbered by a translator. The miko smirked. I doubt they ever though those lessons would be put to a use like this.
"You really want to know what this is implying?" Ayako asked dubiously. Mai already looked uncomfortable and they hadn't even discussed the song yet.
The girl nodded, her cheeks glowing.
"Alright," Ayako sighed. "So, this line here says 'I'll be your pussycat licking your milk', which is probably referring to oral…"
Oh, kami, why.
Naru was a little disgruntled when he heard the outer office door to SPR crash open, but not surprised. Between Mai, Ayako, and Takigawa, he was surprised he hadn't needed to have the hinges replaced yet. However, he was surprised when his own office door was treated to the same action.
His lap was suddenly full of Mai, who has hugging him rather tightly around the neck. Her words were rushed, repeating "Thank you" over and over again.
His thoughts stopped completely when, in her exuberance, she pressed her lips against his.
Then, his assistant pulled away only slightly, her cheeks pink and eyes wide with what he assumed was gratitude. He almost, almost groaned in disappointment. "Thank you for not telling Monk-san! He would have never let me live it down! And he could have told Yasuhara-kun, which would have been just awful! Thank y—"
She paused. "Yes?"
"Are you planning to stay there all day?"
The girl finally noticed the position she'd flung herself into. "Uh, no."
He'd expected to dissolve into a puddle of distress. Instead, she kissed him again. This time, Naru did not loose his wits. He wrapped an arm around her back, moving his own lips against her. But before things could progress any farther, she was sliding off of him, her awkwardness catching up with her.
Naru took a moment to collect his thoughts. Then, he said, "Next time, just ask me for English lesson."
Mai licked her lips. I can't believe I did that. "I…"
Naru raised a single eyebrow expectantly.
He kissed me back! She bit her lip. "Only if you don't make fun of me!"
"I promise you will enjoy it." There was smirk stretching across Naru's lips.
Oh, my. Well, there was nothing she could say to that besides... "Alright."
"In fact, we'll start today. But first, tea."
Mai blinked. It didn't occur to her to remind him that her last test had been today. "Right. Tea." How can he think of tea right now? I'm still stuck on the kissing!
She didn't know that Naru was already calculating how to get her comfortable enough for him to steal another kiss.
In the kitchenette, Mai busied herself with making tea. Naru could hear her singing from where he sat plotting in his office.
"Oh, I will be your sexy silk…"
(A.N.) So what did you all think? Leave me a review! I'm also open to suggestions for future chapters. Are there any lessons you'd like Naru or Mai (or both) learn?