Well gang, this is it. The final chapter. It's been a long journey, but as you know, all good things must come to an end. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. I just want to thank all of you for sticking with me and seeing this saga through to the end. I never imagined that it would go on for as long as it did, but your kind reviews and e-mails are what kept me going. Several of you even inspired me on more than one occasion and that just helped to keep the creative juices flowing, and I thank you for that. But in all honesty, this story would have never been possible were it not for the large legion of loyal Akira/Takumi fans. I could never have done it without you. You guys are simply the best. Thank you.
Our Love is Here to Stay
"Oh my god! Takumi, what did you do?" Mai hysterically shouted as she then went over to Akira to try and comfort her. "Oh you poor thing. How awful this must be for you to go through this at such an early age. But don't worry, I'll make sure my brother takes responsibility."
"Uh, no, Mai, you've got it all wrong," Akira attempted to explain.
"You're right," Mai realized. "Since you're engaged, then at least that means he's trying to do the right thing."
"No, that's not it!" Takumi tried to correct her.
"What do you mean that's not it? Look, Takumi, I'll do what I can to help you, but you will take responsibility in raising…"
"Mai!" Akira yelled at the top of her lungs, before calmly stating, "I'm not…"
"Huh? You… you're not?"
"No, sis, she's not. That's what we've been trying to tell you."
"But then… I don't understand. Izumi-san mentioned that you were engaged. So you're saying you're not?"
"Oh they're engaged alright," Izumi confirmed.
"Well then if she's not pregnant, what other possible reason would there be for you two to be engaged at such an early age?"
"It's a long story," Takumi replied, sighing heavily. "Let's go inside and we'll explain everything."
Having had a chance to calm down, Mai, who was seated along with the others in the family room, listened with intent as Takumi and Akira explained the situation to her.
"So that's pretty much what happened," Takumi recounted.
"Wow, that's quite a story," Yuichi reacted in amazement. "You could probably write a book about your adventures."
"Now hold on," Mai said with a bit of uncertainty. "Takumi, it's very admirable for you to do this for Akira, but this is a very big step. You shouldn't be doing this just because you feel sorry for her."
"I'm not," he replied. Then, in a more serious tone added, "Sis, I love Akira very much. I… I want to spend the rest of my life with her."
"Takumi," Mai tenderly responded as Akira turned red at his public announcement of affection.
"Aww," a very moved Izumi responded. "That's so romantic."
"Mai-san," Hiroki tried to clarify. "I too was totally against this marriage when I first found out about it. However, having witnessed first hand their affection and total devotion to one another, I now realize that their love is truly genuine. Believe me, those two were meant to be together."
"Hiroki," Akira said in awe at his support and understanding.
"Thank you, Hiroki-san," Takumi gratefully replied.
"That was very sweet of you, Hiroki," Izumi appreciatively said as she took his arm and snuggled up alongside him.
"Izumi," Hiroki reacted somewhat startled.
"Wow. This is just… all so sudden," an overwhelmed Mai responded, then looked over at Akira. "So I take it… you feel the same way?"
"Oh yes," Akira said without hesitation. "Very much so."
"I'm sorry for having to spring this on you like this, sis. I know it's a lot to take in, but we're very serious about this."
"Yes, I'm sure you are. Still, when were you planning on telling me about this? Did you intend to keep it from me until the day of your wedding?"
"We had planned on gradually breaking it to you tomorrow," Akira explained, then looked over at Izumi and added, "but somebody just couldn't keep their mouth shut."
"I said I was sorry," Izumi apologetically replied.
"It's okay, Izumi-san," Takumi reassured her. "Anyway, sis, I hope you can understand how we feel. But if it'll make you feel any better, we won't be officially married until we turn eighteen."
"I know. Still, I just can't get over it," Mai tearfully reminisced. "My baby brother, you're… growing up so fast."
"Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except… welcome to the family, Akira!" Mai joyfully announced as she threw her arms around Akira, giving her a big bear hug.
"Uh, Mai… you're… crushing me," Akira gasped.
"Thanks, sis. You don't know what this means to me. Your approval is like a blessing from mom."
"Takumi," Mai then proceeded to hug her brother.
"Pardon me, Ojousama," Kenji interrupted, "but your father wishes to speak with you and Hiroki-sama."
"Well, looks like this is it," Akira ascertained. "Come on, Takumi."
"I'm sorry, Ojousama, but your father specifically requested to see just the two of you. I'm sorry Takumi-san."
"Oh, ah, that's okay," Takumi reluctantly replied.
"No, it's not okay," Akira argued. "Takumi, we said we would do this together."
"But your father…"
"Look, if both of us don't face my father about this, then we might never be able to convince him."
"She's right, Takumi-san," Hiroki concurred. "We stand a better chance if we confront him together."
Grateful for their support, Takumi now felt a bit more at ease as he looked on at them and nodded in agreement.
"Alright. But before we see him," Takumi realized, "there's something I want to ask you, Akira."
"What is it, Takumi?"
"Your uncle. Do he and your father get along well?"
"My uncle Taro? Takumi, why in the world would you ask me that?"
"Please, Akira, this may be important," Takumi seriously stated. "Have you known there to be any ill will between them or have they ever fought over issues regarding the company?"
"Uh, none that I'm aware of," a puzzled Akira replied. "They always seem to get along quite well. In fact, my father's gone out of his way numerous times to help him out, once even when he was having some financial difficulties."
"I see. Thank you, Akira."
"What's this all about, Takumi-san?" Hiroki curiously inquired.
"You'll both soon find out. Shall we go?"
Looking over at Takumi, Kenji shot him a quick smile as if to acknowledge that he was on the right track. Leading the three down the hall to the small shoji screened enclosed room, Kenji then announced their arrival.
Bowing as they entered the tatami mat room, the three now kneeled before Akira's father, separated only by a small low-slung wooden table.
"Before you say anything, father," Akira defensively began, "I asked Takumi to join us because this concerns him too."
"Very well," he amiably accepted. "I have no problem with him being here, I had merely wished to spare him the humiliation once I tell you of my decision."
"Humiliation? Father, what are you…"
"Hiroki-san?" he redirected his attention, ignoring the words of his daughter. "I trust that the two of you were able to get reacquainted last night."
"Yes sir. But the truth is…"
"It hasn't changed anything between us," Akira concluded. "Takumi and I…"
"Akira, please don't interrupt while Hiroki-san is talking," her father said rather annoyed, then requested of Hiroki, "Go on."
"Um, you see sir, while I care for Akira a great deal, I…" Hiroki nervously hesitated. "I don't think I can go through with this. I'm sorry."
Akira and Takumi were both shocked at his courageous admission, yet at the same time felt a sense of relief.
"Hiroki-san, do you realize what you're saying? The implications that this would have on your family?"
"Yes sir, I'm well aware of that. But the truth is… I don't believe that it would be right to force two people to be together against their will just to satisfy our clan's stubborn insistence on continuing to support some antiquated custom that should have been done away with years ago."
"I see. Tell me, what brought about this sudden change of heart? When I spoke with you yesterday you didn't seem to have any issues with it."
"Well, the fact of the matter is, I've never really been too keen on the idea. I just went along with it all these years because I was led to believe that it would be in the best interest of both our families. However, it would seem that I'd been misinformed. I've since discovered that there is a much more powerful force at work that supersedes all else despite family customs."
"And what is that?"
"Love," Hiroki candidly revealed. "Okuzaki-sama, if you only knew how much Akira and Takumi-san truly love…"
"Enough!" Himuro forcefully stated.
"Father, please!" Akira pleaded. "Don't do this to us. You have to convince the clan to change their…"
"Akira! Don't tell me how to run this family. I must say that I'm rather disappointed in the two of you. You thought you could come in here and gang up on me thinking that I would change my mind?"
"No sir," Takumi finally chimed in, "that was not their intention at all. They merely wished to convey their displeasure on the matter. As for me, I just wanted to follow up on our discussion from yesterday. I've reached my decision and have decided to do what is best for Akira and this family by following a career in business."
"Takumi, no!" Akira protested.
"Akira, please. I have to do this."
"So, even though it means a great deal to you, you're willing to give up your future career in psychology?" Himuro inquired.
"Yes, sir. But Akira means so much more to me."
"I see. That's very admirable of you, but I'm afraid the circumstances have changed."
"What do you mean?"
"When I spoke with Akira yesterday, she told me that you were willing to sacrifice your career just to be with her. However, in doing so she also mentioned that your heart would not be in it. I've thought about it, and while it is a noble gesture, I've come to realize that it would not be in the best interest of Okuzaki Industries. I'm sorry, Takumi-san."
"Father, no!" Akira implored. "I was out of line and misspoke when I said that. You mustn't hold that against him."
"But you made a very valid point," he indicated. "I can't have someone running my company who's not a hundred and ten percent committed to the position. I know he means well, but it just wouldn't work out. And at the same time it wouldn't be fair to him; you said so yourself."
"Akira," Takumi interjected, placing a hand upon her shoulder and then redirecting his attention back to her father. "Okuzaki-sama, there is something that I have been struggling to understand. Just before Akira came to see me in the hospital, you had already promised her at that point to allow her to marry me. And also, years earlier, you had assured her that she would one day take over as head of Okuzaki Industries. But now, for some reason, you have changed your stance on both issues. Do you really believe that this is in Akira's best interests?"
"I've already told you, it doesn't matter what I believe. The clan has decided that, in the end, it would not be in the best interest of the company."
"Yes, so you've told me. But I must disagree with you because I think it matters a great deal what you believe, and I also think that you're totally opposed to the clan's opinion on this."
"I must say, that's very presumptive of you."
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to be, but deep down I think you know I'm right. But if I'm wrong, then tell me, why exactly did you change your mind on both issues so suddenly? We all know that your decision supercedes that of the clan's, so I don't believe that that's the sole reason for your actions."
"You're right that I have the power to override their decisions at any time, but I also owe it to them to listen to their side of the argument and then make a rational decision."
"And you think that by denying Akira her rightful position in the company and forcing her to marry someone against her wishes constitutes a rational decision?"
"I don't think I like your tone of voice, young man," he offensively stated.
"I think you've allowed your decision to become clouded," Takumi maintained, "not by the clan as a whole, but rather one particular individual."
"Takumi," a concerned Akira tried to intervene, "maybe you shouldn't…"
"Tell me something," Takumi pressed on, ignoring Akira's plea, "is appeasing your brother, Taro-sama, so much more important to you than your own daughter's happiness?"
"Wha… what do you know about my brother?"
"Uncle Taro?" a puzzled Akira reacted. "What are you getting at, Takumi?"
"Yes, exactly what are you insinuating, young man?" Himuro demanded to know.
"Just this: ever since your father selected you over your older brother to head Okuzaki Industries, you've felt somewhat guilty, just as I'm sure that he felt somewhat resentful toward you at being passed over for the position."
"What?" Akira was shocked to hear. "Father, is this true?"
"How do you know all this?" Himuro demanded to know. "And besides, the personal business between me and my brother are of no concern to you."
"You're right. However, because it affects Akira, it is of great concern to me."
"It still doesn't explain how you learned of this. Who told you?"
"No one told me, I just figured it out on my own. Once I learned that you had an older brother, it all started to make sense to me. I thought it strange at first when you suddenly changed your views on both our marriage and on Akira taking over the company. At first I thought it was the clan that was influencing your decision, but as I said, once I learned of your brother I began to realize that he was the key to all of this. And now I'm sure of it. For just now Akira told me how well the two of you get along and that you've even bent over backwards to help him out."
"Well what of it? He's my brother, so of course I would help him out in any way that I can."
"Even when it comes to making decisions regarding Okuzaki Industries?"
"Of course. He's a member of the board and has a right to his input regarding company matters."
"But in cases where you didn't agree with his decision, rather than argue with him, you allowed him to have his way. Even to this day you're wracked with guilt regarding your father's decision in selecting you over your brother. So, to appease him, you've allowed him to become a key voice in the company's oversight. Likewise, he's been very vocal when it comes to matters of the family. It's almost as if you've handed the reins as head of the clan over to him."
"Why that's…" Himuro began, attempting a rebuttal.
"Father, is this true?" Akira looked with concern to him.
"I think you need to ask yourself what's more important," Takumi continued, "appeasing your brother or doing what is in the best interest of your daughter. You really need to look deep inside yourself and determine what truly matters to you most."
Utterly speechless, Himuro, along with Akira and Hiroki, looked on in complete astonishment at Takumi, amazed at his candor.
Now standing up before him and bowing in respect, Takumi politely announced, "Okuzaki-sama, forgive me if I was out of line. Please excuse me."
The others still sat stunned as he made his exit, all the while marveled that he managed to maintain such a calm demeanor.
"Takumi, wait!" Akira started to call after him, then felt the warm hand of Hiroki upon her shoulder as he looked to her and just shook his head.
"Would the two of you please excuse me," her father somberly requested.
Bowing as he then began to take his leave, Hiroki soon realized that Akira had not budged. "Akira?"
"Father, is what Takumi said true?" Akira insisted on knowing.
"Akira, please try and understand," her father tried to reason. "I was just…"
Before he could finish, Akira quickly bolted out of the room, past the others and headed straight up the stairs.
"Excuse me, Okuzaki-sama," Hiroki once again respectfully bowed before him, noticing the expression of hurt upon his face, and quickly departed the room to rejoin the others.
"Hiroki, what happened?" a concerned Izumi ran up to him. "Akira just ran by without saying a word."
"My brother didn't say much either except that he was going to go and pack," Mai said in dismay. "Hiroki-san, what's going on?"
"I… I'm not really sure myself," Hiroki helplessly replied. "But I'll try and explain as best I can."
Meanwhile, Akira now entered Takumi's room only to find him packing his suitcase.
"Takumi, what are doing? Why did you just leave like that?"
"I'm leaving tomorrow, remember? I just wanted to get my things together. And I left because I said what I had to say to your father."
"That took a lot of courage what you did, going up against my father like that."
"Well, I'm not exactly proud of myself, but at least now he knows how I feel."
"I just want to let you know that I'm not going to put up with this anymore. If all my father cares about is how my uncle feels, then as far as I'm concerned he can have the whole company. I'm through with this. My father can disown me for all I care, but I'm not going to let him stop me from marrying you. I don't even think I can wait until tomorrow, we should leave right now. I'm going to go and pack."
"No, Akira, I don't want you to go with me. I think it's best if you stayed here."
"Wha… what are you saying, Takumi?" Akira looked at him in shock.
"I'm saying that I think I've caused you enough trouble," Takumi explained, now placing both hands upon her shoulders and, at arms length, looked into her eyes as he tried to reason with her. "Your father is very vulnerable right now and the last thing he needs is for you to walk out on him. He needs you more than ever right now."
"But, I need you too. I don't want to lose you," she tearfully exclaimed.
"Oh, Akira, you're not going to lose me," Takumi reassured her, pulling her in close for a supportive hug. "I just think you need to talk things out with him rather than just walking off and leaving things hanging like this. In fact, you should spend some time alone with your father. After all, with you away at school most of the time, you two hardly see each other any more. I'm just saying that I think the two of you should try and get reacquainted with one another. And really, I would just be in the way. The last thing you need is for me to be there to come between the two of you."
"But, you wouldn't be in the way."
"Trust me. The best thing for the two of you right now is some good old-fashioned father-daughter bonding. Tell me, how long has it been since the two of you truly spent any real quality time together?"
"Far too long I'm afraid," her father's voice was heard saying in a subdued manner.
"Okuzaki-sama! Please forgive me," Takumi apologetically replied. "I should have never interfered in your affairs. I was way out of line."
"You're a strange one, Takumi-san," Himuro amusingly remarked. "First you put me in my place, and deservedly so I might add, and then you apologize for it. But I'm glad to see that you're not afraid to speak your mind. I must say that I'm impressed at your deductive reasoning skills. I'm only sorry that our company will be losing out on someone with such skills; you'd make a fine businessman. Of course, I'm sure you'll put them to good use in your preferred profession. I suppose it could be interesting having a psychologist for a son-in-law."
"Son-in…" Takumi reacted quite startled. "You mean…"
Acknowledging with just a simple smile he then announced, "Takumi-san, I'm entrusting her to you. Therefore, you have my blessing to marry my daughter."
"Just promise me that you'll take good care of her."
"Uh, yes… yes of course," Takumi responded with a shaky voice, still at a loss at his sudden change of heart.
"Oh father!" Akira gratefully cried as she ran into her father's arms. "Thank you so much. You don't know what this means to us."
"Thank you, Okuzaki-sama," Takumi now graciously bowed before him. "Thank you so much for your kind generosity."
"No, Takumi-san, it is I who should be thanking you. You've helped me to open my eyes and see what I had been overlooking for so long. I've been so hell bent on doing what is best for this family and the company, in addition to trying to appease my brother, that I'd become blind to what was truly important to me: my daughter's happiness."
"Akira, can you ever forgive this old fool?"
Akira once again tearfully embraced her father. "Oh father, I love you so much."
"And I love you, my dear," he comforted her. "I think you've made a very smart choice in this young man. He seems very wise and intelligent, but most importantly, he makes you happy. I can't remember ever seeing you this happy in a very long time."
Now coming over and standing alongside Takumi, Akira tightly gripped his hand. "You're right. I'm very happy whenever I'm with him. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world."
"Akira," Takumi modestly said, causing him to blush.
"I'll just leave the two of you for now," Himuro said smiling. "I'm sure you have a lot to discuss."
Watching as he left the room, Akira and Takumi just turned to each other, still a bit dumbfounded over it all.
"Akira," Takumi began somewhat flabbergasted, taking both her hands in his. "He… he said yes. He said yes!"
Takumi was just beside himself as he excitedly spun Akira around by the arms, her feet even leaving the ground at one point, then pulled her in tightly to his body and held onto her in a loving embrace.
"Oh, Takumi, I can't believe this is really happening."
"Believe it. And even though I'm still not sure what just happened, I don't really care. All I know for sure now is that whatever else happens, I'm never ever going to let you go."
"Oh, Takumi," Akira happily cried as their lips now joined together and their arms held each other tightly in a warm embrace.
"Why am I not surprised," came Izumi's voice as she, along with Hiroki, Mai and Yuichi, now stood watching the two from the doorway.
"Uh, wha…" Takumi said somewhat startled as he released Akira, "what are you guys doing here?"
"What do you mean what are we doing here?" Mai questioned him. "We were worried about you, and Akira's father said that we could find you up here. But I can see you're doing just fine. I must say, you seem to be quite the kisser, Takumi."
"Sis!" Takumi embarrassingly shot back as the others looked on in amusement, leaving him and Akira both beet red in the face.
"Aw, Mai, leave him alone," Yuichi implored. "Can't you see you're embarrassing them."
"Oh don't worry about them," Izumi interjected, "they're used to it by now."
"Izumi!" Akira and Takumi responded simultaneously.
"So judging by your reactions," Hiroki surmised, "I assume you managed to work things out with your father?"
"You bet," Akira replied. "He really surprised us."
"I'll say," Takumi concurred. "By the way, Hiroki-san, I want to thank you for speaking up for us back there; we really appreciate it."
"Forget it," Hiroki modestly replied.
"So, Akira, Izumi-san tells me that you're planning on doing some clothes shopping later today," Mai gleefully hinted at. "Mind if I tag along?"
"Uhh…" Akira reluctantly remarked.
"We'd love for you to come!" Izumi eagerly accepted. "How about you, Yuichi-san? Care to join us?"
"Um, yeah, I suppose I could," he hesitantly agreed.
"Great!" Izumi was happy to hear. "Now the only holdout is…"
Izumi's eyes now fixated on Hiroki.
'Uhhhh…" Hiroki nervously stammered.
"Come on, Hiroki, it'll be fun," Izumi pleaded with sad puppy dog like eyes. "Pleeeeeease."
"Yeah, Hiroki-san," Yuichi added to the pressure. "You're not getting out of this that easily. If we have to endure their…."
"Alright, alright," he helplessly gave in.
"Yay!" Izumi cheered in triumph.
"Sucker," Akira quietly uttered under her breath.
"No, no, no!" Akira loudly objected. "There's no way that I'm wearing that thing!"
Hovering around Akira in the dressing room of a large department store chain, Mai and Izumi were anxiously having her try on numerous outfits. Even though she opposed their choice of selection several times, Akira found herself overruled in each instance. Meanwhile, Takumi, Hiroki and Yuichi had to endure the hardships of carrying the girls' purchases and waiting around while they shopped and tried things on.
"But, Akira," Mai tried to reason as she held a two-piece swimsuit up to her, "don't you want to look nice for Takumi?"
"Nice, yes. Ridiculous, no. That thing's just too revealing, so forget it!"
"But you don't seem to have any problem when you wear halter tops to work out," Izumi tried to justify.
"That's completely different," Akira argued. "This just leaves nothing to the imagination."
"Look, Akira," Mai said in all seriousness. "I know a lot of this is still new to you and that you're still accustomed to an attire that's a bit more on the masculine side, but you have to learn to accept the fact that that part of your life is now behind you. And whether you realize it or not, you're blossoming into a very attractive young woman. But you don't have to take my word for it, just ask Takumi. So really, you should be embracing this time of your life rather than trying to fight it"
"But, I can't wear something like that," Akira timidly admitted. "It's just not me."
"Well, if it'll make you feel any better," Izumi suggested, "Mai-san and I could each try one on too, that way we can all go out there together when we show the boys. I've been meaning to buy a new swimsuit anyway."
"Yeah, me too," Mai realized. "So how about it, Akira?"
"Weeeell…" she contemplated.
"Great," Izumi quickly replied. "Mai-san and I just need to go back out on the floor and pick ours out, but first there's something else I want you to try on."
Izumi began sorting through several garments that she had picked out, and, when she found the one that she was looking for, she held it up with a mischievous grin on her face.
"Ooo, I like it," Mai devilishly replied. "I didn't even know that they sold those types of outfits here. Well, Akira, looks like this is your lucky day."
"Uh, oh no," Akira objected, taking one look at the garment. "Absolutely not!
"Oh come on," Mai attempted to persuade her, "I think it would look cute on you."
"I don't want to look cute!" she continued to protest.
"It's just for fun," Izumi explained. "Besides, I think the boys would get a big kick out of it."
"Yeah," Mai concurred, "they've been really patient with us so far, so this is the least we can do for them."
"What do you mean we?" Akira countered. "I'm the one who's going to get humiliated here."
"Oh you're not going to be humiliated," Mai assured her. "Although I should tell you that Takumi's a big fan of anime that feature those types of girls."
"Yeah, I know," Akira recalled. "It just seems so silly though."
"Why don't we let Takumi be the judge of that," Mai suggested as she held the garment up to her and then attempted to undress her. "Now hold still."
"Wait, what are you doing?"
"Izumi-san, grab her other arm."
"I wonder what all the yelling's about," Takumi tried to discern, looking over at Hiroki and Yuichi.
Becoming a bit restless, the boys fidgeted around in their chairs as they sat waiting just outside the dressing room.
"What is it with girls anyway?" Hiroki couldn't comprehend. "Why can't they just pick something out that they like, buy it and then leave? What's so hard about that anyway?"
"Amen, brother," Yuichi concurred. "They always have to turn shopping for clothes into a such a big event. And even when they do eventually find something that they like, they have to go back and try on twenty more things until they find something that matches it. It's the same when they're getting dressed. They can never seem to make up their mind in deciding what to wear. And don't even get me started on how much time they spend in the bathroom, especially when they're getting ready for a date."
"Exactly," Hiroki said in agreement. "Girls are so indecisive. Guys don't seem to have that problem."
"Oh come on," Takumi took exception to their argument. "Don't you think you're being a little hard on them?"
"What, don't tell me that you're defending them?" Hiroki incredulously asked.
"I know it may seem silly to us, but did you ever stop and think why they spend so much time and effort in getting ready and trying to find just the right thing to wear?" Takumi queried. "I think it's because they want to look nice for us, and in return all they seek is for us to acknowledge that effort and to maybe pay them a compliment. I don't think that's asking too much."
"Gee, Takumi," Yuichi earnestly responded, "that's a pretty mature thing to say. But I suppose you're right."
"Yeah," Hiroki agreed, looking over at Yuichi. "He's not even married yet and already he sounds like he's henpecked."
Having a laugh at Takumi's expense, Yuichi then reached over and high-fived Hiroki as Takumi just shook his head in disgust. At that moment, Mai and Izumi emerged from the dressing room.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Mai apologized, then directed her attention to her brother. "Now don't hold back, Takumi. Just give us your honest opinion."
Both Mai and Izumi now stepped to one side revealing a most embarrassed looking Akira dressed in a maid's uniform. The black one-piece dress had a very short above-the-knee skirt while underneath Akira wore a white ruffled petticoat. Completing the ensemble she also had on a white apron along with the traditional maid's headpiece.
"Come on, say the line, Akira," Izumi nudged her on.
"This is so embarrassing," Akira mumbled under her breath. Then, turning to Takumi she took a deep breath, forced a smile and announced, "How can I be of service to you today, master?"
Yuichi slapped a hand over his mouth to suppress his laughter while Hiroki just started to break out in hysterics.
"Hahahaha. Oh, Akira, that's classic. I can't believe you…"
"Something funny, Hiroki?" Akira asked directly to his face in a rather threatening manner.
"Uh, no, not at all," Hiroki quickly recanted, biting down on his lower lip to try and contain himself.
"Akira, you…" Takumi finally spoke up with a big grin on his face, "you look absolutely adorable."
"Okay, that's it," Akira said in frustration as she started to walk away.
"Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute, come back," Takumi apologetically said as he grabbed hold of her arm. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you. In fact, my sister and Izumi-san probably talked you into doing this."
"Guilty," Izumi confessed in a playful tone of voice.
"Sorry, Akira," Mai apologized. "We were just having a little fun with you."
"Alright, well you guys have had your little laugh," Akira replied, "so I'm going to go and change and then we can…"
"I wasn't laughing," Takumi pointed out. "I think it looks really good on you."
"You… you do?" Akira began to blush.
"Yeah. In fact, I was thinking that maybe the next anime convention that I go to, you might consider going with me. You would be perfect in that outfit cosplaying as Mahoro from 'Mahoromatic' while I would go as Suguru."
Akira just threw up her arms and rolled her eyes at his suggestion and headed back into the dressing room.
"Akira," he started to call after her.
Placing a hand upon his shoulder and shaking her head, Mai tried to explain to her brother, "Takumi, while that was very sweet what you initially said to her, sometimes you just have to know when to shut up and leave well enough alone."
"Boy, Takumi-san," Hiroki chided, "you sure put your foot in your mouth that time."
"Don't worry, Takumi, I'll go talk to her," Mai reassured him, then requested of Izumi, "While I do that, why don't you go and pick out what we were talking about before."
"Gotcha," Izumi comprehended. "I know exactly what I'm getting."
"Oh, and can you bring me the one that I was looking at earlier?"
"You mean the white one?"
"That's the one."
"You got it," Izumi was happy to comply as she made her way over to the swimwear department while Mai headed back into the dressing room.
Takumi just had a look of despair about him prompting Yuichi to give him a hardy slap on the back.
"Don't look so glum, you just misspoke. I'm sure she's not going to be mad at you over a little thing like that."
"Of course," Hiroki concurred, "I'm sure she'll get over it."
"Yeah, I know," Takumi somberly replied. "Still, I came out sounding a bit selfish when I said that. I'm going to apologize to her when she comes out."
Back inside the dressing room as Akira was changing out of the maid outfit, Mai attempted to smooth things over with her in regards to her brother's comment.
"I hope you're not upset over what Takumi said. He was just a little excited when he saw you dressed like that. He didn't mean anything by it."
"Oh I know," Akira replied, "and I'm not upset with him. I just wanted to get out of this stupid outfit."
"Well that's a relief," Mai was glad to hear.
"Besides, it's pretty hard to stay mad at him," Akira admitted, now letting her guard down as she began to express her feelings. "He's got such an innocence about him that even when he does or says something wrong, you feel kind of sorry for him. Instead of yelling at him, I just want to hug…"
Akira quickly cut herself off and began to blush as Mai looked to her with keen interest over her little confession.
"My, you really are smitten with my brother aren't you? That's so cute. I guess you two really were meant to be together. Well, I just want you to know that I'm grateful to you. I think that you're just what my brother needs. You truly complete him."
"Uh, tha… thank you," Akira gratefully replied. "I really appreciate that."
"You're welcome," Mai was happy to oblige. "Now then, how's about trying on that swimsuit. I'm really anxious to see how it looks on you, and I'm sure Takumi is as well."
"I don't know," Akira embarrassingly replied with uncertainty.
"I'm back!" Izumi loudly announced as she re-entered the room carrying two swimsuits and was surprised to see that Akira still hadn't changed. "Haven't you tried that thing on yet?"
"She was just about to," Mai informed her.
"Come on, Akira," Izumi prodded, "you have nothing to be afraid of. You're going to look totally hot and Takumi-san will just melt when he sees you in it."
"Akira," Mai encouragingly remarked, "we don't mean to pressure you, but you're going to have to come out of that shell of yours sometime. Believe me, the expression on Takumi's face when he sees you wearing that will make it all worthwhile. Trust me."
"Arrrgh!" Hiroki cried out in boredom, "what is taking them so long? I thought they were done. I can't believe I let Izumi talk me into coming."
"Oh, quit complaining," Yuichi told him as he sat slouched in his chair, his eyes closed while attempting to take a nap. "Just deal with it."
"This is a total waste of time," he continued to gripe. "Give me one good reason why we should even be here."
"I apologize again, you guys," Mai said, re-emerging from the dressing room, now wearing a white two-piece swimsuit with a ruffled bikini bottom, "I promise you that we're almost done."
"Wow, sis," Takumi commented, "You look great."
"Yeah, looking good, Mai-san," Hiroki added.
"Why thank you, boys. So what do you think, Yuichi?"
Utterly speechless, Yuichi, his mouth agape, was completely mesmerized and couldn't help but to stare at her robust figure.
"Uh, Yuichi-san?" Hiroki tried to get his attention, waving a hand in front of his face, then noted, "Oh yeah, he's gone alright."
"Guess he likes it," Mai concluded.
Hiroki was so amused by it all that he turned to Takumi and remarked, "How do you like that guy, Takumi-san; absolutely no control. One look at a pretty face and he completely falls to pieces. Hahahaha."
"Oh Hiroki?" came Izumi's voice as she now appeared alongside Mai. "Do you think I look better in a one piece or a two piece?"
"Uhhhh…" was all that he could utter, becoming completely tongue-tied as he found himself gawking at Izumi's rather revealing black and white zebra-striped bikini. "I… Izumi, you… really hot, I mean… you look… wow!"
"Why thank you, Hiroki," Izumi replied rather flattered.
"So, this a good enough reason for you to be here?" Yuichi sarcastically asked, leaning over from his chair toward Hiroki, then mocked, "What's the matter, pal, you lose control? Hahahaha."
Amused by it all, Takumi just smiled as he shook his head at their little macho routine. He then began to look around and wondered what was taking Akira so long.
Izumi too noticed her absence then called in toward the dressing room, "Akira, get out here. Takumi-san is waiting for you."
Akira slowly stuck her head out from the room, carefully scanning the area to see who might notice her. Taking a deep breath, Akira finally stepped out to where the others were awaiting her. Wearing a teal colored bandeau style top along with a matching sarong, Akira felt extremely self-conscious as she hung her head while attempting to conceal the front of her body with her arms.
"Come on, Akira," Mai encouragingly said as she came up behind her, "don't be embarrassed. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
Entranced by what he could see, Takumi slowly stood up, not once taking his eyes off of her. Just then, Mai then gave Akira a playful shove causing her to stumble forward into Takumi's arms.
The two immediately turned beet-red as they awkwardly pushed away from each other.
"Akira," an overwhelmed Takumi remarked as he took a step back and began to admire her, "is that really you? Wow! You look absolutely remarkable."
"Uh, th… thank you, Takumi," Akira bashfully replied.
"Oh, don't forget to show him this, Akira," Izumi reminded her as she came over and unabashedly pulled the sarong off of her, revealing a rather modest bikini bottom.
Once again, Akira was forced to use her hands as she embarrassingly tried to cover up the exposed area.
"Don't try to hide it," Takumi now confidently stated. "I think it looks really good on you."
"You… you do?"
"Absolutely," he reassured her, stepping closer as he then looked into her eyes. "You look really beautiful. I honestly mean that."
A tear had now formed in Akira's eye as she gazed upon him, stunned by his remarkable candor.
"I'm sorry if I upset you earlier," he now apologized.
"Huh?" she seemed caught off guard, not even remembering that minor incident.
"It was pretty selfish of me. I'm really sorry."
"Oh, ah, don't worry about it. I wasn't upset. It was nothing, really."
"Really? Oh I'm so glad."
Intrigued by their frank discussion, the others continued to watch the two with intent as they now silently stood gazing lovingly into each other's eyes.
Unable to resist, Izumi took out her cell phone and proceeded to snap a picture of the two in their frozen moment of time.
"Aww, you two look so cute together," Izumi commented as she took another picture.
Mai then came up to Akira and whispered, "You see, I told you. Now wasn't that worth it?"
Akira simply smiled and gave Mai a look of appreciation.
"All right, girls," Mai announced. "I think the boys have seen enough for now, and judging by their reactions I think they approve of our selections. So once we change and pay for everything, we can go. You guys have been very patient with us and we appreciate it. So do you have any preference as to where you want to go after this?"
The boys just looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, not too certain where they wanted to go.
"How about karaoke?" Izumi suggested. "I mean, we didn't exactly get to do any singing last night after that ordeal."
"Why, what happened last night?" Mai wondered.
"Uh, it was nothing really, sis," Takumi tried to brush it off, not wishing to talk about it.
"I'll tell you later, Mai-san," Izumi eagerly replied as she then looked to the boys. "So, how about it? Karaoke sound good to you?"
The boys once again looked at each other, then finally nodded in agreement.
"It's okay by us," Hiroki replied.
"Great, then it's settled; karaoke it is." Mai satisfactorily stated as she then turned to Izumi and curiously asked, "Okay, now what happened last night?"
"I'm telling you it was nothing," Takumi persisted. "The whole thing was just a misunderstanding."
"A misunderstanding, yes, but I wouldn't exactly call it nothing," Izumi countered. "I mean, that was a pretty serious fight."
"You two had a fight?" Mai inquisitively asked with great interest. "So who started it? Was it your first one?"
"Sis, that's none of your business," Takumi denounced.
"It was actually my fault," Izumi confessed. "But once they had made up, that's when things really started to heat up, if you know what I mean."
"Reeeally, Mai listened with bated breath. "I didn't know you had it in you, Takumi."
"Uh, no it… it's not like that, sis," Takumi tried to explain.
"I wish you could have been there, Mai-san," Izumi continued, "when I walked in on them they were…"
"IZUMI!" both Takumi and Akira loudly protested.
"Heh heh heh," she mischievously snickered.
For the remainder of their evening, the six friends ended up embarrassing themselves at karaoke, although the girls seemed to be faring better than their male counterparts when it came to singing on key. Everyone, particularly Takumi, was extremely surprised at how great Akira's voice sounded. Once she got over the initial shyness, she blew everyone away with her rendition of 'Tomorrow', the opening theme from the anime 'Full Metal Panic!'. Takumi actually held his own when he joined Akira in a duet of the awe-inspiring 'Yume no Tsubasa' from the 'Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle' anime. Afterwards, Hiroki called his chauffeur and had him pick them up.
Now pulling up in front of Akira's home in a large SUV, the six disembarked and stood alongside the vehicle as they prepared to say their good-byes.
"It's a shame that you two have to go back so soon," Izumi remarked to Mai and Yuichi, "you just got here. You're a lot of fun to go shopping with, Mai-san, and to just hang out with in general."
"Thanks, Izumi-san, I had a lot of fun hanging with you too."
As they gave each other a farewell hug, Hiroki and Yuichi then also wished each other well.
Now turning her attention to Takumi and Akira, Izumi sadly lamented, "I'm really going to miss you guys. These past few days went by way too fast. You sure you two don't want to transfer schools and move back here? I promise I won't cause you guys any more trouble."
"But that's what makes you so much fun to be with," Takumi pointed out.
"Yeah," Akira agreed. "There's never a dull moment when you're around. You always bring a sense of excitement into our lives."
Giving her friend a hug, Izumi then reciprocated the gesture with Takumi.
"Well, Akira," Hiroki began, "even though things didn't work out between us, I'm not the least bit disappointed. I think you found the perfect soul mate in Takumi-san."
"Thank you, Hiroki-san," Takumi gratefully replied as Akira placed her arm around his waist.
"Mine, as it turns out, has been right under my nose this whole time," Hiroki indicated, placing his arm around Izumi and pulling her in close by his side.
"Hiroki," Izumi affectionately said, resting her head upon his shoulder.
"I'm so thrilled for you two," Akira happily stated. "I never would have even guessed that you guys would become an item. This one here on the other hand," referring to Takumi, "realized it from day one."
"And we're so glad that he did," Izumi replied.
"Yeah," Hiroki pleasantly concurred, then added, "I think that you'll make a fine psychologist some day, Takumi-san."
Takumi smiled at his kind-hearted compliment as Izumi began to get teary-eyed. Once more she gave Takumi and then Akira a final farewell hug.
"Stay in touch," Hiroki requested of Takumi. "Maybe we can get together again during spring break."
"I'd like that. Likewise you two could come and visit us sometime. We could make a double date of it."
"Sounds like a plan," Hiroki affably agreed, then, looking around making sure no one could hear, he took Takumi off to the side and inquisitively asked, "So what exactly did happen between you and Akira last night? Is what Izumi said true? Did you…"
"No, no, we ahh…" Takumi awkwardly tried to explain. "I mean, nothing happened. It's just that…"
"You got caught with your pants down?"
"Uhh… how did you…"
"Izumi told me."
"Figures," Takumi sighed.
"Heh heh," Hiroki playfully jabbed him in the side. "You sly dog."
"Akira, the cab will be here in ten minutes," Takumi called to her from outside her bathroom the following morning. "Mai and Yuichi are already waiting downstairs."
"Be out in a minute."
Noticing the plushie that he had gotten for her the other night sitting on her dresser, Takumi inquired, "Did you want to take this Sasuke plushie with you or leave it here?"
"Oh, I thought I had packed that. Just throw it in my suitcase for me."
Opening the suitcase, which was lying on her bed, Takumi set it alongside her other belongings when he suddenly noticed a familiar ruffled material sticking out. Partially lifting up on the corner of one her blouses, he immediately recognized the black and white fabric as being that of the maid's outfit from the night before. A huge grin now appeared on his face as he then closed the suitcase back up.
"What are you so happy about?" Akira curiously asked, coming out of the bathroom.
Akira was completely caught off guard as Takumi came up to her and threw his arms around her in an affectionate hug.
"You're the best, Akira. I love you so much."
"Uh, I love you too, Takumi," she said rather confusingly but then returned the affection. "So what brought this on?"
"Oh, nothing in particular. I just wanted you to know how much you truly mean to me."
"Aww, that's really sweet of you. But instead of telling me," she sensually replied, "why not just show me how you really feel."
"Akira! Takumi! The cab's here," Mai called to them as she now entered the room, stunned, but yet intrigued when she witnessed them in a passionate display of affection. "Well, Izumi-san was right. You two really can't keep your hands off of each other."
"Yup, no doubt about it," Mai amusingly concluded. "You two are definitely destined for a most unusual relationship."