Hey, guys. Sorry about the extremely long wait in Rutilus. I have the chapter almost complete, but I needed to take a breather from the plot. All I have to do is look it over and then it will be ready for submittence.
This is something completely different. I actually took the plot from a short story I read several years back. I decided to do this just as a short story kind of thing. I promise Rutilus will be updated very, very soon. So read this while it is getting finished. Hopefully it will somewhat quench your Hitomi and Van needs.
The short story is originally by Todd Strasser entitled "Fairy Tale". I don't claim any of this plot or characters. I'm just using them for the cuteness of this story.
Hitomi Kanzaki's stepmother, Selena, was hardly any mother at all. She may have lived in a large and fancy apartment on Park Avenue, but it didn't help her disposition one bit. She still had a lot of unresolved anger toward her first husband and it manifested itself in two ways: compulsive shopping and meanness toward her new stepdaughter.
"Hitomi darling," Selena would say after dinner, thoughtfully lifting a bright red fingernail to her bright red lips. "Would you be a dear and do the dishes and take out the garbage and straighten up the kitchen?"
Selena seemed to believe that as long as she called Hitomi "darling" and "dear" she could make her do all the housework she wanted.
Hitomi always complied. This stepfamily deal was also new to her and she didn't want to make trouble, especially since her father was in Europe and the Far East most of the time doing something with petrodollars.
But after weeks of doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen every night, Hitomi finally asked hesitantly, "Why can't Millerna do it once in a while?"
Millerna was Selena's daughter, the same age as Hitomi. But that's where the similarity ended. While Hitomi was slim and had an smooth tan complexion from her track meets in the sun, Millerna weighed 170 pounds (and counting) and had monster zits.
Selena's massacred eyes narrowed into slits. "Millerna has a condition."
"Yeah, dish soap gives me hives," Millerna whined--- her normal tone of voice.
Hitomi had never heard of a condition that prevented someone from doing the dishes, but she wasn't surprised. Millerna was a raving hypochondriac and Selena pampered her to the extreme.
In the kitchen Hitomi pulled on yellow Playtex gloves. It wasn't so bad, really. Selena ordered out every night, so there were no pots, just glasses and plates to be rinsed and put in the dishwasher. And leftovers to be saved in the refrigerator for Millerna's multiple late-night snacks. Hitomi's own mother, who's died in a car accident five years earlier, used to order out a lot too. But that was because she worked full time. Selena didn't work. She just shopped.
Hitomi was sweeping the kitchen floor when Millerna came in for her first snack. It wasn't even half an hour since dinner, and at dinner she inhaled two egg rolls, an order of steamed dumplings, an order of sweet-and-sour pork, a whole big bag of Chinese noodles and a Dove Bar for dessert. Millerna opened the refrigerator and rooted around for a while before coming up with a half a family-sized bag of peanut M & M's.
"The fall Cotillion is in two weeks," she said, popping five M & M's into her mouth at once.
"What's that?" Hitomi asked as she bent down to sweep under the cabinets.
"It's this dance they hold at school every fall. Everyone gets dressed up. This year the theme is masquerade."
"Sounds divine." Hitomi said monotone.
"Too bad you can't go," Millerna sighed as she dug her chubby hand further into the bag.
"Huh? Why not?"
"Well, Mom and your father are going away for the weekend and someone has to let Merle outside at exactly eleven o'clock or you know what happens."
Merle was Selena's neurotic tabby cat who had to be let outside four times a day like clockwork or she'll head for the most expensive Persian rug in the house and do it there out of spite. Hitomi assumed the cat had its own reasons for wanting to torture her owner.
"How come I have to do it?" Hitomi asked, leaning the broom on the counter and crossing her arms.
"Because I can't." Millerna said, downing another handful of candy. "She claws me if I get too near and I could bleed to death. I'm prone to that, you know."
Hitomi rolled her eyes. "I could go and just leave early, couldn't I?"
"Oh sure," Millerna replied. "Except no one shows up till ten and the school doesn't let dances go past twelve thirty. So if you left to let Merle out, you'd miss the best part."
Nothing seemed to delight Millerna more than giving bad news. She would have made a great weather forecaster.
"Can't we find someone else to do it?" Hitomi asked desperately.
"No way," Millerna grinned evilly. "You know she only comes out of from under the sofa for family members."
How could Hitomi forget? She'd let Merle out at least twice a day since she'd moved in.
"Besides," Millerna continued snidely, "what would you wear? You've got to go in something really fabulous, not the rags you've got in your closet."
"You went through my closet!?" Hitomi was shocked.
"Oh, please." Millerna sighed. "Enough with the Little Miss Innocence routine, okay?" She took the bag of M & M's and went into her king-sized bedroom to watch television and grow fatter. Hitomi bitterly finished sweeping the floor, but was in no rush to go to her room. It was a tiny closet next to the kitchen that had no air-conditioning or TV. Selena, in fact, called it "the maid's room."
Instead, she went out to the living room and sat on the white flower-printed couch next to the window. Hearing a familiar meow from under the sofa, Merle's tabby form crawled out from her hiding spot and gracefully leaped into Hitomi's lap. The short haired girl scratched the cat absentmindedly, smiling as the purring began. Hitomi found that she couldn't blame poor Merle for her unluckiness to have such an owner.
A single tear began to crawl down Hitomi's cheek as she remembered her little suburban town she's grown up in. People were nicer there, softer and more cognizant of each other's feelings.
And they didn't go through your closets.
Hitomi found it difficult to make new friends at the exclusive Gaea School. Everyone had their cliques, and all they talked about were their summer vacations in Europe, their preschool shopping sprees at Bergdorf's, and their weekends dancing all night at L'Image and Tunnel. Even Millerna was in a clique of overweight girls who went around saying cleverly snide things about people and pretending they were Dorothy Parker.
One day Hitomi was eating lunch alone in the dining room (at Gaea the word cafeteria was frowned on) when she heard a low male voice behind her say, "You've got to be strong, Red. They're like sharks here. At the first sign of weakness they'll eat you alive."
Startled, Hitomi turned around and found a tall boy standing behind her. His skin was so tanned; Hitom bet the Greek Gods were his only rivals. Long scraggly black hair obscured most of his face, and he wore several earrings and black eyeliner. His clothes were baggy and all black.
"Were you talking to me?" Hitomi asked in amazement. No one had ever approached her out of free will before.
"Who else, Red?" he said, placing his tray next to hers. "Do you mind the French style of dining? I think it's much more civilized than staring at each other with food dripping off our chins."
Hitom shook her head in astonishment as the boy placed his tray next to hers and sat down with a great flourish of arms and legs. His tray contained a single cup of lemon yogurt.
"I was born Van Slanzar de Fanel, but you can call me Van." He said. "And don't bother telling me your story, Red. It's always the same. You're the victim of a divorce and remarriage, cast unto these opulent premises by absentee parents who can't remember why they had children in the first place."
"Right on the dot." Hitomi giggled. "And what's your story?"
Van smiled and all his teeth shinned brightly in the florescent lighting. "I'm the illegitimate son of Calvin Klein."
Hitomi soon learned that straight answers were not something Van specialized in. Just who his parents were and how he came to Gaea School remained a mystery, but he was friendly and clever and never failed to make her laugh. She also discovered that she had several classes with him and that's how he had noticed her.
"You looked so pitiful in this socially acquired system," Van exclaimed one day during one of their classes when she had asked of him first approaching her. "And I seem to stick with the lesser in the school."
"Well, that's good for me!" Hitomi laughed. "At least now I have a friend besides my stepmother's cat."
She asked him why he called her "Red" and he shrugged saying it was the color of her hair.
Within only a few days, they became best friends.
"The key to a successful year at Gaea is the cotillion," Van said one day after school as they window-shopped along Madison Avenue. "The current cliques are all holdovers from last year. Everyone's waiting for the cotillion to see who this year's stars will be."
"Stars?" Hitomi asked, skeptically.
"Oh, absolutely, Red. The cotillion sets the tone for the whole year. I mean, if you come back from a Caribbean Christmas vacation with a truly spectacular tan, or a story about meeting someone from the royal family, you might move up a few notches, but otherwise the cotillion etches your fate in stone."
"It's all in who asks you to dance, Red."
They stopped outside Ungaro's, the French fashion store. The mannequins were draped in fabulous off-the-shoulder black evening dresses. Hitomi pictured herself wearing one to the cotillion, but it was a silly fantasy. She couldn't afford a dress like that and she had to let Merle out anyway.
"Something wrong, Red?" Van asked his obscured eyebrows hitched with concern.
"It's so depressing," Hitomi said with a shrug. "Everything in New York is so competitive. Its like distilled down to the rawest animal instincts. But instead of survival of the fittest, it's survival of the richest and most beautiful."
"So what else is new?" Van smirked.
"Suppose I don't want to compete?" Hitomi asked. "Suppose I don't even want to go to the cotillion because I think it's silly and superficial? Does that automatically mean I'll be an outcast?"
Van smiled widely showing all his teeth. "No, Red. It only means you're chicken."
Millerna stayed out of school for two days while she and Selena shopped around town for the perfect cotillion costume gown. At Gaea, Hitomi wandered glumly through her classes, trying to convince herself that it didn't matter.
One afternoon she sat with Van in the library while he critiqued each person who entered through the sculpted wooden doors.
"Now, that's what you call a unibrow," Van whispered about a girl whose dark eyebrows joined above the bridge of her nose. "Retro-caveperson chic."
Hitomi smiled weakly.
"Why the mope, Red?" Van asked.
"Oh, I don't know," she replied. "I guess I hate myself for being afraid to go to the dance, but at the same time I hate myself for even caring about it in the first place."
"Ah." Van raised a strong finger. "The classic approach-avoidance conflict."
"What should I do?" Hitomi turned to Van in her chair. Without thinking, she grabbed his upraised hand as she turned her pleading eyes unto his dark ones. She noticed that his hands were warm and comforting. Soft, yet… rough.
Strangely enough, Van started turning red.
"I-I.." He uncharacteristically stumbled with his words.
But before Van could answer fully, the doors to the library swung open again and a tall young man came in. He had broad shoulders and bright blonde hair and blue eyes. Everyone in the library seemed to stop what they were doing to stare at him, Hitomi, still holding onto Van's hand, included.
"Who's that?" She whispered trying to breathe properly in the wake of such beauty.
"Allen Crusade Schezar the Eighth," Van whispered following her stare. "Captain of the lacrosse team. Heir to the Harkness water bed fortune. Around school they call him The One."
"The One?" Hitomi asked, letting go of Van's hand to unconsciously smooth her hair down in case he looked her way.
"The one every girl wants." The auburn haired girl didn't notice the different notch in Van's voice.
"He must have a girlfriend." Hitomi said, gazed still fixed on Allen.
"He was seeing some girl named Marlene last year, but she went to Greece over the summer and hasn't come back." Van answered watching Hitomi with deep eyes.
"Will he be at the cotillion?" Hitomi asked turning her eyes back on Van.
His eyebrows went up as he gave a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Do I sense that approach is suddenly outweighing avoidance?"
That night Millerna tried on her costume, which she and Selena had picked up at Bendel's for a small fortune, along with shoes and a mask. The dress was made of fluffy pink and yellow feathers with longer plumes around the shoulders. The shoes and mask were red. The total effect, Hitomi thought, made Millerna look like a large pink-and-yellow chicken.
"Fabulous!" Selena gasped.
"Scrumptious," Hitomi added as she swept the kitchen floor.
Millerna beamed. In a rare moment of magnanimity she said to Hitomi, "I hope you don't feel bad about not going. It's just a silly dance."
"Oh, I know it is," Hitomi said, putting the broom in the closet and heading for the front door.
"Where are you going?" Selena asked sharply.
"Uh, over to a friend's house to help him with his geography," Hitomi said.
"Well, just make sure your home in time to let Merle out," Selena said.
Moments later Hitomi hurried through the night toward the address on Lexington Avenue Van had given her. Most of the shops were closed and as Hitomi walked she imagined muggers lurching out of the dark shadows on the sidewalk. She was frightened by every move and sound. Finally she came to a darkened storefront protected by a heavy iron gate. The sign above the gate said "Lexington Thrift Shop. In the window Hitomi could make out an old dresser, a black hat with a veil, and some dusty plates.
She heard the rapping of leather shoes against the pavement and spun around. A dark figure covered with a cape came toward her. Hitomi cowered in fright.
"Lovely night, don't you think?" Van pulled the hood off the cape grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
"You jerk!" Hitomi pushed his chest playfully. "You did that on purpose."
Not answering, but still smiling widely from his joke, Van took out a set of keys and began undoing the locks on the iron gate. It squeaked and clattered as he pulled it up just high enough to duck underneath. Hiotmi hesitated.
"Don't worry," Van said. "My mother does volunteer work here three days a week. Just remember, whatever we borrow we must return."
Hitomi ducked under the gate and stepped into the darkened shop. It smelled musty like an old attic and was filled with furniture, kitchenware, and clothing.
"This way," Van whispered, grabbing her hand and leading her through the dark. His hands were warm again.
A footstool that Van forgot to say was up head caught Hitomi's foot and she felt her balance give. Letting out a shout, Hitomi wrapped her arms around the back of Van's tall shoulders to keep herself upright.
"Whoa, careful." Van said turning to steady her with his arms. Looking into his eyes, Hitomi felt a strange jolt in her stomach. His hands were strong against her skin. This close to him she could smell a strange scent; almost like a cologne.
His face went red again as he cleared his throat. "You okay?" He asked. His voice was a slightly different pitch.
"Yeah." Hitomi answered breathlessly. His smell was dulling her brain.
"Steer clear of the debris, please." He joked as he turned back around to continue the journey through the store.
He grabbed her hand again.
She followed him down the stairs into the basement. Van let go of her hand and flicked on a light. Hitomi found herself in a room filled with oil paintings in gilt frames, antique tables and chairs, and marble sculptures. Along one wall stood a rack of garment bags. Van pulled one open and Hitomi gasped. Inside were beautiful old evening dresses.
Van opened more bags. Inside here the most beautiful dresses Hitomi had ever seen. Some were made of satin, taffeta, and lace. Others had thick crinolines. The dresses were old, but most were in almost perfect condition.
"What are they doing here?" Hitomi asked in amazement.
"Donated years ago for tax write-offs," Van said. "But the people who shop here have no use for stuff like this, so it sits around forever."
"Amazing." Hitomi gasped.
"No, rather sad actually," Van muttered.
On the afternoon of the cotillion Millerna left school early complaining of hot flashes. She spent the entire afternoon and evening primping in front of the mirror. Then, just before it was time to go, she decided her new red shoes were all wrong. For the next half hour she hopped around the apartment in her chicken outfit trying to find another pair with the right look and fit.
"Oh, it's hopeless!" she wailed. "The ones that look right don't fit and the ones that fit don't look right."
"Bergdorf's is open late," Selena shouted from the corner of Millerna's closet. "If we hurry, we can make it!"
As mother and daughter rushed for the door, Selena turned to Hitomi and said, "There's a frozen chicken pot pie in the refrigerator for dinner, darling. And don't forget to be a dear and clean the kitchen and let Merle outside."
As soon as the door closed Hitomi ran to the phone and called Van's house. "They left."
"I'll be right over," Van said.
Van arrived carrying a Val-Pak with Hitomi's dress inside. He was wearin a black tux with a white wing collar shirt. Instead of a bow tie, he had on a western string tie, and he's slicked his hair back with some form of hair gel. He had no eyeliner and nothing to block his face from view. Hitomi blinked. With all the hair out of his face he was a very good looking guy.
"What is it?" Van asked from the doorway.
"Oh, nothing," Hitomi said quickly, averting her gaze and feeling her cheeks go hot.
Van let himself in and took the dress out of the bag. It was strapless, made of shimmering red silk, with a long pleated skirt. Hitomi tried it on in the bathroom as Van took a seat on the white sofa. She took her short cropped hair and, with Millerna's curling iron, pinned it up with curls coming down the back of her head. Hurrying to her stepmother's room, she applied Selena's expensive makeup carefully. Staring at herself in the mirror, she thought she looked good. Not spectacular, but certainly presentable.
She heard Van's voice from the living room. "Come on, let's see."
Hitomi straightened her shoulders. With one last glimpse in the mirror, she stepped out of the room and down the hallway. Van was sitting on the couch where she had left him; Merle purring quietly on his lap. His eyes went wide once he saw her.
"You look… wonderful." He said his voice was low and warm.
"I look okay." Hitomi corrected him.
"But we can make you even better than okay. I'm not through just yet!" Van said leaping off the couch and accidentally throwing poor Merle off his lap. Reaching into his Val-Pak, he pulled something glittering out of it. Hitomi gasped. It was the most beautiful diamond-and-ruby necklace she's ever seen.
"Where did you get it?" she asked, awestruck.
"It was lying around my mom's dresser," Van said, reaching into the pouch again. "Here's the matching bracelet and earrings."
Hitomi held up the necklace and watched it shimmer in the bathroom light. The only place she'd ever seen jewelry like this was in magazines. "Is it real?"
"Be serious," Van said. "Mom keeps her real jewels in a vault. There are just the best fakes money can buy."
It didn't matter. Hitomi put them on and turned to Van for confirmation.
"Much better than okay!" He announced picking Merle up and stroking her again. "You look divine. God, what a beautiful neck you have."
"Oh, and don't forget this," Van said, reaching down with one hand to pull out a red, bejeweled mask out of the pouch.
Hitomi took the mask and held it up to her face.
Van smiled at her and shook his head. "You look like someone from a movie."
"I feel so weird." Hitomi admitted.
"Well, we need to get going." Van said setting Merle down and glancing at his watch.
Hitomi pulled the mask from her face. "Wait. What about shoes?"
"Don't you have shoes?" Van asked tensely.
"No. I thought you were bringing them."
"Oh, stars." Van groaned.
They searched through Hitomi's closet, but all she had were sneakers and flats. Next they tried Selena's closet, but her heels were too long. Finally they looked in Millerna's closet.
"What about these?" Van asked, holding up the new red shoes. "The color's perfect."
Hitomi tried them on. "They're three sizes too big."
"Don't worry," Van said quickly. "We'll stuff the toes with newspaper."
A few moments later they were walking quickly toward Gaea. Hitomi wore sneakers and carried the red shoes in a D'Agostino shopping bag.
"I can't believe how nervous I am," she said.
"It's natural," Van said.
"But I don't even like dances," she whined.
"No one does."
"Then let's not go." Hitomi started to turn but Van grabbed her arm.
"If we don't go," he said deadly serious, "then the jerks who do will think they're better than us."
"So tonight you show them," Van said. "Then tomorrow you can tell them to go to Hades."
A small smile formed on her lips as she realized he was right. Half of her cared and half of her didn't. But what the heck, she was already dressed.
The Gaea gymnasium was decorated with blue and pink balloons and streamers. A mirror ball hanging from the ceiling sent stars sweeping across the costumed dancers as a loud band played. In the girls' room outside the gym, Hitomi stuffed the toes of Millerna's shoes with tissue paper. Then she and Van put on their masks and joined the crowd.
That evening Hitomi danced with pirates, princes, policemen, and penguins. Her picture was taken for the school newspaper and yearbook. At one point she saw Millerna huddled with her friends, glancing at her and whispering. Behind her mask, her identity still unknown, she had become the object of jealousy. At Gaea there was no higher form of flattery.
During a break at the punch table she giggled with Van.
"You're the hit of the cotillion, Red," he whispered. "Everyone's dying to find out who you are."
"They'll be disappointed," Hitomi whispered back. She leaned her head close to his to catch what he was going to say as the music began again. The tune was a slow one. He smelled of cologne. This time it was much stronger. Hitomi breathed in deep.
"I don't think so…" she saw him mouth and they both smiled at each other.
Just as she was about to lean closer, Hitomi felt a finger tap her on the shoulder. She turned and found a tall broad-shouldered boy in a Lone Ranger costume. Gazing into the steel-blue contact lenses behind the mask, she realized he was Allen Schezar: The One.
"Wanna dance?" he asked, holding out a hand.
"Love to," she said automatically, stunned by his approach.
The One danced divinely, sweeping her across the floor, twirling and spinning her gracefully. She loved the feeling of his arms around her, and the way the other dancers made room for them wherever their feet led.
"So can I see who's behind the mask?" Allen asked as he twirled her around again.
"That depends," she replied, breaking her eyes away from his strong blue to look for Van.
"Oh, I get it," Allen said. Hitomi looked back at him puzzled. What did he get?
The band continued their song as The One gathered her closer into his arms. "I'm getting a red BMW convertible for my eighteenth birthday," he told her.
Still searching for Van, Hitomi answered monotone, "Wonderful, I've never ridden in one."
"My family has a house in Virgin Gorda." He said.
She looked at him this time wondering why he was telling her this. She decided to answer as politely as possible. "I hear it's beautiful there.
"My grandfather just donated a laboratory to Brown," Allen continued. "I've only got a C average, but I'm a shoo-in."
"Great school." Hitomi said half sarcastically. Was this guy trying to impress her or something?
The song ended and Hitomi continued her search for Van over Allen's shoulder.
"Is it time to see who you are?" Allen asked hopefully.
Time, Hitomi thought. Suddenly she looked at her watch. It was ten forty-eight. In twelve minutes Merle was going to drench the Persian rug! Hiotmi dashed out of the dance. Behind her she heard The One shout for her to wait, but there was no time to explain. As she ran, one of her shoes flew off, but she didn't stop to retrieve it. In the girl's room she threw on her sneakers. A moment later she was sprinting toward Park Avenue, red dress and all.
The grandfather clock was tolling eleven as she let herself into the apartment. In the living room Merle was just beginning to squat. Hitomi grabbed the cat around the middle and put her outside just in time.
On Monday the school was abuzz about the mystery girl in the red gown. Who was she? Where had she come from? Where had she gone? Hitomi had called Van several times a day during the weekend, but he didn't answer. Her worries grew as she didn't see him in the first part of classes too.
At lunch though, she heard a low sigh sound behind her as a tray slid over to hers. Sitting down, Van's hair was drooping even more into his face.
"Where have you been?" Hitomi cried out reaching her arms around his shoulders to give him a hug. "I called and called and you never answered. Why did you disappear at the dance?"
"You were with The One. I didn't want to disrupt you, Red." Van answered, his voice had no emotion. "And about this weekend, I thought you'd be busy with him."
"I had to leave early because of Merle, remember?" Hitomi said letting him go and dropping her arms to the table "And I would have liked to see you this weekend, not him."
"I'm sorry for making you worry, Red." Van said with a sigh. "You won't believe this though." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Allen Schezar is going around school with your shoe asking every girl to try it on. He swears he's madly in love with the owner and has to find her."
"You're kidding!" Hitomi exclaimed.
But no sooner were the words out of her mouth The One appeared in front of them with the red shoe. He gazed deeply into her eyes and she felt Van look away from them both. A crowd began to form around the table.
"Were you at the dance?" Allen asked.
"Yes," Hitomi answered.
"Did you wear a red gown?"
The One looked down at her feet and then back into her eyes. "Would you try this shoe on?"
"Okay." Hitomi slipped off her sneaker and Allen slid the shoe on.
"It fits!" he cried to the crowd and all around them everyone gasped.
As Allen Crusade Schezar the Eighth reached up for her hand, Hitomi glanced back at Van. He smiled slightly, but his eyes were heartbroken. Hitomi felt a pain of sadness reach her heart. Through all of this, Van had always been there.
The auburn haired girl back at The One, who was now on his knees.
"I can't believe I found you," he said excitedly. His blonde hair shone brightly in the florescent lighting. "I want you to ride in my BMW. I want you to fly with me to Virgin Gorda. I'll ask my grandfather to donate another lab to Brown so you can go there too."
Van started to get up. Hitomi watched him side his tray away from hers. He had been her friend when no one else was interested. He had given her the gown and the jewels. More than that, he's given her the courage to go to the dance.
"Wait," Hitomi said, sliding the shoe off and pulling out the tissue paper. "Someone stuffed paper in the toe. See? It really doesn't fit me at all."
The One took the shoe back. "Then who…?"
"Come to think of it," Hitomi said, "it looks just like my stepsister Millerna's shoe. Why don't you try her?"
Scowling, The One stood up and went off in search of Millerna. The crowd followed him, leaving Hitomi behind with Van.
Van looked stunned. "B-but he's The One."
Hitomi turned to him and leaned close. Smiling, she brushed her lips softly to his.
Van's eyes were wide as she back away from him slowly. A small smile began to form on his lips.
"Not for me he isn't." she said.
Hoped you liked it. Review and tell me whatcha think.
Like I said, Rutilus will be updated very soon. No need to worry!