I'm not changing the rating on this because frankly I don't think I should or need to. There is an allusion to something more mature later in this chapter but nothing really bad. I've read a lot worse in the rates 'T' category- things that should be in M but aren't but if people complain I'll consider it. So anyway the conclusion to 'Fleeting Like Fireworks'. I hope you all enjoy and please review at the end. It's a long one- longest I believe of this alternate reality sorta series I've created. As always this is loosely edited (damn my laziness) so if there is anything huge let me know and I'll repost. That's all! Enjoy!

P.S- a fun note here, all of Clay's friends are names after horses from the farm I ride out. It came out of no where but after I named the first two I decided to keep up the theme. Stupid I know but I enjoyed it!


Everything seemed frozen. Even the birds in the trees seemed to be silent, suspended in time by what had just happened. The only movement that had occurred was Kimiko clasping her hands over her mouth as her eyes locked on Raimundo's shocked form. Kimiko was trying hard to will what she had just said away but wasn't succeeding. This was not the way everything was suppose to come out. She was supposed to go with him to Rio and see his family with him, go with him to his sister's wedding. She was going to wait till after all that was through. Why had it come out now? And like that?

"I," Rai trailed off, "what?"

"I, I didn't mean that," Kimiko said pulling her hands away from her mouth.

"You didn't mean that?" Rai repeated slowly.

"No I didn't," Kimiko insisted. 'At least not like that,' she added to herself.

"Then what did you mean?" Rai asked in a disbelieving voice.

"Not that, not that at all," Kimiko said shaking her head hard. "I just need some space right now."

"Space? Space how?" Rai tried to clarify still looking slightly shell shocked.

"I," Kimiko trailed off. She couldn't think of anything to make the situation better as much as she desperately wanted to. "I, I think," Kimiko still struggled.

"You want to break up with me?" Raimundo said in a tight voice. The color was returning to his face and Kimiko could tell he was trying hard to contain the hurt turned anger building up inside him. Kimiko didn't respond immediately frustrating Raimundo further. "Come on Kimiko, you just said it a minute ago. Do you want to break up with me?"

"I need some space Raimundo," Kimiko repeated.

"What the hell does that mean Kimiko!" Raimundo snapped.

"Don't yell at me," Kimiko snapped back.

"Help me out here Kimiko!" Rai continued to yell.

"You yelling at me isn't helping!"

"Ok fine, you want space you got space!" Rai said forcefully spinning on his heel and walking away from her.

"Rai please don't go away angry," Kimiko pleaded as she started to follow him. Raimundo suddenly stopped and turned back at her making Kimiko halt hard in her tracks.

"How the hell can't I go away angry Kimiko?" Rai asked his voice lower but still hard with anger. "You just broke up with me without any warning or reason. Is this about what happened a few minutes ago? Cause I apologized and stopped and I hate to say this princess but you were pretty active in that whole thing as well." Kimiko gasped hard at his words. They were partially true but the use of the term 'princess' is what really got her. It was a nickname she'd suffered with in her younger years but Raimundo never used it on her, only when he was truly angry or their fights had gotten out of hand.

"You're right," Kimiko admitted hanging her head, "I'm sorry." She heard Raimundo sigh and practically felt his body let down.

"What do you want Kimiko?" he asked and then added. "From me?"

"I don't know."

"Do you really want to break up?" Rai asked and was answered only by silence. "Cause I don't want to break up with you," he said after it appeared she wasn't going to answer, "but if that's what you want then I won't fight you on it. I'll just back out of your life." Kimiko's head shot up and she looked at him with wide frightened eyes.

"No Rai!" she protested. "I don't want you out of my life completely." Rai looked like he was about to respond but stopped and it was his turn to look away. How could Kimiko ask that of him?

"I hate to say this Kimiko," he finally spoke, "but I don't know if I can be friends with you the way I was before." Out of the corner of his eye he could see the pain his words caused streak across her face and he wondered if his own expression mirrored them, but it was the truth. How could he be around her and not want to hold her, kiss her, tell her he loved her? It seemed like an impossible task, it would hurt too much. But in the same instance he couldn't imagine not being near her at all. And seeing her as she was now, in so much visible pain, he couldn't imagine not being there to ease that pain and any other that might come her way-even at the expense of his own happiness.

"I take that back," he said quickly and in one breath. He turned his eyes back on her and the two pairs locked. "If you want some space Kimiko that's fine, I'll give it to you. But do me a favor please and don't call is quits just yet." Kimiko looked close to tearful. Raimundo sensed that there was something she wanted to say but she merely closed her eyes and nodded silently.

"Ok then," Raimundo went on, his voice growing softer. "A break then."

"A break."


"You sure you don't want me to hang back with you?" Clay asked a half an hour later as Kimiko climbed out of the front of the truck.

"No I'm fine Clay," Kimiko shook her head. "Go spend more time with the others. I'll feel better once I get out of the sun and close my eyes."

"Yeah, sun sickness is no fun," Clay agreed knowing that Kimiko was flat out lying. Something had happened between her and Raimundo who had been walking around the edge of the pond by himself when Clay had driven off with Kimiko who he'd found at the truck. She'd asked him to bring her back to the ranch claiming that she'd had too much sun. "You sure you'll be ok?" Clay asked still concerned.

"Yeah, fine," Kimiko assured. "Go back and have fun. I'll see you guys later."

"Ok then, just make yourself at home," Clay said turning the engine over again.

"Thanks," Kimiko smiled an empty smile and then watched him out of sight before turning back and walking in the house. The house was quiet and seemed to be empty as Kimiko guessed it would be. She hadn't seen Jessie all morning and knew that Daddy Baliey would be out working on the farm, as would Mrs. Bailey.

"Someone there?" a voice asked.

"Um yeah, it's Kimiko," Kimiko answered following the voice into the kitchen. Jessie stared back at her when she entered.

"I thought Clay and you guys were going to the pond this afternoon?" Jessie asked.

"I came back early," Kimiko shrugged.

"Ok then," Jessie returned the shrug. "I'm just getting some lunch, you want some?" Kimiko glanced at the clock noticing it was just about three. "Ok, so a late lunch," Jessie shrugged again following Kimiko's eyes.

"So what have you been up to all day?" Kimiko asked politely.

"Working on my bike," Jessie answered plainly.

"Like a mountain bike?" Kimiko asked slightly intrigued.

"No," Jessie laughed, "like a motorcycle."

"Oh," Kimiko replied embarrassed.

"So," Jessie pressed and Kimiko gave her a confused look.


"Never mind," Jessie waved it off and then stood. "I'm heading over to my friend Cynthia's house for a bit if anyone asks."

"Have fun," Kimiko told her as Jessie walked past. The blonde nodded and then paused to look back at Kimiko.

"You ok?" Jessie asked.

"What do you mean?" Kimiko asked immediately.

"You just seem, I don't know, depressed or something," Jessie said folding her arms in front of her and giving her head a curious turn.

"No offense but that's a lot to assume of someone you barely know," Kimiko narrowed her eyes slightly.

"Hey," Jessie answered defensively, "I'm just asking cause you seem a bit down is all."

"I'm sorry," Kimiko apologized. "I didn't mean to snap. It's just," she trailed off unable to finish.

"As long as I don't have to worry about leaving you alone or anything like that," Jessie replied. "Anything I can help with?"

"No, I just need some rest I think," Kimiko lied.

"Ok then, but let me know if you need anything," Jessie said walking out. Kimiko thanked her softly as she left surprised by the action. The way that Clay had sometimes described Jessie Kimiko had the impression that the girl could be selfish but here she was offering help and comfort to someone who was close to being a complete stranger.

"Thanks," Kimiko repeated to the now empty house and wondered where to go from here.


"Yo!" a voice echoed through the empty house waking Kimiko with a start. She glanced at the clock by her bed and blinked wearily. She'd only been napping for about a half an hour but it had been an immediately deep sleep. "Anyone home!" the voice called again. With a groggy groan Kimiko climbed off of her bed and took a quick look in the mirror before stepping out into the hallway.

"I don't think anyone is here," a female voice said in a softer tone as Kimiko approached.

"Um hello?" Kimiko asked walking into the living room. Three teens that looked about her age stared back at her. "Can I help you?" Kimiko asked when the three just continued to stare. The lone girl in the trio, a tiny dirty blonde, smacked her palm to her forehead.

"Duh!" she exclaimed. "Clay's friends from New York were coming into town for the fourth."

"Um," Kimiko started to say but one of the boys, a tall solid looking blonde haired green eyed boy broke in.

"Can't believe we forgot that," he grinned sheepishly.

"Blame Clay, he didn't introduce us," the other boy, a shorter dark haired, possibly Hispanic boy, added.

"Um can I help you?" Kimiko repeated, not liking that she was being ignored.

"Sorry," the girl apologized. "I'm Missy," she introduced herself. "This is Cooper," she said pointing to the darker haired boy. "And this is Pete," she indicated the blonde.

"But everyone calls me Tucker," he said glaring at the girl and then explained to Kimiko, "that's my last name."

"I'm Kimiko," she replied slightly surprised. Clay hadn't mentioned that his friends were coming around.

"So where's Clay?" Cooper asked looking around.

"He and the others are still at the lake," Kimiko explained. The three blinked at her. "I came back early," Kimiko explained guessing what their questioning looks were in regards to her.

"You guys just want to wait?" Missy asked looking amongst the three.

"Makes sense," Tucker shrugged.

"But who knows how long it'll be till he comes back?" Cooper asked and the three turned their eyes on Kimiko.

"She might," Missy observed.

"Please don't talk about me like I'm not here," Kimiko said pursing her lips and looking annoyed.

"Well do you know?" Cooper asked.

"Don't be rude," Tucker told him and the three became enveloped in a conversation amongst themselves again. Kimiko rolled her eyes and was debating whether they would notice if she left to resume her nap when the door opened up again.

"What are you lot doing here?" Clay's loud voice asked and the subtle pounding in Kimiko's temple's suddenly worsened.

"Real nice Clay," Cooper said shaking his head.

"What?" Clay asked indignantly.

"We just stopped by to say hello and see if you wanted to hang out but if you're too busy with your school friends," Missy trailed off sounding indignant.

"Guilt trip much?" Clay asked and Kimiko shook her head. "I guess you guys have met Kimiko?" Clay asked motioning at Kimiko who raised an annoyed eyebrow that clearly said she didn't want to deal with this right now.

"Yeah," Missy said indifferently and then turned on Clay. "So what's up with keeping us from your school friends Clay?" Kimiko shot Clay a look to let him know that she had the impression that Missy was a complete flake.

"Don't be doing this now," Clay shook his head.

"Hey what's the big idea with leaving me in the car?" another new voice asked and everyone turned their attention to the new comer.

"Sorry about that Luca," Tucker apologized, "we were just trying to find Clay."

"Yeah, I noticed him pull up a minute ago," the boy, Luca, said sticking his hands in his jeans pockets. "Do you know your friends can't get the bed of your truck down?"

"Damn that thing sticks sometimes," Clay said but Luca's attention clearly wasn't on Clay. He was looking hard past him to where Kimiko watched everything indifferently.

"Who's the cutie?" Luca asked stepping forward. Kimiko looked increasingly annoyed and wondered what was going on. Suddenly Luca was in front of her, taking her hand and shaking it. "I'm Luca, and you are?"

"Slightly perturbed at the moment," Kimiko answered deadpan.

"I like her, she's funny," Tucker smiled.

"Me too," Luca said still holding her hand. Kimiko sent him a questioning look as she attempted to free her hand.

"Hey Clay, we can't get the back of your truck down," another, this time, familiar voice said and Kimiko couldn't stop herself to watch as Raimundo walked in. He stopped at the sight of her, eyes lingering on her face before falling to where her hand was still held tightly in Luca's. Kimiko flushed hard and forcefully pulled her hand from Luca's. Clay's eyes darted between Kimiko and Raimundo but didn't press anything.

"I'll come out and help," Clay said, "but first, Rai, this is Missy, Cooper, Tucker, and Luca." Rai nodded to each and then turned back to walk out of the door.

"Rude," Missy snorted.

"Ah," Clay tried to cover but was distracted when Kimiko mimicked Raimundo's move and turned on her heel and headed back towards the guest room she was staying in.

"Rude too," Missy said as her eyes moved back to Clay.

"Let them be," Clay sighed, "some things up with them at the moment."

"Alright what set Raimundo off?" Keiko asked as she walked into the room looking moody. "Well, set off more," Keiko clarified.

"What's he doing now," Clay asked.

"He stormed off," Jermaine said coming in as well.

"What's going on with those two?" Clay said with a shake of his head. There was a tiny coughing noise and Clay looked around at his 'home' friends. "Guys this is Keiko and Jermaine," he started introductions. "Keiko, Jermaine, this is Missy, Tucker, Cooper, and hey, where'd Luca go?"

"Hey," a voice broke into Kimiko's well earned silence, "you ok?" Kimiko turned, not really listening to the voice and half expected to see Raimundo standing there. She would be lying if she said she wasn't disappointed when she saw Luca. She got a better look at him now and noted that he found be attractive if she even cared with his black hair that fell into dark green eyes. He had about the same build as Raimundo but didn't carry himself the same way and Kimiko found it annoying somehow.

"Fine," she said looking away, not caring if she was rude. She looked back suddenly when there was a weight on the bed beside her. "Can I help you?" Kimiko asked him.

"I was going to ask you that," Luca grinned.

"I don't need this right now," Kimiko said under her breath.

"Hey I'm just concerned about you is all," Luca told her.

"You've known me less than five minutes ago," Kimiko replied, "so that's kind of hard to believe."

"Maybe I'm just a deeply concerned person."

"Maybe I just want to be alone," Kimiko growled slightly angry.

"You're cute when you're angry," Luca commented.

"Out," Kimiko ordered. She didn't care if she was being rude, she didn't not want to deal with anyone at the moment.

"I wouldn't be much of a gentleman if I left you alone while you were upset," Luca argued leaning uncomfortably closer.

"But you wouldn't be much of a gentleman period if you went against a lady's wishes," Keiko said from the doorway. She had the same perturbed look on her face that Kimiko did. She placed her hands on her hips and looked menacing when Luca didn't immediately respond.

"I guess I should go," Luca finally said as he froze under Keiko's glare.

"Yeah you should," Keiko told him walking into the room. "Oh and nice to meet you," she added when he walked out and Keiko shut the door soundly behind him. Keiko then turned on Kimiko. "Now what's with," she didn't finish though because Kimiko had thrown her arms around her and started sobbing hard. Keiko managed to navigate them to the bed and tried once or twice to get her to speak but to no avail. So Keiko just continued to hold her best friend and wonder what the hell was going on.


"Raimundo isn't saying anything," Jermaine said later that night as he and Clay sat at the kitchen table.

"I've noticed," Clay murmured with a sigh. "Just what the hell is going on with those two?"

"More like what isn't going on with them," Keiko said as she walked into the kitchen holding an empty tray that had held hers and Kimiko's dinner earlier.

"What do you mean?" Jermaine asked as Keiko set the tray down on the counter.

"They're taking a break," Keiko answered trying to sound nonchalant.

"A break?" Jermaine tried to clarify.

"They are taking a break but they aren't broken up," Keiko clarified. Jermaine and Clay looked at her and then back to one another.

"Who ever even heard of something like?" Clay asked confused.

"Girls," Jermaine said under his breath.

"What was that?" Keiko growled.

"Nothing," Jermaine quickly shut up.

"So what does that mean?" Clay asked ignoring the two.

"I thought I already explained that," Keiko huffed. The two boys gave her blank looks making Keiko roll her eyes. "They technically aren't going out right now," Keiko explained, "but they aren't broken up either. They're taking a break from one another so that hopefully they can fix whatever is wrong."

"Ok," Clay said, "I'll accept that but answer me this- what is wrong that they need to fix?" The three looked amongst each other.

"That's for Kimiko and Raimundo to deal with," Keiko said finally.

"How can we help them if we don't know that's wrong?" Jermaine asked.

"I don't think we're supposed to help them," Clay reasoned.

"Just acting as normal as possible will probably be the best course of action," Keiko added looking slightly melancholy.

"This wasn't exactly how I planned our vacation," Clay murmured and Keiko looked at him sympathetically.

"There's no way you could have anticipated this." She looked between Clay and Jermaine. "There's no way any of us saw this coming."

"What's Kimiko told you?" Jermaine asked but Keiko was already shaking her head no.

"Anything she told me was in confidence and I can't share with you," Keiko told him. Jermaine looked ready to argue but was interrupted.

"Man, I'm starving," Raimundo said as he walked into the kitchen. "Anything left over from dinner?" Clay recovered first out of the three shocked teens.

"Feel free to raid the fridge," Clay offered.

"Thanks," Rai replied and started to do so. "Your friends leave?" he asked as he searched the refrigerator's contents.

"Yeah, they headed out of here a while ago," Clay answered trying not to sound odd in anyway.

"I feel bad," Rai answered pulling together the making of sandwich. "They going to be around again later?" he asked looking over his shoulder at the three all who jumped when they realized they'd been caught staring.

"Yeah, I think they're coming by tomorrow. If not they'll be around for the party."

"Good," Rai nodded as he made his snack. "I mean they're your friends from home and I'm your roommate at school. I'm sure that there are plenty of horror stories that we can share."

"Hey now!" Clay protested. "That's not nice at all!"

"Ohh, good idea," Keiko grinned. "We can tell them all about that time when Clay had to fill in for the school mascot and."

"That's enough!" Clay interrupted but he was laughing some.

"And I wonder if they know about Hannah?" Jermaine grinned.

"Oh man! You guys are awful!" Clay groaned.

"You know its all in good fun," Rai grinned as the conversation developed into recalling various embarrassing stories from their years at Mercer. Just outside of the kitchen Kimiko stood against the wall listening to the laughs of her friends. She positively ached to join them but couldn't bring herself to do it. After all they'd be out of her reach soon enough, why not start numbing herself to the pain now?


When Keiko went to bed the night before Kimiko had already been asleep, or at least pretending to so Keiko had not tried to talk to her. The truth she was feeling slightly guilty because she had stayed up with the boys for some time, laughing and reminiscing and hadn't thought of Kimiko until she'd excused herself and gone to bed. The guilt had not made for a very fulfilling sleep so when Keiko did finally fall into a deeper sleep it was no surprise that she stayed that way and slept through Kimiko waking and leaving. But when Keiko did wake and dress she found the house mostly empty except for Mrs. Bailey who directed her outside where all her friends were apparently helping Clay finish up his share of the chores.

"Way to wake me up," Keiko accused Jermaine when she approached him.

"Don't blame me just because you're a lazy sleep-o-holic," Jermaine told her and received a hard glare from Keiko for his troubles.

"Where is everyone?" Keiko asked looking around realizing that she and Jermaine were alone.

"Clay dragged Raimundo and Kimiko off somewhere, talking about loose cattle or something."

"Raimundo and Kimiko together?" Keiko asked surprised.

"Yeah, they weren't exactly warm and fuzzy together but they weren't fighting or anything," Jermaine shrugged.

"I need details," Keiko told him getting very in his face.

"Um," Jermaine said uncomfortably. Keiko seemed to realize what was bothering him and rolled her eyes and stepped back.

"Speak," she commanded.

"I'm not a dog," Jermaine complained and Keiko rolled her eyes again. "Fine," Jermaine conceded. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything!" Keiko encouraged.

"Ok then," Jermaine said leaning against the fence Keiko had found him at. "Well, Kimiko was already out with Clay when Raimundo and I got up. She was helping him out I guess, I don't know. It was kind of uncomfortable at first but then Kimiko asked his help on something and it got less tense. They were acting like civil friends. I mean, I can admit that they weren't acting like they used to, even before they were going out but it wasn't horrible. And I guess that's a good thing right?"

"Its something," Keiko admitted with a sigh and then looked around. "So where did they go?"

"I already told you, they went in search of loose cows or something." Their eyes connected when they both realized that they were alone. They'd been alone together plenty of times but recently, every time that it happened the situation had been growing increasingly uncomfortable.

"So yeah," Keiko went on looking everywhere except for at Jermaine, "I guess it's a good thing that those too are getting along well enough."

"Hey Keiko," Jermaine asked almost reluctantly.

"Yeah?" Keiko said looking immediately back at him.

"Um, nothing," Jermaine finally said after a struggling with his words.

"Oh," Keiko said not trying to hide her disappointment.

"Heads up!" a voice warned suddenly out of nowhere and both turned in time to see one of the loose cows Jermaine had been talking about barreling towards them. Keiko let out an involuntary shriek and jumped toward Jermaine who quickly grabbed her and pulled both over the fence and out of the animal's path. They landed in a heap on one another as the ground shook from the animal thundering past. The two looked up in time to see Clay and Kimiko in hot pursuit, but once they were past Keiko collapse back down against Jermaine.

"You ok?" Jermaine asked trying to get his adrenaline in check.

"I was almost killed by a cow, what do you think?"

"Good considering?" Jermaine asked.

"You two ok?" someone asked and both looked up to see Raimundo peering down on them from his horse. He suddenly grinned, almost lecherously, and Keiko shot away from Jermaine.

"Fine," she said with an embarrassed blush on her cheeks.

"Uh huh," Rai continued to grin.

"Everyone ok over here?" Kimiko asked riding up and Keiko suddenly realized something.

"You two are riding horses," she said pointing at the two. Kimiko raised and questioning eyebrow.


"How the hell are you riding horses and not falling to your death?" Keiko asked finally standing with a little help from Jermaine.

"Well I'm just a natural talent," Raimundo bragged and Kimiko couldn't help but roll her eyes.

"He used to go riding with me in Central Park when we were younger," Kimiko explained, "and my father used to make me take lessons. I stopped the year you started attending Mercer."

"Wow, never would have pegged you two as horse people," Jermaine commented and suddenly felt stupid wondering if it was ok to refer to them as 'two' while they were on their break. Neither Kimiko nor Raimundo responded, both of their eyes had been drawn to where Jermaine still held Keiko's hand. Keiko realized this and immediately tugged her hand from Jermaine's looking if at all possible, even redder with embarrassment.

"I need to go clean up," she said making an excuse to leave quickly.

"Ah me too," Jermaine said after a beat. Kimiko giggled softly once they were out of sight.

"It's about time for those two," she said automatically looking over at Raimundo out of habit. She immediately wished she hadn't turning her head away quickly when she caught his sad eyes on her.

"Kimiko we," he started to say but Kimiko quickly turned her horse away.

"I'm going to go make sure Clay is all set," she said quickly and hurried her horse forward. Rai made to follow her but decided against. Kimiko was the better horseperson after all so the chances of catching her were slim. Instead he sighed and followed in her direction at a slower pace.

Meanwhile Kimiko slowed after pushing her horse forward quickly. She'd actually flown past where she knew Clay had successfully caught the last of the loose cattle but she wasn't greatly concerned with it. She'd been told earlier by both Clay and his parents that she could ride wherever as long as she remained on within sight of the house. Looking back Kimiko realized she was barely within those parameters and turned around, walking back slowly to cool the horse underneath her out, conscious of how the heat had already risen in the early hours. Kimiko was vaguely aware of the buzz of something mechanical but didn't give it much thought until it grew louder and was obviously coming towards her.

Looking over her shoulder Kimiko caught sight of an ATV heading in her direction. The driver slowed as he approached and Kimiko didn't even bother to suppress a groan she recognized Luca from the day before.

"Hey there, good morning," he called once he was close enough, shifting into a lower gear and diminishing the noise his machine made.

"Morning," Kimiko answered half heartedly.

"I didn't think it was you are first," Luca went on apparently not noticing that she was less than enthusiastic to see him. "Didn't know you knew how to ride."

"Well I do," Kimiko answered in an overly polite voice, silently debating on pretending her horse was spooking at Luca's machine in an effort to get rid of him.

"You seem better today then you did yesterday," Luca smiled a winning smile. "Are you feeling better?"
"Hmm," Kimiko mused not directly answering.

"So what are you up to?" Luca asked undeterred.

"Helping Clay with his morning chores."

"And then?"
"Clay talked about taking us into town," Kimiko answered wondering why the ranch didn't seem to be getting closer.

"Town's pretty boring unless you've got a local to show you some of the fun spots," Luca told her not taking his eyes off of her as Kimiko became more and more uncomfortable under his stare.

"Well I think we'll be fine with Clay," Kimiko said irritably.

"Yeah well Clay isn't exactly a local if you know what I mean," Luca argued, "he doesn't spend a whole lot of time here anymore."

"You hold it against him that he goes to a private school in New York?" Kimiko almost snapped. They'd finally reached the main part of the farm but no one seemed to be around so Kimiko guided her horse back towards its paddock.

"No, not at all," Luca assured her. "Clay's a great guy. He just doesn't have the lay of the land so much any more. A lot can happen during the nine months he's in New York."

"That's true," Kimiko conceded as she dismounted and proceeded to undo the cinch that locked the saddle in place. Luca stopped his ATV and climbed off.

"Want me to help you with that?" he offered.

"I got it," Kimiko answered immediately wondering where everyone was. Her horse stood patiently as Kimiko pulled off the bulky saddle and pad underneath and balanced them against the fence. She then dunked a large sponge into a waiting bucket and started to wash the sweat marks off the animal.

"So anyway," Luca went on as she did all of this, "I just had the thought that if you were going into town you might need a guide."

"And I repeat," Kimiko answered, "that I've got Clay."

"But if you want a private tour," Luca started off almost suggestively and Kimiko fought the urge to beam him with the sponge.

"No thank you," she bit out angrily.

"Ok then," Luca shrugged, "I'm sure Clay wouldn't mind me tagging along though." Kimiko knew that was probably true and she wasn't going to go out of her way to tell Clay she didn't like one of his friends.

"Hey Kimiko," a voice interrupted, "I was wondering where you'd gotten to."

"Everything all set with the cow?" Kimiko asked Clay as he and Raimundo approached, hand walking their horses.

"All set," he smiled, "thanks for the help."

"Morning Clay," Luca greeted coming out from where he was blocked behind Kimiko's horse.

"Oh hey Luca, didn't see you there," Clay said sounding slightly surprised.

"Yeah, I was coming by and ran into Kimiko on the way," he said with a grin that Kimiko wanted to smack off his face. She looked over at Raimundo who looked ready to kill until he caught her eyes and his expression softened. "You're Raimundo right?" Luca broke in and Raimundo's attention was brought back to Luca.

"Yup, that's me. Raimundo Pedrosa," Rai answered his eyes still hard but not as fierce.

"What's up Luca," Clay said not liking the body language between the two boys. Luca was obviously trying to size up Raimundo and with the amount of tension in the air between Raimundo and Kimiko Clay wouldn't be surprised if Raimundo snapped.

"Just thought I'd swing by to see what's up," Luca said nonchalantly.

"I wasn't expecting you guys till later," Clay lied not knowing when his hometown friends were coming at all. Luca just shrugged in response and turned his attention back to Kimiko who'd finished cleaning up her horse and was letting it loose in that paddock.

"I'm going to go clean up," she said directly to Clay avoiding the eyes of the other two boys. "What do you want me to do with the tack?"

"I'll take care of that," Clay promised her.

"You sure?" Kimiko asked.

"No problem at all," Clay assured her sensing that she wanted to get away from the situation as well. Kimiko nodded her thanks and then scurried off. Luca made a move to follow her but Clay stopped him. "Why don't you move your ATV to the driveway? You know my dad hates those things." Luca looked like he might protest for a minute but nodded and moved back to his ATV, starting it off loudly and then driving off.

"Isn't the driveway right near the house," Raimundo said in a controlled voice as soon as Luca was gone.

"Yup, and my daddy's at the house right now. As soon as he sees Luca on that thing he'll tell him to take it home." Clay watched Raimundo as he spoke and could see him visibly relax when he finished.

"Thanks," Raimundo said though he wasn't really sure what he was thanking him for.

"Luca's an idiot," Clay replied, "don't let him get to you." Rai made a grunting noise as he continued to work on cleaning off his horse. "Besides," Clay went on, "Kimiko isn't interested in guys like Luca or any other guys beside you for that matter." Raimundo stilled in his motioned and cleared his throat before resuming and talking.

"You sound sure of that," Rai said not looking up.

"I am," Clay said with a nod of his head before going on. "And you can tell me to shut up if I'm intruding too much or anything but Keiko said you and Kimiko were on some sort of break. And I was just wondering why you asked her to do that? I mean, I thought you guys were head of heels for each other. Is everything ok with you?"

"Clay," Rai said immediately in a harsh tone and for a moment Clay thought he'd crossed his boundaries. "Clay," Rai said again and then turned to look at his friend and roommate, "she's the one that wanted the break. Not me."

"What!" Clay almost shouted unbelieving. Rai nodded glumly.

"At first she said she wanted to break up," Rai said dropping his own sponge back into the bucket and lead his horse to join Kimiko's. "It came out of nowhere. I was completely blindsided. I mean literally five minutes before she said that we were making out and she seemed happy. And then out of nowhere she kinda freaked out and when I asked her what was wrong she said she wanted to break up. She took it back immediately but then said she needed some space. I suggested the break because I thought it might help her. I don't want to break up with her so I'm trying to keep things as normal as possible, try not to make her uncomfortable and hopefully she'll figure out what she needs to figure out and we'll be ok."

"Do you have any idea what's wrong with her that's making her act like this?" Clay asked also setting his own horse loose in the paddock.

"Not a clue," Rai shook his head. "I mean I could tell that there was something off about her since she went back to Tokyo but I thought that it was just the distance." Raimundo looked over at Clay. "I mean, we were never going out before when she'd go home for breaks. I was just blaming it on that."

"I'm sorry Rai," Clay said picking up Kimiko's saddle as well as his own while Raimudo grabbed his own tack. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."
"I think Kimiko's the only one that can do anything at this point in time."


"You weren't lying," Keiko said later in the afternoon as they sat in the town's lone ice cream shop.

"About?" Clay asked.

"There not being a whole lot to this town," Keiko answered.

"That's small town living for you," Clay shrugged, "it can take some getting used to."

"I like small towns," Raimundo added in. "Before me and my family came to New York we lived in a small town and it was nice."

"I thought you lived in Rio?" Jermaine asked confused.

"Practically," Rai answered. "Just outside."

"Is your sister's wedding in Rio or where you live?" Keiko asked.

"In Rio," Rai answered quietly. He hadn't give much thought of his sister's wedding for the past twenty four hours but he was suddenly realizing that he might not have a flight to Rio after all. Kimiko opened her mouth to say something but was immediately interrupted.

"Hey all," a voice that was unfortunately becoming familiar rang through the ice cream shop. Everyone turned and looked to see Luca walking over to their table followed closely by the other three from the say before.

"Hey guys," Clay greeted almost half heartedly.

"Way to include us in your little outing," Cooper said irritably as the four pulled up chairs to squeeze in uninvited at that small table.

"Everyone remember each other?" Clay said looking around the table. There was silent nodding and Kimiko shifted closer to Keiko on her left as Luca elbowed his way into the spot at her right between her and Clay.

"When I cam back to your place Clay everyone was gone," Luca told him.

"Yeah we went out for lunch."

"How nice for you," Missy quipped.

"So I went and got these guys and came looking for you," Luca went on as if no one had spoken. He was inching steadily closer to Kimiko who was about to knock him off his chair when Raimundo interrupted.

"You guys going to get any ice cream?" he asked looking around at the four new comers. It seemed to be a very obvious question but no one immediately answered. Luca looked over at Kimiko and her near empty dish.

"What did you have? It looks good," Luca said leaning slightly closer under the pretense he was studying her bowl.

"Strawberry ice cream," Kimiko said shortly.

"Hm, sounds good. I think I'll get some too," Luca smiled.

"Knock yourself out," Kimiko said pushing her chair out and standing. "I'm going to that stationary shop across the street," Kimiko announced to the table.

"I'll go with you," Keiko said immediately.

"Me too," Luca immediately added.

"I thought you were getting ice cream," Jermaine reminded him and Luca looked back at him hotly. Before he even had a chance to respond Kimiko and Keiko were already gone.

"Ughh," Kimiko said as soon as they were out of the ice cream parlor. "What do I have to do? Kick him in the head?"

"He is coming on a bit strong isn't he?" Keiko grinned.

"Glad you're enjoying this," Kimiko said glumly.

"How you holding up?" Keiko asked changing tactics as the crossed the street.

"Fine, confused and a little freaked out, but fine," Kimiko told her as they entered the tiny stationary shop.

"Can I ask," Keiko started to say, "what happened between you two? You didn't say much last night. Just that you two were taking a break."

"Yeah," was all Kimiko said and Keiko debated on whether to press.

"Can you at least tell me why Rai wanted to take a break?" Keiko asked. Kimiko looked over at her with a start.

"Keiko, I'm the one who wanted to break up."
"What!" Keiko exclaimed in surprise. "But how that can be? I mean you've been head over heels for Rai for how long? What's going on?" And then suddenly a realization dawned on Keiko. "This has nothing to do with not being happy with Raimundo does it? What's going on Kimiko? What's wrong?"

"You know me too well," Kimiko said more to herself then to Keiko as she inspected the contents of a shelf that held some random knickknacks.

"Spill," Keiko ordered.

"Its nothing," Kimiko said shaking her head and moving onto the next shelf.

"It's obviously something if tits making you want to break up with Raimundo," Keiko argued determined to get Kimiko to speak.

"I don't want to break up with Raimundo," Kimiko admitted. "It's the last thing I want."

"Then why are you? What's the reason behind all of this?" Keiko asked very concerned now. Kimiko kept on studying the merchandise and debated on whether or not she should tell Keiko. She'd find out eventually but Kimiko felt she owed it to Raimundo to tell him first.

"Not right now Keiko," Kimiko finally told her.

"But you're ok?" Keiko asked. "Not in any sort of trouble or danger right?"
"Nope," Kimiko assured her, "I'm fine on those fronts."

"But then why," Keiko started to ask again but silenced when Kimiko glanced back at her.

"I'll tell you Keiko," she promised, "don't worry about that. I just kind of feel I owe it to Rai to tell him first."

"And when do you plan on telling him?" Keiko wondered.

"Ideally never," Kimiko laughed, "but I have to, and soon."

"Hey you guys," a familiar voice said and the two Japanese girls turned to see Jessie walking up to them.

"Jessie when did you get here?" Kimiko asked surprised.

"Just a little while ago, I went into the ice cream shop about a minute after you left."

"What's up?" Keiko asked taking in Jessie's almost excited look.

"Come back over to the parlor quick," she urged.

"Why?" Kimiko asked. "Is everything ok?"

"In a manner of speaking," Jessie grinned as they walked out of the store. "Luca got what was coming to him."

"What?" both girls exclaimed. Kimiko looked up and say Raimundo outside with Jermaine looking beyond angry while Jermaine was obviously trying to calm him down. In the opposite direction Clay was with Luca and his other hometown friends, all of whom were crowed around Luca who was nursing a bloody nose. Keiko looked over at Kimiko who was already hurrying over to where Raimundo and Jermaine were.

"What happened?" Kimiko asked as soon as she reached them. Her eyes darted downwards and saw blood on Raimundo's knuckles. Before she could help herself she let out an involuntary gasp and gently grabbed the hand to examine it.

"I'm fine," Raimundo hold her but.

"But," Kimiko protested.

"That's that idiot Luca's blood," Jermaine explained. "Rai broke his nose."

"If I'm lucky," Rai added.

"What happened?" Kimiko repeated looking directly at Raimundo, still holding his hand gingerly. Rai remained tight lipped and Kimiko narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

"Is everything ok?" Keiko asked when she reached them three with Jessie in tow. Before anyone could answer Kimiko turned and dragged Raimundo off around the corner.

"Should we follow?" Jermaine asked and Keiko shook her head immediately.

"Oh no," Keiko told him and turned towards him and Jessie. "But you can tell me what happened."

Rai didn't protest as Kimiko led him around the corner of the building nor did he protest when she turned on him and practically shoved him into the wall. For a moment he was convinced that she was about to kiss him but she stepped back and dropped his hand.

"Tell me the truth, what happened," Kimiko demanded. Raimundo looked away from her. "Rai," she pressed.

"I'm not proud of it," he told her looking back at her.

"I want to know," she assured him.

"But Kim," Rai protested.

"Raimundo Pedrosa! Tell me right now," Kimiko said fiercely. Raimundo looked down at her and shook his head in defeat.

"I punched that idiot," Rai said simply, "got a few good hits in before they pulled me off."

"Why?" Kimiko immediately asked.

"He was talking about you," Rai told her reluctantly, deliberately not going into details about what had been said. When she didn't answer he went on, looking away from her. "Its bad enough that he's hanging all over you but as soon as you were gone he started saying shit and I just couldn't take it." Glancing over at her Raimundo found Kimiko's eyes watery. "Are you going to honestly tell me that it bothers you that I hit him?" he asked surprised. Kimiko opened her mouth to answer but closed it immediately, unsure of what to say.

"Say something Kimiko!" Raimundo urged her when he realized she wasn't going to speak.

"What do you want to hear?" she asked softly.

"Ideally the reason why you're acting the way you are," he answered. Kimiko looked away.

"Not now," she told him.

"Why?" Rai asked solemnly.

"Thank you, for sticking up for me," Kimiko answered.

"Any time," Rai answered truthfully.


"So that's it in a nutshell," Keiko finished later that night on her bed across the room from Kimiko.

"Wow," Kimiko breathed. Keiko had just finished telling her about what Jermaine and Jessie had told her about the events in the ice cream shop. Apparently Jermaine hadn't gone into details about what exactly had been said but Keiko could gather that it was a little more than suggestive. Both Clay and Jermaine had immediately protested but Luca had apparently kept going until Rai stood suddenly, grabbed Luca up out of his chair, then knocked him onto the floor and, to quote Jermaine 'attempted to beat the crap out of him.'

"Yeah wow," Keiko agreed. "It must be nice to have someone that's willing to do something like that for you."

"You don't think that any of our friends wouldn't do that for you?" Kimiko asked surprised.

"No," Keiko scoffed and Kimiko looked at her disbelievingly. "Ok well maybe they would," Keiko admitted, "but Raimundo doing it for you is in a totally different league." Kimiko didn't respond. She and Raimundo hadn't spoken another word after she'd thanked him for defending her. They'd rejoined the others shortly after that to find Clay steaming, but not at Raimundo thankfully. He was more upset by how his friends had been acting and he was beyond angry at Luca for being so rude to Kimiko. Things hadn't been as uncomfortable as one might have imagined after that but it was still slightly awkward.

"So," Keiko went on drumming her fingers against her pillow, "when you dragged Rai away what did you talk about?"

"I just asked him to tell me what happened," Kimiko answered plainly. "He didn't go into details but basically said the same thing that you did."

"Ok then," Keiko said clearly disappointed that nothing more had happened. She and the others had been hoping that something new would have happened between the two and they would come to some resolution.

"I know you and the others want something to happen between us," Kimiko said practically reading Keiko's thoughts, "but its probably going to take some time."

"Are you still going to Rio?" Keiko asked uncomfortably.

"I hadn't given it much thought," Kimiko admitted. "We're still friends but it might be awkward."

"True," Keiko agreed.

"But I'd still really like to go," Kimiko added. "Is that awful?" she asked.

"I don't think so," Keiko reasoned and then suggested, "but maybe you should tell Rai that."

"Maybe," Kimiko agreed uncomfortably knowing that she was right.

"So tomorrow's the big party," Keiko went on changing subjects.

"Yeah, I wonder if that idiot Luca is going to show up?" Kimiko wondered and Keiko snorted.

"If he knows what's good for him he won't," Keiko answered.

"What about the others? I've got the impression that they don't really like us," Kimiko said looking up at the ceiling.

"You think?" Keiko asked sarcastically and the two laughed. "Why do you think they don't like us?"

"My best guess is that maybe they're jealous, or they feel threatened since we spend more time with Clay then they do. I mean we've only known Clay through high school, they've probably known him through most of their lives."

"Doesn't mean they've got to act like we're the scum of the earth," Keiko reasoned and Kimiko had to agree.

"I feel bad that we haven't exactly gotten along well with them," Kimiko added a second later.

"Luca wasn't exactly making that very easy," Keiko answered, "and Clay doesn't seem to bothered by it."

"That's true," Kimiko agreed and when silence fell Kimiko knew she couldn't stall anymore. "I think I'm going to go talk to Rai," she finally said.

"Oh ok," Keiko said trying not to sound surprised or excited as Kimiko climbed off her bed and left the room. As soon as the door shut Keiko sent a silent to prayer to anyone that was listening that their conversation went well.

Meanwhile had reached the room the three boys were sharing and stood nervously outside of it. She could hear three voices and picked out Raimundo's easily. Stealing her courage Kimiko raised her hand and knocked softly on the door. Immediately all three voices went silent and Kimiko heard shuffling towards the door. To her relief and despair Raimundo answered.

"Hey," Kimiko said quickly before he could get a word in edgewise, "can I talk to you?"

"Yeah sure," Raimundo answered after a moment of surprise. Kimiko stepped aside and let him step out of the room and caught a glimpse of Jermaine and Clay exchanging surprised but hopefully looks and Kimiko felt the pressure build. Raimundo turned to her once the door was shut and the two made their way to the front porch in an attempt for some privacy. Kimiko moved away from Raimundo who stopped after a few steps onto the wooden porch and kept going until she reached the railing at the end and leaned heavily on it. Rai followed after her once she's stopped but didn't get too close, nervous about what this was all about.

"How's your hand?" Kimiko asked and Raimundo looked at his bandaged right hand. It had been a precaution forced on him by Mrs. Bailey who didn't seem to accept his 'I fell down' excuse but didn't press.

"Its fine," he answered mutely. "I don't even really need it."

"Always the tough guy," Kimiko laughed as she turned back to face him, slipping to sit up on the top of the railing. A breeze stirred, uncharacteristic of the humid July weather, and pushed Kimiko's hair, let down for sleeping, up around her face. Before either really realized it Raimundo stepped forward and tucked a few random strands back behind her ear. Their eyes locked and Raimundo saw no resistance he brought his other hand up, his right still holding the hair behind her ear, and mimicked the act of his other hand. Now both hands were framing her face and Raimundo leaned forward almost tentatively, which was a totally new sensation since none of their kisses had ever been tentative, and brushed their lips lightly together. When Kimiko still didn't protest Raimundo pressed harder to her lips and nearly lost his mind when he felt her press back. He started to kiss her urgently, right arm slipping down to wrap around her waist as his left hand went to cup her cheek, freezing when he felt tears there.

Raimundo broke the kiss and pulled back instantly staring back at a tear streaked face.

"Kimiko, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" he asked searching her eyes for any clue that may give away why she was so upset. Why any of this was happening.

"I'm sorry Raimundo," Kimiko apologized looking away as she slipped off the railing and tried to walk away. Raimundo immediately caught her and pulled her back.

"No," he said firmly pulling her back to stand in front of him. "What is wrong with you?" When she defiantly looked away Raimundo narrowed his eyes in frustration. "How can I help you if you won't tell me what's wrong with you?" Kimiko looked up at him, still tearful but angry as well.

"Is that it Rai? Feeling your white knight status threatened?" she asked sharply. "In case you haven't noticed I do fine on my own. And unless I'm mistaken I'm the one that fixes things, not you." Rai looked like he might snap back but instead he shut his eyes tight and released her.

"Fine Kimiko," he told her ruefully, "if that's how it needs to be then so be it."

"I don't know what you mean," Kimiko answered coolly.

"Its ok," Raimundo said stepping back, "I understand. If you need to make me the enemy, somehow, blame whatever is going on with you on me, I understand. Hate me, its fine."

"I," Kimiko started to respond but Raimundo cut her off.

"Don't worry about it Kimiko," he told her turning to walk off.

"You arrogant," Kimiko trailed off as he walked away from her.

"Something to say Kimiko?" Rai stopped and turned back to her. Kimiko immediately shut up knowing his tactic was to get a rise out of her, and maybe to get her to spill. "Come on Kimiko," Raimundo pressed when Kimiko remained tight lipped.

"You know what," Kimiko said shaking her head and folding her arms over her chest, "I don't even care any more."

"Liar," Raimundo immediately accused.

"You are an over confident asshole," Kimiko told him.

"Maybe," Rai shrugged. Kimiko gritted her teeth and looked away. She let out and involuntarily squeal when Raimundo moved quickly and grabbed her again, pulling her flush to his body and kissing her soundly. Kimiko immediately moved to shove him away and succeed slightly. Raimundo broke the kiss but kept holding to her tightly.

"Tell me," he urged.

"What is wrong with you?"
"Nothing is wrong with me," Kimiko snapped, "I'm perfectly within my right mind."

"I never said you weren't," Rai assured her. "Just tell me," he insisted. When Kimiko remained silent Rai tried again. "Just tell me," he repeated and then added, "and I'll let it drop. I promise. I'll walk away if you want. Just tell me so I'm not wondering what or why." Kimiko sighed and pushed herself away from him again and this time he let her go.

"How bad can it be?" he asked more to himself then to her. Kimiko remained silent as she sat on the porch swing. Rai stayed silent as well, watching her push gently back and forth on the swing, listening to chains squeak as they broke the silence growing between the two.

"It's my dad," Kimiko finally spoke so softly that Raimundo almost didn't hear her.

"What about him?" Rai asked concerned that he may be sick or something worse.

"He wants me to attend university in Japan," Kimiko explained and Raimundo remained quiet. He couldn't say he wasn't surprised. His parents were also keen on having him back in Brazil for the next level of education but he already had plans going to get a scholarship to an American school, hopefully to whatever one Kimiko was going to or at least one near by.

"And he thinks," Kimiko said taking a great breath, "and I can't say it isn't completely wrong, that the best way to get into a good Japanese University is to go to a good Japanese high school."

It took a moment for the information to sink into Raimundo and when it had he closed his eyes tightly, as if not being able to look at her.

"And you're," he finally spoke, "going along with that?"

"He's my father," Kimiko answered immediately.

"So?" Rai asked outraged. "That doesn't mean he gets to rule your life. Do you want to spend your senior year in Japan? Do you want to leave Mercer and everyone and not go to college in the states?" Kimiko didn't answer any of his questions so Raimundo asked a final one. "Do you want to leave me?"

"No!" Kimiko answered immediately looking up at him and then seemed to catch herself and looked away again.

"That's why you've been acting so distant. That's why you said you wanted to break up and have been trying to push me away," Rai reasoned.

"It's going to make leaving a hell of a lot easier," Kimiko sniffed.

"You really want to leave?" Rai asked still in disbelief that she would even consider it.

"Do I have much of a choice?" Kimiko asked him looking at him with hard eyes and finally standing. "I'm seventeen Raimundo. I don't have a whole lot of options at my disposal."

"But I know you," he accused, "you aren't the type that just lies down and takes this. And being apart that wouldn't want to make you break up. Would it?"

"He's my father I won't go against his wishes," Kimiko snapped back.

"Holy crap," Raimundo breathed and he took a step back as if wounded. Kimiko looked at him alarmed.

"What?" she asked quickly.

"I just figured out the rest," he said looking wide eyed at her.

"There's nothing else besides what I just told you," Kimiko said in a controlled voice.

"He wants us to break up doesn't he?" Raimundo asked unbelieving as the words came out of his mouth. He'd known Toshiro since he was in the fourth grade and he'd never treated Raimundo with anything but fatherly affection and respect. When Raimundo had accompanied Kimiko home over the winter break he'd been warm, receptive, and seemed to be genuinely happy that he and Kimiko were going out.

"He never said that," Kimiko said after a minute, "but it was certainly hinted at." Raimundo was silent with shock hardly believing that Toshiro was capable of that. "Please don't think any less of him Raimundo," Kimiko pleaded, "he cares about you, respects you, and thinks you're an amazing person."

"But not good enough for his daughter," Raimundo said stiffly. "Do you think I'm not good enough for you?" he asked Kimiko almost accusingly.

"I can't believe you would even ask that," Kimiko hissed back.

"I'm sorry," Raimundo immediately apologized and Kimiko nodded in recognition before going on.

"The moment I stepped off the plane Dad started riding me about plans for the future. Who I was going to be? What am I going to do? Asking me questions that I didn't even know he thought about. It was totally unlike him. He used to tell me that he'd be happy as long as I was happy, and now he's acting like his image and the company's image was more important."

"You're right," Rai agreed, "that doesn't sound like Toshiro."

"I'd like to blame that damn woman but it would be unfair," Kimiko said venomously.

"What woman?"
"My dad," Kimiko sighed, "is getting remarried."

"Oh," was all Rai could manage to say.

"Yeah, dear Daddy is all about the big surprises this summer," Kimiko said sarcastically. Rai was suddenly beside her and pulled her close. Kimiko allowed it, sadly almost because she realized how much she really wanted to just be held by him. Somehow they sank back to the porch swing and Kimiko curled her legs up as Raimundo kept his arms wrapped tight around her. They stayed that way until they were asleep, both wondering what the hell they were going to do.


"You're not serious," Kimiko asked Jessie later the next day. Everyone was helping to load up Clay's truck and the Bailey family's SUV with various picnic supplies in preparation for the Fourth of July Barbeque by the lake Kimiko and the others had visited the first day.

"Daddy's got some old fashioned ideas," Jessie said shrugging and then added begrudgingly, "unfortunately." Kimiko made a tiny groaning noise in her throat and Jessie grinned. "Dad wasn't too happy about finding you and Raimundo asleep together this morning."

"Fully clothed, on a wooden swing, in plain sight of everyone," Kimiko reasoned but knew it was ridiculous. "He really asked you and Clay to keep an eye on the two of us?"

"Not to be left alone together," Jessie recited. "I believe that those were his exact words."

"Oi," Kimiko groaned.

"Don't worry about," Jessie waved it off. "Daddy will be too preoccupied with the party, neighbors, and everything to be paying much attention and I certainly don't give a damn so I'd say you were fine."

"And Clay?" Kimiko asked. She wasn't really concerned about that but decided to feel out the situation anyway. Jessie snorted.

"What do you think?"

"Um," Kimiko answered unsure.

"You're fine," Jessie assured her as they waited for everyone to come out and join them. "And if Clay gives you any trouble I'll knock him upside the head a few times." That got a laugh out of Kimiko because she whole heartedly believed it.

"Thanks Jessie," Kimiko said sincerely suddenly glad that she hadn't written her off with the rest of the locals after her 'run ins' with Luca.

"Oh and don't let that hick Luca or his pack of idiots get to you," Jessie advised as if reading Kimiko's mind. "They're probably going to be around today since everyone usually comes to Dad's party." Kimiko nodded as she made a face. Luca was low on her list of concerns, somewhere behind if she had too much garlic in her diet. (AN: God help me I don't know why I included that. It's almost a direct quote from a comedian who I think is the funniest man on the face of the planet. If anyone can tell me who it is I'll, I'll…well I'm not sure what I'll do but it'll be awesome!)

Since being woken by the somewhat furious Mr. Bailey Raimundo hadn't said more then two words to Kimiko, making it more then obvious that he was avoiding her. She wondered now if she should have told him anything and just gone along with her original plan of alienating herself from her friends and Raimundo. Keiko had stuck close, obvious curious but not saying anything. All Kimiko had said was that she and Raimundo had talked but hadn't reached any sort of conclusion. The screen door banged open waking Kimiko from her thoughts and she looked up to see the rest of her friends along with Mr. and Mrs. Bailey filing out of the house. Despite the fact that Mr. Bailey was apparently concerned about Kimiko's virtue and there was still a considerable amount of tension between Kimiko and Raimundo the mood of the impending party was infectious and a happy air soon covered the previous uncomfortable one.

Kimiko couldn't help keeping expectant eyes on Raimundo but he didn't seem to give her much notice as he slid into the truck Kimiko was still standing next to without so much as a glance in her direction.

"Come on Kimiko," Keiko called from the Bailey's SUV. Jermaine waited in the back row with her while Clay's parents claimed the front. Jessie had slid in with Clay and Raimundo so Kimiko, reluctantly was left to slide in with Jermaine and Keiko.

"All set?" Mr. Bailey asked Kimiko as she shut the door behind her.

"Yes sir!" Kimiko answered over enthusiastically and with a large smile. Keiko sent her a look that Kimiko avoided by looking out the window as they pulled away from the house and onto the same road Clay had taken them down the other day. The last time she'd driven to this lake just two days before she and Raimundo had been happy, at least on the surface. Now where were they? Kimiko hated this even more than when they were on the verge of her self induced breakup. Kimiko was dimly aware of the conversation in the car but didn't pay attention to it until some one asked her a question.

"Sorry? What was that?" she asked looking back to the car's occupants.

"I was just wondering what colleges you were planning on attending," Mrs. Bailey repeated with a smile.

"Oh," Kimiko answered, "I hadn't really given it much thought."

"Well you better start," Mr. Bailey advised. "Clay's got an interview at Texas A&M next month. Best to get started early."

"Clay didn't mention that," Keiko said curious.

"That's odd," Mr. Bailey answered and Kimiko had the sinking suspicion that she wasn't the only victim of an overly zealous parent. Glancing at Jermaine and Keiko out of the corner of her eye Kimiko guessed that they were thinking the same thing she was. Wondering what was going to change at the end of their rapidly approaching senior year. Would they all separate? Keep in touch? Break up?

'Looks like I'm not the only one going far away then,' Kimiko thought. The car came to a stop and everyone piled out. Their group was there the earliest to set up for the other party guests who were set to arrive with in the hour. Kimiko decided to consume herself with that small task, just for the moment at least and try not to dwell on approaching change or the fact that Raimundo still seemed to be avoiding her.

'This is what you wanted,' Kimiko thought glumly 'it's supposed to be better this way.' Though now Kimiko was starting to doubt her theory.

"Happy Fourth of July everyone!" an unfamiliar voice called and Kimiko looked up to see the first round of guests showing up, surprised that the hour was already up but looking around Kimiko saw that everything was indeed all set up.

"Did I help at all?" Kimiko asked Keiko.

"You were kind of in your own world but yeah," Keiko answered holding back a laugh.

"Compassion was never your strong point," Kimiko said sarcastically and Keiko nearly knocked her over with a hug that started Kimiko laughing. The pace of the party picked up as more and more guests arrived and it became easier to become lost in a crowd. Kimiko no longer doubted Jessie and Clay when they told her and the others their father had invited the whole town. Kimiko caught a glimpse of Luca but he quickly scurried off at the site of her, sporting what looked like at least one black eye and possibly a broken nose.

"Man Rai wasn't kidding," Keiko said when Kimiko relayed what she saw.

"Speaking of Rai," Kimiko asked, "have you seen him?" Darkness was rapidly falling and it seemed unreal that so many hours had passed at the party. Keiko nodded and pointed behind her. Kimiko turned around and sure enough she could just barely spot Raimundo sitting with Jermaine and Clay on a log that had been rolled down to the water's edge. Kimiko looked at Keiko who smiled back and the two walked down to where their friends sat.

"Hey guys," Keiko greeted fearlessly when they reached the three.

"Speak of the devil," Jermaine grinned and even in the darkness a faint blush could be seen on Keiko's cheeks.

"So cowboy," Kimiko asked ignoring the two, "when are those fireworks you promised getting going?"
"It'll be getting dark enough soon," Clay said looking up at the sky.

"Now when you say fireworks are you talking sparklers or DC style?" Jermaine asked curious as he shifted to make room for Keiko and Kimiko on the log. Clay's smile grew big.

"Haven't I told you that everything is bigger in Texas?"

"So, big then?" Kimiko asked.

"You'll think its noon," was all Clay said.

"Clay," a voice interrupted and everyone turned to see Jessie standing behind them with her hands on her hips. "Come on I need your help."

"With?" Clay asked accusingly.

"Does it matter?" Jessie snapped back. "You two," she added pointing her fingers at Jermaine and Keiko, "you can help too."

"But," Jermaine started to protest but silenced under an elbow from Keiko who also sent Clay a menacing look and the two scrambled off the log towards Jessie. Keiko made as speedy an exit but somehow managed more grace leaving Raimundo and Kimiko alone.

"Not so subtle are they?" Kimiko asked glancing at where Raimundo sat staring out at the water.

"Not so much," Raimundo agreed with a sigh. When he didn't say anymore Kimiko stood and walked towards him.

"Walk with me?" she requested hopefully. Raimundo looked her up and down before closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead. "You don't have to," Kimiko immediately said noting his reaction.

"No," Raimundo answered standing as well, "I want to."

"Rai, I'm not forcing you to do anything," Kimiko quickly assured him.

"I know," Rai smiled, "I want to." He took her hand surprising her. "We need to talk anyway."

"I thought you were avoiding me," she admitted looking down at their linked hands.

"I was," Rai answered as they began walking, "I'm scared."


"Well, that you aren't on the same wave length as me," Rai told her and Kimiko only answered by sending him a confused questioning look. "You love me right?" he asked.

"I thought we confirmed that around Christmas?" Kimiko breathed.

"Just say it," Rai almost pleaded. Kimiko looked at him surprised again and then smiled with a mix of sweetness and sadness.

"Of course I love you," she answered with another sad little shake of her head.

"I'm not asking you Kimiko," Rai went on, "to choose between me and your father, but can't you have both?"

"What do you mean?" Kimiko asked surprised.

"I'll wait, one year five years, however long you're gone," Rai told her quickly and confidently.

"I can't ask you to do that," Kimiko looked away towards the water they were walking beside.

"You aren't asking, I'm promising," Rai said almost sharply.

"But Rai," Kimiko protested before Rai cut her off.

"That's my decision isn't it," Rai told her firmly and sobered as if realizing something. "Would you wait?"

"That's not fair to you for me to answer that," Kimiko asked finally looking back at him. His eyes bore earnestly into her and Kimiko caved. "Yes, I would wait."

"Then I guess that's settled then," Rai said with a slight grin that Kimiko didn't return. "What?"

"Can we do this?" Kimiko asked.

"I think you know the answer to that," Rai told her confidently.

"Then should we do this?" Kimiko rephrased the question.

"The second you want out," Rai promised, "then that'll be it."

"You say it like its something simple," Kimiko grinned.

"I know it isn't, that it probably won't be but Kimiko," he stopped and looked at her hard, "if you're in I'm in."

"We're only seventeen Rai, that's a big promise to make."

"Does age really matter?"

"No," Kimiko admitted.

"Then we don't have an issue do we?" Rai smiled but it wasn't a full smile because he could tell Kimiko was still struggling. "You need more time don't you?"

"Its not that I don't agree with everything you're saying Raimundo," Kimiko told him. "But," she trailed off.

"There's a lot more going on here," Rai finished for her.

"Yeah," Kimiko agreed sadly.

"Can I still call you my girlfriend?" he asked feeling selfish. Kimiko smiled at him genuinely for what felt like the first time in a long time.

"If you want to." He leaned down to kiss her.

"I want to," he said and then kissed her again, "believe me I want to." Kimiko grinned at him somewhat shyly as they resumed walking and then saw something beyond his shoulder.

"Hey look," she pointed around him at the empty quiet house Clay had pointed out the other day.

"Wow we walked a fair amount," Rai said looking across the lake where the lights of their party were just tiny dots. "They'll probably be starting the fireworks soon, we should head back." No sooner had he said that then a rumble of thunder shook the very ground beneath their feet.

"Or not," Kimiko said as the first few fat raindrops started to fall and the two scrambled into the cover of the house's porch. "I didn't think it was supposed to rain," Kimiko said as they reached the cover of the porch.

"These summer storms pop up all the time," Rai commented pushing hair out of his eyes. They'd made it under cover before the heavier rain started falling but both were still slightly damp. Trying to keep his eyes off of Kimiko, remembering almost painfully what she looked like after he'd dumped her into the lake, Rai turned toward the house. Glancing inside a window he found it sparsely decorated and what little furniture to be had was covered with white sheets. The room he could see was still in some sort of use however, the sheets pulled off the couch and chairs revealing a living room, and a few old beer cans littered the floor. Curious he tested the handle and found it unlocked. "Want to go in?" Rai asked Kimiko who nodded at the thunder echoed around them again. They walked into the living room Rai had been inspecting earlier and found it cleaner then he expected.

"Not bad," Kimiko commented looking around as well. Rai nodded in agreement and followed her as she moved toward a window and looked out. "Its already letting up some," she said softly looking across the lake where the lights of the party wavered slightly but stayed strong. "Think everyone is ok?"

"I'm sure," Rai agreed, "they probably all took cover in their cars." Kimiko grimaced.

"If Mr. Bailey finds us both missing he'll probably send a posse after us." That made Raimundo laugh.

"You're probably right but there are too many people around for him to notice. Besides," Rai shrugged unconsciously slipping a hand around her waist to pull her closer, "Clay and the others will cover for us." Kimiko made an agreeable noise in her throat and leaned her head against his shoulder as the two watched the rain continue to lighten, both very aware of the heat coming off of one another's body. Finally Raimundo couldn't take it anymore and looked down at Kimiko only to find her already looking up at him. She turned slightly, still in his hold, and rose on her toes to kiss him as he stooped slightly to meet her. The kiss remained light only for a second before deepening rapidly, Raimundo hands wandering almost timidly as Kimiko's hands locked around Raimundo's neck, pulling her tight against him. Raimundo broke the kiss and looked down at Kimiko with hazy eyes.

"We should probably head back," he said breathily making no move to untangle from her.

"Yeah we should," Kimiko agreed but instead of pulling apart she pressed even closer and pulled Raimundo in for another kiss he didn't object to. Rai became lost in that kiss until Kimiko pulled back. Rai couldn't say he wasn't disappointed but that quickly left as he watch, in awe as Kimiko's hands went to pull the hem of her shirt up and over her head.

"Kimiko," Raimundo's voice stopped her but when she looked at him he saw no hint of fear or hesitation in her eyes. Rai swallowed hard as his hands replaced hers and the first firework exploded outside.


If Mr. Bailey or anyone else noticed that Kimiko and Raimundo were absent for the fireworks display nothing was said much to the two's relief. Even better none of their friends seemed inclined to mention it either. As they said their goodbyes before leaving Clay at the metal detectors Kimiko gave the cowboy an extra hug, wondering if it might be the last time she saw him for sometime, if not forever.

'Not forever,' Kimiko thought determinately as the tall blonde Texan disappear from sight with his younger sister in tow. Jessie was another one Kimiko was going to miss, deciding that Jessie was a kinder soul then she wanted to let on.

"Well we've got to go this way," Keiko said breaking into Kimiko's melancholy musings. "We're set to board in about twenty minutes."

"Ok," Kimiko said trying not to burst into tears. She still hadn't told anyone outside of Raimundo that there was a possibility that she might not return to Mercer Academy for the new school year. "It was really good to see you guys," she managed out. It was obvious that Keiko knew something was wrong but a glance from Raimundo had her keeping her mouth shut, instead the girl hugged her best friend and Kimiko clung hard to her.

"Have a good time in Rio," Jermaine said shaking Raimundo's hand. "I'll see you back at school."

"Have a great rest of the summer you two," Raimundo said to Keiko and Jermaine when Kimiko and Keiko separated. The two nodded before Jermaine received his own hug from Kimiko. Kimiko watched the two walk off for their commercial flight back to New York City and felt tears forming until Raimundo put a comforting arm around her.

"It'll be ok," he said reassuringly and Kimiko smiled at him. Turning her head for another look at Keiko and Jermaine her smile grew when she noticed the two walking hand in hand. "What?" Rai asked when he noticed the growing smile. Kimiko just pointed after the two and Rai noticed.

"Man, its about time," he laughed and then mimicked his two friends and took Kimiko's hand as well. "Come on," he told her, "we've got a schedule to keep too." Kimiko agreed silently and the two walked on. They were heading to Rio for Raimunod's sister's wedding, both silently agreeing not to mention anything about Kimiko's uncertain future. They merely wanted to focus on their time left together and enjoy it as much as possible.

"So anything I should know about a catholic wedding ceremony?" Kimiko asked as they moved onward through the airport.

"That it's long and boring," Rai shrugged. "Kidding," he said when he got a look from Kimiko. "But seriously, the ceremony is nice but the reception is where the real fun is."

"I've never been to a wedding before," Kimiko smiled, "it'll be fun."
"Yes, if nothing else the Pedrosa's know how to have fun at a party," Rai grinned.

"I look forward to it," Kimiko returned the grin.

"So?" Rai went on.

"So?" Kimiko repeated unsure of what he was getting at.

"Nothing," Raimundo answered smiling. Kimiko knew there was something he wanted to say but didn't try to make him speak. She was content to simply live in the moment for the time being, it was the only way she could live until she figured out exactly what future she wanted.

"What are you thinking?" Rai asked noting the look on her face.

"Just how much I want to live in the moment," Kimiko told him and was slightly surprised when he swooped in and kissed her quickly.

"I like that moment," he told her and it was his turn to be surprised when Kimiko repeated the action.

"Me too."

So I haven't decided if there should be one more story or an epilog or nothing at all. This whole Alternate Universe I've created has gone far beyond what I originally envisioned. 'Simple as Snowflakes' was suppose to just be a Christmas fic and then in my want for a Valentines' Day fic 'Cupid Confusion' came but due to circumstances outside of my control that fic didn't come out until I bit the bullet and put it out EXTREMLY late. I wouldn't have even put it out if this story hadn't come into my head.

Will the tales of Kimiko and everyone at Mercer Academy continue? Who knows, maybe I'll get anyone idea in my head. If not this will most likely be the end unless I get big calls for something more. If that happens I'll at least post something about what happens immediately after this story. Either way please review and let me know if you liked this! Lots of love and now I'm off to work on Into the Rush!!