CHAPTER FOUR

Around ten o'clock that morning, Ino woke up—which was unusual—because of some heavy noises from the beach. Grunting, she got up and walked to the window and peeked outside. A very large crowd was at the beach and they seemed enjoying something. Ino then noticed that they were actually clustering around something, forming a big rectangle and inside the rectangle was a net dividing the rectangle into two and a fair number of boys and girls in their swimwear were filling the both sides. A ball kept tossing around back and forth, and every fantastic move earned cheers from the watchers.

Beach volleyball, Ino sighed. I should've known.

Then something caught her eye that refrained her from going back to sleep. She knew all who were playing on that one side. Two blondes; Naruto and the matured-looking girl, the brown-haired boy, the redhead, Sasuke and Shikamaru, all seemed like they were having the best time in their lives. Is he off? Ino wondered. Seemed like it. Shikamaru got the ball and he served, and as he jumped, Ino saw his lean body all stretched out and then he smacked the ball with such ferocity…

Wow.

Their team earned another point and they all cheered. The blond girl ran into him and wrapped her arms all around his neck, kissing his cheek. Shikamaru seemed embarrassed at the girl's action in front of the whole public because he pushed her away hurriedly, wiping the spot she kissed. Ino felt a funny sensation in her chest.

He had a girlfriend and they were actually spending their time together at the beach last night!

Ino felt horrible. Guilty. And she was sorry. She never meant to…

Well, it wasn't her fault really. It was he who came to the beach and hang around with her, not the other way around. She just hoped his girlfriend won't find out.

x

"Oh, Ino!" Ino blinked at the sudden outburst. She was having dinner the moment Sakura came knocking at the front door. "I just did something terrible! I slapped him!"

"Who?"

"Naruto!"

"You slap - What?!"

"I slapped him! Oh Ino, I slapped him!" Sakura's face was wet with tears. "He's gonna hate me forever!"

"But why?" Ino put down her fork. "Why did you slap him?"

"I don't know! It was reflex! I saw he flirting with the blonde and then she seemed like flirting back and then it happened! I was just jealous when I saw him and her and…and I just…slapped him!"

"Without saying anything?"

Sakura nodded meekly.

"You know that's not fair. At least tell him your reason."

"It was just reflex! I didn't mean to! Oh Ino, what should I do?"

"Apologize." Sakura shook. "No, I couldn't face him. He hates me now!"

"Did he say he hates you?"

"No…"

"And is he really flirting with the girl?"

Sakura recalled the scene. The volleyball match just ended with Naruto's team winning and as the crowd parted and she made her way to her crush, suddenly the blond girl swung her arm around Naruto's shoulders and told him something that made him laugh out loud. To Sakura's horror, Naruto returned the embrace by circling his hand around the girl's shoulders too and Sakura couldn't take it anymore…

She strode forward and slapped him on the cheek hard.

"I don't know…" Sakura buried her face in her hands. "Maybe…yes…I'm not sure!"

Ino sighed, finishing her meal in one go. "Okay, I'll talk to Naruto—"

"No!"

"So what do you want to do? Crying your heart out? Doing nothing? Do you want him or not?"

"I want him so badly!"

"Then let's sort this out. If you don't want me to talk to Naruto then I'll find the girl. You need good explanation here. So who is she?"

Sakura bit her bottom lip. "You know her. You've seen her. She's the girl from the video."

Ino was stunned. "That…blonde?"

"Yeah."

Without thinking, Ino stormed out of the front door and ran to the beach.

x

"Shikamaru, hey Shikamaru!" Ino shook the body hard. Shikamaru grunted, slowly blinking his eyes, and as his vision cleared and saw Ino, he scowled.

"Troublesome woman," he jerked up and rubbed his eyes blearily, at the same time glaring at her. "What the hell did you want from me?!"

"I wanna ask something," Ino ignored his pissed off face. Shikamaru huffed and plopped his body on the sand, pillowing his head using both hands. "Geez, can you pick a better time woman? Your timing is always off."

"Oh come on, sleepyhead. Just one question."

"You're so troublesome…"

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

Shikamaru started, looking at her strangely. Suddenly his scowl cleared and a smirk was playing on his lips. "Why, do you want to ask me out?"

"No idiot!" Ino smacked his shoulder but her face reddened. "I just want to confirm something. Do you have a girlfriend?"

"What gives you the impression that I have a girlfriend?"

"Just answer yes or no!"

"Does it matters to you if I have a girlfriend?"

"No." Ino's patience was running thin. She hovered above him with red face and steam out of her ears. "What is your relationship with the blonde?"

"What blonde?"

"That blonde! The one who kissed you at the game this morning!"

Shikamaru looked amused. "You saw us? But I didn't remember seeing you—"

"Is she or is she not?"

"Of course she's not!" The scowl was back again. "What gives you the impression that she's my girlfriend?"

"Just forget that – so she's not your girlfriend?"

"No! What's wrong with you woman? Why did you ask me like you—"

"If she's not your girlfriend, then what's your relationship with her?"

"Nothing but buddy-buddy! Hey—"

"If so, then what's her relationship with Naruto?" Ino asked eagerly.

"Nothing! She's just a friend! Why—"

"Can I take your word?"

"No," Shikamaru pinned her with intense stare. "Unless you tell me the reason you attack me like a mad cat here."

Ino froze, realizing her current position. She jerked away from him as quickly as she could, heart hammering nervously, face red with embarrassment.

"Sorry," she muttered clumsily. "I was just…anxious. It's because of Sakura, she—"

"Ah…" Shikamaru nodded. "It's about what happened this morning, correct? Come to think of it, I was also curious why Sakura slapped Naruto all in a sudden. It wasn't like he did something wrong. She freaked us out."

"She didn't mean to." Ino's voice came as a plead. "She saw that blonde - "Temari" – ah, yeah, her…and Naruto was kinda flirting with each other after the game…"

"They weren't flirting," Shikamaru suddenly made a face like he was sick to the stomach. "Ew, that would be weird. Naruto is her brother's best friend and because they're both blondes they acted like brother and sister almost all the time. If you see them hugging each other, it's natural."

"But she seems kinda affectionate towards you too…"

"Not just me, Temari's like that towards everybody! Sasuke, even Kiba! Besides, she already has a boyfriend. So how come Sakura saw her as a threat?"

"She didn't know." Ino defended her best friend. She began to feel hot.

"But that doesn't mean she could jump into conclusion just like that. She should've asked!"

"She was blinded by jealousy!"

"Thanks to her, Naruto's all miserable now."

"She didn't mean to!"

"Go ahead, defend your friend."

"Shikamaru, I don't want to argue." Ino stood up. "Thanks for your information. I really appreciate it."

Shikamaru blinked at her sudden icy tone but before he open his mouth to say something more, Ino had walked away.


Ino spent the entire night comforting Sakura but by the time the sun came up, Sakura still wasn't convinced to apologize to Naruto. She was too embarrassed.

She failed to show up at the beach and also her house for three days in a row but Ino knew Sakura wasn't going anywhere instead of hiding in the safety of her bedroom. Because of her best friend's lack of spirit, also because of the behavior Shikamaru had put up to defend Temari, Ino wasn't interested in going anywhere too - was she jealous?

No, Ino concluded, banging her pillow in frustration. She was just pissed he was acting like that.

But locking herself only made her almost crazy. She missed the warm air, the beach scent, her cool rock… She missed singing and playing her guitar out in public. She missed the wind blowing her hair. She longed for someone to talk to.

The clock showed a little over ten. Ino made up her mind. She wouldn't be stuck in her room just because of that tiny little thing. Hurriedly, she changed her clothes and combed her hair, packed her guitar and slung it over her shoulder and dashed out. Stars in various colors seemed like they were smiling at her and the moon looking as bright as ever.

Sai was in his front garden as usual as Ino passed by. He wasn't holding a brush and a palette in front of an easel like always, instead he was standing in front of a huge canvas hung on his windows, covering almost all the walls. Tiny balloons contained various colors were stuck on the canvas and Sai was doing something she'd never seen before: popping balloon one by one using darts. The colors splashed on the white background and Ino could see the colors were mixing clumsily. Blue, red, yellow, green… all produced some kind of strange graphic. Art was something Ino could never understand.

"Moon girl," Sai greeted, realizing she was there. His pale body was splashed with colors as well, they were all in his hair, his face, his bare chest, his pants, his feet… "Long time no see."

"Yeah, I was brooding in my room over something troublesome these past few days." Ino smiled. "What are you doing?"

"Trying something new."

"Oh." Ino eyed the scenery without interest. "I better get going. Bye!"

The beach was empty when she arrived but as she settled on her rock, a voice called out from behind.

"You're late."