Secrets That She Keeps

by Naia Zifu

Ten'ou Haruka stepped out in her red racing suit, helmet under the crook of her arm, and looked up at the cheering crowd seated in the stands. Most of her fans were teen-aged girls, unaware of her gender, who hounded her for autographs and proclaimed their undying love for their "Ten'ou-kun". She greeted them politely, signed a few of those promotional glossies being sold at the souvenir stand, and posed for photos with a couple of excited children; all in a day's work for a famous F1 race driver. As Haruka's eyes found mine amongst the crowd, we exchanged a smile and friendly wave, but too soon her attention was re-focused elsewhere. Her eyes lit up as she caught sight of the aqua-haired beauty a couple of rows back and waved frantically to get her attention. Michiru saw and shyly returned the gesture, then blew her girlfriend a good luck kiss. I couldn't help feeling just a hint of jealousy; it had been just Haruka and me for most of our lives, until she came along.

Lately Haruka spent all her time with Michiru, to the point that she was dropping out of everything else. She had recently quit the school's track and fencing teams, largely retired from Motocross, and was today competing in the final Grand Prix of her F1 racing career. Haruka had even stopped taking her piano lessons, much to her mother's dismay. She'd moved out of her parents' house completely soon after, into a luxury high-rise apartment (paid for, in part, by some mysterious benefactor), and seldom found time to call or visit anymore. I was seeing her less and less frequently, myself-- only for school and the occasional weekend outing. Michiru was a nice girl, and I was happy for Haruka that she'd found someone so special, but she was living up to her name more and more lately, and it worried me. It reminded me of the way she'd been when I met her.

It was a pity such a pretty girl should be so lonely. But then, her beauty was one of the things our classmates most held against her. She was tall for her age, with long sandy hair and eyes that could look cold and blue or a pleasant green depending on her mood. Her dresses were candy-coloured with feminine prints, and looked expensive; the real gold and gemstones dangling from her ears definitely were. She always sat alone at lunch and played alone at recess because the other kids had labelled her a snob.

Maybe it wasn't right for a loser like me to feel pity for someone like her. After all, she was smart, pretty, and came from a rich family,
where I, with my second-hand clothes and thick glasses, had been labelled the class nerd. But I understood what it was like to be unpopular, and she looked like she could use a friend. So one day at lunch I gathered all my nerve to approach her.

"K-konnichi-wa," I stammered, my already squeaky voice going higher with nerves. "Mind if I sit here?"

She shrugged. "Do what you want."

She hadn't even bothered to look at me.

I set my lunch on the table and took a seat beside her. I half-expected her to get up and move away at that point, but she just sat there munching on a bear-shaped onigiri.

"Chikuwa?" I offered, but she ignored me. "I'll just set it here in case you want it later."

I set the tube-shaped fish cake at the edge of her bento and returned to eating my own. Though she continued pointedly ignoring me, I thought it a good sign when next I looked over, and found the chikuwa gone. I decided to give it just one more try.

"I notice you always sit off by yourself," I said. "The other kids say it's 'cause you're a snob." She snorted in contempt of the label. "But I know a thing or two about loneliness, myself-- nobody wants to sit by a nerd like me, either."

She only shrugged again, still not looking at me.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and gathered my courage to say, "Anyway, I-I thought maybe you and I could be friends."

She tensed up in her chair. "You just don't give up, do you?"

I grinned cheesily. "Nope."

Finally she turned to look at me, with eyes like icy blue daggers.

"Don't you get it? I'm not the friendly type; I'm bitter and mean and standoffish. I've never had any friends, I don't know how to be a
friend, and I don't deserve any friends. Just leave me alone."

"No, because first of all, everyone deserves friends, and secondly, I think the reason you're so mean and bitter is 'cause no-one's ever treated you nicely before, which is what I'm trying to do if you'll let me. You said you didn't have friends, but you didn't say you don't want friends. I bet it's just nobody's ever asked you. Well I'm asking you now, do you wanna be my friend or not?"

My face was hot from the uncharacteristic ranting and the embarrassment of having the whole class now staring at me. I'd never felt so self-conscious in my life! On top of that, I was sure she'd say no and everyone would witness my rejection. Time skidded to a halt as I anxiously awaited her answer. She stared at me, eyes wide with surprise (presumably either because no-one had ever asked to be her friend before, or no-one had ever talked to her that way before), for what seemed like hours.

Finally she regained her composure, shrugged, and turned back to her meal, muttering a barely audible, "Okay."

I was in shock. "Did you say, 'okay?' "

She looked back at me and rolled her eyes. "Yes, I said, 'okay.' What, are you deaf or something?"

"N-no, just surprised," I answered. "I didn't think you'd say yes." I smiled and offered my hand. "Boku wa Kobayashi Urano desu. Yoroshiku."

"Ten'ou Haruka," she said, shaking my hand with a surprisingly firm grip.

"Ten'ou Haruka?" I repeated, suppressing a chuckle. "That's your real name?"

"Yeah, are you making fun of it?" she asked in a menacing tone.

"Of course not-- it's a great name," I said quickly. "It's just kind of. . . fitting, you know?"

" 'Distant Sky King,' yeah, I know. You aren't the first one to bring that up," she said, then added in a harsher tone, "but if you ever poke fun at my name again I'll pound you. I like my name."

"Fair enough," I replied, trying to avoid further argument. "You sure are tough, for being such a pretty girl."

"Well, that's just the problem, you see," she said. "I don't want to be a pretty girl."

I stared at her blankly for a moment before asking, "So, you want to be an ugly girl?"

"I'd rather not have to be a girl at all," Haruka complained. "I wanna be free to climb trees and catch frogs and race like the wind!"

"You can do all that, Haruka-chan-- there's no law saying girls can't. Yeah, you might wanna change clothes first, but--"

She laughed. "Change into what? All my clothes are like this-- my parents won't even let me own a pair of pants, or sneakers to run around and play in. And you see how they make me keep my hair."

"I like your hair."

"Only 'cause you don't have to spend half an hour every morning combing out knots the size of small housecats," she said. "And it's always in the way. I'd cut it all off in a minute, if they'd let me."

"Your parents must be really strict."

"Mostly my mom-- she's pretty weird about that kind of thing," she said. "Like for picture day I was gonna wear a ponytail, but Mama wouldn't let me. She said in the pictures it would look like I had short hair, and people would think I was a boy, so she made me do it in pigtails instead."

"Maybe she'll come around one day," I said, patting her back. "And if it helps, you can act like as much of a boy as you want around me, Haruka-chan; I won't mind."

Haruka winked and blew a kiss back to Michiru, then pulled on her helmet and strapped into her yellow racecar. This was to be her last professional race and she was determined to go out in a blaze of glory.

Motorsports had been Haruka's obsession for some time now. Her dream in life was to become the top racer in the world, and she was in the process of achieving just that. At age sixteen, when other Japanese teens weren't even legal to drive, she was already one of the most popular and successful racers in the country. Haruka loved racing more than life itself; she didn't want to quit. So why was she? When I'd asked her about it, she'd just shrugged and said she had more important things to do.

"I know you, Haru-chan, nothing is more important to you than racing," I said.

"Well, this is."

"It's something to do with Michiru-san, right?" I assumed. "Everything for you revolves around her now."

I realised how bitter that sounded, but I couldn't help it. Haruka had been my best friend ever since grade one-- we'd been through everything together-- but more and more I felt like I was losing her. I wasn't asking her to stop seeing Michiru, just not to stop being friends with me because of her.

"Michiru's involved, yes," Haruka admitted. "So?"

"She didn't tell you to stop racing, did she?"

"Of course not," she replied, sounding surprised I'd even suggest it. "Urano-kun, I chose this myself."

"Doshite? Haru-chan, racing is your dream!"

"It was. Now I want to do the thing that only I can do."

"Don't talk in riddles."

"To tell you more would only put you in danger," she said, before abruptly changing the subject. "I hear you've been accepted to Mugen Gakuen, same as me. I thought I asked you not to apply there."

I blinked. "You knew I would-- we said we'd always stick together. But that's that got to do with anything?"

Her eyes softened. "Urano-kun, if anything ever happened to you, I--"

"Why would anything happen? Haru-chan, what are you not telling me?"

"Just. . . be careful."

Without further explanation, she'd just turned and walked away, leaving me even more confused than ever. I should've been used to such behaviour by now-- Haruka had always had her secrets-- but there was a time when I was the one she shared them with.

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and we both were sprawled out on my bedroom floor playing with toy cars. Haruka was wearing a pair of my overalls, dirty from where we'd been playing outside, and had her hair tied up with a red bandanna. We'd spent many an afternoon that way, since becoming best friends; she'd tell her parents she was off to the park or library, but sneak over to come visit me instead.

My mother poked her head in the door. "Lunch will be ready in just a few minutes, Urano-kun. Haruka-chan, are you staying to eat?"

"Yeah, I'm not expected home for a couple more hours."

"I'll set an extra place for you, then," she said, smiling. "Just remember to wash up first, the both of you."

"Ne, Haru-chan, are you ashamed to have me as a friend?" I wondered once we were alone again.

"Nani?" she asked in return. "Of course not! What makes you think I'd be ashamed of you?"

"Well, for starters, we've been friends for three months and I've never been to your house, or even met your parents."

"Isn't your place good enough?"

"When you say it like that, it sounds like you think I'm not good enough for yours."

Haruka smiled, eyes shining a friendly emerald-green, and reassured me, "Urano-kun, I'm proud to have you as a friend. I've never felt closer to anyone else in my life!"

"But?"

"My parents would get the wrong idea if I brought a boy home; they'd think I had a crush on you or something." Haruka made a face. "And besides that, my parents don't know how I act with you. They still think I'm their perfect little lady, remember? If they knew what I'm like when they aren't around--"

"They're gonna find out eventually, you know."

"Not as long as I'm careful."

"Don't you think it would be better to just tell them and get it over with, rather than have to keep sneaking around?" I said. "Why do you always have to be so secretive?"

"Necessity," she replied simply. "It's not like I'm ashamed of myself, or certainly not of you, it's just that if my parents knew about this
secret life of mine they'd freak, and probably try to stop it. If I want to keep going on as I am I've got to keep some things a secret."

Racing came easily to Haruka. She never had to drive aggressively or jockey for position; she simply took the lead from the start, and kept it. She saw herself as uncatchable, the personification of the wind. So I could only imagine her surprise when a young German driver began gaining on her in the final lap. It was the first race I'd ever seen her have to work for, the first serious competition she'd ever had, and I knew she was loving every minute. In the end, it came down to a photo finish. The girl who was the wind had been bested by 1/100th of a second.

Newspaper headlines the next morning proclaimed, "Ten'ou Loses".

There was speculation amongst the fans that Haruka had chosen to retire out of boredom, and finally having a worthy rival should be enough to convince her to stay. As much as she might have liked that, I knew no such thing would happen. Haruka had stopped competing for far more important reasons than just boredom; she had the whole world to protect.

Yes, I'd figured out Haruka and Michiru were the mysterious Sailors Uranus and Neptune almost immediately. It wasn't hard-- Haruka began dropping out of her normal activities and spending all her time with Michiru at just the time those new Senshi turned up, and then there were the physical resemblances. . . Neither of them seem to know I know, but if they do find out, they needn't worry. If I've learned nothing else being Haruka's best friend for so long, I do know how to keep her secrets.

©1998/2007 (revised and retitled HTML version) Naia Zifu all rights reserved. Originally published under the title "Beginnings".
Haruka and Michiru are SM characters that I don't own rights to, but Kobayashi Urano is my own creation. As always, I'm not trying to make money off anyone else's ideas.
This very short Urano story was written in one sitting late at night, so if it makes less than perfect sense, blame it on the late hour more than anything else. I hope it's good enough for being what it is anyway.
Still more Haruka and Michiru fanfics await completion on my clipboard, so you've still not heard the last of me! (more evil laughter here)