TK's POV

I remember that day as clearly as I remember her. It was part of her, the whole day was purely her, and there's nothing else in that day except her.

I remember the blacktop, how it felt hot and soft under my fingers, and the metal glint of the chain link fences; the rusty orange of the hoop and the little pop-smacks near my ear.

"Teach me how to do that." I said, and she looked up at me, her eyes glinting off the mid-afternoon sun.

Her grin cooled me in the sweltering heat surrounding us, and I couldn't help but think she looked like mint, mint on ice, or maybe mint on gin in clear glasses.

"Smacking gum is a natural talent. You either have it or you don't, so, sucks to be you."

Her giggle twinkled in the breeze as she dodged a playful blow.

The playground was next to the school, and so were the basketball courts where we sat. Rusty red brick walls rose next to the blacktops, chain link fences separating a few courts. It was hot outside, and a breeze fitfully blew every now and then, making small strands of her hair dance into her face. The trees shone in full, leafy green foliage, leaves shiny with green blood and vitality; they stood proudly next to the bleak surroundings and cracked cement, defying their environment with their strength and lasting presence. Only crumbling buildings and faded signs surrounded them, yet, they persevered; they did it as much for the people around them as they did it for themselves.

Apartments on apartments continued in blocks after the trees; bus stops every few feet, small family restaurants and run-down dry cleaners, the corner stores, more apartments, and subway stations. The city extended miles beyond that, like a shimmering diamond from the sky; but from ground level, it was nothing more than crowds, markets, the dirty benches in the bus stations.

They were used to it, inner city life. Odaiba was not a bad district, not half as bad as some of the others. You'd knew old Mrs. Yamamoto down the street who sold noodles, knick-knacks and school uniforms down at the store on 25th, and Mr. Tojo who never carded you for anything in his little shop on 7th and West. For the kids who'd grown up there and knew every warehouse, every b-ball court, every shop and boutique, Odaiba was a small home in it's own way.

I'm telling you this so you can see where we were that afternoon in your head, so you can be there with me. Maybe if you're there with me, you can feel what I felt.

The sun shone fiercely, and we listened to the thump-slap, bang-swish, thump-thump-thump-thrrrrrrrr-jump-shot! and the clank of the chain net as it swung after the ball went cleanly through. I would have played, but they were older, much older, so we sat on the blacktop leaning back against the chain-link fence with our legs splayed out, baking in the heat, tongues lolling out like dogs in the summer.

We were waiting, waiting for some of my friends to show up so we could get up a game.

I always played after school. Matter of fact, I always play period; I don't remember a time when I didn't play.

Except for the digital world, maybe. But I had other things to think about.

This year, we were both in high school, second year; Kari had refused to be a cheerleader, and instead joined the step-and-pom squad, a select group that did flashier pom, dance and step routines, combining elements other than cheerleading. They were good, real good, and their presence at games was always sought. But they were also selective; these highly toned, highly tuned and extremely rhythmic girls only gave awesome performances, refusing to do a show when they were not ready.

The clean squeak of the floor under my feet, the bright, false lights, the clean rubber smell of the ball. These were the things that I remember that year, in the morning, in the afternoon, and sometimes even in the evening. The basketball team was no joke; these people took it very seriously. They worked you, no doubt, but it was all in your favor.

Every night I'd come home tired as humanly possible, my muscles limp, drained and squeezed. I'd wake up feeling as though someone had beaten me, rolled all my tendons and shrunk my eyeballs in salt water. Sometimes, I even forgot to brush my teeth in the morning.

No matter. You gotta make sacrifices, and unfortunately, my grades seemed to be on the sacrificed side lately.

I wasn't thinking about my grades that day though, or about anything else.

She was too dominant, in her quiet yet playful presence; she was the mood, the setting, the tone, and all the characters in one. I wanted to write novels on her, but instead, my fingers caressed the worn orange rubber. It was my replacement, my closest friend.

It knew all the things that I'd never whisper to her, or anyone else. It knew them through the energy with which I hurt it. I took everything out on that ball.

I leaned my head back, lazy, listening to the sounds of the street, listening to the ball, listening to everything she said in her silence.

We were comfortable, undemanding. This place wanted nothing from us, this refuge. We felt it's freedom even in our thoughts, freedom from everyone else, only the rubber on blacktop and the sound of small, white cheerleading Reebok Princess shoes beating down on it in a steady rhythm, accompanied by giggles and slaps in a marvelous show of skill.

From under half-closed, guarded eyes, I studied the never-ending length of her legs furtively. They were slim, tight and toned, just like everything else about her; even her personality was trim, highly strung and always ready for action. They were naturally tan, the color running in the family, and her feet flopped back and forth, in and out, as she slumped against the fence, poking the warm blacktop beneath us.

Her arms were the same way, proud shoulder muscles standing to attention, and a slender neck rising out of her slight collarbones. She had a small waist, and a gently concave tummy connected to slightly wide but firm bones, leading down to those impossible legs.

She looked so cool, so fresh in the heat that I wanted to steal some of it from her.

There's things I'd never tell Kari, in spite of the fact that I tell her a lot. I mean, we've come a long way together, since we were basically toddling around in our nappies, chewing on the same slobber covered toys. Okay, so it wasn't that far back, but we were little when the first attack on Odaiba came. When we discovered the eight child was her, I wasn't surprised somehow.

Somehow, I'd sensed it all along, but I hadn't understood it.

We've put those days long behind us, but I miss them in a lot of ways. Back then, we told each other anything. But now, I don't think it'd be so right to let her in on my little study session. I can see that frown scrunching up her features, that expression of distrust and disapproval passing over them like a shadow.

Nah, not the best idea probably. It's just that, there's something about her that takes on a certain animal quality when reflected in my eyes. She's like a feline, ready to spring anytime, and there's a hollow need, a hunger in the bottom of my stomach when her light muscles flex under the silky smooth skin.

I pushed it aside, removed my eyes from her with all the willpower I had, and directing them towards the sky.

"Dog," she sad, and snapped her gum again.

"Huh?" I asked, slow as always. Come on TK, get it together, TK, look, what? Hurry up.....

I shook the words out of my head, sighing.

"The cloud," she sad impatiently, "Come on TK."

"Oh yeah,......dinosaur. Um, eel. That's a castle."

She grinned at me, smacking her gum smartly.

"Uh....that one's like a car, look! there's a dolphin! and a hippo."

"The one above the tree? Hippo my ass, that looks like Cindy Crawford."

She smirked, and looked at me, and I let my tongue loll out of my mouth and glaze my eyes back. I dodged the eminent blow and we giggled, like little kids.

I remember the pleasant unimportant chatter, as the sun warmed us to life. I wore the slightly baggy green trousers and white dress shirt, tails hanging out, sleeves rolled up. It was a comfy take on the uniform we had to wear, and if anyone can make even that look good, it's me. Having Matt for a brother definitely taught me a thing or two.

She wore the green skirt that's also uniform, and on her, it has a certain air of jauntiness as though it was a cheerleading skirt instead of a uniform. I can see her playing tennis in it, or stepping and poms, anything but uniform. I guess it's her legs that give it that flair. She'd also forgotten the socks , her bare feet going in her worn canvas low-tops. She discarded the stuffy top, wearing a plain, tight white undershirt that stuck to her in all the right places. I tried my best not to look.

It was then I heard the voices floating from the school, coming our way, and we got up. I was making layups and crossing people that afternoon, and I know now it wasn't for myself. Everything I did was for her, and it would be that way for a long time. Too bad she didn't know it.

LEMME HEAR YA! thump-smack, thump-smack, swish! ALL MAH LAY-DEEZ! THU-mp, smack, thump, smackthumpsmackthumpsmackSCORE!

Between the thumps of the ball, I heard the rhythm slap of her small, white shoes, the laughs, the chants, her and her friends, stepping and dancing,

WE GWON'A KICK YO ASS! LES GO! REBOUND, DRIBBLE, PASS!

the claps in tune to the steps, and it all merged together in one great game, one great rhythm and beat.

THump, Smack, THump-thump, slap, TIII-GERS! 04! thump slap.

We were the players, and between the hard smacks of the ball on the rubber and the small stomps of her feet,

THrrrrrrr-ump, dribble dribbledribbledribble, SWISH! bang, TIIII-GERS!!!!!!!

a beat was born.

It was how I remembered that day, and how I remembered her; a beat on the concrete, mint on ice.

KARI'S POV

My world is me, and he's the world around it; without him, the buildings, the red brick and cement, the bright signs and the letters and symbols become nothing.

I live here and breathe here, thrive here. It's the only place I know and the place I want to be. So is he.

Many people go through life with the misfortune of never having a best friend. Emotions are deceiving, and they choose to trade deep trust for a few moments of senseless feelings. If there's one thing I've learned from living here, it's that you can't count on feelings. I see it written on the faces of the people inside this bus; I see it painted on my reflection in the plastic window behind me. I see it everywhere, read it in every word. Thus I know it's true.

Maybe that's what I like about him. He doesn't rely on emotion. He keeps it all organized and right, his life built around him like a small city. He runs the government, he runs the activities, he runs the emotions as though they were people.

I respect him, respect him in his anger, respect him in his pain. Respect him in his mad competitiveness, in his fragile conditions, where he shimmers and trembles, made of glass so thin it's invisible. One word can shatter him then, and that's why he comes to me when this rarely happens.

Because I have no words, only long, slender fingers that organize and fix the small city that he is, regulating everything once again with the precision and intuition of a girl. I ask no questions, only hold him tight, and that's why I'm sorry for those who don't have a best friend. Or maybe just those who don't have TK.

The plastic of the bus is cold under my thighs, and I can feel them sticking to it. I never wear hosiery. I'm not the kind of girl that can wear a pair of hose without tearing a rip in them; every time I try they're gone by lunch. The bus smells faintly like plastic and people, the lady next to me reeking of fermented tofu and canned eel; I ignore it and stare out the window as the bus swallows the crumbling cement below us, and twilight struggles to fall on the unyielding city.

I love Odaiba, with it's familiarity. I love TK with his familiarity. I love my family with their ......familiarity....ok, that made no sense. I giggle.

The lady next to me looks at me strangely.

"I punned," I tell her, and she looks at me puzzled and uncomfortable.

I ignore her, and keep watching the scenery as it drifts by. Nothing I haven't seen before, but that's what I like about it. Small shops crammed between apartments, restaurants, businesses, and more apartments. Parking lots, cars parked on the street, bicycles and scooters, more buses stopping and going. It's a low throb of life, a rhythm.

My mind wanders back to TK, but I don't let it concern me. I'm not much one for introspection, and I don't "Wonder why I feel this way". I hate that phrase. I mean, take a good look at the feeling, and you'll be able to tell yourself. As long as you don't deny it, you'll find out why you feel that way.

I bet I feel that way because I see so much of TK, and because I value him so much. Hell, I might be a little attracted to him. Who wouldn't.

When you put those in plain sight and chronological order, they somehow seem amusing, insignificant and a lot less dramatic. Admitting to myself that I might be attracted to TK was not some shattering self-discovery. I'm a rational, intelligent girl, and saying "I feel something" is not a really dramatic thing. That doesn't mean I have to act upon it.

However, in spite of all my rationality, the nagging feeling that he's responsible for the huge-ass grin on my face slightly bothers me, and sets me on edge.

Kari Kamyia can make even romance look boring or rational, I think to myself. So why are you not doing it right now?

Maybe you haven't noticed, but I like being in calm control of myself. So when I try to wipe the grin off my face and it doesn't work, I slightly panic, and try again.

No results. Everything makes me smile, the stop sign, the lady whose lipstick is smeared in the corner, the small, shriveled bus driver. Now I'm completely flipping out, but the grin won't go away. Every time I manage to subdue it, it takes only a flash of pure, deep crystal blue furtively shining from under half closed eyelashes to bring it back again.

People on the bus sneak glances at the smile holding my mouth hostage, and I'm trying to fight it best I can. Death, destruction, famines, starving children.......

They look away and smile little smiles of their own, no doubt remembering their own little impassioned puppy loves. I feel sick to my stomach, and I want to punch myself in the face, anything to get rid of that grin. For God's sake!

I climb off the bus steaming mad and embarrassed, and it's only after I reach the corner of 4th and Nomura that it finally goes away.

My God.

I have to laugh a little laugh as I enter my apartment. It was all so ridiculous.

"Hey look it's little Miss Cheerleader! Just in time to do our dinner chant!"

I growled, giving Tai the evil eye.

"For the last time, I am NOT a cheerleader."

"62, 84, I don't even know the score. Go go fight fight Gosh I hope I look alright-"

"MOOOMMMM!" I bawl. "Tai's at it again!"

"Tai, be nice to your sister dear......" came the disembodied voice.

The tall boy with the mop of brown hair recently trimmed grinned, walked over to me and ruffled my hair. He flopped on the couch, holding a soda and looking at me mysteriously. Tai's a pain in the ass, but I love him.

He stretched his feet out on my lap, and wiggled his toes.

"PPEE-EEWW!" I scream, and laugh, and we tackle a little. I can't believe so many girls like my brother. If they knew what he was like at home, they'd pay their own fare to the nearest psychiatrist just to convince themselves they weren't mental when they fell for him.

"How was the school day?" he says as we flop back on the couch a little breathless.

"Good. Mr. Fujyiama substituted in Health Class today. The topic was reproduction."

Laughter rang through the warm apartment as the two on the couch shared anecdotes and stories from that day.

"Anyway," I say between giggles, " he ended up telling us the story of how he learned about sex by watching his neighbors with a spyglass, and how it affected his own sex life later on. Two kids had passed out and all the guys were pale, and all the girls were taking notes. Me and Yolei dipped after half-hour, getting bathroom passes and never coming back. Me and TK went to the courts. He played some ball while I practiced with some girls......"

Tai grins at me, that grin that I know means trouble.

"NO Tai, I do NOT like TK." I make my words as menacing as I can, and he backs away, making a motion of surrender.

'I never said you did! Why, were you thinking of it already? Was it on your mind?"

"Tai!" I yell, and a chase ensues. I've got him with one hand twisted behind his back.

"Promise to never say that in this apartment again. You know mom will make me have the little "responsible girl" talk if she hears, and I swear to God if I have to hear ' when I liked Billy in 7th grade' story again, so help me God I will kill you."

"Alright, alright!" he laughs, and I back off.

He slaps together a sandwich, and tells me about practice between chews and bites. It's disgusting, but I wanna hear the story.

"So there's this cheerleader in my locker when I open it, right? I jump back, and I'm staring as though I'd always been blind and had just been given sight; the girl is wearing nothing but pom poms! I was outta there faster than you could say Go Team. Then I run out to the field, right? and Coach says, son, why're you not changed? So I tell him somebody's put something in my locker, and I'm scared of it. So he goes in the locker room to look at my locker, and about .6 seconds later we hear this scream, and see him running out all red faced. As he was sailing through the door, I see a pompom hit him on the back of the head. We were all rolling on the turf....."

I was holding my stomach, feeling waves of laughter rolling out of me. This is how it always is when I'm with Tai. He makes me feel so great......

"What's so funny dear?" comes my mom's puzzled voice behind us.

Tai suddenly chokes on his sandwich, white faced.

I'm just laughing and laughing, and I don't want to ever stop.

The phone rings, and I pick it up, and since I'm in a completely fun mood, I vary from my usual response.

I make my voice low, sexy, and extremely passionate; I even add a gasp or two and a little moan at the end.

"Kamyia residence, this IS Kari, please, let me know, HOW I can help you...."

Tai is laughing soundlessly.

"Um, Kari?" I hear the voice on the other end. He sounds slightly confused.

I know my face is a volcanic red, and Tai is pointing at me and laughing so hard I'm afraid he's going to suffocate on the sandwich bits in his throat.

"Hi TK," I respond weakly, and Tai spasms.

I stalk off to my room, my brother's insane laughter following me down the hallway.

TK'S POV

When I play, even she ceases to exist.

I see nothing but the goal ahead me; my hands and feet work in perfect harmony, dribble, cross, fake left, right, between legs, SHOOT!

Layups on layups, passes that shoot straight and sure like arrows, magic foot work and dribbling combined, steady shots that swish cleanly every time, impossible dunks and maneuvers. It's what I live for, the glory, the lights, the pure exhilaration. I don't want attention, I just want to have that feeling in my veins, feeling the floor under my feet and then the air, hearing the cheers.

It's my footwork and dribbling that got me my name and my number-Magiq, number 33.

I slide past them like wind between their spread fingers; they don't even feel me. It's a game, it's a battle of wits mixed with motion, what next? You got me? Really? Watch dis. Two points.

We're sitting in the car, heading to the game, each one in our own personal mode. I don't talk before games, I just listen to this old, beat up classical music tape on my walkman. It helps calm me. It's not the oddest pre-game habit. Some of the guys have worse. A few refuse to take showers, one has a pair of lucky socks he never washes, one sits and prays on the floor, and a few just pace like caged animals.

She's right next to me, her mouth wordlessly sounding out endless step calls, her pompoms in her lap intertwined in her fingers. I watch the headlights from the cars passing us as they sweep her face, exposing flashes of it in bright slashes, illuminating her shadows and then leaving her in silent darkness again. Her curious, bright and beautiful mouth rounds and twist itself around the words softly, her eyes glittering in the headlights pooled in them. She's got a lot of hair. It's thick, and straight and shiny, and it's always a mess. She needs to tie it on top and on bottom to keep it from slipping out. I must have a thing for girls with messy hair, or maybe just a thing for her.

She turns and stares at me, and I forget to try to act like I wasn't looking at her. She doesn't seem to take it personally though, and just smiles a small, impersonal but encouraging smile. She's on her own planet, getting ready for her own game.

Nothing can stop me tonight. I feel her presence slowly warming me, building me up, sparking a fire in the bottom of my feet and my fingertips. I have a mad urge to grab a basketball and take it downcourt, one two three, it's in the basket. I want to kill that piece of rubber.

KARI'S POV

It's over, and I watch his tired face as he slams himself down on the bench, and they all crowd around him. He soared the entire night, unstoppable. He made it look so easy, as though anyone could do it; he dunked, dribbled, jumped higher, ran faster, and there was just no way you could stop him. There was a timeless grace and ferocity to his movements that stirred something deep inside me. Something that powerful, that uncontrollable, that amazing hid inside him; I wanted it out, and I wanted it for myself.

Blushing mildly at the thought, I focused on the task at hand, as my whole team filtered out on the floor and took their places.

The smart, sexy beat pounded out from the speakers, incredibly low and infectious, as the lights turned out and the crowds cheered for the perfectly tuned girls on the floor; us. The cheerleaders watched in envy as our group dipped, displayed some amazing footwork, snapped hips in and out and kept perfect rhythm to the sassy bass vibrating the whole building. He watched from afar, a proud small smile lighting his lips as his eyes burned holes through me in the darkness and I smiled for all I was worth.

TK'S POV

We're going to the tournament. Coach told us tonight, there's no doubt about it. It's up in Nagasaki, kinda far, but that's how I like it. Anything and everything can happen, and I'm not holding my breath. We won tonight; but there's more fights to come.

I don't see her like she was tonight, when every eye in that building slid over her frame, many burning through that uniform; I don't like her like that, when she's just one of a team.

I like her wearing faded jeans that hug her right and white wifebeaters and undershirts; I like her in the kitchen, hair spilling around her, laughing, throwing popcorn at me and making me laugh. I like her when she tells me stories, making them up as we go when we lay sprawled upside down on the living room couch with my head in her lap as she plays with my hair and smiles innocently.

Guess I never liked sharing.

She's coming on the tournament, her and her whole team. They'll be doing routines at every game. It's only four games, three days up in the Hilton.

She comes out full and bright, never ceasing to surprise me; I feel her in every joint and every bone, deep inside the marrow.

But I don't say nothing, just pick her up and hug her, congratulate her, and amid the flashing lights and camera bulbs going off, amid the screaming fans and the team mates yelling and cursing and crying out of joy, amidst the inquiries, the words jumbled in my ears, the madness swallowing us! I grab her hand, and we disappear in the darkness beyond the small side door open in the gym.

I remember running out, the warm night swallowing us, the breeze joyfully whispering near our ears, as we ran out to the middle of the blacktop and screamed our joy out. The streetlights shone on us as we laughed and danced like little kids, and I picked her up and swung her around and around. "Lock your knees," I told her, and grinned.

"Why?" she questioned, but locked them. I grabbed her legs close to the knees, and hoisted her up, with one final throw, landing her in the basket.

She screamed, kicking her feet, delighted and angry, sitting in the hoop.

"TK!" her voice echoed across the courts, joyful and laughing. "Get me down now!"

"Maybe I'll let you spend the night up there."

"TK! I'm jumping, and if you don't catch me, I will cripple you! Unless you plan on waving farewell to your basketball dreams, you'd better catch!"

"My god, you'll cripple me if you jump anyway!!!"

"What are you saying, I'M FAT?!!" she screamed, incensed but still laughing.

"Just jump!"

She landed hard, crashing into me, and I staggered, but managed to hold her up. She slid to the ground and stepped away, leaving me feeling empty.

I grinned.

"How was your flight?"

She punched my arm, and we went to find my ride, joking and laughing about the game on the whole ride home, and I kept thinking about how her hair smelled like mint under the pale silver streetlight.

KARI'S POV

TK's staying over tonight, since my dad is driving us both to the tournament tomorrow. He has before, so it's nothing terrible or special, but I must admit that Tai's been giving me queer looks. I try to ignore them, but it's not easy, since that idiot grin seems to want to return.

It's undeniable that there's a pain somewhere low and deep inside me, a growing hunger, a vague, unspecified want that lingers. And I know it's because of him.

My parents are out to dinner tonight, and Tai is at Sora's.

"Don't you dare," is all he hisses before he steps out of the apartment.

I don't blame him for being disturbed. If he only knew what I'd been thinking, he would've never left the apartment again when TK was there. However, I don't know why I have this strange feeling that he did.

All I know is while I'd sitting here on the couch, pretending to watch TV as he pads around the kitchen in his bare feet making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I'm watching him.

It's the way his muscles are laid, one over each other in steely curves under velvet, softly glowing skin. There is a tall, lean quality to the tightly knit framework, and I study them from every angle as he moves. It's the way his back curves, following his spine down to the small of his back, and the delicious curve of his backside, starting strange flutters inside my ribcage. He glows, silky smooth and glowing, freshly scrubbed from the shower. His blond hair is damp, and messy like always, and he hums lightly as he sticks the bread in the toaster. He's wearing a pair of baggy, low-riding cargo sweats and a wifebeater, and he looks warm and a cuddly and soft, just like the fabrics that curve around his body.

I swallow, and study my toenails as he finds the milk.

"What's on?" he replies cheerfully, plopping next to me on the couch. Course, he grabs the remote and wildly flips.

"Spanish soap operas....hm.....Mud-wrestling...oooooh"

I snatch the remote from him, wrinkling my nose in disgust.

"You make me sick." I grin, and turn the TV down, leaving it on some mindless sitcom.

"Oh, I see you're in the mood to talk," he smiles, and there's a glint of something in his eyes I don't understand. Suddenly, I'm afraid he's read my mind and I try to hide in shame.

"It's eight a clock. We should probably get some sleep since we're waking up so early tomorrow. Did you do your homework?"

"Nope, wanna help?"

"Why not, it's obvious you need all the help you can get," I smile.

I remember the room being warm, and the light being low; that's all that I can recall, because something so powerful was taking over me that I felt scared.

"Actually," I whispered, my mouth dry, "I need to go to bed. Gnight."

I don't even remember seeing his expression, and I closed the bedroom door, leaping up on the bed and stuffing my face in a pillow.

It had been a sharp shiver; agonizing, yet, pleasant in a terrifying way. I felt it coursing down my spine, between my legs and down my thighs to my knees. It killed all my willpower, and made a space in my ribcage that expanded hollowly with every breath. It needed to be filled, filled with him. I punished myself for the feeling, but there was no way I could make it leave. After a few minutes of breathing hard and trying to clear my head, a sense of normalcy established itself. I laid there for a little bit, staring at this porcelain sculpture of a dragon, painted opaquely in green; I stared so hard, I swear I saw it break into bits.

A soft knock on the door brought me out of my dazed reverie, and sent me into fever; I saw nothing, I felt everything, and I was scared. Very scared.

But not as much as I was eagerly anticipating.

He softly crept into the room, closing the door behind him. The light was already turned out, but the pale blue of the streetlights and moon glinted through the window, illuminating my small room. I felt his presence in the room, like a cool breath of wind, drifting then dissapearing.

I was afraid and wanting, too ashamed to open my eyes.

"You asleep?" said the warm, low voice right next to my ear.

I jumped, every nerve resonating with that boyish whisper, and I opened my eyes and sat up nervously. Rubbing the back of my neck, I grabbed a teddy bear and squeezed it, leaning back against the wall. I didn't look at him in the face.

He sighed.

"Are we gonna have to go with the whole 'yes or no' question process, or do you just wanna tell me what's wrong with you? You've been jumpy all of tonight, and it's not like you to leave me with an English assignment like that hanging. You know you love that book. And I highly doubt your bedtime is eight. So, are you gonna tell me or will I have to beat it out of you?"

I don't think I said anything.

"Kari," he continued softly, "whatever's bothering you, you know you can tell me. If you don't wanna, that's ok. But you know I'll listen impartially."

I wanted to laugh. There's no way you can be impartial to this, TK.

But I patted the empty space next to me.

TK'S POV

Maybe you don't understand. Maybe you think this is just another evening where two hormonal people are stuck in an apartment, and there's some electricity going on. Or maybe Kari's acting weird because, oh what the hell.

There is no other cause, and to tell the truth, I like making her nervous. There's something that sends small currents through me when I see the flicker of her eyes, shining in the semi-darkness, the way she licks her lips and bites her bottom one nervously.

You still don't understand.

It's something beyond that. It's much, much deeper than you can imagine, than you can dream. I think it has something to do with that day when we were five and I gave her a twistie-tie from my sandwich bag as a wedding ring. Or maybe that day when we were eleven or twelve and we got sucked into that weird beach world with the black lighthouse; I knew if I didn't find her I'd die, pure and simple. That's why I was the only one out on that beach looking. Somewhere between all those years, between the shared Gatorade, shared adrenaline of our gym world, shared tears over victories and losses, shared stories and shared emotions, I had a strange sensation that I was permanently attached to her.

It's deeper than a blacktop playground where two kids sit, baking in the afternoon sun and listening to the rhythm that composes their life; it's deeper than me and her, than all of us.

I won't try to fool myself. The reason she's jumpy is not because she loves me. I know she does already. She loves me when she makes me three pb&j sandwiches in the morning, cause she knows I need food before practice. She loves me when she helps me with my homework cause I suck at English. She loves me when she fights the girls that hate her because of me, she loves me when she smiles at me, she loves me period.

And what I feel back is nothing short of exponential, too marvelous to explain. But she's not jumpy tonight because she loves me. That doesn't make her apprehensive. She's nervous because she wants me. And to me, that's new and beautiful, just like every other stage was. To her, it's probably a little scary. But the fact that I don't want to scare her does not hold back that certain instinct in me that wants to see her squirm, and know that it's because of me. It's almost mean, but exciting and thrilling in a strange way.

So I climb up next to her innocently, almost hearing her heartbeat. I lean my head on her shoulder, and feel the soft skin on her slender neck so close to my lips, close enough so she can feel the slight breath escaping from between them.

"Wanna tell me now?" I ask, as sweet as I can.

She shakes her head violently, and I feel satisfaction somewhere deep inside me at her terror. Don't get me wrong, I'm not twisted. I don't want to scare her. It's just that, when it happens, it's gonna have three times the electric charge this way. I'd want nothing less for her.

The day flashes slow and long through my mind, from the sun-baked court to the game and now to this, this moonlit, surreal world that awaits before us.

The current in this room is so high, that I can feel the air tension rise, and all I can keep thinking is, when I kiss her, will it all explode, or just simply disappear?

KARI'S POV

I need to breathe, but all the air that I gulp in does not seem to fill that need.

The soft white of the sheets glows pale blue from the light sneaking in through the window, and there's no sound in the semi-darkness besides our breathing.

Oh, so I guess I must be breathing cause that's not only him I hear.

His hair, soft and thick, like duck fluff brushes against my neck, warm, and I'm scared of what I'll do in the next five seconds, next five minutes, next hour. Above it all, there's a slight scent of mint, from my shampoo maybe, or from our freshly toothbrushed mouths; it lingers around, clean and sweet. I'm ashamed that I can barely control this feeling that sends tremors through me. It's the length of his body, sprawled on my bed in a boyish manner that I recognize too well. It's purely TK, he's got a certain way of laying, standing, whatever it is, you can tell it's him from a distance. Maybe it's just the way his frame is, the relaxed yet coiled look, and he walks like a panther ready to spring. Even when he's laying down, you can see the ripple of the muscle that's so tightly wound to the bone. He's not bulky at all, but lean muscled in a cobra kind of way, like a jungle cat. I remember the long hours we'd spend in the school gym before practices, laughing, talking and training, making fun of the amply endowed cheerleaders who seemed to have trouble jumping. We weren't cruel, just proud of our own efforts. And they had paid off, giving us taut bodies that we kept well tuned. It was our pride, the special thing we shared; now, I wanted to share, but in a much different way.

"G'night," I hear myself say, and desperately scream in my head NO! I didn't mean that! But I turn over, hug my teddy bear and squeeze my eyes shut, praying he won't go even after I told him to.

I hear his voice above me, but it doesn't sound all normal. However, it's forgiving, and I take only a tiny bit of comfort in that.

"G'night, sleep tight."

Then he's gone.

A complete emptiness knocks me down, leaving me breathless; my eyes open wide, pooling in the streetlight.

I didn't want him to leave. But in my infinite Kari-ish-ness, I was too scared. Now I'm nothing but sorry, and I bite my poor pillow to muffle the groan welling up in my throat.

I can't go to sleep.

It's been an hour and I still can't go to sleep.

Ok, it's twelve a clock and I still can't go to sleep.

I need a drink of water.

TK'S POV

I guess I halfway expected her to be too afraid. When she said goodnight, I understood that I'd have to wait. Which, is the only thing I want to do right now. Instant gratification is what our world is all about; fast food, fast cars, want something, got it. Talk faster, surf the net faster, don't waste your time.......

That's why I love her, because nothing's worth having if it's not worth waiting for. The greater the pain, the greater the happiness. And I can spend however many nights more just dreaming, if that's what she wants.

I roll over on the couch, and check the clock. It's twelve, and I'm still not asleep.

This is gonna be harder than I thought.

The sheets on the couch smell fresh, and I run my fingers over the linen texture. From where I'm laying, all I can see is a curiously shaped lamp on the coffee table, and the corner of the curtains. Out of the other corner of my eye, I see a tall vase with reeds, some thin mats with designs hanging on the wall, and a part of the bookcase. My mind wanders, waiting for sleep to take it over as my eyes study these objects again and again, and my brain starts making patterns in the lace of the curtains.

Sighing, I flip over, and focus my thoughts on her.

All I can think is cool, cool like mint; hot rubber, the rhythm. U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi. You ugly. Yeah, yeah, you ugly. The chant plays over and over in my head, as the trees rustle above us, the blue sky glows with late-afternoon sunshine, and my fingers coil around the chain links, watching her smile and clap as she yells out the words. M-A-M-A how you think you got that way. Your mama, yeah yeah, your mama...........

I moan in silent frustration, shake the chant out of my head and open my bleary eyes. Getting no sleep tonight...........

It's then I hear the silent creak in the hallway, and my eyelids snap closed instantly, and I catch my breath then let it out slow so she can't hear.

Because I know it's her.

KARI'S POV

I just want to get a glass of water, honest. I hope I don't wake him up.

The kitchen tile feels cool under my feet, and I feel the water splash a little on my fingers when I pour; I don't wanna turn on the light and wake him, so I stumble a little in the light blue dark.

I drink deep, feeling the cold liquid slide down my throat, easing my fear a little. I relax, wiping my hands on the short, stretchy white cotton shorts I'm wearing. I head back to my room, but I swear to god that I'm not stopping on purpose. My feet just stopped moving when I reached the couch. I glare at them in fear, but they refuse to go any further. They want this, and they know better than my brain.

I curiously but softly circle to the other side of the couch, and watch him as his chest rises slightly, peacefully breathing. His eyelashes are long feathers brushing his cheeks, making him look like a little boy, so innocent. I near him, careful to breathe quietly, and watch him sleep. One hand dangles off the couch, and his lips are slightly parted. He's kicked the covers to one side. Suddenly, I wanna cry, and I smile through the sentiment. I make sure he's sleeping, then take the covers and lift them over him, softly covering him. He looks small and lost, in the middle of the foldout bed all by himself, curled up under the covers. I smile sadly, and then, by some unknown wild impulse, I bend down and kiss his forehead.

It's then that I feel his hand.

One finger hooks on to the little gold chain that I wear around my neck, and softly pulls me towards him. I know he's been awake, and I have a feeling I knew that from the moment I walked in the room.

I'm slowly nearing him, feeling the warmth of him closer and closer, till I'm laying down next to him. He pulls me in close, his eyes still closed but smiling a tiny smile.

One arm encircles my back, and his fingers run down to the small of my back. He puts a gentle pressure on it, bringing my hips forward, till all of me is glued to his side. I remember sliding one arm around his waist, and cuddling my head on his chest, and we both laid there for a while, not saying anything, just sharing body heat and warmth and love.

The scent of him, the feel of him beside me, it's overwhelming yet peaceful, and I understand he understands. He kisses the top of my head, and whispers, goodnight.

That's the last thing I remember.

TK'S POV

I'm awake for a little while after she falls asleep, and I can feel her pulsing with life peacefully beside me. I've never slept so near to anyone since I used to sleep with my parents once in a while when I was little and had a nightmare. It's the same feeling I feel now, safe and warm and protected, and just to feel her next to me is all I ever even wanted.

She cuddles closer into me, murmuring some dream-caught phrase that escapes me, and I feel her slight smile glowing in the darkness. There is nothing more that I could want now, nothing more of her. I feel a deep joy inside me overcome the hollow need, and peace floods me like a wave of tiredness. As I feel my eyelids closing, and smell the mint sweeping softly over my chest, I know I'll remember this day as long as I live, remember it like I remember her.