Author's Notes: ✳dodges rotten tomatoes✳ Hehehe. Sorry. You see, it's like this. Uhm…well…errrr…I…eek! I actually ran out of excuses. So, yeah, I probably deserve that beating. D
I'm not very thrilled with this chapter at all; I hit a solid wall of writer's block numerous times while writing this. I've switched from one direction to another, until I finally settled with this one. I'm in need of a no-nonsense beta reader. Badly.
I spell Kurama's name as Shuichi the same reason why I spell Yuusuke's, Yusuke: I'm too lazy to add the extra u. However, I've now a perfect excuse: Kurama's human stepbrother has an appearance, and, as to not confuse readers too much, his name will be spelled Shuuichi. Am I a genius or what? ;)
Lastly, I turned 21 two days ago, and to celebrate, I give this "gift" to those who've been waiting for an update. Also, check out my profile to see some of the fanlistings you may want to join, including the new Kurama/Botan one.
Chapter 2: The Day After (Day 2)
The morning rays of the sun peek through the curtains that cover the glass windows in my room, lighting up my pale and drowsy face, explicitly proclaiming that it's a brand new day. Despite the thick cloth barrier that hides my room from the rest of the world, I feel the warmth of the day touch my skin, forcing me to pry my eyes open and squint at the ceiling groggily. I turn my alarm clock off, which is not set to go off until about ten minutes later.
Who needs it anyway when you have the persistent sunbeams to wake you up?
Instead of sighing in relief that I've survived another day, and an unusual one at that, I groan tiredly and pull the covers up my head. Sleep has been, much to my dismay, such an elusive dream last night. I've been terribly restless; the previous night spent tossing and turning, thinking about the mysterious girl named Botan. If it isn't bad enough, I can feel a splitting headache coming along. Whether it's from lack of sleep or too much thinking about a certain blue-haired woman, I don't know.
I picture Botan's innocent face on my mind, every detail vivid and real as if she's standing right in front of me. If having light purple eyes and long blue hair aren't enough reasons to say she's a peculiar character, her eccentric behavior should leave no doubt in one's mind about her disposition. Asking me to be her boyfriend for seven days then strongly implying something about my sexuality a few hours after, kissing a stranger's knee to "make the pain go away," and always doing or saying something unexpected that can make anyone blanch. Yes, she's atypical indeed. And that kiss….
A friendly kiss in the head is all it is, I'd like to think. But it surprises me that my body insists that the kiss is laden with meaning, that there's something there despite the fact that Botan and I had just met. I never would have thought that a simple kiss would affect me this much. I keep on trying to come up with reasons why she'd do it on a whim when we hadn't even known each other for more than a day. Even if it was just an elderly type of kiss in the head, why would she kiss me? Why did she kiss me? Why, why, why?
A soft knock in my room's door snaps me out of my reverie. I shake my head to clear the haze that has clouded my brain with thoughts of her. Now is not a good time to contemplate on what happened the day before; what's done is done, and that's all there is to it. I have the rest of the week to figure Botan out.
"Shuichi?" a soft voice that clearly belongs to my mother calls out from the other side of the door.
"Yes, mother?" I croak, my voice muffled slightly by the blanket.
"Are you feeling okay? Are you sick? Is something wrong? It's not usual for you to still be in bed at this time."
I frown at the hint of panic in her voice. My mother is a great woman, but sometimes she worries so much about the simplest things that she makes herself ill. She's been terribly sickly ever since the death of my biological father when I was but a mere toddler, the doctor saying that it's more mental than physical in nature. He added that I should make sure that my mother is always happy and does not stress herself much.
Three years ago, mother found it in her heart to love another man who would take good care of her and love her back. Hatanaka and little Shuuichi have permanently entered our lives since then, and I'm glad to see that the new extended family has done wonders for her health and well-being. I'm also glad that the two men seem to care for my mother as much as I do. We are all protective or her, and we try hard to not worry her.
"It's nothing to be worried about, mother. I just turned in late last night," I reassure mother.
"Oh, okay. Well, breakfast is ready. Make sure you quickly grab something before little Shuuichi leaves you with nothing to eat."
I chuckle lightly. Little Shuuichi, as we call my fifteen-year-old stepbrother, may just very well give Botan a run for her money. It's a recurring joke in the family during dinner. When asked about his love relationship with food, Shuuichi announces his favorite subject at school is lunch. His favorite pastime, he says further, is eating. However, he's an energetic young man who enjoys a lot of physical activities, so the fat burns off just as quickly as he puts it on. His capacity for food is, to say the least, impressive.
"Yes, thank you, mother. I'll be down in a few minutes."
"Hurry, Shuichi." I can almost hear the smile in her voice. She's probably standing outside my room with her face crinkled in an affectionate smile, wondering if the breakfast she prepared is enough to satisfy Shuuichi's more than healthy appetite and still has something left for me to eat.
I listen to her light footsteps fading as she slowly makes her way downstairs to the kitchen. I argue with myself for ten minutes. Part of me wants to curl up and catch up on some more shut-eye, but the responsible part of me shoots down the idea. Grunting lazily, I finally decide to get up from bed and take a refreshing shower to soothe my nerves.
Boxers on the floor, and body tingling in anticipation, I quickly jump into the shower. I sigh as soon as the cold droplets of water touch my skin, satisfied that it's enough to wake and ready me for a grueling day ahead. What with the café business and Botan keeping me occupied, I'm sure I'm going to need every help I can get.
Botan again. What is it with her that always makes me think of her? What makes her different from all the other girls who have made cheap shots to get me into bed? She's certainly not the most beautiful I've ever seen. She doesn't seem to be the smartest too. Is it the lush mane the color of sky on her head? Or maybe her mesmerizing purple-pink orbs, eyes that hold such innocence and mirth and some underlying emotion I can't understand, that draw me to her?
I grimace mentally. This is unheard of. Here I am, thinking about a girl in the shower, though not in the way members of my fan club would have wanted or fantasized about. I furiously massage the rose-scented shampoo to my scalp in hopes that every piece of Botan's anatomy residing in my brain will go down the drain along with the bubbles. I speedily dry my body off just to make sure that remnants of thoughts of her are gone.
As soon as I'm finished with my early morning rituals, I go downstairs to find my handsome stepbrother already munching on a thick sandwich, a filled-to-the-rim cereal bowl in front of him, looking absolutely pleased with himself for being first in line. He gives me a silly grin, making his cheeks bloat like pouches. I suppress a snicker at his little display. We've grown close throughout the years his father and my mother spend together. It's evident that he looks up to me and sees me as his role model. It's safe to say that he idolizes me and wants to follow my footsteps.
"Good morning, Shuu-nii!" he greets in his cheerful voice.
"Good morning, Shuuichi." I ruffle his brown hair a bit, and he scowls cutely at me.
"I'm not a kid anymore, you know. I'm fifteen. Fifteen." He takes his frustration out for being treated like a kid by gnawing at the poor sandwich. He pauses suddenly, as if remembering something of importance that he needs to bring up. "You know, I heard a bit of a shocking news…," he begins suggestively, a hint of mischief in his features. I look at him curiously for a moment, wondering what's with his sly smile.
I mentally backtrack about what could possibly be used against me, and Botan's face flashes across my mind. She's the only person who has successfully distracted me since yesterday.
I have a strong feeling where this is going. It's not to be kept under the wraps for so long. I just give him an even stare that causes him to widen his smile even more. "They said you were with someone yesterday afternoon at an ice cream shop," he says louder than needed. He must have thought that what he said need some more clarification because he stresses further, "A girl."
I sigh softly. Judging by his smug smile, I'm sure that if he had a third hand at his back, he'd give himself a congratulatory pat with it.
I hear my mother gasp excitedly. She whirls around and looks at me in surprise, her eyes full of questions and apprehension. Her beautiful face, however, is beaming in approval, happiness in her expression for my purported good fortune plain visible.
I sit down in front of Shuuichi carefully, ill at ease at the position he has put me in. I'm not yet ready to be interrogated by my own mother, partly because I have nothing to say, and partly because if I do say anything to reassure her, it would all be a lie.
"Shuichi?" my mother utters tentatively, subtly asking for an explanation.
"It's nothing really, mother. Just a customer I met at the café yesterday. She asked me to accompany her to the ice cream shop, and we talked for a while."
"Yeah, right," Shuuichi interjects. "They said you were holding each other's hands when you entered the café. How's that for companionship, huh?"
I throw him a mock glare that didn't escape my mother's sharp eyes.
"Now, now, Shuuchi. Maybe she's really just a friend," my mother chides my stepbrother gently, but the hopeful glance she throws at me belies her words.
"Yes, mother. Just a friend," I say quickly, taking the chance to set things straight though it would immensely disappoint her. I hold back a grimace when I see her beautiful face twist in a tiny frown, which she quickly wipes off before giving me an understanding smile. "I have to get going, mother. I'm going to be late."
"I don't know why you're so worried. You're the boss now anyway, big bro. It's okay to be late. I mean, no one's going to be angry with you or something. And you certainly won't lose money over skipping a few minutes of work. Maybe you're planning to do something else." Shuuichi says innocently, though I think I detect a hint of teasing in his voice.
I get up and put my hands on his shoulder. I smile at him patiently. "You're right. I'm the boss, and I won't lose money for being late. But, being the boss, I have the responsibility to set a good example for the people around me. Besides, I also need to help out. Our father has trusted me enough to let me handle the place, and I wouldn't want to disappoint him now, would I?" Shuuichi shakes his head fiercely. "The money is of no importance, really, but let me put it this way. I'd lose a little of their respect if I'm frequently late. They might resign from their work. I'd lose money then because no one would want to work for me."
"Yes, your big brother is right, sweetie," my mother agrees.
"I know that, mother. I'm fifteen. It's just that I heard that the girl Shuu-nii was with yesterday is staying in the hotel. I just thought maybe, you know…" he trails off, leaving his suggestive sentence open-ended as a wide grin spreads across his face.
I stare at him in confusion. What is he talking abo…?
I blink. Then it hit me in the head. The little sneaky mischievous boy is smarter than I give him credit for.
My mother, not a fool when it comes to teasing, turns her head to me, her interest piqued again. "Oh, really? Now that is interesting." She raises one delicate eyebrow and says in a playful tone, "Shuichi, you need not make excuses if you want to see her immediately. We'd understand. She must be a wonderful person for you to be acting like that. You should bring her here and introduce her to us." She claps her hands excitedly and gives a squeal. "Oooh. I can just imagine little ones running about the house in a few years time."
"Mother!" I exclaim in dismay and mild embarrassment. I pause as she and my little brother try to suppress their giggles unsuccessfully. "I can't believe you both. You're ganging up on poor me." They openly laugh at my grumbling while I look on with a mixture of fond exasperation and discomfort.
"Shuu-nii, lighten up a bit! You are so uptight! You don't know how to have fun."
I twitch at the familiar words. Botan has told me the same thing yesterday. Darn. I feel like a prude. Or a male spinster. People keep telling me I don't know how to have fun. But I do, really. It's just that their idea of fun and my idea of fun don't quite jive, and I end up looking like a ridiculous priss.
The day isn't starting out quite well. I shake my head dejectedly. "I'm leaving. Now I'm really going to be late." I gather my things and kiss my mother goodbye. I wave at my brother as I make my way to the door.
"Oh, before I forget. Please be home by dinnertime, dear. We have a guest coming over," I faintly hear my mother call out.
"Yes, mother," I reply absently. My mind is on something else entirely. I think I need to have a little chat with Botan before anything else goes out of hand. I am honestly mortified by the amount of teasing I got from my family.
Disaster greets me upon my arrival at the café. The place has just opened, but it's already half-full of people. And they're no ordinary people. They're girls. Giggly, touchy, bubbly girls. Those who chase after me left and right and try to catch my attention with a lot of outrageous schemes. Other guys think it's cool, that I'm lucky to be the apple of the eye of so many girls. I think it's troublesome. They distract me from school, and they distract me from work. In fact, they distract my life in general.
"Good morning, Shuichi!" they greet me simultaneously.
I just give them a polite nod, then a smile. I inwardly wince as they squeal and argue within themselves on who I'm supposed to have smiled at. I heave a sigh. I'm guessing it's not my day today, with all these unfortunate events unfolding one after another.
Hiei's smug look isn't helping either. I hate it when he makes an entertainment out of whatever painful situation I'm stuck in. I glare at him at the corner of my eye, but, as expected, that widens his smirk even more.
"Wipe that smirk off your face, Hiei. I'm not in the mood."
He snickers. Seriously, my pain is this little man's pleasure. My glare turns dangerous, and he just shrugs. "My sister is here, and somebody's looking for you," he says in an amused kind of way, his eyes darting toward the area behind me.
"Hello, Kurama! Good morning!" a gentle voice which I recognize as Yukina's says shyly.
I break into a carefree smile, my mood already improving. Yukina has a way of calming people down with just her presence, unlike her twin brother Hiei, who scares everyone off with just a look or a grunt. They're a walking contradiction of each other. The only telltale sign of their relation is their pair of ruby-colored eyes. And maybe their similar height, if one chooses to take that into account. Personality-wise, they're nothing alike. But ironically enough, they are as close to each other as any pair of twins can ever get. Hiei doesn't want to admit it, but he's a real softie inside.
I turn around to face Yukina, only to freeze in place as I stare stupidly at the person beside her who's giving me a huge and a little impish grin. Shoot! It's her. I almost groan in frustration but manage to catch myself in time before I let it out.
It definitely is not my day today.
"By the way, this," Yukina makes a sweeping motion with her hand toward the girl beside her, "is Botan. I found her in one of the tables in the corner. She looked a little lonely alone…"
"No, I didn't!" Botan protests weakly.
"…so I decided to join her. She also stays in this hotel. Botan, this is Shuichi, but you can call him Kurama. We all do. His stepfather owns this café. The scowling guy over there is my twin brother, Hiei. Don't worry about him, he won't bite."
Hiei and I both look in wonder at Yukina. She's usually timid even when speaking, but at that moment, her voice holds a commanding air that suggests she's the one in charge of the situation. Her unusual display of authority has caught us off-guard, and while Hiei's face doesn't give away much of his thoughts, I'm pretty sure he's also wondering what brought upon the change.
Botan smiles at me slyly then faces to Yukina. "Actually, Yukina, I've met them both already. Yesterday. Here. They were kind enough to give company to a lone stranger in the city. Kurama is the guy I told you about."
"Oh. Really?" Yukina looks at me disbelievingly. "Hiei, come talk with me at the lobby for a while, will you? I'll see you later, Kurama, Botan." She nods at us, smiles, and then makes her exit from the café, followed by a puzzled Hiei.
I raise an eyebrow at Botan as soon as they're gone. "Told her about what?"
"That I was waiting for a guy. Maybe she's just surprised that it's the great Kurama I was waiting for, so she threw that look at you. After all, I've been waiting for well over an hour, and according to her, her brother's best friend is perfection personified. She thought I've been stood up and has been a little miffed about it for the past couple of minutes." She suddenly laughs. "I'm surprised that Hiei is her brother. I didn't make the connection until she dragged me here. They're nothing alike."
"Why are you waiting for me?" I ask, disregarding the rest of her explanation.
"Well, I just thought I'd let you know I won't be bothering you for the rest of the day!" she says cheerfully. "I have a scheduled tour later. And then I'm coming over a friend's house for dinner. He's really excited, and so am I."
She has a friend here? Already? She's been in the city for only two days, and she has already been invited to dine in someone's house?
And the "someone" is a he?
I feel something weird stir inside me. My throat clogs up, and I find it a little harder to breathe. My left eye itches to twitch like crazy. My whole body tenses up. I can't explain it; just that suddenly, my mood gets even sourer than before. In fact, I feel a scowl straining to break free from my normally impassive face. I've never felt this way before.
"So, I guess I should get going now, eh? You have a lot of things to do, since you happen to be the owner's stepson, which is something I think you failed to mention yesterday."
"I don't really go around saying that my stepfather owns this café," I say dryly. "Good luck with the dinner. Enjoy." I wave goodbye as I turn my back to her, but, before I can enter the small office behind the counter, she stops me.
"Hm?" I glance at her, but she looks away and twiddles her fingers. She refuses to meet my gaze, and I tip my head to the side suspiciously. "Well?"
"You see, my friends back home are also visiting the city. They're going to arrive tomorrow at noon. We're planning to have a picnic at Inokashira Park, and then dinner that night at a nearby restaurant," she explains. "And I was wondering if maybe I can tempt you to join us? Don't worry about the money. It's my friend's treat. It's sort of like a series of celebratory meals; he has just gotten engaged with one of our friends. I've already invited Yukina, and she has agreed to come. I told her she could tag her brother along, but now that I know that the brother is actually Hiei…," she trails off, shrugging her shoulders sheepishly.
"I don't know if I can come." Or if I even want to, I add to myself. "Besides, won't that be intruding on your private celebration? Won't your friends mind? Especially the one who's going to shell out the money?"
"No, they won't mind at all. They're a pretty decent bunch of people. And if Yusuke complains about the bill, I'm sure Keiko will take care of him and his big mouth." She laughs almost hysterically. "Oh, well. Do tell me tomorrow if you change your mind. I must take my leave now else I'd be late for the tour. See you, Kurama." With that, she bounces away with an airy wave and disappears into the hotel lobby.
I breathe in deeply, the corners of my lips quirking upward. My spirit has lifted considerably now that what Botan said about not bothering me for the rest of the day has finally sunk in, but there's a nagging heavy feeling weighing in my stomach and chest. So what if she's having dinner with her male friend? It's not as if I'm jealous. Or am I?
I quickly ignore the feeling and instead bask on my freedom.
No Botan to distract me for the rest of the day.
I almost want to laugh out loud in relief.
Maybe it is my day.
Or maybe it isn't.
I stare glumly at the food before me, picking on them until they seem a bit sickly-looking. While it's wrong to take my frustrations out on dinner, I need to murder something even if it's just food. My mother glances at me worriedly, while my brother doesn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary with me.
"Shuichi, dear?" my mother utters tentatively, her quiet voice breaking through the chirpy atmosphere.
"Yes, mother?" little Shuuichi and I both reply promptly, looking up at our mother, who's facing me. Shuuichi, realizing that mother is speaking to me, frowns slightly. All activities halt as three pairs of eyes turn to me.
"Are you okay?" asks mother.
"Of course, mother. Why would I not be?" I ask calmly. Mother has a knack for knowing whenever something bothers me, but she's not a pushover who insists on knowing what's wrong. I know she'll let it go.
"No reason. You just seem a bit distracted."
"Don't worry about me, mother. I'm just tired from working the whole day today when I didn't get enough sleep."
My mother reluctantly accepts my excuse.
I know it's unusual for me to sulk -- and yes, I am sulking -- but I can't help it. The day has gone from bad to worse, from worse to relatively okay, and from relatively okay to hell. And I hate it all the more as I recall the events for the past couple of minutes.
I come home earlier than usual, having remembered my mother saying something about us having a guest for dinner. I've left Hiei and Yukina to close after themselves; I trust the twins to handle business-related stuff in my absence. After all, they're practically family.
I walk home in solemn silence, my pace brisk and purposeful, only to slow down as our brightly-lit house comes into view. Knowing my mother, she'd refuse to start dinner as long as one person is missing from the dinner table. I don't want to hold up anything, especially when we have a guest in the house.
I get my keys from my left-side jean pocket, but before I can even insert it into the knob, the door is opened by my mother from the inside.
"Shuichi," she greets with a wide grin on her face. "We've been waiting for you. Come on in, hurry. Little Shuuichi is keeping our guest company in the living room. Dinner is about to be served."
"I'll help you," I offer.
"No. No need, dear. Go acquaint yourself with Shuuichi's friend. I'll be just a minute." She scurries to the kitchen after I give her a peck on the cheek.
I've always considered myself to be pleasantly impassive, even if sometimes I do get cornered by some girls in the schools I've attended. I try to give an amiable smile even if surprised by their actions. However, I don't think there's any way I could have prepared myself for the scene that greets me as I make my way to the living room. Not even my stepbrother's excited voice could have clued me in. I stop in my tracks, and my eyes widen for a fraction.
I think I spaced out for a couple of seconds because when I came to, I saw little Shuuichi and Botan staring at me questioningly. I gaze at Botan suspiciously, wondering if she's been toying with me and my family all along. But there's nothing on her face that tells me anything at all. In fact, she looks like a beautiful angel sitting in my couch, her soft blue hair curling unto her back, her eyes crinkling in amusement at my stunned expression.
I raise an eyebrow to cover for my slip-up.
"Shuu-nii!" little Shuuichi exclaims, jumping up and running over to me. He takes an arm and pulls me to the couch. "Come on. I want you to meet a longtime family friend, Botan. Botan, this is my stepbrother I was telling you about, Shuichi."
I open my mouth to say that there's no need for an introduction, but Botan holds our her hand to me and grins. "Nice to meet you, Shuichi. This little runt has told me a lot about you. It's an honor to finally come and see you face to face," she says as she elbows little Shuuichi on the side.
I look at the dainty hand she extended to me, wondering for a millisecond what I'm supposed to do with it. Then I remember that it's the way Westerners introduce themselves, so I cautiously engulf her hand in mine, shaking it ever so slightly then quickly letting go. "Likewise."
We stare at each other for a couple of seconds, and my mom chooses that moment to make her appearance. "Everybody to the kitchen. Dinner is served," she announces cheerfully. Shuuichi skips to the other room just as cheerfully.
I look at Botan accusingly as soon as we're alone. She returns it with a giggle. "You don't seem surprised," I tell her.
"And you do."
"Botan," I mumble sternly.
"What?" she says, her tone defensive.
"Why were you not surprised?"
"Honestly, for some who is supposedly smart, you're sure acting dumb. Look at this room, Shuichi."
I immediately realize what she means. The living room is full of family pictures taken from since I was a baby and my biological father was still alive, to those of the new family with Hatanaka and Shuuichi. There are also some of mine from graduation ceremonies. My mother has always been proud that I always finish first in my batch, and she makes it a point to show that fact off even if only in the confines of our house.
Botan continues, "It's like a shrine to you and your family. It's hard to miss that you're actually the big brother Shuuichi keeps on talking about."
I nod at her, accepting her explanation.
"I admit I was surprised though," she says as she lowers her head. "I honestly didn't think we'd cross paths when it comes to our personal lives. I have no intention of telling your mother or Shuuchi about the deal, and I hope it's the same with you."
"Of course." Why would I ever consider telling them when it's my reputation on the line?
She looks up at me and smiles gratefully. "Thank you."
Shuuichi stumbles into the room. "What's keeping you both? We've been waiting for five minutes. My stomach's complaining already. Come on!"
The dinner ends up being uneventful aside from the earlier dialogue with my mother. My mother is obviously charmed by Botan. I can tell from the twinkle in her eyes and the way she smiles that she's already decided that the blue-haired girl is perfect and can do no wrong. Still, I can't help being grumpy about the whole situation. I find it extremely awkward to be sitting in the same table with my family and the girl I'm supposed to pretend to be dating.
After a few hours of chit-chat, Botan decides that it's past her bedtime. "Well, it's been fun. But I'm afraid I have to be on my way now. Thank you for the wonderful dinner, Shiori." She hugs my mother and stepbrother lightly.
"You're coming back, right, Botan?" Shuuichi asks.
"If you want me too, then yes, I will," Botan smiles at him kindly.
"Shuichi, why don't you walk Botan to her hotel? A pretty girl shouldn't walk alone late at night," mother half-pleads.
Botan is quick to react. "Oh, no, Shiori. That won't be necessary. I'm perfectly capable of seeing myself home. I've been traveling alone for the past couple of years. Besides, I do believe Shuichi has mentioned a while ago that he's tired. Let the poor man get his rest." She smiles at me and winks.
Mother sighs. "You're right. I'm just nervous letting you out at this time."
"Don't worry, Shiori. I'll be fine. Thank you again for everything. Goodbye!" Botan calls out as she walks away. Shuuichi bids us goodnight and runs upstairs to his room.
"Nice girl," my mother comments as we watch Botan slowly disappears from sight.
"Yes, she is," I agree.
I sigh. My mother is beginning to sound like a matchmaker. "I suppose," I say cautiously.
"Nobody's perfect, mother."
"I like her."
"Mother, I know what you're trying to do. The answer is no," I tell her.
She looks at me innocently and, with the sweetest voice, replies, "I'm not doing anything, dear. I'm just saying I like her."
"Whatever you say, mother. Now go to sleep. I'll lock up." I give her a fond kiss on her forehead and send her to her room to rest, but not until she gives me a knowing smile.
Even my mother is quite taken with Botan. I can only imagine how harder the situation will get from here on. As she ascends the stairs, I distinctly hear her murmur something like, "She's going to be perfect for you, Shuichi. I know it."