Chapter 14: Girlfriend

Rinko winced and sank lower in her seat as another group of girls passed by talking in less-than-quiet voices about what they were witnessing. Rinko had sunk so low and hunched over her bowl so much she had hoped that she was all but invisible; but still people were commenting on her appearance and presence in the small restaurant. She silently told herself that the fact that it was late, the restaurant was small, they were in a remote area and the Chojin Olympics were barely over and still very fresh in everyone's minds – mainly thanks to Mantaro's little stunt keeping himself and Kevin Mask in the headlines – were the real causes for what was going on around her.

But she knew that no amount of excuses she could fabricate could possibly disguise the truth: Kevin Mask had just bought her dinner and they were eating at a table for two in full view of the restaurant staff and other diners.

"People think we're together," she grumbled, dipping her head further until her chin almost collided with her bowl.

"We are together," Kevin said with a small shrug.

Rinko glared at him through her hair, wondering if he was mocking her or just so accustomed to getting attention wherever he went that he did not realise why this situation was so embarrassing and awkward for her.

"They think we're… "together"," she tried again.

"We are together," Kevin said again, much to her chagrin.

"They think we came here together!" she snapped, lifting her head to look directly at him. "By choice!"

Rinko waited for Kevin to respond, waited for him to suddenly snap to his senses and hear what was being said around them, for him to acknowledge her predicament and offer some sort of assistance; but infuriatingly, he instead poked a straw into his mask and began drinking from his bowl of tea instead.

"Kevin, people think we're here as a couple," Rinko ground out, silently hoping that the heat she could feel in her face was merely the steam from her noodles and not her encroaching embarrassment.

To her relief, the tea slid back down the straw and Kevin's eyes thinned a little as though he was beginning to understand her implied meaning. Realising that he would only understand frankness in such a situation, Rinko continued.

"Everybody here thinks we're here on a date. It's very awkward."

Kevin pulled the straw from his mask and carefully laid it down by his bowl. He inched his head to one side, apparently looking over at the large gathering of teenage girls in one corner of the room. They all began giggling and shushing themselves as they caught him looking their way. He then turned in the other direction, slowly looking around the other tables. Rinko copied his actions, finding that, as had been the case when they had first entered the restaurant, just about every pair of eyes in the room was looking in their direction.

"People are strange," Kevin concluded, turning back to Rinko. "You should just ignore them. That's what I usually do."

Rinko sighed, rolling her eyes in despair.

"This is really, really embarrassing for me!" she hissed.

"Why?" Kevin asked flatly. "Because they think that you're my girlfriend?"

"Yes!" she replied, relieved that he finally appeared to understand the situation.

"I see," he said with a nod. "They've seen you with Mantaro, they've seen you with Jade and now they see you with me. I suppose that makes you seem like a "groupie". Though personally, that's all I ever thought you were anyway."

Rinko's jaw dropped and her breath halted in her throat. Kevin apparently could not see that he had offended her, or else simply did not care, as he poked the straw down through the eyehole of his mask again and began drinking his tea, seemingly oblivious to her shock and disgust at his words.

"You're so insensitive!" she hissed out.

She wanted to yell at him but also did not want to draw any more attention to their table.

"I understand now why you don't have any friends," she added. "You're rude and thoughtless and you don't understand other people at all! You should always be alone!"

"I like being alone," Kevin calmly replied, his voice sounding loud to Rinko after her own whispered tone.

"Well good!" Rinko snapped. "Because you always will be!"

Rinko growled in frustration as a sucking sound began to resonate from Kevin's bowl, indicating that he had almost finished his beverage and was trying to suck up the small remaining puddle from the bottom of the bowl. He really was quite horrid, she thought to herself. She silently wished that Tamaki and Keiko were with her: they were both so enamoured with Kevin Mask, but Rinko was certain that if the girls spent even five minutes with him they would quickly change their opinions. She doubted they would last much longer than that, since she herself had barely managed a full day in his company.

And, just as she had been sure that her situation could not possibly get any more awkward, Rinko suddenly found herself engulfed by a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls thrusting notebooks and cameras in Kevin's general direction. She watched in reluctant interest as he quietly signed a few autographs, allowed himself to be photographed whilst the girls pressed themselves against him and he politely declined to join them at their table. On his last action, the girls all turned to Rinko, glaring at her with almost murderous intent. Rinko stared back at them with wide, innocent and fearful eyes. She audibly sighed in relief when they eventually left again and pushed her bowl away having suddenly lost her appetite.

Looking across the table she was suddenly aware that Kevin had eaten his own meal, and she still had not seen how. She wondered if he was mocking her. She suspected that he had a sneaky facet to his personality: after all, he had been very sneaky to build that tent around her in her sleep and to have kept his face hidden every time he ate. Maybe, she thought, he had devised a way to eat without removing the mask just like how he drank with straws wedged into his mask. But surely he removed the mask sometimes? It was quite jagged and made of steel, so sleeping in it was surely out of the question. And he had to brush his teeth.

And he had to vomit.

Rinko grinned slyly as an idea occurred to her. If she could find a way to make Kevin sick he would have to remove his mask to throw up.

Her smile vanished. What was she thinking? Not only was that cruel and disgusting, but it was irrelevant. She did not need to see his face. She did not even care what it looked like.

"Are you alright?"

Rinko snapped out of her thoughts at the sound of Kevin's voice. He was looking directly at her, and, she thought darkly, he probably had been looking directly at her as she was scheming and therefore seen the changes in her expressions.

She started to blush again.

"We should go," she said.

She tried to ignore the twinge of guilt she felt as Kevin began counting out money to cover the cost of their meals. She turned her head away from the scene in the hope of finding some relief; but instead her eyes landed on the group of Kevin Mask fans, who were still glaring at her in a way that made her physically shiver. She hurriedly grabbed up her bag and began winding her way through the tables towards the door. She tried to shut the door of the restaurant in Kevin's face as he started after her, but misjudged the length of his strides and found that the door merely clanked against one of his enormous boots.

"Here," he said as he stepped outside.

Rinko frowned at his outstretched hand, unsure if she was pleased or not with what she found. She lifted her eyes to Kevin's masked face and tilted her head a little as she tried to reason why he occasionally did thoughtful things, but apparently he took her look as a questioning one as he answered an unspoken question.

"You've almost finished the ones you have," he explained. "I thought you might like some more. And I know you're too young to buy them yourself."

"You're too young too," Rinko grumbled, grabbing the packet of cigarettes from his hand. "They just sell to you because they're afraid of you."

"You're welcome," Kevin dryly replied.

"I never said that I was grateful," Rinko corrected him. "I was trying to quit. I usually only smoke when I'm stressed out about something. I was smoking last night because I was worried about Mantaro and I smoked this morning because I was hungry and I had no money."

"I see."

"My mother would kill me if she knew that I was smoking again."

"But she doesn't care that you've run off after an idiot like Mantaro Kinniku?"

Rinko thrust the packet of cigarettes into her bag and scowled angrily at Kevin.

"First of all, Mantaro is not an idiot!" she corrected him. "And secondly, how dare you talk about my mother? You don't even know her! How would you like it if I started calling your mother an idiot?"

Kevin faltered a little and Rinko smiled.

"I thought so," she said, folding her arms across her chest.

He nodded his head and turned from her.

"We should keep going," he said quietly.

"Sure," Rinko agreed.

They started walking away from the restaurant and Rinko felt distinctly smug about her victory over Kevin in their little verbal debate. She held her head up high and smirked smugly to herself; but her moment of glory was short-lived as a loud banging sound at her side suddenly made her double over in shock. Turning her head to the source of the sound she found Kevin's fans inside the restaurant all banging on the window to get his attention. Glancing at Kevin she saw that he had not even flinched and was still walking on as though nothing had happened. Turning back to the girls Rinko yelped and leapt back from the window as she saw them kiss the glass and press themselves against it.

Rinko had never noticed girls behaving that way around Mantaro.

"Hey, Kevin!" she called, hurrying after him. "Is it always like this for you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he muttered gruffly.

"Those girls," Rinko explained. "Is that what it's like for you? Girls always chasing after you?"

"I wouldn't know."

"What?"

Kevin's answer did not make any sense to Rinko but she could tell by his tone and his tensed shoulders that he did not intend to discuss the matter any further. Mentally she told herself his tattoo, his mother and his fans were subjects he would not talk about and so she would have to let her curiosity about all three subside.

"Kevin?" she asked instead. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

Kevin grunted out an illegible noise and turned to glare at Rinko as though she had just deeply insulted him somehow.

"I was just curious," she said with a shrug. "You said you're always alone but those girls seemed to really like you. I just wondered."

"I see."

Rinko waited for Kevin to answer her but instead he walked on in silence. She rapidly lost her patience when he did not so much as look her way again, determined that this was one subject that she would make him talk about, if only to prove to herself that he was human.

"So…" she said slowly. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Do you mean like how Mantaro has you?" he asked.

Rinko hesitated, still unsure if even she considered herself to be Mantaro's girlfriend. He certainly saw her as his girlfriend, but she was not quite so sure. She did really care about him and they had been out a few times on what some would consider to be dates.

"Yeah," she eventually replied.

"Then no," Kevin said. "I don't have a girlfriend. I don't have a frivolous little girl with mixed loyalties who follows me around needlessly."

Rinko yelped indignantly at the insult but Kevin ignored her response. He had refused to talk about the other personal issues she had broached with him but she was suddenly glad that he had since apparently the only response he saw fit to give to such a line of questioning was a rude one.

"It's lucky that you like being alone, because you always will be!" she snapped.

"You already said that," Kevin calmly reminded her.

"Well, it was so relevant, I thought I'd say it again!"

"How nice."

Rinko growled and kicked at an empty glass bottle, almost enjoying the racket it made as it bounced along the ground and finally smashed against the wall of a nearby building. She hoped that she would finally catch up with Mantaro the following day because she doubted she would survive another day with Kevin Mask.

"I'm staying here tonight."

Rinko stopped short, turning to see that Kevin had stopped by the doorway of a small hotel. She looked about herself in silent admission that it was late, she was tired and a comfortable bed for the night did sound preferable to sleeping outside on the cold, hard and wet ground again.

"What are you going to do?"

Rinko's face dropped.

"Um… What?" she asked cautiously.

"You don't have any money, do you intend to sleep outside again?" Kevin asked.

Rinko felt her face twitch in what probably looked like a ridiculous gesture to Kevin; but he did not respond and so she tried to tell herself that he had not seen her reaction to his words.

"I uh…" she began, looking about herself again.

She had been expecting Kevin to pay for a room for her too: after all, he had been feeding her and supplying her with cigarettes, water and snacks, it seemed only logical that he would get her a room for the night too. She wondered if she ought to pretend that she might run away if he did not pay for her to stay at the hotel, but the idea then dawned on her that if she did use that argument, he might force her to stay in the same room as him which would be really awkward.

"Make up your mind, it's getting late," Kevin said a little impatiently.

"Right, well…" Rinko began nervously. "I'll just…"

But still she did not know what she wished to do next.