Hey everyone! I hope your summer has been better than mine. I recently moved and didn't have internet connection for the longest time. I guess I've been taking it for granted, but I can't seem to function without the internet. I actually finished this chapter over a month ago, but it took a while to edit. After I hit 10 reviews, I decided to post the chapter. It was the easiest chapter write…even if it took the longest time to edit. Thank you all for your support— it means a lot to me. Please continue to read and review.

Chapter 3

Izumi's poverty had become the talk of the school, spreading like wildfire from one student to the next. Izumi was stricken with embarrassment and morbidly wished that she didn't exist. Either that, or be completely unaware that she existed at all. The students avoided her like the plague for days, although Takuya and his friends supported her.

When Izumi heard about the Tetsujin High School's annual welcome dance, she felt heavy-hearted. It was a tradition for Tetsujin High School to host a dance to commemorate the start of a new school year two weeks after the start of classes. The students were buzzing with excitement, but Izumi was indifferent. If she attended the welcome dance, she would be an outcast. Besides, she didn't own a single dress suitable for the occasion.

None of that mattered to Izumi now because it was the weekend and the torturous first week of school had ended. To relax, she took a stroll in Kashi Park. The sky overhead was flecked with clouds and sunlight streamed through the foliage. She wore a pair of baggy sweatpants instead of her usual lavender skirt to evade the glances of the shady people in the park.

"It's a nice Saturday at the park and here I am thinking about school." Izumi sighed.

"I have to say," she said bitterly. "I've set a new record for myself. Becoming a social outcast in less than a week is surprising even for me"

Izumi felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. Not recognizing the caller, she answered.

"Hello?" she said.

"Hey, Izumi. I was wondering if you'd consider going to Monday's welcome dance with me." Izumi heard Takuya say.

"What? No way…sorry Takuya. Ask another girl, okay? I'm sure they're all want to attend the dance with the infamous school soccer captain."

"Kouji bailed, so I was hoping you'd go with me." Takuya joked.

"So…" Izumi said, "You weren't serious when you said you wanted me to go with you?"

"When am I ever serious?" Takuya laughed. "But I was serious when I said I wanted you to go."

"Takuya, I don't want to and there is no way you can convince me otherwise."

"Actually, I think I can. Do you even know what type of dance it is?"

"No. I don't, but I'm certain that I won't be attending." Izumi said obstinately.

"It's a masquerade ball, Izumi. Everyone will be wearing masks and costumes, so it won't be a problem for you to attend. No one will recognize you, so it'll be fun. Trust me."

Izumi bit her lip. "It doesn't matter— I don't have a good dress or nice shoes."

"Well…" Takuya murmured thoughtfully, "You could…uh…"

Izumi giggled as she pictured Takuya's face. His brow always furrowed when he was lost in thought. Then, she heard him snap his fingers.

"Borrow one of your mom's dresses," he said simply.

"You're a genius," Izumi said sarcastically at first. After a moment of silence she said, "Wait…you really are a genius. I can't believe I didn't think of that. Mom doesn't have many clothes either, but I'm sure I can find at least one good dress."

"That's great," Takuya said. Izumi was sure that he was grinning from ear to ear on the other end of the line. "See you there, but you won't recognize me."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Izumi rummaged through he mother's wardrobe, not quite sure she would find a suitable dress. After several painstaking minutes of sorting through the all clothing, she finally found the perfect dress tucked neatly in a dusty cardboard box.

"I didn't know mom owned something like this," Izumi said, examining the dress. The lavender hung down to her knees, adorned with small gems that shimmered in the light. Slipping it on, she examined herself in the bathroom mirror.

"Izumi," a voice called from the front door. "I'm home now. Sorry I came home so late, but I had to work overtime. Otherwise, the bills will never be paid."

"No problem, mom." Izumi replied loudly, so her mother could hear from the living room. "I'm a little preoccupied anyway. There's a dance coming up next Monday and I decided to attend. I'm actually trying on one of your dresses right now. You don't mind, do you?"

Her mom's footsteps approached the bathroom door. "I don't mind, but may I see, sweetheart?"

Izumi swung open the bathroom door, showing her mom the dress. "Like it?"

"That looks stunning on you." Her mother whispered, her eyes glossing with unshed tears.

Izumi was taken aback. She hadn't expected such an emotional reaction from her mom.

"You look beautiful," her mother murmured, pulling Izumi into an embrace.

Izumi nodded, unsure of how to react— she looked down at the floor modestly.

"This dress," her mother said, rubbing the silk between her fingers. "Was the same dress I wore twenty years ago when your father proposed to me."

Izumi gasped. "Are you sure it would be okay for me to wear it?"

Her mother nodded. "The dress is yours now."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Izumi stumbled down the porch steps, unaccustomed to walking in heels. Hearing the awkward clattering, Izumi wondered if she'd be able to dance in the shoes. In her hand, she clutched a sequined butterfly mask, which sparkled in the setting sun. The masquerade ball would start at seven o' clock that evening and end at midnight, taking place in the Moonlight Promenade, a world renowned ballroom in East Sapporo.

Since she couldn't afford a cab, she rode the train to the Moonlight Promenade. Upon arriving, Izumi gasped in awe, mesmerized by the breathtaking scene. Hundreds of students swarmed the grand, winding marble staircase that led to the grand main doors of the ballroom. Izumi gaped at the number of attendees and tried to discern Takuya, Junpei, and Tomoki from the crowd. Her efforts were futile, for the elaborate masks and attire effectively hid their true identities.

Izumi slowly ascended the marble staircase, keeping an iron grip on the golden handrail.

'Hey, I'm starting to get used to these heels.'

The line moved quickly, and Izumi soon found herself at the entrance, intimidated by the sheer size of the grand doors. Right in front of the doors stood a man dressed in a ridiculous penguin suit. In his hand, he held a leather bag. Reaching inside, he fished out a handcuff and promptly locked Izumi's wrists. Startled, she looked around and realized that all of the girls had been bound with the same pink cuffs. The thin metal chain between the two ends of the handcuff was about a foot and a half long and it didn't inhibit her hand movement.

"What is this?" Izumi asked the penguin-man, her surprise hidden behind her mask.

"They're the cuffs," he replied simply.

"I know they're cuffs, but why are all the girls bound?"

"Well, the point of this masquerade is to meet new people," the penguin-man explained. "That's why the girls are handcuffed and the boys are given keys. You are supposed to find the boy with your key, so he can unlock the cuffs before the end of the ball. These aren't real cuffs, so they you can take them off yourself with a little force. But who would want to do that? It would ruin the adventure. You didn't know about this?"

"Oh, that," Izumi said calmly, although she was quite bewildered.

'I can't believe Takuya forgot to tell me this! He is so forgetful sometimes.'

Izumi walked into the ballroom, the bright lights of the chandeliers reflecting off the jewels that embellished her dress. She stared helplessly at the cuffs and then at the many boys in the room. Only one of them had her key– finding him would as hard as finding a needle in a haystack.

Someone tapped Izumi's shoulder, and she whirled around to see a boy dressed as a vampire. From the cape to the fangs, his costume was intricately detailed.

"Beautiful girl, would you care to dance with me?" He extended a white gloved hand to her.

"Um…sure, I guess." Izumi's mask hid the blush that crept to her cheeks. Her heart thudded with excitement as he gently grasped her hand and led her to the dance floor. She raised her handcuffed hands, placing them behind the boy's neck.

"Kind of awkward dancing with those, huh?" he asked, nudging the cuffs.

"It doesn't make a difference. I'm an awkward dancer with or without the cuffs."

"It's fine. I'll guide you." He flashed a brilliant, fanged smile.

'This isn't so bad when nobody knows who I am.'

By the time the song finished, Izumi was slightly panting; a bead of sweat formed at her brow.

'Dancing in heels isn't as easy as it looks on television.'

"Before I forget," he said as the song ended. "Allow me to try my key on your lock. Maybe we'll get lucky." He fished a key out of his back pocket and inserted it into the lock on Izumi's handcuffs. He twisted once, and then twice; the cuffs clacked, but did not open.

"I guess we aren't that lucky," Izumi said.

I actually don't mind. I'm having fun.

"Anyway, I'll see you around." She smiled apologetically. "I'm going to get a glass of punch. That dance made me really thirsty."

The boy nodded. "Good luck finding your key."

Izumi sipped her glass of punch, scanning the ballroom and admiring the costumes of the other students. Among the common vampires and faeries, Izumi could have sworn she saw one student dressed as troll and another as a teddy bear. She grinned, not feeling out of place for the first time.

'I'll thank Takuya later for convincing me to come.'

After dancing with several more boys, a few of which who were surprisingly worse at dancing that she was, Izumi still had not found the key to unlock her cuffs. She didn't want to leave the dance without unlocking them, but it was already half past ten. The streets would be too dangerous if she left any later…

"Well, the penguin-man did say that these are fake. Maybe I can go home and smash these with a hammer….or there might be an old chainsaw that I can use," Izumi contemplated.

Behind her, she heard a light chuckle.

"I wouldn't suggest that," a boy said. A faint smile graced his lips. With his black suit and simple magician's mask, he was dressed quite plainly compared to the other students.

"Aren't you going to ask me to dance?" Izumi asked, surprised by her own boldness.

"I don't dance," he replied.

"I can't exactly dance either, so you can't be any worse than me," she said.

"Fine," he said, grasping her arm and leading her towards the dance floor. "But you're going to regret it."

Izumi raised an eyebrow. "I think you're going be the one regretting this."

The boy paused. "Actually, I wasn't planning to dance with you, but then I'd feel bad."

"Why?"

"I was going to go home and throw away my key. Some poor girl wouldn't have been able to open her cuffs." He wrapped an arm around Izumi's waist, slowly swaying to the music.

"I can't believe you," Izumi muttered.

"I know." He smirked.

They danced in silence with her head leaning against his shoulder. For the entire dance, he led and she followed. Being that both of them could barely dance, they were the only pair slowly swaying to the upbeat waltz. She stepped on his feet several times, but they didn't stop dancing until the last not of the song faded into the background.

"Congratulations," he said, offering a mock bow. "I can't believe that I've met someone whose dancing is worse than my own."

Izumi rolled her eyes and said, "The key?"

"Oh," he said, slipping his key into her locked cuffs.

Izumi waited for the lock to clack, but instead, it clicked.

"It's open!" she said incredulously. "Looks like you were going to leave me hanging. You owe me."

He raised an eyebrow. "I owe you nothing," he said, walking away from her. "On the contrary, I think you are the one who owes me after stepping on my feet so many times that I've lost count."

'Jerk'

Suddenly, the ballroom clock chimed. Izumi counted once, twice… eleven times.

'Mom is going to kill me.'

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Please review. Again, I don't mind flames if you don't like the chapter. If, however, you decide to flame, please offer some constructive criticism as well. Thanks! =D