By: Esa MaRie
Can love be measured by the number of days you've spent with each other? Can two strangers fall in love within just a week? It was supposed to be a relationship with no strings attached… a mutual attraction between strangers, or so each had thought… and that was all it should have been. But fate had a different plan… NxM
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
"So how do you find it?"
Mikan Sakura gave a slight smile at the older man. "It's beautiful, Uncle Sato. Although, you really don't have to do this."
Sato Hirashi sighed, noticing that the girl's smile lacked the normal sparkle. He reached for the young girl and gave her a hug. "Mikan-chan, I know it has been hard for you but you need to let go. That's why I brought you here in this resort. You're leaving in 2 weeks and I want you to enjoy and forget everything for this time only."
Mikan shook her head. "It's hard to pretend to be happy when grandpa's death continued to plague me. He's the only one I have."
"You still have me," Sato said, quite hurt that Mikan seemed to have forgotten him. He never had a child of his own, so he treated Mikan like his own daughter or granddaughter. His closeness with Mikan's grandfather had made him almost part of the Sakura family. He was closer to the Sakuras compared to his own relatives. He was there when Mikan was born, he was there when she took her first step, he was there when they celebrated her birthdays, and he was there during Mikan's graduation from elementary, junior high, and high school. And he was there to comfort Mikan and his bestfriend Kishito Sakura when Mikan's parents died in an accident. She was his most precious little girl. And he made a promise to his friend that he will take care of her, that he will ensure her future and happiness. But Mikan wanted to return to her parent's house in Fukuoka, her home for the first ten years of her life before her parents passed away and she was left in her grandfather's care. It was the remaining property left to her after their other properties had been sold to sustain her grandfather's medication. He didn't want her to leave but he guessed that he should give her some space. He wanted her to get over her grief because it hurt him to see her like this. He missed her sunny and cheerful smile. And he also knew that he could still visit her in her new home.
"It's no one's fault," Sato continued as he patted her head. "So don't blame yourself. Also, you could stay with me if you want to," he tried one last time to change her mind from leaving.
Mikan shook her head slightly, giving him a grateful smile. "We have abused your generosity enough. If not for your help, grandpa wouldn't have last this long."
Sato smiled back. "It was not enough. Your grandfather saved my life. Without him, I wouldn't be here today. He was like the brother I never had. I don't have a child so you're like a granddaughter to me, too."
"Thanks uncle," Mikan gave him a small smile. "And don't worry too much about me. I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself."
Sato winced. "Actually that's what I'm afraid of. You're so trusting that I'm not sure if I can leave you all by yourself." He then thought about something. "Maybe I should inform the board that I won't be able to attend the conference. I could just send a representative in my stead."
"Nonsense uncle," Mikan shook her head. "You should go. I don't want to be the cause why you're not attending to your responsibilities in this resort. Don't worry about me. Maybe I'll find my dream guy while I'm here," she joked.
Sato gave her a stern look. "That's not something to joke about, young lady." Then he smiled at patted her head affectionately. "Be careful not to be fooled by some irresponsible lads out there. I'll check on you every night. Hopefully, I could return before your flight."
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Natsume Hyuuga turned and raised his brows as he saw his friends walking towards him. 'The idiots, they're late!'
"Cool!" Koko remarked as he let his eyes wander around the place. "It's great to have a rich friend."
"Shut up Koko," Natsume rolled his eyes but what Koko said was the truth. He was Natsume Hyuuga, aged 22, heir to one of the wealthiest families in Tokyo. Tall with dark raven hair and mysterious crimson eyes, he was hailed as one of the most sought after bachelor in Tokyo. A certified playboy. Not only that, he was one of the graduates of Gakuen Alice, the elite school that catered to special students. Only a few people really know that 'special' means that those students were not only geniuses, they have special abilities that makes them unique from other normal children. And Natsume Hyuuga was certainly that. Not only was he a genius, he possesses one of the most powerful alices in the world – the fire alice.
And his father was absolutely proud of that. Possession of the fire alice was one of the most distinguishing marks of the Hyuuga family hidden from the outside world. Although not everyone in the family possessed such power. But for the only son, and future heir to acquire it at birth was a sign of strength for them. Possession of an alice, especially a powerful one, meant government support and connection, as well as link to the other alice communities in other countries.
Natsume turned his head towards the other two. "Glad you both could make it."
Ruka Nogi and Tsubasa Andou gave him high fives. "What a way to celebrate our graduation. Beach, girls, and just lots of girls," Koko grinned at them.
Tsubasa gave a teasing smile at Ruka. "Well except for him… he already has a girlfriend. And Hotaru Imai isn't someone you could easily cheat."
Ruka sweat dropped at the thought of his girlfriend. "W-well, yeah," he winced. It made him wonder if some way Hotaru managed to sneak a robot or a hidden camera in his things to monitor his every move.
Natsume just sighed and nudged his head for them to follow him. 'This is already a delayed celebration, idiots.'
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
"That girl's cute," Koko commented looking at the direction of a brunette in a simple white summer dress sitting under an umbrella.
Natsume lifted his brow and followed Koko's eyes. Well, he got to admit, Koko definitely had excellent taste. But cute was a bit understated. The girl was beautiful. Her long silky auburn hair was tied up in a high ponytail and rested softly on her left shoulder. She looked serene as she turned the page of book she was reading.
"Pretty little thing, isn't she?" Natsume murmured; his gaze never leaving the girl's every movement.
Tsubasa laughed. "You seem interested in her. Why don't you approach her then? Just the mere mention of the name of 'Natsume Hyuuga' is enough to send any girl on your lap."
Natsume scowled at him. "I could get any girl without the use of my name."
"Really?" Ruka teased. "Well, I guess so. You still have your looks. But I bet it won't be as fast as when tell her your real name."
Natsume's brows furrowed. "Are you challenging me?"
Ruka grinned. "Using your real name, your average to get a girl interested in you is 1 minute, then 1 night to get her to your bed. I wonder how long it would take you this time…"
"The same," Natsume said confidently.
"I think you should give him an allowance," Koko said. "How about a week to get her to your bed?"
"That's long," Tsubasa muttered.
"Well, that girl doesn't look like the normal tramps we meet," Koko said, glancing back at the girl. "She's pure."
"You're reading her mind, aren't you?" Ruka asked him.
"Well, that's what I always do," Koko grinned. "I'm telling you Natsume, you won't have it easy with her."
Natsume snorted, then stood up. "Girls are all the same. If I take her interest, you guys will pay for dinner the whole week?"
It was responded by two grins and one frown.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Mikan looked up from the book she was reading to the guy who stood in front of her.
"Yes?" she asked curiously.
The guy took off his sunglasses and Mikan found herself staring at a pair of gorgeous crimson eyes. Mikan frowned a bit. This guy looked like a player. And she had encountered a lot of them the past two days. "May I help you?"
The guy just pulled the empty seat across and sat on it. "Are you alone? Mind if I share?"
'You already sat on it,' Mikan wanted to point out, but she chose to remain silent and just shook her head. She continued to read her novel, but she was aware of the penetrating gaze of the person in front of her. She continued to ignore him, but as minutes passed by, she grew uncomfortable at the stare that she snapped the book close and looked up. The guy didn't even bother to look away.
"Is there something wrong with my face?" she asked frowning, trying to control her irritation.
"Nothing," the guy replied lazily, his chin prompted on his fist as he continued to stare at her. A smirk then crossed his lips. "Actually, you look very beautiful."
Mikan felt heat rising to her cheeks. She couldn't help it. She was complimented by one of the most gorgeous species of men ever created, although it was done in a very arrogant manner that didn't appeal to her at all. "Thank you," she responded with a glare, then quickly stood up to leave. But the guy was also quickly stood up and caught her arm, preventing her from taking another step.
"What's your name?"
Mikan felt her brows rose up a notch. 'The nerve of this guy!' she thought angrily, instead, she smiled sweetly at him. "I think you don't deserve to know it." She then slammed her foot on his toes, causing him to shout in pain. She jerked her arm from him and quickly ran off.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Koko and Tsubasa just couldn't stop laughing while Ruka tried to placate Natsume's anger.
"C-can't b-believe that c-chit would get the a-almighty Natsume Hyuuga h-howling," Tsubasa sputtered between laughter, still holding his aching stomach.
"I warned you that she's a difficult one," Koko continued merrily, slapping his hand over the table.
Ruka gave them a disgusted look. "That's enough, you two." Turning to Natsume, he said, "Let it go Natsume. She's just not the type of girl that you normally deal with."
But the raven-haired guy wasn't listening. Ruka just sighed and shook his head. He already knew how stubborn and irrational Natsume could be. That little incident hurt his damn pride. He just hoped that Natsume wouldn't do anything stupid.
They all turned their heads at Natsume who was gritting his teeth in anger.
"I'll get that bitch in bed in one week starting tomorrow. The bet is 100,000 yen each." Dark crimson eyes sharpened as he stared at his three friends. "Deal?"
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
The past days had been pure bliss for Mikan and it had all been due to Natsu Yagami. She blushed at the thought of him. Their relationship had started quite badly but Natsu continued to pursue her relentlessly. Nothing was spared - flowers, chocolates, and other gifts. At first, she refused them, still unwilling to deal with his arrogance. But one of the gifts he gave changed her mind. She would have refused anything, anything that is, except…. Howalons. How he managed to get one was beyond her imagination. She had tasted it once when she was still small. Her bestfriend Hotaru gave her a piece before she went inside a black car and completely disappeared from her life. Over the years she searched for it in the stores, but it wasn't being sold anywhere. So, that was it. She still couldn't believe her love story started with a piece of candy. She wasn't able to refuse the date with him.
She knew he was just looking for a fling and she was just riding on, so she gave him a false name – Mika Asumi. He was a bit arrogant and she would often laugh at his attempts to charm her, which was totally unlike him. He wasn't much of a talker but when a topic was opened up, they found themselves debating on some sensible issues. She was alone and lonely, and she thought a bit of company won't hurt. But as hours and days passed, Natsu began to grow on her. Before she knew it, she had fallen hard in love with him.
Sometimes, she couldn't help but feel stupid. She knew what Natsu wanted, but she allowed herself to be seduced by him. In two days, she will have to leave and she wanted to clear things out with Natsu. She wanted to tell him her feelings and her real name. She knew she was being hopeful but she felt Natsu shared her feelings. She felt it in his every kiss, in his touch, in the loving words he would whisper to her when she wakes up beside him.
She unlocked the door of Natsu's suite and went inside. She had slept in this room for the past three days and Natsu even gave her a spare key.
She took a deep breath and tried to calm her nerves. She had to gamble. She had to leave in a few days, and it would bother her for the rest of her life if she won't be able to tell Natsu that she loved him.
She walked past the living room when she heard voice coming from the bedroom. She smiled as she heard the familiar voices of Natsu's friends. She was about to knock on the door when she heard her name being mentioned.
"What about Mika?"
"You won the bet Natsu-" It was Ruka's voice but was immediately cut off by Natsu.
"I don't want to talk about this."
"You're being unfair to her. You got what you wanted. You should have stopped seeing her after you got her to your bed."
"What I do is none of your damned business."
"I feel guilty. She's such a nice girl."
"She had consented to it."
"If you continue seeing her, you'll hurt her even more once you break up with her."
"It seems that you're the one who doesn't want to let her go. Have you fallen for her?"
A long silence followed. Then, a snort was heard. "You're kidding me, right? She's beautiful and sexy, and any man would go crazy for her body. She was just a bet. I don't love her."
Mikan clutched her chest as the ache began to fill her whole being. Tears began to fall from her eyes as she moved back slowly. A silent sob escaped and she quickly turned around to leave the room, softly closing the door as not to let anyone notice her arrival. She knew she was just a fling. But it still hurt. Her grandfather's death made her vulnerable and she found comfort in Natsu's arms. She should have not expected anything but she gave Natsu her everything – her feelings, her love, her body. But hearing him say that he didn't love her was too much for her to bear. At least she knew his feelings for her.
Entering her room, she felt her knees weakened and she collapsed on the floor sobbing. Tomorrow, she will be gone from this place. She guessed that Natsu's confession must be an eye-opener for her to wake up from dreamland and face reality. She steadied her feet and stood up and went towards the cabinet. 'I guess Natsu won't even care if I'm gone from his sight,' she thought as she began to take her things from the cabinet to pack up.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
"I don't love her."
Silence ensued for a minute, then followed by burst of laughter from his two other friends.
"Not in love with her?" Koko guffawed. "That's rich, man. Because even the blind could tell that you are."
"What the hell does that suppose to mean?" Natsume growled.
"It means that you give her so much of your time for you not the care," Ruka tried to explain in a much clearer manner.
"I told you there was a bet involved," Natsume bit out, starting to get irritated at them.
"The bet already ended days ago if you still remember," Tsubasa reminded him.
Natsume scowled in response.
Koko grinned wickedly. "You want us to cite the evidence that you're in love with Asumi-san? Well, for one. Natsume Hyuuga, you hold her hand whenever you're together. And note, you never hold hands with any of your girlfriends. You kiss them. You have sex with them. But you never hold their hands."
Tsubasa laughed out loud and gave a congratulatory slap on Koko's shoulder, agreeing to what he said.
"Two. You talk to her. I mean, really converse with her. And as far as I can remember, you don't talk to women. You only say a few words. Oftentimes, 'We're over, bitch.'" Koko continued, ignoring the glare from his friend.
"You gave her a necklace," Tsubasa then added.
Natsume brows furrowed in disagreement. "I had given jewelry to my other girlfriends."
"You gave it to them after the break-up. Sort of a separation gift. But you gave Mika one even before you broke up with her. And by the way it looks, I doubt you have any plans with breaking it up with her," Tsubasa raised his brows, like challenging him to deny it. But the firecaster chose to remain silent, and only answered his challenge by a fierce scowl on his face.
"You were so sweet and thoughtful towards her," Ruka commented softly.
Natsume scoffed. "Am not. And when the hell did that happen?"
"Remember the time when we were out on the beach camping out? Koko kept on giving some lousy jokes and Mika had looked so tired while leaning against you."
Natsume frowned as he tried to remember what happened.
Each of them, except for Ruka, managed to hitch one girl for that night. While Koko told his crazy jokes, Mika had yawned and leaned against him. Natsume tightened his hold on her waist as he felt her snuggled closer to him.
"You okay?" he whispered. "We can go back now if you want."
"No, it's alright," Mika whispered back. "I'm just a little tired."
Hearing that, he placed a slight peck on her forehead and turned to his friends. "We're going back now. Mika needs to rest," he said in his usual expressionless voice.
Ignoring her protest, Natsume lifted her into his arms and carried her back to the hotel oblivious to the knowing looks his friends shared.
"Tch. That doesn't mean anything," Natsume argued. "By the way, are you all stalkers?"
"It's just entertaining watching you going crazy over a girl."
"If that wasn't love, what was it called?"
"Lust," Natsume replied. "And I'm done with this conversation." Then he stood up to leave.
Ruka shook his head. "Natsume," he called. "You may not have realized it, but I think you're already in love with her. I know you. When you get attached to something or someone, you don't easily forget. Don't mess this up. If you love her, tell her the truth. Don't wait until everything blows out of proportion. Forget your damn pride. You might regret it."
Natsume just stood still for a moment, then opened the door and walked out.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
He was confused with everything his friends told him. He didn't realize that he was acting out of the normal. Wasn't he supposed to let her fall in love with him, then collect his winnings, then break it off with her? But everything just disappeared whenever he was with Mika. Unconsciously, he found himself in front of her door. He was about to knock when Ruka's voice entered his thoughts again.
'You're in love with her.'
He shook his head. 'I'm not in love with her,' he told himself sternly. 'They think I can't bear to see her for a day, huh? Well, I'll prove them wrong.' He stepped back and turned to leave.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Sato Hirashi looked up from his table to the young girl.
Mikan suddenly flung herself to his embrace and wept. "I'm s-sorry uncle. I d-don't want to trouble you with my problems b-but I just need someone to listen to me."
Sato's eyes softened with worry. "Mikan, if this is still about Kishito-san's death…"
"N-no, it's not about grandpa…"
Sato furrowed his brows.
"P-please reschedule my flight… I n-need to leave immediately. Today or tomorrow morning, if possible," she muffled against his shirt.
"Mikan-chan, what's wrong?" Sato asked in a gentle voice as he stroked her hair. "Did something happen while I was away? Did someone hurt you? Please tell me…"
Shaking her head against his chest, she whispered. "Nothing uncle… I…I just don't want to see him again…"
Sato tightened his hold against her. "Who? Who don't you want to see again?"
Sato Hirashi felt his heart constrict as he remembered his conversation with Mikan the day before she left. He couldn't help but blame himself for causing her more heartache rather than relieving her of it. He shouldn't have left for that damned conference. Now, instead of lifting her spirits, she left with a broken heart. "That bastard Natsu Yagami!" he cursed. Whoever that guy was, he'll have him banned from his hotel. But funny, there was no one with that name registered as one of the hotel's occupants.
It has only been more than a month, and he already felt that he was not doing a good job of taking care of Kishito's granddaughter. He felt depressed over what happened that he ignored the slight pain in his chest and continued on going over the documents that had piled up after a week of absence.
The door was suddenly opened with force causing him to look up to see what the commotion was all about. His gaze fell towards the young man with black raven hair who had suddenly entered his room.
"Natsume-sama? Why are you-?"
"Where is she?" the boy flashed his crimson eyes on him.
'She?' Sato had no idea what he was talking about. "Who are you talking about, Natsume-sama?" he asked.
"Where's Mika?" Natsume glared at him. "I went to her room and she's nowhere to be found. So I checked with the receptionist and she told me that her room was booked under your name. Where is she, Hirashi-san?"
"Mika? I don't know who you're talking ab-" he paused when everything began to dawn on him – Mikan crying over a broken heart caused by a guy named Natsu Yagami. Natsu… Natsume…
Sato's eyes turned cold as everything became clear on him. No wonder he couldn't find the guy. And if there was one person who had mastered the art of deception where women were concerned, it was no other than Natsume Hyuuga. "So, you were the boy who played with her feelings, all because of a bet."
A flash of guilt crossed Natsume's features but he held his stand. "Look, this is between me and Mika. Stay out of it."
Sato tried to appear calm as he leaned back in his seat and met his heated glare. But inside, he was raging. "As far as I know, the boy's name is Natsu Yagami. Not Natsume Hyuuga."
"Don't play words with me Hirashi-san. You know well who I am."
"You are the son of the owner of this resort. I'm the manager here for several years already, so you don't have to remind me," he finally snapped, letting Natsume see the true state of his emotions.
Natsume was surprised. He had met this man several times already and he was one of the men that his father trusted. He was often polite and respectful, so he had never seen this cold attitude before.
Sato walked towards him and levelled his stern eyes on the young lad. "I had been tolerant on your flings and escapades, Natsume-sama. I had covered a lot of your previous mischief but you had gone too far this time. You had touched someone whom I cared like my own granddaughter and I'll never forgive you for hurting her."
"She went into our relationship on her own free will," Natsume countered.
Sato laughed sarcastically. "Her own free will? You seduced a seventeen year old girl who was at her most vulnerable state." His cold eyes bored on Natsume. "That girl's only living relative, her grandfather, died a month ago leaving her broke and alone in this world. She had been depressed for quite some time that I forced her to come here so that she could enjoy herself and let go of her loneliness."
"I just wanted her to be happy, to forget all the tragedies that had come into her life. She's a strong girl but you broke her! Congratulations, I hope you feel happy that you added another girl on your list of victims," he remarked furiously. "If I had known earlier that you were here, I would have done everything to stop her from seeing you. But I was too late. I was the one who encouraged her to have fun while she was here, but she found the devil instead."
Natsume pushed his raven locks, desperation evident on his face. "Look, I just need to talk to her."
"There's no need for that," Sato said sharply. "You've done enough damage and you won't see her again. Not if there's anything I can do about it."
"Goddammit!" Natsume lost his cool and shoved the papers from the table. "I just want to see her!"
Realizing that he had made the situation even worse, he tried to calm down and apologize. "Hirashi-san…"
"I don't care if you are the president's son. This is my office! Now, get out!" Sato practically snarled at him.
Natsume clenched his fist in frustration, yet he knew defeat when he saw one. He marched out of the room and slammed the door close.
Sato swayed towards the wall and leaned against it. He clutched his chest trying to ease the pain. "I'm sorry Kishito-san… I failed. I promised you I'll take care of her, that she'll never suffer again from the pain of losing someone… but I failed. Mikan-chan, I'm sorry…"
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
"Hey Natsume, did you find…?" Tsubasa asked as soon as the door opened but stopped when he saw the expression his friend's face. The raven haired boy walked past them towards his room and slammed the door shut.
"I guess not…" Tsubasa answered his own question. Natsume had been restless since yesterday when he couldn't find his girlfriend, only to discover that the room she was occupying was already empty. When he learned that she had already checked out, his expression had gone from shock, to confusion, then to anger. He didn't know why Mika left without saying goodbye to him. Their relationship was going strong. He didn't want to think that Mika learned about the bet since all of them swore that they had never mentioned the bet to her. When Natsume learned that the room was booked under the Sato Hirashi, the resort's manager, he had stormed into his office, demanding where Mika was. But it seemed that he wasn't able to get any information.
Koko shook his head, as if confirming Tsubasa's thoughts. "It seemed that she already left and Hirashi-san got angry at him."
A sigh escaped Tsubasa's lips. "Well, their relationship was bound to end this way. Besides, Natsume kept insisting that he isn't in love with her. I guess it's better this way. At least he didn't have to deal with the cries of a broken hearted girl."
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
'She knows… she knows about the bet…' Natsume slowly sat on his bed, facing the white wall. She had learned about the bet, that was why she left. He felt numb, still couldn't accept the fact that she was gone, and as Hirashi-san had told him, she was broken. It was meant to be that way. He had meant to break her after she had insulted him and wounded his ego. That wasn't something new to him. He had broken several hearts already, never really minded all those girls who had thrown themselves at him. But why was it different with Mika? He felt this desperate need to see her and explain his side, to console her and convince her that it wasn't as she thought it was.
He couldn't help but feel confused. He let his fingers trail over the silk sheets, remembering the few days they had spent together on this bed. He could still smell a trace of her scent in the room. He remembered her smiles, her laughs, the way she fitted in his arms. And it wasn't all about sex. Mika was a bit childish but she could match his way of thinking. She was the only girl who he was able to express his opinions with, unlike most of girls that he had been with who only thought about fashion, gushed about him, and talked of nonsensical stuff. He remembered feeling contented just by holding her hand or have her leaning against him. He knew he was being cheesy, and he wasn't the romantic kind of guy. All those memories flashed back and slapped into his face the fact that he failed, no, refused to recognize.
"I love her," he whispered in realization.
Damn but everything was too late. He remembered Ruka telling him that fact and he knew he didn't mean what he had replied back then. It was his damn pride that prevented him from admitting his own feelings. He had played with a lot of women. But once he got them to his bed, he dumped them the next day. But for Mika, it was different. He knew there was something special between them the first moment his lips touched hers. He didn't want to let her go, that was why he continued their 'so-called' relationship even after the bet had ended. 'Mika, I'm sorry,' he whispered achingly.
With determination, he marched out of his room, oblivious to the surprised and concerned looks of his friends, and walked towards the manager's office to confront Hirashi-san. If he told him that he was serious with Mika, maybe he will tell him where she went, so he could resolve everything between them. No lies this time. He would tell her who he truly was and that he wanted her as his girlfriend, not just a fling. He nodded his head to the secretary and knocked on the door. "Hirashi-san? It's me, Natsume."
But no answer came. He gave a questioning glance at the secretary who immediately took the phone to dial her boss.
"Hyuuga-sama, he's not answering," she said after a while.
Dread began to fill Natsume as he opened the door. He shifted his gaze towards the manager's desk and his heart stopped when he saw the old man slumped on the table. He rushed towards him, yelling for the secretary to call for a doctor and an ambulance.
"Hirashi-san! Hirashi-san!" Natsume shook his limp form. He quickly took his hand and checked for a pulse. None.
"God, what happened?" Natsume whispered as he shoved his hands against his hair, then he noticed Hirashi's other hand lying limply by his side holding something that looked like a picture.
With shaking hands, Natsume bent down and took the picture and looked at it.
It was a picture of Mika.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞