Naruto and its characters © Masashi Kishimoto

Dedicated to quietnature12 – She is made of awesome. ;D

Boyue's Note: I am trying out a less wordy writing style! Bear with me. =O



IN WATER

"This isn't a vacation."

Temari yanks Kankuro by his hoodie and drags him away from the two bikini-wearing underage ladies on the sidewalk.

"Hey, hey, let go," Kankuro yelps. He fights off his older sister's hold and straightens up. "I was this close," he squeezes his fingers for emphasis, "this close to getting her number."

"We aren't on vacation! We're here to help Gaara feel better."

Temari quickens her steps down the crowded streets. She dodges by an elderly couple and walks in front of them. Kankuro trails behind. He whistles at a brunette. Temari snaps him a hard look. He looks away from the girl and pretends to whistle at the clouds. Spring has barely begun and already the beach and the pier are filled with tourists from all corners of the world. It is what spring break does to people.

"Where's Gaara anyways?" Kankuro asks, tugging his hands into the pockets of his loose-fitting board shorts.

"He's waiting for us at the restaurant."

"You sure he'll be okay by himself?"

"He'll be fine by himself. It's the other people that I worry about."

"Then you probably shouldn't have left him alone." Kankuro clicks his tongue at a pair of blonde twins passing by.

"Will you hurry up? And stop flirting! This isn't about you."

"Look, if you're going to drag me all the way here, at least let me have some fun, alright?"

"How can you say that? Gaara's your brother too," Temari shouts, drawing unwanted attention to her. They stop at the crosswalk. The red 'Don't Cross' hand stares at them.

"I'm just saying… And you know… what you just said, I mean, the way how you said it… Well," Kankuro smirks, eying his sister with contempt, "you say it like he's a burden."

Temari glares at Kankuro. She heaves angrily and stomps her way across the street. Kankuro rolls his eyes at Temari's lack of willing to admit her problem. He follows her behind, keeping a distance from her. Once they reach the other side, Temari speaks up.

"It's hard," she says. "I don't know what he's thinking. I don't know what he wants. I don't know how to help him."

"I think he's perfectly happy in his own world. I mean, why we gotta keep intruding, you know? How'd you like it if someone keeps trying to get all up in your face?"

"He needs to socialize. He needs to communicate."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Kankuro rubs his nose. "He needs to be 'normal', right?"

Temari doesn't respond. She looks at the street sign at the block and turns left into a bustling street. The sweet aroma of ethnic food fills their nostrils. Kankuro licks his lips. Temari walks down, glancing around for the right restaurant.

"Gaara's fine the way he is," Kankuro murmurs, "stop trying to 'fix' him."

"I'm not trying to 'fix' him," Temari grumbles. "I'm trying to help."

Kankuro shrugs a 'whatever', keeping his hands in his pockets. He takes a quick stop to look over the gelato shop, mentally memorizing its location for a later visit. Temari walks ahead of him. She walks across the street to the other side and heads toward the restaurant with a big red and green sign. Kankuro catches up and opens the door for her. Temari slips through the glass door. The smell of freshly baked breads excites her. Kankuro spots his younger brother sitting in one of the maroon waiting chairs. He takes the seat next to him, kicking his feet as far as he can without blocking the way.

"You thought about what you wanna eat?" Kankuro asks. He reaches over and takes the menu from Gaara's limp hands.

Gaara lets Kankuro take the menu. He keeps his head low and stares at the fifth tile in front of him with a chipped corner. A thin line of grey grime fills the gap between the tiles. He has been sitting here for ten minutes and their table isn't ready yet. To past the time, he counts from a hundred to one slowly in his head. He is on twenty-six now.

"You wanna try the eggplants? You like them, don't you?" Kankuro points at the display picture of the eggplants.

Gaara counts to twenty-five in his head. Temari kneels a little in front of him so she is at his level. Gaara hasn't hit a growth spurt yet; his twelve-year-old body stands at a mere five feet two. Kankuro is taller than him by half a foot. Temari falls in the middle with her five feet five. She places a hand gingerly on the back of Gaara's.

"Why don't you go pick out a dessert you want for afterward?" She gestures toward the direction of the bakery.

Gaara doesn't look up, but he does get on his feet. He drags his way toward the bakery case. There is a large variety of desserts and cakes. Gaara gazes intensely at each and every one of the sweets. He looks from left to right. When he reaches the middle, he goes back to the left and moves down to the middle row. He examines his choices in the manner until he has taken all of them in. He lingers on a chocolate truffle cake, topped with a little red cherry. The baker leans on the counter and smiles down at Gaara. He is a chubby man who obviously enjoys the treats he made. He wears a white chef hat that barely fits his round head.

"Hello there, son. See something you like? The cherry pie just came out of the oven. How about it?"

Gaara walks over to the left side of the bakery case. He gazes at the truffle cake, having set his mind on it. The baker follows him to the side. He peeks over the counter and tries to see what Gaara is looking at. He bends behind the case and meets Gaara at eye-level. He stands back up, resting his arms on the counter.

"You like pudding? I got mango, chocolate, vanilla, bread, banana… Oh boy, you should really try the banana. It is heavenly."

Gaara stares at the cake like he is trying to win a staring contest. In his mind, he counts down to twelve. The baker waits, a little impatiently, for Gaara to give him an answer. He switches his weight on his tired feet and blows air out of his mouth. He forces a grin back on his chubby cheeks. He bends down again and opens the door. He picks up the plastic tongs and takes out a yellow-frosted cupcake with sprinkles. He leans over the counter and hands the cupcake to Gaara.

"I bet you like sprinkles, huh? Here, go on, take it," the baker says with a weak smile. "I'll just charge it to your table."

Gaara doesn't look up at the cupcake hovering near his face. He only sees the chocolate truffle cake and he only wants it. He stares at it with enough intensity to drill through the glass barrier if he has superpower. The baker whispers a complaint and takes the cupcake back. He puts it back to join its brothers and slides the door close roughly.

"If you don't want anything, get a move on, kid. You're ruining my business." He bats his hand at Gaara like he is a pestering fly. When Gaara doesn't budge, he moves down to the other side instead. He eyes Gaara with vexation. His mouth spits out words that shouldn't be used to describe a twelve-year-old.

"Gaara! Our table is ready," Temari calls from the waiting area. "Come on."

Gaara pries himself away from the bakery. He keeps his eyes on the floor as he makes his way back to his siblings. He bumps into a tall, scrawny man who excuses himself, thinking that he is at fault for running into Gaara. Gaara walks next to Kankuro through the busy restaurant. He watches the expensive-looking navy carpet. He makes sure to step in the middle of the gold-lined square on every sixth step he takes. The host shows them to a corner booth. Gaara sneaks in front of Kankuro and scoots in the middle of the left-handed side. The older siblings sit across from him.

"Your waiter will be with you shortly. Enjoy your meal." The host gives them their menu and leaves with a forced smile.

Gaara readjusts his placemat so that it is perfectly in the middle of the rectangular table. He switches the forks to the side of the knife and puts the spoon next to the knife. He leans over the table and does the same thing to Temari's and Kankuro's placemats. He takes careful effort into placing the two placemats equally spaced from each other. He turns his attention the pepper and salt shakers and move them in between his and his siblings' placemats. He puts them in straight line with the pepper to his left and the salt to his right.

"Do you know what you want?" Temari asks, leafing through the menu.

"I'm getting the T-bone." Kankuro taps at the Today's Special. "And a large soda."

"Don't get a soda," Temari says to Kankuro. She lowers the menu and looks at her youngest brother. "What about you, Gaara?"

"Pasta," Gaara mutters, looking away at the wall. The dainty wall lamp suddenly has all of his attention. "With chicken."

"Okay, what kind of sauce you want?"

"No sauce," Gaara murmurs. He looks away from the wall lamp and stares at the corner of their table.

A well-groomed waiter comes over. He beams a bright smile at his guests. He puts down three paper coasters at the right corner of the placemats. Gaara perks up immediately and moves all the coasters to the left corners instead. The waiter gives him a curious look before he takes out the ordering pad.

"Hello, how are we all doing? Can I get you started with something to drink?"

"I'll have a root beer," Kankuro orders.

"I said no soda." Temari furrows her plucked brows.

"Root beer is not a soda. It's a root beer."

"It is…! Okay… I'm not going to argue with you." Temari turns to their server and acts civilized. "I'll have a cranberry juice."

"Root beer, cranberry juice," the waiter repeats. He turns toward Gaara with a smile. "What about you, sir?"

"He'll have an iced water," Temari answers, "with three cubes of ice. Three. Only three."

"Alrighty…" The waiter looks at Gaara, who is still staring at the table corner, with a questioning look. He turns back to Temari. "Would you like some appetizers?"

"No, I think we're ready to order." Temari flips open the menu. She points at what she wants. "I'll have the chopped salad with ranch."

"You came all the way here to get a freaking salad." Kankuro rolls his eyes at Temari, who ignores his comment. He says to the waiter, "Give me the T-bone."

"And for him?" The waiter gestures at Gaara with the tip of his pen.

"He'll have the pasta with grilled chicken, no sauce, and put the chicken on a separate plate from the pasta."

"What kind of pasta?" The waiter looks to Temari. Temari blinks at a loss of word. "We have Angel Hair, penne, linguini, fettuccini, and bow-tie."

"Which one do you want?" Temari asks Gaara.

Gaara looks away from the corner. He reaches for the menus. Instead of looking through them, he stacks them and pushes them over to the edge of the table horizontally. He then puts his fisted hands on the placemat and starts staring at the middle of the table.

"Gaara?" Temari touches his finger with caution. "Which one would you like?"

Gaara doesn't hear it. He counts in his head to zero and starts over again at one hundred. Temari taps his knuckle softly. She gives a quick look at the server and forces an embarrassed smile on her face. An awkward nervousness fills around them. Kankuro shifts in his seat and leans his elbows on the table.

"Hey, bro, what kind of noodle you want?"

"Fettuccini," Gaara mutters to his hands.

"Alright," the waiter says with a quiet exhausted sigh, "I'll be back shortly with your drinks."

The waiter leaves them with the menus in his hand. He walks one of his co-workers and whispers quietly in the middle-aged woman's ear. They both look at the direction of the table. Temari tries to pretend she doesn't see it. She leans back and crosses her arms over her chest. She looks frustrated and tired. Kankuro reaches over the table and ruffles his little brother's hair. Gaara doesn't react at the touch. Kankuro glances around him, keeping a keen eye out for any good-looking ladies. Temari rolls her eyes at everywhere but Gaara.

The waiter returns with a tray of their drinks. He puts down the root beer for Kankuro, the cranberry juice for Temari, and the iced water for Gaara. Gaara looks over at his glass of water. Before Temari can stop him, Gaara knocks down the glass. It falls off the table and spills on the carpet. Their waiter jumps back to avoid the splatter of the water. The tables near them stop eating and talking and look at their direction. The waiter is shocked and he looks like he wants to tell Gaara off. Kankuro looks at the water puddle and shrugs his shoulders at the waiter.

"We told you three ice cubes."

"What?" The waiter looks down. There is three and a half ice cubes melting on the carpet. The half ice cube is barely bigger than a thumb nail. He looks at his guests in disbelief. "I-It's… I…"

Gaara puts his arms on the table and buries his face between them. Temari gives a weak rub on his shoulder, which makes Gaara sound a growl. She retreats her hand immediately and keeps it to herself.

"Will you please get us another glass of water?" Temari asks.

"Y-yeah… sure… three cubes." The waiter picks up the glass on the floor and puts it back on the tray. He walks to the bar, shaking his head the whole time.

The people around them resume their activities. Temari looks at the wall and sighs a little louder than she wanted to. She nudges at Kankuro's arm.

"I have to use the ladies' room," she says in a quick whisper.

Kankuro moves out of the way and Temari scoots out. She hurries toward the restrooms. Kankuro moves to the middle of the seat. He scratches the top of Gaara's hair.

"You alright?"

Gaara keeps his head planted between his arms. He counts to eighty-nine. The waiter returns with a glass of water just like they have ordered. Kankuro says a quiet thank-you.

"You must be hungry, huh?"

Gaara peeks at the water glass. Once he sees that it only has three cubes of ice, he pulls himself out of his cocoon. He takes the glass and cups it with both hands. He stares at the thick rim but doesn't take a sip. Kankuro watches the behavior. A realization comes to him. He smacks his forehead and gestures at a busboy.

"Can we get a straw here?"

Gaara puts in the straw and sips the water greedily. He finishes half of the glass by the time Temari comes back. Kankuro moves and lets her back in. She smiles at the sight of Gaara drinking his water like it is the most delicious thing ever. She looks like she is in a better mood.

"So what are we doing after this?" Kankuro asks, taking a gulp of his drink.

"You guys want to go back to the beach? Walk around for a bit?"

"Sure, that sounds good."

"You're just thinking about the girls."

"I'm not the only one who's going to benefit. I'm pretty sure that will be plenty of hot guys playing volleyball. Maybe you can take some balls to your face."

"Kankuro!" Temari scowls. "Watch your mouth."

"Why don't you watch yours?"

Temari scoffs and shifts away from Kankuro. She looks at Gaara finishing his glass of water. He sucks at the ices loudly. He lets the straw slip out of his mouth and pushes the glass to the middle of the table. He stares at the glass, as if it will magically be refilled.

"You wanna go, Gaara?" Temari pushes the glass to the edge for someone to take. "You've never been to a beach before."

"Water," Gaara mutters. He looks up at the ceiling and gazes at the chandeliers. "Water."

"Oh yeah, there'll be a lot of water. It's next to the ocean."

"You can go swimming," Kankuro says, "and I'll surf."

"You can't surf."

"I'll use this time to learn."

"You'll suck at it."

"I know what you'll suck at."

"Kankuro!"

The waiter comes over with four plates. He sets down the steak for Kankuro and the salad for Temari. He puts the separated plates of pasta and chicken in front of Gaara. He takes the water glass and puts it on the tray.

"Enjoy your meals," he says before he walks a little too quickly away.

Gaara pulls his pasta plate to the middle of the placemat and puts the chicken to his left. He scoots over to the chicken and starts to arrange the pieces by thinnest to thickest. The thinnest goes to the left and the thickest goes to the right. Kankuro munches on his bloody steak. Temari spreads her dressing over her salad. Gaara moves back in front of the pasta and spins his fork into it. He slurps the noodle. He eats two forks of pasta with one strip of chicken. When his water returns, he alters his pattern to two forks of pasta, one strip of chicken, and one sip of water.

From afar, they look like a perfectly normal family enjoying lunch.


TO BE CONTINUED…


Boyue's Note: About Gaara, I was trying to make him autistic, but not knowing anything about autism, I did my best. If you don't think he has the behaviors of an autistic child or is offended by it somehow, then just think that he lives in his own world. This won't be a long story. It was going to be one-shot but I'm too lazy to finish it now… as usual. o.O;;

Oh, and um, tell me if you like or dislike the less-wordiness.... O__O;;

1.18.09

1:46 AM