I'm going to keep the format as it was for consistency. I do warn you though that I have not read over the past eleven chapters and have no wish to do so so I apologize for any inconsistencies in the actual writing. As this has been put off for literally years, it is not my top priority at the moment. Honestly, I'm surprised I even came back and finished this sucker!
Well obviously this chapter is dedicated to myself since this is the whooping last chapter - and how I thank god for that! No I'm just being my silly self. This one goes out to mishaa and keaRy anCe, and everyone else who made it this far, new or old readers. Thank you for loving this story so much.
The first and only thought that came to mind when Mikan walked into her living room was boys are and always will be hooligans.
The reason for this was quite simple: strewn across her sofa, on cardboard boxes, on her TV set, speakers, tea desk and on the arm of Koko were the set of dominoes that collected no less than a whole centimetre of dust from years of negligence. Turned out, when there were six humans with the Y chromosome – including her boyfriend – present in a house, anything could happen.
"Hey Mikan!" called Kitsuneme. "You got any more sets of dominoes around your house? We're almost out!"
"Not that I know of," she said as she placed a bowl of Doritos on the only available space of the domino dominated tea table. "Geez, I leave for a few minutes and this is what happens. You guys better be glad my father isn't home."
I don't want to hear that from you of all people, thought Mikan.
Earlier that week Sumire had called her and scheduled a visit to Central Town on the very day. She said she was going to bring some of the girls so she could call Natsume and invite some of the boys over as well, because Permy wanted a mixed crowd - "like, girls only? What are we, in kindergarten?" On several occasions, Mikan tried to relay the invitation to Natsume but it was like there was no trace of him for the whole week - his phone was off, she couldn't find him at school, and he even disabled his Facebook account. Finally, she sent him a lengthy email detailing the event which he replied with two letters: OK.
Needless to say, she had been waiting the entire week for him to visit her house on Saturday - which he never failed to do, but who else should tag along but one Ruka, Koko, Kitsuneme, Mochu and Yuu? So there went that chance.
"Geesus, Mi, have some fun once in a while," protested Koko. "In a few months we won't even see each other anymore. Now pass me a chip."
Mikan tossed up the chip which he skillfully caught in his mouth.
"Stop it!" hissed Natsume. "You almost knocked over a domino."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about the ones Yuu put on me. Hey Kitsuneme! Feed me."
Kitsuneme took a two handful of chips and crushed them both against Koko's mouth. The latter struggled to get all the food in his mouth while keeping his left arm – and the dominoes - stationary. For the next two minutes the only sound in Mikan's living room was that of Koko munching on Doritos.
Finally, Natsume sighed as if he were the only mature being in the house. "Dude, you're distracting me. Either swallow or spit it out. Every time I try to put down the next domino all I hear is the food in your mouth. It takes skill to set up a domino course."
"What skill?" Mikan exclaimed.
"Skill?" said Ruka. "You know, Mikan. What everyone in this room has except for Natsume."
At this, Natsume turned around and shot everyone a glare. "Quiet, I'm trying to make this work."
"I can't believe that on the one day the six of you are free we get stuck in my house playing dominoes!" Mikan cries. "I'm actually amazed you even managed to find them. I haven't touched these things for years! They're ancient. Are we still going to Central Town today for the festival or not because Sumire's going to blow her top at us for being late."
"Oh don't worry!" Koko, whose mouth was now free of food, dismissed her with a wave of his right hand. "She's already used to it by now! She even told me."
Mikan groaned. Whenever Sumire said she was "used" to something it was always had an underlying meaning of "I tried to make you change so many times that I'm not even going to bother anymore" and often also "but don't think you're getting off easy because I can and will forever hold this over you." And when Permy held something over you, she had a tendency of bringing things up every other minute.
"Can we please go now?" she pleased.
"Okay wait, last one," protests Ruka. "Yeah! Let it rip, Koko!"
The spiky haired blond blinked blankly. "Er – Beyblade?"
"No, the dominoes you idiot!"
"Oh! Okay yeah."
Then he tipped over the one on his shoulder and the five of them fixated their attention at the trail of falling dominoes all across Mikan's living room. As the last domino tipped over, Koko and Kitsuneme simultaneously gave a big whoop.
"Okay, now we go," said Mochu.
"What?" exclaimed Mikan. "No! Now you clean up and then we go out. Do you really want me to sic Sumire on you? I have her on speed dial. Just three buttons away..."
Although he gave an unenthusiastic grunt, Koko was the first one who started cleaning up the dominoes off the floor. As he was the closest one to Permy of the six of them in the room, he knew her wrath all too well. Slowly, but surely Mikan made sure all the other boys followed his lead as well.
"You know," said Kitsuneme as he gathered all the chip crumbs in the dustpan Mikan fetched him, "I noticed that you've been becoming more and more like and Imai-Shouda hybrid lately. I blame Natsume."
"Hey," snapped a certain individual. "Watch your mouth twerp."
"But seriously, Mikan. Is it the stress of graduating or something? I don't know why but you've been less fun."
Mikan apologized and improvised a quick but passable excuse on the spot. She didn't want to say aloud what had been plaguing her mind the last few days – at least, not in a room full of six people. A few days ago, a certain letter came from a certain woman that up until recently, she had a rocky relationship with. After that, she had been dying to discuss it with Natsume, since he was the only one involved with her mother, but their conflicting schedules prevented that from happening.
With a sigh, she took a seat on her couch and watched the boys clean up until the room reverted to its pre-domino state.
"Wait, so how's this going to work?" asked Koko. "Cause we only have like one car right, but seven people so like do two people go in the trunk? Cause I wanna be one of them!"
"Nobody's going in the trunk," Natsume stated firmly.
Mikan immediately saw the chance and piped up. "Natsume and I can take the bus while the rest of you drive."
"Oh shit! Something's about to go down!" hooted Koko. "Natsume, you da man! Just make sure you guys don't do too much PDA, cause you know when you have one of those couples who are like literally attached at the hip and it's kind of hard for everyone else to watch. Just be easy on the eyes, right. And remember to play safe. Always safe than sorry"
"Koko," she reminded him. "When have you ever seen Natsume and I make out in public?"
"Oh... true. Well, you know, better safe than sorry," he repeated. "Let's go people, or Permy's going to push us all down into some spike pit."
One by one, Natsume's friends left the house until it was just Mikan and Natsume left. Right when the door closed snugly into the door frame, Natsume closed the distance between them. When he wrapped his arms around her waist, Mikan could only think of how it'd been too long since they last spent time together. For the last year, both of them had been zombies. There had been too many expectations to reach, both from themselves and from others.
"I hate it when you leave your phone off, you know?" she murmured.
He grunted in response.
"And lately it seems like I can never get to you. You disabled your Facebook, Twitter, and I can't call your home phone because it's always your dad that picks up. And I leave you voice mails but I don't know if you ever receive them."
"Yeah. I do. I have a limited balance and I usually leave it off so I won't be tempted to text or call anyone."
Mikan withdrew from the hug. "Limited balance? How come?"
"Oh, because I started using pay as you go and I'm trying to limit by budget down to fifteen, twenty dollars per month. I have to start saving up or I won't have enough for my college tuition."
"Oh," replied Mikan, surprised. "Didn't you tell me that your father was paying for it? As long as you get a scholarship, I mean. It shouldn't be that hard since you got a ninety average last semester and on your midterm report."
"No, my dad agreed to pay my tuition if I went to university. I'm not going to university.
At this, she furrowed her brow.
"Let's talk about this later."
As they, too, exited the house, Natsume gently grasped her hand and entwined his fingers with hers. All the while, Mikan bore a very prominent smile of delight on her face and thought for the umpteenth time that this is how it should be. She turned to take a discreet peek at her boyfriend's face but his expression, as usual, was not comprehensible.
While determined on touching on the subject of her letter, Mikan decided that she'd rather not disturb this rare moment of serenity. It seemed that the world around she and Natsume remained hectic at all times. Whether it was one problem or another, severe or trivial, there was always an underlying tension between them. Neither wanted the other to interfere, for the both thought the other had given more than enough throughout their lives.
It was then, Natsume who broke the silence between them first with the proposal "let's not go to the festival."
"What do you mean?" asked Mikan.
"I'm saying we ditch them and explore the transit system for the day."
Mikan weighed her options thoughtfully. On one hand, she'd really get it when Permy found out about this – worse than Koko, and that was saying something. But then it was Natsume. Whenever he wanted to be alone with her it was never without an important cause. And this could be the perfect chance to get his opinion on the letter she received earlier.
"So what about Permy's plans?"
He shrugged. "Shouda will get over it. She always will. Besides, isn't this what you wanted?"
"Fine, but I'm telling her it's your idea," she conceded. "What were you saying earlier by the way? I mean, about your dad not paying for your tuition."
"Well, I expected it for a while, the ultimatum I mean. It's not exactly uncanny of him, but his conditions were that he would pay for my entire tuition but only if I get a scholarship to a university satisfactory by his standards. Not that I'm incapable, but it just really, really pissed me off when he said that. I never planned to go to university in the beginning. I want to get into an arts college to learn animation or design. So yeah, that's it. I already broke the news to him. He already blow his top for the last month or so. By this point, he doesn't even care about what I do anymore. It's more like he's concentrating his attention on Aoi now, since I'm the disappointment of the family."
His eyes became hollow as he said this, and when he looked down Mikan saw slight traces of eyebags from all the stress.
"But at least you have a firm resolve," she told him. "And you will prove him wrong. I know you will because you always have."
There was an elongated pause. Then Natsume gave the heaviest sigh. "At this point, it's not about proving him right or wrong anymore. All I want is for us to get along. I don't think we'll ever like each other enough to bring down this wall between us entirely, but it would really help if we can come to a consensus for once."
Mikan faintly smiles. "You probably take after your mother too much."
"Obviously that's why I'm so amazing."
He got a playful smack for that.
"Mom was more intense than me though, you got to admit. All kinds of shit happened during her school days. She actually went to juvie once."
"I know. Your mom befriended my mom at juvie and after they were released they committed mischief to the nth degree."
Surprised, Natsume turned to her and questioned, "your mom told you? Does that mean you guys are on better terms now? You're no longer running out into snowstorms to avoid her or anything of the like?"
A blush crept onto Mikan's face as she recalled the events of the previous year. "Shush. Let's not talk about that incident. She and I made progress after that letter. My dad kept on pestering me to send her a reply and I guess I caved in sooner or later. But her phone numbers and mailing addresses change quite regularly so it's hard to get a hold of her sometimes. Recently, though, she made me an offer that's been lingering in my mind."
"What's her offer?"
Mikan tilts her head upwards to stare at the clouds. "Well you know how I told you about how I got into the university of my first choice right? And I worked really hard for it, too... Well my mother sent me a letter a few days ago asking me to take a year off after graduation to travel the world with her. She said she'd been saving up since that Christmas and she regrets not getting to know her children better. I'm to make up my mind before we meet at Tsubasa's wedding."
"And when is that?"
"Mmm, I believe it's the fifteenth of June."
"Then don't sweat it too much. You still have a month to decide."
"I was kind of hoping you'd give me some advice on this?"
She looked up to Natsume with hopeful eyes, which he wished that she hadn't. From his girlfriend's face, Natsume could tell that Mikan wanted him to choose for her. He didn't want it to come down to this, for he knew that what he wanted to tell her was based on pure selfishness. It wasn't fair that she gave him monopoly of one of the most important decisions in her life.
He contemplated whether to give her a truthful answer when their bus came around the corner.
"Bus is here," Natsume sighed in relief. "Let's go."
For now, he would just endure her look of disappointment.
As they took a seat down at the back, Mikan's phone started to buzz.
"Um," she said hesitantly when seeing the caller ID. "It's Permy. She's probably calling to ask us what's taking so long."
"Just ignore her," Natsume replied. "Actually, turn off your phone, just for today."
After that, they averted the the topic to more pleasant things. Natsume asked Mikan about the wedding and she happily explained to him that Tsubasa and Misaki had been engaged for quite a while now but both of them decided to only get married after they landed secure jobs. Tsubasa got an offer as soon as he graduated. A few months later, when Misaki landed a job as a manager in a stable electronics company, they set the date.
"You should come to the wedding Natsume," she finished. "You could be my plus one."
"Nah," he said while staring out into the scenery. "Don't want to ruin this moment for your brother. Your relaves don't seem to like me much."
"Nonsense," Mikan protested, setting her head quite comfortably down on his shoulder. "My mother is invited despite the fact that I pretty much grew up without her. Your mom is my mom's close friend, so you're practically a family friend. It's not like you have trouble keeping up with your grades anyways. And Aoi should come too."
She waited for Natsume to respond for the longest time, but not a word came out of his lips. He only stared out the window, lost in a trance. Mikan tried to read his expression again, but to no avail, so she just gave up and stared out the other window. Soon, the passing trees all became a blur of green and her eyes got heavier and heavier until everything finally succumbed to darkness.
What seemed like hours later, Natsume gently moved his shoulder from underneath her and shook her awake.
"Hey, we're at the end of the route. Time to get off."
"Great," Mikan replied. Her eyes strung from the transition from the dim light of the bus to the bright of the sunshine. "That means we're down at the beach right? Ooh, let's go to the ferry."
"You want to go on a boat ride?"
Mikan's smile dimmed slightly. "Sure, why not? As long as we get back here before our transfer expires..."
"I don't have money."
"Oh. Right. Okay, let's go find a bench someplace and sit then."
They walked along the beach in search of a spot to sit down, but most of the benches were occupied so Mikan and Natsume finally settled for a shady spot under an ancient willow tree, right next to the water.
"Wow, it's so clear you can see the bottom," Mikan said, leaning over the edge of the land.
"Yeah," agreed Natsume. "But that's because the water bearly comes up to your waist at this spot."
"True that. But we should really go fishing someday. My dad recently got a license and lately it's become somewhat of an obsession. On some days, he's out until as late as ten pm at night."
Mikan got down on her knees and dipped her hands into the cool, clear water. She saw her reflection in the lake and reached to fix a strand of hair that was out of place. As she did this, a few minnows felt the ripples and started swimming around frantically.
"Whoa!" exclaimed Mikan. "I see fish. I wonder if I can catch one."
She reached out into the water, but every time she tried to grasp at one, they swam further out into the water.
"Hey," Natsume called gruffly. "If you reach any further you're going to-"
A shriek elicit from Mikan as she lost balance and tried to steady herself by reaching for the bottom. Natsume jumped up and grasped her waist before she could fall any further. When he pulled her up, Mikan's face, along with the majority of her blouse, was drenched.
"You are one smart cookie," he said sardonically as he pulled her back onto land.
"I know," agreed Mikan, wiping the water from her face and bangs. "That's how I get myself into all these situations. At least I'll always have you to save me."
"Not for much longer though. Luckily your pants didn't get wet. Here-" he stripped his shirt. "You should wear this while yours is drying."
Mikan felt the all the heat in her body creep upwards onto her face. "Uh, okay but what are you going to wear?"
She stared blankly.
"What? You've never seen a shirtless guy before?"
Well, she had. And it wasn't really uncommon for guys to go walk around shirtless on the beach. And this was her boyfriend so there was no reason to be flustered, yet Mikan still was. With his abs out in the open, it was like Natsume had a huge LOOK HERE sign pasted on his stomach. Every time she happened to get a glance, more blood would rush up to her cheeks. Half the time Mikan tried to keep her cool and avert ogling, she found her eyes unconsciously drifting back.
"I'm going to look for a washroom to blow dry my clothes," Mikan announced, a bit too eagerly.
However, after a quick survey it was evident that there was no washroom in vicinity.
"Just change out here," said Natsume
"In the open?" Mikan gasped in a whisper. "I have shame!"
Natsume shrugged. "Go behind a tree then. It'll take three seconds. Who cares if someone sees you? We're at the beach. Lots of girls in bikinis here."
Mikan pointed out that she wasn't in a bikini.
"So? Bras and bikinis are pretty much the same thing."
At this, her face crimsoned. "Fine, I'm going behind the tree now. Don't look."
As fast as her hands could allow, Mikan stripped of her blouse but then she looked at Natsume's shirt and mentally cursed. Today he was wearing one of those buttoned up shirts. And furthermore, the button holes were teeny. She was pretty sure it took her more than five minutes to get the buttons in.
"Done?" he asked, just as she was about to put the last button into place. "By the way, polka dots still?"
Her fingers froze and she slowly looked at him, livid.
"You - you peeping tom!" Mikan exclaimed, a bit too loud for Natsume's liking. "I told you not to look. Ugh! Unbelievable..."
As she was storming away, Natsume caged his girlfriend's small figure inside his arms and spun her around in circles twice. When he set her down, he reached over her shoulder and gave her a small peck on the corner of her lips. All the while Mikan was shrieking in surprise.
"Still mad at me?"
"Yeah, and I'm planning to throw you into the water."
"If I'm going down," he said while planting more kisses on her cheek, "you're going to have to go down with me. We'll both be soaking wet for the next hour. How about it?"
"All right, all right!" Mikan gave in, laughing. "At least let me sit."
So sit they did, underneath the willow tree once more.
"What have you been thinking about lately?" Mikan asked him. "I mean, when we walked to the bus stop, and then on the bus, and just now when I tried to catch fish. You seem a bit spaced out."
"Oh, nothing in particular. I was dwelling on how everyone's going to graduate soon and how we all have different places to go. And people will probably become strangers to each other from now on."
"Ugh. You make is sound so tragic. That's not true. We still have grad and commencement and prom and most of us will be back every summer."
"What about Imai though? Aren't you sad that she's leaving you?"
"Hotaru is a bum!" Mikan cried vehemently. "I can't believe she got accepted into MIT. While we're all here busting our butts off to maintain our grades she'll be putting police cars on roofs or doing some other crazy hack. Oh yeah, I've been meaning to ask but how is Ruka taking this?"
"No idea. He says things have been rocky between him and Imai lately."
"Oh," Mikan replied sadly. "I hope things work out between them."
Natsume grunted his agreement.
"You know," said Mikan. "I really love the last twelve years that we've been together. I know there was lots of crying and angst and fights and breakups between all of us but I guess that's all just a part of growing up. On the first day of grade one, I was such a nervous kid. I didn't know anyone, and now I'm spending the day running away from friends with you. I'm so lucky that I spent twelve whole grades with everyone, from Valentines to Christmases to birthdays and babysitting. Don't you feel the same way?"
Natsume, once again, grunted his agreement.
"You better bring me a tissue box on graduation day, Natsume. I bet you one hundred bucks that I'm going to be the biggest crybaby of all."
"And you say I was making thing sound tragic," he mused.
"Yeah, and you were! I was just getting a bit emotional, that's all. But no lie about the tissue thing. You better bring me a box of tissues for real, or a huge hanky."
"All right, all right. Let's go catch the bus before our transfers expire."
Despite her reluctance, Mikan let him pull her up from her spot. Together, they walked across the park in the direction of the bus stop. Mikan closed her eyes to feel the breeze coming from the lake and she couldn't help the smile forming on her lips as she reminisced once more about her childhood.
"Ah!" a sudden screech interrupted her thoughts.
Mikan's eyes shot open immediately. She looked in the direction of the cry, only to see eight too-familiar faces across the street, gaping at them.
"You floppers!" screeched Sumire, and even through the loud sounds of automobiles, her voice came crisp and clear to Mikan's ears. "I can't believe this! How dare you! Mikan, come over here this moment so I can wring your neck and turn you into a bobblehead! We waited for you for an entire hour. An hour, you hear me? I called you a grand total of eighteen times! Turn on your phone. Arg!" And then she began making furious, incoherent sounds.
"Well, should we run or should we run?" asked Natsume. "The light's going to turn green on their side. Oh too late, they're coming over."
And sure enough, Sumire was rampaging across the street. Not far after her came the five boys, and Anna and Nonoko.
"It's all your fault," Mikan hissed in his ear.
"Why is Natsume shirtless, Mikan?" asked Kitsuneme, who was bearing a ginormous grin. "And why are you wearing his shirt?"
"I told you they were gonna ditch us to make – nodon'tkillmeNatsume!" Koko cowered behind his friend as Natsume gave him the evil eye.
"Don't worry about us, guys," Mikan commented innocently. "We had a lot of fun."
Kitsuneme and Koko exchanged looks and muffled laughter.
"Well now that we've found you, you're coming with us to Central Town," ordered Sumire.
"I can't," said Mikan, pointing to the shirt she as carrying. "My blouse is wet and our transfers are about to expire."
"I'm not even going to ask what happened... What are you guys anyways? Cheapskates? You are so coming with me to Central Town. No questions asked, or I'm never going to invite you to another one of my parties again. I'm not letting you two out of sight. Mikan, turn your phone on for goodness sakes! What is the point of bringing it if you're leaving it off? And when we're going back you can go in my car. And Mikan will be riding shotgun with me, for your information Mr. Hyuuga. Control those hormones children!"
"Or at least name your kid after me!" Koko piped in.
"You're disgusting!" exclaimed Sumire. She pinched his ear, making him cry out in pain.
"Mercy! Mercy! God!"
For the rest of the day, Sumire dragged them all of them from shop to shop. It turned out that there were many nifty places around Central Town hidden barely out of sight. They found a crystal shop, a very nice bakery that Anna loved and various antique stores. Though it was very tempting, neither Natsume nor Mikan spent any more money that day. Natsume was dead set on saving up for college and Mikan, upon seeing her boyfriend's determination, decided that she too would put a hold on spending, because after all there were always better uses for money.
"I'm dead tired," Sumire said, stretching herself out like an oversized cat. "Let's go home guys. Today was a pretty eventful day. After this we'll have exams. Boo. And I'm going to set up a post grad party on my house so don't forget to RSVP. Koko and Kitsuneme, you guys will be my clean up crew, right?"
"Carry your own bags first and we'll talk," huffed Koko while heaving at least six shopping bags on each hand, all of them belonging to Sumire.
Dismissing his comment completely, Sumire asked, "So how are we gonna do this? Like who's going in my car and who's going in Mochu's?"
"We'll just divide it the way we did when we came," said Mochu, "And you said you were taking Natsume and Mikan anyways."
"Fine," Sumire replied with an eyeroll. "Koko, put the bags in my trunk. Mikan, come up in front with me!"
Behind Sumire, Koko made a fist at her before dumping all the bags into her car stimultaneously.
"Sorry but can I sit in the back with Natsume?" requested Mikan.
Sumire gave her a disbelieving look. "Girl, you have had the whole day with Natsume. How much more time do you need? Fine, fine. Have it your way. Nonoko, come ride shotgun with me. Anna, I'm sorry for making you sit with the couple that's attached at the hip."
"Hey! We are not -" protested Mikan but Natsume silenced her by putting hand on her shoulder and shaking his head.
And so after a tiring day, Mikan, Natsume, Anna and Nonoko boarded Sumire's car. As they cruised onto the highway, Mikan set her head down once more on Natsume's shoulder. The three other girls in the car were all talking about the purchases they made or the purchases they wanted to make in Central Town that day. Their chatter was drowned out until it simply became background noise. Mikan stared thoughtfully at the passing cars, and then down at the wet blouse on her lap.
"Say, when do you want me to return your shirt Natsume?" she asked.
"Whenever you want," he grunted. "It's just a shirt. You can keep it for all I care."
She fingered traced the very edge of the shirt and realized that Natsume never let her borrow anything clothing article of his before.
That's just what I might do, she thought with a grin. In return, she could probably go back to Central Town in the summer and get him those comics that she caught him eyeing earlier.
"How long until your house Natsume?"
"Probably five minutes?"
A pregnant pause ensued.
She lifted her head off of his shoulder and faced him. "I think I'm going to give it a try after all – travelling the world with my mom. Even after all that's happened I wish I got to know her better and I don't us to be estranged any further. I mean, for university there's always next year but I have no idea how many more chances I'll have to get to know my mother from now on. I'll send you lots of emails and postcards and souvenirs, so start picking up your post, okay? And don't forget to send me your new address."
"Yeah," he said.
"And don't think we'll never see each other again because I fully plan on coming back here in a year and stalking you down."
"And I love you Natsume, no matter what happens."
"Yeah. Me too."
The assurance in his voice was all the confirmation Mikan needed to know that she was making the right choice.
Growing up is done. Finito. There will be no further edits, no changes and nothing else - zip, zero, nil - done to this story. It was completed over the course of two years so there ought to be a huge change of writing styles throughout. And for those of you who aren't satisfied with the ending, well it's not my best work but it's the best I can do for this story. I'm beyond trying to save it since that would require countless edits and inevitably the modification of the whole plot (if there even is one).
Words cannot tell you how tedious it was writing this chapter. I have officially completed my first story. Thank you everyone. Reviews and favs are always appreciated. No need to alert this since it's completed anyway.