Disclaimer: "Only the Ring Finger Knows" and all its related elements belong to Satoru Kannagi-sensei. The original concept for this story is NOT mine either. It is Kasumi Hayashibara-san's concept for the "Empty White Canvas" story (see her author's note on the last chapter of "The Untouched Ring"), and hence, it naturally belongs to her. She has generously granted me permission to use her idea to write this story. However, this does NOT mean that she will drop "Empty White Canvas". She will definitely return to it after she finishes "Endless Summer", the sequel to "The Untouched Ring". What I am really doing here is developing the idea as described in Kasumi-san's author's note into a full-fledged story. I have been intrigued by her idea for a while and would really like to try working on it (As you may already have guessed, I voted for the "Empty White Canvas", so this is also a way for me to sooth my impatience). In other word, the details and the unfolding of events in this story are my own evil working, so come back to me if you have any problem with them. Therefore, this story should not be confused with Kasumi-san's story and vice versa.

This is also the first time I work with a long-term project i.e. first time trying to overcome my short-attention span problem. The starting and ending points are fixed. The road between them, however, is mine to pick :D. Needless to say, feedbacks are welcome!

-Reluctance-

"I'll say this again and again. I WON'T GO ON THAT DAMNED DATE!"

It was uncharacteristic of Kazuki Yuichi to raise his voice, especially when the person opposite him is his father. However, this time he felt his neurons would snap if he had not release the irritation one way or another. He was a model son indeed, but even he had wishes that he wanted his parents to respect. And the freedom to choose the partner and occasion for his dates was among such wishes.

"I'll also say this again and again. You should go out once in a while. Studying hard is good, but your social life is pretty much nothing!"

Disregarding his son's outburst, Mr. Kazuki calmly reasoned with the boy. Yuichi was very mature and responsible for someone at that insecure age of eighteen, so normally he would let the boy have his way. But lately, he felt increasingly uneasy with the colourlessness in the boy's lifestyle. Surely, Yuichi was a brilliant scholar, a dutiful son, and a respectable young gentleman befitting a respectable family, in other word, an apparently perfect human being. But behind that fa├žade, the boy had no extracurricular activity or even interest despite occasionally helping out some clubs, and more alarmingly, no real close friend despite being the most popular student at school. It was as if the boy intentionally detached himself from society in the most subtle way. As a responsible father, he resolved to break that worrysome trend.

"I appreciate your concern. But Dad, it makes no sense to go out with a girl I don't even know! It's awkward! And she will hate that herself!"

"Aren't you famous for being a gentleman? And you will know no girl if I leave it to yourself."

Yuichi could not suppress a scowl at such a ridiculous logic. Moreover, his reasonable and liberal father was the last person he expected to hear this from.

"I don't know you are that desperate to marry me off!" He remarked sarcastically.

"Look, it's not as if I'm forcing you into an arranged marriage. All you have to do is going out with a girl and enjoy yourself! I don't ask from you any more than that!"

The middle-aged man looked straight into his son's grey eyes, which were mirror image of those of his own. A forced date was indeed an inelegant method to improve Yuichi's social life. But he felt the odds the boy came out of the shell on his own was not high. Plus when being pushed, Yuichi would be more likely to behave himself in the presence of the opposite sex (yes, even the model son had his moments). Hence, true to the Kazuki's blood, he took the matter in his own hands. Preying on Yuichi's sense of responsibility, he added with a sign:

"And I have troubled Fujii-san and his family so much for this. Do you think it was easy to ask them this kind of favour?"

It is your own fault, Yuichi frustratedly thought. However, he was well aware that his father was unusually serious about this stupid date. Who knew what the old man would come up with next if he did not comply this time. Lowering his head for one second, he defiantly gazed back at his father.

"Fine, I'll go on this date with this girl you chose. But there will be no second time no matter what you say! That is my condition!"

"Just one time is fine. I'm sure it will be fun. There is more to meeting people than you thought."

"Heaven forbids!". Yuichi could not help but shiver a bit at his father's words. What could be good about seeing someone under complete coercion when resentment bubbled in your mind?

Time flew by and the much hated day came. Yuichi skipped breakfast and shut himself in his room. Words could not describe how much he hated himself for consenting to his father's ludicrous arrangement in that moment of weakness. The tempting idea of pretending sick kept coming back to his mind. He almost yielded to it. But another part of his ego resisted such a cheap way of escaping the challenge. His blood rose when he imagined the story of his running away from a date he himself accepted like a cold-feet bride before the wedding circulating in his family circle. It may even become a family legend, Yuichi sarcastically thought. Too much emotions and an empty stomach began to make him feel sick for real. But before he could further examine his bodily condition (and maybe took advantage of it), there was a knock at his room's door. The face of his brother Shohei appeared from the other side of the threshold.

"Your bride has arrived. Aren't you going to greet her, Yuichi?" The man smirked.

Oh great, now he even had his brother's teasings to chew on. "Shut up!" The boy fiercely snapped, but his brother remained unfazed.

"Yuichi, where are you? Fujii-san's daughter is already here! Don't tell me you're quiting now of all time." Mr. Kazuki's voice added to the chorus.

"Fine, fine, I'm coming." Yuichi grudgingly picked himself up and left for the living room with his father and brother.

"The ladies sure are getting along with each other." Shohei casually remarked at the scene in front of them and Yuichi had a good view of the girl he was going out with. She was dressed in simple pale blue dress with same-coloured choker on her slender neck and bandeau in her shoulder-length hair. She really was cute, but very ordinary. Yuichi scoffed a bit inside. Because his father made him go through all this trouble, he was expecting something special from his date.

The girl was sitting opposite his mother and sister-in-law with his little niece Takako on her knee. The phrase "getting along" definitely did not apply to her for she looked more like a prisoner being interrogated despite the two older ladies' friendly attitude. Normally, he would perhaps pity her, but in this situation, he just hoped that she would ask to cancel the date.

At his grand entrance, the ladies looked up. Takako happily ran to her uncle.

"Uncle Yuichi, are you and nee-chan getting married?" She asked innocently.

Yuichi was dumbfounded, the girl flushed to the deepest red, and the adults broke out laughing.

"No, no, not yet, Takako. Not when they don't even know each other's names." Mr. Kazuki joked. "Yuichi, this is Fujii Karin-san. Karin-san, this is my son Yuichi. I hope you two will get along."

Still shocked from his niece's question, Yuichi honestly had no intention of "getting along" with her, who was looking down at the carpet. But Yuichi was Yuichi, a gentleman born and bred. Reminding himself of the role he was playing, he offered her his hand with the best smile he could manage.

"Nice to meet you, Karin-san."

"Nice to meet you, Kazuki-san." The girl returned the gesture and slowly shifted her eyes to him for the first time. Yuichi's gaze unknowingly softened, for the large dark eyes he was peering into were so pretty yet vulnerable. Though she was trying to maintain her composure, a look into her eyes was enough to tell that she was uncomfortable and really, really afraid. Yuichi did not just act nice. He was nice by nature, so even in his current bad mood, something in him was touched. Well, I'll be gentle to her. She was probably forced into this like me, he thought.

"Well, I think we had better go now." He cleared his voice, anxious to get out of his family's eyes. Shohei chuckled, but a look from the eldest Kazuki effectively silenced the man.

"Y-Yes." The girl stuttered, looking down again.

"OK, you two should go then. Have fun!" Yuichi's father winked at him and and he frowned. Shohei's shoulders were shaking: the man was obviously stiffening a laugh. He made a mental note to come back to his brother some time soon.

"We are going. Have a nice day everyone." Gaining back his usual confident manners, Yuichi properly said good bye to his family. The girl beside him said not a word but bowed instead.

That day was going to be a long day for both of them.