Dedicated to Hikoru, Aniki and LyricGirl16.
Thank you both for all the support you've given me.
You're both so talented, and never fail to make me smile.
I hope you two enjoy this story, and stories to come!
Love, Mara

French
Vanilla

Neji:

My sister just bought another box of cereal.

There she is. Standing in the doorway with the little cardboard container, the sounds of the tiny pieces of food rattling and rolling around inside like the shaking of a maraca, as she closes the screen door with her foot and closes the wooden door with her back.

She smiles at me breathlessly. The box is large, covering her chest all the way down to her pelvis. Her cheeks are pinched red from the cold, and her purse is slipping to her elbow, but she's happy. Yes, she is content, with her cereal. "Afternoon, Neji."

I nod at her from my place at the table doing my homework, watching as she hangs her coat, scarf and hat up, then turns, box clutched in her arms, and walks out of the kitchen. "I'll be in my room," she says simply over her shoulder.

"Alright…" I turn back to my Advanced Calculus as the sound of her retreating quickly upstairs fades. I sigh and shake my head, massaging my wrist.

"Weird girl…"

It's more of a term of endearment. I'm a mellow person. Calm. Smart. Straight. Seventeen years old, going on eighteen. Twelfth grade, a senior in High School. Living with my uncle, Hiashi, and cousin – I call her my sister – Hinata. And the rest is up to a pedophile to figure out.

Back to the subject on hand, Hinata's had this current obsession with cereal. It's not hidden, but it is not discussed. I suppose it's an avoided subject, or something forbidden.

I don't really want to know why she eats it so much. She goes through them like a dog in front of a bowl. It's not a diet. It's a different type of cereal each time, and most of the time it's not healthy. Although sometimes I guess she gets hooked onto a favorite flavor, then she gets sick of eating it so much and decides to get a different kind.

I also don't want to know where she's getting all the money to buy that cereal from in the first place.

Of course, it could be…

No. No, I really don't want to think about it.

Part One –
Box of Cereal

Shikamaru:

I am so fucking lucky to have a car.

I love it. The minute I turned sixteen, my dad said to me, "Son, I have somethin' to give ya", in that gruff, fatherly voice that dads use when they're really proud of their children but they don't want to show how ecstatic they are. And he revealed to me, his car, and his retirement money.

I suppose the retirement money's a kind of threat. I'll be paying out my ass if I do anything to this car. But I only get drunk on the weekends, and that's at Chouji's house, which is two places down from mine. So although I might stumble in at one in the morning, throwing up and getting screamed at by my mother while she takes away all of my privileges, I still get to keep this car.

And it is, for sure, that big of a deal, because today as I wait, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel at a red light, I look out and see crossing the street in front of me Neji Hyuuga, the antisocial prick one grade ahead of me.

Neji Hyuuga is, seemingly at one glance, normal. He's an honor's student. I only know him because I'm in most of his classes, since I'm an honor's kid myself. He gets good grades, even though I have to say I do just as well.

But he's a douche bag. Like a cut off your head and shit down your neck douche bag.

He only speaks when spoken to, except when he's talking with his two best friends; Rock Lee and TenTen. Those two are just as weird as he is. They're nuts. I swear. Lee never shuts up about the power of youth. And TenTen's this feminist that's obsessed with showing men that they're not the only tough ones; she's in every sport imaginable and gets straight A's. I think the three of them work a little too hard.

Neji himself possesses a sort of superiority complex. Don't get me wrong, everyone likes to feel good about themselves and I'm no exception. But not like this. He needs to be the best at everything, or else he freaks out and criticizes the person that's better than him. I call this little issue obsessive compulsive disorder. Known to teenagers adjusted to slang as OCD.

So basically, he's a perfectionist. I say he's unhealthily a perfectionist. He's never late, never absent, never tardy. He never misses a homework assignment or long term assignment, never gets less than an A+ on his tests, let alone missing out on the Nice Job! teachers write in the top left hand corner with a squiggly that they call a 'smiley-face'.

Heh. Look at him. Another reason it's nice to have a car. It's not too cold outside, but it's pretty wet, and this lovely April morning it's raining freezing rain like never before. And there's Neji, walking in front of my car, the hood of that thin, forest-green zip-up jacket pulled over his head, even though his bangs, hanging out the front of it, are getting soaked. What's the point of hoods if your hair gets soaked anyways?

I watch him over the steering wheel discreetly. It's grey outside, the clouds dark and piled one on top of the other endlessly. The sun barely gets through them, but it does, and it illuminates the rain coming down in thick grey lines tapping on the guy's head. His jeans are soaked through at the bottom, and as he passes I can see a worm tackling the back of his shoe.

He has about two blocks to go.

Poor douche bag.

Laugh to Live

"What the fuck is wrong with you Shikamaru?! What the fuck is wrong with you?! I, I can't even think of a good insult for you! You're…You suck!"

"Yes."

Sheesh. I'm in the last hour of the school day, and I usually use this class as study hall; it's Novel, so all I have to do is pretend to read a book, and when the teacher's out, have a nice chat with Chouji.

This is not a nice chat. All I can do is keep nodding and saying, "Yes," as Chouji continues to rant about whatever he's ranting about. Chouji's known to be a little overdramatic about simple things, even though usually he's quite an enjoyable person.

Really. Never has the universe created a nicer teenage boy. Because the usual teenage boy is tedious, disagreeable, and violent. Not this guy. Chouji is pleasant, peace-loving, and my best friend ever. Without the guy I'd be dead by now.

But he is definitely a drama…king.

"Shikamaru, why?! Why, why, why did you have to tell Ino?! Aw, Shikamaru, you betrayed me!"

"Yes," I repeat, staring at him as he, red-in-the-face, flings himself onto the desk in front of me dramatically.

He stares back at me, then sighs and straightens up. "You are not taking me seriously."

"Yes."

"Shikamaru!"

I sigh, folding my arms on the desk patiently. "Listen, Chouji," I say businesslike. "I told Ino you were hitting on her because you obviously don't have the balls to. And I say that with as much love as I can give."

"That's not love that's hate, man! You be hatin'!"

"You're white, Chouji," I remind him. "You're printer paper."

"I'm just trying to get the point across! You've insulted me, Shikamaru." Chouji sits down in the seat in front of mine backwards, pulling it over so he's facing me directly. "Now, tell me again," he says under his breath. ", what did she say? What was her reaction, in perfect detail?"

"I already told you, Chouji," I say. "First she was speechless, then she said 'Really? Chouji?', then her pink-haired friend ran over and she kind of ignored me from there on."

"That's it? She just…Wait…pink hair?"

"…Yeah. I thought it was weird too."

"Well…So Ino…She just…ignored you?"

"Yes, Chouji. She just ignored me."

I've decided that if I want to survive High School, there's one thing I have to do when Chouji is in this mood; agree with anything he says.

You see, Chouji is overweight. And he is also very self conscious. So if anyone ever mentions the word 'Fat' around him – we at our High School call it 'The F Word', or 'The Forbidden Word' – he will explode, and he will beat you to a very thin crisp that crumbles at the touch. Because, being overweight, he can smash your arm with one punch. Literally, one time this kid Naruto Uzumaki was stupid enough to say it to his face and his arm broke. They both used the 'fell down the stairs' excuse to avoid suspension, but Naruto never tried that again.

And there it is, the bell. I stand, among the other students that fly to their feet and escape out the door. "Listen, Chouji, I'm sorry, but I had to do it. You needed to tell her some day, and today just felt like the right day. I'm in a particularly good mood. So get over it, and try to figure out how and when you're going to ask her out, alright?"

Chouji groans. "…I'll call you later…"

"Alright. Sorry, man." I punch him in the shoulder, then flee to the hallway where I know for sure I'll be safe from Chouji's wrath.

Let's just hope he and Ino don't run into each other over the next…seven days, let's say.

Neji:

Why the hell is a blueberry muffin more interesting than me?!

Shit. Of all the god damned things on earth that could attract even the most attention deficient, a fucking blueberry muffin has to be the most amazing, awe-inspiring thing on the planet. To TenTen, at least.

I swear, for a week now, every day at lunch she seems to find something to stare at. Anything, just not me.

Today, it's a blueberry muffin.

What the hell do I have to do?! I swear, we've been flirting since freshman year, I've definitely developed some sort of feelings for her, and this is not making it easier on me!

"…TenTen, did you do your homework last night?" I ask, desperately searching for conversation. Unfortunately she doesn't respond. She just stares at the stupid blueberry muffin. "Ten?" I ask a little louder, touching her arm hesitantly.

With that, she gives a sort of squeak and falls out of her chair.

Damn. I finally get a reaction, and it has to be this.

Note to self: No touching the TenTen. And no use of nicknames anymore either.

"Um…TenTen, you okay?"

"I-I-I…! No! I mean, yes! Yes, I-I'm okay, just…d-d-don't…u-um…!"

Shit. Now I've embarrassed her.

Another note to self: Shut stupid mouth.

Lee, on her other side, is obviously trying very hard not to laugh. I glare at him. H's been attempting to hook the two of us up for a very long time. Not only has he not succeeded, but he's kind of thrown us to shit.

"Oww…" TenTen complains aloud, sitting up on her chair again with a chuckling Lee's help. "Sh…Shut up, Lee…"

And, she's blushing. I hate it when she blushes. It only makes her cuter, and it makes it hard for me to think. Or speak. Or exist. And, um, self control down south is…Well, let's just say certain thoughts that I try not to stray into are incredibly hard to resist. Damn, how my mind teases me…

"Uh…you sure you're alright?" I try. I mean, I'm not about to make her think I'd just let something like that wash down the drain without worrying about her.

"…Yes," she mumbles. She's not looking at me, and she's still blushing, and she looks so embarrassed that she's probably ready to die about now. But at least she's saying something articulate.

Wow, this life.

Shikamaru:

So most people shouldn't have to hate their own genius. It's a skill, an ability, a natural talent gifted to me by the genes somehow combined by my mother and father. It should be a technique used to win the heart of the gorgeous upperclassman named Temari that I am, for some reason, self consciously obsessed with.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a turn on, that she loathes. Yes, it's obvious she's interested in me. I often make her blush, I catch her checking me out (this pleases me), and sometimes we have these moments where we both can't help but smile at each other.

But most of the time, she hateloves me. I dislike making up spontaneous and obviously inexistent words, but certain situations deserve the unthinkable.

"How do you determine the abundance of boron-10 and boron-11 to the nearest 10 percent?" Asuma asks. I look up. Great, another question. "Anyone?" The classroom is silent. Everyone stares at the chalkboard expressionlessly. "Temari, you're smart. How about you?"

I look over to her next to me. For some reason, the teachers seem to have it out to make our lives terrible; they all stick us next to each other in each class we have with each other. It's like an inside joke between them all.

Temari raises a perfect eyebrow. She really is beautiful. Sandy blond hair, usually pulled into a high ponytail, sky-blue eyes, not to mention a perfect body. "Um…I honestly have no clue," she says, shaking her head and glancing down at her notes.

Asuma sighs. "Alright…Shikamaru, wake up."

Damn. I'd hoped he wouldn't call on me today. Temari looks at me blankly, and I avoid her gaze quickly. "I am awake…"

"Oh, right…Well then, can you please tell the class how to determine the abundance of boron-10 and boron-11?"

I sigh. "To what percent again?"

"Nearest 10. And please explain thoroughly, not one of your one-word answers."

Ah shit. Come on, that's not making my life easier.

"Come on, I know you know the answer."

"…Fine…" Here goes…"The atomic weight of boron is 10.81, an average of the isotopic mass of boron-10 and boron-11. So the equation goes 'abundance of boron-10 multiplied by the isotopic mass of boron-10 plus the abundance of boron-11 multiplied by the isotopic mass of boron-11. You can go from there by multiplying by a rough two digit number each boron-10 and boron-11, so you should get a few decimal numbers, then solve the equation for x."

Asuma nods. "Very nice. Now, to go over the steps on the board, we should get…"

As he rambles on, and all the students shift focus to the board interestedly, Temari glares at me. I glance at her as coolly as I can. "What's your problem?"

"Nothing, you're just a showoff as usual," she mutters, turning away from me huffily and rifling through her notes aimlessly.

I roll my eyes. "And you're just touchy as usual," I say under my breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, nothing…"

"No, you said something. Repeat it, please."

"No, I'd rather not."

"…Go die."

"...I'd also rather not…"

"Oh…Oh just…just shut up!"

"But you-!"

"Shut up!"

"Temari, Shikamaru!" We both snap our heads up to Asuma, who frowns sternly at us. "You can flirt after class. Right now, pay attention."

I hate being amazing…

Neji:

Coco Puffs? Is she serious?

I have never wondered this before, but I just have to know if…something is wrong with Hinata. Is she sane? I mean, Coco Puffs? Why? That bird on the front of the box, it…it freaks me out. It isn't…right.

I stare at it now. The stupid grin, the obnoxious color of the feathers. I watch Hinata, trying not to let my mouth drop open in astonishment, as she closes the door behind her with a quick snap, holding a fresh steaming coffee in one hand clumsily as well. I guess she's gotta wash down the Coco Puffs with something.

She turns around and gives me this beaming smile that would melt any frozen heart.

Well, at least she's happy…

"Studying?" she asks sweetly.

I smile back at her and nod, holding up my book. She's a nice distraction from my homework too. "Mhm. Are you done studying yourself?" How easy it is to look on the bright side of her. No wonder she's my favorite…

"Yes. I'm talking to TenTen right now online."

I stiffen, as if petrified, in the process of rifling through my binder. Great. I forgot that she and TenTen had gotten so close. TenTen does come over quite often with Lee, and I hold Hinata closest to my heart. It is undeniable that she and my two best friends would spend a little more time with each other than I intended…

Which means…which means that Hinata and TenTen might talk about me. No, they do talk about me! It's obvious, I'm the one that holds them together like glue, or the sticky oatmeal that Hinata makes me for breakfast occasionally. Which means I not only have to impress TenTen, I have to impress Hinata as well, so Hinata can pass on the information to TenTen and impress her even more. That's how it works, right?

And so I have to say something intelligent in response to that, something that makes me out to be someone casual and mature. I have to say something interesting, yet calm. Something that'll make me out to be someone TenTen won't be afraid to talk to. Someone she'll want to talk to!

"…S…Splendid."

Crap.

Hinata giggles cheerfully. "You're strange, Neji. Well, study hard."

"Y…Yeah…" She begins to waltz out of the room, and I let an insuppressible groan escape me. Unfortunately, Hinata seems to hear it, for I notice her light footsteps tapping right back in.

"Neji? Are you alright?" she asks, and I turn around in my chair to see her large eyes staring at me, shining like a deer in headlights.

"…Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just…having trouble studying," I excuse myself, thinking quickly.

She tilts her head to the side oddly, then smiles, an idea seeming to come to her. "You know what you need? You need a coffee."

I blink. "I…need it?"

"A coffee dissolves even the most stressed out college students of their troubles," Hinata explains wisely while skipping over to me, the cereal box shaking merrily. She sets the coffee down in front of me daintily, then steps back. "So, there you are. It's French Vanilla. Enjoy."

"Wait, um…isn't this yours?" I ask, bewildered, as she begins to walk away.

She looks over her shoulder with a carefree shrug. "It's alright, Neji. I'm full anyways."

Then why does she eat all that cereal…?

"Goodnight, Neji." She retreats up the stairs to her room with her box of cereal.

I stare after her. The house is silent, except for her footsteps above me and the ticking of the clock on the wall.

I reach over to grab the coffee and take a sip thoughtfully; it's delicious, surprisingly. I usually don't like coffee. And Hinata was right; I honestly feel a little better now…

"Ouch!"

Suddenly, Hinata's little sister and the youngest member of the household, Hanabi, scrambles into the room, clutching her stubbed toe. Cup to my lips, I try my hardest not to choke on my second sip of the thick, sweet coffee; Hanabi is dressed in a sparkling purple tutu and is wearing a coconut bra on top of it. She runs past, hopping on one foot and still clutching the injured toe, falling over herself and stumbling into the stairway, then disappearing from sight.

I slowly set the coffee down on the table again and heave a great sigh before picking up my pencil again and staring down at my homework, shaking my head.

"Weird girl…"

End Part One