I'd like to start out by saying: Sorry. Gomen nasai. Je suis désolée. I know it's been a while since my last update and most of you have probably forgotten the story line. It's been so hectic trying to do all the last minute things before I graduate, but I'll try to keep writing on the weekends. Thanks to all the faithful readers who have put up with me. I have about 10 more chapters planned before I finish this story, and I'm thinking one will be a special in Kouji's P.O.V. Yaaay! Hope you enjoy this next installment.

x x x

Nothing irritates me more than being startled out of the middle of a perfect dream. I was sitting at a beautiful café in Paris, eating croissants and mingling with V.I.P. models in the business. I was about to make the biggest decision of my life; signing a contract that would make me a full-time model for Mirage. As my pen loomed over the document, a familiar song made me jump out of my chair. That brought me back to the real world.

I blinked a few times and suddenly my room seemed a lot less exciting. So much for that dream. How did I even know what Paris looked like, anyway?

I reached over to my nightstand and grabbed my cell phone, which had been ringing for the past minute or so. At first I wanted to chuck it across the room for waking me up so early, but then I read the screen. I pressed the speaker to my ear.

"Whaddaya want?" I said, still half asleep.

"Someone just woke up," Kouji answered.

"You guess right." I rubbed my eyes and yawned. "Is something up? I didn't oversleep, right? I thought the Saturday photo shoot was scheduled for noon."

"It was," I heard him heave out a sigh. "The editor's son is sick so he had to cancel. You don't have to come in today."


"Was there…something else you wanted to say?" I asked, confused about his sudden silence.

"Well, since you're free…" He started, and I raised an eyebrow. "Would you want to…go somewhere with me? That is, if you're feeling better."

Oh lordy, did I wake up then. I sat up straight in bed. Was he asking me on a…date? I must have spaced out for a moment, because he chimed in with, "Izumi?"

"U-Um yeah, I feel a lot better, actually. What did you have in mind?"

He laughed, and it was like music to my ears. "Why would I spoil the surprise?"

By My Side
.::Chapter 8::.

By ten o'clock, I was fully showered, fully dressed, and making pancakes. Why the third, you ask? Well, I had to think of something to keep me busy or else my nerves would cause me to go insane before the date even started. I poured some batter onto the skillet and the mix started sizzling. My mom walked into the kitchen wearing a navy blue bathrobe and stretched. She sniffed the air and glanced at me sideways.

"Pancakes?" She asked.

"Yup," I said. "We actually had enough batter to make them. The first batch is done if you want some."

"Thanks. They smell delicious." Mom pulled a plate from the cupboard and scraped two pancakes onto it with a spatula. I handed her a glass of orange juice and she sat down at the kitchen table. As she was cutting the pancakes into smaller pieces, she looked up at me. "So, what's the occasion?"

I folded my arms across my chest. "Can't a girl make pancakes for her family without them getting suspicious?"

She eyed me through her glass of orange juice. "I meant your outfit, honey."

It had taken a lot of digging in my dresser to find the right outfit. I mean, I wanted to look good for this date, even if it meant…that's right…wearing a dress. I still felt a bit uncomfortable whenever I wore them, but I could live with this dress. It was a pale blue color with really thin stripes and a lace design at the bottom. It had spaghetti straps that were tied into bows at my shoulders, and I had found some white sandals to wear on my feet. I had straightened my hair and let it fall down past my shoulders. When I looked back at mom, she was smiling brightly, waiting for my answer.

I turned to the skillet to hide my embarrassed blush. "I'm going out with someone today."

Her glass clinked on the table as she set it down. "With Kouji, right? Oh, I knew it. You two would make such a cute couple."

I almost dropped the pancake mix on the ground. "Wha—"

She waved a hand at me. "Don't worry. I'm not going to embarrass you with the details. I just wanted to know."

Heavy footsteps came down the hallway, and my dad entered the kitchen. He stared at the two of us. "What's going on?" He asked.

"Izumi has a date with her photographer," Mom walked by with her empty plate and kissed dad on the cheek. He whirled his head in my direction.

"Really?" He said, then frowned. "Am I gonna have to have a talk with h—"

"No!" I cut in with a groan. Flicking off the switch to the burners, I set the rest of the pancakes down on the table and grabbed some money. "Look at the time! I should get going," I said, slamming the front door behind me.

x x x

If anyone walked by me and saw my face at this moment, they would probably think I was short of breath or something. Which I kind of was. I stared at the gigantic building in my line of sight. This…is Kouji's house? Better yet, let me state that as mansion. It was shorter than the agency building, but a lot fancier. Smooth, shiny walls, a marble porch, detailed windows, a huge fountain in the front yard, and the greenest grass I've ever seen. As if on cue, Kouji stepped outside the front door looking like a super model. He was wearing a black jacket and jeans, no bandana, and his hair was tied back into a small ponytail. I remembered to breathe as he hopped off the porch to come and stand next to me.

"Hey Izumi," he said. His eyes flicked over my outfit and he gave me one of his rare grins. "You look nice. Ready to go?" He held out his hand to me.

"Wait! Don't I get a tour of the inside?" I said, gesturing to his house. "It's like you have your own museum!"

"Nah, we're gonna be late for the movie," Kouji answered quickly. Before I had a chance to retort, he laced his fingers with mine and pulled me forward. His expression was neutral, but I felt like he was shutting me out. I frowned, but decided not to say anything.

x x x

Most girls would probably choose to go see a romance film while they're on a date. Not this girl. When the two of us stepped up to the counter, I ordered two tickets for the latest horror movie. Rather than sit and watch a sappy love story with a happy ending, I wanted to see action and heart-pounding suspense. That's just the kind of girl I am. I handed Kouji his ticket, and he raised an eyebrow.

"What?" I asked. "Come on, I've been waiting to see this in theaters."

Kouji shrugged, trying not to laugh. "Can't say I'm surprised." I stuck my tongue out at him as he latched his arm around mine and pulled me into the theater. We claimed the best seats in the house; right smack in the middle. I sat down with my bucket of popcorn and waited for the previews to pass. When the lights dimmed and the movie started, Kouji leaned over and whispered, "If it gets too scary for you, you can hold my hand." I rolled my eyes and laughed.

About halfway through the movie, Kouji decided that he wanted some popcorn as well. As I grabbed a handful, his hand reached in and brushed against mine. I inhaled a sharp breath as his touch made my skin tingle.

"Sorry," he mumbled, pulling it away.

I glanced at him, then back at the popcorn. "No, it's okay." I noticed his head turn towards me, but I kept staring at the white kernels in embarrassment. "I mean…I-I don't mind if…you hold my hand."


I mentally winced. That was stupid. Why don't you tell him to kiss you while you're at it?

Kouji's warm hand curled around mine and squeezed it gently. Suddenly the movie seemed a lot less important.

"Izumi?" He said quietly and I turned my head slightly in his direction. He was leaning closer now, watching me intently with his dark eyes.

I gulped, "Yeah?" Just as he pulled my chin forward. Then it happened.

The fire alarm went off.

That's right, the lights in the room flicked on and two firefighters entered. "Listen up, you all need to evacuate the premises immediately. We're taking care of a maintenance fire. Please take the emergency exit route which will lead you outside." Our theater crowd filed out of the building in a dazed manner, and then we were standing outside.

Kouji ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Well, that was a bust." I wondered if he was talking about the movie or the smooch attempt. "Where do you want to go now?"

I looked around and pointed to a tiny brown building. "How about that arcade across the street?"

x x x

"Oh, this so makes up for that stupid fire drill!" I said, pulling another huge stack of tickets out of the machine. Kouji came over to me holding a similar mess of tiny orange slits of paper.

"That's because you keep winning," he pointed out. "How many do you have?"

"Four hundred, I think."

"Two fifty," he motioned to his pile.

I allowed myself a small grin of triumph. "Let's do a two player game. If I win, you have to fork over that sad pile of tickets you have there."

Kouji stuck his hands in his pockets. "And if I win?"

"You get all of my tickets." I dropped my pile on to the table as an offering. "Let's do the squirt gun game." Basically, all you had to do to win was point your water gun at the target and be the first to pop your balloon. I sat in front of the yellow balloon and Kouji sat in front of the orange one. We dropped a few quarters into the machine and aimed our water guns. The timer went off, and water spewed out against the targets. After a minute, I heard a popping noise, and I looked up to see which one had exploded. The yellow balloon was still standing.

"Looks like I win," Kouji said.

"It pains me to admit it, but yeah, you did. I'll go get my tickets." I started walking over to the table, when I felt Kouji's hand catch my arm. He spun me around to face him and my eyes widened in surprise.

"You know, tickets are nice, but I'd rather have something else…" He said, giving me that same look he had earlier at the theater. My heart sped up in excitement, and I leaned in with him—

"Hey! Are you playing that game? 'Cause if you aren't, then move out of the way!" A high pitched voice made us both jump in surprise. I glanced down at a young girl with brown pigtails wearing a pink dress. She placed her hands on her hips and glared at us. "Did you hear me?"

"Yeah, yeah, we heard you." I grumbled. Brat.

Kouji and I moved out of the way and went back to our table in silence. I sighed.

x x x

At the onset of dusk, we bought ice cream cones and went to the park. I got a chocolate soft serve, my favorite, and Kouji got vanilla. After I paid for my cone, I turned to take the first bite out of the top of the ice cream, but there was already a mouth-sized crater there.

"Chocolate. Nice choice."

I shot a glare at Kouji. "You just put your tongue all over my ice cream!"

He shrugged. "It was only one lick."

And then we couldn't help it – we burst out laughing. I clutched my stomach from giggling so hard and even Kouji loosened up enough to laugh like an idiot with me. I wiped tears out of my eyes and sighed, catching my breath.

"Déjà vu," I commented, and Kouji nodded.

"I'll never forget that day," he said, licking vanilla ice cream off his lips. I tried not to pay too much attention to that.

"Me neither," I agreed, staring out at the sunset. "That was the day my life turned crazy."

"Good crazy or bad crazy?" Kouji asked.

"Good crazy." I smiled. "Thanks for choosing me, Kouji."

"I'll always choose you, Izumi." He stepped closer to me, closing the gap between us. When I looked up at him, our face were inches apart. "You're so special to me."

I knew what was coming. I closed my eyes and slowly raised my feet so I was on my tippy-toes, and it was just enough to let our lips meet. The kiss was sweet, especially since we had just eaten ice cream. The fountain lights turned on next to us, and the area was enveloped in a soft glow. After a long moment, we broke apart for air and touched foreheads.

"I think I'm starting to favor vanilla ice cream." I grinned.

x x x

Kouji and I stopped by the agency after the park so Kouji could prepare his office for tomorrow morning, and then he would see me off when I took a taxi to get home. Arisa was there doing some paperwork behind the front desk. She noticed the two of us walking in holding hands, and immediately stopped what she was doing.

"I'll be back in a minute." Kouji gave me a kiss on the cheek before climbing up the stairs.

Arisa waited until he was out of sight, then she turned to me and grinned. "Oh my god!" She stepped out from behind her desk and gave me a hug. "Are you two a couple now?"

I nodded.

"That's great! I'm so happy for you," she said. Then she checked for bystanders and leaned in close with a smirk. "You know, Kouji was here earlier asking me for dating tips. It was so cute!"

"Arisa!" Kouji hissed, coming down the stairs. "What are you saying to her?"

"Nothing! Nothing!" Arisa giggled and spun around to resume her late night duties.

I smiled, hoping days like these would last forever.

x x x

Next time: The Mirage photo shoot.

More Kouzumi fluff, I can't take it! xD

Review, my friend.