Chapter 3 – Introduction
Sai ripped the beds bare of their sheets. It had been seven months since they last changed them. He tossed them onto the middle of the room, right on top of the pile of dusty curtains he had taken down from the rails.
Kiba picked up another pile of droppings with his spade. It was dry and pretty long, and didn't sit completely on the spade (Akamaru was a big dog after all). So, cautiously – very cautiously – he brought his arm toward the plastic bag. Unfortunately though, about halfway to the bag, approximately one eighth of the rather long biodegradable item fell off the tip of his spade, splitting into three as it succumbed to gravity and impacted the earth.
"Oh great!" he mumbled furiously, tossing the rest of the organic material into the bag. Akamaru whined in apology, his tail between his legs. Fumbling with the spade to get the smaller pieces Kiba said: "You know buddy, I guess it's time we got you toilet trained."
The last piece shattered further into five smaller pieces and Kiba, losing his patience, stabbed the ground and buried them under the soil he upturned. After that was done, he got up and made his way to the next pile.
Sai crammed the curtains into the washing machine and turned it on. There was a shudder and a rumble before the water started to fill. He kicked the pile of bed sheets to a side and went back to the room to get new ones.
So what was Shikamaru doing all the while his friends were cleaning up the place and readying it for their visitor? Was he scrubbing the toilet bowl? Was he picking up Kiba's trash? Was he vacuum cleaning? Or was he planting flowers in the yard?
No. Not really. He was actually sitting down at the kitchen table, paper and pen in hand, immersed in something obviously more important: he was writing a letter to his mother.
'Dear Mom,' he began. 'How are you?' Here he stopped, pen hovering above paper. That was really cheezy he thought, and immediately scratched out the words. He reached for a new sheet of paper.
'Dear Mom' he started over. 'Thanks for the cookies.' Pen hovered over paper again. This time he thought the opening was too cliché. He pulled a rough copy of one of his previous letters to her. It had the same opening sentence. (After all, she always sent him cookies, so it was very relevant.)
He sighed and tried to think of something original, something that sounded like he was… enthusiastic. But then again, that was just impossible, because Shikamaru was made of everything except enthusiasm. Enthusiasm was something that got shot at by the gunmen of his personality if it even dared to enter. So he gave up and decided he'd stick with 'Thanks for the cookies'.
Kiba stormed in and opened the fridge, scanning the items in it. He pulled out a carton of orange juice.
"What kind of cookies did my mother send?" Shikamaru hadn't got the chance to even look at them so he didn't know.
"Mmm" Kiba replied, his mouth full of OJ.
"Yeah yeah, it's that time of month again."
Kiba gulped down the juice and said "I see." He thought for a moment. "Well, there were almond and raisin ones, and chocolate chip, and the usual sugar cookies."
Shikamaru pressed his temples with his free hand, the one not holding onto the pen. "You mean it was more than just one kind?"
Kiba nodded, gulping down more juice. "Uh-huh. And I liked the almond and raisin ones the best."
Shikamaru groaned. Now he'd have to think of sentences to tell her how 'he' enjoyed all three types of cookies.
"Okay…" He exhaled slowly. "Okay, so what did they taste like?"
"What do you mean what'd they taste like? They tasted a lot like your mom's cookies."
"Well just… just what did the almond and raisin ones taste like? I can make it up for the rest."
"Like almonds and raisins?"
Shikamaru cocked an eyebrow.
"Umm…" Kiba thought, trying to be a little more descriptive. "Like almonds and raisins and sugar and somewhat floury and –"
"Ah jeez!" Shikamaru thunked his forehead on the table with a loud groan. Kiba laughed.
"That time of the month again, Shikamaru-kun?" Sai asked, smiling (obviously). He had wandered into the kitchen in search of the bottle of Chlorox, which he couldn't find in the garage (he was cleaning the bathroom).
"Aw maaan… I hate writing to my mom."
"So don't," Kiba suggested.
"Are you kidding me? If I don't write her a letter in time she'd get worried and then she might even come over just to see if I was alright."
The boys shuddered at the possibility of Shikamaru's mother paying them a surprise visit. Her cookies were marvelous but she was a troublesome woman, as Shikamaru described her.
"Okay, so how far have you gotten with it?" Sai had found his Chlorox and deemed himself ready to assist his troubled friend. He had read somewhere in a book that it was a good idea to help out a friend who was in trouble.
"Just up to the first line."
"'Dear Mom, Thanks for the cookies.'"
Kiba chucked the empty carton into the trash.
Sai thought for a bit, Chlorox bottle in hand, before saying: "Okay, so how about 'Dear Mom, Thanks for the cookies. We all loved them. The almond and raisin ones were the best so far. It looks like you've been trying out some new recipes since Dad went on his business trip –"
"Woah woah! Hold on! Hold on!" Shikamaru was racing to write down everything Sai was saying, Kiba prompting him.
"Dad went on his business trip." Kiba reminded him.
"Dad… went… on his… business… trip." Shikamaru looked up, satisfied. And then he remembered something. "He did?"
"Yes you big idiot, don't you remember anything your mom tells you in her letters?" Kiba asked.
"She did?" He thought for a moment. "Oh yeah." He nodded. How could he keep track of so many things? Then he gestured at Sai to continue. "Okay, and then?"
"Where was I?"
"It looks like you've been trying out some new recipes since Dad went on his business trip," Kiba reminded him.
"Ah. And then you could say 'Kiba thinks you should make more of the almond and raisin ones, and Sai wonders if you could send a little more of the chocolate chip ones next time…" Sai waited until Shikamaru was done with the sentence, and then continued. "It was all delicious, thanks again Mom."
Shikamaru added a full stop and then smiled. "Wow, okay. That's –"
But he was interrupted by Sai, who, apparently, wasn't finished dictating the contents of the letter.
"Paragraph. 'So, how are things at home? Things here are just the same. My midterms start next week so I've –"
"No way, my midterms start next week?"
"Umm yeah, you have that Advanced Math test on Monday, remember?" Kiba was surprised. Shikamaru never really studied, and he skipped classes most of the time too, usually wandering off to the university gardens to watch the clouds. Yet he aced his exams. All the time. And he wasn't even excited when he got an A*.
Shikamaru shrugged. What would I do without these guys? "Okay, then?"
Sai continued from where he was interrupted. "… 'so I've been extremely busy with school work.' Paragraph. 'I hope this letter finds you in good health. Much love, Shikamaru.'"
"Wow Sai. You're a lifesaver!" Shikamaru beamed, finishing his letter and folding it.
"Man, totally!" added Kiba.
Sai smiled broadly, obviously feeling happy with himself and noted the name of the book that had told him about helping out people when they were in a fix.
"How come you're not like that when you talk?" asked Shikamaru, writing out the address.
"He's just socially retarded so he's better at writing out his thoughts that saying them out loud," Kiba theorized, bluntly.
Sai just shrugged.
The long-haired, dark-shades visitor stopped by their place the next day, just as he had said he would. Kiba was the first to greet him.
"Yo!" he yelled.
An affirmative grunt was all he could extract from the visitor though.
Who the hell does he think he is, Mr. High-and-mighty?! Stuck up loser...
The visitor was shown into the house, and into the various rooms. He grunted affirmatives – in a total of eight different tones, Kiba counted – as he was taken from room to room.
In the bedroom, he tried to open one of the closets. Shikamaru and Kiba jumped in to stop him, bodies shielding the door. The visitor just stood there, suspicious, silently demanding an explanation.
"Uh ha ha ha ha…" Kiba laughed nervously. "Umm, that's Sai's closet. Your one's over there." He pointed to another identical closet on the far left of the room.
The visitor looked at Sai, who was smiling, and wondered If it's that guy's closet then why the hell are these two guarding it…?
Nevertheless he decided to inspect 'his' closet. It was big and clean. A slight damp musty smell emanated from it. Not particularly up to standards, but it'll do I suppose.
"Which bed do I sleep on?" he asked, inspecting the bunk beds on either side of the wall. Sai had laid out blue-and-yellow sheets and pillow cases which did a lot to brighten up the room.
"You will be sleeping there, in the bed above Kiba's" Shikamaru pointed.
The visitor sighed. I'm going to have to sleep above that common unkempt brat?
There was a short pause.
He turned. It was the smiling one.
"I'm sorry visitor-kun, but we didn't catch your name –"
"I never gave you my name."
"Yes, we know."
"You didn't bother to ask."
"Yes, we didn't bother."
Shikamaru face-palmed himself.
"What Sai's trying to say is, we're really sorry about that. We just got caught up with the whole interview thing and we all had class and well… well you know… We're really, really sorry."
A long silence followed.
A vessel on Kiba's forehead burst. Does this guy want us to hug him now or what?!
Shikamaru stood next to Kiba, praying that he wouldn't say anything stupid. They couldn't afford to lose this guy. This guy was rich. Filthy rich. And what he was doing here trying to live with them in a plain old house was beyond his comprehension. But nevertheless, he was crucial to ensuring that they wouldn't be homeless.
At the end of the pause the visitor removed his shades and in a firm, confidant voice, announced: "Neji."
[Kiba] Oh my God are those… cataracts?!
[Shikamaru] Are those… clouds?
Noticing the gaping faces Neji sighed and added: "No, it's none of those."
"None of…?" Kiba had no idea what he was talking about. The only thing going through his mind was: Oh my God are those… cataracts?
And nobody could blame him, because Neji's eyes were large and white and lacked pupils.
"I have perfect vision," he reassured them.
"Then what… how…?" Kiba stammered.
"He's a Hyuuga."
They all turned to Sai. He was smiling at them, knowingly. He held out his hand and said "Nice to meet you, Neji Hyuuga."
Neji shook his hand.
"You can call me Sai."
"You already told me that yesterday."