Argh, I haven't touched this story since 2009! Talk about procrastination. I was thinking about it the other day and wrote for it, though. Might be rusty, I haven't been writing as much lately, but it's something. Hope you enjoy it!

Miss Rouge Apple: I did make Popuri shy, but I wanted to convey her innocence and girlishness somehow. I'm trying to contrast that with Mary's sort of introversion in places to show the differences between them, because this is very much a coming-of-age story for Popuri. Glad you're enjoying it so far!

sugarapplesweet: Can I get an amen, sister? ;) Romance drives me bonkers because I can so rarely relate to the characters. I'm trying to be really honest in this with Popuri, relieved to know someone relates to our pink-haired heroine!

Smash Genesis: The family is one of my favorite aspects of Popuri, too. Growing up in a big family myself, I feel like I can relate on that point-and ah! I didn't notice I do that dialogue thing so often! I'll work on it.

klutz586: Thanks! Last thing I want to do is make Popuri look like an idiot, good to know she's IC. :D

Mage the Observer: -cracks the whip- Get working, you. I updated, about time you did, too. ;)

WildfireDreams: Well thank you! I'm not sure about CliffxAnn, but if the opportunity presented itself, I could stick a sliver of that in. I'm a sucker for it, myself.

Lorelei547: I'm here! I updated! Phew! Do I owe you an overdue fee? I have to warn you, I'm poor and can't afford much! Don't send the fanfic police on me, please, I have so much to live for! (But seriously, thank you, your reviews brighten my day!)

RabbitArchangel: Thanks a bunch! Nice to have you on board.

Tefalie: Aw shucks, I'm not doing great for someone who hasn't updated in two years, but hopefully this chapter will remedy that!

Chapter Four

Fireworks is the sort of magic that only lasts a moment—and that's less time than fairy dust lasts, or magic pumpkin carriages, or even holy water. Doesn't give a girl much time to think, really. For a moment, everything's bright and beautiful, and the next, you can't see an inch in front of your face. You're just reaching into the darkness hoping somebody reaches back.

Rick's voice saved me when the lights when out. "Popuri!" he called to me, and Kai let go of my hands in the night, let me find my brother's hands instead. "Hey, did you see that? Wasn't it incredible?"

I nodded, but I didn't really mean it.

Despite how honest I am to you, journal, I think I lie a lot to myself. When I try to remember that first kiss, I always make it slower, gentler, and I pretend there's a lot of sparks there that I know weren't there at all. Makes it feel more worth it. And who's to tell me otherwise, you know? It's my memory. Who can tell me I'm wrong?

Well. I guess you can, now.

Morning after that, Rick and I stumbled downstairs sleepy and lopsided. My hair's thick, you see, doesn't really handle pillows well. And I didn't sleep at all, not a wink, just kept hugging my pillow and blushing redder than a ripe tomato.

"You look like a cotton candy booth gone wrong," Ricky quipped from his chair.

"Looks like a chicken pecked all over your nose," I retorted, and my brother subconsciously covered his freckles. Plopping onto my seat, I flashed a smile at my mother and chirped, "Momma, what's for breakfast today?"

"Pancakes," she answered, barely looking up from the counter. "So I expect you two to behave, now, if you have any intention of getting seconds."

Immediately we both went quiet. Normally, my family sticks to real simple foods. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, sunny-side-up eggs, omelettes…well the point is we have a lotta eggs around here. Sugar, flour, and the like? Generally we get that when we're doing especially well.

"Karen stopped by, huh?" Rick commented. She does that, sometimes. If there's a surplus over at the general store, Karen sneaks a few bags of sugar over, bakes a cake with me to surprise my mom. Ricky always gets all mad, says we need to pay her, that we can't ruin her business with charity. Personally, I think it's the nicest thing and he should get mad about more important stuff. Like…starving children in other countries. Like that.

"No, actually," Momma said, humming as she brought over our pancakes. "That nice young man by the way said he had some extra sugar and flour, asked if we had any use for it. Very well-spoken boy."

"Cliff?" Rick asked—because despite what Ricky thinks he knows about everything, he can be pretty dumb sometimes. "I thought he was still looking for a job."

"No, not Cliff. That foreign young man…Kai, I believe he said his name was."

I ducked in my seat, hoping maybe I could disappear beneath the table as my brother knit his eyebrows in confusion. Frowning, he said, "Kai's a chef, why would he have extra sugar and flour? That doesn't make sense, Momma, it must be someone else."

I ducked lower and lower until my eyes were level with my pancake.

"Maybe so," Momma said lightly, and she smiled again. "He asked to see Popuri this morning, but for once, you two were lazybones and didn't get up out of your beds at sun-up. Got here at dawn, he did."

Comprehension flashed across Ricky's features and a dark ruddy color overtook his face—I couldn't tell if he was embarrassed, or angry, or just really, really red. "Aha. Popuri. Well." He cleared his throat noisily. Took a giant forkful of pancake and forced it into his mouth. "Ahm not hokay wiff dat. Ahh meen, waddawe know aboot hem?"

"Small bites, dear," my mother said gently, tucking a napkin into his hand. "And we know that he intends to court a lady, don't we, Popuri?"

I sank lower in my seat and squeaked as I slid out of my chair and hit the floor with a shriek. At first everyone got all worried, but it didn't take long for the laughter to begin: "Oh, Popuri, you silly thing, what are you doing down there?" Laughter got rid of all the tension, and pushed away all this Kai talk. Even Ricky had begun to look constipated instead of incensed.

"That's my kid sister," Ricky snorted, pushing up his glasses. "Always finding herself in all the wrong places."

You can't get rid of a persistent boy by hiding under tables all the time, though. Not that it stopped me from trying. Yet every morning after that, there was a pink rose on our doorstep. Momma put 'em all in a vase, said it was a shame to keep them out of company's sight. Asked when I was going to talk to Kai.

I told her when I had time.

I had a schedule going: Kai's work hours became my free hours, and when Kai was free, I was working on my chickens and chores. Ricky said I was being smart, but I think he was just being Rick.

"It's good to focus on the family," my brother told me gruffly, as if he couldn't find the words he really wanted to say to me. I get that a lot. No one ever talks plainly to me, you know.

But my little plan lasted only a week. Week's not long, if you think about it.

"How long do you intend to prepare this time?"

A week's not long enough to prepare at all.

He'd cornered me outside the library, and my guess is that Mary told her mother to tell Manna to leave me alone, and her mother told Manna that Mary and I had been talking, and Manna told Kai about the library. No secrets in Mineral Town. 'Cept the ones you keep to yourself and your journal, I guess.

"You're supposed to be working now," I hedged, fiddling with my dress.

"Self-employed. I had a talk with myself and figured I deserved a break. Reward for my good behavior and all." Kai grinned and I stifled a tiny laugh, drawing a circle in the sand with my shoe. "Quite the vanishing act you pull, flower girl," he continued, and his voice dropped a bit as he leaned against the library's wall. "Normally I kiss a girl and she's at my door the next day, hoping I'll jog her memory one last time."

Again, I laughed, but it was shaky and I had to avert my eyes. "Sounds like you have…um, a really good system going!" I replied, running a hand through my hair. "Bet you even had a record kept. I'm sorry that I, er, ruined it."

Kai quirked an eyebrow. "Who are you apologizing to exactly, Miss Popuri? Me, or the girls who I don't ever plan on kissing again, and have you to blame for that?"

"I…" I blinked a bit, things getting a bit fuzzy as Kai's face broke into a smile. "Um. That second part. Is that a lot of people?"

"Depends. What's a lot of people to you?"

"More than one," I said, barely audible.

"That is a lot then," he agreed in a serious tone. In a single fluid motion, Kai wrapped his arm around me and stared straight into my eyes so that I couldn't look away this time. I wasn't sure I wanted to. Everything felt warm and funny but nice and I could barely believe I was talking to him at all—I felt like some actress was speaking for me, because Goddess knows I wasn't in control.

"I'm afraid," I whispered as he dipped down to brush his lips against mine.

"Afraid?" Kai paused, looked at me as if he were finally seeing me for the first time. "What do you think I'm going to do to you?" The question came out amused, as if Kai were holding back a laugh at my expense.

"I don't know," I admitted.

"You're a silly girl."

"I am silly," I mumbled in agreement, chewing my lip. "Very silly."

"Kiss me, Popuri." My eyes went wide as saucers, and a tiny smile spread from the corner of Kai's mouth. "If you want," he added, and my shoulders relaxed a bit. "But you know I'm going to be here, every morning, leaving sugar, flour, and roses at your door until you do."

"And if I do kiss you?" I replied, squaring my shoulders and facing him with as much coolness as I could muster.

"Well I figure it'll take more than roses to keep you kissing me, won't it?"

I don't think I'm a very good kisser. I can say that because I've never kissed myself, you see. And I don't think I could, unless you count practicing with the mirror, but I only did that once and I heard Ricky coming up the stairs and it startled me something awful.

Even though I kissed Kai that afternoon? He led me. He guided me, and I guess that's because he's been with other girls, better kissers than me, girls who know what they're doing. And I don't really know much of anything, 'cept things Karen told me that made Ricky blush sometimes.

I remember being really nervous that second time. I wanted to be a woman, for once, if that makes sense. A startled girl gets kissed, you know. But a woman kisses back.

Teacher and student, those roles aren't quite the same as man and woman. Not that I had a choice. Not that any other relationship starts out quite equal, I guess. And something had to have been done right, if he were smiling at me like that. Something had to have balanced, somehow.

"What are your plans for the rest of the summer?" Kai breathed into my ear.

"I plan on apologizing to a lot of women," I answered, gazing up into his eyes. "And planting a lot of roses."

"A lot, huh. How much is a lot?"

"As many as it takes," I said, and I kissed him again, because maybe I'd get it right this time, because I wanted to learn everything Kai had to teach me so I could never disappoint him. He held me tight and safe in his arms, and we tried again and again to find even ground, until everything was soft and warm and I couldn't tell if it was just the summer heat, or love, or…something else completely.

Mary shrieked when she came out of the library and saw us standing there like that. Dropped all her books, got flustered and stammered something before scattering off to her house.

Rick didn't scream when I came home, unable to suppress my smile as I giggled and blushed my way into the house. But he grunted. And he didn't say a word when he stormed up the stairs.