Author's Note: A very short chapter this time around, but what I have planned for Kai's part is too different from what I have written here. Not sure when I'll have that finished, but I'll do my best not to make the wait too long.

-/-

Phase Twelve

Arribaderci al Lupo

Claire

Two knocks were all I needed to know who had come to see me. After all, even Rick didn't bother to wait until I opened the door. I tried just to ignore it, but when I heard the third knock, I gave up. People like him just didn't know when to take a hint and leave.

"Okay, okay," I sighed, trying to sound pleasant. "I'll be right there." I was doing my best to be confident, and I was sure to tell myself not to worry. However, as soon as I saw his face and that cracked grin, my old anxieties got the better of me. "Hello... Kai."

"Ah, so it is you," he mused. "The way you were talking in there, I thought you were someone else."

"Why?" I asked, genuinely confused. "I mean... it's not like I really said anything..." I shook my head and sighed again. "Do you need something? I only came in for lunch, so if you-"

"I just need someone to tell Popuri I'm leaving," Kai explained. I stared in disbelief, but his smile stayed. "I usually wait around until the Firework Festival is over, but things are supposed to start cooling down tonight."

"Then... why don't you tell her yourself?"

"Because Zack's boat leaves after eight."

"And you're just going to leave without telling Popuri?"

"You're going to tell her, though."

"No. No, you tell her," I snapped. "We've talked about this before. I'm not her boyfriend." Kai blinked and took a step back, but I took one step forward. I'd had enough of him and his twisting of my words. "If you want to know what I think... I think she'd be better off without you anyway!"

At first, he looked surprised, but it wasn't long until he started to laugh. The grin that spread across his face was the biggest one yet. As for why he was laughing at all, I had no idea. Kai wasn't exactly someone I could understand. No one else seemed to understand him, though, so at least I wasn't the only one.

"Maybe you're right," I agreed at last. "That might be what she needs to hear, but is it what she wants to hear?"

"I don't know," I replied, closing my eyes as I bowed my head. "Probably not... but it's what's best for her." Her heart was already breaking, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Why would I make it even more painful for her by telling her he was going to leave her all alone again? "She's my friend... and Rick's sister. That means we have to look out for even when she's not willing to do it herself."

Kai's grin slipped away then and was replaced by a much darker expression. "You know, you're starting to sound a lot like Rick." He laughed again, but this time it was a forced sound. It was like it burned his throat just to say the name. "If you're trying to impress him, you might try to be yourself," he suggested, his eyes looking past me. "Like the girl I heard in there."

He turned his back on me then. He looked like he was trying to decide just how much to say, but in the end, he walked away. He gave a half-hearted wave as he headed into the forest again. It wasn't the first time I had seen him wander into the trees, but it didn't make sense this time. If he was going to leave so soon, didn't he need to go back to the inn?

"He's impossible!" I hissed after his back vanish into the woods. "Why does he even come here?" Turning on my heel, I stormed back into the house and slammed the door, but it wasn't enough. I didn't even care about him, and I was still frustrated. Just why did he do these things? "I hate him..." I muttered, nails digging into my scalp. "I hate him. I hate him! I hate him!"

But Popuri still loved him.