Makoto and Minako ran into the Crown arcade and diner, "We have to talk to you!" the two chorused.
The blond man sighed, "I'm just getting ready to close…"
In reality, all of his duties had been completed. He just didn't want to be the rope in the two girls' tug-of-war game. Not that he minded the attention… after all; the two girls were extremely attractive; he was just exhausted. Being short staffed at the beginning of the school year is in no way, shape, or form, any kind of fun.
"What do you know about Mamoru and Usagi?" Minako heaved.
Now, why did that name sounded familiar?
Mamoru couldn't quite place it… but something was horribly wrong. He felt as though he had forgotten something important; and just as he was about to remember what it was, the item escaped him.
He'd been this way for the last three days and it was driving him crazy! To make matters worse, he had woken up late and was now in a crunch to get his morning jog in.
Mr. Organized, Detail-Oriented, Always On Top of EVERYTHING was losing his mind because something in his life was off. Yet, when he went through a mental checklist of his routine—a very short list, by the way—everything was completed. All the "I"s were dotted, and every "T" had been crossed.
So what in the world had he forgotten?
"Oh, I'm so sorry I—"
Mamoru looked down at the figure that had run into him during his morning jog; a petite blonde with blue eyes in a high school uniform; Juuban, by the looks of it.
She had stopped in midsentence, and a pained expression—no… was it hopeful?—crossed her features before disappearing almost instantly. Mamoru was surprised he had caught it. He was horrible at reading people, and therefore, hardly tried. To be honest, he didn't pay much attention to other people in general. Observing she was now slightly uncomfortable, Mamoru realized the two of them had been silent for almost five minutes.
"Its fine, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
The girl looked at him somewhat startled, and then with quiet resolve over the situation.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your morning run," the girl rambled, "I'm trying to get to school early… I have an algebra exam that I'm struggling to study for and was hoping to get to my sensei's room to ask her for help."
"I can help you if you'd like," Mamoru looked at his watch, "Looks like we have an hour. School starts at 8, right?"
The girl nodded, clearly dumbfounded, "Hai."
Mamoru shook his head as the two began walking toward a nearby café. This was weird. And very out of character for him, even he had to admit. But being around this girl, even for the few minutes she had been near him, settled the restlessness he had been suffering from over the last few days.
"What's your name?"
The girl jumped at his question.
When Usagi had run into Mamoru, her heart nearly stopped. She had purposely left the house early to get to school before the others to finish studying—and avoid being late and avoid… well Mamoru. So much for that working. She was sure he took his routine jog earlier than 7.
She wasn't even sure how to behave around him yet; let alone what she would say when the two saw each other. She couldn't even guess whether or not he would remember her. This morning's encounter had proven that his memory had been wiped completely. He hadn't even called her Odango Atama. Possibly because she hadn't smacked him in the head with a test paper marked with a 30 score. Mamoru had been much nicer than she could ever recall him being before… and it made her wonder why he had been so horrible to her in the first place.
On the plus side, she had finally figured out the number theory for algebra… hopefully that would get her through the test today. Usagi entered the classroom just as the bell rang, to have her teacher and fellow students gawk at her form the doorway.
Annoyed, Usagi scowled, "Nani?"
"Haruna-sensei nearly fainted at the sight of Usagi this morning," Minako giggled hysterically, "It was truly epic."
Usagi glared, "Seriously Minako, it wasn't that funny."
The other blonde struggled to stifle her giggles, but gained composure within a few moments, "I'm just teasing you Usagi."
"What's with all the changes, Usagi?" Ami asked, "I'm not saying these are bad… I'm just wondering what the motivation behind all of this is."
Closing the algebra book on her lap, Usagi sighed, "You all remember how Mamo-chan and I were on the Moon, right?"
Ami, Makoto, and Minako nodded in unison, all eager to find out Usagi's purpose for all the dramatic changes she was undergoing, and causing, in her life.
"Things were different back then," Usagi started, playing with a blade of grass, "Marriage was done out of obligation or political purpose. Very rarely was it ever done for love."
"This is why yours and Mamoru's relationship was so rare—" Makoto tried to point out, not quite understanding what Usagi was getting at.
"And caused the destruction of the world," Usagi added, "But we're in the 21st century… and things are different. Marriage is a choice now, and ultimately done because the two people love each other and want to start a life together… to start a family. Women aren't primarily at home, most have careers. Even my mom works part time at an office down town. Medical care has improved dramatically. Back then, it was a means of survival for a community and for women to be taken care of. That isn't the case anymore."
"Usagi, with all due respect, you are putting Mamoru through quite a test," Ami observed, finally having a better understanding of what Usagi was trying to accomplish, "How do you know your feelings for him are without the past's influence?"
"I suppose I don't," Usagi shrugged.
"But if she had erased her own memory, there would have been no way for her to tell," Minako spoke up.
"I know that without him I feel a loss. I miss him terribly… I saw him this morning."
"Does he know you at all Usa?" Makoto questioned, worried about their friend's emotional condition.
On the verge of tears, Usagi shook her head, "He helped me with studying this morning."
"Wait, he doesn't know you, but he helped you with studying?" Minako blinked.
"Well, I ran into him… literally," Usagi blushed, "I told him I was coming here early to study for the algebra exam and he offered to help me. So, I guess, today was our first meeting because he didn't know me at all."
"How bittersweet," Ami mused.
Makoto finished chewing her bite of food, "Usagi, that reminds me; when Minako and I went to the Crown last night… Motoki didn't remember you at all."
"Nani?" Usagi's brow furrowed, "That doesn't make any sense."
"Actually, it does," Ami began to explain, "Motoki is Mamoru's best friend and you and Mamoru fought most at the Crown. If Motoki knew who you were, and asked Mamoru where you were or how things were going between the two of you, Mamoru would be extremely confused. So, if Mamoru doesn't know who you are, it would make sense that Motoki wouldn't; or at least the significance of you given the circumstances."
"He did remember you after we described your hairstyle," Minako teased, "But he acted as though he wasn't as close to you as he was to either of us."
"Okay… so new mission. Get Mamoru to fall in love with Usagi, and reacquaint her with Motoki," Makoto summarized just as the lunch bell rang, signaling the end of the free period.
"You're here for lunch versus going back to your apartment. What's up with you Mamoru?" Motoki asked, taking a seat next to his best friend, "You seem kind of out of it today."
Mamoru nodded, "For most of the week actually. I've felt like something's out of place… but I just can't place what it is."
"Don't try so hard in figure it out," Motoki advised, "It'll come to you eventually."
"I don't know about that. The weirdest things happened this morning."
"Things? Like, more than one?"
"Hai," Mamoru took a sip of his late afternoon coffee, "During my run, I met this girl—"
"Oh, well that explains it all," Motoki laughed.
"Shut up," Mamoru glared, "I swear I don't remember her, but as soon as she was around me, I felt like things were… I don't know how to put it. Things were right. I didn't have that anxious feeling like I had forgotten something. And then I ended up helping her with her homework."
Motoki was definitely confused. Mamoru wasn't by all means a cold-hearted individual, but it would take a lot to get him to break out of his daily routine. Mamoru had the same schedule for as long as Motoki could remember. Get up, run, shower, coffee while reading the paper, two morning classes, lunch, an afternoon class, afternoon coffee at the Crown, his part time job, and then a night class. Mamoru would go to sleep and do it all over again. The guy never went out and he didn't date. He really needed a social life.
Mamoru didn't elaborate that he had "read" her features. But he had always heard Motoki talk about how some people were "open books." Perhaps, she was an open book.
"So, tell me about her."
"In high school. Juuban district. Just turned seventeen in June. Five feet four, about 120 pounds. Blonde, blue eyes, and the—"
"Weirdest hairstyle ever."
Mamoru cocked an eyebrow as he and Motoki finished the sentence together.
Motoki answered the unasked question, "Minako and Makoto came in last night asking me about her. Name is Usagi?"
"Hai. Why would you know Makoto and Minako, but not Usagi?" Mamoru asked, more to himself than Motoki. But Motoki answered anyway.
"Dunno. But you know those two… always in here. Maybe they just met over the summer."
"Could have," Mamoru tried to shrug it off and took another drink of his coffee. He didn't buy it. Something was off.
"So you don't want him to fall in love with you?" Makoto was clearly confused now, "I thought the point was to get him to fall in love with you, but without knowing about the Silver Millennium."
Usagi shook her head as the group headed toward the Crown, "Iie. The point is for him to fall in love with me on his own. No outside influences. Including, any of you! And that's a direct order." She gave the girls a stern look before entering into the arcade.
"Wow, didn't know Usa could be so strict," Rei mumbled as they followed their leader inside.
Once they sat down and ordered their usual items, Usagi continued, "I just want it to be normal. The way everyone else is able to fall in love, if he will even fall in love with me."
"Of course he will!" Minako encouraged, "But part of normal is having your friends butt-in."
Makoto laughed in agreement, "That's for sure. Just let us help… a little bit."
"You guys, an experiment is better when there are more controlled variables," Ami argued.
Rei rolled her eyes, and tossed her hair over her shoulder, "Whatever, Ami. If we're going to be "regular teenage girls," then I say we act like regular teenage girls… and meddle in Usagi's love life the same way any good friends would."
Their waitress brought back their drinks, and quickly headed back to the kitchen.
"What we should be celebrating is Usa's algebra score!" Ami beamed, "Your ice cream is on me today, okay Usagi?"
"What, did she get a 31?" Rei snickered and took a drink of her soda.
"73," Usagi gloated, fully enjoying the moment where Rei's soda flew out of her nose.
The raven haired girl sputtered and coughed for a few moments among the smothered giggling of her friends. Minako was kind enough to give her a napkin.
"Good job, Usagi," she managed while checking her top for any missed cola.
"Hi girls. This must be the infamous Tsukino Usagi I've been hearing about."
Usagi couldn't help her smile upon hearing Motoki's voice. He had become like her big brother over the course of the past year, including knowing her and Mamoru's secret identities and their past lives. Actually, Motoki was the only civilian the group had let in on their missions. From an informational standpoint only. The fact that his family owned their secret headquarters probably had something to do with it. Knowing he didn't remember her was sad.
"Hai," Usagi extended her arm, "Nice to meet you!"
"Here's your sundae," the waitress came up behind Motoki, and placed the large bowl in front of the blonde with the pigtails, "Sorry it took so long, but I had to let the ice cream warm up a little bit. Enjoy!"
"Arigato," Usagi smiled, picking up her spoon to take the first bite of her delicious cold treat.
"How did you do on your test?"
The next familiar voice nearly made Usagi jump. She swallowed the cold dessert and tried to answer the question as naturally as possible, "I got a 73."
"Really?" Mamoru cocked an eyebrow and gave a teasing smile, "Well, just means we need to get together and study before test day."
The blonde blushed, causing Mamoru's smile to broaden into a genuine grin—proud that he could stir such a reaction out of the girl.
Was that was he was feeling?
Hmmm… Mamoru decided to analyze that later.
"A 73 is a total success if you know our Usagi-chan," Makoto butt-in, "She normally gets—" she stopped as she saw Usagi's expression, "—lower than that." She finished nverously.
Mamoru thought this over. For some reason, it felt right that the mysterious blonde would have low test scores—as though it were natural, and the 73 score was something to celebrate. Even though the girl he had met that morning seemed exceptionally, and naturally, bright to him. Why would she struggle in class? She caught on to the problems fairly quickly when he explained them to her.
He would analyze that later too.
"Then I suppose congratulations is in order," Mamoru winked, "Motoki, would you put the girls' order on my tab?"
"Oh, you don't have—ow!" Usagi glared at Minako, who had elbowed her harshly in the side, "Arigato."
"Don't mention it. So, how do you all know Usagi?"
"Usagi goes to school with us," Ami answered.
"Then how did you all meet Rei?"
Mamoru's question was innocent enough. He was trying to put the pieces of the girls together. Something just didn't fit. He wasn't getting the entire story from them. However, Usagi took the question in a different manner.
'Of course he's interested in Rei…' Usagi sighed inwardly.
Most guys were. Or if not her, one of the other girls. Her senshi had explained to her that it was because she was always with Mamoru. Either arguing or flirting or something… so most boys didn't think she was single.
Usagi wasn't so sure she could believe them.
"And here's the rest of your orders! Two cheeseburgers with fries, a taco salad with a side of ranch, and a grilled chicken sandwich deluxe," when she finished placing the orders in front of the girls, she turned to Mamoru and instantly turned up the charm, "Can I get anything for you?" she coo-ed.
Usagi rolled her eyes.
"Coffee. Black." Mamoru ordered briskly before returning to the conversation that had just been interrupted, "That's interesting. I've never been to your shrine before Rei-chan."
The group stifled the giggles at the waitress's failed attempt at gaining Mamoru's attention.
"You'll have to come by this weekend, we're having our annual sale," Rei encouraged, "Everything is half-off. We'll all be there."
He always did attract any female within his smile's radius, Usagi smiled at the memories of him looking handsome on the Moon… and in the 21st century… being charming and charismatic, but remaining faithful to only her.
Mamoru didn't miss the starry-eyed-far-away look Usagi had on her face. Or the obvious eye-roll. He inwardly chuckled, at least she could see through bullshit.
'What could she be thinking about?'
"Even you, Usagi-chan?" Mamoru asked, taking the hot mug from the waitress when she returned. This time less confident in herself and determined only to deliver the beverage and go back to another table that was giving her a little more attention.
Usagi blushed and nodded, "Hai, its always a lot of fun."
The others hadn't noticed her slip.
But Mamoru had.
'So she knows the girls from before this last summer,' Mamoru thought and took a drink of the hot coffee, 'Well, why are they hiding this from him?'
Granted he wasn't as close to the group as Motoki was, but he knew them well enough. And whenever this "new" girl was around, something was tugging at him; as though he should know her from somewhere.
"I'll be there," Mamoru looked at his watch, "Well, I have to get going. Maybe I'll see you around." He smiled at the group and made eye contact with Usagi before waving and making his exit.
"AAAAH!" Minako squealed as soon as the door chimed signaling Mamoru's departure, "He so totally likes you!"
"I'm going to agree with Minako," Motoki grinned, "I have honestly never seen Mamoru flirt before. I didn't even know he had it in him."
"Neither did I," Usagi whispered, more to herself than anyone else.