A/N: I know, I'm such a meanie. I'm supposed to be updating my other story. Sorry to all the reviewers and readers. I love you guys, but this idea has been stuck in my head. I hope you'll enjoy this and pardon my stupidity.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, or the opening quote belonging to Charles Dickens.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Here I stopped and lay the book on my lap. How fitting the line was to my predicament-or should I say the predicament that entertained my fear so many summers ago. I gazed at the autumn sky. Only a few minutes before had I come out on the porch and plopped my lazy behind and rested my sore feet on the swing. Then, the sky had been a curios shade of orange and red. It resembled the hue of the pumpkins growing in the farming field behind my home. Now, it seemed more like velvet than air. It reminded me of my black funeral dress purposely crammed at the bottom of the trunks in my closet. From there, many other unpleasant thoughts flowed.
But I am not here to mourn or ramble off into oblivion. I am here to tell you a story, my story, our story. In fact, I take back my previous statement; in a sense, what I am about to tell you may seem like mourning. But you do not need to know why until the very end. So as I sit here in the darkness of the evening, I shall begin my tale. But let me tell you: you have been warned. This story is not for the faint of heart. It is for those with the courage to believe. It is for those with the courage to love.
-July 17, 1940; South Carolina-
It was a warm, sticky day in the third month of summer. The air was humid from yesterday's showers, but the ground was dry. Bugs buzzed around a young boy's head, moving away when he swatted at them, then swarming back in for another attack.
Neji was down on all fours plucking weeds from his mother's garden. Two weeks ago, he had turned the tender age of fourteen. Two weeks ago his father had declared him old enough to help out on their farm. The Hyuuga had thought such a declaration was unnecessary, however, and completely irrelevant to the fact that he had been tending to the twenty acres of fields since he could walk.
Biscuit, the white-eyed boy's loyal dog, raced around his owner excitedly. He occasionally stopped to sniff the vegetables, scratch his rotund body, or engage in a meaningless bout with a squirrel or rabbit that had unintentionally passed into his territory.
"Neji! Neji!" I called as I barreled through the rows of sunflowers and crops. The longhaired teen looked up and moved to a squatting position. He squinted in the blinding afternoon sun and wiped the sweat building on his forehead.
"Tenten," he shouted," quit running through the crops and such! Ma's going to have an awful fit if she's sees a stem out of place. And I won't be too mighty excited about it either! You hear?"
Biscuit barked and romped over to me. He successfully tangled his body with my legs. I felt myself fall in an ungraceful heap of laughter and gasps.
"Biscuit," I cooed and scratched the canine behind his ears.
"Now, now boy. She ain't something worth getting all riled up about. Get back over here!" Neji commanded.
"Eh! You're awful, you know that Hyuuga? You're killing all the fun," I scolded as I slowed to a halt in front of my best friend. My hands planted themselves on my hips and I glared at him through narrowed eyes.
"I ain't awful. I'm just honest. Last time I checked, that's not a crime," he replied hotly.
"Aren't you all mighty full of your self," I muttered as I sat down next to him.
"Aw, now don't you be throwing a tantrum too. I was kidding. And you damn well know that."
"It ain't polite to cuss at a lady."
"You ain't a lady," Neji said smiling as he eyed my disheveled overalls and scuffed sneakers. I felt my lips quirk up.
"Got that right," I told him, grinning and tackling him into a hug. Biscuit, eager to be a part of everything that went on in his master's life, threw himself on top of us and wagged his tail contentedly.
"Biscuit, now ya'll get off. I can't breathe," the Hyuuga managed to choke out in between pants and my giggles.
"He meant no harm, quit scolding the poor thing."
"I'm teaching him what's right." I rolled my eyes at his response.
"Neji! Lunch is ready. Come inside before grandma drags you by the ear!" Mrs. Hyuuga called to her son.
"Aw alright, no need for threats."
"Can I come too? Ma and Pa will make me come with them on their visit to the Yamanaka's if I return home. Lordy, their girl talks way too much."
The Yamanakas were my neighbors. Their daughter, Ino, was the queen of gossip and all things feminine. I hated her.
"Lordy you talk too much. Besides, you always come over after Sunday school for lunch," Neji said as he brushed off his faded Levis and white T-shirt. They were beginning to look like a patchwork of soil, grass, and cloth. He reached down and helped me to my feet. We started towards the house with Biscuit trotting after us.
Mrs. Hyuuga was sweeping the foyer when we arrived.
"Good afternoon Mam," I greeted, grinning at the woman.
"Well ain't you mighty excited about something," she responded, straightening her spine and propping the broom against the wall.
"Naw, I'm just looking forward to your cooking." At this, Neji's mother smiled and told us to wash up before eating.
"And clean Biscuit before ya'll head to town," the woman shouted before disappearing into the kitchen.
"Yes Mam!" we both hollered from the staircase. Neji and I washed our hands and face before returning downstairs.
Mr. Hyuuga and Neji's grandmother were already seated in the dining room when we entered the room.
"Good afternoon Sir and Mam," I greeted politely as I pulled out my chair.
"Good afternoon," Hizashi, Neji's father, smiled gently. He was a sweet man who probably didn't have the guts to kill a fly. His mother, on the other hand, was another story entirely. She was prim, proper, and degraded everyone and everything in sight. Just one look reduced the worth of something by half.
She merely grunted at us. The elderly lady was not fond of three things: two of them were Neji and I; the other was a rather painful bunion on her foot. I knew this because she always limped when she walked. It wasn't till years later that I realized how much she loved us all. A few years too late, that is.
Hizashi sent his teenage son and me a message through his eyes: ignore her and don't cause a scene. These were the words the man seemed to live by. He avoided conflicts as much as possible and advised the others around him to do so as well.
Biscuit sat quietly by Neji's side. Good behavior at the table, he had learned, led to extra treats later.
Lunch was tense and awkward, but the again, all meals at the Hyuuga household, as I had come to conclude, proceeded in a similar fashion. It was only when the grandmother left to visit friends in the next county, were things ever lively.
Neji and I helped clear the table after eating before heading outside to clean Biscuit. The canine splashed gaily in the tub of soapy water. (A/N: Gaily as in happily. If you thought of the other definition and started laughing, you aren't old enough to read this. I'd suggest clicking the back button right now.)
"Biscuit, hold still," the Hyuuga said as he shielded himself from the spray. The dog merely barked and squirmed some more.
"You ain't allowed to come to town with us if you misbehave," I warned and gave it a stern look. The dog finally sobered down and let himself be bathed properly.
"Damn it, Tenten. I reckon he likes you more than me."
"I believe that has some truth. I do let him have the most fun between the two of us." Here Neji frowned.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he questioned.
"Nothing you don't want it to," I replied. I ordered Biscuit out of the tub and dried him.
"You're a queer girl you know that?"
"Is that supposed to be insulting?"
"Only if you want it to be." My eyes rolled in their sockets as I stood up.
"It's about two, I think," I said as I took note of the position of the sun. Something my father, an avid outdoorsman, had taught me. "Fetch your pa, will ya? I heard the shipping depot's closing early today. Something about the sheriff's wife being sick. You know, I feel sorry for the man. He probably hasn't seen the sun rise a day in his life without that woman manipulating him. "
"You shouldn't talk bad about your own species," Neji scolded.
"And you're a bitch. Now hurry up." I heard him sigh, but he did as I said.
Ten minutes later, the three of us, as well as Biscuit, were well on our way.
"I heard the situation's getting worse in Europe. Congress doesn't know whether to declare war or not," Hizashi said to the two of us. The only time he discussed politics openly was in the presence of his son and me.
"I read that in the paper this morning. It said that Hitler's getting nuttier everyday. I reckon that man has enough sin on him to send the entire human race to hell," I voiced my opinion proudly.
My male companions chuckled. " That seems likely," Neji agreed. 3 miles later, we arrived at the depot. The shipping depot was a wooden building located smack dab in the middle of town. It was run by the sheriff and doubled as the post office. Here, people sent their goods out on the market and received packages and what not in return.
Hizashi was carrying a medium-sized crate filled to the brim with strawberries. There was a piece of paper stuck to the side with scotch tape. It had the address. The strawberries were apparently being shipped to his brother in California. Before heading inside, Neji's father handed us a nickel a piece to buy a bottle of soda from the cooler on the porch.
We sat, pressing the chilled bottles to our skin and gulping down the coke to soothe our dry throats. Biscuit lay in the shade. Thus was our normal routine.
"Hey Neji?" I began.
"Why don't you have to go to Sunday school?"
"I reckon it's because I'm a good enough Catholic already."
"Well, I reckon it's because the church community expects your grandma to set you straight."
"Listen you, hold your tongue if you ain't got nothing nice to say. You hear?" Neji told me. He had always been this way: lecturing and scolding me about my morals. I didn't like that. I wanted to grow and learn on my own. I didn't want his help. As a result, I had become an expert at drowning him out.
"Alright, don't throw one of your hissy fits," I told him. That was my way of saying "shut up" in public.
"I don't know why I keep you around," he retorted.
"You need me and I need you." I, of course, only thought the first half to be true, but I had added the last bit to keep him silent.
"You know, sometimes I think you hate me."
"I don't hate you. You're my best friend." This was not a lie.
"Well, I'd strongly appreciate you not lashing out at me every time I scold you. I do it for your own good."
"I don't lash out. I speak my mind."
"Well quit it. It ain't worth all the trouble you'll get into if you do." I never did understand what had set us in such a foul mood. It was probably the heat. But for the sake of his sanity, as well as my own, I left it at that.
"Fine." Hizashi returned a minute or two later. We tossed the bottles in the trash and stood up.
"Y'all want to stop at the diner before heading home?" he asked.
"Eh, my ma's probably wondering where the hell I am as it is. I think heading home would be best," I told him. Another thing I loved about my best friend's pa was that he didn't mind me cussing. My own father would call me out if I ever did that in his presence. My ma would probably go into cardiac arrest.
"I agree. Grandma ain't fond of tardiness. She doesn't want a minute spent on something useless."
"Well son, eating ain't useless."
"Well if we just did a few hours ago then it is."
"Aw, I reckon you're right. There's no need to fight like barbarians in the middle of the street. Let's go."
The walk home was silent. The crickets chirped in the evening twilight.
"So how are your folks coming along?" Hizashi asked me. I merely shrugged.
"They're doing fine, I guess. Pa's worried about the war. Ma's worried about me."
"Are you worried about something?" Neji asked.
"Naw. What's there to be worried about?"
"Neji Hyuuga, if you're too embarrassed to admit that you want me to worry about you, speak now or forever hold your peace."
My best friend was startled and stopped walking. His face flushed and he concentrated on a pebble to avoid my gaze.
"I ain't asking you to be worried about me. But I worry about you. It'd be nice if you returned the favor," was all he mumbled.
His pa said nothing. He knew when speaking was a sin.
"I don't need to worry about you. You wouldn't try to protect me if you couldn't protect yourself now would ya?"
"I reckon I would. It's worth a try." To this I said nothing, but I turned as red as red can be.
"You hold your tongue if you're trying to sweet talk me. You ought to be ashamed for telling a fib," I warned him.
"I ain't trying to sweet talk you. I'm trying to show you I care. " How the boy could say that in front of his father was beyond me. I responded by turning my back to him.
"Neji, I ain't trying to be mean, but what you're saying is making me feel mighty uncomfortable. I'd suggest we continue this conversation at a more suitable time. I have to be home soon."
"Yeah alright," he told me and we continued on. I thanked the two when we arrived at my door. I gave Neji a small smile before slipping inside. I didn't realize the meaning of his words back then, and I didn't understand how those few words would turn my nightmare worse than it was already coming on to be.
A/N: So, how was it? I apologize if it was a bit of a snooze. It will get better, however. Please R&R.