Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
My Old Maid Keeps Dogs
By Vanilla Vader
They say friends are people who can accept each other for who they are, no matter what they may be or how they ended up that way. If that's the case, I guess I have lots of friends. Every day, I'm constantly surrounded by people I'm forced to accept despite the way they are. I kept reminding myself this as I walked down the street with my old teammate and sensei.
"SO!" my old teacher, Might Gai, shouted at the top of his lungs, clapping his hands together with excessive enthusiasm. "What are we gonna eat for DINNER today, team!" He grinned, baring all of his teeth. My old teammate, Rock Lee, grinned back at him, his teeth also glistening.
"We must eat the most REJUVENATING, HEALTHFUL, most YOUTHFUL meal we can find!" he hollered, flailing his arms energetically. Some people around us stared in surprise and irritation. I visibly slouched a little, as if that would make our group's presence less noticeable. Well, as unnoticed as you can go…being with two full-grown men in tight green spandex suits. I sighed.
"Guys," I muttered. "Can we please just pick something?" Lee gasped in horror. Loudly.
"TENTEN!" he shouted. "It is Gai-sensei's birthday! Does that have NO sentimental meaning to you! We must find the PERFECT restaurant!" I rolled my eyes. Gai-sensei sniffled softly.
"Lee! The fact that my birthday has sentimental value to you is enough!" he gushed clamorously. His eyes sparkled.
"Gai-sensei!" Lee cried. Gai outstretched his arms.
"Lee! Aw, c'mere!" he yelled as they hugged.
"Aw, LEE!" This exchange went on in the middle of the street for a while, the two "youthful" shinobi embracing each other tightly. Some people were pointing and snickering at us. I could feel myself reddening as I blew at my brown bangs in frustration.
"Hn," an equally annoyed voice said from behind us. I whipped around to identify its source. It was my other teammate, Neji. He had been so quiet; I had forgotten he had come with us. He had turned off to the side, away from us, with his arms crossed in front of him. His expression was almost as impassive as always, except a slight scowl was beginning to form on his perfect lips.
The truth is…that I actually used to have a small, trivial crush on Neji. Of course, it was when I was a teenager. It lasted from when I was almost thirteen to when I was barely eighteen. That was when I grew up a little and realized it was pointless to like Neji. He's Neji Hyuga. I'm the last girl in the world he would ever even consider seeing in a romantic way.
Now, I'm turning twenty-one soon. I had always been extremely cautious, liking him secretly. I didn't dare tell him. So he never knew. But I'm ABSOLUTELY NOT bitter about it. I mean, if I had never liked him…I would have probably ended up crushing on Lee…the thought gives me mental shudders…
Anyways, Neji was the boy I had foolishly wasted my entire adolescence liking. He had been so good-looking then…
Now, he was just preposterously attractive. All of his features were refined and flawless. It was all so symmetrical and angular and terribly sexy. His long, dark, lustrous hair framed his beautiful face, contrasting perfectly with his pale and creamy skin. His eyes bore the signature pupil-less quality belonging to Byakugan users. His had a soft mauve glow.
I blinked briskly a few times to tear myself away from my paltry reverie. I had been staring at him with my mouth slightly open. My own idiocy disgusted me sometimes. Shaking my head at my stupidity, I glanced back.
Lee and Gai were still being "youthful." The yucky scene made me want to wince. Nevertheless, I managed to smile as I turned and addressed Neji.
"Sorry, Neji," I said to him, attempting to fix another uncomfortable situation Lee and Gai had created. They were yelling passionately now. I tried to laugh as if amused, but it ended up sounding nervous anyways. "Ha…It's like we're all still kids…you know, the weather-"
"Tenten," he cut me off sternly. His voice was so cold, I swear I could feel my ears sting as if frostbitten. "Why are you apologizing for their offensive behavior?"
"I just thought it wou-"
"Neji! Tenten!" Lee suddenly shouted from behind us. He and Gai grinned at us, their sentimental moment seemingly over. "In celebration of Gai-sensei's birthday, we're going to run a quick thirty-four laps around Konoha before eating!"
"I think I'll pass," I replied, amused by their familiar antics. "But happy birthday, sensei."
"I will greatly CHERISH your beautiful and youthful gift, Tenten," Gai declared. We glanced at Neji, who had finally decided to turn in our direction. He looked reluctant to speak for a moment, but eventually did when I shot him a really vicious, importune look.
"Yes, best wishes regarding your birthday, sensei. However, I also won't be participating in the laps with you and Lee."
"And that is OK, Neji!" Gai exclaimed. Lee beamed, his teeth shimmering uncannily again.
"This is a great chance for me to train while Neji does not…and surpass him once and for all!"
Neji seemed to smirk a little. I rolled my eyes at them.
"Okay, then…Well, I'll see you guys tomorrow. I'm just gonna go eat and get home." Gai gave me a thumbs-up sign.
"That sounds lovely, Tenten, our youthful flower! A little rest and some beauty sleep would do WONDERS for yo-" he stopped abruptly when I gave him an insinuating glare. He chuckled tensely. "Not that anything's un-youthful about you now, of course!"
I sighed, somewhat irked. "Bye, sensei. Bye guys."
"I expect to see you all tomorrow morning at nine," Neji declared shrewdly. Gai and Lee grinned and waved before taking off on their laps. I turned to leave, when Neji spoke.
"Tenten, we might as well dine together," he said bluntly. I turned back around as he continued. "We reside in the same direction and we both obviously have not eaten."
This wouldn't be the first time Neji and I had eaten together. I mentally chastised myself for being excited by his offer. Besides, we usually ate lunch with Lee every day after training…well…Lee's not here this time…and this is the first time eating dinner with him…before it had always been lunch…
"Sure," I replied without thinking. Shit, I thought. "So…where should we eat?"
He pointed to a really fancy-looking restaurant across the street. I recognized it as one of the most extravagant (and expensive) restaurants in town. "There? But that place is-"
"Decent," he finished for me. He was already heading toward the entrance. I hurried behind him, struggling to keep up with his impatient pace.
"Dammit…" I mumbled. "Hey wait! I don't know if I can pay f-"
"I've been here before with a few of my newer colleagues. The soufflés are notable."
"NEJII!" I yelled as we approached the door. "I can barely afford some damned dumplings, let alone soufflés!" He appeared unfazed.
"Hn." And that was final. We entered the fancy restaurant. The hostess greeted us immediately, as soon as she spotted Neji, although there were several other people waiting since before we had arrived. I sulked behind my old teammate as the hostess scurried over to us.
"Good afternoon, sir!" she greeted. Suddenly she saw me as well. "And lady! Seats for two?"
"Yes. Private room," Neji answered before I could give any input. She nodded, noting his dignified demeanor.
"Right away," she replied. She led us to a quieter, secluded section of the restaurant. She opened the gilded double doors for us and we walked into a perturbingly lavish room with giant, colorful flowers everywhere. An ornate crystal chandelier was suspended from the high ceiling. The table was preset for two, with a small, floral centerpiece.
The lady handed us menus after we were seated. I winced at the grandeur of it all.
"Um…how much does this private room cost?" I asked her, my voice cracking a little at the end. She smiled.
"Our private rooms only cost $30 per person. And an additional $50 for groups less than five people," she answered. I almost choked on nothing as she left, shutting the door behind her. I glared at Neji.
"That's more than enough money to buy three large bowls of ramen for both of us at Ichiraku's! Are you listening to me!"
He wasn't. He was staring stoically at his menu.
"Just choose something, Tenten," he commanded. I scowled as I skimmed through my menu. It was ninety-five percent French and five percent decipherable.
"Damn. I don't even know what these are!"
"They're food items. And they have descriptions as well as pict-"
"I know that!" I snapped. "I mean I've never had any of this stuff before! And what is THIS!" I asked, pointing to a picture of an especially peculiar-looking dish. I showed him eagerly.
"You wouldn't enjoy that, Tenten."
"How would YOU know!" I asserted. He seemed amused.
"Brains of a young cow, with a strong, pungent sauce-"
"Okay, you were right." Smartass…
After a minute or so, a waitress entered the room. She was a pretty girl, maybe in her early twenties, like me and Neji. She had long, wavy blond hair and was at least 5'8". When she saw Neji, she smiled brightly, practically skipping over to us. She skipped well, considering the fact that she was wearing ridiculously strappy heels. With the heels on, she was at least 6'0".
"And what would you like to order, sir?" she asked chirpily. Her voice was all high-pitched and sweet. Almost sweet enough to rot my damn teeth, I thought. I heard a small, intrusive voice in my head whisper, "JEALOUS", so I mentally smacked it.
I'm NOT jealous! I just don't like girls like HER, I retorted. The voice snorted mockingly. Neji ordered, not bothering to look at the waitress.
"And what about you?" she asked me. I shook my deranged thoughts out of my head and ordered. I told her the number corresponding with my order instead of the name because I couldn't really pronounce it. She smiled. "You're a lucky girl. I'm kind of jealous…"
What? She was jealous?
"Ummm…thank you…?" I responded awkwardly, puzzled by the unexpected comment. She giggled in a bimbo-tastic way.
"I mean your boyfriend. He's very good-looking."
I blinked. Boyfriend? There was no one here but us three. Behind his calm exterior, I sensed discomfort from Neji. He stared at me intently, as if waiting for me to speak. Then, realization struck me. I laughed wildly at the waitress, who was busy scribbling everything down.
"Oh! This guy? No, he's just my comrade! My boyfriend! Ha! Wow, really had me for a second there!" I joked. She gave me a silly, obscurely haughty expression. She finished writing and addressed Neji, smiling a bit too flirtatiously for my liking.
"Well, if that's what it is," she said, handing him a card. "You should come see me more. Half-off your next private room. Ask for Mei." She winked coquettishly before exiting. Neji seemed unaffected. I snorted in disdain. He raised a brow.
"Why does this happen every time!" I grumbled. For some reason, he smirked smugly. "What?" I snarled sharply.
"You seem quite jealous."
My eyes widened as I looked up from the table space in front of me. I had been playing with my fork and knife. When he spoke, I dropped the fork. He had to be joking, but wait…What the hell! Neji doesn't JOKE…
I scoffed with another snort. "No! Why would I be jealous of some ditzy waitress who can't walk without looking like she has corns on her feet!"
"You seem extremely jealous."
"WHAT! I'M NOT JEALOUS!" I roared. "All of these airhead girls either have bad taste or bad eyesight if they think YOU'RE attractive!"
I realized I was using the knife to draw invisible gestures supporting my argument in the air. I quickly lowered it.
He furrowed his brow in what looked like bemusement. That pissed me off. I blinked. He actually looked ridiculously good right now. His perfect face looked even better in the soft, dim chandelier-lighting. He was tall, with a fairly muscled build. Silky hair cascaded gracefully down his back; the traditional Hyuga Clan style. The lighting really highlighted the beautifully stark way his fair complexion looked against the dark stray locks that bordered his face.
Even his voice was freaking gorgeous. It was deep and rich; it kind of made me want to try phone sex. And worst of all, it looked as if he was aware of all this. He was smirking, again, as if he knew that I knew this too. I put on the most annoyed expression I could possibly accomplish.
"Oh, shut up!" I barked. He tilted his head very slightly with a vague sneer. "What?" I asked sourly.
"I never said anything," he pointed out, still sneering. I blinked. I had just proven my own guiltiness…
Before I could say anything, he returned to his serious persona. "Tenten, I was just joking. I never suspected you were truly jealous."
"Wow…you making a joke…that's a fresh concept," I remarked derisively.
After the meal, which I have to admit was actually really delicious, I experienced severe trauma upon seeing the hefty check.
Before I could break myself out of speechlessness, he payed for the entire thing, private room and all. My jaw dropped in disbelief.
"What are you doing!" I asked angrily.
"Why are you paying for me! I can do it mysel-"
"No. Actually you can't," he pointed out. He was right. "Tenten, don't let your pride interfere with letting other people help you."
He started to leave, and I just stood there for a moment, utterly shocked at what he had just said. Then, I recovered and chased after him.
"Umm…thanks…I guess I'll pay you back next t-"
"Neji, I can p-"
"Just consider it my treat."
"Neji, I can't consider it a treat."
"And why would that be?"
"Nobody, not even friends, just casually gives $580 treats."
"Hn." Apparently, he's an exception…
We walked the way to my house, my stinginess about him paying for me occasionally seeping into the conversation. Actually, it seeped out more often than not.
When we reached my house, I grudgingly said bye to him. He responded with one of his "hn" replies.
"You can go now," I said, trying to sound as aloof as possible.
"It would be improper to leave without seeing that you go inside safely," he insisted. Formal as always…
"I think I'll be fine withou-"
"Tenten, just go inside."
I sulked, but submissively headed toward my porch. Just as I unlocked my door and pulled it agape, I felt his presence disappear. But I obediently went inside, as I suspected he could still be watching with Byakugan.
As soon as I stepped inside and shut the door, the lights unexpectedly turned on of their own accord. Instantly, I instinctively pulled a kunai out, assuming a defensive position. But I straightened when I heard laughter.
"Geez, Tennie! It's just us!" I heard Ino's voice say. As if on cue, Ino, Sakura, and Hinata stepped out from their various hiding places around my apartment. I looked around. My small, rather cramped, apartment was decorated with colorful crepe paper streamers. A small cake was sitting on the kitchen counter.
"Guys…what are you doing here? And HOW did you get in here!" I asked, slightly unnerved.
"We came to celebrate you and Hinata becoming jounin!" Sakura exclaimed, grinning. Hinata shuffled her feet.
"Um…s-sorry about breaking into your house, Tenten-chan…" Hinata had matured a lot since we were younger. She stuttered a lot less now, and was more self-assured. Well, except sometimes…especially around Naruto.
"We didn't break in!" Ino claimed. "She gave me her house key!"
"Ino, that was for emergencies…" I reminded.
"Well I felt that this was pretty darn important!" she replied. "So we're going to celebrate and have a sleepover tonight!"
"Guys, I'm sort of tired…and I just got back fr-" I was about to give an excuse, but Ino interrupted.
"Great! I thought this might happen so Sakura and I made juice!"
Before I could object, Ino took a glass of yellowish-orange juice and forced it to my lips. I involuntarily drank it. As she pulled the glass away, I coughed.
"What the hell was that!" I yelled. I licked my lips. "Hey, that actually tasted really refreshing…what was that?"
"It's a juice medical-nin give tired or exhausted ninja. We only gave you a third of the dose so it should keep you up for the next four, maybe five hours or so…"
I gave her a "you're really crazy" look, but then I laughed.
"You guys are the worst," I joked. We all laughed. Then, Sakura abruptly stopped.
"Hey, we were watching you come in, you know…"
"Yeah…that's pretty creepy…so…?" I inquired. Ino gasped.
"Right! How could I forget! You came with Neji! Oh my god, what happened!"
"We were out celebrating Gai's birthda-"
"Then why were you alone with Neji!" Sakura asked pryingly.
"Well…Gai and Lee went off on their own so Neji and I ate togeth-"
"WHAT!" they both shrieked in unison. Even Hinata looked curious. I sighed in exasperation. This happened way too frequently.
"Nothing happened! I told you, I'm over Neji! I've been over him for several years now…"
"Suuuuure…" Ino said sarcastically. "So what was it like?"
"I don't know…we just ate at that horribly expensive new French restaurant…"
"La Maisonette!" she asked. I nodded.
"Yup, that sounds about right…"
"Oh. My. God. That's been voted Konoha's number one date venue in this month's issue of Kunoichi Miss Magazine!"
"It wasn't a date!" I argued.
"Pfft! How would you know, silly! You've never been on a da-" Ino began.
"Did he pay?" Sakura asked curiously. I sighed. Why, Life? Why do you hate me?
"Well…yeah…but it was just because I-"
"Then even if it wasn't a date, it must have felt that way…" Ino whispered. Sakura elbowed her. "Ow!"
"Tenten. You need to get things straight," Sakura stated. Ino nodded.
"You keep denying the fact that you still like Neji!" she yelled. I frowned.
"Look, I'm over it! I've been over it for so long…I can't even remember wha…" I trailed off as they stared at me incredulously. Even Hinata was giving me a skeptical look. I sighed again.
"Okay. Fine. I still like him. There. Are you guys satisfied?"
"Yes," Ino answered, although the question had obviously been rhetorical. I exhaled miserably.
"Tenten…" Hinata said sympathetically.
"Look," Ino said straightforwardly. "You've got to choose. Are you going to keep dwelling on Neji? Or do you want to move on? Either way, you know we'll be there for you. We just don't want to see you all upset over a guy! It's not like you!"
"T-Tenten…I th-think Ino's right…Neji-niisan is very…complicated…" Hinata said quietly. Sakura nodded. I looked at them unwillingly.
"If it was that easy to move on, I would've already done so. But it's not."
"That man is going to get some serious 'destiny' when karma comes and bites him in the ass for breaking your heart! What a jerk! No offense, Hinata," Ino said. Hinata just nodded solemnly.
"He didn't 'break my heart'," I whined at the corniness of the phrase. "I never even confessed anything. He has no idea."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know! But I just can't stand it! You're too innocent, Tenten! It's like you're just totally clueless when it comes to love!" Ino shouted. Sakura nodded.
"Yeah, I hate to say it…but Ino-pig's actually right for once. I mean…Tsunade's never assigned you for a seduction mission…"
"I'm just not good at it…you guys know that."
"And you're socially awkward, you don't do your hair right or wear makeup, you're obsessed with weapons, eat like a guy, don't act cute or girly, you even walk like-"
"Ummm…I…I think what Ino-chan's trying to say…is that maybe if you put a tiny b-bit of more effort into that de-department of your life…it would benefit you…?" Hinata said uncertainly. I knew this was the nicest possible way of saying, "Tenten, start acting like a girl!" but it still felt offensive.
"Guys, I'm fine! I'm a ninja! I kick bad-guy ass and use weapons! That's-"
"No!" Ino screeched. "YOU are a KUNOICHI! That's a female ninja, Tenten. The kunoichi is charming and graceful! She is seductive and witty as well as talented and dangerous! YOU ARE NOT FINE!"
"Well…I'm just not…I don't…"
"Tenten. I know deep down…okay really deep down…you're really pretty. And you're clever and skilled and it's not acceptable that men can't see that because of the hideous way you present yourself!"
"Ha! Men can see that! Gai-sensei says I'm extremely talented!"
"Not that kind of 'men', Tenten," Sakura said. She looked at me knowingly.
"When was the last time you went on a date?" Ino asked nosily.
"I have! It was…ummm…okay, actually…never, but "
"And when was the last time you kissed a guy?"
"Never. Hey! You guys already know I've never kissed a guy!" Ino shook her head, clicking her tongue disapprovingly.
"I've made up my mind," Ino declared. I gulped…this was bad. "We're giving you a makeover and we're going to teach you how to flirt." Sakura's face lit up in glee and Hinata smiled.
I gasped in horror. "No! Absolutely not! You guys do NOT have the…the…the correct qualifications to do that!"
Ino smirked. "Tenten…we all have boyfriends…and Sakura and I are one of Konoha's top ten seduction kunoichi. And you know Hinata would be too if she wasn't so shy. I think we're extremely qualified to "
"I don't want to seduce anyone! That's so…"
"Dirty?" Ino asked with a pout. "It's not dirty unless it's an A-rank seduction mission. B-ranks don't do anything with the enemy. Nobody goes on those except those super skilled kunoichi! And besides…we're not asking you to seduce…we're teaching you to flirt!"
"Yes! This will be good for you, Tenten! Think about it!" Sakura encouraged. I brooded.
"No way. I will most definitely not."
Ino frowned. Then, a mischievous smile crept onto her lips. I braced myself for the trouble that was sure to ensue.
"Fine. We won't do it if…" she paused for dramatic effect. "…If you can find a date by the end of this week."
I blinked. Okay, I didn't see that coming. "WHAT?"
"Yep. That's right," she said content with herself. I widened my eyes for a second. My pride was swelling inside my head, threatening to burst out. I recollected my composure, or more like what I had left of it, before replying boldly.
"I can do that! Who says I can't do that!" I challenged. As soon as it left my mouth, I regretted the statement.
"Oooh…sounds like another bet," Sakura said. Hinata suddenly looked really uncomfortable.
"It's a bet then!" Ino declared confidently. "If we win, we get to do the makeover!"
I tried to sound equally confident. "Fine! But if I win, I get to do whatever I want."
"Deal," Ino said. "Oh, and to make this a little more interesting, the loser has to do one favor for the winner."
I bit my lip. "Fine," I agreed. Sakura grinned.
"I'm on Ino's side!" Sakura exclaimed. "Sorry, Tenten, but I seriously like this makeover idea!" I pouted.
"Traitor," I teased. We laughed. Then, we all fell silent. We all stared intently at Hinata. She fidgeted uneasily.
"Ummm…I…I…guess it's only fair th-that I side with Tenten…" Hinata said timidly. She looked a little faint. I patted her back.
"Thanks, Hinata." I said. She smiled, but couldn't help looking unconvinced.
"Good luck," Ino mocked. "I really hope we win!"
"Hell yeah!" Sakura squealed. "This will be so helpful to Tenten!"
"Yeah right! I won't let you guys win!" I joked. Ino took out a bottle of champagne, filling four glasses.
"To Tenten and Hinata! And to the fun-filled week ahead of us!" she toasted.
For the rest of the night, we watched a romantic little chick-flick movie that all three of them cried during. Honestly, I detested it. The heroine of the story was so stupid. How could she fall in love with such an irrational jerk? So unbelievably stupid…
At the end of the long night, while the others were asleep, I laid awake. That weird juice they gave me was probably to blame. Insecurity tiptoed into my mind as I wondered whether I could really win the bet. Actually, I most likely couldn't win this type of battle; we were fighting in Ino's terrain. I sighed one last time that night, before I suddenly felt a weird weariness overwhelm my body. I promptly fell asleep as the juice's effect wore off.
This is my first official story...ever. So please comment...harsh criticism is definitely welcome.