MBP: I'm finally out of school! I've graduated, and I have a job, not just at Chuck-E-Cheese, but I am Chuck-E-Cheese!

Rini: She's very excited about that.

Taru: I don't know why; she's dressing as a giant rat.

Ama: Oh come on, it will be fun!

Kio: I-it has to be better than being forced into a maid uniform…

Rini: Why did you change Kio? That dress was so cute on you!

MBP: Okay, so I might be able to update more of my stuff, because now I have time! So, I own nothing except Aiko and Manabe! Michi belongs to Heroine Reijj and Ami belongs to Airyfairyy! Hope you enjoy!

Chapter Four

I stretched, hearing my alarm go off at the same time it usually did. I responded to the irritating buzzing by taking the alarm clock and throwing it across my room, hiding my face under my pillow quickly. If I was lucky, Aunt Sumi wouldn't have heard the noise, and she'd let me sleep in for once.

My luck was never that good.

"Aiko, wake up! You're wasting daylight!" I still did not understand how she could be so cheerful at six in the morning. It was inhuman. Maybe she was a robot, and I could incorporate that into People of the Greenhouse… the robot aunt of the protagonist is behind the disappearances! It makes sense!

Unfortunately, the idea forming in my head was shattered when my aunt barged into my room and turned on all the lights before pulling my pillow away. I bit back a curse as I rubbed my eyes weakly. "What are you doing today?"

"We are going to a luncheon today," Aunt Sumi didn't notice my glare at the "we" she put in that sentence. "So let's get you all dressed up!"

"Why?" I groaned, falling onto my back. "It doesn't start until later. I'll just wear my uniform."

"No. You are going to get up and get into the shower now, so we can get you something pretty to wear." I hated that tone of voice she had… it meant that she wasn't going to take no for an answer and I was going to make a fool of myself.

"No pink," I offered as a compromise, practically dragging myself to the bathroom while she laughed cheerfully.

Someday, I have to find out her secret to being so happy that early.

"I hate shopping," I complained an hour later, grimacing at a frilly dress she held up. "Definitely not."

"Well, what about this?" Aunt Sumi ignored my complaints, holding up a rainbow miniskirt.

"Aunt Sumi, I'm not sure that was popular in Grandma's day," I hung it back up for her. "And it's really not my style. If I had to pick something…"

I looked around for the outfit I'd noticed briefly when we walked in. Smiling a little grimly, I held up a light purple dress and the accompanying black top for it. "I'd go for something like this."

Aunt Sumi looked more excited than I'd seen her in a very long time. Showing her that I did have some fashion sense was a very bad idea.

Then again, I was tired of all my shapeless gray clothes now. If I wanted to go places, which I'm forced to now, then I should have something cute to wear that I don't borrow from other people.

However, there is a thing known as "Way Too Much" and that was where my aunt went when she realized what I would wear willingly.

When we walked out of that store, we had more clothes than my closet would fit, and my aunt hadn't even gotten me shoes or accessories yet.

It was the morning from hell. By the time we needed to go to the luncheon, I felt I earned a day off from socializing. Besides, from what I'd heard, the SA weren't going to be there, so I didn't feel there was a point in going. I wouldn't want to socialize with anyone.

The glare was actually frightening coming from my aunt.

Climbing out of the car, I adjusted the knee-length lavender dress, trying to cover up a little more. The little black jacket did nothing besides go over my shoulders, and I made a mistake liking these boots. They were so uncomfortable, even if they were cute and matched my outfit.

Actually, it was a cute outfit altogether, especially since my hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail. Maybe I should wear it next time I hang out with Manabe…

I shook my head at that. I was getting those thoughts about Manabe more than I should, and they were beginning to be reminiscent of the thoughts I'd had about Yaten before I figured out he was crazy.

"Sumi!" I knew that voice. The owner was Reiko Nagasaki, an evil old woman who had granddaughters who had tormented me until the SA made everyone stop. I hated the woman with a passion.

I did feel bad about killing her off in multiple stories though. That was uncalled for.

"We were beginning to think you would never come. My son was feeling quite disappointed!"

Okay, ew. I did not need to know that someone wanted my aunt to have… well, you know. A social life. Or at least a life that brings in a husband.

"Um… Aunt Sumi? I'm gonna just go… over there," I pointed to the more isolated area of the tables, smiling sheepishly when Reiko stared openly in shock at my new look. My smile faded a bit when she smirked smugly, as if I had dressed up for her.

As if! The smirk was the reason I killed her off in my head so often.

Before either of them could say a word, I walked off towards the empty chairs by the table, tugging a notebook from my bag. I could recognize some of my classmates, but that didn't mean I had to actually socialize with any of them.

There were two girls sitting near me, each of them doing their own thing. One of them, a typical blond beauty, was watching everyone from her chair, smiling and humming to herself. I recognized the song from a British boy band, and ignored it. The other, a short haired brunette was reading a book, though I couldn't see the cover of it for the title.

Tapping the table absently, I chewed on my lip, trying to think of a way to start Yumi's present. An action romance sim wasn't much to go on, and the characters she had made up were so stereotypical I felt that I had an obligation to create completely new ones.

For one, instead of the overused "I've been sucked into a fantasy world" or "I'm the princess, and I need to find love" plots, I could make her a common girl, maybe a thief… That would be cool. Then the guys could be her victims/companions, and only finding true love by the end of the thirty days would defeat the curse that they're all under? It sounds stupid, but it is a dating sim for a thirteen year old girl…

"Hi!" The blond girl was looking at me now, smiling brightly. "Who are you?"

"Aiko Satou," I said as she came over and started looking at my notebook. "Um…"

"Oh, that sounds so cool! You should have a dancer though! I'm going to be a dancer!" She was so… cheerful. Almost childish. "Of course, I have to get a job first!"

"I take it you like dancing?" I said uncomfortably. Loud, hyper girls reminded me of Sakura, and honestly, that girl kind of scared me. This stranger was too much like the pink-haired menace for comfort.

"Yeah! It's my dream to dance professionally; I've been taking lessons since I could walk!" She took my notebook and started scribbling down something. "Instead of one main girl, you should offer a choice, and the story could go differently depending on each!"

"Um… ok?" I took a glance at what she was doing. It looked like a complete background for a character that I was likely never going to use. Well, it wasn't like she'd ever know.

"Oh, hi!" She noticed the other girl sitting nearby, taking my notebook away when she skipped over. "I'm Michi Atsuki! Who are you?"

The girl looked up from her book, her brown eyes widening in shock. "M-me?"

"Yeah!" Michi grinned, her blue eyes lighting up gleefully.

"Ami. Ami Miyazaki."

"Wait, Miyazaki as in… Hayao Miyazaki?" Ami nodded when I slid over, eyes wide in anticipation. "As in my hero for the rest of my life, Hayao Miyazaki?"

"He's a… he's a distant relative…" Ami muttered quietly, looking nervous. "I've n-never met him."

Oh great. I meet someone related to my hero, and she's even shyer than I am… was. More shy than I was.

Oh, who am I kidding? She's worse than I am.

Michi was talking excitedly, occasionally stopping to breath, even though those occasions were rare. "So, there I was, dancing for this show and… eep!"

She ducked her head, looking extremely red and quiet suddenly. There wasn't even time for me to process before someone sat next to me, putting his arm around my shoulders.

"Hey Aiko, I just got here!" Manabe had a plate of food in his hands, so I looked at that skeptically. His returning smile was sheepish, and he handed the plate over. "So, what I miss?"

"N-nothing…" Michi muttered, still redder than a lobster.

"I'm Manabe Shinozaki," Manabe introduced himself to the two girls, pointing to his cousin who was sitting on the other side of Ami. "And that rude jerk is my cousin, Hijiri."

"Michi Atsuki…"

"A-Ami Miyazaki…"

Okay, that was shocking… I am the girl who is most comfortable around men. It is a monumental event in the world's history! Is someone recording this? This can't be forgotten! I, Aiko, am more comfortable around boys than the other girls around me!

Of course, Manabe's arm is still around my shoulders, and while it does feel nice, it should not be there! I point this out to Manabe, and he raises his eyebrows.

"Why not? It is just a friendly gesture."

Was it? I was still new to this friend thing… The SA doesn't sit with their arms around each other's shoulders all the time… then again, they are kind of strange. Or maybe it's just what Manabe does with his friends… or maybe…

"You think too much!" Manabe teased, taking a strawberry off of a plate. "Just relax and have fun!"

I was ready to take his advice, and had stood up to get more food with the other two girls when Manabe grinned at me.

"By the way Aiko… I'm liking the new look."

My face turned bright red, and I turned without another word, staying mute practically the rest of the luncheon. I was still red when I returned to the table with Ami and Michi behind me. I tried to sit between them, but they took the end seats so that they wouldn't have to sit next to either one of the boys. I tugged on the dress restlessly as Manabe took the seat next to me, stealing one of my strawberries.

"Hey!" I protested, covering my plate uselessly. He merely laughed and took another strawberry, settling with his arm around my shoulders again. I froze in place, staring at him expectantly.

"Friendly gesture," he reminded me with a grin. "Get used to it."

Hijiri made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a scoff, and Manabe sent his cousin a glare I didn't understand. "Oh, stop listening to me and Aiko like a creeper and talk to… Ami, was it?"

"Huh? O-oh, he doesn't have to… I'll just…" Ami lifted her book weakly, picking at a cookie quietly. "You know… I'll just read."

"No! You can't just read! You have to…" Michi was shouting until she caught Hijiri's eye, and then fell silent immediately.

Girls confused me. Boys confused me. Actually, people in general confuse me. Once I get an idea of what they're like, they shouldn't go around and get confusing. Maybe that's why I don't have many friends; I can't understand people at all.

"So, how's your movie going?" Manabe asked, pulling my plate closer to him. I glared and tugged it back my way, ignoring the grin he sent me.

"It's going great," I lied, tossing my head back proudly. "In fact, the protagonist's annoying sidekick is about to be the next one to disappear and suffer a great deal. I'm thinking he gets cut up and then dipped in acid. No one will be able to identify him."

"Hmm… would that be an irritating boy that keeps trying to flirt with you after he ditched you?" Manabe returned, succeeding in snagging my plate. He took a bunch of grapes before I got it back.

"No, it would be the other annoying boy," I retorted, shoving a cracker in my mouth. I choked, coughing into my napkin relentlessly. "What was on that?"

Manabe inspected the other cracker on the plate. "Caviar. What, you don't like it?"

I gagged dramatically. "Ew! Ew ew ew ew ew! I just ate raw fish eggs! I'm going to die now. Don't try to save me!"

"I like caviar," Ami offered quietly, looking up from her book. I handed her the cracker eagerly, trying to get the taste of the caviar out of my mouth. I turned around to see Manabe laughing at me openly, and stealing more of my grapes.


I smacked Manabe's hand, taking the grapes with a glare. "I let you take one bunch," I explained in between grapes. "The rest are mine. You can eat whatever you want from my plate, but the grapes are mine."

"Miser!" He teased, taking a strawberry instead. Hijiri sighed, shaking his head at us quietly.

I'd do the same thing if I wasn't a part of it. It is kind of stupid, fighting over grapes, but what can I say? They're the best kind of fruit!

"Hey, Michi, right?" Manabe nodded towards the blonde with a smile. "You work at that bakery on 5th, right? I've seen you when I drop my grandmother off at the bingo parlor."

"Y-yeah, that's me," Michi stammered, tugging on her hair before it fell into her eyes. "I work there every morning."

"Is that why you're late to school?" Ami asked quietly, finishing her book with a sigh. She shifted away from Hijiri, nearly falling off her chair. The boy merely shrugged, settling back comfortably.

"Yeah, I have to run to school from there!" Michi offered, getting hyper again. "I came to school on Friday, and I didn't realize I had flour in my hair!"

"How much flour?" I asked, pushing my notebook into my bag. From the way things were going, I wasn't going to get to work on it for a while.

"Um… I shook my head and it snowed in the classroom!" Michi tossed her hair back with a grin. "Or at least, that's what my friends told me!"

Great… these are the types of people I talk to. Crazy, hyper people who scare me or really shy people who don't talk much.

Or people like Manabe… which isn't really a good thing, because he's definitely not normal.

"So Aiko, are you coming to the party next week?" Hijiri asked suddenly, making me jump. Out of everything he could say, that wasn't what I expected.

"What party?" I asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically. "Please don't tell me Aunt Sumi knows about it."

"Manabe hasn't told you?" Hijiri smirked at his suddenly annoyed cousin. "It's a party to celebrate his birthday. I'd have thought he'd have already gotten you to come."

"Why would he do that?" I asked, frowning in confusion.

"Hijiri, pictures. Sixth grade promotion party," Manabe said quietly, narrowing his eyes dangerously. "I still have them."

The other boy merely shrugged, stealing a cookie from Ami's plate. She frowned, but didn't say anything. However, she did sit up straighter in her seat and keep a close eye on her plate, looking ready to stab Hijiri with a fork if he tried it again.

Now that would be funny… have someone get stabbed with a fork… idea!

"Sorry about him," Manabe broke my thoughts when he apologized sheepishly. "He's kind of an idiot."

"No, it's fine. I mean, if you don't want me at your party, it's only expected you say nothing," I shrugged casually. It saved me from having to shop. "I don't know why he would have thought you'd want me there."

"I do want you there," Manabe said after a moment, looking embarrassed. "I mean… would you come? It will be completely boring without you, and I want you to meet my sister."

"Oh…" I looked away from his face, biting my lip shyly. That wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting a polite change of subjects, and then we'd go back to our 'normal' conversations. Now I had to make a decision about this?

Okay, it wasn't a hard decision. It wasn't like I was doing anything next week, and Manabe was a good friend.

"Yeah, sure, I'll go," I said, sitting up straight with a smile. "Anything you want for a present?"

Manabe merely shook his head and sat closer to me, stealing my plate in the process. "I won't need anything if you show up."


"So, you're getting close to Manabe," Aunt Sumi prodded as we walked into our house after the luncheon. I winced, regretting hugging him goodbye as we left.

"We're friends," I answered after a moment, turning with a smile. "He's a really good friend."

"Not a boyfriend though?" The question made me freeze.

"Why would you say that?" I asked finally, pulling my hair out of its ponytail. "Manabe wouldn't be interested in me, and can you honestly see me dating anyone? Aunt Sumi, I think you're safe from the duties of chasing off boys for a while."

"Sweetie, I think you underestimate yourself," Aunt Sumi replied, sighing quietly as she shook her head. "Come on. Living room."

Oh great… now it was time for some 'soul-bonding' conversation. I sighed heavily as I plopped into a chair, looking at my aunt warily. She took her time, settling into her chair with a sophistication I would never possess.

"Yes?" I asked after she was finally sitting down.

"I'm not your mother," Aunt Sumi started after a long moment. "I've never been a mother, and let's face it; my mother wasn't the best when it came to maternal feelings."

True… I've met my grandmother on my dad's and Aunt Sumi's side… look up stern, anti-fun, happiness-sucker in the dictionary, and her picture will be right there.

"You've been doing a good job," I replied quietly, shrugging when she looked at me. "I mean, you've been dealing with me and getting me out of the house. I think that's a success."

"You wouldn't have been in the house so much if you still had your parents." I shifted uncomfortably as she continued to talk. "Aiko, I watched you grow up. You were the brightest, happiest child I had ever seen; though I admit I haven't seen many. But Aiko… you were truly the light of your parent's lives."

"Well, I obviously wasn't light enough to keep Dad from having an affair," I muttered, kicking my feet like a child. I sat up straight as soon as Aunt Sumi hit her hand against her chair.

"Aiko, don't ever talk like that! Your father loved you more than anything else in the world!"

"Except his secretary! Or was it his assistant?" I replied, raising my voice angrily. "The only reason he and Mom were in that car to begin with was because he had to make a settlement with whoever he cheated on her with, and Mom wanted to support him! If he'd loved either of us, he'd have never betrayed us! If it weren't for him leaving his phone for me to find, we'd have never found out and he'd have kept going to her!"

I was on my feet and pacing back and forth. "If I hadn't told Dad that he needed to fix it, they'd have never been there! If I had just kept my mouth shut, I'd still have them both! Maybe it wouldn't be the same, and I'd know Dad didn't love Mom the same way anymore, but I would still have them, and you'd have your brother, and they wouldn't be gone!"

I didn't notice I was crying until Aunt Sumi pulled me into a tight hug, crying with me. "Oh sweetie, it wasn't your fault. I told your father to drive that night, not you."

"You wouldn't have known if it weren't for me," I sobbed, collapsing next to her on the ground. "I shouldn't have said anything."

"No sweetie, you did the right thing," Aunt Sumi looked me in the eyes, handing me her handkerchief and wiping my eyes. "Your parents still loved each other. If you hadn't said anything, they'd have ended up hating each other."

"And alive," I persisted, sniffling. "They'd still be alive."

"They would never have stayed together," she replied, sighing with a shake of her head. "And they would have torn you apart, trying to figure out which side to pick."

I opened my mouth, but she continued. "I'm not saying this is better. Their deaths hurt everyone, and if you've been blaming yourself for this, it's a lot worse than I thought it was for you. But Aiko… this isn't your fault. Your mother deserved the truth, and that accident was just that. An accident."


"No buts!" Aunt Sumi brushed some of my hair out of my face. "Sweetie, they're gone, but they would never have blamed you. There was nothing more you could have done, and you did what was right. Do you know what your father told me before he left?"

I shook my head, wiping my eyes silently. My aunt sighed, sitting next to me with a sad smile.

"He told me that you were the bravest person that he'd ever met," she said, meeting my eyes easily. "That if you could be brave enough to stand up for what was right to your parents, you'd be strong enough to handle anything that the world would throw at you."

"I haven't done such a good job at that," I replied, scoffing at the idea.

"Why do you say that?" Aunt Sumi asked, watching me closely. "You made it through the time of rumors, and the time where no one cared to ask if you were okay before judging you. You made it through the betrayals before you left your home to come here. You made it, and you stood on your own. You can, and do, handle everything. Why do you think everyone loves you?"

"They do not," I smiled slightly, shaking my head. "They just decided to annoy me."

"You gave them a chance," Aunt Sumi suggested gently. "Instead of pushing them all away, you let them know you for the amazing, wonderful, incredible young woman you are."

"You make me sound perfect," I sighed, looking at the ground.

"Oh, you're definitely not that," she replied, hugging me with one arm. "You're stubborn, take entirely too much on yourself, and you have trust issues. But that's who you are, and the people who see it and respect you for it are the ones who matter."

"Like you?" I looked at her from the side of my eyes, raising my eyebrows slightly.

She nodded. "Like me. Like your friends from the S.A. Like Manabe…"

"Who is just a friend," I finished, sitting up straight, blushing for some reason. "A very close friend who is crazy enough to keep bothering me when I've made it clear that I'm anti-social and rude."

"Well, I can't argue that anti-social part," Aunt Sumi brushed a hand over my hair. "But rude? No, you're just a little closed off from people because you don't want to get hurt again."

"Is that wrong?" I asked quietly. "Is it wrong to want to protect myself?"

"No sweetie, it's natural," Aunt Sumi looked at me closely. "I did the same thing when they died too. I did have a boyfriend before it happened."

"You did?" That was news. I'd never imagined my aunt would have fallen in love, or even just dated. She was known as the woman who would never get married because she was too busy working.

"No one I told my mother about, but he was… he was a good man," she swallowed quickly. "But after your parents died… I just pushed him away. I didn't want to feel that way again. It's a natural reaction. You just need to know that the fear is always going to be there. You just can't let it control you."

"I just don't want to lose anyone again. If I don't get close to them, then they can't leave me," I admitted quietly. "Even being alone is better than being ripped apart."

"And that's natural, but Aiko… you can handle the rejection now," Aunt Sumi helped me up, hugging me tightly. "Running from that now… that's just being afraid. It's not the same as healing."

"What's the difference?"

Aunt Sumi thought for a moment. "Healing is when you try to be alone to reconcile how you're feeling about loss. Being afraid is pushing everyone away because you don't want to risk pain again."

"Being hurt is how you learn what's important in life," The saying was familiar, and bittersweet. My father used to say it all the time, whenever something bad happened to one of us.

"My brother loved to say that," Aunt Sumi nodded, smiling sadly. "I remember him saying that to me when he tore up my teddy bear."

"He did what?"

"My teddy bear. I'd had it since I was a baby, and I was way too old for it at sixteen, but I was attached to it," Aunt Sumi went and picked up a picture from the mantle showing it to me. "I loved that bear more than any other gift I'd ever had."

I grinned at the picture. They both looked so young… Aunt Sumi was beautiful as a teenager, even when she was wearing old-fashioned flowered dresses and bows. Dad looked like a figure in an old movie in his suit and tie. From the look of the picture, and the hidden dismay on the servant's face in the background, something was burning in the kitchen, making a nasty smell. I mentioned it, and my aunt laughed.

"The new servant girl had burned the afternoon's cookies," Aunt Sumi explained, shaking her ehad. "Mother was furious when she found out the smoke had gotten into the picture. Of course, we found it hilarious… or at least, until I found out what your father was going to do.."

"What did he do?" I asked, eyes wide in anticipation.

"He decided that he needed to patch up some old clothes, so he'd have a costume for his college party," Aunt Sumi rolled her eyes. "So he decided my teddy bear had the right kind of fabric for what he needed."

"He didn't…"

Aunt Sumi nodded with an irritated sigh. "He did. I come home from school, and there's Teddy, with his back cut open, and my brother unstuffing him. Oh, I was furious…"

I looked over the picture, smiling at the joy in their eyes. "What did you do?"

"I grabbed Teddy, and as much of the stuffing as I could, and went upstairs to fix him. As soon as I did that, I called his girlfriend and told her that he was an evil, demented git and that she was better off without him. She asked why I would say that, and I explained in detail about how he killed Teddy." I giggled at the idea.

"And what did she do?"

"She married him."

"Mom?" I shook my head. That would fit, and I laughed out loud. "How could she marry a man who was an evil demented git?"

"She loved him. And so did I." Aunt Sumi nodded slowly. "And I would have given up Teddy a thousand times if I could have had both him and your mother back. But then I would have lost something equally precious."

I looked at her. "What is that?"

"You," Aunt Sumi said it simply. "You are an experience Aiko. A wonderful, miraculous experience that I wouldn't give up for the world. You are the reason I can still be happy, because even though they're dead… they're not gone. They live on in both of us… but I can see them both in you."

I stood silently, thinking everything she said over. "I love you Aunt Sumi."

"I love you too Aiko. Now go upstairs and make plans with your friends," she ushered me off gently, taking the picture and smiling sadly.

I paused at the doorway. "Aunt Sumi… would my parents be proud of me? Would they be proud of what I've done?"

"Yes. They would be extremely proud of you… especially if you started dating a nice boy…" I rolled my eyes dramatically.

"I'm going upstairs now!" I ran up the stairs before she could say anything else. In my room, I lay on the bed, staring at my roof. I had to eat lunch with the S.A. tomorrow, or they'd hunt me down, and they were still going to drag me to go dress shopping for Sakura's party. The idea wasn't as painful now, not the way it had been just a week ago.

But there was something I had to do first.

With a sigh, I pulled the student directory out of my desk and dialed a number before I could lose my nerve.

"Yaten… I think we need to talk."

MBP: DUN DUN DUN! Okay, it's not that dramatic. The rest of the group abandoned me, so I'll finish this chapter by myself. Hope you enjoyed, and please review! I am still accepting OC's, because I need people to fill up parties (Still got Manabe's B-day, Sakura's party, and a school festival), and you get credit…

Oh, and I'm thinking of actually writing a script form of Aiko's movie People of the Greenhouse. Anyone interested?

Please review, hope you enjoyed!