Please don't hate me for taking so long! T^T I'm sorry! I'm sorrryyyyy! :'(

I was all set to have my entire summer holidays to work on my stories, but my parents banned me from my computer for the whole eight weeks because they decided I was spending too much time on it and since I didn't need to do assignments, I didn't need a computer. It hurt, physically, to have that much free time and be completely unable to write. If it's any consolation I did do a fair bit with paper and pens, but I still need to type those up. And since I've already got three assignments, I may have to juggle my time a bit.

But I haven't given up on any of my stories! I WILL FINISH THEM IF IT KILLS ME, I PROMISE YOU! I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH! T^T

~IA


It was nine o'clock when Ryou returned home. He couldn't believe how much had happened between now and when he had woken that morning.

He found himself humming as he trotted up to his front porch. Ishizu's grandmother officially liked him, and he had a date – no, a welcoming meal between friends – with Ishizu herself in three hours. His lip curled at this thought as he let himself into his house.

He began to feel uneasy with himself. Ishizu had just lost her grandfather. Was it really appropriate to be acting as though it hadn't happened so…casually?

Ryou shook his head. No…surely all he was doing was helping to take her mind off of it. And besides, she was new to the neighbourhood – wouldn't she need a friend to help her through her loss? Ryou closed his eyes forlornly. He knew all too well how much of a blessing a friend could be in a time of grief.

Back in his room, he started fretting again, flinging clothes out of his draws, trying to find something appropriate. "It's not a date," he reminded himself aloud. "And it's just a coffee shop. You don't need to wear anything fancy…nothing makes a girl more uncomfortable than feeling underdressed…"

He looked back over the mess he had made and burst out laughing. "Oh, for heaven's sake, what am I – a teenage girl? This shouldn't be a problem. Okay." He ran back to his wardrobe. "Simple, smart…no, doesn't need to be too smart. And I don't want her to think I'm taking this too seriously so I won't bring anything…"


"Ah…Ryou."

There was more surprise in Ishizu's voice than anything else. Upon seeing her, Ryou instantly sprang to his feet from the table where he had been seated. There was an awkward moment in which the two of them took in the other's appearance. Ishizu, in her elegant but simple white dress, and Ryou in a full suit and tie, his hands clasped hesitantly around a bouquet of delicate white roses.

"Hi, Ishizu." Ryou looked anywhere but at her.

Still somewhat surprised by Ryou's choice of attire, Ishizu sat down opposite him. "You, ah, you do realise this is a coffee shop, don't you?"

Ryou nodded, his words sticking in his throat. "Yeah, sure, 'course I do, Ishizu…why would you ask something like that?" He laughed a little too heartily.

"Um…you're dressed a little…formal…"

Another burst of choked laughter. "Who's formal? I think this is very appropriate café attire. We've, you know, got to set standards and stuff."

He just couldn't do it. The idea of deliberately dressing casually in front of Ishizu when he had a chance to make an effort…

He had regretted it as soon as he arrived, of course. But by that point he really didn't have much of a chance to do anything about it. And now I look ridiculous! Hurrah…

Ishizu just giggled. "I suppose that's fair enough then." Her lips curling into a breathtaking smile, she set down her purse on the table. "I feel a little underdressed."

Ryou cringed. He was afraid of that. "Oh and, um, here I got you these," he added, extremely uncomfortably, passing her the flowers across the table. "I thought you could put them somewhere, or if you don't want them you could give them to your grandmother from me or something, just in case you didn't want them, so that-"

Ishizu laughed, although not unkindly. "You sure know how to talk a lot when you put your mind to it," she said, smiling and taking the roses from him, setting them down on the table beside her.

Ryou cleared his throat. "So anyway-"

"Can I get you two anything to eat or drink?" the waitress asked, appearing beside them from seemingly nothing. Both Ryou and Ishizu jumped.

"Um…yes please. Some lemonade?" Ryou replied, glancing at Ishizu who smiled and asked for a glass of water.

After ordering their meals, the waitress left them in peace. And by peace, that meant awkward silence.

"Er, I guess it's a lot colder here than what you're used to," Ryou mumbled, not meeting her eye.

"Yes, it is." Ishizu drummed her thin, delicate fingers on the table absentmindedly. "But it's nothing I can't handle."

"That's good."

Silence.

Ryou began to wish he was somewhere else. This lunch had been a stupid idea – he was seventeen and she was twenty-one; if it weren't for their ethnic differences people would assume he was her little brother.

"You know, Ryou," Ishizu began. Ryou did the human equivalent of pricking up his ears. "I really am grateful that you're trying so hard to help me and Marik fit in here..."

Ryou refused to admit that his cheeks were reddening. "Oh, it's…it's nothing."

"…but I just…can't help but think…" She laughed uncomfortably, and Ryou noticed a faint pink blush across her tanned cheeks. "Well…and correct me if I'm wrong, because this is kind of silly, but I can't help thinking that it looks like you're…interested…in me."

Ah.

Ryou burst out laughing a second too late. "What? That's ridiculous! You're four years older than me. I'm, er, I just…" Just what? Spend the last eight years of his life waiting for her? "I just…spent the last eight years of my life sad that I never got to thank you properly for helping me that time. It…" He hesitated. "It was the first time a complete stranger – or anyone outside my family or close friends, really – had done anything to help me. I…kinda think it was the last time, too." He laughed again, nervously. "So…yeah. That was a turning point in my life."

Ishizu smiled, embarrassed. "I see." She laughed too. "Well, I'm glad we've cleared that up. That could have been really awkward."

Ryou gave her the thumbs up. "So we're cool?"

"We're cool."

Their drinks arrived from the friendly waitress, and after a few words of thanks, they were left alone again.

Ishizu sipped her water. "So, on another note, tell me a little bit about this neighbourhood. Have you always lived here?"

"Pretty much – we moved here when I was two, so I don't remember anything else. I reckon you'll like the place – it's hard not to. There was this one when I was five – this is one of my earliest memories – when everyone in the whole town had this big festival, where we all dressed up in bright orange – yeah, I know, bright orange; that's a story in itself – and there was a ton of food, and dancing…"

As Ryou went on with his story, he tried to conceal the emptiness in his heart over their brief exchange of words from earlier. She really does see me as a child.

Ishizu's thoughts had taken a different path. Her deep blue eyes did little to betray the emotion she was feeling.

The only time anyone ever helped him out?