Even Death Won't Part Us Now

Chapter 1 - The Girl You Used to Be

Flanked throughout the auditorium with red and white banners on its walls and doors, preparations for commencement had now been set. Three large flags were also prominently suspended across the back of the stage representing the school, the city and the nation of Japan. In the center of the stage, a lone but majestic bonsai tree sat alongside a podium awaiting its first speaker. Fuka Academy's third year students knew that all of this symbolized a rather significant and proud moment in their lives. After enduring twelve years of a most rigorous and challenging educational system, they could now take pride and better appreciate the fact that all of their hard work and diligence had helped to enrich their lives as they now prepared to take the next big step into adulthood, some choosing to jump immediately into the job market while others opted to further enhance their acumen through higher education.

After all the underclassmen, teachers and parents had been seated, the third year students began to make their entrance. Yet unlike the Western custom of wearing a cap and gown, Japanese students wear their best school uniforms to the ceremony while some of the mothers in attendance even wear kimonos. Walking with military precision, each class was being led by their homeroom teacher into the auditorium while the school band performed "Pomp and Circumstance", each taking their seats as a group when signaled by their respective teacher.

With the principal now taking his place behind the podium, he requested everyone in attendance to rise and bow, facing the nation's flag. After doing so in apparent unison, everyone then began to sing the Japanese national anthem followed immediately thereafter by the official school song.

When it came time for the speeches, each speaker had their discourse written down on a special, long piece of paper, folded specifically like an accordion so as to avoid any page flipping. Following the principal and several other school officials, an underclassman gave a speech wishing the graduating class well and also thanked them for being good sempai, or seniors. The final address of the morning was given by the outgoing student council president to her fellow third year classmates in a rather stirring oratory.

"Tokiha Takumi," came one of the handful of remaining names that the principal called out. And just as those who had preceded him, a rather proud and elated Takumi headed up onto the stage to receive his diploma from the principal, which had in turn been handed to him from Takumi's homeroom teacher. After exchanging bows with his superiors, Takumi returned to his seat alongside Akira and his best friend, Hajime. Although one was expected to maintain a proper demeanor throughout the entire ceremony, the two just couldn't hold back as they surreptitiously each gave Takumi a congratulatory slap on the back.

After the final diploma had been distributed, both second and third year students joined in song for one final time with the singing of "Hotaru no Hikari" (Light of Fireflies) sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne".

Throughout the duration of the proceedings, there seemed to be an impressive control of emotions. At its conclusion however, and once everyone had filed out of the auditorium, several graduates along with their underclassmen quickly became teary eyed as they hugged one another and were being congratulated by their friends, classmates and former club members.

"We did it, you guys, we did it!" Hajime excitedly exclaimed as he playfully rubbed his fist into Takumi's head, which he held in a headlock, then repeated the congratulatory ritual with their friend Wataru. "And now an exciting new chapter of our lives is just beginning!" Then standing between the two and placing an arm around each of them he audaciously declared, "From here on out we are men of the world!"

"Men of the world, huh," Akira cynically quipped as she came up from behind along with Wataru's girlfriend, Hiromi. "I thought that distinction required at least an IQ above that of a fifth grader."

"Hey, I'll have you know that I ranked in the top twenty-fifth percentile of our graduating class," Hajime boasted.

"Funny, you don't look any smarter."

"She's got you there," Wataru chuckled.

"Gee, thanks, Wataru," a somewhat perturbed Hajime retorted, yet immediately directed his attention back to Akira, determined to make a witty comeback. "Now see here my comedically challenged kunoichi! If you think that…"

"Hajime!" came the disgruntled voice of his girlfriend, Kyoko. "Are you antagonizing Akira again?"

"Cuddle Bunny!" an overjoyed Hajime ran up to greet her in a firm embrace. "You made it!"

"Told you I'd be here," she softly replied while reciprocating his affection.

"I can't wait to receive your… graduation present," he anxiously anticipated. "Because if it's anything like what I 'gave' you for your graduation last year then…"

Before becoming further entranced by his charms, Kyoko apprehensively countered, "Uh, n… never mind that. Now listen, you need to stop engaging Akira in these silly games of one-upmanship."

"But she started it!"

"Oh, honestly, Hajime, you sound like a five year old."

"Don't be too hard on him, Kyoko," Takumi appealed. "After all, he wasn't the instigator in this instance."

"There, you see," a vindicated Hajime shot back.

"But given the chance I'm sure he could have been," Takumi jokingly added.

"That's right. Uh… Hey!"

"Oh brother," Kyoko sighed, rolling her eyes as she then turned to face her friends. "Anyway, congratulations, you guys. I'm sure you must be feeling pretty exuberant right now after reaching such an important milestone in your lives."

"You can say that again," Wataru proudly expressed.

"But in a way it's kind of sad too," Hiromi began to lament. "I mean, it's going to be pretty hard for me to say goodbye to all of you."

"Aw, don't worry, Hiromi," Takumi reassured her, "we'll still keep in touch and get together from time to time."

"That's right," Akira added, "after all, you can't get rid of your friends that easily. That's why we're definitely looking forward to having you all attend our wedding this weekend."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Hajime stated.

"But are you sure it'll be alright?" Wataru then concernedly asked. "I mean the reception is one thing, but then I remembered Takumi telling us about how strict your clan is when it comes to adhering to customs. And typically only family and close relatives are permitted to attend Shinto-style wedding ceremonies."

"Wataru's right," Hiromi concurred, "and we certainly don't want to stir up any trouble within your clan."

Shaking her head in wonderment, Akira, in a somewhat serious tone submitted, "Say, what part of the word 'friend' do you not understand?"

"What Akira's trying to say," Takumi attempted to clarify, "is that we think of you as more than just friends. And believe me, she was pretty adamant and very vocal about it when she addressed her clan on the matter. She basically wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Really?" Hajime was intrigued to hear.

"So how'd you finally convince them, Akira?" Kyoko was curious to learn.

Somewhat embarrassed, Akira stammered, "Uh, well I ah…"

"Since the custom stipulates," Takumi jumped in, "that only close family and relatives may attend the actual ceremony, Akira rather succinctly pointed out that, in our eyes anyway, you are like family to us."

"Oh, you guys," a deeply moved Hiromi sniffled.

"Well, ah, it also helped that my father backed us up on the matter too," Akira modestly added.

"Wow, I never knew you felt like that about us, Akira," Hajime surprisingly expressed, then teasingly queried, "So does that mean you think of me like a brother… onee-chan?"

"If by brother," Akira seethed with clenched fists, the volume of her voice gradually increasing with every subsequent word, "you mean someone who constantly pesters and drives his sibling up the wall because he's an enormous pain in the ass… then YES!"

"Ah, sibling rivalry," Wataru affably remarked, "gotta love it."

"Uh oh," Hajime then worriedly uttered as he spied an all too familiar dark-haired girl off in the distance waving frantically over at Takumi, "speaking of rivalry."

"Ah geez," Akira frustratingly said, rolling her eyes, "and here I thought I wouldn't have to put up with her crap anymore."

"Wait a minute," Hajime then realized as he looked to Takumi and Akira. "She still doesn't know about your engagement, right?"

"Well, no," Takumi responded. "As we've already told you, outside of our immediate families and two of Akira's friends, you four are the only others that we've told. Although, now that we've graduated, I see no reason to keep it a secret from everyone else any longer."

"My thought exactly," a scheming Hajime began to contemplate. "Say, Akira, she's been a thorn in your side for the past three years now. So how do you feel about a little… retribution?"

Her eyes lighting up, Akira enthusiastically, yet deviously, expressed, "Ooo, I like the way you think… nii-san. Let's do this!"

"Now hold on you two," Takumi began to object, "I hope you're not planning on causing Miyuki any…"

"Oh, Takumi-kun!" came the vexing tone of Akira's rival for Takumi's affections, having just hurriedly excused herself from her posse of sycophants. "There you are. You left so quickly after the ceremony; I do hope you weren't trying to avoid me."

"Uh, no, of course not."

"Well that's good. I just wanted to remind you that my invitation to our family's private beach resort this weekend still stands."

"Um, yeah, about that," Takumi uneasily began to reply.

"Oh, now don't worry. I've already graciously reconsidered in allowing you to invite along all of your friends here."

"That's uh, that's very generous of you to offer, Miyuki-san, but I'm afraid there's just no way that I, err, that is to say, we can make it."

"Oh, but why?"

"Well uh…"

"Let's just say," Hajime eagerly chimed in, "that he has a previous… engagement."

As Takumi rolled his eyes at his friend's comment, Miyuki then proposed, "Okay, well then, and only because it's you, I'd be perfectly willing to postpone the trip until the following weekend. How's that sound?"

"Uh, please there's really no need to delay your trip on my account."

"Nonsense, I insist. We'll go whenever it's convenient for you. Oh, Takumi-kun, we're going to have such a wonderful time together."

"Together?" Hajime scoffed. "Haha, that's rich."

"You find that amusing, Moriyama-san? Well don't feel that I'm twisting your arm or anything for you to come join us. I'm merely trying to be a gracious host by accommodating to Takumi-kun's, and of course everyone else's, schedule."

"And I appreciate the gesture," Takumi acknowledged, "but I really don't want you to trouble yourself by…"

"Oh now don't you worry," Miyuki assured him, "After all, it's not like we have to charter a boat to take us there and have to concern ourselves about their availability. I should say not. Because in addition to our quaint little island resort, we also happen to own our own private yacht and can therefore go whenever we like. So, is next weekend more convenient for you?"

"By then they'll be living it up on their own little private beach resort," Hajime remarked off to the side, garnering a snicker from Akira.

"Huh? Moriyama-san, what are you going on about?"

"Care to do the honors?" Hajime obligingly offered to Akira.

"Don't mind if I do," Akira enthusiastically submitted as she then proceeded to smugly explain to Miyuki, "What my good friend here is trying to tell you is that Takumi and I will be on our honeymoon by next week."

"H… honeymoon? What are you…"

"In other words," Akira rather smugly added while proceeding to snuggle up alongside Takumi, "we're getting married this week. In fact, we've been engaged for the past four years now."

"Engaged? Yeah right," Miyuki incredulously replied. "I mean seriously, talk about possessive. You must really be desperate, Akira, having to resort to making up such a ridiculous fairy tale."

"Fairy tale, huh. Well, don't take our word for it then, sweetheart," Hajime glibly remarked, "just ask prince charming over there."

Observing Takumi shoot a look of annoyance over at his friend as well as at Akira, Miyuki unexpectedly took pause and expressed with uncertainty, "Takumi-kun? None of what they're saying is true, right? I mean, there's just no way that…"

"I'm sorry, Miyuki-san," Takumi apologetically offered. "I really wish I could have told you sooner, but…"

"But they wanted to keep their relationship on the down-low," Hajime explained. "After all, you know how some of the gossip mongers in this school can be," he remarked, casting an accusatory glance at her before further expounding, "So naturally they kept it to themselves, not wanting to brag about it. Just like Akira never went around bragging about her wealth or social standing. Oh but of course you knew that, right? No? Well allow me to enlighten you then. It seems that your dad's company is just one of Okuzaki Industries many clients and could even buy your dad out five times over."

"Ten times," Akira zealously corrected.

"Well then, there you have it," Hajime satisfyingly stated.

While not so much taken aback by this most recent revelation, Miyuki's mind was mainly still reeling from and desperately attempting to comprehend the shocking news of their engagement. As tears then began to well up in her eyes she pivoted on her heel, doing an abrupt about-face, before quickly running off.

"Miyuki-san, wait!" Takumi called after her. Thoroughly disgusted, he then immediately turned to Hajime and Akira, angrily stating, "Nice going. I hope you two are proud of yourselves."

As Takumi then proceeded to chase after Miyuki, Hajime and Akira just turned to each other feeling rather ashamed of their recent actions.

"Somehow, that didn't quite turn out the way I expected," Hajime remorsefully expressed.

Sighing in frustration and feeling rather angry with herself, a guilt-ridden Akira then snapped, "Damn it! Four years I've waited for this moment just so that I could see the expression on her face after finally telling her about us. And yet now… somehow it just feels…"

"Bittersweet? Yeah, I know," Hajime concluded. "Guess revenge isn't all it's cracked up to be. Man, are we idiots or what?"

The two simply conceded as they observed Wataru and Hiromi nodding in agreement.

Meanwhile, finally catching up with the dejected girl, Takumi reached out and grabbed a hold of her arm imploring, "Miyuki-san, please wait!"

"Why, so I can listen to you gloat and make an even bigger fool out of me? Now let go of me, Takumi!" she demanded.

"S… sorry," he apologetically replied. Angrily yanking her arm away upon his release of her, Miyuki then swiftly turned and prepared to storm off, prompting Takumi to declare, "Believe me, if I could have told you sooner I would have done it long ago."

Without hesitation she spun back around to face him, impatiently demanding, "Well then why didn't you?"

"It… it's complicated," he hesitantly began to explain. "Heck, I didn't even tell Hajime until just a few months ago, and he's my best friend."

"Hmmm," she skeptically retorted. "That still doesn't explain why you were being so secretive about it all these years. And really for that matter, what on earth prompted you to get engaged at such an early age anyway?"

"Well, you see, the truth is…"

"Oh my god!" she cut short his explanation as a horrific thought suddenly popped into her head. "Of course, that's the only possible reason. Oh, Takumi, I really thought you were more responsible than that."

"Huh?"

"But at least you're taking responsibility by agreeing to marry her. Still, I can only imagine how hard it must be for the two of you, not to mention the shame that it must have brought upon your families. I mean, starting a family at such an early age…"

Most baffled, he began to query, "Starting a family? Miyuki-san, what are you…?"

"So I'm assuming that the child must now be about, what, three or four years old?"

"Child?" he startlingly cried, then quickly attempted to correct, "No, no, you don't understand. There is no child."

"No child? Well that's even worse," she once again proceeded to jump to conclusions. "I just hope for that baby's sake that you at least put him up for adoption as opposed to…"

"Miyuki-san!" a frustrated Takumi shouted in an attempt to get her attention. "There is no baby! There never was a baby! Akira and I never even had se…" Blushing profusely from embarrassment, Takumi, now a bit more subdued tried to clarify, "Uh, that is to say, she was never even pregnant."

Feeling rather embarrassed herself, Miyuki humbly replied, "Oh, oh I am so sorry, Takumi. I feel so foolish. I don't even know what prompted me to think that. I am really, really sorry. Please forgive me."

"Uh, no, don't worry about it," he tried to reassure her. "It's fine, really. In fact, now that I think about it, my sister, Mai, did the same exact thing when we first told her of our engagement."

"She did?"

"Yeah," he chuckled. "Thinking about it now it was actually pretty funny, seeing that shocked expression on her face after jumping to conclusions like that. It was priceless."

A bit relieved, Miyuki confessed, "Well, that makes me feel a little better. So then if that wasn't reason, why did you get engaged at such an early age? Is it an arranged marriage set up by your families?"

"Not exactly. Although, you're partially right. You know what, let me just start at the beginning."

Listening with intent as Takumi began to elucidate the details surrounding his relationship with Akira, Miyuki was quite moved by it as she suddenly began to display a great deal of empathy toward him.

"Wow. That, that's quite a remarkable story. You really are madly in love with her, aren't you?"

"Madly? That would be an understatement," he declared. "But yeah, I am."

"So then, I suppose in that respect I must have looked pretty desperate and pathetic to you these last few years," harshly chastising her past behavior. "Guess your friends really were right about me."

Grabbing hold of both her hands and then staring her squarely in the eyes, Takumi sternly asserted, "Now you look here. Regardless of what other people might say, you should never talk down about yourself."

"Ta… Takumi," she softly uttered, rather taken aback.

Now gingerly releasing her, Takumi then took a step back and added, "You know for years you've successfully maintained this popular girl image of yourself, preventing people from seeing beyond your outer beauty. Yet I happen to know that there's something far deeper within. The fact of the matter is, is that you also happen to be extremely intelligent and sophisticated. And yet for some reason you've chosen to hide behind this false facade. Why?"

"Hmph, suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that I couldn't fool you. Well, guess you're not the only one who's been harboring a deep, dark secret," she humbly admitted, sighing heavily. "And you're right; I guess I have been trying to hide behind this superfluous personality. But the truth is that the persona of an academic intellect just wasn't cutting it for me. I mean sure, people respected me for my brains, always turning to me whenever they were stuck on like a math or science problem. But by the end of day, when the bell rang, very few people wanted to be my friend, unless of course it was to help them study. Plus the handful of friends that I did hang out with were all basically like me: geeks. And you certainly don't become popular by hanging around people like that, let alone being one of them yourself."

"So becoming popular was important to you?"

"Not at first. Keeping my grades up was still first and foremost. And don't get me wrong, I loved the friends who hung out with me and cherished our time together. And yet… there was always someplace in the back of my mind that yearned for a taste of some of that attention and status that popularity brings. I really wanted to know what it felt like. Well, about five years ago I would find out. My father had announced that we would be moving, due to the fact that his company was relocating their main office. And since for me that also meant changing schools, I figured that I should take advantage of the opportunity. So I decided then that I was going to lose the whole bookworm image and give myself a complete makeover. That meant ditching the glasses for contacts, changing my hairstyle, getting a whole new wardrobe, and most importantly adapting an entirely different personality, all to help create a new and improved me. And apparently I was successful because after I transferred to this school my popularity rating quickly shot to the top. But even so, I promised myself that I wouldn't dumb myself down just to maintain this newfound popularity. My student ranking and grade point average are a testament to that."

"Well it's certainly no secret that you're one of this school's top three students."

"That's true. Yet unlike at my previous school, no one here ever looked upon me as some sort of a nerdy brainiac. And the main reason could clearly be attributed to my new look. You see appearances, I quickly discovered, are crucial in how we are perceived by others. So instead of being looked upon as someone who was merely pretty smart, people now saw me as someone who was both pretty AND smart. There was no doubt that I was now garnering way more attention than I had ever experienced before, especially from the boys. Of course, these newly acquired assets that came about after a sudden 'growth spurt' just before moving here certainly didn't hurt either, if you know what I mean."

Clearly indicating to her breasts, Takumi awkwardly cleared his throat and momentarily glanced off to the side, prompting him to embarrassingly comment, "Uh, yes, I… I can well imagine."

"Haha, you're so cute."

Quickly refocusing his attention, Takumi then commented, "So I imagine you must have been pretty happy after going through such a successful metamorphosis."

"Well, who wouldn't be? I mean, like I said, receiving all this attention that I had never known before… Naturally I relished every minute of it."

"But did you ever have any regrets? I mean, did you ever miss the old you? Or were you truly happy and content with who you had become?"

"With who I had… Uhh, w... why would you ask me that?" she confusingly asked. "I mean I just told you that… Okay sure, I admit that maybe there were times when I wished that I could just drop this charade and…"

"Charade?"

"Uh, well, I didn't mean it like that necessarily. It's just that, uh… oh, you know what I'm trying to say."

"No, Miyuki-san, I don't. So why don't you tell me: Was transforming from this sweet and kindly innocent girl into one who acts all snooty and sometimes even mean-spirited just to gain attention really all worth it?"

"You… you think I'm mean?" she was shocked to learn.

"Well was it?" he persisted.

"Uh, I, I don't know," she responded sounding rather perplexed. "I mean, I did what I had to do."

"Even if that meant hurting a few people along the way?"

"Well that was never my intention! I mean…" Now becoming rather flustered and irritated she shouted, "Oooohhh! Takumi, what exactly do you want from me anyway?"

"I just want you to be honest with yourself, Miyuki. That's all."

Now in a more calm demeanor Miyuki looked to Takumi and earnestly expressed, "Honest, huh? Hmph, it's been so long that I'm not even sure I know what that means anymore."

"Oh sure you do. You just have to start by asking yourself one simple question: Who am I?"

"Well if I knew that then I wouldn't have kept trying to hide behind this alter ego."

"So then you admit it?"

"Admit what?"

"That you've been deceiving yourself. That deep down you're nothing like this person that you've been pretending to be."

"Pretending? Wha… what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that you don't have to do this anymore. So just let it go!"

"L… let it go?"

"Yes! Let go of this persona that's had a hold of you these past few years and bring back the goodness and innocence that once embodied the old Miyuki."

Looking on at him with a rather solemn expression, she sadly conveyed, "I'm afraid that part of me died long ago. This is who I am now."

Shaking his head, Takumi then unexpectedly proceeded to throw his arms around her, giving Miyuki a much needed supportive hug.

"Ta… Ta… Takumi," she startlingly uttered.

Maintaining a firm embrace, Takumi then soothingly proceeded to whisper, "Come back. I know you're scared but it's alright. So please, come out. You don't have to hide anymore."

Meanwhile, looking on from a distance and rather stunned at what they were witnessing, Hajime had to practically hold Akira back who appeared most livid. "Why that slutty little tramp! And here I started feeling sorry for her. HA! I swear if she doesn't take her hands off of him soon I'll…"

"Uh, I think you might want to take a closer look," Hajime suggested.

"Huh?"

"Well considering that her arms are by her side," he pointed out, "that could only mean…"

Upon closer examination, Akira realized that his assessment was correct prompting her to heatedly remark, "Wha… what the hell does he think he's doing?" Come on, Hajime, we're going to put a stop to this!"

"Whoa, whoa, hold on!" he countered. "You can't do that. Despite what it may look like I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing. In fact," he then observed, taking a closer look, "I think she may be crying."

"Great, she's trying to make him feel sorry for her so that she can get closer to him."

"Ordinarily I'd agree with you. But this time I don't think she's faking it. So let's just hold back for now and let Takumi handle it."

"Fine!" she sighed in frustration.

"Oh now, come on," he assured her, "you know you don't have anything to worry about. This is Takumi we're talking about."

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

"Although," he then began to tease, "after this experience he might be in for a bit of a disappointment."

"What do you mean?"

"Well let's just say that you might want to hope that he doesn't get too accustomed to that soft and supple feeling that comes from having such generous sized…"

Incensed at the suggestion, Akira fumed with clenched fists and rather mischievously advised, "And you, my dear brother, had better start getting accustomed to a most painful feeling that comes from being such a smartass!"

"Uh oh."

"So, have you guys apologized to Miyuki yet?" an emerging Wataru began just as Hajime ducked behind him while trying to elude Akira. Breathing a heavy sigh, Wataru frustratingly asked, "Okay, what'd you do to piss her off this time?"

"More like what didn't he do?" an approaching Kyoko then added, who was also accompanied by Hiromi. "Hajime, what have I told you about antagonizing Akira?"

"Hey, can I help it if she can't take a little joke?" Chuckling under his breath and simply unable to resist the double entendre, Hajime continued to prod, "And when I say little, I mean…"

"Oh, you are so dead!" Akira raged. "Out of the way, Wataru, unless you want to become collateral damage!"

"Alright, you two, that's enough!" Hiromi finally stepped in. "Honestly, you squabble like a pair of siblings."

"Yeah, so just knock it off already!" a perturbed Wataru insisted.

"Sorry," they simultaneously expressed with remorse.

"Yeah, yeah, alright," Wataru apathetically accepted before reminding them, "but really, we're not the ones you should be apologizing to anyway."

"We know," Hajime acknowledged.

"But we really haven't been able to yet since Takumi is still busy consoling her," Akira pointed out. Then gritting her teeth as she continued staring at the two and feeling somewhat ill at ease, she conveyed, "I just wish he didn't have to do it so up close and personal."

Observing that Takumi and Miyuki had just completed their little discussion and were now heading their way, Kyoko advocated, "Well, looks like now's your chance."

Even though she was putting on a brave front, denoted by her usual cheerful and carefree expression, Hiromi was nevertheless quickly able to discern that Miyuki had been crying, prompting her to concernedly but hesitantly inquire, "Is… is everything alright, Miyuki-san?"

"Of course!" she replied in seemingly good spirits. "Never been better."

"Uh, listen, Miyuki-san," Hajime awkwardly began. "About what we said earlier… Well uh, the thing is we… we were out of line and…"

"We're sorry!" Akira apologetically offered, proceeding then to bow deeply before her. Glancing out of the corner of her eye and observing Hajime in somewhat of a stupor and just standing there, Akira promptly reached over and grabbed him by the shoulder, forcing his body down so that he too was now bowing alongside her.

"Uh, that, that really isn't necessary," Miyuki informed them. "It's no big deal if you're unable to join us on our little island excursion. I understand. You are getting married after all, Akira, and that certainly takes precedence over anything else. So there's really no need to apologize."

"Huh?" Akira puzzlingly reacted. "Uh, no, no, you don't understand. I wasn't talking about the trip, I was referring to…"

"No really," she insisted with a most sincere expression. "It's okay. So please… don't give it another thought."

"Uhh… okay," Hajime responded with uncertainty who then looked to Akira with a raised eyebrow, she too confusingly reacting with a shrug of her shoulders.

"Anyway," Miyuki then abruptly changed the subject, "I just wanted to let all of you know that these past few years together have meant a lot to me. Yes, I know we may not have seen eye to eye on things and certainly had our little squabbles from time to time. But still, you must admit, that only served to make this entire experience together that much more, shall we say… unique?"

"Well I certainly can't argue with you there," Hajime acknowledged.

After flashing a brief smile at him Miyuki then turned to Akira and, in a rather serious tone addressed, "Akira?"

"Uh, yes?" she hesitantly replied, still a bit befuddled by Miyuki's sudden change in attitude.

"I know I haven't made things easy for you. Still, I must admit that I enjoyed our spirited little tête-à-têtes that we've had throughout the years. Though never very productive, they were however quite entertaining and most interesting to say the least. So really, what can I say except… you've been a truly worthy opponent."

"Uhh… thanks?"

"No really, I mean it," she humbly declared. "But in the end, hard as it may be for me to admit, I lost. Of course, knowing now the circumstances surrounding your engagement, it would seem that I never really had a chance to begin with. I suppose it's just as Sun Tzu said..."

"All battles are won before they are fought," Akira concluded.

"Right! Oh well," she sighed, "I guess that's pretty much all I wanted to say except… Congratulations, you two."

"Thank you," Takumi and Akira said in unison.

"Well, it's been fun. See you guys later!" Miyuki cheerfully wished them all before departing.

Aside from Takumi, who sported a contented smile, the other five continued to look on at each other in bewilderment.

"Who was that girl?" Hiromi wondered aloud.

"Maybe… maybe she has a twin sister," Wataru could only surmise.

"Yeah," Hajime tentatively agreed. "One good and one evil. And she was the good twin."

Shaking his head in amusement, Takumi corrected, "Nope, I'm afraid she's an only child."

"So this is the girl you've been telling me about who's been giving you guys grief all these years?" Kyoko quizzically inquired, being one grade ahead of the others and therefore not being too familiar with their classmate.

"I don't get it," a dumbfounded Akira tried to comprehend. "It's like she's a completely different person all of a sudden. What exactly did you say to her, Takumi?"

"Oh, I just…"

Out of nowhere, Miyuki then suddenly reappeared before Takumi and announced, "I'm sorry, but there's just one more thing that I need to do before I go. I hope you won't mind, Akira."

"Mind? Uh, well what exactly is it that you…"

Before Akira could finish, Miyuki had abruptly thrown her arms around Takumi's neck and began to give him a long, deep passionate kiss directly upon his lips.

"Sorry, Takumi, but I just couldn't help myself," she sensually confessed. "I do hope you'll forgive this one little transgression. But I'll be good from now on, I promise."

"Uh… sure," he said in a bit of a daze.

"Thanks again for everything," she appreciatively whispered into his ear. "I'll never forget you."

With her eyes now bulging, a fully enraged yet still in shock Akira stammered, "Why you… you…"

"Yes, Akira, what is it?" Miyuki playfully led her on.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Why I was merely thanking Takumi for all he's done for me. Oh, now don't be jealous."

"Jealous? Why I… I…"

"Oh my, I do hope you learn to control that temper of yours," she calmly retorted. "I mean, how would it look during a business meeting if you were to have such an outburst like that?"

"Business meeting? What are you talking about?"

"Well, after all I am going to be taking over my father's company in a few years, just as you will likewise with your father's. And since we're one of your biggest clients, I'd hate for any sort of rift to develop between us just because of some silly anger management issue."

"Anger management? Say listen, I'll have you know…"

"Oh, but I wouldn't worry. I'm sure Takumi will be able to help you with that. He is going to make a great psychologist someday after all."

"Uh… I know that! Don't you think I know that already?"

"Silly me, of course you know," she lightheartedly replied, then requested, "Now just promise me that you'll take extra special care of him."

"Ahh…" Akira continued to waver, still attempting to figure out what she was up to. "Yes, yes of course I will. But that still doesn't explain why you…"

"I'm sorry, but I think I've taken up enough of your time," Miyuki interjected. "I know you probably have a lot of celebrating to do so I'll be going now and leave you all to it. Take care, everyone! Oh, and I look forward to doing business with you in the very near future, Akira. So long!"

"Bye, Miyuki-san," Takumi called after her. "Best of luck to you!"

Totally frustrated by it all, a somewhat tongue-tied Akira then irately demanded, "Alright, Takumi, you mind telling me what the hell that was all about?"

"What?" he obliviously seemed to inquire with a look of innocence about him.

"Don't what me! You know perfectly well what I'm talking about!"

"Oh, you mean the kiss? Well I suppose that was just her way of thanking me for helping her earlier. It's nothing to get upset about."

"Who's upset?" she shouted.

"Certainly not this calm and collected kunoichi," Hajime sarcastically remarked off to the side.

"You keep out of this!" she snapped before calmly composing herself and turning back to Takumi to admit, "Alright look, I'm sorry; I know it's not your fault. I just wish you wouldn't give in to that temptress so easily."

"Temptress? Oh, Akira, I really think you've misjudged her."

"Yeah, right."

"I'm serious," Takumi tried to convince her.

"Say there's something I don't understand," Wataru then brought up, addressing Akira and Hajime specifically. "I thought you guys told us that Miyuki-san was totally oblivious to her father's business ventures and was merely mooching off the family's fortunes. Yet here she just announced that she's planning on someday taking over as head of her father's company. Plus she clearly knew about the client relationship between her company and Okuzaki Industries."

Akira and Hajime then just looked at each other rather dumbfounded, shrugging their shoulders before Hiromi then reasoned, "Perhaps she's not as dumb as we once thought."

"Arrrrghh!" Akira cried in frustration. "And here I thought that this was the last I would be seeing of her. And now I'm going to have to do business with her? Ooohhh, my head hurts just thinking about it."

"Hahaha," Takumi couldn't help but laugh, amused by it all. "Oh relax, Akira. For one thing that's still several years off. And besides, I can pretty much guarantee you that she'll be nothing like her old high school persona."

"You really think so, huh?" Akira presumed, now feeling a bit more at ease, prompting her to then inquire, "Say what exactly did you two talk about earlier anyway that seemed to bring about this sudden change in her?"

"Hmmm," Takumi thought for a moment. "Well, let's just say that she had some issues from her past to deal with and I merely helped her to resolve some of them."

"What kind of issues?"

"Sorry, but I'm afraid I can't discuss my patient's personal matters."

"Oh. Hey wait a minute!" Akira then realized, "What do you mean patient?"

Not responding, Takumi instead just looked to her with a huge grin upon his face.

"Takumi!" she shouted in frustration.

"Heh, heh," Hajime chuckled, clearly reveling in her misery. Even knowing that he'd probably be facing Akira's wrath, Hajime was simply unable to restrain himself as he then inquired of his friend, "So, Takumi, how were they?"

"How were what?"

"You know…" Hajime slyly hinted at with raised eyebrows as he then proceeded to cross his arms in front of his chest, playfully pressing up and down against it.

"Oh, Hajime," Kyoko just shook her head at his juvenile humor.

"Oh brother," Wataru said in disgust as he rolled his eyes. "I'm afraid you're on your own this time, Hajime. We're not bailing you out of this one."

"No no," everyone was surprised to hear Akira say. "I'd actually kind of like to know myself."

"You would?" Hajime said in astonishment.

"Of course," she declared, cynically then requesting, "So let's hear it, Takumi. I mean, we all saw you with your arms around her, and not the other way around. So please, do enlighten us and tell us how she was."

Rather amused and even intrigued by her request, Takumi confirmed, "You really want me to answer that, huh?"

"Hey, inquiring minds want to know, pal," Hajime eagerly informed him.

"Alright," Takumi then consented. "But to make an accurate assessment there's something I need to check first."

"Oh, and what might that be," Akira was curious to know.

Abruptly enveloping his arms around her waist, clutching her body every so tightly, Takumi, in front of all his friends, proceeded to zealously kiss Akira's open lips, his eager advances then being immediately reciprocated by her.

His breathing now a bit labored, he then presumed, "I do hope that sufficiently answered your question and helped to put your mind at ease."

"Oh, I suppose it'll do… for now," Akira suggestively replied.

Abruptly stepping between his two best friends, Hajime threw an arm of support across each of their shoulders and jovially remarked, "Now that's what I like about you two, always coming up with the most unique solutions to your problems. Why petty arguments and disagreements never even stand a chance or come to fruition thanks to…"

"The power of love?" Takumi surmised.

"You got it, my friend," Hajime confidently submitted. "Speaking of which," he then emphasized, directing his attention to Akira, "if you still have any doubts, Akira, I'm sure that, come your wedding night, my boy here will be able to give you a much more 'in depth' answer that's sure to 'satisfy' any other 'probing' questions you may have. Heh heh. Oooo!"

Abruptly feeling a sharp pang in his stomach, courtesy of Akira's elbow, the smug expression on Hajime's face swiftly abated.

"Sorry, dear brother," Akira sarcastically quipped, "but you know what they say about payback."

"Just couldn't resist, could you, my friend?" Wataru amusedly remarked as he shook his head.

"Uh, Hajime, are you all right?" Takumi concernedly asked.

"Oh yeah," came the faint whisper of a response. Even though he was now hunched over and clutching his stomach, Hajime could still be heard contentedly, albeit somewhat painfully, expressing, "It was still worth it. Haha… Ow!"