A/N: Long time no see! I know… I'm super SUPER late… It's like you can write legends and myths about my awesome-tardiness power! But seriously though, I really and sincerely apologize for posting this soooooooooo late. I think I've been missing for about five months, right? No? A little longer than that? … Okay.
But it didn't mean that I neglected my fanfic! Seriously! I blame the things I couldn't control like my boss for example. Work has been real hectic since the last time I updated. See? I told ya I shouldn't make promises to update sooner! And I was right on the spot! Hahahahaha! But seriously to make it up to you guys, I have this extra long chapter. It's a few pages longer than the previous one.
But before that, I'd like to give a shout-out to the readers who were really eager(?) to read my fic. Seriously, I'm updating my story. Just not as fast and modern as I used to. The reason why I said not as modern is because instead of writing the story on my laptop, I've written it by hand. That's why it took ages for me to update. But don't worry! I'm actually done with the next chapter, which is the part two of this chapter! Yes… I wrote it too long again and had to cut it… again.
Like always, I'd like to express my burning feelings for the reviewers and anon reviewers out there! I really love you guys! XD
Yo-kun: thanks for reading! I know the mystery is yet to be solved but just be really patient. I'm unraveling the mysteries one by one… by one. ;D
.uk: hahaha! I'm glad you liked the dialogues between the characters. Hmmm… I think there would be a small explanation as to why Nanoha got the White Devil nickname. Also, yes, Teana will appear again. I have another use for her… He He He… :D
lone ranger: I really have no idea how many chapter I'm gonna make. Currently, my chapters are getting longer and longer and I have to cut them into parts. Sorry, but don't worry! The next chapter is done. Only problem is transferring them in the computer. That's gonna take awhile… (-_-)
glaze45: okay… I feel generous today. In the next chapter, you'll get to read Fate telling another story: hers. Nyahahahahaha!
CC: I'm back! *looks around* where's my welcome party/parade? Nyahahahaha! I know, I wish I have a real-life Vita too! Without the hammer or baseball bat, of course. And I wish I could have a real-life Fate too but then again… I guess the world will be thrown in chaos… by Nanoha. Hahaha! Anyway, I think you'll be seeing some NanoFate moments! :D
NaniFC: hahaha! Cool! Thanks! Glad to hear/read that! I think I can only be a comedian through writing. I can make people laugh actually… but I think they find joy in my misery. (T.T) Don't worry, I'm not dropping or stopping LAST CHANCE. I'm writing it slowly but surely! :)
Mysterious cheeseball: Really? Thanks! Nyahahahaha! I'm really happy that you're happy with my fic. Noooooo! Don't die, girl/man! Hahahaha! But seriously, I'm getting there! Really seriously! Nyahahaha! But you shouldn't wake your parents up! Parents are scary when they're cranky! Anyway, I'm a dudette. And by the way, I like your nickname! XD
Alex: don't die yet! Here's the next chapter! And I'm done writing the next one but it'll be awhile for me to post the next one though since I have a lot to write in the computer. Ugh, the joy. (-_-)
Fatty jim batty: don't worry! As I've said, Fate's past will be revealed real soon. I mean, seriously, I already wrote it down in the next chapter. Ahahahaha! I'm also eager to write the next two chapters since it's almost THAT chapter! Hahaha! Did you get it? No? Ah really? *sad* Anyway! Yes, I really do enjoy writing this fic. My only problem is I don't have enough free time to do so because I'm too busy at work. And I can't bring my laptop every day since I can't use it at all when I'm too busy. So please bear with me a little longer. okay? :D
Neko-Guardian: YAHOO! COOKIES! I should be late more often—*sees the menacing glares of the other readers* J-Just kidding! Ha ha ha ha ha… Anyway, yes! I love Fate-chan! But too bad I made her dense about love in this story. I think Nanoha got it right away. But I'm still not sure though. Anyway, really? Aaaww, you're making me blush! Hahahaha! But seriously, thank you so much! That really made me happy! Anyway, you found your Fate-chan? Really? Introduce me to her! hahahaha! Just kidding! I wish you well with your Fate-chan then! Guard her from any possible Hayate-chans also! Hahahaha XD
Phew… I'm beat… yet really HAPPY! :D
Anyway, just like before… forgive me for I'm only human and I'm still capable of making typos, grammatical errors and anything related to that. I just finished proofreading this now. Cool right? :) No? :( well, okay… nyaha! :D
Disclaimer: I still don't own anything. Sad, isn't it? C'mon! Cry with me! T.T
And I present to you, my longest overdue chapter ever!
The sweltering summer heat managed to peek through the glass windows of the room. The sun would be at its highest point. And no doubt the temperature would soon be unbearable.
Okay, I may be exaggerating. But it could happen.
My eyes easily opened. And in the silence of my dim room, I could hear the ticking sound of my wrist watch somewhere.
It wasn't my intention. But my mind started to take notice of the time and woke up before the hour I desired to get out from bed. It happened sometimes. My body was used to waking up early during regular school days; so it sometimes forgets to sleep in during holidays or vacations. I hate that.
And plus, it's officially summer vacation. The last thing I wanna do is wake up earlier than nine in the morning. The time was still somewhere around seven, I think.
So I was still bundled inside my comforter on my nice comfy bed. Some of the sun's rays managed to sneak through my dark curtains and greeted my eyelids with all its piercingly bright glory. I mustered all the strength I had in moving away from them. It was still early so I could still sleep in for a few more hours.
There's no way in hell I'm getting up this early during summer vacation.
Most of the time, it took a while for sleep to take its complete effect on me once more. And while I waited, my half-asleep mind wandered off into anything it could dwell on.
I missed a few days of school. And to top it all off, since I wasn't paying attention on the day Carim announced the days of the end-of-term exams due to my attention focusing on some other… distracting thoughts, it completely slipped my mind that the exams were supposed to be around this time of the year. So ultimately, I failed to take them all.
Not to mention, it's been awhile since the last time it happened to m—Wait. That… wasn't supposed to be the thing I should be worried about… What was it again? Or was it a… who?
My eyes were still closed. Despite it being morning, my room was still a little cool and I decided to savor this atmosphere until the heat of summer kicks in.
I stole a peek at my bedside clock. True enough, it was still five minutes past seven in the morning. Then my half-asleep line of vision lazily traveled to where my door was. It was still closed and the possibility of my mother knocking on it for a few more minutes was really high. But I still hoped that she forgot all about my agenda for today and the following days to come. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?
I rolled away from the door and snuggled deeper into my comforter and hugged a nearby pillow. I breathed in and sighed out a pleased moan when my face was comfortably buried in its softness. When I was starting to feel sleepy again, I yielded to its power and let it take over me. My mind slowly became hazy and dark. I was beginning to lose my connection to the world and was about to enter the realm of dreams.
I mentally sighed blissfully. Sleep, here I co—
My eyes snapped open.
I recognized the sound of running footsteps.
I quickly turned to see what or who it was. But before I could react or process what was really going on, a crushing weight landed on my stomach knocking the wind out of me.
A grunt of pain escaped and I coughed out hard several times.
And even before I could react—again, I felt my bed bounce up and down uncontrollably. As if I was in the epicenter of a really abnormal and annoying earthquake. The erratic movement of my bed woke me up and alerted me to full consciousness. Forget about sleep!
And with said earthquake, a familiar figure chanting childishly in a very childish and familiar voice repeated, "Time to get up! Time to get up!" all over again with every bounce and jump it made just like one would do on a massive trampoline.
Who dared tried to pull this stunt inside my room on my bed so early in the morning you ask?
With a newfound record, it didn't take long for me to kick away my beloved comforter to the side. I got up and I didn't care when my feet sunk deeply in the soft mattress of my bed.
I let out a fierce growl and a massive roar of "HAYATE!" as I pounced on the perpetrator—who, by the way, owned the name I yelled out.
She yelped as I knocked her off my bed.
The two of us landed with a loud and painful thud on my carpeted but—seriously hard—marble floor.
Honestly. What a wonderful way to start my summer.
"You two are such idiots."
I heard Alisa deadpan behind me.
"That was Fate-chan's fault!" Hayate countered beside her, still rubbing the sore spot she landed on after we fell off my bed. "My poor bum," she mumbled and whimpered, like how a stray pup would after it had been cruelly kicked off on the sidewalk. "You're so heartless, Fate-chan!"
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my head as I kept walking. Facing this idiot would make my headache more unbearable. "I didn't ask you to barge in my room, and jump up and down like an idiot on my bed!" I easily countered back. My head throbbed as I remembered what happened earlier.
I heard a scoff from the redhead walking in front of us. Her arms were behind her neck and she looked at us over her shoulder with a smirk on her face. "Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
I groaned. Vita was seriously not helping at all. Try falling off on the wrong side of the bed with a loud, jumping raccoon as your alarm clock, I wanted to say. But knowing my companions, they would come up with something annoying and sarcastic about my rather uninvited wake up call.
Despite it being morning, I felt like I wanted to go back home and take another cold shower and lock myself up in my room with my air-conditioner turned on full-blast. Walking under the heat of the sun alongside my childhood friends, wearing our summer uniform, bringing with us our schoolbags and heading towards TSAB Academy weren't exactly what I had in mind on how to start my summer vacation.
So, why was I in this kind of predicament you ask?
Hayate wound her arm over my neck and clung to me. It just got hotter—and not in the good way I might add. "So," she grinned up at me, while I scowled down at her in return, "ready for your makeup exams today?"
That's right. I'm actually heading to school to take the exams I missed when I took several days off from school. Yipee.
I frowned and sighed heavily. Not because I wasn't ready to take them, but because they were just downright annoying and a serious pain in the… neck.
"I know that look," Alisa walked alongside me now with a knowing smirk on her face. "It's your 'this-is-such-a-pain-in-the-ass-and-it's-hellah-annoying-to-do-it' look."
The two cousins laughed. Vita started to walk backwards to face us, and flashed her thumb up at the other blonde of the group. "Spot on, Bannings!"
"So true!" Hayate cackled and still hadn't let go of her hold on my neck. "So true, Alisa-chan!"
I was starting to believe that famous line about not needing enemies when you have this kind of people as your friends.
While the three of them continued with their very supportive gesture of friendship, I tried my best to ignore them and keep my cool for a little bit longer.
This is going to be a long day. My mood was the exact opposite of the season typically felt by most healthy teenagers my age.
The four of us walked the rest of the way to the gates of TSAB. Cicadas were buzzing loudly adding to the atmosphere of summer. Besides us, only a handful of students entered the school. Some were sluggishly moving forward, reluctant and unwilling to attend their remedial classes, while the others hastened their steps with eagerness and anticipation to meet up for their club activities or any other school-related appointments. It was clearly a mixture of the students that partly made up the population of the school.
Honestly, I didn't know what group of the student body I belonged to. All I know was that my grades were good enough for me not to be retained and I was uninterested enough not to care about school than what was necessarily needed of me. In fact, I would've shown that uninterested part of me, were it not for my mother's meddling and these three idiots' compliance with said mother.
Mom could be so clever sometimes. It's scary!
Last night, I actually planned out that I was going to skip my makeup exams by pretending to go to school wearing my school uniform, take a small detour, find a place where I could change into my casual outfit stuffed in my schoolbag and play hooky for the rest of summer.
But it turns out; mom was still one step ahead of me. I didn't know how she did it, but she knew what I was cooking up in my little rebel brain of mine and called for reinforcements, namely, my human alarm clock this morning and two other idiots who followed mom's orders without question.
Remembering that my plans backfired from the very start didn't settle well with me. But I wasn't in the right place to unleash my wrath. Instead, I settled for a deep and dejected sigh of failure.
"What's wrong, Fate?" Alisa asked beside me. "Nervous?"
"No," I said a little irked. "Just annoyed that I have to be here."
"Ugh. Tell me about it." This time, it was Vita who groaned aloud. "Why, oh why, are we having a student council meeting during summer?" she asked to no one in particular. She whipped her head at me and gave a frustrated look. "Has your brother completely lost his marbles or something?"
I raised my hands in defense and shrugged my shoulders. "Hey, don't look at me. I have nothing to do with your so-called summer student council meeting."
"Oh," Hayate said with an innocent smile, "Chrono has nothing to do with this meeting."
"Huh?" Alisa exclaimed with an annoyed look on her face. "Then who's the genius who came up with this brilliant ide—" The blonde became quiet and slowly turned her head in realization at the brunette. Her green eyes narrowed, glaring daggers at the girl. "It was you, wasn't it?"
The brunette rocking on her heels looked away and whistled in feigned innocence. Her blue eyes darted everywhere, except at the scowling blonde. When playful blue eyes connected with displeased green ones, the brunette stepped back with her hands close to her heart and her mouth opened and closed, imitating that of a fish.
Hayate looked to her left and did the same to her right. But no escape route was permissible.
And Alisa still looked annoyed as hell.
The smaller girl stuttered out a "W-Well don't blame me!"
The short-haired blonde begged to differ.
"I blame you!" Alisa snarled and leaned forward, easily towering over Hayate. She obviously disregarded the fact that the girl was the student council vice president.
Well, if I were her, I'd do the same thing too. And I'd even be crueler about it.
Soon, Vita joined in and angrily shook her cousin back and forth by her shoulders.
I watched the scene from the side. Not caring about any of them. If it were possible, I would have shut them all up. I continued to walk onwards and left them to resolve their spat on their own. As for me, I had no plans in cooking myself out here under the heat of the morning sun. Surprisingly though, the three trailed behind me but the bickering still continued and it didn't look like they'd stop soon.
We finally got inside the building and the shade it provided was very much appreciated. I fanned the collar of my shirt to get some air inside. Seriously, global warming is definitely not a good thing.
The corridors, which used to be bustling with students and teachers, were now bare and quiet. The voices belonging to the still-bickering idiots behind me bounced off the walls and resounded in different intensities. It made me realize how large and high the ceilings were.
My pace had slowed down. It was as if I was taking my time with each step. Without thinking, I looked up at the high ceiling and stared.
In my mind, I could imagine myself sighing dejectedly. Coming to school to take my makeup tests was definitely not cool. In a way, it was a waste of time for me. I wasn't supposed to be here in the first place!
But then again… that was my fault.
That caused me to frown.
I looked over my shoulder. My already deep frown became even deeper.
Hayate stretched out her hand in a failed attempt to seek help from me. Alisa had her in a headlock, while her cousin pinched her cheeks.
"Help me!" she squeaked like how a mouse would when it gets caught in one of the many traps laid around the house. "Make 'em slop! Make 'em slooop!" she pleaded, her mouth stretched along with her cheeks.
The two officers didn't pay her any heed. They were still carrying on with their unique punishments.
I watched them, still unaffected. Being the good person I was, I decided to do some good deeds every now and then.
I decided to lend Hayate a hand.
"Alisa, Vita," I said in a monotonous voice, with no sympathy at all. "Please. Stop."
Alisa tightened her headlock. Hayate was standing on her tiptoes and repeatedly slapped the blonde's arm. Vita was now twisting her cousin's cheeks. The brunette cried out in response to the additional pain. "Owowowow!"
Ah. I made it worse.
"What are you girls doing?"
I looked over my shoulder and saw Professor Nakajima carrying a small stack of papers with him. His forehead had a light sheen of sweat. Even the most intelligent of instructors can't stand the sweltering heat brought about by summer.
"Oh, y'know," Hayate said breathlessly when Alisa released her, "just hanging out among friends, Professor."
"C'mon," Vita said, sounding slightly exhausted. "The other members must be in the council room already." She gave the man a bow and said, "Excuse us, Professor," and walked ahead. Alisa followed suite while dragging their vice president by the back of her shirt.
"See you later, Fate-chan!" Hayate waved as she ran backwards. "Do your best on your makeup exams!"
When the three of them disappeared into a corner, the only persons left in that hallway were me and my History teacher.
Professor Genya laughed as he continued to look at the direction where the three girls were. He shook his head and grinned, "You have such strange friends, Ms. Harlaown."
I tucked my thumb in the pocket of my skirt. "Strange," I said, "is the understatement of the century, Professor."
He chuckled heartily and started to continue to the direction he was headed to before he stopped. "Better not be late for your makeup tests then, Ms. Harlaown."
When the teacher was already a good distance away, I sighed and mumbled, "Summer's going to be so boring." And I marched on to where the exam papers were.
My fingers twirled my pen. I repeated this action and lost count at how many times it turned and how many times it slipped off and fell on my desk.
There were times I was aware I was doing it. But most of the time, my mind drifts off while my hands continued to do what it was already used to doing whenever they feel restless.
Well, it was more of because I was so damn bored.
I had already finished answering my questionnaire and wrote my answers on the separate answer sheet and was just waiting for the others to finish theirs.
I glanced around and studied their faces. Some looked uninterested; some looked like they wanted to cry; while others looked… constipated? Wait, that last part was just plain wrong.
I turned to the window with a sigh and rested my cheek on my palm. Even though I was a bit far from the window, I could say that outside was seriously and undeniably hot. Just from the intensity of its brightness, I could tell that the sun was doing a mighty fine job for the season of summer. And I could still hear the buzzing of the cicadas through the glass.
The sky was so blue and deep. There were no clouds in sight. It was like a pure vast ocean. Untouched and full of mysteries. You never know what you find beyond it. If it was any darker, I could say it would have the color of sapphire.
The corner of my lip tipped. I felt calm and free when I continued to stare at it. Just like her eyes…
My breathing hitched a bit. My chest tightened. My heart became heavy for a moment. A knot formed at the pit of my stomach.
I froze and sat still.
My eyes widened a fraction.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
I furiously rubbed my temple with one hand and repeatedly pressed the button of my pen in rapid succession with the other.
The student in front of me looked over his shoulder with a curious look on his face as to why my pen was clicking nonstop.
I met his stare with a death glare of my own and mouthed a silent—yet harsh—'What?' at him. Sensing my hostility, he quickly shook his head and went back to his paper. People should really mind their own damn business.
I slammed down my pen and furiously raked my fingers through my hair, scratching and, at the same time, massaging my scalp as I tried to compose myself. I breathed in deeply to calm down but it didn't do anything to lessen the inner turmoil in my mind.
What the hell's wrong with me?
I looked up quickly and realized that all eyes were on me including the proctor, Professor Verossa. His sharp ice-blue eyes looked at me curiously.
"… Y-Yes?" I quietly asked.
"Is there a problem?" From the front of the room, he stood and leaned his hands on the table. The other students paused from answering their questionnaires to look at me. All of them waited for my reply.
I remained silent and thought about what to say. Is there a problem, he asked. I didn't understand why I didn't just answer him directly with a sarcastic remark like how I used to. Something was holding me back from responding normally.
There's something wrong with me. And I wanted to let the whole room know that—indeed, I have a problem. But I didn't know what it could be, or how to make it go away. I can't even name it!
"Ms. Harlaown?" His voice called me out again. Half-wondering and half-impatient.
I faced him and shook my head. "No," I said and picked up my pen. I mumbled, "Sorry for the disturbance, Professor." Then I pretended to read the questions on the paper in front of me.
I listened as the others went back on answering their own papers. Their curiosity was either satisfied or not. But I didn't care. People should really mind their own damn business.
I glanced up at the teacher and saw him hold up one of the extra sheets. He examined it and read the content with a scrutinizing gaze. Then, I heard him ask to no one in particular. "It's not that hard, is it?"
I looked back down and my forehead slowly descended onto the hard wooden surface of my desk. I squeezed my eyes shut. I pressed my head against it and rolled it from side to side. The contact hurt but it calmed me down too.
My problem… is very hard to solve.
It was a one of the days we went outside to play.
We strayed from the road, which came from the town we lived in to some place we might possibly never visit in the future, and ran off to the grassy fields where we always went to when we were younger.
"Follow me, Fate!"
A sweet yet energetic voice called out to me, and the person who almost had the exact same face as mine grinned as she ran off. Melodic laughter trailed behind her as she continued on her way. Her long blonde hair tied into twin tails by two green ribbons billowed behind her as she ran like the wind. Her figure became smaller and smaller as our distance grew further apart. She was always faster than I was.
And with everything else, she was always ahead of me.
My legs tried to go faster to match the pace of the one I wanted to run alongside with. "W-Wait—" I panted and my knees almost gave out. "Wait for me, Nee-san!"
But I was just too slow. My older sister, Alicia Testarossa, was always faster.
I squeezed my eyes shut and forced myself to move forward to catch up, even when I thought that my feet had gone heavier with every step.
I was always left behind.
When I was about to give up, I heard someone jogging towards me. I looked up and saw my sister approaching.
The two of us stopped when we managed to meet each other halfway.
I braced myself on my knees and tried to get some air back into my lungs.
My sister, on the other hand, just quietly looked down at me while I tried to catch my breath. My sisterly instincts told me she was grinning down at me.
"Really, Fate," I heard her say. "You need to exercise more often." She really sounded amused.
My line of sight watched as she shifted her weight on one foot. And I knew that one of her hands was on her hip while the other was used to fan herself.
When my lungs were able to recover, I stood straight and looked back at twin burgundy eyes.
The same ones as mine, except my sister's gaze held amusement and mirth in them as they looked back at me.
People often told us that we almost looked alike. As if we were born as identical twins. We had long blonde hair, even the shade was the same. We had crimson-colored eyes. And our voices almost sounded alike.
But in reality, the two of us weren't twins. Three years separated our ages.
I breathed in and out. I steadied myself as I stood in front of my older sister. "I'm sorry, Nee-san, but you know how I hate running. And plus, it wasn't fair at all for you to have a head start." I tried to rationalize my current situation and my failure to catch up with her. It was obvious that I could never outrun her.
Alicia's hand flew to her lips and tried not to laugh. When she was successful, she beamed a smile at me. "Aww," my sister cooed, "wus my poor widdle sister tired after her iddy-bitty walk?"
I can't believe my own sister was using baby talk at me. "I don't think running all the way here from Mid can be merely considered an 'iddy-bitty walk', Alicia."
In reply, the girl just laughed.
My sister had a weird sense of things sometimes.
My shoulders slumped. Suddenly, my arms felt heavier as I hung them limply. "I'm scared what you consider really far, Nee-san. Your standards are too extreme for a normal person to take." Then a thought came to me. "Ah, maybe that's why all the guys won't ask you out." I concluded, "'Cause you act like a guy yourself."
I think I heard something pop.
My sister reached out her hands and painfully stretched both my cheeks with a dazzling smile.
Her action caught me off guard. "Owowowow!"
"Huh? I couldn't quite hear you," she said with her unwaveringly scary smile. "What did you just say to your darling older sister, Fate Testarossa?"
"Em shorree! Em shorree! Pweash releash me!" I tried to move away from her hold but before I could do that, my sister clung to my neck while she was laughing merrily at my wails and cries. I whimpered in her hold and massaged my cheeks. I inwardly prayed that my cheeks won't sag like that of a bulldog's.
"Now, now." Her voice was still playful. "I didn't pinch you that hard now, did I?" She ruffled my hair as I continued whimpering from the pain.
My sister can be such a brute sometimes.
But I stopped myself from saying that. Who knows what else she could to do to me?
My sister's so-called punishment was indeed painful. But you could say I was used to it—but not in the masochistic kind of way! I was too focused in massaging the pain away that I wasn't able to respond to Alicia.
Just wait 'til I come up with something to get back at you, Nee-sa—
"Fate, are you angry at me?"
…Eh? My eyes widened at the sound of worry in my sister's voice. I quickly looked up and saw that she was indeed genuinely concerned. Guilt was clearly shown in her burgundy orbs as she continued to look down at me, worried that she may have done something to upset me and waited for me to reply.
There was a time in the past, back when we were younger, that I was able to match my sister's height. When that happened, I was really happy. I almost thought that we could be twins, that we were indeed twin sisters. And that we came into this world together.
Now though, my sister was clearly taller than I was. It couldn't be helped. My sister was three years older.
The taller girl with her worried face, waited for my reply. I was stunned that such a thought would ever cross her mind. I felt her hold had gone slack and she was about to slip her arm away from me. "I'm sor—"
"You're wrong, Nee-san!" I said a little too quickly, a little too strongly. I meekly lowered my head. "I'm not angry at all. I would never be angry at you… Alicia."
The air became still. I didn't want to see what kind of expression my sister had.
But the atmosphere changed when I found myself wrapped in a fierce hug. Alicia's cheek rubbed against mine as she squealed and giggled in pure delight. "What a relief!" She exclaimed, as if she was forgiven for doing something unforgivable. "The last thing I want is for my baby sister to hate me!" With her strong arms, she squeezed me even more. "On second thought, I really and definitely don't want my baby sister to hate me ever!"
My sister can be such a worrywart sometimes.
"A-Alicia!" I tried to sound reprimanding at the loud girl. "You're too loud!" And she's supposed to be the older, more responsible one between the two of us.
"So?" She held me at arm's length. "We're the only ones here anyway."
"I-I don't care! Somebody might actually hear you!" Despite the cool wind blowing on our faces from time to time, I felt my face had gone warmer at the very thought that some stranger might pass by and see two girls, who almost look exactly the same, hugging each other. Well, Alicia's doing most of the hugging—but still; it would be really embarrassing if someone we know would see us!
"Well," Alicia released her hold on me and it was her turn, this time, to cross her arms over her chest. "I don't care if they did hear us!" She raised her nose in the air like a proud aristocrat. "All I care about is that my baby sister doesn't hate me!" She locked me in a fierce hug again. And this time, she was wiggling while doing so.
I mentally sighed.
My sister can be quite a handful sometimes.
"Alright already. I understand, Nee-san." I said and tried to pry her arms off me. "Plus, who're you calling a baby, anyway?" I pouted and glared at the taller girl. "I'm only three years younger than you. And," I held out my hand between her head and mine, and showed to her the short gap of our height difference, "don't forget, there was that one time that I was as tall as you, right?" I cracked a cheeky grin at her. "Remember?"
In return, my sister puffed out her cheeks and pouted, flashing an annoyed glare at me. I knew for a fact, that Alicia was pretty much annoyed at how fast I was catching up to her. And it really irked her almost every year that we would almost be at the same height with one another.
She looked away defiantly. "So what? Three years is like ten years for me!"
I sweat dropped at what she said and mentally face palmed. Nee-san, that doesn't make any sense at all.
"Anyway, you're still the youngest Testarossa in our family. So there!" And she ended her rather insightful and brilliant reasoning with a childish huff.
I sighed and helplessly shook my head with a smile. "Yes, yes. I completely succumb to your superior intellect, Nee-san."
My sister can be such a child sometimes.
"Anyway," I looked up at the sun and my eyes squinted from its brightness, "shouldn't we go back?" I asked her. "Mother might start to worry about you. You know how she is."
Alicia spread her arms wide open, as if presenting the entire open field to me. "That's the whole point we're here, right? We haven't gone out to our spot for a long time, Fate." She smiled ruefully. "I kind of missed it actually."
My sister can be selfish sometimes.
It was a sight to see really. A beautiful, blonde girl wearing a white Sunday dress, standing amidst a sparkling emerald pasture on a sunny afternoon, smiled brilliantly without a care in the world. The wind fluttered the hem of her dress, giving momentous glimpses of her long and slender legs. Her blonde tresses danced and swayed as if beckoned by the wind itself to obey its wish. When the wind blew a little hard, her hair became more disheveled but it still suited her anyway. She held them back with her hand and melodiously laughed. Some of the strands must've tickled her or something. Her bare arms showed off her pale complexion and made it look like she was protected in a faint and mysterious glow. Her crimson eyes, lovely and powerful gazed at the scenery, which all the more complimented her features.
And who would've thought that she was my sister. No wonder she's popular. No wonder everyone loves her.
Alicia looked at me with that happy smile of hers. "What are you spacing out for, Fate?"
"Huh?" I didn't realize that I was thinking too much though.
"C'mere," the older blonde grabbed my hand and we started walking again.
"Where are we going now, Alicia?" I let my sister lead me to wherever she was planning to go. It was better than leaving her alone anyway.
My sister looked surprised. "What, you still don't know?" Then, she giggled. "Honestly, for someone as smart as you, Fate, you sure are slow sometimes."
My sister really had her own ways with words sometimes.
I chuckled. "I don't know if I should take that as an insult or as a compliment."
"Well, since it came from your all-time favorite sister, it's definitely a compliment, Fate." She said it so matter-of-factly that I didn't have the heart to retort.
"Alicia," instead, I tried to comment at another thing. "You're my only sister."
She looked back with a victorious smile and said, "And don't you forget it, Fate Testarossa!"
This time, instead of running, we leisurely took our time in reaching our destination which we had planned to go the moment we left our house.
We continued our way in silence, never letting go of each other's hand. We had this silent language we both shared whenever our hands connected ever since we were children. Alicia said it had something to do with us being sisters. Well, I agreed to her… um, unique deduction. But anyway, it was hard to explain.
To put it simply, I found comfort and safety whenever I felt my sister's hand in mine. I think it was assurance that she was there. It was assurance that I was still there. With her. That we were both together in the same place and at the same time.
After a few moments, not too far from us, a hill rose up in sight as we slowly but surely came closer to it.
I mentally sighed in relief. Alicia would be satisfied now that we're here.I looked up skyward at the sun again. And if we're lucky, we might just get back home before mother finds out that we—
"Fate." Alicia called out to me.
But something was amiss. It was as if… she was ordering me to look and listen to her. I looked at the face of my sister, who had almost the same face as mine yet hers was more mature and dignified.
She smiled. But I didn't know what emotion it held. "Fate… we'll always be together… okay?" she said.
I blinked slowly at her. Her hand held mine a little more firmly than before. "… What are you saying all of a sudden, Nee-san?" I couldn't help but notice that somehow, her smile and voice seemed a bit sad. But I didn't know why they should be.
She simply continued to smile. Her eyes vanished into small slits. "Just… believe me when I'll say… everything's going to be alright." The girl flashed her pearly whites at me. "I will never leave you, Fate."
"… Okay." Even though I said what I did, I wasn't able to fully understand what my sister meant and why she said those words to me. I just blindly agreed to them thinking that she would hold true to her words.
But, in the end, she did leave me.
My sister… can be such a liar.
The sound of the bell rattled me out of my unexpected nap.
"Alright," the proctor stood, "time's up." Some of the students groaned, while others let out sighs of relief. "Pens down and please submit your answer sheets and questionnaires separately on top my desk." Chairs were pushed back and scraped on the floor. The students shuffled forward and waited in line to place their papers on two stacks.
As the once still room became busy, I sat dazed in my seat. I didn't realize that I had fallen asleep on my desk. I looked down on my watch and found out that I had slept for half an hour. Luckily enough, I managed to finish all the questions and fill-in the answer sheet.
When only a few remained in line, I sluggishly rose from my chair and gathered my things. When I reached the teacher's table, Professor Verossa personally received my papers.
"Ms. Harlaown," he said as he scanned my paper, "I take it that your attention was not on your paper? Your mind seemed to have wandered off elsewhere."
I tried to get back my sarcastic self.
I chuckled. "Don't be silly, Professor," I said. "If that were true, you would hold a very clean sheet of paper right now."
He mirrored my chuckle. "You have a point," he smiled and placed my papers on their respective piles. His ice-blue eyes observed me over his interlaced fingers.
His blue eyes are… different. They're not the same ones I want.
"But you seemed to be very troubled by something."
I smiled. Yeah, I'm getting annoyed by the color blue. "Everything's fine, Professor. I don't have a problem."
The professor hummed and nodded slowly, "I see." He stayed silent for a few seconds and said, "This isn't the first time you had to take the makeup exams, right?"
One of my eyebrows rose up. "Yes?" I said hesitantly. I wasn't sure how to answer him. I didn't even know where this conversation is going. Why are we having this conversation again?
"I see." He flashed a smile. As if he had discovered something new and interesting. He unfolded from his seat and he easily towered over me. He gathered one pile and tapped the bottom edge on the table. He did the same with the other stack.
I mentally frowned at him for leaving the conversation hanging like this.
As if sensing my unpleasant aura, he looked up and smiled at me. "Did you know?" He started, "I've been teaching here since I graduated from university. And I was your teacher for two years during middle school."
Now, I really don't have any idea where this is going. But out of common courtesy, I'll play along for now. "Yeah," I said, trying to control my sarcasm. "You're teaching Modern Lit. You told us that was your major."
"Oh," he sounded happy. "I'm glad you remembered, Ms. Harlaown."
I shrugged a shoulder. "I have good memory."
He gave a small smile and went on. "And even during middle school, you still had to take some makeup exams, right?"
"Yeah," I said, slowly starting to get annoyed, "but what does that have to do with today?"
He chuckled and carried the stack of papers in his arm. "Every time you took the makeup exams over the break," he paused when he turned off the lights and air-conditioner with the remote, "you usually looked bored and found the exams easy."
"I think 'easy' is not the right word to describe TSAB's exam questions, Professor. The student body would be in uproar."
He laughed this time as the two of us went out of the room. I gestured to assist him with some of the papers but he gently declined my offer. "The only favor you can do for me is to talk."
I hid my displeasure and continued to walk alongside the tall man. We walked for several moments in silence. I was the one who spoke first. "What's wrong in finding the questions easy and boring?"
The young teacher laughed heartily and said, "Nothing, actually. But that's the thing. You usually find it boring and easy." He looked down at me and smiled, "Until now, that is."
I knew my eyebrows scrunched together. "I don't understand." I was really confused.
He looked forward again. "It's true that you were still bored. And it was clear as day that you were pretty much annoyed being stuck back there for summer break."
Was I that obvious?
"But today was different."
I was a little surprised. "I… was?"
"Yes," he smiled. "You looked like you were seriously thinking about something."
Wait, was I really that obvious? I feigned ignorance of his claim with a scoff. "Must be the test questions, Professor. You do know that they get harder every year."
He shrugged a shoulder, "Probably," he said. "You were thinking so deeply that you took a nap."
We took our time climbing down a flight of stairs. Part of the wall was made up of several glass panes, showing the outside. The sun shone through them. Its heat easily penetrated into our building, making the area stuffy and humid.
I was beginning to think that the professor was having this conversation just to spite me since I slept during the exam. I stopped from stepping down any further and so I stood three steps above the tall man. I narrowed my eyes at him, partly out of humor but mostly out of annoyance. "You're going to punish me for sleeping during the exams, aren't you, Professor Verossa?"
Sensing that I stopped, he turned back and looked up at me. His face calm and a little bit smug but I knew that his concern for his students were genuine.
Despite the fact that he was my teacher and several years older than I was, I continued to frown down at him. But the young teacher below continued to be silent. His gaze softened slightly, a small smile graced his cool and sharp features when he noticed my frown growing deeper.
He smiled. His icy-blue eyes disappeared to mere slits. "You've changed, Ms. Harlaown."
I was pretty much dumbfounded. His words completely caught me off guard. They were the last things I expected him to say. "… Huh?"
He smiled again and continued. "I told you before, right? I've been your teacher since middle school. You've been taking makeup exams since then also. But this year, you're very different. You've changed."
I gulped down the lump forming in my throat. I didn't understand why I felt compelled to make up something untrue. To say something to prove him wrong with his so-called discovery. I didn't even know why he's telling me these things. And I didn't know why it bothered me so much.
I clenched and unclenched my left hand. And decided to save whatever dignity I had left. "All this," I tried to sound cocky. I tried to look unfazed by his words. "Just from seeing me sleep during the makeup exams?" I smirked. "I think you're losing your touch, Professor."
"Maybe," he said, pretending to think about it. "But then you are also losing your touch too, Ms. Harlaown. You're changing and it's quite a good thing, too."
I didn't smile. I didn't frown. I didn't know what expression to give him. I looked down at the marble steps below where my feet were. "People change, Professor," I said simply. "Whether it's good or bad, that's one of the few facts in life that'll never go wrong."
The young teacher below smiled. "You're right," he finally said. "That's why," it was clear in his voice that he was smiling, "it was so nice to see you making funny faces awhile ago, Ms. Harlaown."
My mouth slackened and I stared wide-eyed at the suave-looking teacher.
"They were so much better than your bored one. Although sleeping during the tests is prohibited, I'll turn a blind eye for now." And he had the guts to wink playfully at my dumbstruck expression.
Instead of saying something that'll continue this ridiculous conversation, I decided to end it. With a bored expression he was referring to, I said, "Was that all, Professor? Can I go now?" I decided to climb down the stairs and briskly brush past him, leaving my teacher unescorted.
"Ms. Harlaown?" He called.
My steps halted and I closed my eyes in slight annoyance. I opened them before looking over my shoulder.
"I'm glad someone's finally reaching you."
I tried to remain calm on the surface, but the truth was the exact opposite. I was seriously annoyed at whatever introspection my teacher had done to me without my permission. Like Hayate, I knew he was one of the few people I considered sharp.
He's seriously lucky that he's a teacher right now!
Still looking over my shoulder, I gave him a smug smile and said, "I don't want anyone to reach out to me, Professor. They're just wasting their time."
He laughed. I didn't know if it was out of amusement or mockery. "I'll see you tomorrow for the second makeup exam day, Ms. Harlaown."
He climbed down the remaining steps and proceeding to walk to a hallway adjacent to the one where I stood.
Alone I stood in one of the many hallways of the building. Hate to admit it, but what the professor said confused me a lot. Someone's reaching me? I don't even know what that means!
Furious at how the teacher left me with that intriguing question in mind, I angrily swung my bag over my shoulder and made my way to the student council office.
Taking shade as I waited for the next bus to come, I sat in deafening silence. I could feel a bead of sweat trickle down along my spine. I stared on straight ahead. My eyes squinted because of the hot and bright surroundings.
So hot, I wanted to scream. But it would be a waste of energy to do so. With that, I decided to save my energy for something else.
Awhile back, when I was walking under the sun, the sun's rays were seriously painful. As if a million hot needles pricked my skin all at the same time.
The heat was unbearable. But I'll survive more during the summer than on winter.
The sun was already at the very peak of the sky, bringing down its powerful waves upon the Earth and us humans. Like how I saw the sky awhile ago, the blue horizon remained clear. No clouds were in sight.
I looked down right away when I felt myself staring off into oblivion again.
I remembered that I sat here once upon a time with a girl one afternoon. Her auburn hair blended perfectly with the sunset sky. Her face glowed more bringing out all the right features about her. The blueness of her eyes absolutely complimented the orange sky above her.
A humming sound continued to annoy me for the past four minutes since we sat here.
"Remind me why I'm alone with you again."
My eyes looked to my side, at the companion who was listening to my iPod since we met earlier.
The girl bounced her head to the silent rhythm played from the white earphones she was wearing. I could only hear the faint sound of the bass from the song she was listening to.
Wrong girl. I frowned even more. I've noticed that I've been doing that all day.
Noticing that my eyes were now on her, she removed an earphone. "What's wrong, Fate-chan?" she asked innocently, "You look like someone ruined your day."
You really know how to make it worse, don't you? I was tempted to say that. But bit back my tongue. The heat discouraged me from doing so, preventing me from aggravating the already stifling atmosphere.
"Nothing," I said. I craned my neck to the direction of where the bus would come.
"So, how was the test?" The runt was trying to start some small talk. "Piece of cake, I bet."
Well, she was right about that. "I guess." I once again fanned my collar to get some air in my shirt. "But Professor Verossa was being weird."
She leaned forward, eyes wide with excitement. "Did he confess his undying pedophilic love for you?"
"Do you want to die?" I asked without missing a beat.
"No." She answered with the same momentum as I did.
Our conversation came to a halt when the hum of the engine sounded in front of us. The bus slowed to a stop and we right away boarded the vehicle.
I chose an empty compartment for two and took the seat by the window. The smaller girl sat next to me. When we settled in our seats and the bus gradually merged with the flow of traffic, Hayate turned her attention to me again. "So why'd you say Professor Verossa was being weird?"
I propped my elbow on the window and rested my cheek in my palm. My eyes watched as we passed buildings and people on the street. "He said I was making funny faces during the exams."
"If you ask me," Hayate said, "it is rather weird for you to do that."
"That wasn't what he meant."
I contemplated if I should tell the girl or not. Don't get me wrong, Hayate's one of my friends I could count on—I think. But something was a little off about what the teacher said and our conversation back on the staircase. He was just supposed to be teaching literature. Not act like a shrink!
I glanced at the side at my companion and was a bit startled that her face was closer than I thought. "What are you doing?" I asked slowly.
"You took too long to think whether you should tell me or not!" She reasoned out without moving away for even the slightest bit.
"Personal space first, Hayate." I said in a firm voice.
"But I've been doing this since we were kids," she said with a smile.
Since she was not willing to move away, I decided to help her out. I forcefully pushed her face away from mine. "We're not seven anymore, you idiot." I said, still keeping her an arm's length away from me.
She grunted as she tried to push herself forward. Her arms stretched out and tried in vain to reach me. "Then tell me!" She whined.
"It was nothing, alright?" I told her while trying to keep her in place. "He just said that I'm changing."
She stopped struggling. A baffled look was on her face. "What does that supposed to mean?"
"That's what I was thinking." I said in mock confusion. I retracted my arm. Hayate jerked forward because of the sudden absence of my support. I waved my hand dismissively at our conversation. "It's nothing," I said. "I think he was just messing with me since I slept during the test."
"You fell asleep?"
"What else was I supposed to do?" I defended. "Thinking about—" I stopped before I could say anything more, thankful that I stopped myself on time.
"About?" the brunette prodded. Hayate's eyes observed me closely.
Oh crap. "Thinking…" My eyes shifted upwards as if the answers were written on the bus' ceiling. "…about nothing is dangerous for me." Wow. I'm beginning to suck in making up excuses.
Hayate didn't say anything and just continued to look at me. Her usual big blue eyes narrowed with each passing second as if she was trying to find the slightest twitch in my façade. I tried not to meet her gaze by pretending to see if we were near our stop. "What were you thinking about?" Her eyes still on me, she asked the question carefully.
I waited and thought about what to say. I pretended to think about my reply by prolonging my silence. When nothing came to mind, the bus arrived in our stop. "We're here!" I pressed the button beside the window and stood so quickly that Hayate didn't have time to react as I shooed her off our seat and into the bus' aisle.
We got off the bus and dashed right away under the shade of a nearby store. The brunette came after me. I was a little confused why she was a little out of breath.
"What was that all about?" She stomped her foot and wiped the sweat from her forehead. "You did that on purpose, Fate-chan!"
I rested a hand on my hip and looked down at her. "If it weren't for me, we would have missed our stop. Consider it as my kind offer, you dolt. Plus, to refuse an offer is an insult on my part. And I am not waiting any longer to eat my lunch." I loomed menacingly over her and tried to sound intimidating so she would just drop our earlier conversation.
She eased back, apparently sensing the danger that might come if she tried to refuse my silent demand. Her shoulders hunched. Her hands held up for protection. "Alright, alright!" she whimpered. I saw her eyes noticing something behind me, "How about we go to that family restaurant?" she sounded hopeful as she pointed her finger over my shoulder. I followed the direction where she meant and saw the restaurant she was referring to. "I heard they have great hamburger steaks, Fate-chan!"
With the mere mention of food, my stomach was already churning with hunger. Luckily, the idiot in front of me didn't notice.
"Fine," I said. When I faced my back to her, I heard her let out a sigh of relief. I looked at both sides before crossing the street. Hayate held my arm and the two of us crossed together. I raised an eyebrow at the hand clutching my elbow, "What are you doing?"
She pouted her lips and gave me a pitiful look. "You know how I hate crossing the street."
I rolled my eyes heavenward. When we arrived on the other side, I told her, "You won't go far if you keep that up."
Still holding my arm, she said proudly, "Well, I'm not worried. I'll always have you to help me!"
I didn't know if she was aware of what she said. I glanced to the side at her. Hayate was beaming goofily.
"I won't always be here." I said as quietly as possible.
Hayate didn't say anything. We just continued to walk to the restaurant we saw awhile ago. The heat was already ignored by the two of us. "Mm," I heard her say.
I didn't react to that. I felt like there was no need. Plus, I have no interest in this kind of conversation.
Just when the heat was almost too hot to bear, the two of us hastened our last few steps before we both pushed the door open ringing the bell on top as we did so.
"Welcome!" One of the waitresses sang the usual greeting.
The cool breeze of the air-conditioner blew on our faces. The two of us let out very pleased sighs as we happily took in the change of environment and temperature. We're finally in heaven.
The place was a bit busy and full of people. Well, it was lunch so it was pretty normal for food establishments to be packed around this time. I saw waiters and waitresses darting everywhere carrying with them steaming meals while the others tried to clean up the tables so they'd be ready to be occupied by the next customers.
Most of the tables were occupied by families and groups of teenagers, chatting and laughing with whatever topic they were preoccupied with.
We approached the counter where we could order our meals.
Hayate looked around and I knew she noticed that we were going to have a hard time finding a table to eat on. "The place sure is full."
I looked up at the menus and considered which one I'll order. "What did you expect?" I asked without taking my eyes off the selections. "All the food joints are like this around lunch time."
"Fate-chan," she turned to me, "I'll go look for a vacant table for us."
"Alright," I said, "I'll just order for you. What do you want?"
She faced the menus displayed above the counter. "I'll just have the Chicken Mozzarella and iced tea. Pay you later?"
I nodded, "Okay. You better find us a good spot unlike last time."
"Hey!" She pouted and rested her fists on her hips. "It was beyond my control that those boys were checking you out. I'm only human too, y'know."
I held a hand for her to stop. "Alright already, I get it. I'll order for the two of us. Just go and find us a good table that doesn't have perverts for neighbors."
The idiot's response to that were a sloppy salute and a peppy "Roger!" before she scurried off to find us a table.
I went to one of the available counters and told the cashier my orders. After paying for them, I took the serving number 22 sign the cashier gave me and followed the direction Hayate disappeared to.
Weaving through tables and dodging some noisy kids along the way, I saw Hayate's head from the distance. She was talking to someone seated in one of the far-off booths of the restaurant where there were less people—and screaming kids—around.
The sight of her talking idly with someone annoyed the hell out of me. She was supposed to find us a vacant table before the food gets here. Must I do everything?
Without taking my eyes off the brunette, I walked to where the idiot was. I couldn't see who she was talking to. The booth hid them from sight.
I avoided a collision from a toddler and I ducked my head before getting hit by a flying rattle.
"Hayate!" I shouted amidst the noise of the other customers but the girl didn't hear me at all. It would definitely be someone Hayate… knows…
When I was near enough, the people—the person inside the booth was…
"Look, Fate-chan!" Hayate said and grabbed the hand of the girl, making her stand from her seat. "Guess who it is!"
She wore a simple white dress, with pastel-colored flowers on it that showed her fair arms and the hem went all the way down to her knees. Her auburn hair was tied in her usual lopsided ponytail. Her forelocks framed her cute and surprised face. I watched as her blue eyes continued to stare at mine, as if she was completely stunned that I was there. "Fate-chan…" I heard her whisper despite being in a bustling restaurant.
"Super cool coincidence, huh?" Hayate continued, "Nanoha-chan and her friend just got here too!"
Her friend? I looked to the other person sitting in the booth. Indeed, there was someone else.
"Hi," he greeted and smiled. His green eyes were behind round, frameless spectacles. His long blonde hair was tied with a green ribbon. He looked like the typical scholar you'd find in a library with his nose buried in a thick tome. "Yuuno Scrya." He stood from his seat and leaned over the table as he extended his hand to me. "Nice to meet you… um, Fate-san, right? Nanoha mentioned a lot about you."
"Yuuno-kun!" I glanced at Nanoha and saw her cheeks turning red. My eyes went back to the Scrya boy. I didn't know why his gesture and presence didn't seem to impress me at the slightest.
So, they're on a first name basis, huh?
Why did that irk me so? The two of them were together before Hayate saw them. I didn't know why that thought kept on playing in my mind.
I lost some of my rational thinking when this additional twist was added to my ever-so dull life.
I stared down at his hand. "Hello," I greeted out of shallow civility at him and went back to the matter at hand. I didn't care how he interpreted my response to his greeting. I frowned when I faced the other grinning girl. "I thought I told you to find us a table."
"I tried to," she whined and her weight shifted to one leg. "But the place is really full. Why'd you have to choose this place, Fate-chan?"
My right eye twitched. "Hayate…" I said between clenched teeth as I tried to stay calm. "If I remember correctly, you were the one who wanted to eat here in the first place."
The brunette blinked twice. Her head tipped to the side. "I did?"
We were seriously wasting our time talking here! I rubbed a knuckle against my temple and growled. "You idiot. They're gonna serve our food any minute now. Where the hell are we supposed to sit?"
"Um… Fate-chan—" I heard Nanoha try to squeak in.
"That's not my fault!" Hayate butted in. "There are too many people here!"
"And that's my fault?" I countered back. I knew this conversation was going nowhere but the turn of events was somehow… pissing me off.
"Fate-chan, Hayate-chan," Nanoha tried again.
"Yeah?" I turned to her even though my attention was somehow divided between her, her so-called friend and the idiot—I mean, Hayate. I was now all ears with whatever she was about to say.
"If you'd like you can—"
"Excuse me!" A waiter called out in an annoying sing-song voice and had the nerve to interrupt Nanoha! He carried with him two trays of steaming hot food and a couple of drinks. With bright eyes that looked like he drank ten cups of coffee, he asked me, "Are you customer 22 by any chance—"
"Why'd you interrupt her like that?" I snapped at him. I had this really strange urge to punch him in the face for doing that.
He whimpered and shrunk back. His face had gone pale. "I-I'm… sorry!" I think he sensed what I was planning to do to him.
"Fate-chan!" Hayate held my arm. "I think we're customer 22."
I blinked and took out the serving number the cashier gave. A big plastic rectangle with the number twenty-two stared back at me. "… Oh…" When I looked at the food on the tray the waiter was holding up, they were indeed the ones I ordered awhile ago. The drinks were correct too.
The waiter stood still with the tray of foods in his hands. Hayate and I didn't move either. Nanoha and her friend were silent as well. The people around us continued on with their meals and businesses.
"…Er… W-Where should I place your orders, miss?" The young man carefully asked me.
"Y-You can sit with us, Fate-chan!" Nanoha interjected. "Y-You don't mind, right Yuuno-kun?"
"What?" I turned to her. "But—"
"I don't mind at all." The four-eyed boy added. "Fate-san and Hayate-san can join us for lunch. I think our orders are also on their way."
Wait! Since when did the world become a triangle and the geek can just call me by my first name? "Now wait just a da—"
"That's a great idea!" Hayate exclaimed—and I think she purposely did that to provoke me. "That way, we can all sit together and chat." The little raccoon grinned. "Also, the booth has enough room for the four of us." The brunette turned to me giving me a bright smile. "Nanoha-chan just offered to share us their table. And you know what they say about offers and insults." She gave me a very deviously knowing look, "Right, Fate-chan?"
'To refuse an offer is an insult.' So this was payback for earlier huh?
I didn't know why Hayate had that kind of look in the first place, as if she knew something I didn't. And as if the events were going according to her master plan. Either way, people were waiting for my decision.
I hung my head in dejection.
This was going to be a long lunch.
I was on the verge of shoving another spoonful of my meal.
"So you knew each other since you were kids, huh?" Hayate elbowed my arm. "Did you hear that, Fate-chan? Nanoha-chan and Yuuno-kun are like us!"
"Yes, Hayate," I said to her, holding my spoon in midair. I was this close to being annoyed. "I heard them the first time they said that. Now, could you please let me eat in peace?"
"Oh, c'mon," she whined. "We're trying to have a decent conversation here between friends—"
"We're friends?" My eyes widened, pretending to be horrified by the news.
Hayate hit my shoulder—real hard. "You're so mean!" She huffed and turned away from me. I heard Yuuno and Nanoha laugh at her antic.
The four of us sat together in one booth. I was sitting next to Hayate while Nanoha and Yuuno sat across. The auburn-haired girl was right in front of me. Sometimes, our eyes would meet but she'd always be the one to turn away first and she'd look just about anywhere except at my direction. I didn't really know what to say about that. I wouldn't say I didn't enjoy seeing her fidget and blush but I knew deep down that I shouldn't be acting as if nothing has happened before. That would greatly be a huge slap to her face.
To be honest, I wasn't really pleased with how things went earlier. Furthermore, I felt annoyed at how I ended up in this situation—at this table with Nanoha and her… friend.
I didn't know why but somehow, I feel a little irked. Meeting Nanoha was one thing—sure, we're currently not in the best of terms at the moment. But still… meeting Nanoha and seeing her with someone who she knew since her childhood, who used to be with her all the time back in Uminari, made my face frown involuntarily whenever I think about it. Great, now I lost my appetite.
I smirked while stabbing my food with a fork. "Alright," I said. "To satisfy this toddler here, I'll talk." I looked at Yuuno. "You're staying here in Mid for the summer?" I tried to add in some human emotion. But somehow, the result came out neutral and passive.
He drank through his straw before answering. "Uh, no. I'll be leaving this evening." He wiped his lips with a napkin. "Actually," I saw him glancing at his side—at Nanoha. She noticed him glancing at her. "I came here to—" Nanoha actually elbowed his ribs. "Ow!" The blonde boy winced.
My eyes widened at her action. That really took me by surprise. The princess actually resorted to violence right in front of me.
"A-Actually!" Nanoha quickly added. Her cheeks had a faint pinkish tint. "Yuuno-kun wanted to see… the, um, new town I moved in. And also," she continued without pausing to breathe. "He wanted to see my new house… here." She seemed flustered after her rather simple explanation.
It was after a few more seconds before I spoke an "Oh, I see" to her explanation. She looked like she was caught doing something she shouldn't have and was only given a few milliseconds to give a plausible alibi.
It was obvious that she was hiding something. What it is was something beyond me. I smiled just a little at her effort though. The princess clearly sucked at lying.
"So, you came all the way here from Uminari to do just that?" Hayate asked.
The boy coughed and pushed back his glasses up his nose. "Well, sort of," he said vaguely. "I did tell Nanoha that I would visit her over the summer if I had the time."
I glanced to the side at Hayate. A sly smile crept up on her small face. Uh-oh. I couldn't resist rolling my eyes. And in silence, I wished Nanoha and the boy good luck with whatever Hayate would say next.
Well, whatever it is, it has nothing to do with me. So, I just helped myself with another spoonful of my meal.
As I silently chewed, Hayate was wearing this goofy and airheaded grin. I knew she was thinking of something crazy again and from the looks of it, it had something to do with Nanoha and her friend. Well, anyway, I think it's better to stay out of it.
Hayate interlaced her fingers together and propped her elbows on the table. Her chin rested on them as she continued to give Nanoha a knowing look. "So… you like blondes, Nanoha-chan?"
"WHAT?" Nanoha shrieked.
I actually choked. The food I chewed painfully got stuck in my throat, resulting in me having a very persistent coughing fit.
"Whoa!" Hayate hit my back repeatedly. Her action didn't make any difference. "What's wrong with you? Is it your hamburger steak?"
"Fate-chan!" I heard Nanoha say worriedly from across the table. "Are you okay? Here," she took my iced tea and handed it over to me, "you should drink something!"
As my coughing continued nonstop, I grabbed my glass of iced tea from her and chugged down all the liquid in it. When the glass was empty, I slammed the glass on the table and panted.
Hayate continued to pat and rub circles on my back. "Was the steak that bad?" she asked.
I silently glared at her.
"What?" she exaggeratedly asked but was genuinely confused about my unexpected expression.
My eyes narrowed dangerously at her. I didn't know why, but I had the gut feeling that the twerp was up to something. Her last question sounded rightfully suspicious to me.
I coughed and cleared my throat. "Nothing," I said in a scratchy and husky voice. I looked at my glass and frowned at its emptiness. I stood up and was about to go to the beverage station.
"Where are you going?" Hayate and Nanoha asked.
I stopped on my tracks, taken aback as to why they would be asking me that. But what really surprised me was the fact that Nanoha stood from her seat. My eyes widened. She froze where she stood as she realized her action.
"Just…" I raised the glass to them slowly. My eyes looked straight at Nanoha's blue ones, "going to refill my iced tea."
"Oh…" she said.
Somehow, she looked a little… off. So I said, "I'll be right back." I said it more to her than the other two.
"Okay," she nodded meekly and nibbled her lip. And reluctantly took her seat.
I gave her a small smile. "If Hayate does anything to you, you can just punch her."
"Hey!" Hayate protested.
I smiled gently when she did that. I think that was all that mattered. "I'll be right back."
I turned and went to where my iced tea was waiting. When I got to the dispensers to refill my glass, I sensed someone beside me.
"Hey," he greeted.
I pressed the button on the machine. The machine hummed and liquid started to come out and fill my empty glass. "Hey," I greeted back, not taking my eyes off the cold light-brown beverage. He must've followed right after I left the table. I already knew who it was. I didn't need the full view to confirm the reason for my growing irritation.
Yuuno Scrya refilled his glass with whatever soda he was drinking awhile ago.
"You like iced tea?" he asked, trying to sound friendly.
I smirked instead at his attempt. "If you're trying to strike up a conversation with me," I pressed the button again to stop the machine and faced him, "it's not working." I took a sip and scowled at him over the rim.
But the boy just smiled as he watched his own glass getting filled up by carbonated liquid. "I know," he said playfully.
My hand was actually itching to punch the smile off his face. "Why are you here?"
He looked at me this time. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Uh… to refill my soda?" he said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
I scoffed and shook my head at him. I chuckled at his wit. "Y'know what, never mind." I said to him and was about to go back.
"Nanoha really likes you."
I froze on my tracks.
He said it softly enough so other people can't hear us. He said it loud enough so only the two of us could hear it.
Either way, he said something he shouldn't have.
Now, I really want to kill him. I slowly faced him again.
This time, I gave him a smile. But it was far from being friendly. "What about it?" I said, "I like her too—"
"No, that's not what I meant, Fate-san," he said cutting me off. "Nanoha likes you," he said it again, but this time, he spoke in a firm and serious tone. "And it's not the kind of like that you're thinking of—or at least, it's not the kind you're trying to convince yourself for it to be."
Now that got me frowning. It was obvious that the guy was going to be persistent about the topic. I breathed in and out. "You sure do know how to pick the timing and location to talk about such delicate stuff."
"I think those things are irrelevant to—"
"I don't care what you think!" I shouted. I was aware of a few heads looking my way. It was a relief that Nanoha was out of earshot. I didn't want to cause her any more trouble than I already had. I sighed and composed myself before speaking again. "Look, I know you mean well, most especially for her sake. But I suggest you drop this subject and never speak of it again. I am well aware of the situation—I'm not that insensitive, y'know—and I'm also willing to bet that she told you about it. You're someone she knows and trust after all." I saw him raise a brow at my last remark. Little did he know that I was compelled to kick myself for admitting such a thing to him. "So… yeah."
I waited for a reaction and a response. But he didn't say anything. Instead, he just stood there with a glass of soda in one hand while the other was tucked in his pants' pocket.
Despite being near the beverage station and surrounded by the noise of the restaurant and its customers, it was clear that the two of us were standing in an awkward silence. Two teenagers each holding a glass of their preferred drinks while staring down at each other was something you normally don't see every day inside a busy family restaurant.
Taking another sip from my cool drink, I told him, "We should go back. They might be worried—"
"You mean Nanoha might be worried."
I pursed my lips into a thin line. This boy was getting on my nerves. "… Yeah. She tends to do that sometimes."
I quickly turned on my heel and trotted back to the direction of our shared table, purposely not giving him any chance to say anything. The busy restaurant with its occupants made me slow down a bit and that's when I sensed his presence next to me. Naturally, his tall stature made it hard for me to ignore him.
"So what kind of like do you feel for Nanoha?" He said out of the blue.
I felt my brain had stopped working for exactly two seconds. When it regained its normal functionality, I decided to say something. "I don't know." It was true, though I felt horrible about it for some reason.
Yuuno hummed. "That sure wasn't the answer I expected."
I cocked a brow at him. We were almost near our destination. I could see Hayate telling Nanoha something that made the girl have a giggling fit. "What do you mean?"
He chuckled and smiled. For me, it was more smug than friendly. "You said you like her, right?"
I raised a challenging brow at him. "And?" I said in an icy tone.
"Well," he shrugged a shoulder, "I like her too—"
My jaw tightened involuntarily.
"—but usually, you would've just said you like her as a friend—that would've been a lot easier on your part. And in one way or another, it would be a lot easier for Nanoha as well."
I didn't say anything and just listened. And continued to walk back to our table. It felt like it took forever to reach. I was tempted to dash on ahead and leave the geek behind.
When we were a few steps away, he stopped. I didn't know what got over me to do the same and turn to him with a confused look. "But you didn't," he continued. "And that means you haven't decided what Nanoha is to you yet."
I tried my best to not show any emotion to him. That would mean that his words and the message he was trying to get through to me were working. "And your point is?"
What he did next surprised me. He laughed. My eyes widened at the crazy boy. He was still laughing but was still careful not to spill a single drop of his soda on the floor. And I think I even heard a child call out and say 'Mama, that guy looks crazy.'
I couldn't agree more with the kid. I tilted my head to the side. "I think you had too much soda already."
When his laughter gradually died down, he let out a pleased sigh. "You sure are stubborn, Fate-san, you know that?"
I frowned at him and narrowed my now cold burgundy eyes at the chuckling boy. "I've been told that a lot of times," I said, "but for some bizarre reason, it annoys the hell out of me when it came from you."
He laughed again although it was a little more controlled this time. "I can see why Nanoha likes you so much." He bowed his head and chuckled. When he looked back up to me, he breathed out and said, "My point is you should be more honest, Fate-san."
I threw back my head in exasperation. "What is it with you people and honesty anyway?" My patience was actually wearing thin. "May I remind you that this is just the first time that we've met? And if you're trying to make a good first impression on me, let me tell ya, you sure are doing a very lousy job."
He chuckled and shook his head. "Don't worry about me. I already knew from the second we spoke that I won't be able to make a good impression on you."
I honestly felt bad, but it wasn't enough for me to consider him as someone I wanted to get along with, even if he was childhood friends with the princess. I looked over my shoulder to where Nanoha was. She and Hayate were still talking about something that made her smile and pay attention to the clown entertaining her. I faced the blonde boy again. "Look," I sighed, "I don't want to sound rude but—" I saw his brows arch up. I rolled my eyes at his quick response. "Okay, scratch that. I want to sound rude, but it's seriously none of your business with whatever it is I want to do or what I do not want to do with my current relationship with your friend."
He narrowed his green eyes at me. "You mean you're not going to do anything about it?"
My eyes turned downcast. I stared down at my drink and watched how the melting ice swirled as I moved my glass around. His question was simple. But I found myself empty of the answer the both of us were seeking. And instead of giving him a reply to his question, I chose to say this: "What can I do?" I muttered quietly. I didn't know if Yuuno heard me or not. The question was directed more to me than to him or to anyone else in this place. It was a question, yes. But at the same time, it showed me something I was denying for quite some time.
I really am at a loss.
"Fate-chan?" I snapped out of my reverie when I heard someone call me.
My eyes landed on Nanoha standing a few steps away from where Yuuno and I stood. She looked a little worried and a little surprised.
"Um… the two of you took so long. So I—er, Hayate-chan and I were… getting worried…"
I continued to look at her as she trailed off from what she said. I heard every word, but somehow, I couldn't take my eyes off her. Not for any reason one might think. But somehow—someway, even if it was wishful thinking, I wished the answer I was looking for, or at least even the tiniest hint, could be found in this girl.
"… Fate-chan?" She called out timidly. She must've felt conscious about me looking at her so intensely.
I blinked several times and shook my head to focus on what I was going to say next. "…Uh, sorry. What were you saying?"
"Ah, Nanoha!" I heard Yuuno interject when the auburn-haired girl was about to say something back. "Sorry that we took so long." He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Fate-san and I were just talking and we were just getting to know each other. Just found out that we liked the same iced tea, right, Fate-san?" He then rested a hand on my shoulder. I raised a brow at it and was tempted to break his fingers one by one in the most agonizing way.
I stared at him with a face saying 'what-the-heck-no-one's-going-to-believe-that' kind of look. Without tearing my eyes off the blonde boy, I said, "… Yeah. I guess we do."
"Um, okay." Nanoha's eyes seemed to brighten a little. But still, she seemed to be worried about something.
Nanoha and I looked at each other for awhile longer. I felt lost and helpless whenever I was before this girl. If it wasn't for the glass of iced tea I was holding, my hands would've fell limp on my sides.
"Well, we don't want to keep Hayate-san waiting. I think we've been gone long enough, Fate-san." Yuuno reminded. "Let's go back?"
I heard him, but his voice sounded like it came from somewhere else entirely. It seemed hollow and only the echoes remained when it reached my ears. My sight was still on Nanoha. But then, I felt like I did something wrong. So I looked at the floor instead. "… Yeah," I said in a daze and walked back to our table, leaving the boy behind and brushing past Nanoha.
When I arrived at the table, Hayate pouted. Her brows knitted together in an annoyed manner. "Where have you been? I was worried sick!"
I looked down at the brunette skeptically. "No, you weren't," I deadpanned.
She easily shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, you're right."
I rolled my eyes. "Why do you even bother asking?"
Just when the girl looked up in thought, Nanoha and Yuuno approached the table. Hayate then faced me once again, "Because I love you?" and batted her eyelashes for additional effect.
I narrowed my eyes at her. My face contorted into a deep frown. "I rather eat road kill."
"So mean!" She sobbed and wiped an imaginary tear away.
I slid into my seat taking my place beside the idiot once more while deliberately ignoring Hayate and her drama-queen act.
Yuuno and Nanoha laughed as they watched our interaction. Laughing one last time, he said to me, "The two of you get along so well."
I pointed a finger at the person next to me. "Getting along well with this?" I scoffed and put on a sour face. "Please. I rather marry a pumpkin."
"Now that's just—Wait," Hayate stopped to think, "why a pumpkin?" she asked a little baffled.
I facepalmed. The idiot actually believed it. "It was just a figure of speech, you dolt. Don't take it seriously!"
"Do you have a hidden fetish for vegetables and crops, Fate-chan?"
"Do you want me to tell them about that time when you—"
"Okay!" she wisely cut in before I could go on any further. "Who wants dessert?" she sang sweetly. To the point where it sounded forced and creepy. I victoriously crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back against the cushion of my seat. The two other occupants of the table just sat back and watched.
Hayate called the attention of one of the waiters, while I busied myself with swinging one of my legs under the table. When the waiter approached our table, Hayate and Yuuno took the initiative in looking through the different assortments of cakes and sweets on the menu provided by the young man.
While they were preoccupied, the wait was making me restless. I sighed and sank lower in my seat. My foot slid forward and bumped against something under the table. I flinched and retracted my foot right away and looked up as I said a quick "Sorry" to Nanoha.
"It's okay." She said as she waved her hands at me and shyly looked down again.
The two of us didn't say anything for awhile. I glanced to the side at Hayate and the Scrya boy. They were still weighing their options, taking their sweet time in doing so. Just pick one already!
My eyes followed to where the soft voice came from. Nanoha slightly fidgeted on her seat. Sometimes she'd look up to me, then she'd look right back down again.
I decided to completely ignore the dessert duo and give my attention to the princess instead. I scooted a little away from Hayate when she squealed as she found another cake that caught her eye, and leaned forward towards Nanoha.
Keeping my voice at a volume that only the two of us could hear, I asked, "Did you say something?" Surprisingly, my voice came out gentle and I spoke the words with care.
When she finally looked at me, her face slowly turned into a light shade of pink. "I-I just wanted to ask… um, how you were and if… you're okay."
I cracked a smile, deciding to tease her for a bit. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well… um, you did miss a few days from school. So, I… just wondered what happened—but if you don't want to tell me, that's okay too!" She looked like she suddenly realized something. "I-I'm sorry!" she bowed her head, "I didn't mean to pry. J-Just forget I asked!"
I blinked several times after her face changed from one emotion to another. From being timid, to being worried, to feeling guilty, then to being scared. It was cute but she seemed serious about it that I didn't want to show her my amusement. She might think I wasn't taking her seriously and was just making fun of her.
Finally, I smiled and rested my cheek on my palm as I continued to look at Nanoha's auburn head. Her long hair fell forward over her shoulder. Still with a smile on my face, I let out a helpless sigh. Nanoha still haven't looked up yet.
"Well," I began, "to satisfy your curiosity, princess, you first have to let me see your face when we talk, right?" I waited for a few moments when she slowly lifted her head carefully, like how a rabbit would peek out of its burrow to make sure it was out of any danger. I felt my smile growing wider when I saw her shy blue eyes, unsure if her action was welcomed or not. "Hi." My eyes turned to slits when I greeted her.
Her eyes widened a fraction, a little surprised of what she heard. "…Hi," she greeted back quietly with a shy smile.
I chuckled. "Good girl," I cooed. Now, it was my turn to cast my eyes downward. I played with the remaining contents of my meal. Using my fork, I poked the remaining steamed mushrooms on my plate. I hesitated a little on what to answer her and how to say it. I could just tell her a white lie that I was just being lazy and, ultimately, provide a very vague idea about my sudden absences from school. She wouldn't know any better anyway. Unless, of course, a certain big mouth would tell her.
Our eyes connected. A knot suddenly formed at the pit of my stomach when I saw her blue orbs. Then I decided that she doesn't need to know the truth—that part of me. "Well, I—"
"FATE-CHAN!" Hayate shouted at my ear. Seriously right next to it! My left ear felt like it had gone temporarily deaf. I couldn't hear a sound, as if a switch was turned off to keep me from receiving any sound waves from the area.
My hand instinctively grabbed her neck. Hayate yelped and struggled to shove away my hand. The ringing still continued to plague my ear until it resonated inside my skull. "Did I do or say something that made you think screaming next to my ear with your ultra-mega high-pitched voice is okay?"
I must have touched a ticklish part of her neck since she was giggling nonstop.
"Fate-chan—" she giggled as she said my name. Her voice came out squeaky and tiny, like she had inhaled a tank full of helium gas. "I know you like to touch me and stuff—" she giggled again as I still continued to grip her thin neck, "but I think this is—" and she giggled some more, "a bit too violent."
From across the table, Yuuno laughed. "Hayate-san," he said helplessly with a smile, "when I said get Fate-san's attention, I didn't mean shouting at her ear."
I glared at glasses-boy while still gripping Hayate and ignoring her futile attempts to escape. "So you were the one who gave her the bright idea."
He swiftly held up his hands in defense. "Hey, we just wanted to tell you that we picked your and Nanoha's desserts for you." He then smiled ruefully and scratched his head. "It's just that Hayate-san… er, volunteered to get your attention instead."
I sighed tiredly. "Please don't give that kind of chance to her. And if you do," I narrowed my eyes at him while still holding Hayate by the neck. "I might not guarantee her or your safety next time."
He nodded once firmly, showing that he transparently understood. "Duly noted."
The short girl beside me squirmed on her seat in order to break free. Reluctantly, I gave back her freedom with a very displeased face, praying that my action will not have dire consequences on my part.
She gasped and held it a little longer than usual, like she had just resurfaced after being underwater for too long. "I almost died…"
In response to that, I rolled my eyes. "You did not."
"Well I could've been!"
"Now, now," Yuuno interrupted carefully, "at least Fate-san and Nanoha are already informed about our desserts. Hayate-san picked a mont blanc for you, Fate-san," he informed me. "She said that it was one of your favorites."
"It sure is!" The brunette exclaimed, "Fate-chan first ate one back in second grade. She liked it so much that she'd throw a fit when it wasn't served on the menu." I knew Hayate recalled that particular incident years ago. She then threw back her head in laughter and leaned back against the cushions with a soft thud. Yuuno and Nanoha laughed along with her. Damn raccoon.
"Hayate?" I growled out in warning.
"What? It's a good story, Fate-chan!" she giggled, "Oh," she then turned her attention to Nanoha, "and Yuuno-kun picked your favorite too, Nanoha-chan—a strawberry shortcake. Said that you gained a lot of weight before because of it."
"Yuuno-kun!" With a face that can put a ripe tomato to shame, Nanoha slapped her childhood friend on his shoulder. She looked so embarrassed that even her ears changed into the same color.
"Ow! What?" He feigned innocence as he tried to block Nanoha's barrage of slaps. "It's true! And who was it that jogged with you every morning for three months so you'd slim down?"
"You did!" She admitted rather easily. "But you didn't have to tell Hayate-chan about it!"
"Oh?" He wore a smile that screamed of mischief. "So… you wouldn't mind if I told Fate-san about it first then?"
"… Huh?" Why was I dragged in?
"Th-That's not what I meant!" Nanoha stuttered out loudly. Her face still flushed and bright red with embarrassment after the boy revealed something from her past.
Well, they have been together that long after all.
I suddenly felt thirsty and an unsettling feeling slowly spread over my chest. The remaining ice clinked against the glass as I tipped it and its rim touched my lips. Taking small sips of my drink, it didn't satiate the need I assumed was brought about by thirst.
I continued to watch Yuuno and Nanoha over the rim as the princess scolded her blonde childhood friend.
Then I was compelled to walk out. To be anywhere but here. I came to the conclusion that I'd rather watch paint dry than to see Yuuno patting Nanoha's bare shoulder as he continuously tried to coo her into calming down.
The scene before me made the weight in my chest heavier and more unbearable as the seconds continued to tick by. My attention from my previous action started to slip away. I had long stopped in parting my lips to let the supposedly thirst-quenching iced tea from entering into my mouth. My jaw unbelievably tightened. My lips, which were still on the rim closed into a thin, flat line. I had completely sat still like a stone statue.
Hayate leaned in my ear, "Jealous, Fate-chan?"
That caused me to spat out air. And before I knew it, iced tea spewed out of my glass and was now all over my face. The only thing good about it was that the cool drink managed to extinguish the burning heat in my face.
But I didn't know whether it was from rage and annoyance caused by Hayate's not-so subtle action and blunt words or… something else entirely.
Well, let's set that aside for a while.
I was more concerned about my face and forelocks dripping wet with iced tea. So far, in all my fifteen years of living on this planet, this was the second time my face got wet with liquid coming from the glass I was drinking.
But this time, it was the damn grinning raccoon's fault that this happened to me.
"HAYATE!" I stood up and reached for my yelping prey so quickly that I bumped my hip against the table's edge, rattling and shaking the objects on top. The girl shrieked when I grabbed her collar but tried to escape in futile attempts. But then I heard another girl's yelp. And it didn't come from the idiot I was about to strangle and choke.
I turned and saw Nanoha spring to her feet and was shaking and wiping the skirt of her dress that had a big light orange spot. A shallow orange puddle started to slowly spread on our table. Yuuno put the toppled glass that used to be filled with his orange soda back on its upright position and used half of the table napkins of the table to absorb the spilled juice.
Two nearby waiters scrambled to get to our table and assisted the blonde boy with the mess using a rag he pulled out of his apron. Several customers stopped to look at the commotion in our table. Others were a lot smarter and just minded their own business as they continued to consume their meals.
Forgetting my previous agenda in getting my revenge at Hayate, I slid out of the booth and went to Nanoha, who stood at the side of the table and was trying to get rid of the stain on her dress with her handkerchief now that the napkins she used were useless.
"Are you okay?" I looked down as her hand busily repeated its attempt to wipe out the orange spot.
"I-I'm fine," she said a little flustered. "I'm sorry!"
I knew some of my hair was getting sticky and were now stuck on my face, but I didn't mind. Instead of taking care of it, I raised a question to Nanoha. "Why are you apologizing?" I mumbled.
She looked up but her hands were still pat-drying her dress, although much calmer than awhile ago. "…Fate-chan?"
"Nanoha-chan!" Hayate and Yuuno soon entered the scene when our table was taken care of by the staff. The brunette looked at Nanoha's dress. Her brows and nose scrunched up into a frown. "We should get that washed before it totally stains your dress."
"Y-Yeah." She agreed then looked down. "But I don't have any extra clothes. Maybe I should head on home."
"I do." I silently admitted without missing a beat.
The three of them gave me an incredulous look.
"You do?" Hayate sounded the most surprised, although the other two haven't verbally reacted yet to my claim.
But instead of answering, I rolled my eyes and went back to our table to get my bag. Once I held its strap with my hand, I grabbed Nanoha's wrist and strode to the girls' room with the stuttering girl in tow, leaving the raccoon and ferret behind. "We'll be right back." I said over my shoulder.
"Fate-chan!" Nanoha called out as we dashed for the washroom, "Where are we going?"
"Washroom," I answered curtly. "We can't have you walking around with that on your dress."
"But it's fine. Really! You don't have to—"
I cut her off when I pushed the swinging door of the girls' room open. When we got inside, it was completely vacant and clean. Weird, considering that it was still lunchtime. But I shook my head to rid that thought out of my mind.
"Alright." I guided her to the farthest cubicle and inspected it if it was unoccupied and spotless. "Good." I smiled and then turned to her again. "Okay," I let go of her wrist and opened the zipper of my bag, "take off your clothes—"
"WHAT?" Her scream echoed inside the tiled walls of the room. Nanoha's face suddenly turned beet red. Her lips quivered in embarrassment.
I blinked and was confused of her reaction. "Your clothes," I said slowly and carefully. I didn't know what she was so worked up about. "Take them off—" But when it finally dawned on me, all the blood circulating my body rushed up to my face, turning it in the same color as my eyes. "Wait! No! That's not what I meant!" Wow, I said that all in one breath. I was actually amazed at how fast I could talk given that kind of situation. "I don't want to take off your clothes—wait, I meant I want you to take off your clothes because you're wet—"
Nanoha's big blue eyes grew even wider. Her mouth slackened. Her face contorted into sheer embarrassment and I think her face couldn't turn any redder than it already did.
Based on her reaction, I also had come to the realization that what I said was the most idiotic and sure-fire way for this conversation to end badly.
"No, wait!" I smacked my very, very warm face real hard. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. And I knew they were as red as my face was. "That didn't come out great either!" I was at the point that I wasn't confident enough to speak and I sure didn't want to risk embarrassing us both yet again. So instead, I pulled my extra clothes from my bag and thrust them into her hands. "I-I'll just be over there—" I pointed at the row of sinks in front of the wide mirror, informing her of where I'd be, "washing my face. Call me if you need anything." I had got to be the lamest information-person in this side of the universe.
She nodded meekly as she held my clothes closer to her chest as she tried to bury her still red face among the fabric.
And with that, I sharply turned and strode to the sinks and heard the door of Nanoha's cubicle close when I was already close to where I wanted to be.
I put my schoolbag on its ledge after making sure it was dry and spotless, and leaned in front of the sink with my hands for support. I counted to ten and ordered my body to calm down to its normal, non-threatened state.
I sighed and thought of how uncool I was back there. I looked straight into my reflection. My hair was still a little wet from the iced tea and I smelled really sweet with a touch of lemon. I frowned some more, realizing that I was slowly becoming a lame dork and a klutz.
I sighed again as I turned on the tap and began to wash my face. Drenching my bangs that got splashed on with the iced tea, I finally got rid of the sticky feeling. With a couple more splashes, my face felt a little refreshed and cool. And with that, the faucet squeaked closed when I turned on its knob to the opposite direction.
I looked at the closed door of the cubicle occupied by Nanoha on the mirror and focused my attention in listening to the small sounds she made. The rustling of clothes and the occasional murmurs made me decide to say something to her.
"Are you okay in there?"
"I-I'm fine!" She answered.
I wrung my hands to shake some of the water off. "Do you need any help?"
"N-No, thank you," she stammered. "I'm fine, really."
I didn't say anything after that but after a few minutes of listening, I decided to do something.
"Are you done changing out of your dress?" I asked.
"Um, yes…" she said and was clearly unsure why I asked her that. "Why'd you ask, Fate-chan?"
"Alright," I said, "give me your dress."
"What? Why?" She seemed genuinely surprised. Well, normally, anyone would—but that's not the point.
I sighed inaudibly so Nanoha wouldn't hear it. "Just hand it over." There was a pause and I knew she was thinking if she was going to do what I told her to or not. "Don't worry," I said gently but loud enough for her to hear from behind the door. "I'm not gonna do anything weird with it."
Nanoha still remained quiet. The air became still. And despite having a door right between us, I could sense Nanoha's uneasiness. I didn't know why though.
And I didn't know what came over me when I asked my next question.
I smiled but I knew it was far from any happy feeling. "Don't you trust me?" I asked quietly. I wouldn't mind if she didn't hear it though.
Plus, I knew I shouldn't be asking such a question since I decided long ago that I didn't want anything between us.
But I just couldn't help it.
I wanted to know her answer.
Then I heard the click of a lock being turned and the cubicle's door suddenly swung open. And before I knew it, Nanoha stood before me with a determined but worried look on her face. "It's not that! I really…"
Somehow, I wasn't able to pay attention with what she said after. All I knew was that Nanoha stood before me wearing my white tank top and denim mini skirt. And she looked… different?
Not anymore kept in a side ponytail, Nanoha's long auburn hair rained down on her back. Some of her shorter locks slipped over her shoulders framing her face and gave the blue-eyed girl a more… breathtaking image. The sleeveless shirt again showed Nanoha's bare shoulders but this time scooped down her neckline a little lower and exposed more skin than with her Sunday dress awhile ago. The snug outfit hugged Nanoha's form and showed off her curves in all the right places. It accentuated her chest area and her small waist more. The skirt she wore was high above her knees and revealed her long creamy white legs. I knew Nanoha had a nice form—wait… When did I know that?
But anyway, after seeing such a delicio—I mean, differently good image, I came to the conclusion that given the right clothes, Nanoha would be so damn hot…
Wait! Whoa! Time out, brain! What the hell was I thinking just now? Did I just seriously think that Nanoha looked really ho—
"Yes?" Wait, I squeaked? I never squeaked! I don't do squeaking!
"Are you okay?" asked Nanoha with concern and raised a hand to my face. "Your face is red."
"What?" I stepped back out of instinct and out of her reach. "No, I don't!" I denied. "I guess it's because of the summer heat. Maybe the ventilation is out of order, yeah?" I let out a nervous laugh and fanned the collar of my shirt to let some air in once again. Although this time, I knew the reason was far from what I usually told myself only a few hours. Indeed, it was getting unbearably stuffy for some odd, bizarre reason after looking at Nanoha.
"Um…" she blinked a couple of times, "okay…"
"S-So…" I tried to start a normal conversation again, "what did you say awhile ago?" Nanoha tilted her head to the side, confused which one I meant. "You know, after you opened the door. You said something else after that."
Nanoha's eyes blinked again but this time her cheeks slowly turned pink. The girl once again fidgeted on her spot and found the floor far more interesting. "Um… I said that…" She tried to look up once but then looked down again as she nibbled on her lip. "I really… really trust, Fate-chan…"
Now it was my turn to blink for more than a couple of times. I opened my mouth but words failed to come out of it. A sudden feeling of elation filled me and I was aware that it reached my face. "Thank you," I said with a small smile.
Her sapphire eyes brightened and she smiled in turn.
And that caused my stomach to do a somersault.
I cleared my throat in response to such a foreign feeling. "A-Anyway," I cleared my throat and extended my hand, "we should get that stain removed from your dress."
"In here?" Nanoha started to shake her head and held the soiled dress closer, preventing me from reaching it. "You don't have to! I'll just wash it when I get home!"
"But by then, the stain won't easily come off and it'll ruin the dress even more," I reasoned with her. "Plus, it was my fault the soda spilled on you."
"N-No!" The girl still stubbornly shook her head. "It wasn't Fate-chan's fault at all. I was also careless and spaced out when I shouldn't."
Gotta give her credit for her… determination. "This'll only take a sec. It won't even last five minutes, I promise."
I sighed and looked at her. "Please? I really insist. I'd like to help you."
Nanoha's eyes were hesitant. I didn't even know why she was so stubborn about handing over the dress. With one last glance at it, she sighed before holding it up to me. I slowly reached for it as Nanoha finally handed over the object we were creatively negotiating over for almost five minutes.
I chuckled and smiled at her, "Thank you." It was the second time I thanked her within the same hour.
Nanoha shyly smiled.
I didn't have any idea why I thanked her for handing over her dress. But it felt right that I did.
I guess it made me feel trusted.
I started to walk back to where my bag was. "I promise you," I looked over my shoulder at Nanoha, "this'll really only take a sec—five minutes tops." I opened my bag and easily reached in a separate inside pocket to pull out the item I had in mind in using for this kind of situation. In my hand was a small clear spray bottle containing some cloudy liquid and, in the other was a small sponge-brush.
"What is it?" Nanoha peeked over my shoulder.
I grinned at her. "See for yourself." Making sure that the wide area near the sink was dry, I spread Nanoha's dress on it neatly and smoothened out the wrinkles.
Nanoha and I stood shoulder to shoulder. I saw the girl's brows furrow, obviously curious on what I was about to do next. I pulled on the bottle's trigger, spraying the cloudy liquid on the fabric. The area soon became damp.
"Fabric softener?" Nanoha tried to guess, her nose wrinkling a bit when the smell began to diffuse in the air.
I giggled and indeed the air did smell nice and clean. "Partly," I said without looking at her. I started to gently dab the spot with the sponge-brush. And with each dab and stroke, parts of the orange stain began to fade until they completely disappeared, leaving visible trails of where I cleaned up.
I looked again at the girl by my side. Her cute big blue eyes grew wide in amazement. She looked up with those big blue orbs of hers. "How did you do that?" she asked as if she witnessed something magical.
I couldn't suppress a giggle from spilling out at her reaction. She really is cute.
While my hands continued to alternatively spray and dab to get rid of the stain, I began to talk to stop any awkward silence from happening between us. "Y'know, I used to do this when I was younger. My sister… would usually spill something on her outfit from soda to coffee to juice to soup—you name it, she spills herself with it. She was the very definition of a klutz, really." I chuckled. "I remembered the many times her clumsiness caused a ruckus wherever we went out to eat. And she would most of the time make a scene when her clothes were ruined or when the stain wouldn't completely come off when we washed it at home. Because of that, I decided to come up with something that'll get rid of the stains easily and much more quickly."
"Really? Fate-chan mixed that by herself?"
I giggled and shook my head, "Oh, no. This is just a really famous stain remover that you see on TV. I saw it on the infomercials once and ordered a lot for my sister. And since her memory was comparable to that of a fish, she'd always forget to bring some with her. So," I put down the bottle and brushed the remaining spots away, "I guess it was up to me to carry one around for her." I picked up the bottle again, gave one last spray and gently brushed the estimated area of where the stain used to be. "My sister can be totally helpless sometimes," a scoff escaped, "and she's supposed to be the older one."
When I was done, I silently looked over the dress and was mighty impressed with my work.
"You really love your sister… Fate-chan."
I froze and slowly looked at Nanoha.
"…Huh?" Did I just… say that last part out loud? "Oops," I ducked my head out of embarrassment. I really wanted to kick myself for saying such things in front of other people, most especially Nanoha. "Y-You heard that?" I playfully hit my head and stuck out my tongue. "Sorry, that… wasn't supposed to come out of my brain," I laughed but Nanoha didn't say anything.
She looked like she wanted to say something but just didn't know how.
I gave her a rueful smile and said, "J-Just forget what I said. It was stupid." A nervous laugh slipped out. My behavior was somehow foreign to me. It's been awhile since I felt this uneasy.
"Oh look!" I intentionally cut her off and raised the dress to her, though it was still slightly damp. I didn't want to look into her eyes and tried to end this topic of my sister as fast as I could. "No more stain! Let's dry this using the hand dryer. Now," I started to playfully look around in a pseudo-peppy mood, "where is that contraption? Ah," I spotted it right away and was genuinely glad that I did, "there it is!" I strode to where it was, careful of Nanoha's dress in my arms.
I held it under the machine's sensor and within seconds, the machine slowly hummed to life letting out a loud blowing sound similar to that of a hairdryer. I stood still and held the dress despite the heat of the air strongly blown out of the machine. The strong hum replaced the awkward silence between Nanoha and me.
While I remained in my place, I tried not to look at Nanoha. I couldn't explain it but just one look from her; I would somehow feel like I'm the most rotten villain on this side of the galaxy. Something about this girl just made me feel like this sometimes.
Although dismissing the topic about my sister like that was rude, all I could say was that it was plain reflex. And even though I was the one who talked about my sister first, I just didn't want to dwell on it deeper. So I ended it.
Take responsibility and never leave what I started unfinished.
But then again, that doesn't really apply to everything in life. Oh well.
I touched the spot where the stain used to be and felt the cozy warmth of the fabric. It was finally clean and that made my grin grow wider. "Look," in my arms, I held the dress to Nanoha, "good as new. And it's warm too!" I added the last bit with a chuckle.
Nanoha reached forward and I felt the weight of her hand touching mine. "You're right," she smiled gently. "It's warm." Only the dress separated our hands from truly connecting.
I remembered that I held her hand before. It was when we first met.
I had the sudden urge to want to hold them again but somehow I knew it would be different from the first time I did it…
"Fate-chan?" Nanoha's voice made me look up.
We looked at each for awhile. Her hands still rested comfortably over mine. I carefully made sure not to make any movements in fear that she'd move her hand.
Despite how close she was and how thin the cloth between our hands was, for me, Nanoha still seemed so far away. As if she was somewhere I couldn't hope to reach. Or maybe I don't have that kind of right to begin with…
Why am I feeling like this?
Snapping myself out of my own strange thoughts, I smiled at her, stopping my own feelings from revealing themselves. "We should go back," I said and started to carefully fold her dress before handing it back to her. My motion caused her hand to move away. "Hayate and Scrya-san must be worried about us." Although I highly doubt that last part, I still felt the need to say something to forget about the thoughts currently plaguing my head.
Nanoha said a quiet "Okay" before the two of us exited the restroom.
My eyes blinked. And then they blinked some more. "Where are they?" I asked in a rather calm voice but really I was on the verge of blowing up.
"They…" Nanoha frantically looked around. "They were just here awhile ago, right?"
The reason why Nanoha and I were having this conversation was that the table where we had our lunch was vacant and unoccupied, void from any familiar human life form that we both knew of and ate lunch together not too long ago.
Where the hell are they? I mentally screamed but made sure to appear humanly civilized, placid and calm for my companion standing beside me.
"Maybe they went for seconds?" Nanoha tried.
I frowned at the thought. "With the allowance Shamal's giving Hayate? I highly doubt that would happen," I deadpanned.
"Well, Yuuno-kun couldn't have left. He doesn't know his way around town yet."
"And that just leaves us Hayate." I said between clenched teeth. "I bet this was all the raccoon's idea."
I sighed and massaged my temples. My brows creased and twitched from the throbbing pain. "That's what I'd like to know too."
My phone rang alerting me that I received a message. Usually in these kinds of situations where Hayate was being an epic pain in the posterior, I couldn't care less about my phone. At the moment, my head was occupied by thoughts and plans on how to slaughter a certain soon-to-be ex-childhood friend.
"Fate-chan?" Nanoha called, "Your phone's been ringing thrice now."
"What?" I didn't notice that my message tone rang thrice. I pulled out my phone from my pocket and indeed saw the mail icon flickering. I had received three messages. Opening them revealed that they all came from one person: Hayate.
From: Hayate Yagami
Subject: Change of plans! Woo-hoo!
I decided to give Yuuno a tour of Mid since you and Nanoha-chan took your sweet SWEET time together in the washroom. Tee-hee~
Anyway, while we're gone, you can have a date with Nanoha-chan for the entire afternoon! Yey you!
That'll be good, right? I'm awesome, right?
Show her around town and give her a good time.
From your most favorite childhood friend,
-end of message-
I was seeing red. I was seeing crimson, scarlet or whatever you call it after I read her message. But despite the monster struggling to be released from within me to go on a rampaging search for a brunette Yagami, I used all my efforts to control myself, to be composed enough to read the next message which—unfortunately—was also sent by Hayate.
I feel dizzy. I think it's because my blood pressure is rising up too dangerously for my own liking. I almost forgot who I was dealing with here. That girl's way of thinking changes as unpredictably as the damn weather. And I was stupid enough to let my guard down. Now I'm suffering the consequences of my carelessness. To make matters worse, Nanoha got involved! "I'm gonna kill her later."
Out of reflex, my fingers automatically tapped on the screen to open my second message.
From: Hayate Yagami
Don't be mean to Nanoha-chan, okay Fate-chan?
I raised an eyebrow and stared at the letters forming the words Hayate wrote, curious as to why the dolt went out of her way to send a second message. Not to mention a rather short one.
My lips turned into a frown. Like I'd have the nerve to do that after all that had happened today! I'm not that cruel!
"Did Hayate-chan send you a message?"
"Huh? Uh, yeah," I nervously admitted. "What about you? Did Scrya-san say something?"
She fumbled with her phone for awhile answering. "Y-Yeah. He said that we'd just meet back at my house before he leaves for Uminari."
"I see." I nodded to let her know that I was listening. Although I was still scowling at Hayate's odd message, it was then that I noticed that I didn't read the entire message yet. I scrolled down the screen until I saw the rest.
Take care of each other, okay?
Peace out! XD
-end of message-
The sides of my lips couldn't help but tip up. "Maybe she's not that stupid after all." I mumbled. It was then that I decided to give the idiot some slack for now. I held my phone in front of Nanoha to let her read the message on the screen. "Hayate said we should take care of each other."
"Eh?" Nanoha's face turned into this cute shade of pink.
I chuckled a little. "Why are you so surprised? It sounds like you're against the idea."
Her eyes widened and she looked down as she stammered out, "Um, well, er… Sh-She didn't have to send us that, right?"
I couldn't help but crack a smile at her reaction. "What do you mean?"
"I-I mean—it's not like I'm against it, but… you know, Hayate-chan's always joking around and—what I mean is… um…"
I chuckled as I closed the message before I moved on to the last one. "Don't worry," I said as I moved my fingers around my phone. "Even if Hayate meant it as a joke or not," I turned to Nanoha and true enough the girl looked flustered, "I'd still take care of you."
The blush on her face leveled up into an even stronger shade of pink. "W-What? Why?"
I shrugged and smiled. "Why not?" I answered matter-of-factly.
While the girl stammered in coming up with some good enough reasons to answer my rhetorical question, I opened Hayate's last message.
From Hayate Yagami
Subject: P.S. of P.S.
But don't rape Nanoha-chan, okay Fate-chan?
Don't take her to dark places, you hear me?
Okay, have fun, kids!
-end of message-
And just when I thought that the idiot showed hope in evolving to a sane human being, she had to go and ruin it all with this bloody message of hers! It totally ruined her chance in redeeming herself!
"I'm gonna murder that raccoon," I mumbled darkly.
Nanoha looked worried.
"Oh," Calm down, me. Calm down. "Sorry 'bout that. Just reminding myself of something to do later."
"Um, okay." Nanoha timidly nodded and lowered her eyes as if the floor was more interesting than my face.
Wait. Why does that kinda tick me off? "A-Anyway," I tried to compose myself again, "what do you wanna do?"
She looked up. "Um, I don't really know…" Her head was bent low again but her eyes hesitantly looked up and connected with mine. "H-How about you, Fate-chan?"
"I-I don't know either."
Wow. Way to go me. I mentally kicked myself. I actually killed the conversation. I can't believe I actually sucked at making conversations whenever I'm nervous—Wait.
Why am I nervous?
Nanoha and I sat across each other. With her head low and me looking at anything but her, the two of us allowed ourselves to be caught in a very awkward atmosphere. Amidst the noise inside the bustling restaurant, we kept quiet and dared not to look at each other.
The blue-eyed girl might have her reasons… who am I kidding? She's sitting across the jerk who got her into trouble even before she officially started her first day, who verbally annoyed and insulted her, and who spilled juice on her cute white dress! Yeah, I think it's not that hard to think up why she looks like she wants to be anywhere but here.
I sighed heavily. I wanted to suggest to her that we can leave. But then a waiter approached our table.
"Excuse me," he politely greeted, "here's your order."
What he put down on our table made my jaw drop. If it were possible, it would've reached down all the way to the floor.
I pointed a trembling finger at it, fearing for the worst. I only prayed that the waiter was pulling a prank. "Um… m-may I ask who… who ordered th-this? 'Cause this isn't what we ordered before."
The young man only blinked innocently, a little confused why I asked such a question with such an unexpected reaction. "Um…" He took out his memo pad and flipped through the pages. His eyes skimmed through the lists. "Your first orders were one Triple-Supreme chocolate brownie with a scoop of vanilla and rainbow colored sprinkles—"
I'm guessing that's Hayate's order.
"—one pistachio cake—"
Too ordinary and geeky… must be Scrya's.
"—one chocolate mont blanc with whip cream frosting—"
Guess the mont blanc's mine…
"—and one strawberry shortcake—"
And for sure, that's Nanoha's. "Yeah!" I interjected, "I'm pretty sure that was what we ordered earlier. Then why—" I just couldn't form the right coherent words to say in this situation. "There must be some kind of mix-up!" I finally said in exasperation.
The waiter instinctively stepped back since I was halfway from rising from my seat and pounding my fist on the table.
I was trying to mislead them by letting them think that the reason my face was unbelievably flustered was because of my annoyance that the staff got our orders wrong. And not out of embarrassment.
Plus, who wouldn't be embarrassed by this?
What was placed in the middle of the now clean and skillfully cleared-out table was the restaurant's house special reserved—supposedly—for couples only.
It was usually ordered by people who were lovey-dovey with each other during that one day of the year—Valentine's Day.
The cake was, of course, heart-shaped and sat on a round white plate. From the center of the heart and all the way to the crust showed three layers of brownie, ice cream and velvet cake. One layer was different from the other and was about one-inch wide and one-inch thick. In the core and center of the dessert was a small, warm, heart-shaped brownie. I could smell the aroma coming from it! The layer next to it which followed the same contour as the core was made up of vanilla ice cream. How the ice cream stayed solid was beyond me. The last layer, the crust, was made out of red velvet cake smothered with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles. The person who was responsible for this cavity-inducing preparation used chocolate syrup to draw an arrow piercing downward from the right through the heart and had a triangular-shaped chocolate as the arrowhead at its tip. And to finish it off, a small, white placard was placed at the edge of the plate written in a sophisticatedly-cursive handwriting saying 'Sweetest Love.'
I gawked at the thing not out of amazement but by sheer horror. I stole a glance at Nanoha and, true enough as expected; she had already made a very good impersonation of a very ripe tomato.
"The brunette with the short hair and goofy accent?" I snapped at him fiercely, clenching my teeth together.
"Y-Yes!" he suddenly stood straight like how a foot soldier would to a fierce commander-general. The guy's knees and legs were practically shaking like maracas. "Sh-She cancelled everything and ch-changed it to this order instead."
"I'm going to really and undeniably kill her." I grumbled under my breath, gritting my teeth as I did so.
And to make matters worse, almost all the customers sitting in the tables nearby glanced our way and grinned at what they saw. At the corner of my eye, I could see a bunch of teenage girls from another neighboring table giggling and saying how cute of me and Nanoha to order such a dessert together.
I was really tempted to smack my face hard on the table.
"Um…" My voice began to tremble and crack. It was mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. "C-Can we just not eat it and return it to you guys instead?" I really prayed to any divine deity in the universe to hear me out and grant my very simple plea.
"I-I'm sorry, miss…" For one thing, he really did sound sorry. And scared. "I'm a-afraid your friend already paid for everything and that she somehow negotiated a compromise if this reaction of yours were to happen during this situation."
I felt my blood slowly starting to boil. Negotiated and compromise are some of the few words that you must never put together with the name Hayate in the same sentence and-or paragraph. I was almost terrified to ask what sick plan the idiot was able to cook up while we were in the restroom for only a few minutes. I deeply breathed in. And slowly breathed out. "And what kind of compromise did she negotiate with you?"
The waiter gulped before answering. "You… You alone would have to pay triple the original price of the dessert and that you would… um…"
"Please," I hissed. I was getting a little impatient with the suspense. "Spit it out already." My temple was already throbbing like crazy.
The young man took a deep breath too and said, "You'd be washing dishes the entire summer with no pay," in one go.
I raked my fingers through my hair and held my head with my hands as I dejectedly mourned the day I made the mistake of meeting a certain brunette.
Well… not the one in front of me, of course. I meant the one with the goofy accent.
I snapped my head up and saw a worried-looking Nanoha, along with a glimpse of the dreadful couple dessert in front of us.
I inwardly winced. I was doing my best to mentally obliterate this part of reality from my mind. Obviously, it didn't work.
"Yes?" I tried to sound cheerful and pleasant for Nanoha.
"I…" She stayed quiet for a second and tried again. "I'm really sorry," she said quietly, as if she was expecting to get scolded.
I blinked once and then twice. "…What?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Nanoha's apologizing? For what?
"This wouldn't have happened if we didn't go to the washroom to clean up my dress. I should've just—"
"Wait!" I raised my hands for her to stop. "Hold on a sec! I'm not… blaming you for what happened. This—"
"But you're clearly upset!" She cut me off.
She actually cut me off which caught me off guard for a few seconds.
I shook my head to snap myself out of it. "Well… yeah, I am." I answered hesitantly. "But that doesn't mean I'm upset at you."
Nanoha's eyes turned downcast. And it strangely made my chest heavy.
I heard her mumble, "You might as well be."
That actually ticked me off. I narrowed my eyes and let out a sigh. Rubbing my face with my hands and replaying the last thing Nanoha said made me realize that she was clearly thinking that I'm upset with her, that I was blaming her for this whole thing. I mean, she's the only one here. And because of that, Nanoha wouldn't even look at me.
But she's wrong.
Still covering my face with my hands, I said, "I would never be upset with you." I risked a peek between my fingers and saw Nanoha looking surprised but at the same time skeptical. I chuckled as I brought my hands down. "You look like you don't believe a word I said."
"It…" Nanoha's hands fiddled with one of the table napkins. "It's not that…" She said quietly. "It's just a little hard to believe."
"… I thought you trust me."
"I do!" Nanoha answered. And she realized that she did it too strongly and too quickly. With that, she shrunk back a little and her shoulders sagged a bit. "I trust, Fate-chan."
If in some way, I would have an out-of-body experience, I would see my face and say that it looked like how I usually did when I have this kind of conversation. My face would be indifferent, passive and apathetic. Not showing a single flicker of emotion. To another person, I would really look bad.
Before, my face and feelings would be both consistent. My face wouldn't spare a single thought nor would my heart stir even for just a little bit.
This phenomenon can be simply explained that I didn't give a damn about anyone or anything. In other words, they didn't cause an impact in me.
For the first time in a long while, I can sense that something was crumbling. "Why do you trust me?"
Nanoha didn't say anything for awhile. "I can't explain it," she said. "But there's one thing I'm sure…" She looked up and slowly her face turned red. Despite the change of color and inner confusion that was sure to be happening in her right now, Nanoha's eyes locked onto mine with strong determination.
I waited and watched as Nanoha opened and closed her mouth. The words she wanted to speak wouldn't come out. But I saw in her eyes that this didn't falter her at all.
No. Under the table, my hands closed into fists. Don't say it.
Involuntarily, I gritted my teeth. Please. And I wanted to squeeze me eyes shut.
Suddenly yet calmly, I picked up the untouched spoon that came along with the cake. Nanoha noticed my action and stopped from continuing with what I knew she was about to say. "The ice cream inside will melt." I said with a hollow smile. "It would be a waste not to eat it, right?" I reached forward and cut a piece of the red velvet cake and vanilla ice cream. "Plus, I hear it's really good." Then I leaned a bit forward and extended my arm, holding out the spoonful of dessert to Nanoha.
The auburn-haired girl's blue eyes widened and it was only a matter of seconds that she started turning red and began to stammer out words that tried to dissuade me from continuing on with my action.
"I-I can feed myself, Fate-chan." Her voice cracked and she was flustered.
I grinned. "But I'm the one holding the spoon." I still held out the spoon for her and waited.
"W-Well—" her eyes frantically shifted, looking for a way out. "Let's just ask for another one!"
My arm was starting to feel heavy and so I decided to prop my elbow on the table's edge. But I was still determined to feed Nanoha. I smirked. "What? Why?" I feigned shock. "We'd just bother the waiters. They're still pretty busy with the other customers anyway." An idea hit me. "I can assure you, you won't catch any oral diseases from me if that's what you were so worried about. I practice personal hygiene every day." I finished with an award-winning smile.
But Nanoha only became more embarrassed. "Tha-That's not what I was worried about!"
Oops, now she's even more embarrassed than before. I laughed. "Oh, it's not?" I playfully wagged the spoon around a little. I tipped my head to the side and asked faux innocently, "Then what is it?"
Nanoha shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Her head bent lower until her gaze wouldn't meet mine.
I glanced at the spoon and the ice cream was close to turning liquid again. I sighed, "You don't have to be embarrassed if someone wants to feed you, y'know." I shoved the spoon in my mouth. The ice cream melted inside. I frowned. Not only was it lukewarm but the cake and ice cream lacked its expected sweetness that it was almost tasteless.
"But… it's the first time someone wanted to do that to me."
I froze and blinked. "Nobody tried to feed you before? Even among your friends back in Uminari?" I thought about it and it didn't strike me as something for her to be so worried about. "It's nothing special really." I shrugged to add emphasis to my point. "It's not something that you should be so worked up about."
When Nanoha shrunk lower in her seat, I inwardly winced and regretted saying something that made her feel even worse.
I cleared my throat and scooped another bit of the dessert. "Besides," I nonchalantly added and made it sound like I wasn't yet finished, "people often do this for me whenever they got the chance." I held the spoon to her again. "So, this time, I want to try this once. In other words," I leaned forward some more and held the spoon with the ice cream and cake closer to her lips, "I want to feed you." I laughed some more when Nanoha turned bright pink. I could easily imagine steam coming out of her ears and head.
"Now, c'mon," I cooed," open up."
With her eyes shut, Nanoha reluctantly opened her mouth and closed it around the spoon. Like a baby, I fed Nanoha the sweet treat with amusement. The girl chewed and swallowed.
I gave her a big smile. "Yummy, right?"
Nanoha shyly looked up and nodded meekly.
"Good girl," I giggled and reached for more to feed Nanoha.
I heard Nanoha mumble, "Fate-chan's such a meanie."
For just a fraction of a second, I stiffened and felt a pang of guilt. I didn't know if she noticed it or not but I deliberately steered away the conversation just before she was about to say something. And despite knowing what it was, in feeling an emotion so unfamiliar, so foreign beyond my current understanding, in some way, in an act of cowardice, I rejected Nanoha's feelings… again. Or better yet, I didn't acknowledge them. I didn't take it seriously. Wait, scratch that. I did take it seriously but still chose not to continue any further. And I preferred it that way, preferred the easiest escape route of an undeniably complicated situation that was sure to happen if I didn't intervene. I dismissed the annoying feeling with a chuckle and continued to feed Nanoha.
I admit. I really am a coward. And I'm fine with that… But why do I still feel so miserable?
My eyes looked up and I was brought back from my abysmal thoughts, while I was still holding an empty spoon. I didn't notice that I have yet to get another piece of our dessert.
"Are you okay? You were spacing out." Nanoha's voice was filled with concern. "Do you have a cold?"
I wanted to pull my hair out. I didn't deserve such a pure and innocent look from her. This is complete mental torture!
I gave her a small smile. "I'm fine." I flapped my free hand up and down at her. "Sorry for spacing out like that." I finished with a nervous laugh when Nanoha didn't say anything. She just looked at me and I felt uneasy for some bizarre reason. "W-What is it?" I stopped myself from fidgeting in my seat. It was something I normally do not want to do in front of other people. And strangely, I most especially do not want to show how uneasy I was in Nanoha's strong gaze.
"Ca-" She stammered at first but suddenly found the courage to speak again. "Can I borrow the spoon?" And reluctantly opened her palm and waited.
I blinked once and scowled at the spoon she spoke of. Then I blinked again and looked back at the girl who spoke of borrowing the stainless steel dining utensil from me. "Uh…" Wow. I had such a way with words. "This spoon?"
My brows creased together. "May I ask why?"
Her courage slowly wavered and it was visible that she was beginning to regret what she asked for. Her hand showed signs of hesitation. "J-Just because…"
I stifled back a laugh. How cute! Her reason didn't make any sense at all but it was still damn cute!
"Alright," I shrugged a shoulder and giggled as I surrendered the silverware without question.
What Nanoha did next made my eyebrows arch.
With the spoon she took from me, she reached forward and scooped some ice cream and a piece of the red velvet cake and held them to my lips, waiting for me to accept and eat it. I just realized that we were still in the crust and yet to have reach the core.
Anyway, my eyes looked at the mix of white and red treat cradled in the spoon. Then my burgundy orbs looked up at Nanoha's blue ones, as I too waited for something else to happen.
"Uh…" I was robbed of the coherence I needed to form words. "May I ask what you are doing, princess?" I asked, unsure of her intention and bewildered by her out of the blue action.
"I want to try feeding Fate-chan."
Scratch that. I was befuddled by her boldness.
I tried to refrain from laughing. "Why?" I said with a smile. "I can feed myself too, y'know." I was this close to letting out my laughter. I didn't mean to but a snicker managed to escape.
In result, Nanoha turned bright pink and pouted. She was about to pull back her arm but stopped at the last second. "Be-Because," her voice shook and cracked. "You've been feeding me since we only have one spoon…" she trailed off, embarrassment taking over her resolve.
"Uh…" My eyes looked around as if the answers were floating above the heads of the other customers. "So you really want another spoon—"
"N-No!" she answered. The spoon almost spilled over the cake and ice cream. "That's not what I meant!"
I tipped my head to the side. "Then what is it?"
Nanoha whimpered a little. It was obvious that she was having a hard time finding the right words to say. "I have never done this before either." She silently admitted. "For me, it's something done by people who are really close with each other. But… that's not the case with us."
I didn't know if I just imagined it or not, but somehow Nanoha's voice seemed a little different. Like an emotion of sad realization which was not supposed to be there coated her words and made me think that I have again caused her such uneasiness in which her usual voice, which was shy yet full of life and glee, was now different. In a bad way.
My chest clenched just from hearing it.
It's not the case with us was what she said. The logical side of my brain told me that Nanoha's statement was completely accurate. We weren't close. That I had decided for awhile now. I wanted to agree with her. I really do. For both of our sakes, I want to confirm her words.
And yet, I found myself unsure, hesitant and less confident than I usually did with the others before her. I didn't know why this girl broke my rhythm, threw me off-balance and, in result, made me uneasy. Like a heavy weight suddenly grew inside me that I couldn't think right, made breathing a little bit more painful than usual, and made my heart flip and flutter.
Argh! I don't know what's happening anymore!
Or maybe I didn't want to mind these unfamiliar changes within me.
Changes… Could it be…?
I held Nanoha's hand. I felt her go tense under my touch.
I steadied her hand holding the spoon and ate the ice cream and cake it carried. I pulled back, chewed and swallowed.
"Wow… It's really good." I grinned at her. "It's warm and sweet."
And then, I knew everything was beginning to change.
"So where are you heading?" I asked Nanoha who was a little ways behind me as we stood in front of the entrance.
Fortunately, we were able to finish the supposedly inconsumable dessert through some small talk and taking turns in feeding each other despite how embarrassing it might've been for us and how amusing it must've been to some curious onlookers.
And also, I save myself from going bankrupt and washing dishes for the rest of summer.
"Um, I don't really know." She said taking her umbrella out of her bag before we stepped out into the heat. "I think I'll just head on home. Yuuno-kun might already be there."
I suddenly lost interest in asking her more questions and just answered her with a neutral "Ah, I see" and fell silent.
The two of us stepped out of the cool restaurant and into the heat-stricken streets of Mid. I moved away from the shade. I squinted and held a hand over my eyes shielding them from the brightness of the summer sun.
Nanoha popped open her umbrella and stood close to me as she held it over our heads, completely blocking the sun's powerful rays from hitting my eyes. "Fate-chan, you shouldn't just step out of the shade like that."
I blinked. She sounded like a mother reprimanding her child. I chuckled, "Yes, mother."
Nanoha defiantly stomped her foot. "I-I'm not your mother!"
I laughed some more. "Yes, yes," I sarcastically said. "You're not my mother. You just sound like one, though."
The girl's cheeks puffed up. I couldn't help but laugh at her reaction.
"Why are you mad? I think you'd make a great mother."
Nanoha's face slowly turned red amidst the heat. "I'm not mad." If she would be any redder, I think she'd get a heatstroke if she's not careful. "You're such a meanie, Fate-chan."
I only laughed. "But it's true!" I raised a challenging brow at her. "You don't think so?"
The girl's eyes widened a little and quickly found the pavement far more interesting. "Well… um, I can't find any reason to agree."
"But," I said without missing a beat, "you also don't have a reason not to agree, right?" I flashed her a smile.
Nanoha giggled. "You really are mean, Fate-chan."
I didn't answer but felt my gaze soften in response instead. I pried her hand off the umbrella and held it over our heads instead. I gave her a look that left her no room to argue.
The girl gave a small nod and the two of us made our way to the bus stop en route to her neighborhood.
We walked in silence for awhile. Only the sounds of passing cars, buzzing cicadas and some kids running around filled in our wordless atmosphere. I really didn't know what to say.
We arrived at the bus stop and the bus was nowhere in sight.
"Are you taking this bus too, Fate-chan?"
"Hmm? Oh, uh no. Actually, my bus goes the other way—"
"What? Then why are you here?"
I blinked. A little hurt at her question. "You don't want me to be here?"
She shook her head. "N-No! That's not what I meant. It's just—"
"It's just that I want to walk you to your stop." I gently finished her sentence for her. "That's enough of a reason, right?"
It was then that the bus arrived and slowly stopped before us. A few passengers came out when the door opened.
For a few seconds, the auburn-haired girl didn't step forward and climb in.
I saw the driver looking at us but said nothing and chose to wipe his shiny forehead with his handkerchief, as if he was giving us some time to consider boarding the vehicle.
Nanoha looked at the bus then at me. Her eyes looked unsure. "I'd better go."
I nodded and gave a soft grunt in agreement, "Yeah… I think you should," yet I couldn't understand why I felt that it was a lie. I handed her umbrella back. My fingers grazed her hand.
"You're going home after?"
I chuckled. "Maybe," I shrugged, "or maybe I'll go raccoon-hunting for awhile before I head on home."
She giggled. "Don't be too hard on Hayate-chan."
"After the embarrassing stuff she made us go through?" I scoffed. "Like hell I will."
Nanoha brushed her hair with her free hand. "But…"
"Hmm?" I waited yet Nanoha didn't continue. I was expecting her to defend her friend. And maybe indirectly prevent me from sending myself to jail.
"But I kind of like it." Nanoha's cheeks were tinted with red. And the girl was doing her best not to look at me. "Feeding Fate-chan, I mean."
I was too stunned to give a proper comeback. I so didn't see that coming. Not at all!
"Are you girls getting in or what?"
The guy had to choose that time to say something!
"Y-Yes! Please wait for awhile!" Nanoha shouted back. She finally looked at me for one last time, said a quick "I'll see you around, Fate-chan!" and went into the bus as she folded her collapsible umbrella before she got in.
For a moment, I thought about not moving and to stay where I stood. I thought it didn't matter that Nanoha was getting on the vehicle and that, at any second, I wasn't sure when I'd see her again during the summer. For sure, the next time we'll meet will be at school during the second semester. It would take days. It would take weeks.
And so a great deal of impatience erupted within me.
And the next thing I knew, I was clutching onto the side rail of the bus as if my life depended on it, my feet firmly planted on the steps as I managed to board the vehicle and get back my balance just in time before the door hissed and closed behind me.
It was then that I noticed that I was panting as I looked up at her. I didn't even notice that I ran.
I saw surprised sapphire eyes.
"I lied," I admitted quietly, gently interrupting her again.
"… About?" Her brows creased together, confused with my words.
Yeah, what was it about? Ah, that's right.
I opened my mouth. "I think you shouldn't and should've just stayed."
In fact, I hated seeing you go.
A/N: On to the next chapter! Unfortunately, it's still on paper. If only I can make shadow clones to update faster… *sighs*
Anyway, yes, it's another cliffhanger. Part two is actually done but as I said it's on paper. I still need to transfer the words in my laptop. That's really gonna take awhile since my typing speed is really really bad.
So please wait for me! I promise I'll update but I can't say that it'll be soon!
And here's my most favorite part: your reviews! So any comments, reviews, questions, PMs are all welcome. And also, as an added bonus, you guys can get the chance to scold, threaten and terrorize me (gently) through reviews or PMs. I willingly accept your verbal punishments.
But don't get me wrong. I'm not a masochist… okay?
See you in the next chapter! Don't worry! I'll really come back! Byeeeeeeeee~! :D