Okay, so I was rereading this story since it's been a really long time since I've looked at it, and I realized the beginning is just way too short. Granted, this is supposed to be a sweet, simple story, but I feel like the beginning was really rushed. There's some really important relationship dynamics that weren't explored to their full potential, so I've decided to rewrite the story.
Chapter 1: The Princess and the Fleabag
Today is going to be a good day, I thought as I stood in front of my mirror, brushing my long auburn hair until it shimmered and felt like silk in my hand. I had been growing it out since I could remember. Mother liked it best long. She said women were supposed to have long, beautiful hair. When I was younger, she used to brush my hair for me, and when she hit a snag, she would tear through it so hard I thought my scalp would rip off. I cried once, and Mother scolded me right away, said I had no business crying. Sometimes perfection required pain. I never cried again.
My hairbrush slipped from my fingers when I heard her voice boom and echo off the walls. She was downstairs, screaming out the front door, "Keep your filthy hounds away from my house! I saw them sniffing around! ... If it happens again, I'll call Animal Control. Don't think I won't!" and then she slammed the door shut.
I picked up my hairbrush and set it back down on my dresser; then I stepped back, smoothed out my light blue dress, and smiled at my reflection in the mirror. "Today is going to be a good day."
Downstairs, I found Mother sitting at the kitchen table, stirring a cup of coffee with her spoon, her third cup of the morning, and she would have at least two more. With her free hand, she slowly rubbed her temple with her fingers. She looked tired ... and angry. I tried my best to keep quiet as I went to the fridge for my lunch.
Again, the fridge was empty. Yesterday, Mother said she would go to the market, but she must have forgotten. I knew better than to ask her about it, not today. It was okay, though. No big deal. I didn't need to eat lunch today.
"What are you still doing here?" she eventually asked as she took a sip of her coffee. "Don't you have school or something?"
I closed the fridge and turned around. "I was just leaving."
"Then go already." She set down her cup and some of the dark brown liquid splashed onto the table, but she made no attempt to clean it.
"I'm starting my third year today," I went on. "I'm wearing my new dress, too, the one Father bought me special. I didn't let it get wrinkled, just like you told me."
Without answering, she stood up from the table and walked right past me. I turned around and watched her go upstairs. She probably hadn't heard me. I had a habit of mumbling sometimes, so she probably hadn't heard me.
"I'm leaving!" I announced loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to annoy her; then I grabbed my schoolbag and walked out the door.
Konoha was terrible place, Mother always said. The villagers were horrible people, lowlifes, and far beneath us. I often heard her talking to her friends about the other women, saying they were plain and ugly, downright stupid too. I saw some of those ugly, plain women as I walked down the road. They didn't look stupid to me, but they probably were if Mother said they were. She knew a lot of things about people because she was very observant. And she didn't work, so she had a lot of time to watch people. She liked to watch people, it seemed, and talk about them too. Every day, she and her friends would sit around the kitchen and talk about the other villagers — mean things mostly, but they must have been true because Mother wouldn't lie.
My best friend Yuzu had a stupid mother too, but Yuzu wasn't stupid, just quiet and plain, very plain. She stumbled out of her shabby house, tripping over the hem of her dark pink dress, a hand-me-down from her older sister. Her ashy brown hair came down in tangled strands to her chin, and her bangs stuck out at weird angles like she'd slept on it. She tried to comb out her hair with her fingers, but it wasn't helping.
Still, despite her disheveled and awkward appearance, she wore a warm smile on her face and greeted me just as politely as the first day we met.
"Good morning, Iku-chan," she said, bowing her head deeply. "Thank you for waiting for me."
"You're almost ten minutes late," I replied flatly. "It's rude to make your friend wait, you know."
She blushed. "Sorry, Youji took a long time to—"
Just then Youji, Yuzu's twin brother, bounced out of the house on one leg while trying to pull on his other shoe. His baggy red shirt had a tear, as did his blue shorts, and from his mouth hung a piece of half-eaten toast. When he saw me, he gave a quick wave, slammed his bare foot into his shoe, and then sped off down the road.
Yuzu and I walked to school together, as we had every day since our first year at the Academy. She always stayed a few steps behind me, letting me take the lead, and I determined the pace of our walk and the subject of our conversation. She didn't talk much, except to agree with me, and that was preferred. She never had anything interesting to say, anyway.
Along the way, we stumbled across several of our classmates. Shikamaru was still rubbing his eyes when he emerged from his house, mumbling something about how troublesome it was to get up so early, and the gluttonous Chōji joined him soon after, a bag of chips clutched in his fat hand. We hurried along before they saw us. I didn't want to be seen in the company of such people.
We saw Ino too. She was just leaving her house when we crossed paths. She wore her blonde hair parted to one side and clipped back with a blue flower clip, the same blue flower clip I'd worn just last week.
That's just like her, I thought as we shared brief glare and parted ways. She has no style of her own, so she has to copy mine!
I wanted to rip that clip out of her hair just like I'd done last year when she'd dared to wear the same red ribbon as me, but I was already running late. Next time, she wouldn't be so lucky.
The Academy was just within sight when the first warning bell began to toll. I saw Sasuke among the children heading toward the main gate, and unless my eyes had deceived me, he looked even cuter than the last time I'd seen him, which was just a few days ago. Just like then, he was too busy thinking his deep, brooding thoughts to notice me, but this year was going to be different; this year I was going to get that prized seat next to him in class, and then he would have to talk to me. I would make him talk to me.
"This is my year, Yuzu," I said. "I'm going to kiss Sasuke this year."
I waited for her response, but it never came. When I turned around to look at her, I realized she wasn't listening to me. She wasn't even looking at me. Instead, she was staring off with this dazed look on her face, like she was trapped in a genjutsu. I followed her gaze to the main gate, where Shino, suspiciously hidden behind his signature high-collared jacket, was slinking through the entrance.
When the gate closed, I shuddered. "He's so creepy."
"Hmm?" Yuzu blinked her eyes a few times, the trance finally broken. "Did you say something?"
My jaw dropped. "What? I've been talking this whole time! You're supposed to listen when I talk, Yuzu. That's what best friends do! ... Instead you're staring at creepy bug-boy."
"He's really not that creepy," she started to say, but I quickly cut her off.
"It doesn't matter. Not even your rudeness can ruin this day. Today is going to be a good day." I inhaled deeply and took a confident step forward. "Today, I will win Sasuke's heart!"
And then the fleabag came barreling by like a rabid dog and slammed right into me, knocking me off balance, and I tumbled to the ground. When he realized what he'd done, Kiba turned around in mid-run and shouted a quick apology over his shoulder. As if that made everything okay! My dress, my beautiful, special dress, was ruined; the bottom was covered in so much dirt I couldn't even tell what color it was anymore.
That jerk! I thought as I watched him run away. Just wait 'til my father hears about this!
Suddenly, I felt something warm, rough, and wet on my knee, and when I looked down, I saw Akamaru in front of me, gently licking away the blood and dirt from my scraped knee. Once he sensed my gaze, the white furball looked up at me and barked cheerfully.
"Get away from me, you filthy mutt," I spat, pushing him away, but the puppy held his ground and just kept staring. "I said, go! Get out of here! Leave me alone!"
Akamaru stayed until Kiba called him; then he gave another loud bark and ran off. I watched the two pass through the gate just as the second warning bell sounded, ... and then I saw that pig-haired Sakura making her way toward the gate. I could tell just from her style of dress that she intended to compete for Sasuke's heart as well. I couldn't let her win!
"Ikuko, are you all right?" Yuzu asked as she knelt next to me and tried to dust off my dress, but I didn't have time for that. I had to reach Sasuke before Sakura could get to him.
Scrambling to my feet, I pushed Yuzu away and made a mad dash for the gate.
"Ikuko!" Yuzu called. "Ikuko, wait!"
I came to a stop just outside the classroom and leaned against the wall for a few seconds to compose myself; then I brushed off my dress, wiped away the drying blood, and combed out all the small tangles in my hair. When I finally felt confident with my appearance, I stepped through the entrance, and once I did, I wanted to rip out my hair and stomp it into the ground. She was sitting next to him — my Sasuke — the boy of my dreams!
She may have won the battle, but she's gonna lose the war!
I clenched my fists and marched up the ascending levels of desks until I found a free seat. As I passed Sakura, who was busy staring adoringly at my future husband, I gave a hard flick to her unnaturally wide forehead.
"Hey!" Sakura shouted. "That hurt, Ikuko!"
I shrugged. "Sorry, but your forehead is too large a target to miss." Then I threw her a devilish smile and continued on my way. Ha! Take that!
There were only a few available seats left: one next to creepy Shino, one next to style-stealing Ino, one next to the weird kid with the runny nose ... and one all the way at the top next to Kiba and his mutt. As I weighed my options, I watched Kiba play with Akamaru, who was sitting right on the desk and spreading his dog germs everywhere. Yuck! I couldn't understand why Iruka-sensei allowed him to bring that smelly hound to class. Wasn't that a health violation or something? What if he bit someone? That little beast had no business in a place of learning.
I was just about to take my chances with the snot-faced kid when I realized the seat next to Kiba had a perfect view of Sasuke — well, the back of his head, but that was still better than any of the other seats, so I temporarily put aside my anger for the fleabag and sat down next to him.
Yuzu entered the classroom just before the bell rang. The back of her dress was caked with dirt and both her elbows were scraped, but she seemed to forget about all that when she noticed the empty spot next to Shino.
I shook my head in disapproval. She's hopeless.
"Hey, Ikuko," Kiba said, "I'm sorry I knocked you down. You didn't get hurt, did you?"
Sasuke's so cute! I let out a dreamy sigh and cradled my chin in my hands as I watched him. I wonder if he's thinking about me ... I blushed at the thought. Of course he is!
I spent the entire morning watching Sasuke while Iruka-sensei rambled on about silly, less important topics. Occasionally, Sakura would pathetically try to get Sasuke's attention, like when she accidentally flung her pencil across the desk, but he never looked her way, not once. I couldn't help but giggle at her failure. It was so sad. Not everyone was as fortunate as me.
Sadly, all my good luck momentarily ran out when lunchtime came around. Turns out, I wasn't going to be able to skip lunch like I'd thought. My stomach was growling so loud, and it hurt so much, and the smell of everyone else's food was just making it worse. Groaning, I laid my head on the desk and wrapped my arms tightly around my aching stomach.
"What's wrong, Ikuko?" Kiba asked as he gnawed on a piece of jerky. "Did you forget your lunch?"
The smell of his food drifted into my nostrils and made me sick with hunger. I could smell rice and mouthwatering beef, and the sound of his chewing was driving me insane.
"I have an extra rice ball," he said. "You can have it if you want."
Despite my hunger, I rose to a sitting position and proudly raised my chin. "I don't eat dog food."
His eyes narrowed, and he grumbled back, "I was just trying to be nice."
"If you want be nice, then consider taking some lessons in table manners ... and take a bath every once in a while." I plugged my nose with my fingers. "You smell worse than your dog."
Growling, he clenched the edge of the desk and his nails elongated into sharp claws, but he didn't say anything. Then, out of nowhere, Chōji turned around and held out an open bag of chips. "Want a chip, Ikuko?"
Kiba waved him away. "Don't bother, Chōji. Princess doesn't eat common food." He shot me a smirk and tore off another piece of jerky with his teeth, chewing much louder than necessary. "Mmmmm . . . so good."
I hope you choke.
Once lunchtime finally passed, Iruka-sensei resumed his boring lecture. As he droned on, my thoughts began to drift far away, and suddenly Sasuke was up from his seat and coming toward me. Startled, I scooted all the way back in my chair, my heart racing. He leaned over the desk and brought his face real close to mine, his onyx eyes burning with unrivaled passion.
"You're so cute," he said in a deep, sultry voice that made me shiver. "I can't resist you anymore. I have to kiss you."
I shyly lowered my gaze, my cheeks burning. "Right now? But we're in class."
"Yes. Now." His fingers found my chin, and he slowly drew my lips to his. "Ikuko . . ."
"Sasuke-kun," I muttered, letting my eyelids fall.
And then my stomach growled again.
When I opened my eyes, Sasuke was back in his seat, leaving my lips still unkissed. Stupid stomach! I thought as I viciously pulled and twisted at my noisy belly.
Giving a quiet groan of defeat, I threw my hand back onto the desk and felt a strange wetness on my finger. "Gross!" I screamed, roughly pushing away Kiba's snoring face. "You're drooling all over me!"
The fleabag woke with a jump and started muttering incoherently to himself. "What? — What's going on? — What's ...?" He looked at me with tired eyes. "What is it, Ikuko?"
"Keep your germs away from me!" I warned. "It's bad enough I have to sit next to you. Now I have to have you drooling all over me, too?"
Iruka-sensei stopped his lecture and scolded me. "Ikuko, you're disrupting class."
"But my personal space has been invaded by his germs!" I protested, standing up from my seat. "My health could be at risk! He could have rabies for all we know, with all those mutts his family keeps!"
"That's enough! Another word, and I'll keep you after class."
"I'll see you after class," he calmly said before returning to his lecture.
My cheeks flushed as my fists began shaking with anger and embarrassment. Staying after class? Me? I never got in trouble. I didn't even know what trouble was; that was something for lowlifes and delinquents, not a sophisticated girl like me. It wasn't even my fault, anyway — it was that stupid fleabag, Kiba!
I could hear the jerk snickering as I returned to my seat, and when I threw him a menacing glare, his lips curled into a cocky smirk. I wanted to punch him in the face and bash his face against the desk until his mouth bled and his teeth started popping out of his gums, but that was beneath me. I couldn't trouble myself with such lesser folk.
When school was over, the only students left in the classroom were Naruto, Shikamaru, Chōji, Kiba, and me. I was stuck in detention with the four delinquents who were being punished for skipping class the day before. To put me at the same level as them — the nerve of Iruka-sensei!
"Stay here," Iruka-sensei said as he got up from his desk and started toward the door. "I'll be right back."
I sunk into my seat and folded my arms over my chest. "This is ridiculous."
"Princess can't handle the punishment?" Kiba teased.
I was just about to yell at him when I noticed his annoying little dog sitting on the desk. Even though his eyes were closed, I knew he was staring at me, and it made me uncomfortable.
"What do you want?" I asked, glaring down at him. "You're just as bad as him!"
And then the beast flew at my face! He attacked me like some little monster from a horror movie, licking and slobbering all over my face — I even got some of it in my mouth! During my vicious assault, Kiba and his pack of misfits were laughing like a bunch of hyenas, and Kiba was by far the loudest.
"Akamaru, get off her," Kiba finally said in between laughs.
After a few more licks, Akamaru hopped off my face and went back his owner, who patted the beast's head proudly and said with a grin, "I think he likes you, Ikuko."
"The feeling isn't mutual!" I rose from the bench, gasping for air and furiously wiping the dog's saliva from my face. "Gross! I have its germs all over me!" I glared at Kiba. "You keep your mutt away from me!"
"He was just saying hello."
"I don't care what he was doing!" I yelled, moving away from my desk. "Just wait until my father hears about this! He's going to have that mutt exterminated!"
Holding Akamaru protectively in his arms, Kiba stood and gave me a fierce glare. "Don't you ever threaten Akamaru!"
"Then keep him away from me!" I roared back before storming toward the classroom door. I'd had enough of this stupid school.
"Uh, Ikuko," Naruto said as I stomped past him, "where are you going? We're not supposed to leave the classroom."
"Who cares?" I yelled over my shoulder. "This school is a joke! Who wants to be a ninja, anyway? Soon, you'll all be working for me!" And with that, I walked out of the classroom and slammed the door shut behind me.
When I got home, I ran straight to the kitchen, where Mother was sitting with one of her friends. Drinking fresh tea, the two women lounged around, giggling and gossiping like they always did. By the time I reached them, they were discussing the disappearance of Kiba's father, saying his mother had scared him away with her temper or something. Since my news was far more important, I didn't even hesitate to interrupt their conversation.
"Mama, you'll never believe what happened to me," I said as I ran to her, tears beginning to form in my honey brown eyes. "I had to stay after class because that fleabag Kiba got me in trouble —and then his dog attacked me and—"
"Ikuko, can't you see I'm busy?" Her voice was almost as cold as her black eyes. "Now, go to your room."
Sniffling, I reached out my hand and grasped the sleeve of her blouse. "But, Mama ..."
She ripped her arm away. "I said, go to your room!"
My stuttering lips fell quiet as I stepped back, eyes flickering back and forth between the two women's sneering faces. They were looking at me like I was some cockroach who had crept into the kitchen, like I was filthy and full of disease. Mother's eyes passed over my dirty blue dress, and she asked, "What did you do to your dress?"
I gulped. "Kiba, he ran into me and—"
"And you got it dirty? Is that how you show your appreciation for your father's expensive gift? By getting it filthy?"
"But it wasn't my fault," I tried to say. "I'll clean it myself. It'll be just like new again. I won't get it dirty again, I promise."
"No." She turned away and took a long sip of her tea. "Throw it in the garbage. If you can't be responsible with it, then you have no right to wear that dress."
My heart sank. Throw it away? This was the prettiest dress I'd ever worn, and she was telling me to throw it away because it got a little dirty? But that wasn't fair. It wasn't my fault! I was being responsible, I was!
"Yes, Mother," I muttered, and as I shuffled out of the kitchen and up the stairs, I could still hear the two of them talking.
"What an ungrateful child," her friend said.
"Oh, I know. After all I do, it's never enough. How I envy you ... Be glad you don't have children."
After changing into fresh, clean clothes, I reluctantly carried my dirty dress outside to the trash can and pulled off the lid. But I couldn't throw it in, not yet. I hugged the dress tightly and pressed it to my cheek, savoring the warmth and softness of the fabric one last time. A single tear fell and darkened the little white butterfly.
"I wanted to have my first kiss in this dress."
Fighting back another tear, I threw the dress into the trash, slammed on the lid, and then ran back into the house.