Disclaimer: I don't own Skip Beat!
Story takes place directly after the end of chapter 188.
It started with a call.
The number was unscreened, and Kyoko's first instinct is to ignore it. The last one she picked up, after all, was from that idiot Shotarou, and she had no interest of bringing her mood down further. She still had to study for that exam they had, and then run to Daruma-ya to take the evening shift – there was just no time to be angry at that idiot.
But then she took a closer look at it, and saw that it wasn't even from the Tokyo area. In fact… the ID code was from Kyoto.
She hesitated, then redialed.
All of this took less than a minute. She was in school, loitering after the classes let out in the hope of catching the math teacher and asking him about the lessons the test would cover. She had no idea of knowing that not one, not two, but three men were waiting for her to come out.
Yashiro Yukihito threw his charge a worried look as Ren took the third wrong turn in the day, bringing them near the school. They still had an hour until they had to be anywhere, but there was just so many diversions that he could chalk up on oversight.
"I'm really sorry, Yashiro-san," Ren said. "I have no idea what's gotten in me today."
Oh, but I do, Yashiro thought, you're hoping that you would catch sight of Kyoko-chan as she leaves, so you would greet her.
Then, of course, Kyoko-chan would be Kyoko-chan, which is to say, incredibly formal, and they would banter a bit while Ren blocks the other cars. In the end, he would suggest giving her a lift to wherever she needs to go, since it would just so happen to be right in our direction, and Ren would have enough time to grill her about that email she sent Kijima.
It was odd, Yashiro thought, that his charge would be so transparent about some things and yet hide others so well.
"I wonder, shouldn't Kyoko-chan's school be letting out right now?" he supplied. "I see students come out right now…"
"Yes, aren't they?" Ren said, brightening, like he hadn't been mulling over the same thing all day.
"Picking her up from school… you two really are getting all lovey-dovey lately," Yashiro said, more out of obligation than belief. In reality, Ren's mood had been absolutely foul since lunch and his manager wasn't sure that he ought to go anywhere near Kyoko when he was in such a state, but saying that would not do. Yashiro and Ren's professional relationship operated on the assumption that Ren was good at hiding his problems, and that his manager was stupid enough not to see right through him.
Even now, his client didn't miss a beat in giving his own patented line.
"Please don't say such things, Yashiro-san," Ren said. "If others heard you, they'd think…"
But Yashiro didn't get to hear what others might think, because they had reached the front of the building, and just in time to see a furious Kyoko charge out. Ren immediately slowed and lowered his window, but she didn't seem to notice him. She was focused on the gates, and the person standing there, looking at her.
Later, when he learned the full details, Yashiro would think about how it was all a matter of really bad timing. If Ren had been driving slower, or Kyoko – faster, they would have missed each other completely and what followed might have been diverted.
But Kyoko had been held back in school, and when she left, there was the extra roadblock of Fuwa Sho to overcome.
Though she didn't see it as a roadblock.
Sho, who had been looking out especially for her, extracted himself from the grasp of Mimori and turned to the furious redhead. "Well, well. Long time, no see."
Kyoko didn't note his peculiar tone, or, if she did, she completely ignored it. Her phone was in her hand, still open, and she was shaking with the effort to suppress her furies.
"You idiot," she said, without preamble. "I've got half a mind to slap you silly."
Sho blinked, taken aback. He'd come specifically to rile her up, but hadn't expected that she would already be angry. He only hesitated for a moment.
"Oh? That's a bit of a revelation. I thought you already had just half a mind."
Mimori opened her mouth to swoon, but then she noticed the look on Kyoko's face. Then she saw the one on Sho's. The air between the two seemed like it was supercharged, and if lightning had struck from the clear sky, she wouldn't have been surprised.
"I'll… just leave you two alone," she muttered, feeling the familiar fights starting to brew.
Ren didn't. He couldn't stop the car, so he was forced to pass the two before Kyoko even opened her mouth, and take a loop around the school, looking for a parking space.
And there were none.
Meanwhile, Kyoko and Sho were just getting started.
"Are you calling me stupid? You really have some nerve, coming here to insult me," Kyoko was saying.
"I call them how I see them. You should be thankful I'm not calling you worse." Sho looked at her up and down. "Well, this is unexpected. I thought if you let others dress you up, you'd at least learn how to do your own hair like you ought."
Kyoko panicked. Others dress her up? Did he find out somehow about the Cain-and-Setsu gig? But Tsuruga-san had only bought her clothes once – how could he know? Then she remembered why she had been pissed off to begin with.
"Image is more of your thing, isn't it? You're so focused on looking cool that you completely disregard those that were supposed to be dear to you."
"Oh, that's rich. Stop acting already – we all know about your new boyfriend, so you don't have to play hurt anymore."
That completely threw her off the loop. "What?"
"Come on! Why play dumb? You landed the great actor Kijima as a boyfriend, after all. You should be gloating freely."
"What are you talking about? Kijima-san isn't my boyfriend." She was more confused now than angry. Little by little, she got more aware of her surroundings, and tried to keep her tone in check. "If you're referring to the Dark Moon party, that was because he wanted to do something nice on a whim. It had nothing to do with me."
"Right. And if you believe that, I have a really nice tower I'd like to sell you," Sho snapped. "Men don't just buy you dresses and makeovers for nothing. That guy will expect payment, one way or another."
Kyoko felt her cheeks burn up with anger and shame. That was the second time someone said something like that to her, and if the idea that Tsuruga Ren and Fuwa Sho shared an opinion on something wasn't strange enough, the fact that he had come all the way here to tell her this had her reeling.
"Even if Kijima-san was my boyfriend, which he is not, it would still not be any of your business," she said. "And no, you egocentric, I wasn't referring to what you did to me."
"Oh, really? And what, pray, have I done lately to piss you off?"
"How long has it been since you spoke to your parents?"
She flipped her phone open and showed him her contact list. The number right on top was as familiar to him as his own.
"Oh… they called you?" he asked.
"They couldn't get a hold of you," she said. "They wanted to hear your voice, but you'd stopped calling and they didn't know how to talk to you."
Sho pursed his lips. "They had no business calling you. You should have told them so."
"They practically raised me, Sho," she said. "I can't do that. Besides, there's nothing illegal about taking a phone call from your parents. Why don't you call them?"
"That's none of your business, and you have bigger things to worry about," he said. "If you're not careful, people will start to say things about you."
Again with that, she thought. It was exactly like the stuff Tsuruga-san had told her, about protecting her image and the image of LME. The only difference was that Sho wasn't her sempai, and she told him so.
"I might not be your sempai, but we grew up together," he said, lowering his voice several octaves, and forcing her to lean in to hear. "You're still my responsibility, even if you go off acting stupidly."
She stared at him, part in shock and part in disbelief. His responsibility? Really?
"You're a young, single girl. You have to pay attention to the company you're keeping," he said. "If you really want to knock me off where I stand, you better do that."
She fumed. "Don't give me advice on how to act. And stop calling me! I have better things to do that go through your obsessive voice messaging."
Before he could answer, she thrust a piece of paper with his parents' number on it. "Here! In case you lost it!" she said, turned on her heel, and started walking away.
Her exit would have been much more impressive, however, if she had managed to go down the street without bumping into Ren and Yashiro.
"Mogami-san, what a surprise," Ren said, flashing her a calm smile. "Are your classes over?"
"Yes," she said, after bowing quickly. "We just let out."
"I see. I hope your day was productive, you seemed in such a hurry to make it on time," Ren said. "Are you on your way somewhere? Yashiro-san and I were just stopping to pick something up – we can give you a lift."
Kyoko opened her mouth to say yes, but then she felt Sho's eyes boring into the back of her head. His words came back to her – that men don't do things for you unless they have an ulterior motive, and then she remembered how Tsuruga-san her said the same things. It wouldn't have bothered her, except for the fact that Sho had been less than delicate in his allegations. The way he put it, he made it look like she had sold herself for those clothes and make up.
"No, that's fine, Tsuruga-san," she said, bowing again. "I just needed to have a word with Fuwa-kun over there on a family matter – I'll be staying in the school for a little longer. We have a test coming up, and I really need to study."
"Oh," Ren said, barely covering up his disappointment. "Well, that's very conscious of you. Work hard, then."
"Thank you," she said, and hesitated. She felt like she had a thousand things she wanted to tell him, yet she had no way of saying them without sounding presumptuous. Ren, on his part, didn't want to leave her, not yet. It was left to Yashiro to point out they would be late if they didn't leave soon. The two took their hasty leaves.
Ren and Yashiro weren't halfway to the car, when Kyoko came running after them.
"Tsuruga-san…" She looked around quickly, then blurted out. "Um, something unexpected has come up. I… don't know if I'll be able to attend the… project at the scheduled time."
Yashiro needed less than a minute to decode the message. The project – the Cain and Setsu act.
Ren seemed confused.
"Um… not quite."
"You seem very vague, Mogami-san. I'm afraid I don't understand."
"It's a… family matter. It doesn't affect me directly right now, but… it might. I just… I wanted to ask… would it be a problem if I'm gone for an extra day or two?"
Yashiro didn't know what happened, but Ren's mood darkened considerably. Even though the smile on his face remained, his eyes and tone were cold. "Why are you asking me that? It's the President who arranges those things – he is the only one to give you permission."
Yashiro balked. Although he had heard Ren use that tone on Kyoko before, he'd never seen him direct so much malice at her without softening it at least a bit. She felt it too – her whole body shrunk back, her shoulders hunched, as if she was trying to protect herself against a gale. Still, the manager had to admire her courage – she pressed on.
"But, um… the role I have relates to you directly," she said.
"It's not that important," Ren said. "If you have something important to do, Mogami-san, then do it. As for me, I don't need you to finish the project."
She clenched her fists, and nodded. "I understand. I'm sorry to have kept you for so long."
Then she bowed and ran off, presumably to school. For a moment, Yashiro just stared at her, dumbstruck, then turned to his charge to demand an explanation. But Ren had already turned on his heel and was walking towards the car in a brisk pace.
"Yashiro-san, you should hurry," he said. "If we don't leave now, we'll be late."
There was no arguing with that.
And in the end, Yashiro never got the chance to ask.