"Ugh…I hear she's so poor, this is the only way she can pay off her debt."
"Her way of serving is rather bland. Quite disappointing for the Host Club."
"They should just let her go already, she's super useless. Besides, what's a girl doing working for the Host Club anyway?"
Haruhi stared at me as I crossed the room. She beckoned me over to her empty table.
"Hey, do you want us to make those girls over there leave?"
I stared at her blankly. "Why?"
"Well, they're saying some pretty rude stuff about you. Aren't you offended?"
"Oh," I replied tonelessly. I straightened. "It doesn't really matter, Haru-chan. I'm okay with it, really. I can understand why they're so upset anyway. I'm the newbie. I'm sure they'll warm up to me."
Eventually. I should have added eventually.
"That's the spirit, Aya-chan!" Honey gripped my waist and hugged me tightly.
I was kind of getting used to the state of affairs in the Host Club anyway. I was still weirded out by Tamaki's inability to realize my personal boundaries, but it can't be helped. However, I was still finding difficulty in understanding how someone as small as Honey can throw back that much cake in one seating and still look as adorable as he does. It's cute and all…but I'm the one who has to haul in all this cake y'know.
"That's the last of them," I wiped my forehead as the last customer left, waving at the Host Club as she left. "Another day down. How much money did I make today?" I directed this at Kyoya.
"You actually ended up in more debt than you started the day in."
"Of course," I murmured.
"It seems that most of the girls haven't been quite taken with you yet," Tamaki observed, crossing his legs and pausing thoughtfully. "What shall we do? You're bad for business but if my little girl's going to have a girly girlfriend it'll have to be you."
Okay, his daughter complex is so messed up I'm not even going to comment on it.
I turned at the random laughter as part of the room started to swivel upwards in a make-shift stage. On top of the stage was a girl with her hands on her hips, chortling maniacally.
"If you need to introduce a new character, let me help!"
"Who's that?" I leaned over to Kyoya.
"His ex-fiancée," one of the twins stated.
I stared at Kyoya in horror.
"You…" she pointed at me suddenly. "YOU! You will be the new addition to the Host Club! You will be the tsundere maid who doesn't rely on anyone but herself but eventually falls for the tall blond one who likes cosplaying!"
I looked at Tamaki.
Then at the girl.
Then at Tamaki one last time.
I raised a hand. "No way."
Tamaki honestly looked as though his world had been scattered into multiple pieces. He slunk towards a corner.
"I think you've got the wrong anime, Renge," Haruhi muttered.
"If she's going to be a maid—"
"Helper," I interjected.
"LISTEN TO ME WHEN I'M TALKING!" Renge yelled, her hair gaining a life of its own and I stepped backwards into one of the twin's arms. "You two!" she snapped. "Prepare the outfits!"
"Yes m'am!" the Hitachiin twins saluted, gripping me on either side and dragging me out of the room like a prisoner. How fitting considering I sort of am.
"Wha-outfits?" Is all I could call out.
Haruhi gave me a pitying glance.
I think—I'm not sure—but just then I just about lost all the self-respect I had.
"Come on out! Let's see!"
"Just a peek."
I'm never leaving this room. Until they give me back my uniform and let me change out of this stupid maid costume I shall not leave. I would rather have a hot tong shoved down my throat.
"Let me in, Aya."
"Don't laugh," I pleaded.
"Sure, sure," Haruhi pushed the door open on her side.
I let her in. She hesitated when she saw me.
"It's not good either," I buried my head in my hands. "Tell them to give me back my uniform."
"They hid it from even me. You'll have to come out," Haruhi stopped to stare. "It suits you," she observed.
"I don't mind that," I hissed. "I just don't want them to know they've won. I refuse to be reduced to a common maid in their eyes!"
"So this is not about you cosplaying?"
"Oh, I cosplay all the time at my dad's hotels when the waitresses walk out," I said flippantly. "No, I don't want them to see me like this," I gritted my teeth. "Haurhi stay with me."
"Aren't you being a little dramatic, Aya-chan?" Haruhi sighed, her practical way of thinking lost on me completely. "Just let them see then get it over with."
Haruhi's brown eyes bore into mine, force-feeding sense into me. Damn her and her brain manipulation tactics.
I sighed, letting go of the door handle.
The Host Club came tumbling in. Well, really, Tamaki and the twins.
I put my hands on my hips. "You've had your look, right?"
Tamaki's face reddened. "Okay, I'm done," he said stiffly, getting up and walking away.
"I see, so maid outfits are the way to go, huh?" Renge stroked her chin. "Yes! From now on, Aya will only cosplay in this room! And you have to trip every step of the way and stammer. Yes, stammer A LOT," Renge emphasized. "You'll gain plenty of pity points from the girls. And boys, make sure you catch her sometimes, that'll make the girls swoon."
Since when did I become an object like this?
"I dunno, I think she's just an attention-seeker, to wear all those outfits at the Host Club."
"She must be out for Tamaki Suoh."
"You may be right. I mean, she's poor, right?"
"How distasteful, to flaunt yourself around like that."
I sighed tiredly and flipped through my notebook. I got 87% again…at this rate I'll never make it into top three.
"Does she honestly think a commoner like her…a second-class citizen, could even have a chance with the Prince of the Host Club?" Laughter. "She must be joking, right?"
My grip reflexively tightened on my notebook.
It was early morning, before lessons had even started.
The sun was pouring in from the mountains, giving the pink glow of the buildings a more sombre appearance. My shoes were the only sounds across the empty hall, but somehow…
Somehow, I heard the voices of those girls from my class and from the Host Club.
They're right though. I don't belong here. I just came to look after Haru-chan…I didn't want to get involved with the Host Club, honest. But that's the thing with these things.
They just happen.
The clock tolled from outside the window. I looked out at the scene of the empty grounds, the desolate classrooms and the deafening silence that came along with it.
I bit my lip.
Placing a hand on the window, I suddenly felt a little homesick.
Not that my home was any different from the state of affairs at Ouran High School in the morning…who knows, perhaps Ouran was better.
At least I knew the silence was because nobody was around, not because nobody wanted to talk.
I strolled towards Music Room 3 and opened the door.
According to Kyoya, the new rule was that I was supposed to have the cakes and tea prepared in the morning so that my tardiness in the afternoon from World History class did not affect Host Club hours.
When I opened the door, I was surprised to actually hear music. Of the piano persuasion.
I closed the door quietly behind me and moved in further, towards the music. Hearing it more clearly, it sounded like it was appealing to me, personally, drawing me in like one of those children from Pied Piper of Hamlin, helpless…only capable of following.
I dropped my bag and opened the door that divided me from the sound.
The sound grew louder, and so did the beating in my chest.
He didn't seem to notice I was there though. He just kept on playing, with the most serene expression on his face. His head bobbed back and forth to the strains of the music, his fingers dancing dexterously across the keys.
I can honestly say I've never seen him more at peace with life before. And I can also honestly say…I haven't felt this peaceful in a while either.
The second he stopped, I felt as though the ribbon of my train of thought was cut abruptly.
"Oh," he brightened. "I didn't think anyone would come this early in the morning," he laughed.
"Why are you apologizing?" he blinked, confused.
I'm sorry I'm not worthy to stand here and listen to you play, Tamaki-sempai. I'm sorry I feel as though it's almost inadequate for me to stand here and stare like a gormless idiot. I'm sorry I don't belong here.
I'm sorry I don't belong anywhere.
"You're crying," he said, getting up. My eyes blurred before I could make heads or tails of his progress in moving towards me. Damn, I hadn't even noticed these tears.
"You're playing…the piano," I waved my hands in front of me in defence, since I couldn't see him anymore. "Beautiful," I turned away. "Give me a second," I sniffled.
Tamaki spun me around on the spot and gripped my wrists, forcing them away from my face. Then I couldn't hide my tears at all.
"Aya, is everything alright?" He stared down at me with too much concern.
Why does he care about people like me so much? Mr Fujioka said he's just an idiot.
Idiots don't sit people down and ask them what's wrong.
Idiots don't listen to meaningless blubber for fifteen minutes whilst taking out infinite amounts of tissue from their breast pocket.
That is not what idiots do. I'm telling you.
Yet he let me sit there for half an hour in wordless silence until the bell rang for first period.
I wordlessly got up and got my bag as he wordlessly put the case down on the piano keys as I tried to arrange my face in the reflection of the window wordlessly.
And then he opened the door for me and we both left.
"You're awfully quiet today," Hikaru (my assumption) peered down at my face curiously.
"You didn't even complain about the head gear," Kaoru (simple method of elimination) poked my maid…I don't know, maid hat? Maid gear? Maid gear makes it sound like I'm an army maid general or something.
I smiled ruefully.
Great plot for an anime.
"You're no fun this way," they said in unison.
"Smile," Honey begged, pouting sadly. "Aya-chan, please smile…please…" he was on the brink of tears.
"Don't do that Mitsukuni. Here have some—"
Honey was distracted thoroughly after that.
"Hey," Haruhi walked in coolly, she stopped for a few seconds to examine who was by her table before flopping down next to me in the corner of the room—the twins were kind enough to even place the words: MAID QUARTERS just above the niche, bless them.
I nodded wearily. I passed her a slice of cake and a fork. She took it gratefully.
"Business is slow today," I noticed.
"Yeah, about that. Tamaki was going around and telling the girls that if they didn't like the staff here, they were free to leave…but nicely," Haruhi shoved another piece of cake in her mouth. "Y'know, if you feel bad, you could just tell us. We're all family here," she turned to me and smiled. "We stick together."
I furrowed my eyebrows.
"Tamaki told me about your nervous breakdown…you always said I was your best friend, right? Well, feel free to talk to me about stuff like this, 'kay?" she placed the plate down next to her. "Gotta go," she said shortly.
I watched her go.
My best friend, Haruhi Fujioka.
She'd never even intimated that she knew I called her that before. My knuckles tightened on my laps. All I'd ever wanted in the world was to understand Haruhi and be her friend, through all her tears, sadness and hidden fears…yet I had always felt my friendship was one-sided.
I wiped a tear from my eye with my wrist and got up energetically.
That's about the time I felt the Host Club changing me for the first time, from the inside out.