Disclaimer: Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenoh belong to Naoko Takeuchi/Toei Animation. All other elements in this story belong to me. Kindly inform me if any kind of art/literature/stage play/video/inspiration was produced from this fic. I won't discourage as long as they are performed/exhibited for nonprofit purposes. As a matter of fact, I'd be glad to link unto your work in any way I can.
Chapter 05: Aya and Haruka
The week was ending; I sat inside Crest's main cafe and crammed up to flipping the food list for the Governor's Ball which its preparation was stressing all of us, to me personally, since this was the first banquet that Crest would be hosting under my leadership. And with the date of such big event fast approaching, I wanted everything to be perfect and grander than what had been in the last few years. The Executive Chef sat across the table and my trusted Kana took my left. For the past hour and a half, he had been explaining the cocktail dishes and drinks to be served during the Ball including justifications on why they should be served and how they should be presented i.e. spending a quarter of an hour discussing whether sliced bread be served with crust or no crust. In the end, all my questions were answered and my doubts, cleared. So far, everything was under control.
When the pitches ended, the Chef left and attended to the regular luncheon operations. I always encourage the hoteliers to mingle with the guests as much as possible because a hotel is no product-oriented establishment. It is service-oriented and service is always about customer satisfaction and how will they know how to satisfy a customer unless he asks what the customer wants. I silently flipped more of the lists and settled on something I was not aware until then.
"We have Chateau d'Aquilon here?" I asked Kana. Last time I checked, we didn't have the brand.
"Ah, Ms. Kaioh, that's a newly addition to our wine collection." It was the sommelier who replied. He had stood reserved at the sidelines. "I heard that the negotiation was long and controversial but Mr. Kaioh personally was able to seal the deal. So we have been carrying it for two months now. And it's our best seller yet."
"I see." I thought on how my parents were ever so concerned about me to go all through these simple acts of endearment. They knew my preferences and acted accordingly. They had always been that way ever since I was a child. If I was not responsible enough for myself, I swore I could have been one spoiled princess right now and I'd be the most sought socialite who cares nothing but fame and parties.
Speaking of parents, I glanced at my watch to check on the time my parents supposed to arrive and join me for lunch. I had been too preoccupied with my Executive Chef that I almost forgot my parents would be coming. They wanted to see me before flying to Seoul on the weekend for something related to expanding Kaioh Crest and meeting more investors, I presumed. After sealing the deal on Tsugi Inn, renovations immediately followed and within the year, the Inn would be fully functional as another Crest. Now, they were again starting to seek more opportunities for expansion.
I turned at Kana's soft voice.
"I don't want to pry, miss, but I have been with you for so long and I just want to... don't take this the wrong way but... you see..."
"Are you and Ms. Tenoh dating for real?"
My instant reaction? I didn't know if I was to laugh or just be plain surprised. "No, we're not." I replied as sternly as I could.
As I noticed her remorseful face realizing her considerably frank question, I immediately softened my gaze and looked interested. No, I was interested. "What made you think that we are dating... for real?"
"Because..." Her eyes, not meeting mine. "... you two have been talking online quite a lot these days."
I swallowed my chuckle but my grin was hopelessly pasted on me that I couldn't take it off immediately as I gathered the bits of papers scattered on the table. "Hm. You don't strike me as the nosy type." I was joking.
"I'm so sorry, Ms. Kaioh. But... but... but..."
"I'm kidding, Kana."
She was flustered. "And this, too."
"You've been joking a lot and everything around you is shining. If I have to say, you're... glittering."
"You watch too many movies, Kana." I stashed the paper to a bag and handed it to my assistant. I checked my watch one more time before my eyes ran to the empty restaurant tables being gradually filled up.
"It's only my opinion, miss."
Silently assessing myself on the past few days, there was no reason to blame Kana at all. She was right. I had been talking with Haruka over the internet. Her mobile service truly sucked. She was not kidding when she said she'd be unreachable. So, videoconferencing was the only solution. Her calls were legit. She called me for strikingly valid reasons and I, myself, was at similar predicaments. The first instance was her asking me on how long we should stay in our make-believe relationship since she would be going out of the city with unpredictable schedules because of work. So, she sincerely advised that I should tell my parents as soon as I can. And the rest of the conversation journeyed back to what happened back in the studio. It was amazing how we could laugh out my unfortunate accidents. She talked about them so naturally that my experiences sounded incredible than embarrassing. Our next phone conversation was me calling her about the HS reunion on the weekend. Like any other women out there, I was anxious of the recommended attire and what I should wear. It was the first time I attended something like it and I was so used to long gowns in formal events that I didn't know if Haruka's HS reunion was even comparable to it. Good thing I called because Haruka suggested that it would be a casual event at noon and a sundress would do fine. Heck, she said that I could even come in short shorts if I wanted to. Sometimes, I didn't know if she was serious or if she was just being a terrible teaser. Yesterday's conversation was her telling me of the reunion's address. She said she couldn't come to the city due to some important matters, which she kept evading everytime I pressed the question on what these important matters were. So, the plan was for us to meet there at the school's gym, which was the established venue. I was not familiar of the school or the address she gave me but I trusted my driver's proficiency of the vicinity.
I didn't know Kana caught all of those sessions and had been pretty attentive of what I was doing with my private life. I was not angry or upset about it. I always shared to her everything about me and perhaps making and receiving all those calls at her watch made her a bit... I don't know, excluded? As far as the truth was concerned, there was absolutely nothing between Haruka and me at all.
Not long, Kana dislodged from our table at the sight of my parents arriving and upon calling on 'the usual', the maitre d' immediately handed a fresh serving of penne and tomato bruschetta, as if they were expecting the orders right from the very start.
"How long will you be in Seoul?"
"Maybe a week or two, dear."
"So you won't be here for the Governor's Ball?"
"Unfortunately. But you don't need us. You'll be alright on your own. I'm sure you can handle everything." My father spoke with regret.
"Of course." I hated it when I sounded weak despite my strong resolve.
"Don't worry, Michi. The moment we're done, we'll fly back as soon as we can."
"Thanks." The disappointment in my voice never left.
"And how are you and Haruka?"
I nodded, disinterestedly, poking the ratatouille with my fork before my mind impishly perked up at the question, suddenly itching at an urge to provoke them. I regained my composure and sat back, taking in bits of the zucchini as slowly as I can, savoring on the thought of my parents' reaction of what I had to say.
"I love Haruka very much." I bit my tongue. "We're going to her high school reunion on Saturday. I'm going to be spending the whole weekend with her." My tone emphasized the length of our stay. The truth? It was only a one-day affair.
"That's nice, dear."
My brows rose in question on whether they heard me properly. So, I tried again.
"My driver will drop us off and only the two of us will be staying in her hometown. I'm sure there will be decent inns around." I cleared my throat. I know I was clear as crystal and definitely obvious about it.
"Good to know that you two are getting along very well." My father turned to my mother. "Remind me that we should definitely invite Haruka for lunch when we get back, Kaoru."
"Yes, we really should. I haven't seen Haruka since Miho's birthday. I miss her face."
I began to grow irritated at the whole thing. I didn't know if they were in denial of me dating a woman or if they were indeed that open-minded. Perhaps their leniency sprung from the fact that I would never get pregnant at any instance of whatever holy Haruka and I could do over the weekend. Or I thought the worst; they might be without question aware of the whole game. I felt my frustration creeping on me that I just had to let go.
"So, you like Haruka? You are both fine with my... sexuality?" I finally asked.
"Why wouldn't we, dear? You are our daughter. We love you for everything you are."
I felt my forehead creased. "Just like that? No arguments, interrogations or whatsoever?"
"Do you want us to argue?" My father questioned back.
"No. I just thought, well, I thought, you would be more disapproving."
"Is there something you want to tell us, Michi?"
I looked up straight to their eyes which were softened by ages-old of experience. No matter how upset or frustrated I was, those pairs of orbs always lulled me with their kindness and sincerity. I got hold of my temple for the briefest moment and thought everything I had done. Then finally, my conscience successfully seeped into my mind and it recounted my juvenile activities for the past months. Lying to my parents was probably the most uncharacteristic behavior I ever showed, void of any rational thoughts, childish and selfish.
I released a huge lump of breath before going on for the dive. "I'm sorry."
"Why?" They didn't look a bit confused at all.
I continued exhaling in considerable amounts. How should I explain?
"Why are you apologizing, Michi?"
"The truth is... well, the truth is... Haruka and I are not actually dating. I lied. I'm sorry. I'm not gay."
They faced each other; their eyes conversing something unknown to me that I just had to conclude something.
"You both knew, didn't you?"
My playful mother chuckled at my own expense. "I'm sorry, Michi. You were so determined and all fired up about the whole thing so we thought it would be fun to go along with the ride."
"Geez mother! You could have just told me sooner."
"And ruin all your plans?"
"I don't have any plans."
"Really? You were so gung-ho about having a girlfriend and all. You both look like the real thing, actually. Good thing my sister didn't have a heart attack when you two came together during her birthday. You have everyone fooled."
"And why weren't you?"
"Michiru, dear, we are your parents. We know you more than anyone. And you thought that we believe you falling for someone? That, we still need to see."
"Oh father. You both are so..." It was a mixture of relief and anger in all its creamy goodness. I once read somewhere that the power of truth is therapeutic. They were right when they said that the truth sets you free. It felt like a huge boulder was finally lifted off my shoulders.
They laughed with no care. My parents were just so impossible sometimes. But the wonderful thing about them? They understood every bit of my eccentricity.
"I think you need to apologize to Haruka now. You made her go so much trouble for the past few weeks."
"I understand. But it isn't fair if I'm the only one who'll apologize. You two have to apologize to her too. We were very imposing on her. You did those surprise visits and I had to immediately drag her out for you."
They laughed. "Alright. Let's do that when we get back from Seoul. About that weekend of yours?"
"Yes. I'm still going. I promise her that I will go to her high school reunion. But it's not the whole weekend, father. It's only for one day."
"So, no sleepovers?"
I giggled. "I wanted to test your reaction."
"Well sleeping with someone is not that bad, right dear?"
"30 more minutes, Ms. Kaioh." My driver answered.
That early Saturday morning felt like a holiday. From the other side of the window, I watched the landscape changed to somewhere suburban and more serene than the crowded streets and towering structures I so used to seeing.
I turned a page of the magazine I was cuddling on my lap eversince the beginning of the ride. There were articles paired with bright blinding smiles that spread across the pages of top chief executive officers in their respective industries. The self-portraits served a dual purpose, of course. Partly were they company advertisements, for the better half. But my eyes lingered on the content of what was written. They were about the successful businessmen of the new generation and I couldn't help comparing myself to them. One of the features was on a farmer-entrepreneur who single-handedly globalized her business on moringa plantation and was serving several nations through exportation. She was a 27-year old, sweet and frail-looking, but I admired her feat and dedication to her goal to the point of accomplishing such success. I, on the other hand, was not sure on where to lead my ship. I grew restless again in a way that such excitement of getting there, overwhelmed me. I couldn't wait to do something for Crest that would put my leadership on the map.
"We're almost there, Ms. Kaioh." My driver called. The school building was visible meters away from the car's hood.
The place appeared to be a typical public school, though with a bit eerie atmosphere because of the lack of people. There were no students around. We drove to the back and settled on the gym building per Haruka's instruction of the venue. As expected, there were already parked cars perpendicular to the walls and a number of men and women in their late twenties, a few pregnant, could be seen through the wide-opened doors. I assumed they were there for the exact same reason I was. After giving a good check unwrinkling my Burberry Brit Honey Belted Dress, a trench style sleeveless slim-cut cotton that hit above my knee, I got out in my ankle boots and bravely stood near the car as if I was an alumnus, myself.
I immediately fished my phone and called Haruka.
"I'm here. Where are you?" My voice, so used to dealing with my hardheaded managers.
"Sorry, Michi. Five more minutes."
"OK. I'm waiting."
I tucked my phone back to my purse. Haruka called me 'Michi', I recalled. Only my close friends, or the truth, only blood relatives ever called me that. Maybe I really was short of friends and I meant really, really had a huge shortage of friends. To hear someone like Haruka calling me with such endearment, I thought I must have been very shallow to like it that much.
"Michiru? Hey, hi!"
I turned and saw Aki. I knew it was him; notwithstanding the nametag pasted on his chest of course, same ones that identified the other alumni. Based on tags alone, I'd say, I knew everyone.
He had a woman in his arm; both adorned honey-colored hair. I lightened at the sight of their outfits that leveled to my choice of attire which I was a little worried from Haruka's implausible suggestion of... wearing short shorts and still be fine with it. He wore a white cotton shirt covered with black tailored jacket and plain jeans while she wore a floral-patterned sundress. Summer was the first thing that came to my mind, but no, she didn't look as bold or outgoing as Aki.
"You made it. Where's Haruka?"
"She's on her way."
"By the way, this is my sister, Ayano."
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Kaioh." She bowed slightly.
"Same here. Please, you can call me, Michiru. It's fine." I quickly presumed my reputation did not fail me upon hearing the way she addressed and how she greeted.
"Yeah, Aya. She's Haruka's girlfriend. We're practically family here. No need for formalities."
I smiled for good measure. He seemed so determined on identifying me as Haruka's girlfriend that it felt awkward to correct him; so better leave it to Haruka to do the worrying with regard to that matter later.
"My sister and I listen to your CDs so you're no stranger to us. Hmm. But you don't know us, so we're still strangers to you. Oh! So if we know you and you don't know us, then, hmmm... That doesn't happen to constitute as stalking, does it, Aya?"
She chuckled. "Ignore him. He's trying to be funny."
"I noticed." I giggled at Aki's monologue. Aki looked more entertaining than how Yuu was. Well, that resident manager was a total ass-kisser. How could I even compare them?
"So since Haruka's still not here, will you join us in our table? We'll reserve Haruka a seat."
I swallowed softly before accepting Aki's other arm. He was right when he said that they were basically strangers to me. And I was not really the type to trust people easily as to let a cordial friend of my ex-fake girlfriend, which I still need to inform her by the way that we had already broken up, lead me to a party that I had absolutely no idea on what to expect. But I pretended to have full control of the whole situation even though I was so out of my comfort zone.
The moment I entered the school basketball gym, all eyes stuck on me and invaded every bit of my privacy. I knew they knew who I was and perhaps a lot were wondering my story of how someone like me could be somewhere in a place like that. Even my former manager would not allow a guest performance to somewhere... public. Aki completely ignored all the stares and continued to introduce the place, the gym where he and Haruka used to play basketball before she quit and concentrated to do tracks. I found him quite knowledgeable in Haruka-ology. As a matter of fact, he was exactly the person I was looking for to divulge every bit of secret that that smirking blond was hiding from me. Haruka had always preserve a mysterious air around her as if intending to intrigue me more, though she was actually doing it quite effectively, if I may say.
There was a long buffet at the sideline with chafing dishes and a swan ice sculpture in the middle. Scattered across the floor were six-seater round tables and monoblock chairs, both covered with white linen. The stage was set at a far end of the court where it was adorned by more green and yellow balloons, the same that were tied to random chairs and other grounded paraphernalia. There was a dance floor provided in between the stage and the tables, and at that point, it was best described as the loiter floor as most stood doing their conversations on it rather than dancing.
Aki pulled a seat for each of us. My eyes silently read the card on a cassis cornuta centerpiece. It had their batch year and remembered that I didn't have the slightest idea on how old Haruka was. Yes, that's how sensible I was! I had begun to retro count to guess the age of the woman who I had been dating for almost a couple of months, when Aki interrupted.
"Ten years and we're still here." He said to no one, delighted at the different people socializing with each other.
"He makes me feel old whenever I'm around him." Aya, who sat in between Aki and me, commented.
"So, you're younger. How many years is your age gap?"
"Only one, Michiru! Only one year younger! Can't you tell from my baby face?" He yelled.
Aya and I laughed at how absurd he was.
"This is his reunion. I'm just tagging along for him."
"Oh? Are you sure, dear sister, that you're tagging along for me?"
She blushed. I had no clue of their story but how good it would be if I had. Unfortunately, it was just not my place to ask.
"Hey! Waiting long?" And my fresh-looking Haruka showed up in raw black skinny straight denim pants.
They didn't even give me any time to answer when Aki quickly distracted her and heavily swung an arm around her shoulder. "Haruka! And here we thought you'd never come. Good thing we have insurance. Michiru came first and surely, you can't leave your girlfriend all alone with us now, right?"
"I already told you. We're not that."
"Sure, you're not." He rolled his eyes.
"Hi Haruka." Aya welcomed her more demurely and hugged her briefly.
"How've you been?"
"Getting by just fine."
"Good to hear that."
She was about to settle down when more women, or should I say, a mob of women? Yes, a mob of women suddenly came to our table and greeted my rather popular fake girlfriend. Aki and Aya returned to their seats and the three of us gaped astoundingly at the brief hugs exchanged, chitchats, and more coquetry. I couldn't decipher the greetings said from the chaotic fashion of how they fancied Haruka. It was unbelievably surreal. And there I thought I was the only celebrity in the room.
As soon as the chaos subsided, more like as soon as the emcee called for the mob to return to their seats so that we could resume the program proper, Haruka sat quietly at my right.
"I thought you avoid reunions because of your haughty schoolmates. You could have told me directly that you're trying to avoid your groupies." I whispered.
"I swear I didn't even expect they'd remember me."
I glared at her. Faint lipstick smudges had already adorned the upturned collar of her white fitted polo.
"I hope that none of your fangirls won't ambush me in the ladies room."
She laughed. No, it was not a joke.
By the time lunch was over, the program catapulted to different song and dance numbers; meanwhile, I took time to freshened up. I gazed at the wide walled bathroom mirror, opened my compact, and dabbed a few light presses of powder foundation on my nose. The muffled music from the band playing at a considerable distance from the Ladies Room eased out my tension from engrossing in total silence. As I said, I was not joking when I said I hoped none of Haruka's fangirls would ambush me in some lavatory stall. So I continued to be cautious.
I had no intention to make myself known to a whole high school batch that I was Haruka's date. Absolutely not after seeing her groupies. But grapevines never ceased to amaze me. In a matter of minutes, everybody knew I was Haruka's girlfriend. And once, a timid lady even approached to ask if I was Haruka's fiancé. It was unbelievably surreal. Yet there was one consolation. Upon knowing my 'title' as far as Haruka was concerned, they became much friendlier and accommodating than before. That was a good thing; hoping it really was what it seemed to be - an unconditional hospitality. But still, no harm's done if I opted to remain vigilant.
Then my self-induced paranoia got the best of me when I jumped, startled at the opening of the bathroom door.
"Oh 'sorry, did I scare you?"
"Mm…" I shook my head. "'Just a bit surprised."
"Sorry. Oooh... please excuse me, I really need to pee."
"Go ahead." I giggled at Aya's candid girly gesture as my vision followed her until the shutting of the door.
Aya had been genuinely friendly from the very first moment I laid eyes on her. Unlike her brother, she was refined and no doubt, intelligent as confirmed over lunch. She had recently passed the bar exams and was currently processing her application to a private law firm. I bet nobody expected her to be a lawyer. She had a very humble profile and grounded personality. Her face didn't even show a sign of the constant pressure from getting a law degree. A lawyer, a simple yet dedicated lawyer. She was that. All of a sudden, I remembered. 'There would be snob lawyers who think highly of themselves upon knowing of others who stayed behind as clerks.' Haruka's words rang in my ears. She couldn't be possibly referring to Aya about the lawyer. It was hard to believe.
"Rouge Allure 78." Aya correctly guessed the shade of my lips and she knew she did without me telling her so.
She chuckled. "I always like that color but it never fits my complexion. Unlike me, your skin's very fair. You have good taste. It matches you perfectly."
She finished washing her hands while I replaced the cap before we moved to fixing our hair.
Aya was admirably beautiful. She had long straight honey-colored hair that curled at the tips; her built, slender; face, petite with a small perky nose above full red lips. She was taller than me by a few centimeters, maybe five or six? Still a decent difference since I could still level my eyes with hers.
"Aki and Haruka seem really close."
"Yeah. They were classmates in all their classes for three years. Oh, of course except for Phys. Ed." She realized the ridiculousness. "So, you can say, they had no choice but be friends."
"I can imagine."
"Haruka was an introvert before my brother drag her into his antics. She was the silent type who only stood in the sidelines until my brother introduces her to sports and later on joined more school activities. She was very good at everything she did, and inevitably became popular. Well, you can judge it for yourself based on what you saw earlier." We both chuckled at the memory of Haruka being mobbed by, now, middle-aged women.
"So, that explains everything then."
"All thanks to your brother."
She laughed. "My brother blamed himself for Haruka's fame. She was definitely a celebrity and my brother got demoted to Haruka's sidekick until graduation. All was fine. They had fun."
In contrast of what she had just said, Aya became dim as if she remembered a sad memory somewhere in between.
I heard the loud applause at the other side of the door and grabbed the timing to shake my newly found friend out of her reminiscence.
"Wow! They're really enjoying out there. Shall we go back?"
"Yeah." Her brightness returned. "'Just what the heck are we doing hiding inside the Ladies Room?"
The band, song and dance numbers ended and Haruka and I got stuck in our table listening to the next part of the program - testimonials of successful alumni. Said information was gathered during the registration. Earlier, Haruka vented on me, berating the registration form that asked for their current jobs, family relationships, and lastly, achievements. It turned out that they were collated so that successful alumni could be identified and later on, asked to share on stage a ten-minute, some prolonged to an agonizing half an hour, unorganized speech.
I listened blankly to the second preacher; all others, Aki and Aya included, fought the drowsiness in their eyes while preserving the reverend silence which only made matters worse.
Haruka moved her chair closer to mine and whispered rather very closely.
"You don't like choco bonbons?" Her breath was cold and tingly against my ear.
I presumed her question sprung from the uneaten dessert left on my plate.
"So you're one of those who shy away from the sweets to watch their weights, huh?"
"Oh? You're not?"
"What do you think?"
"You don't like chocolate."
The truth was I simply forgot I still had a couple of bonbons left.
"Oh? Hm. Let's see." She smiled devilishly and got a fork. She uninvitingly cut a bonbon, forked the half, and brought it closer to my mouth. "Aaahhh..."
"Haruka, what are you doing?" I reprimanded, looking around if the other attendees saw such immature behavior sported by my company. Good thing they were still engrossed at the monotonic speech.
"You like chocolates. Prove it. Aaahhh..."
The close proximity of the fork was inviting me to take it in at an instant but I could never be too careful. To participate in such uncharacteristic display of... well, whatever it was, it didn't change the fact that condoning it was plain absurd.
Haruka raised her brows.
My furtive gaze landed at the other two people in our table. Aya was focused; Aki was out cold in dreamland.
I bit in one helping the offered sweet.
"Mmm... delicious." My victory; I told her I like chocolates. She wouldn't listen.
Then it was my turn. My gaze landed on a handful of natto left discarded at a side on her plate and immediately came to a conclusion, giggling with myself before I could even make a move.
I got my chopsticks and picked a sticky bunch. I couldn't contain my laugh when she sneered at the food I brought to her mouth. And I knew exactly how she hated the beans. "Aaahhh?" I mocked.
Her smile turned upside down.
"You don't like natto?" I mocked again, giggling at her hopeless disposition. Her face shied away like a baby refusing to eat a meal.
"I do." She sneered again now holding her breath. She looked childishly cute and adorable that I was itching to pinch her cheeks which mind you, I did not. Thank goodness, I still had my self-control. But like any other kid, she remained proud. So in a second, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and took in everything I offered.
"Gah~" She panicked searching to grab her water goblet and chugged the whole thing.
I laughed convincingly like the school's resident mean girl.
"You little..." She looked really cute when flustered. Not long, she regained what seemed to be an evil plot. I was so well aware of how she operates; and watched her fork pierced through one whole uncut bonbon. "Let's see how you take this."
"Only one?" I bluffed. I opened my mouth to take Haruka's dessert and to my surprise, it was indeed bigger than I previously imagined. It was quite difficult to chew. Right- me and my big mouth. So I worked on temporarily storing the sweet aside in my mouth, making my cheek protrude, and waited for the chocolate to thaw itself. It was disconcerting that I had to cover my mouth with the table napkin and there, Haruka was the one laughing.
"Wow! You really like your chocolate, Michiru. More?"
I downed the remainder with water and faced Haruka. I was upset of the whole pointless thing, more upset of myself for tolerating it. "Geez Haruka, you're like the older brother I'm very glad I didn't have."
She laughed again. "Aren't you more thankful that I'm not your brother? Admit it, you like me this way."
Amusement was still in her eyes when she gently pinched my nose and I hated myself when I instinctively pouted at the gesture. There, I was being childish too.
Our small bickering got interrupted when everybody applauded at something Haruka and I had no idea what it was all about but joined the applause anyway. We both chuckled inside our own little bubble and called on a temporary truce.
We paused maturely and decided to behave and listen to the emcee who I thought would introduced the next boring speaker but instead, she began talking about the memorable events during their high school years.
"Hey everyone... do you still remember our favorite couple?" She asked and was answered by a loud roar.
"Do you want to see them again?"
There were more cheerful roars.
"What do you want to see?"
"Tango!" They screamed and cheered on no one, as far as I could see; I didn't know for whom they were cheering on but I was brought in with the hype and found myself clapping with them in their cheers.
"Tango! Tango! Tango!" I said along, albeit softly from my seat, my hands tuned to theirs.
"You have no idea what you're cheering on, do you?" Haruka looked at me amused and shook her head.
I didn't care. All I know was that I was not embarrassed or anything even though I had no idea what I was doing. The whole clapping thing felt like a protest rally, only more fun.
The emcee became boisterous. "Well, guys, you heard that alright! So you just have to come up here and perform that steamy dance for us again or else!" The room exploded with screams and cheers. "What? Still not standing?"
And all stares went straight to us. I, in turn, questioned the blond who only scratched her head in reply.
"Your call, guys!" Aki leant in.
There was a moment's pause in the table before her sister said something, nervously.
"Surely one dance won't hurt."
"They're still not responding!" The emcee continued on. "Maybe they need a little push?" And so she began another set of cheers. "Ha-ru-ka!" Clap. Clap. Clap. "A-ya-no!' Clap. Clap. Clap. No, I was not clapping anymore. I was appalled.
Haruka held my hand and gently squeezed me saying she did not want to leave my side. But there was this one worried expression on her face that asked something I couldn't put my finger on. Pity? Forgiveness? I didn't know her so intimately as to interpret that one.
"It's alright, Haruka." I massaged the back of her hand. "Just like Aya said, it's only one dance."
She exhaled and stood, not before she smiled, rather assuringly at me. The screaming stopped and only the applause remained. I watched her and Aya walked side by side to the dance floor. So they were the school's favorite couple. Dance couple? Okay, I admitted I was in the gray. Not like I was overanalyzing them. They look good together, though. As a matter of fact, Haruka looked good with any woman in her arms. She was like the ultimate leading man... er... woman? Let me rephrase that. She was a gorgeous woman who could play the ultimate leading man.
They stood near the DJ for a moment and the emcee announced that while the 'favorite couple' would be doing a quick rehearsal; we for the meantime be entertained by their favorite songbird. And said songbird immediately went and performed without any hesitation. I couldn't remember what song she sang. I was focused on watching my soon-to-be ex-fake-girlfriend and her dance partner. Heck, they were not rehearsing; they were just talking. It was a conspiracy.
"They dated throughout high school."
Aki nodded, now occupying Aya's seat beside mine. "Don't worry about it. It's all history. They broke up when Haruka graduated. You can say the distance was too much for them, or, that's what we all thought."
"Haruka didn't tell me." Or do I even have the right to know?
"Let's just keep this to ourselves." Aki plotted. "I'll tell you more if you tell me something."
"What do you want to know?"
"Haruka always denies your relationship."
I giggled at where he was going and how easy it was. "Yes, in all honesty, we are not dating. We are just friends."
"Well, you two don't seem like you're 'just friends'".
"Tell me about it; you're not the only one who thought otherwise." Felt like deja vu with Kana's.
"Are you sure?
"Hmm... I see. Well, friends in their twenties feed each other in public, nowadays. How silly of me! I forgot it's the 21st century."
Totally uncalled for; my face turned warm.
"We are really just friends, Aki."
"Yes, I believe you." He laughed.
I gave up.
"Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for the long-awaited performance of our favorite couple, 'Dance of the Flames!'"
The music played.
"Cheesy, right? That's High School!"
I watched the two performers locked, danced a classic Argentine-style tango at a procedural one and two and three and one, two, dip; one and two and three and one, two, stroke; push, pull, and turn. At least far better than what I had to endure during Rika's MV shoot. Compared to Rika's, the tango became innocent, though I thought there were more nuzzling than necessary. Still, kudos to them! There definitely were sparks. By heavens, I was not blind and then, you can tell from the alumni's screams, too. They were deafening. I bet they felt they were high school students all over again.
"What's the song called?"
"Dance with Me by someone called Morgan. It was a hit back then."
"They look beautiful."
"They are. Back then, it took them months to make the dance a chilling performance."
"So what's their story?"
His sudden arrogance was out of character but not undeserving either. "Haruka and Aya was a real couple. Nobody knew. We had strict school policies of that sort of things."
"Haruka was athletic. After quitting basketball, she did tracks and always won first place within prefectures and I think she did nationals too. I'm not sure. You should ask her on that one. Anyway, to continue, when she became a star, she became popular and a lot of the clubs started to eye on her and urged to do more after school activities. Judo. Archery. Soccer. All failed to recruit her except for one. The School Drama Club."
"Drama? She acts too?"
"The kid got talent. She was very quiet in class and I guess the drama became one of her outlets. The club wanted her because of her looks. Look at her. She's like Prince Charming incarnate."
I observed. I couldn't agree more.
"So, she became the school's very own Prince. And all the girls go ga-ga whenever she donned a suit, pants, or anything masculine. We, guys, were so envious of her but we just couldn't dare hate her too. I mean, she was just weird for us to mess around with. There was even a rumor that she decapitated some boy in middle school before transferring to our school. So we were totally 'hands off'.
"The drama club's main actress was Aya. So, when Haruka joined. You can put two and two together. That dance was from their first play. 'Forgot the story. Something about an angel and a demon? The tango's the memorable one. And guess that's where everything started. They grew close, went out, and everybody called them a couple because of the play but the fact was they really were. They were like the perfect couple and everybody loved them. As you can see, they still do.
"They did more school plays and more dances until Haruka graduated. And their relationship ended, too. The rest is history."
"Nobody knew they were together?"
"Well for one, I knew. She's my sister, for goodness' sake. But as for the rest of the school, maybe there were suspicions. But it never got out of hand."
"Did they love-"
All applauded at the couple's last movement as Haruka dipped Aya low to the ground, inched closer to her face and for a moment there, I thought they'd kiss. Good thing they didn't.
"Ooops. There's my cue. Time to scoot."
He jumped back to his own chair and smiled widely, still clapping, toward the approaching dance couple.
One case solved: the mystery of Haruka's dancing and acting skills.
Michiru looked angry. No, she was not boiling and red. This was worse. Remember when she did that trademark 'glin' - glare and grin combo? The one reminiscent of the PA spilling coffee on her. Yes, that expression!
She became like that the moment she knew I was going to dance. So just imagine the irrefutable change of mood. One minute she was still clapping happily along with my schoolmates and the next thing I knew, she turned dead cold.
Might be my fault. She must be upset being kept in the dark. I should have told her right from the very start about the dance. But it was not like I knew I would perform either. Everything was Aki's fault.
"Can you still remember the steps?" Aya asked. "I told Yumi to buy us some time. It's been so long. I don't think I remember. They should have told us sooner."
"Nnh. We only have to start and end it properly. Nobody remembered what's in the middle anyway."
"Have you forgotten how we end?"
"I haven't." She was not referring about the dance, I could tell.
"I'm really sorry. I didn't get the chance to apologize properly, you know... of what happened... to us."
"It's cool. People grow up. We simply grew apart."
"It's been so long it felt like all of it's a dream."
"Yeah. I know what you mean. Do you have any regrets?"
"Never. You're one of my happy memories, nh, before it ended."
"Thank you. I loved the times when we were together, too."
I smiled in reply.
"How are you and Asami?"
"We're doing very fine. Thanks for asking."
"Good to know. And how about Michiru?"
"What about her?"
"You say that there's nothing between you two. You don't expect me to believe that, do you? You like her and she likes you. I can tell."
"Now that's just ridiculous."
"Does she know about Asami?"
"Aya, Michiru and I are not, I repeat, we are not in a relationship. There's no reason for me to make a big deal out of it. I can't afford to complicate my life anymore."
"I see. Well, if you say so, Haruka. You know Asami is someone who doesn't give you up without a fight. 'Just don't let that 'friendship' with Michiru get out of hand."
"Don't worry about it, I won't. I'm so done with drama."
AN: Just a quickie update. I'm in a training workshop for two weeks and things here are pretty hectic and overwhelming. Sorry, I don't have time to reply to your reviews right now. But hopefully, I will reply in the next chapy. Thanks for reading. (Currently hooked up addicted listening to STEPS "Light Up the World" and "It Maybe Winter Outside". They released it too late I don't think I can get a copy in time with the season. Hehe.)