The next week went by in a blur. For the first time, Syaoran and I were genuinely happy being around each other. We were willingly interrogated by dozens of enthusiastic journalists, going on about our overwhelming love for each other. It was entertaining (in a morbid, masochistic way).
"Oh, I'm just so happy," I exclaimed, taking Syaoran's hand in mine. "I mean, it's a dream come true."
He laughed. "Oh, darling."
The (attractive) reporter smiled. "Well, you two have taken a huge step in your relationship. How does it feel to be engaged after only eight months?"
Syaoran scoffed. "Only eight months? I feel like I've known her my entire life." He looked into my eyes passionately.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. "It's a dream come true."
After shaking hands, the reporter stepped into the elevator and left the two of us alone in the apartment. Syaoran smirked at me.
"What?" I asked innocently.
"You liked him, didn't you?" Our hands untangled, but we still sat beside each other on the loveseat.
I tried to look taken aback. "Pfft. Whaaat?"
He sighed and walked to the kitchen. "I should be offended."
"Oh, and why is that?"
"Because," he said sternly, "I'm your fiancee."
"You don't count," I retorted. "And it's not wrong to look at him."
Syaoran shook his head skeptically, rummaging through the refrigerator. I rolled my eyes and turned the TV on.
Syaoran sat down beside me, handing me a bowl of cereal. I thanked him as he shrugged an arm around my waist and ignored the faint smile that crept onto my lips.
"It's too early for this on a Saturday," he sighed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. While he wasn't looking, I examined him out of the corner of my eye. His chest rose and fell gently. One hand was wrapped around a mug full of coffee; the other rested perfectly still on my waist. Before making completely sure his eyes were closed, I turned my head to examine his face. What was he doing, nestling into me like this? It must be unconscious.
Suddenly his eyes opened. "What?" he asked groggily, looking first at me (with wide, innocent eyes) and then the clock. "Oh, I need to get going. Sorry," he said hastily while retracting his hand, spilling coffee all over his leg (accompanied by the faintest of curses) and leaving me to sit on the couch by myself.
"Get it together, babe," I shouted over my shoulder.
I stood fuming at my doorstep- or rather, my old doorstep- trying to hide under the tiny awning as rain poured down in sheets. My clothes were soaked and I was chilled to the bone; the fact that Tomoyo was taking a million years to answer the door wasn't helping my mood.
Finally the door opened. "Ugh, you're all wet," she groaned.
"It's raining." I pushed past her inside, throwing off my coat and boots. "And thanks, by the way, for the wait. You killed my mood."
Tomoyo grinned slyly. "Yeah, you've been mysteriously chipper since last week. Is there something going on there?" She poured me a cup of coffee with a raised eyebrow.
I glared, but my cheeks flushed. "No way. Syaoran and I are just... getting used to each other, I guess." I leaned against the counter thoughtfully. "I think we're actually becoming friends."
"With public benefits," Tomyo added, though she looked at me sympathetically.
I sighed and accepted the mug of coffee.
She smiled and guided me back to her studio. "Now onto my problems." A large, mountainous supply of white tulle occupied the majority of the room.
I scoffed. "Do you really need that much?"
Tomoyo took a dramatic sigh and fell back into the pile. "I have so many ideas, and so little of you. I need you to try on some of these dresses."
I followed her gaze to an entire rack of wedding dresses sitting in the corner. "Oh, Tomoyo," I sighed warily. "Is this why you invited me over? I don't want to-"
"No. I need you to do this. I have two months. Two months," she seethed. "I don't think you understand the burden that's been put on me."
I took a deep breath before answering her. "You have an hour."
I flung another dress to the ground and shot a glare at Tomoyo. "No more."
She picked it up and sighed, brushing it off gently. "But you look so pretty in them."
My feet ached horribly. "And why do I have to wear heels if the dress covers my feet?" Said shoes were kicked into the corner angrily. "You're exhausting me."
"Oh come on! That only took four hours! Well, four and a half. But rounded down..."
Choosing to ignore Tomoyo, I dragged myself to my old bedroom and collapsed on the unmoved bedspread. It surprised me that she hadn't converted the room into a tulle storage space.
After throwing on an old pair of sweatpants, I walked downstairs to find Tomoyo laughing in the living room with Takashi.
Tomoyo locked eyes with me as Takashi took an empty plate to the kitchen. "Change," she seethed.
I shot her a furious look before shooting back up the stairs and shutting the door firmly behind me. My heart was beating unreasonably fast, and my palms were suddenly sweaty. Speaking of sweat- my pants- "Oh, these will not do," I groaned, removing my sweatpants in a swift motion and looking around the room frantically for presentable attire.
Putting on makeup was a wise choice, I decided, as I raked my hands through my hair (does that make it look nicer? Hopefully) and threw on some burgundy jeans and a light denim shirt. Finally ready, I walked downstairs as gracefully as my body would allow.
"Takashi?" I said as innocently as possible, gliding into the living room on a cloud of estrogen. He looked up from the couch and smiled warmly.
"Sakura, so great to see you!" he grinned, getting up to give me a nice, warm, muscular hug. When he motioned for me to sit next to him, I didn't turn him down. Tomoyo shot me a very impressed look from the loveseat.
"So, Takashi, what brings you to this side of town?" Tomoyo asked. He shrugged slightly and looked back at me.
"I don't know. Just in the mood to visit," he said warmly while Tomoyo smiled and excused herself to make some tea.
While we were alone, Takashi turned to me with a worried expression. "Sakura, I'm sorry if this is strange or unexpected. I just felt bad for not calling after I said I would..." He ran a hand through his rain-soaked hair and sighed. "Truthfully I was just afraid that you would be with Syaoran if I called, and I know he said he was okay with it, but I just didn't know..." After looking into his lap for a moment, he sighed. "What I'm trying to say is, would you like to get lunch?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tomoyo backpedal into the kitchen with two cups of tea in her hands. I quickly turned my eyes back to him and smiled. "That would be wonderful."
"Great," he replied happily. "I don't know if you're hungry now, or if you and Tomoyo made plans-"
"No plans!" Tomoyo shouted from the kitchen. The sound of tea being poured down the sink was faint in the background as Takashi smiled at me obliviously.
"Well then it's settled," I beamed. "Let me grab my jacket."
Taking the route through the kitchen where Tomoyo and I did a silent fist-bump-explosion, I grabbed my jacket (avoiding the jacket from Syaoran I borrowed weeks ago) and followed Takashi out to his car.
"One of my good friends owns a place not too far from here, and I know he'll be very discreet about this whole thing," Takashi reassured as we headed to lunch. "He's actually Syaoran's old roommate from college."
"Oh really?" I laughed. "I thought Syaoran would've just lived in his fancy apartment or something during college."
"No way. Paid his whole way through college off scholarships and a terrible job. His dad didn't give him any money, said it would make him a better person or some sh- thing." He rolled his eyes and shrugged.
"...So I'm guessing you don't agree with that?"
"I'm just saying, Syaoran's the most honest kid I've ever met. Wouldn't even let me write his paper when he got the flu for a week. He doesn't really need that kind of- uh... discipline."
"I'm an adult, you know," I said, almost offended. "Don't feel like you have to censor yourself."
"Nah, but you're a lady. That's another thing Syaoran taught me. You're actually supposed to act respectable in front of women, or so I've heard," he winked. I smiled back, enjoying the way his face lit up when he talked.
As we entered the restaurant, I felt my pulse quicken. What if Syaoran was here? What if paparazzi were waiting in the bushes?
"Relax," Takashi grinned, taking my waist reassuringly. "Nobody's going to be spying. And we're really not doing anything wrong... just an interview." With a quick squeeze he dropped his hand and approached the front desk.
"Hey, Dan, is Eriol here?" he said smoothly. Everything about him kind of radiated swag, I thought to myself, and not in that awkward Justin Bieber kind of way. Like in a "this guy would be the last person to die in a zombie apocalypse" kind of way.
"This is nice," I smiled, appreciating the cozy atmosphere around us. Takashi returned my expression.
"I'm happy you like it."
A familiar-looking man approached the table and smiled. "Man, when are you going to let me do my job?"
Takashi laughed and stood up to man-hug the familiar guy. "Sakura, this is Eriol."
"Have we met...?" I asked cautiously.
"I think we were introduced at some point. But nevertheless, it's a pleasure to formally meet you." I shook his hand as he smiled. "What do you guys want?"
"Surprise me," Takashi smiled. "And not in a bad way." We handed our menus to Eriol as I shrugged and asked for the same thing, and soon enough we were left on our own.
"So-" I began before my phone went off. Syaoran texted me. "Where are you?"
"At lunch" I replied quickly before returning my attention to Takashi. "As I was saying- are you kidding me? What, Syaoran?" I seethed into the phone as I stood up and walked into the back to take the call, quickly flashing an apologetic expression to my date.
"Sakura?" he said nervously.
"Yeah," I said, slightly less annoyed. "What is it?"
"Can I meet you wherever you are? I have to talk to you about something."
"That's the beauty of technology, Syaoran," I sighed as I paced beside the kitchen. "We're talking right now."
"Sakura come on, it's important," he breathed. My frustration dissipated as he pleaded with me. "I wouldn't ask you if it weren't important."
"I know, Syaoran," I said calmly. "But I'm..." Running a hand through my hair, I sighed again. "Alright, where do you want to meet?"
He let out a breath of relief. "Just come to the office whenever you can. Thank you."
"Alright, I'll be there soon," I groaned, hanging up on him and shamefully walking back to the table.
He grinned. "What's up?"
"Syaoran needs me to meet him as soon as possible, says it's really important..." I mumbled into my lap.
"You need a ride?"
"I'm so sorry," I sighed apologetically as he stood up from the table and grabbed his keys. "I'll make it up to you whenever I get the chance-"
"Hey," he smiled, grabbing my hand to pull me up from my seat. "Don't worry about it, okay?"
Despite it all, I smiled back at him. "Okay."
"What is the big emergency?" I shouted at Syaoran as I clambered out of Takashi's car in the pouring rain. I waved quickly at him as he pulled away and left Syaoran looking even more clueless.
"Who was that?" he asked almost angrily. His chest puffed up in some kind of territorial assertion. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I couldn't help but think of him as a puppy trying to scare off someone at the door. Hiding back a smile, I pushed my wet hair out of my face and shook my head.
"Don't worry about it. What did you want to see me about?"
"Sakura, who were you with? Was that..." he squinted, as if he could still see the car five blocks away. "Was that Takashi?"
My face flushed. "Yeah, uh... yeah. What were you going to tell me?"
His brow furrowed even harder. "What..." Suddenly his face fell. I stared at him in frustrated silence for a while.
"You know what, it's nothing," he said quietly. "I'm sorry to interrupt," he sighed, gesturing half-heartedly to the street. It always broke my heart when he said things like this. It made it so much worse to see the expression on his face drop, his shoulders sink down, the flicker of comfort in his eyes drain out.
"Seriously, I'm already here, what's going on?" I stepped under the tiny awning beside him, reaching out to touch his arm softly. He was very tense, taking shallow breaths with rigid composure. "Please calm down. It's going to be alright, whatever it is."
"Syaoran," I said as quietly as I could without the rain drowning my voice out (drowning, rain... hahaha).
He un-furrowed his brow slightly and let out a deep sigh. "Listen, I know this is going to be difficult to hear-"
"Please just tell me and stop worrying so much," I said gently.
He took a moment to compose himself. "It's Hannah," he said softly and carefully, as if preparing me for a death in the family. "She's threatening to... tell the press about our relationship."
Anger flooded into my chest. "Are you kidding me? This bitch will not stop-"
"Don't you dare call her that!" he shouted.
We stood fuming at each other for several moments. His chest rose and fell irregularly, indignation painted on his face as I balled my hands into fists.
"Imagine how she feels," he said with as much composure as he could possibly manage. "Sakura, I was going to propose to her the week that I met you. We were going to spend the rest of our lives together..." his voice faltered. "And no offense, because I know it's got nothing to do with you, but all of a sudden I tell her that we can't be together anymore. And not only that, but I have to marry someone else, and she has to watch it all happen. And I bring another woman into my life and say we've been dating for eight months. I mean, she trusts me, and I've told her the truth... but Sakura," he breathed. "That's not easy."
I said nothing.
"Besides, you didn't let me finish." He ran a hand through his hair. "She asked to meet you. I refused her... and that's why she's threatening. She's going to the press if I don't allow her to see you."
I frowned. "Syaoran, why is that such a bad thing? Let her see me." I will give her a piece. of. my. mind.
His eyes fell to the ground as he thought carefully. "Sakura, I need us to be completely honest right now."
"She wants to make sure that this really is strictly professional. That I haven't been cheating on her. That is, if we're even... I mean, that we haven't been together for so long behind her back." He looked back up at me cautiously. "You can imagine why she would want to know that. It would be even worse if this were all real."
My face flushed. "What do you mean? She just wants to make sure we're not actually going out?"
"Sakura, please be truthful." He took a deep breath and brought his eyes to meet mine. "Do you perceive our relationship to be completely professional?" he asked with quiet, penetrating composure.
I looked straight into his eyes, looking for something to tell me what I was supposed to say. He had almost convinced me that he was unbiased... but the longer I hesitated, the more his eyes seemed to widen just slightly, the more he seemed to lean toward me in anxious anticipation. It was almost surreal; could I even answer that question? Did I even know the answer?
It seemed as though at once, all the life seemed to leave him. "Well, good then," he said quickly. "I'll get my keys."
"Alright," I whispered to myself as he ducked back into the building and left me alone under the awning.
After a long, silent drive, we finally arrived at home. Syaoran immediately set off cleaning the entire apartment, starting with the kitchen. "Hannah said she'd be over around 8," he said almost to himself, "so we have about twenty minutes."
I nodded and went to my room, closing the door firmly behind me. My reflection stared blankly at me in the mirror. Should I leave my hair and makeup done? I don't want to present myself as a challenge. But if I take it off, will she think I don't take her seriously enough...?
"Stupid Hannah," I thought to myself as I took off my clothes and called Tomoyo.
Soon enough twenty minutes had gone by. Syaoran burst into my room to find my entire closet strewn around my room, wearing nothing but a bra and unbuttoned jeans, hands trying to pin up my hair in an unoffensive manner.
"Syaoran!" I screamed. "Get out!"
"She's here," he panicked. "Why are you half naked?"
"Well maybe if you gave me a second I could put some clothes on-"
"You've had twenty minutes, Sakura, for heaven's sake-" Syaoran chastised, examining my floor and grabbing a green blouse beside his feet. "Put this on. And button your pants," he said exasperatedly.
I frowned at him as he stared impatiently. "Turn around," I growled.
Suddenly returning his senses, Syaoran flushed and turned his face to the door. I quickly made myself presentable.
"Okay, let's go."
He ran his hands through his hair anxiously and opened the door of my room. I followed him skeptically into the living room, already sensing the tension in the air. As I turned the corner, I found a beautiful porcelain-skinned woman sitting rigidly on our- on his- couch.
Her hair was a dark brown color, almost chocolate, that fell in delicate waves past her shoulders. I was stunned most, though, by her piercing-murder-dagger blue eyes and almost wet myself.
It took all my willpower not to recoil into the closet behind me as Syaoran stepped forward to take a seat on the couch. I followed him carefully, finding myself far too close to the woman who wanted to kill me.
"Hannah, this is Sakura," Syaoran said lightly. What an interesting concept, I pondered. Li Syaoran, master of stress and pressure, affectionately titled Never-Loses-His-Cool-Li, was almost literally cowering in fear and sweating daggers in the presence of his past and present girlfriends. Well... two girls, at least.
"Hello, Sakura," Hannah said flatly. I smiled as naturally as I could (which, if we're being completely honest here, was not in any way natural).
After a couple awkward seconds of one of us giving and the other receiving death glares, Hannah sighed. "Syaroan, could you get some tea?"
"OFCOURSE-" he shouted as he sprang up from his seat and dashed into the kitchen more quickly than I'd ever seen him move in my entire life.
And then there were two
"It's nice to actually meet you in person," she said quietly.
"Yeah," I said confidently without sweat dripping off my forehead and my heart rate not twice its usual speed (sarcasm is a coping mechanism). "Syaoran's always said such wonderful things about you."
"I'm sure of it," she said in a way that made me think that she wasn't at all sure of it.
I coughed and smiled awkwardly. She did not return it.
"Sakura, I'll be completely honest," Hannah said with rigid composure, "I don't want to be here with you at all. You make me extremely uncomfortable, so I'm going to try to make the time we spend together as efficient as possible. Will you cooperate?"
It took all my willpower to keep myself from getting out my brass knuckles and having Syaoran hold my earrings. Instead I balled my delicately placed hands into calm fists and took a deep breath before replying "Of course."
She raised a beautiful eyebrow, but said nothing.
I tried to smile. "What is it that you would like to know?"
Hannah gazed down at her shoes. "I know that Syaoran is an honorable man, but even someone like him could be pressured into deception under the right circumstances. I need to know if he's telling the truth about your real relationship. When did you meet?"
"We honestly met the day he came to my uncle's company to discuss the idea of the company merge. That was the first time I ever talked to him."
She gave me a knowing look, as if she thought I was lying. "Sakura, this will be so much easier if you don't treat this like another one of your little interviews. Please don't be difficult."
I bit my lip before replying. "In what way am I being difficult?" I asked with a hint of hidden malice in my voice.
"Look," she said lowly as she leaned in toward me, her plastic smile evaporating from her face. "I know that you're lying to me. Syaoran was staying late at work almost every night, avoiding questions I asked him about our relationship, tell-tale signs of a guilty cheater. He's a man of honor," she said with daggers in her voice, "and only a whore could-"
"Excuse me?" I spat, blood rushing to my face. "You have some nerve, forcing yourself into our home and accusing me of adultery-"
"It's not your home!" She shouted. "You have no right to any of this! Syaoran doesn't even want you here, you're nothing but a nuisance-"
"Who do you think you are?!-" I seethed as I kicked my chair away from me and stood up to face her. Just before my hands could rip into her emerald blazer, Syaoran darted in front of me (and in the process, spilled scalding hot tea all over me. My ridiculous estrogen-fueled rage barely noticed as he restrained me and turned to face Hannah.
"Please leave," he said rigidly. Hannah locked eyes with him, then walked to the elevator without a word. When the door closed behind her, Syaoran turned back to me and sighed.
"Are you all right? I'm so sorry," he fussed, dragging me over to the sink and lifting up my shirt where the tea had burned my skin. My heart was still pounding in my chest too fast to think straight. "Here- lift your arms-"
"What did I do?" I muttered while he tossed my wet shirt to the floor.
Syaoran's eyes weakened as he looked down at me. "What do you mean, Sakura?" he asked softly, pressing a cold towel against my bare skin.
I looked away from him as my throat began to tighten and tears spilled down my face. "Why does she hate me so much?" I choked out.
Syaoran left out a soft sigh as he wrapped his arms around me. "She doesn't hate you," he murmured into my hair as I whimpered pathetically on his chest. "Don't worry about it."
"No, she's right," I managed to say in between sobs. "This is your apartment, I shouldn't be here..."
"Hey," he sighed. "Don't say that. You have every right to be here. I asked you to stay here, remember? Shh," he whispered softly. "Don't..."
After he pushed the hair out of my face, Syaoran kissed my forehead gently. We stood like that for a lingering moment, long enough for me to sink my head into his chest and get all the crying out of my system. Finally he took a step back and looked at me warily.
"Don't believe a word she said. None of it is true. Okay?"
I wiped my face and nodded.
"Go get ready for bed. My door's always open."
I nodded and stepped past him to get back to my room. As I grew more conscious of what just happened, it finally dawned on me that I was shirtless and that was definitely not a platonic moment.
My favorite sleep shirt, Touya's old soccer warmup jersey, covered my naked, scalded body as I threw on some shorts and washed my face. I crawled onto my bed and almost lifted the covers, but it felt cold and empty. After being shaken up by Hannah, I didn't want to be alone. So I threw my hair up in a messy bun and shuffled over to Syaoran's room, knocking softly on the door.
"Yeah," came his muffled voice through the wood. I opened it to find him brushing his teeth in the adjacent bathroom, right in the middle of putting a shirt on. He gestured for me over to the bed and began rinsing his mouth out. I cautiously sat on his bed criss-crossed and leaned back on his soft pillows.
He approached the bed silently, but not before turning on a soft album in the background. As he slid next to me, I began to wonder just what part of me thought this would be a good idea.
"Are you all right?" he asked with concern in his voice. "I had no idea she would be like that..."
"I'm fine," I whispered. "Thanks."
He turned to face me. "You won't have to talk to her again. I don't want either of you hurt."
"No, it's fine," I said quietly, my eyes weighing down with sleep. I curled up into a ball that somehow fit perfectly by his side.
"You know that what she said wasn't true," Syaoran muttered as I cushioned myself on his rising and falling chest. "I want you to be here."
I wasn't sure if I dreamed of his hands slowly running through my hair, or him kissing me gently on the temple.
When I woke up, I found myself in the same position that I fell asleep in. There Syaoran was, with his arm wrapped around me like I was a small kitten. I was mortified.
I rolled away from Syaoran quickly and checked the time. Normally he was up way before I was. It wasn't that much later than when I normally got up on a Saturday... Syaoran, however, should've been up for about 3 hours already.
Sprawled on all fours, I tried nudging him to help awaken him from his deep slumber. He let out a deep groan and swatted my hand away.
It was rare that my fiancee slept in, so I decided not to pester him further. Instead, waffles.
I had never been revered for my baking skills, but not many people can screw up waffles. Such a wonderful breakfast item is simple, I reassured myself, as I got out the ingredients. A piece of cake- or rather, a piece of waffle, I thought inwardly, then laughed because I am hilarious.
I sighed while pouring batter into the waffle mold. This was gray-area fake-fiancee territory. I mean sure, we're not ever going to be getting down, but what's the harm in being cuddle buddies? Syaoran doesn't like sleeping alone, I like having a giant warm pillow that smells nice... it seems like a pretty sweet deal for both of us.
So if it was that easy, why was my stomach in knots?
We didn't do anything, I assured myself. There's nothing wrong with sleeping together- I mean technically we're engaged, so we could really do anything we wanted to...
For the next half hour I tried to reassure myself that nothing was funky about last night, but nevertheless when Syaoran emerged from his room my face became a light shade of pink.
"Good morning," he said with a well-rested smile. I returned it and switched my undivided attention to the waffles.
"Good morning," I muttered as I handed him a plate.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Syaoran staring at me like a serial killer. I tried to focus on my waffles, thinking he would leave me alone. I was definitely wrong. Finally he bugged me enough that I threw my spatula down on the counter in frustration and whipped my head around to face him. "Will you stop staring at me? Either kidnap me or get out already."
His eyes were far from murderous, however; inside them were deep pools of amber looking very, very sad.
"Sakura," he said barely above a whisper. "We can't just act like last night never happened. Do you need to talk about anything?"
I felt my heartbeat increase as my eyes became shifty (sufficiently worse than those glue-on googly eyes). "Uh- ha- whatareyoutalkingaboutIhavenoideawhatyoumean" I sputtered out while unconsciously staring at his chest.
He furrowed his brow. "You don't have to be like that, Sakura. Hannah said some awful things and I legitimately want to know if you're alright." Slowly Syaoran approached me, like he was trying to get a wild deer to eat out of his hand. Without a word he cupped my hands in his and stared at me with those cavernous eyes.
There was something about his hands that put me completely at peace with myself- any nervous or anxious thoughts could wait. The corners of my mouth creeped up as he stood thoughtfully in front of me, reading me like an open book.
"I'm fine, Syaoran," I sighed, acknowledging the fact that behind me two waffles were burning mercilessly on the stovetop. I couldn't really bring myself to pull away from his anchoring grip. "Seriously, most guys can't seem to figure out women's emotions, and you seem to know more about mine than I do. I didn't think I was upset, but maybe you're right." As much as I tried to lace my words with sarcasm, they all came out soft and airy like a puffy cloud.
Syaoran smiled. "I'm just looking out for you. Can't have my fiancee..." he stopped, his smile fading but his eyes remaining locked on mine. "I need to look out for the people that I care about." His fingers thoughtlessly brushed a hand through my hair and rested on the back of my neck.
So much of me wanted to pull him down to me and kiss him, softly and delicately like I knew he would. Everything about him was so familiar that it hurt to not feel him. A part of me began questioning just what would be so bad about taking one teensy step forward, and placing my hand on his chest and leaning in. It felt like coming to the last page of a book and putting it back on the shelf, never to be read.
I mean really, what would be so wrong?
The smell of burning waffles finally forced me to break from his gaze, turning off the stove and in turn dropping whatever moment we just had. Behind me I heard the faintest of sighs before Syaoran retreated back to the other side of the kitchen.
"Aaaaaand..." Tomoyo wrapped the last curl with precision, letting it out after a few long seconds. "Done!"
I sighed in relief; we had finished just in time. "Tomoyo, you saved my life."
She grinned smugly. "Go, cavort with your fiancee." After a quick hug, Tomoyo shooed me out of the bathroom. I grabbed my bag and went into the main room to meet Syaoran.
Syaoran was watching the news, as usual. You'd think he would get tired of it. "Hey, are you ready?"
He looked up from the TV and smiled. He was wearing a dark gray suit with the jacket draped across the couch behind him, exposing a white shirt, black tie, dark gray vest, and the most beautiful swan of a man that I had ever seen.
"Yes, you'll make an excellent trophy wife," he muttered to himself, walking toward me and examining me closely with a grin.
I rolled my eyes, but the proximity of Syaoran's person and the aroma that he gave off may have altered the intensity of my sarcasm.
I followed him into the elevator and sighed heavily. At least I was allowed to fawn over him and act extremely awkward in public.
When I stepped out of the lobby, I was greeted with a thick, white blanket covering everything around me. My face immediately contorted into a grin.
"Syaoran! Look! It's snowing!" I ran into the middle of the parking lot and twirled around carelessly. Snow is awesome.
He laughed and watched me frolic in the middle of the parking lot, now covered by at least half a foot of snow. Although my feet were about to turn to ice, I was ecstatic.
"Can we get in the car now?" he asked when my teeth began to chatter incessantly. I reluctantly nodded, vowing to play in the snow later even if I did get frostbite.
Syaoran cranked the heater up and put it on my half-barren feet (Tomoyo insisted that I wear silver peep-toe pumps, which were now encrusted with snow). I accepted his jacket gratefully.
"Do you like Christmas?" I asked him amid the silence of the car. He pulled out onto the highway and made a thoughtful face.
"Well, my family tends to get along fairly well during the holidays. I think it's because we tend to focus on each other rather than getting tons of gifts." He paused. "Although we still get tons of gifts. We're just used to the material stuff, and not as much the getting along part."
I nodded, looking back at the road. The rest of the trip was relatively quiet. I felt cozy snuggled up in his jacket, and I was the opposite of happy when we finally arrived.
"Let's just sit out here," I offered. "It's warm."
Syaoran looked like he was about to take me up on my offer, but rolled his eyes and got out of the car. I followed him reluctantly; the snow was thicker in the country, so high that my door scraped the top of it.
"It's so cold," I complained to Syaoran.
He glared at me. "It's not like you have a jacket or anything."
"It's not like you have pants on or anything," I seethed back, pounding on the door.
"AAAAAAAAAHHHH!" a sister screamed, throwing open the door and jumping up and down. "THEY'RE HEEEREEE!"
I rushed inside and took a deep breath of warm air. Syaoran followed me, the calves of his pants soaked from the snow. I felt a slight twinge of sympathy, but it was overwhelmed by the un-slight twinge of how cold I was.
"Are you all right?" Syaoran asked me the second time that night, laying a hand on my freezing shoulder. "You're shaking."
I nodded, handing Syaoran's jacket off to the doorman. He wrapped an arm around my waist before we walked to the dining hall.
Yelan, I noticed, had already decorated for Christmas. A huge, 12-foot Spruce tree stood in the corner of the room. The whole room smelled like spice. I nearly rolled my eyes at the sight of a string quartet playing beside the tree.
Hints of Christmas were all over the room, from the crimson-red velvet curtains to the new green tablecloth that spanned the entire 15-foot dining table in the center of the room. I examined the white-and-gold dishes happily. I loved Christmas.
"So, have fun." Xei frolicked away happily to the other sisters. They began looking at us and giggling fanatically.
Yelan then came out of the kitchen smiling. "Settle, everyone." Once silence covered the room, she continued. "Dinner will be ready shortly, please take your seats."
I sat down in the chair Syaoran pulled out for me. The sisters immediately crowded all around us, leaving obscure uncles and Syaoran's parents on the other side of the room. I felt slightly like I was sitting at the kid's table at Thanksgiving dinner.
"So Sakura," one of the sisters asked. I made a mental note to actually learn their names at some point. "How much do you know about Syaoran's childhood?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Syaoran shrink a little in his chair. "I mean, you can't know that much," she went on. "He never talks about it."
I, of course, knew nothing about his childhood. Or any other point in his life, for that matter. "I can't say that I do."
"And you don't need to," Syaoran said with venom, glaring at the sister. "Let's talk about Jane Austen."
She grinned smugly. "Oh, dear brother, I cannot be so easily dissuaded." She proceeded to lean closer to me and began whispering. "The night was December 24th, 1993-"
"No," Syaoran interrupted.
"Easter Sunday, 1986-"
"July of 2000-"
"Mother's Day, 1986. DON'T INTERRUPT ME." After a long, tense stare, she continued. "Syaoran was eight months old..."
Quickly I figured the numbers in my head. 1988, plus twenty was 2008, and then add... wait, carry the one?
The rest of the night was lost in a sea of embarrassing memories. I officially knew everything about Syaoran, from the time he got lost in an airport when he was three to his first middle school dance, where he locked braces with a girl named Peggy. His face turned a dark shade of red and remained that way for most of dinner.
"And look!" the sister laughed, procuring a picture from who-knows-where. I took it from her hands and examined it closely. "That was back when he was in a boy band. What was your name, the Iron Fists?"
I couldn't help but laugh at how obviously 90's the picture was. All four boys wore faded denim jackets and hair parted down the middle; the oldest was probably seventeen.
"You look ridiculous," I laughed. He leaned closer to look at it, obviously caught between hatred and nostalgia.
"Just so you know, we played at prom that year." Syaoran sighed, taking the picture from me. "We were awesome. That's me, Eriol, Takashi, and Yukito-"
"Wait." I snatched it back quickly. Sure enough, Yamazaki stood right beside Syaoran, denim jacket and all. "You..."
"Yeah, we were pretty good friends back in the day." His expression slowly faded, making me feel even guiltier about Syaoran seeing us together. It was just one date, and we didn't even get to eat dinner because my fiancee called during the middle of it. So yeah, not much going on there. Not really sure why he was jealous, but I guess any decent 90's boy band has a policy about not stealing each others' chicks.
After a couple more hours of socializing, Syaoran and I finally felt leaving was justifiable. I gratefully took Syaoran's coat and wrapped it around my frozen body as we quickly made our way to the door.
"We'll miss you sooo much," one of the sisters cooed. "Byee!"
I waved awkwardly as Syaoran opened the front door. A sudden, violent burst of cold air hit me like a semi-truck.
"CLOSE IT NOW," I commanded. He obeyed, shutting the door quickly.
"Here." Syaoran rummaged through his coat pockets for his keys. "We are going to run as quickly as we can."
I slid the coat on and nodded. "Which one is your car?"
He frowned. "You don't know?"
"No, it's just-" I peeked out the door. "They're all covered in snow."
Syaoran poked his head out. "Hm." He hit the alarm button on his keys; two yellow lights flashed underneath the blanket of snow. "Well. That's reassuring."
"Okay." I jumped up and down a little bit, stimulating my blood flow. "Let's do this."
Syaoran gripped the handle of the door and paused dramatically. After taking a deep inhale, he threw the door open to let in another violent burst of cold air. I flew past him into the flurry, my feet and shins waddling quickly to the car.
"Aaaaahh!" I cried, warrior blood pulsing through my veins.
Syaoran trudged behind me, looking less like a warrior and more like an extremely resentful man.
I ripped the car door open, and with a final look of triumph, slid into the cushioned seat and closed it shut.
Syaoran sat down beside me and turned the engine on with shaky fingers. His teeth were chattering violently.
"Are you all right?" I asked quietly, shivering uncontrollably. Semi-warm air hit me like a gift from the heavens.
"Let's just... sit here for a second." He grabbed a thick, black polar-fleece blanket from the back and draped it across the entire front seat. I kicked my shoes off gratefully and curled up into a ball, resting against him. Maybe I could transfer some body heat.
This is nice, I thought to myself. The radio had automatically turned on, something I had ignored earlier, and began to play "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
This is a nice, romantic moment. I like this.
He then sneezed in my hair.
"You can still walk, I promise." I guided Syaoran, still clad in his fuzzy blanket, onto the couch, where he proceeded to fall over and begin moaning.
"Chill out. I'll be there in a second." I ran to my room quickly and changed into warm, soft Harvard sweatpants. I had a feeling that I was going to play nurse.
"Sakuraaa," he groaned in a deep voice. It wasn't the least bit attractive, seeing as his eyes were puffy and a used tissue was draped across his face.
"Geez, Syaoran." After cranking up the heat, I grabbed another blanket out of the closet and draped it over his shivering, sneezing, coughing, pathetic body. "Do you want some soup?"
He made a "gross" face and rolled away from me. I glared at him and went to the kitchen to make myself some coffee. He could take care of himself.
After a couple hours of nursing Syaoran's every need, I concluded that he was actually sick. Either that or he was just being a baby.
"Can you get me cough drops?" he whimpered. "And Tylenol. Oh, and maybe some tea."
"Anything else, darling?" I asked, buttoning up my second jacket and wrapping his scarf around my neck. "Seriously, though. I'm not going out again."
He looked thoughtful. "How about a hug?" he said with a pathetic smile.
I ignored him and grabbed his keys. "I'll be back in an hour."
Cough drops, tea, Tylenol, I thought to myself as I walked into the lobby. Snow continued to fall outside. At least I got a parking spot under the awning.
After a cold, stupid walk to the car, I started the engine and cranked up the heat again. My fancy new Italian leather gloves gripped the steering wheel warmly.
If I get sick, he'll have to take care of me. Then I can torment him relentlessly.
I cackled maniacally as I pulled out onto the road to find the nearest Walgreens. Syaoran's car smelled like him. I liked the way he smelled (though this has already been established).
After ten minutes of searching, I finally pulled into a Walgreens parking lot. I shuffled in coldly, clutching Syaoran's wallet in my shivering hands.
I looked at my basket as I stood in line at the register. Cough drops, tissues, chicken noodle soup, Tylenol, Earl Grey tea, disinfectant wipes, Cheetos, and 4 bottles of Gatorade.
"Hi, how are you?" I greeted the employee.
She stared at me and grabbed my basket. I frowned.
"So, how about this snow?"
She looked up at me, then went back to scanning.
"$27.92," she said.
I swiped Syaoran's debit card.
The receipt finished printing out. She handed it to me.
"Have a great day," she said in a monotonous sigh.
"...You too." I took my bags and walked away, feeling hurt and rejected.
I trudged over to the elevator and rode up silently. Syaoran was either asleep or unconscious on the couch, cuddled into a ball of self-pity. I set the groceries on the kitchen counter and sighed.
I looked over to the couch, where Syaoran's head poked up to look at me.
"What did you get?"
I held up the bags. "Everything you wanted. Should I make you some tea?"
He nodded helplessly. "Is that... earl grey?"
"Do you want it?"
"Okay. Go back to sleep."
He obeyed me without resistance. I put a kettle on the stove.
Something that I discovered the other day was Syaoran's music collection. It was completely digital; all you had to do was select an album and it played throughout the apartment. I put on Christmas music as I prepared Syaoran's tea. I decided that we would decorate as soon as he was able to stand.
Finally the kettle began to whistle. I let the tea steep for a few minutes, dancing around the kitchen (elegantly) as music played softly.
I threw away the tea bag and stirred the tea lightly before carrying it over to the coffee table and setting it in front of Syaoran.
"Hey," I whispered, poking him.
He looked up at me with sad eyes, the rest of his face covered with blankets. He was pathetic.
"Do you want your tea?"
He nodded vigorously and sat up. I gave him the cup and went back to the kitchen to clean.
As annoying as it was to care for him, it was nice to see Syaoran with his guard down. I looked over to the couch, where he was drinking contently.
"Why do you keep looking at me?" he asked.
My face heated. "I'm not."
He mustered up a glare and went back to drinking.
Once he was finished, I got two Tylenol for him and forced him to drink an entire bottle of Gatorade to hydrate himself. After a coughing fit, he shriveled into a ball and went back to groaning.
I took the time to clean up his disgusting mess. Dozens of tissues littered the floor around him; I grabbed the small trash can from underneath the kitchen counter and began throwing them away with a disgusted face.
Slowly Syaoran raised himself from the couch, blanket draped around him like a vampire, and began shuffling toward his bedroom (and bathroom).
"Where are you going?" I asked with concern.
"Where do you think?" he grumbled back.
My face contorted with fear. "Are you going to throw up?"
I spent the next few minutes in terror, sanitizing every surface within my reach as if that would get rid of the germs already in my body. I would take the normal flu, sure. But throwing up was not my thing. I refused to throw up.
Two days later I was crumpled on the bathroom floor, whimpering with the taste of bile in my mouth.
Syaoran had started to feel better the night before, releasing me from nursery duties. Once he started vomiting I basically stayed as far away from him as possible, precariously handing him blankets and tissues as needed. But of course, my efforts were to no avail. After rolling around pathetically on the bathroom floor, I finally found a position where my stomach wasn't churning.
"Sakura?" Syaoran knocked on the door. "Are you okay?"
After I didn't answer, he opened the door to find me in the fetal position. His face was half-amused, half-pitying.
"Do you want some water?" he asked quietly. I nodded and he disappeared.
When he came back, my face was buried in the toilet, coughing up the remainder of my insides. I wouldn't be surprised if my kidneys were gone.
"Here," he offered, handing me a glass. I wiped my face off quickly and accepted the water.
"I hate you," I whispered, voice hoarse. Syaoran smiled and handed me a pillow, which I gladly accepted. I lay down on the ground and turned my back to him. With my eyes closed, it almost felt like I wasn't on a bathroom floor.
"Are you just going to sleep on the floor?" he asked doubtfully. I curled up tighter in my ball of self-pity. "You're going to get really bored."
I was already bored. Bored and sick. Bored and sick and cold.
"I'm going to move you, all right?" His cold hands snaked underneath my torso and knees. "Don't throw up on me."
I leaned against Syaoran's chest pathetically as he carried me into the living room and deposited me on the couch. "Can you drink something?"
I nodded silently and curled up in a ball again. Syaoran disappeared from my limited vision and returned with a fuzzy blanket and ginger ale. I was surprised when he sat down next to me and snuggled under the blanket.
"You're going to get sick," I protested weakly.
He laughed. "I'm already sick."
I snuggled against him as he turned on the TV. "Ugh, no food commercials."
"Well, what do you want to watch?"
"The Weather Channel."
He made a face, but nevertheless turned to the weather. For the next few hours, I knew the exact temperature, humidity, and chance of rain outside. I also got extremely tired of soft jazz. Every now and then I would have to scamper off to the bathroom to vomit my insides out, but other than that, it was very relaxing.
"How are you feeling?" he asked as I walked back to the couch and nestled back into my spot beside him.
"Sick." It was currently 42 degrees outside, with winds to the southwest at 8 miles per hour. "Maybe you can change the channel."
He sighed gratefully and grabbed the remote. "I was going to lose my mind."
I woke up two days later on the couch, finally recovering from my pestilence. Syaoran looked at me from the kitchen cautiously.
I nodded happily. "Much better. And starving."
"Well, let's go out. I'm tired of sitting here." He stretched slowly. "You might want to take a shower."
I scowled. "Obviously."
That I could not deny.
"Okay, I get it." I made my way to the shower and stripped off my sick-clothes. The water felt amazing against my nasty skin (a combination of cold sweat, vomit, and bathroom floor). While inhaling the cleansing steam, I realized that I hadn't been out of the apartment in over a week. Yolo, am I right?
For once, I was actually happy to wear normal clothes as opposed to sweat pants. I put a genuine effort into what I looked like, slipping into a dark green dress with long sleeves. I paired it with the boots that Syaoran bought me a few weeks ago and a soft white jacket. It was warm and comfy and sophisticated.
"Look at you," Syaoran laughed as I came out into the living room. "I feel unworthy."
He was not.
It was honestly the first time that I had seen the businessman in jeans. This by itself was a travesty; he looked like a model for attractiveness.
"You look like a lumberjack," I stated awkwardly. He looked down at his plaid flannel shirt and frowned. "In a good way."
"I hope that's a compliment." He grabbed his jacket off the coat rack and lead me into the elevator.
"I think it's the beard." He hadn't shaved, which made me happy. He looked so much better with stubble.
As I already knew, it was below freezing outside, with a 38 percent chance of snow. We hustled to the car and cranked up the heat.
"Maybe we should've stayed inside," Syaoran whined like a little girl. I rolled my eyes and put on my seat belt. He could never deal with cold weather.
"Maybe you should move to the rainforest."
He ignored me and pulled out of the parking lot. "What do you want?"
"Chinese," I answered quickly.
We drove around for a while before pulling into a nice restaurant. I gratefully danced into their lobby, immediately taken aback by the most heavenly scent that my nose had ever sensed. I sighed happily.
"Well, do you like it?" Syaoran asked me as I engulfed my food.
"Iff gurrrhhy muuuuhhhfff," I replied. He nodded, as though any of that made sense, and took a sip of water.
I emptied my plate and took a deep breath of satisfaction. "That was amazing."
"Excuse me!" a man said, walking over to us quickly. "Mr. Li, Miss Kinomoto, could I have just a word?"
Syaoran was about to shoo the reporter off, but I stopped him. "Sure. I'm bored."
Sparing me a look of irritation, he held his voice recorder shakily. "Is... uh-"
"Sweetheart, don't look so nervous," I said, pulling up a chair and urging him to sit down. "Relax. Go on."
He smiled at me, glasses askew. "Uh, my name is Jason Smith, from Persons Magazine. Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure," I said happily. "We don't mind, do we?" I spat at Syaoran as he glared at me.
"Okay. Uh..." Jason flipped through a notepad nervously. I watched him curiously as he sweated. "I'm sorry, this is just, like, the biggest interview I've ever done. And my boss said that if I do a good job it may be on the front page!"
"Oh Jason, that's great!" I smiled at him. Syaoran looked at me with fiery eyes.
"Thanks. So..." He took a deep breath and read his notes. "Have you decided on a location for the wedding?"
"Not yet," I answered.
"...Oh. Okay." Jason looked deflated, but nevertheless moved on to the next question. "What about the honeymoon?"
Both Syaoran and I stilled.
My face heated and my eyes wandered to my lap. "I... I don't know."
"We're going to the mountains," Syaoran answered quietly. "My sisters- and I- wanted it to be a surprise, but I mean, it doesn't really matter."
My eyes darted around the room. "So, next question?"
Jason, at least, was oblivious to the awkwardness and looked happy to have something answered. "M-Mr. Li, who will become the head of Li Corporation after its merge with Veritech Industries?"
At the mention of my uncle's company, I tried to remember the last time I had seen my family. It really had been a while.
"I will," Syaoran answered. "My father will be retiring after the merge."
"And where will that leave Mr. Kinomoto?"
I frowned. "Yeah, what'll happen to my uncle?"
Syaoran looked at me with wary eyes. "Let's not talk about it."
"Syaoran," I warned.
Jason looked about ready to excuse himself as Syaoran and I exchanged equally terrifying expressions. This was one of the first times Syaoran had used his badass business poker face on me, and I would have peed myself if I weren't equally as badass as he. I was a woman in a man's world. I know how to handle myself.
"Do you want to have this conversation later, honey?" Syaoran said as lovingly as any person can speak through their teeth.
"Actually, I think this is the perfect time to have this conversation, babe," I spat, using my least favorite term of endearment. That will show him.
"Jason, you'll have to forgive my fiancee," Syaoran said sweetly, turning to the least fortunate reporter of the month. "Sakura isn't feeling very well today, she's just getting over a bit of a stomach bug."
"Don't let everyone in the world know that I was projectile vomiting last night!" I hissed.
"Mr. Li, are these mood swings normal in Mrs. Kinomoto?"
"Mood swings?" I seethed as my eyes locked on the reporter. "You better take that back before I give you something to write about."
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "Let me at least order a bottle of wine."
"I don't feel like drinking," I spat. "Syaoran, can we leave?-"
"So let me get this straight, Mrs. Kinomoto. You've been nauseous recently, as well as experiencing mood swings and refusing alcohol?"
My eyes immediately turned back to Syaoran, whose mouth was as wide as mine. "No no no no no," he whispered. "Jason, no."
"Do you have any comment?" he said slyly. The little turd punked us.
"No," I said defiantly, my brow heavily furrowed and my blood rising. "I am not-"
"No comment? Okay, thanks for your time!" Jason sprung out of his chair and bolted to the door. Syaoran knocked his chair out from under him, chasing after the reporter with more determination than I had ever seen in one man before.
"Wait here-" he managed to spit out before he was gone in a flash of lightning. I would do no such thing, as an independent, non-pregnant woman.
I chased both of the men out the front door and barely kept up until Syaoran tackled the reporter around the backside of the building.
"I swear to God, if you say anything-" Syaoran threatened, pushing Jason up against the wall.
"Syaoran!" I shouted. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
He turned to me without letting go of the reporter. "Do you have any idea what this will do to our image if rumors like this start spreading? Pregnant before the wedding- it's a nightmare."
I stilled. I never even thought about it that way. I just didn't want people thinking I was pregnant.
"Most of our investors are very traditional," Syaoran continued. "If they even found out we were living together- don't you dare, Jason," he threatened with another forceful shove.
"Syaoran, chill out. Let's not add 'assaulted a reporter' into this mess. Let him go."
Reluctantly, Syaoran dropped Jason. With his feet on the ground, he seemed to gain some confidence back.
"You can't stop me," he shrugged. "Hey, all press is good press, am I right?"
"I'm not pregnant."
"So you say, but rumors tend to spread no matter what," he smiled. "Sorry."
Before we could catch him, he sprinted away from Syaoran and bolted across the street. Syaoran stood fuming in place for a while.
"I'm not pregnant, Syaoran. It's not like he can do anything."
"He knows we're living together, he can twist everything we said into some kind of story. Sakura," he sighed turning to me and loosening his rigid body, "this is bad."
"What a little turd," I groaned.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tylenol, Gatorade, or any other products or characters mentioned in this story.