The night lingers on, we'll be safe until dawn
In the happyland
Close the door and leave your key
You think you've got me, but you'll you see
When you're starting to lose me
I'm already gone
In the happyland
They will hunt you
And desert you
That's what they do
Friday, April 26th 1889
Natsuno woke up with a stabbing pain in his neck, as he had been sleeping in the yearner position all night. His right shoulder felt a bit strange, too, once he had sat up. Stretching his back helped, but the pain was going to last for a while. He grunted and rolled down on the floor again. That had become a bad habit of his, but it was a good way to wake up. The uniform was hanging neatly on the knob of his wardrobe. He stood up reluctantly and snatched the fancy costume. He went past his desk and looked at the open journal. He had told himself to write in it for the past few days, but he never seemed to be in the mood. He sat down reluctantly and began writing the date at the top of the page.
I've finally decided to write in this god forsaken book. It's the first time I write in here since London. I have no idea how this will cure me, but I guess it's worth a try?
One week here and I am still convinced that I hate this village; it's almost unbearable. Everyone is such a neophobiac and think everything I do is strange, when in reality it's them and their disturbing rules that are the strange ones. I mean, who the hell imprisons their residents behind big fences and doesn't let them go to the outside world? The only occasion for them to visit the rest of England is when they are accepted by the Kirishikis to go on a pilgrimage.
That's what I heard from Hirosawa-sensei, I didn't pay attention to the rest of what he said since it was probably stupid anyway. His lessons are so boring that I'd rather hear Megumi rant about her shoes than listen to the morning Bible study session. It is ridiculous how many verses we have to learn before the final exam.
Yesterday I couldn't help but to find a verse from Leviticus hilarious. "If anyone curses his father or mother he must be put to death. He has cursed his father and mother; his blood guilt is on himself." As one of my brainless classmates read it I couldn't help but to snort out loud and the teacher even sent me out of the class for doing so. Now I have even more homework to do. Geez.
The only thing keeping me in school, other than being hit by the psychopathic quim if I don't go, is Tohru. He is like all the villagers, but at the same time he's not. I can't find a word to describe it. Sure, he is annoying, because he can be clingy, but at least he doesn't expect something of me-unlike my newfound stalker Megumi. She thinks that by showing her adoration I will come to like her back someday. That's unrealistic and stupid. Love does not come from an obsession grounded on looks. To fall in love that someone has to be bound with the person they are in 'love' with. You don't fall in love with someone you're neighbours with or someone that you hardly talk to. Why are all people like that?
If you know that the person has no interest in you whatsoever you should just give up.
Anyway, today is the day of the ball or the house-warming party, whatever you want to call it. Father and mother keep persisting that I come so that they can show me off to everyone. They are such parasites. Hell, at the end of the day I will probably manage to screw things up for them like I usually do. It's not my fucking problem. If they think that arranging a party will make them popular they're wrong, the elders will probably gossip even more.
"Crap!" Natsuno noticed that it was past eight, immediately dropped his quill and bolted out of his room. He was going to be late, like always.
Just as he made it out he collided with something and fell backwards with a thud.
"I'm so sorry Yuuki-kun!" said a high-pitched voice.
Natsuno moaned in pain and sat up.
"Let me help you up!"
His vision was blurry because he had hit his head, but he could see a female silhouette in the hazy mess.
"I'm fine." He stood up and brushed himself off. "Watch where you go next time." He regained his consciousness.
The girl was dressed in a long black dress with a v-shaped belt and a white apron. Her dark hair was pinned in a bun covered by a white lace headpiece. She was the maid that the family had hired, since they needed someone to help maintain the big house. She was really clumsy and made more of a mess than she cleaned.
"I'm sorry,'' the girl said, and bowed. She quickly picked up Natsuno's schoolbag and gave it to him. Her eyes widened as she saw a wooden box next to Natsuno's feet and picked it up, too.
"I...I was asked to bring your lunch to you." She presented the bento box to Natsuno. The box had gotten cracks from the fall and there was soya leaking from it.
"It's mushy and disgusting now," Natsuno said as he held his blank expression. He could see the sweat drip down her forehead. If he was the one deciding she would have been fired long ago. She doesn't do squat around here. Since father is such a pig, he ignores it and enjoys the young eye-candy.
"Yes, of course! Sorry...I can make a new one if you'd like." Her hands shook and her face was sweaty as she bowed again.
"It's fine," replied Natsuno, and he rolled his eyes. "I probably wouldn't eat it anyway."
She gasped and almost dropped the bento again. Her eyes became red from the tears welling up.
"Clean this mess up." Natsuno turned around continued walking down the hall.
"Good luck in school!" she said while trying to hold back the hiccups.
"Remember to have my suit cleaned when I come back." She was furniture, so she should be treated like it.
"Yes...sir..." Her sob grew louder as Natsuno made it down to the living room.
His mother and father were moving things out of the room so that there would be room for people to dance. There was still much to do; candles had to be lit, finger food had to be prepared and the instruments had to be stringed.
Natsuno didn't bother talking to his parents and simply went to the big kitchen. There was no one in the room since it was too early to prepare lunch. Otherwise the maid and a few chefs would be by the big stove and cooking delicious food for the family.
There were some leftovers from yesterday's dinner and some pastries that were fresh out of the oven. Natsuno took an anpan from a bowl. He could taste that it was freshly baked, but it was a bit odd. It was cherry paste inside. He wasn't that fond of cherries but they reminded him of the cherry tree they had in their old garden. He took another bite for taste of home, so to speak. He wrapped the anpan in a cloth, put it in his bag and headed for the front door. His parents had begun moving the dinner table to the far end of the hall where everyone would be seated when they didn't dance.
Natsuno hated to dance. To him, the most embarrassing thing to do was being in a circle surrounded by other people.
There was just so much to keep track of, like keeping the right pace but still managing to get some advanced moves right to woo the lady, avoiding dancing into other people and being careful so that the girl's dress didn't get tangled and rip. If he managed to stay away from his parents or any young ladies that wanted to dance he would be alright, but that would be next to impossible. Natsuno sighed and went out the front door.
He regretted instantly that he left his umbrella upstairs. The rain was pouring and he was getting drenched in a matter of seconds. He ran through the garden and opened the rusty gate.
Natsuno jumped when a familiar pink haired girl appeared. She stood under a big black lace umbrella that kept her dry.
"Good morning Yuuki-kun!" Megumi said excitedly. "I thought we could walk to school together today." She had her usual outfit on, long pleated black skirt and a black jacket embroidered with the name Kirishiki, except that she wore different shoes. They were a pair of magenta, closed-toed shoes with a low heel and a lavender pink buckled strap across the instep of the shoe. Natsuno gave her a lazy bow and walked past her into the rain. He was used with her constant tag along.
"Since we couldn't have lunch together yesterday, I made extra food so we could share today!" continued the girl as she started to casually skip next to Natsuno and covered him with her umbrella. She poked his arm and pouted.
"Excuse me." Natuno reluctantly presented his arm and she gladly put her arms around it.
He remembered one of the codes of a gentleman.
If you met a lady of your acquaintance in the street, it was her part to notice you first. If she chose to acknowledge you, you as a gentleman could not ignore her.
Natsuno sighed as they walked together and got glances from other people on the street.
He ignored Megumi as she joyfully promenaded next to him. It was a 20-minute walk to school so he had to put up with her until then, but at least he wouldn't get wet.
He stopped listening to her and watched the scenery instead. It was cloudy today, as usual, and there were puddles of water forming. It had rained every day since he had gotten here. It didn't feel like spring at all.
"-I mean, everyone in the neighbourhood got invited! Even the middle class families like Murasako Yasumori, Takana and Maeda," Megumi babbled.
"Megumi! Wait up!" They heard a female voice behind them.
"Speak of the devil...," mumbled the pink haired girl and turned around. A brown haired girl with pigtails ran towards them under a white umbrella with yellow polka dots. The bottom of her long skirt was wet and a bit muddy.
"Good morning Megumi-chan. Why didn't you wait for me at our usual spot?" Kaori asked as she finally caught up with them.
She was wearing a middle-school uniform. Natsuno remembered her from before, since she often hung around Megumi. Kaori was the one who insisted that Megumi kept trying to get his attention.
The girls began to argue and Natsuno tapped impatiently with his foot. He decided that this was his chance to ditch Megumi. He put his schoolbag over his head and ran towards the nearest alley. They didn't seem to notice him until it was too late.
"Haven't I told you that I don't want to be with you anymore? And can't you see I'm walking with Yuuki-kun?!" Megumi hissed.
"You should have told me! I waited half an hour for you," the brown-haired girl said and looked over Megumi's shoulder
"I can't see Natsuno though. Are you alright Megumi?" Kaori gave her friend a concerned look.
"What?!" Megumi shrieked and turned around to find that Natsuno was gone.
"See, you scared him away!" Megumi had a very aggravated tone when she spoke to her friend.
"Sorry...I didn't know he was that important," Kaori apologised, but Megumi kept glaring at her. The pink-haired girl stomped away in anger to catch up with Natsuno.
Natsuno stopped jogging when he realised that he was going the wrong way. He cursed under his breath and rubbed his neck, which had started to ache even more. His schoolbag was already soaking wet and didn't protect him from the rain anymore. Natsuno looked around for any landmarks that he recognised but was surrounded by townhouses that he'd never seen. He was totally lost.
"Now I'm late, too." He looked at his pocket watch. He had been late for school the whole week, so this day would probably be no different. Natsuno sighed once again as he began to walk back when he saw a familiar name on a black steel mailbox. Mutou.
The house was a townhouse and it looked like it hadn't been painted in ages. It sure didn't feel like the home of a clinic manager and his family. He hesitated when he went up the door steps.
"Maybe I should have walked with Shimizu...," thought Natsuno as he knocked on the maroon door. Hopefully Tohru was late again, too, or he would have had to embarrass himself in front of his parents. He hadn't met them yet, so he surely didn't want to meet them like this. He looked up when the door opened and the blond came out.
"Natsuno?" Tohru wore a pair of short cotton pants and a towel around his shoulders that hardly covered his bare chest. Natsuno instantly yelled at him.
"Put some clothes on! What if there was a woman here?!" He spun around to hide his bright pink cheeks.
"I thought it was the mailman..." Tohru yawned and scratched his head.
"Idiot!" He covered his eyes with his hand and turned back to the blond, who leaned on the doorsill.
"What are you even doing here so early? You look terrible, by the way." Tohru lifted Natsuno's wet bangs, which dripped water when they splashed back onto his face.
"It's almost ten in the morning, Tohru-chan," Natsuno said and gave him a dull look through the cracks of his fingers. "We have school at nine o' clock."
Tohru nodded lazily and then his eyes widened as he processed what Natsuno just said.
"Yeah, my words exactly," Natsuno said and rubbed his aching neck with his free hand.
"We need to hurry then! Come in while I get dressed," the blond insisted. "Dry yourself off with this towel." He put the towel that was around his shoulders on Natsuno's head and led him inside the house.
Natsuno peeked from the towel and looked around. The house was not as small as it had looked from the outside. The hall had flowery wallpaper and a marble floor, and there was a staircase leading up to the second floor.
"Hurry. If I miss the second class I'm going to be in trouble again." Natsuno stood awkwardly in the hallway and watched Tohru walk up the stairs. Tohru turned around and stuck his tongue out.
"Put on some clothes, for God's sake!" Natsuno growled as he covered his eyes with the towel again.
Tohru laughed and ran up the stairs. He didn't mind Natsuno taking the Lord's name in vain. The other villagers would probably accuse Natsuno of blasphemy if they had heard that. Natsuno felt good to be able to swear in front of someone.
"I'll be back soon! Try to think of a good excuse for being late," Tohru called from upstairs.
He looked around the house and ruffled his hair in the towel. It was nothing like his house. The furniture was not that fancy, but there was a cozy fireplace in the dining hall. He could see that there were many people living in this house, since there were dirty dishes and clothes lying everywhere. It wasn't pleasing but Natsuno would actually prefer to live in this sort of house instead of his dark mansion. Natsuno walked back to the hall and froze when he saw the pink-haired girl outside reading the mailbox. She hadn't noticed him yet. Natsuno dashed to the door and slammed it shut. Tohru rushed down the stairs, fully dressed in his school uniform, to see what the commotion was.
"What happened?!" he exclaimed.
The younger boy pointed at the door.
"Shimizu followed me here," Natsuno explained and sat down on the wooden stairs. "She's been stalking me since I first came here."
"First week at school and you already have an admirer. I'm jealous." Tohru laughed and put his shoes on by the door.
"It's not funny...," Natsuno muttered as put his hand to his temple.
"Well, let's walk with her to school. It can't be that bad," Tohru suggested.
"I don't like her." Natsuno hissed and stood up.
"C'mon, she is really fond of you so give her a chance," said Tohru and smiled like the cheshire cat. The grin danced on his lips because he knew he was right. "Besides, it's rude for a gentleman to ignore a lady."
"Goddamn gentleman's code," thought Natsuno and sighed. Why was it such a bother to be male?
Tohru opened the door and Natsuno hid behind it as soon he saw the girl. Megumi looked very displeased.
"Good morning, Megumi-chan! Running late for school?" Tohru gave her a polite bow and motioned with his hand that she could come in.
Megumi did not greet him with the same enthusiasm and remained outside.
"Is Yuuki-kun there?" Megumi said and crossed her arms. "I lost him when I was talking to stupid Kaori."
"He's he-" Tohru got interrupted when Natsuno pinched his arm. "Well, he should be in school."
"But I saw him walking into this area!" Megumi raised her eyebrow.
"That was probably Nao-san," Tohru explained and twitched as the stubborn teenager pinched him again. "I don't know where he is, bye!"
He slammed the door shut and stroked his arm where Natsuno had pinched him. "That hurt!"
"Are you implying that I look like a woman?!" Natsuno's face was red as a tomato when he came out of his hiding place.
"Oh, the Nao thing? I didn't mean it like that!" Tohru stuttered and backed away.
"You better not have..." said Natsuno and ruffled his hair a final time in the towel before throwing it back to Tohru. His hair had become flat.
"But come to think of it-" Tohru leered in Natsuno's direction. The younger teen pushed him away and crossed his arms. The blond began to chuckle.
"Anyway, thank you for not selling me out I guess...," mumbled Natsuno and looked out the window as Megumi walked away into the rain.
"No problem. You shouldn't avoid a lady though, she might get mad and you'll get into trouble with her dad."
"I don't care."
"You do realise a father has a license to kill if someone hurts their daughter?" Tohru warned in a sincere tone while still grinning widely. It almost was impossible to see if the blond was serious.
"You're joking, right?" Natsuno gave the blond a sceptical look but Tohru nodded in reply. "That's retarded."
"Pfft! If you think that's retarded you should read our rule book. You can get killed for simply having the wrong manners." Tohru laughed and walked through the living room and opened the backdoor to their garden.
"What the hell is wrong with these people?" Natsuno thought as he followed the older teen.
"We should take another way so we don't run into her again then," the blond said and smiled at Natsuno.
He nodded in reply and walked out to the garden.
They ran to school but they weren't in time for the second lesson once again. So the boys went to the library to kill some time. They played chess and Go and even though Tohru lost every time, he seemed to enjoy himself. Natsuno had been in his own mind the whole time, thinking about how he would handle the stress of being a host.
He had been trained in the etiquette of a victorian ball, but it was ridiculous how many rules there were. Since Natsuno was still considered a 'kid' by his parents, even though he was 17, he had even more etiquette to follow, like never interrupting a conversation or addressing a visitor until he has started the conversation, and always rise to a standing position when the visitors enter.
He would be made into ridicule if any of his classmates were to see him like that. Not only that, he also had to dance because it was a gentleman's 'job' to see that every lady had someone to dance with. When requesting a lady to dance, you have to stand at a proper distance, bend your body gracefully, accompanied by a motion in the right hand in front, look at her amicably, and respectfully say, "Will you do me the honor to dance with me?" or something of the sort. The man has to remain in the position until the lady replies. Natsuno thought it was degrading how he had to bow before someone like that. Tohru stopped the trail of thought as he waved his hands in front of his face.
"It's been your turn for five minutes." He watched him with a concerned look. "Are you feeling unwell?"
"I'm fine." Natsuno broke eye contact and looked down at the chess board.
In the chess match had just begun, he was black and Tohru was white. Tohru had already made the first move with his pawn. Natsuno responded by also moving a pawn.
Tohru did a little dance with his fingers and took the knight's pawn two step forward. Natsuno raised his eyebrow and moved his queen parallel to the white king.
The match was over in two turns.
"What?!" The blond gaped and looked at the board. Natsuno was right; there was no way for him to move his king. He was stuck behind his pawn.
"You heard me." Natsuno crossed his arms and smirked.
"How did you do that?" Tohru exclaimed in wonder.
"You were inattentive and didn't think about your opponent's move." Natsuno yawned. It was getting really boring constantly winning, but he wasn't complaining.
"I want a rematch!" Tohru insisted as he put all the pieces to their rightful places. "I want to be black this time."
"Whatever." Natsuno rolled his eyes when the blond turned the board around.
"Were you invited to the ball?" He moved a pawn the to the same place as the last match.
"Yes." Tohru moved his black pawn so it was facing Natsuno's white pawn.
"Are you bringing anyone?"
Natsuno moved his knight to and tried reading Tohru as he mimicked his move again. The older teenager looked rather focused. He then smiled as he replied.
"Yeah, my father recommended a nurse he works with from the clinic. He told me she was very beautiful and bright. I can't wait to pick her up tonight." Tohru stared off into the distance. "It's really rare for a woman to have a career like that; she will surely have a lot of suitorsin the future.I can't believe that she chose to go with me to this ball!" he continued talking.
Natsuno wasn't surprised. If Tohru had the charisma to charm the whole school, there was no question whether he would get a date or not. Natsuno was almost a bit jealous of how the blond could get anyone to blush just by looking at him. Natsuno noticed that Tohru had been leaning over the table and poking him.
"Stop dozing off when I'm talking," the blond said and poked Natsuno's chin, getting him back to the real world. Tohru leaned back into his own chair again.
"How about you?" he asked.
"I haven't asked anyone yet..." Natsuno moved his free bishop. "...and I'm not going to."
Tohru looked up at him.
"Is that so? Well, I think you should do whatever you want. Don't let anyone force you to do something you don't want just because it's a rule." The statement caught Natsuno a bit of guard but he held his blank expression.
"But didn't you say Sotoba had weird laws that could get you killed for not having the proper manners?"
Tohru breathed out and looked at Natsuno.
"Live how you want to live." He moved his other knight. "That's my philosophy anyway."
"It's a good one." Natsuno moved his first knight forward again. Tohru really did have the same point of view as him. It was really nice to have someone who didn't criticise you and actually understands your feelings. A person you can trust with any secret.
"It feels weird."
Natsuno looked up when Tohru made his next move. Tohru took Natsuno's pawn that was in front of his own with his left knight.
"Don't get too excited," said Natsuno and moved his own knight and took Tohru's pawn. Natsuno was now in position to take the black queen. Tohru couldn't take the knight with his king because then Natsuno would take him with his bishop. He scratched his head and moved his queen as far away as he could.
Natsuno moved his knight again and took a rook inside the 'base'. Tohru took a quick look at Natsuno. He seemed being too busy staring at the wall behind Tohru again to notice that he just made a mistake. He didn't protect his king. Tohru moved his queen parallel to the white king and shouted.
"Huh?" Natsuno took a single glance at the board and saw how Tohru won. He gave himself a mental slap for making such a dumb mistake. If he wasn't so distracted he would have won.
"You were inattentive and didn't think about your opponent's move," Tohru quoted and cracked up at Natsuno's displeased expression.
"I had other things on my mind than this stupid game."
"You're a sore loser." The corners of his mouth were turned up in one of his grins. The pride radiating off him was almost tangible.
"I'm tired of chess." Natsuno stood up and quickly packed the chess pieces in their original box.
"You're such a sore loser." Tohru smirked at the younger boy, who gave the box back to the librarian and bowed. He was really pissed.
"I'm not. I'm just bored, and you should go to class," the younger boy urged.
"Alright, alright, alright! Stop being grumpy." Tohru gave up and walked out of the room. "Bye."
Natsuno blew some air out his nose and picked his schoolbag up from the floor.
Natsuno climbed the flights of stairs and got up to the final floor of the school building. He looked around to see if anyone was around and then proceeded to go down the hallway. At the end of the hall there was a window that led out to the roof. The window was blocked by a black fence but Natsuno had already broken it some days ago. He climbed outside onto the small wet platform. This was the place he usually was when skipping class or just hiding from annoying teachers. It wasn't made to be stood on, only there for the two decorative gargoyles made from granite.
Gargoyles are made to frighten off evil spirits and protect those in the building. They represent the evil that is the outside world and are there to scare people into going to church and school, showing everyone that you can always go to church to feel safe. One gargoyle was without wings and the other had his wings wrapped around himself. They were very different from each other but both were smirking.
Natsuno took his jacket off and put it on the marble ground. It was very windy up here but he had a lighter that he took from his back-pocket to warm him. His feet dangled from the edge; there was no railing to hold him.
Natsuno took a cigarette from a case and put it in his mouth as he lit it. He inhaled the toxin and exhaled just a quickly. The town looked grey and boring from all the puddles and mud. There were hardly any people outside besides a lonely carriage. It disappeared quickly in an alley and finding it from this height was now like finding a needle in a haystack. The area was so large and there were so many houses since the school was located in the center of Sotoba.
Natsuno took another breath and sighed. Then he exhaled through his nose.
"So this is where you go when you skip class, huh?" Natsuno turned around abruptly to find the blond standing behind him. He remained quiet as the older teen sat down next to him. Tohru noticed the burning cigarette in his hand.
"Where did you get the coffin nail from?" His voice wasn't surprised. It seemed like nothing Natsuno did could get him off guard.
"I took them from father's drawer when he was sleeping." Natsuno took a breath from the roll.
"It smells disgusting. How can you smoke that?" Tohru waved his hand in front of his face as the smoke flew in his direction.
Natsuno didn't have an answer, since he didn't know why he smoked. He had begun smoking when he was in the boarding school, with no reason but to let loose, and then he had slowly become addicted. That was all that he remembered, anyway.
"May I have one?" the blond asked as he noticed that the young boy's ADD began to kick in, as usual.
Natsuno threw his schoolbag and Tohru caught it. He dug inside it and found the case. Tohru reached out for the lighter next to Natsuno. He lit the small roll of tobacco and inhaled the smoke but instantly began to cough the toxin out. Natsuno stubbed out his cigarette on the wing of the gargoyle.
"Here, you're doing it wrong." Natsuno took the fag out of Tohru's mouth and put it in his own.
"Inhale a small amount at a time and then exhale everything at once, it will go more smoothly then," he explained as he showed the blond how to properly smoke. He opened his mouth and a grey cloud floated away towards the equally grey sky. They both watched as it flew and dissolved in the air.
"Let me try," said Tohru and took the cigarette out of Natsuno's mouth. He started to inhale the nicotine with small breaths just like Natsuno had instructed.
"Now just breathe out like you usually do."
The blond blew out a big cloud of grey smoke.
"Not in my face!" Natsuno shut his eyes and coughed and the blond did the same as he began laughing uncontrollably. Natsuno spit over the rail from the disgusting taste. The blond calmed down between the coughs and laughs.
"Why are you here?" Natsuno said as he motioned with his hand to pass him the cigarettes.
"It's more fun hanging with you than being in class." Tohru smiled as he passed the death-stick to Natsuno. "Am I bothering you, Natsuno?"
"Yes." Natsuno blew out the smoke and looked over the town with his usual bored look. He then threw the remains down. Hopefully it hit Masao or some other stupid kid.
Tohru pouted his lips and crossed his arms.
"Stop being negative. We skipped class and we're smoking on school property. It's the most fun you've had all week!"
"Whatever." Natsuno waved him off as he continued watching the scenery. He looked up when Tohru was getting up, but he was simply making himself comfortable.
"Even with when I'm rude he sticks with me." Thought Natsuno as his friend still sat by him and watched the sun set behind the big grey clouds. Tohru broke the silence with a new conversation opener.
"I haven't heard you laugh yet." He dangled happily with his legs.
"I can't." There was something blocking that ability in his head.
Tohru looked at Natsuno as if he just told that him that he was a space monster.
"That's crazy!" Tohru stated a bit too loud. He shut himself up when he heard that the had he made an echo.
Natsuno shrugged his shoulders at the statement.
"I'll make you laugh so hard that you tummy aches." the blond said and turned to him. He was always up to a challenge.
"Try me." Natsuno turned to meet his smug smile. There was no way the blond would succeed.
"Okay." The smile danced on his lips. It was one of those smiles that told you, that they knew something you don't. The blond sat still and thought for a while before finally turning around, almost spooking Natsuno, to say.
"Let's see if you're ticklish!"
"That's just childish." He snorted arrogantly as his heart decelerated it's speed from the scare. "You're 18, act like it."
"Someone is afraid of the tickle monster!" Tohru leaned closer and made clawing motions with his index fingers.
"Shut up, I'm not! Besides, we might slip and die." He pushed Tohru off and the blond stuck his tongue out.
"Think on the bright side; If we did we might crush a little brat on the way down." That was such a weird optimistic statement that it made one side of Natsuno's mouth tilt up. Tohru noticed the smirk and did a victory fist pump in the air.
"See, I told you! You're enjoying hanging out with me." Tohru's eyes shined. He finally confirmed that Natsuno could have some emotions too.
"Yeah, yeah.. I guess it's just the town that brings me down." Natsuno admitted, looking down at his dangling feet. "I really want-. No, I need to get away."
Tohru put his hand on Natsuno's shoulder, turned his head so he faced him and looked at him with his shining brown eyes.
"As long as you're here in Sotoba, I will make sure you won't die of boredom, okay?"
Natsuno watched Tohru with a confused look but the calm smile made the worry melt. It was as if he had swallowed something that didn't belong in his body. It sent shivers down his whole body making him tense. He shook so much that the blond noticed.
"What is it, Natsuno?" It was worrying the blond, his friend had been more jumpy than his usual this day.
"Nothing.." His stomach felt weird. He wanted throw up but there just wouldn't come up anything.
"Why does aguy like him prefer being with me? I know I don't have a likeable personality, but Tohru likes me anyway."
The boys remained quiet after that and enjoyed the calm afternoon as long as it lasted. They sat on the rooftop with the gargoyles until all classes were dismissed.
The violet-haired boy opened the little bronze container and took out a pill from inside. Finally he would become calm again. Natsuno had been anxious ever since coming back to school. The medicine would hopefully kick in soon. He swallowed it and drank some water from a glass on the bed stand. The door flew open and a blue-haired woman walked in. She was already dressed up in her ball gown. It was a midnight blue cotton lace gown with a slight V-shaped bodice. She was wearing black dancing gloves and a black lace fan to cool herself off from the stress of being a hostess. Her short hair was curled in ringlets.
"Where have you been?!" Her voice was both worried and angry.
"At school," Natsuno answered dully as he stretched in bed.
"You were supposed to be home two hours ago!" She stomped as she pulled the teen up.
"I'm home now." The teen rolled his eyes as he sat up on the bedside.
The mother sighed in frustration; she really didn't want to start a argument now. She continued to speak with a calmer voice.
"The guest will arrive in an hour, so you better clean yourself up and get dressed." She pointed at his vanity mirror. "And comb your hair please."
"Yeah, yeah. Please go now, I will be ready soon." The teen sat down in front of the mirror. Natsuno looked at his reflection.
His hairstyle was weird. He had long hair on the back of his head that could almost touch his shoulders and he had shorter hair in the front, forming wild looking bangs.
Natsuno took up a comb from the drawer and began stroking his hair. The hair got tangled quickly so he gave up. He slicked his hair back and put the rest in a low ponytail. He tried putting hair-gel so that the bangs would lay flat but they kept sticking up everywhere on his head. The hair on his sides couldn't go back, either, because it was too long to lay still, but too short to be in the pony tail. He sighed as the hair fell back to his face. His hair was untamable. There were some hairpins scattered on the desk, so he put them on, too.
"This will have to do," the boy said as he stood up and walked over to his closet.
He already had clothes picked out for him. It was a pair of black cotton trousers, a white high-collared shirt, a black ascot, a black vest with metal buttons and a black tailcoat. The attire in which a gentleman could present himself in a ballroom was strictly defined. The outfit was made out of very expensive material, so he was careful when he put it on.
Natsuno went out into the hall and looked at himself in the big mirror. He looked really elegant except for the hair. But hey, no one was perfect.
A older and better combed version of himself appeared behind him in the mirror. The teen turned to his father, who had the same outfit and wore it proudly. Yuuki clapped his son's shoulder and followed him down the stairs. Everything was ready for the ball. All the tables and chairs were in the right place and a stage had been set up for the orchestra; the floor was polished so well that you could see your own reflection in it. The only thing missing was the guests, but they would probably arrive soon.
"You will get to greet everyone while your mother and I start making them comfortable with some chit-chat," his father said when they got to the door. "Make sure they get their dance card and that they know the location of the coatroom."
Natsuno couldn't talk back. He just didn't have energy for arguing anymore. He had to put up with the ball even though his parents knew that he couldn't handle this kind of social stress.
"Here is your dance card." His father gave him the paper and a pen. "Hopefully you get to enjoy yourself."
The dance card was a timetable so that everyone knew when the dancing would start and what music would be playing. It was also so that they could write the names of whom they would dance with. It was improper to not dance with the person who you had been asked to dance with, unless it was an emergency, of course.
Natsuno crumbled it up and put it in his pocket.
The people flowed in as quick as a streaming river. Natsuno had his left arm on his right shoulder as he stood in the bowing position. There were so many people coming through the door that he didn't need to lean up and down. Some people greeted him, mostly in a mocking way, but the majority ignored him. He felt like a furnishing. Especially since the actual furniture, the maid, stood beside him and greeted the guests, too.
"Good evening, Natsuno." Only a few people call him by that name. Natsuno looked up as he heard his first name and met the familiar face. Tohru held a woman by the hand.
"Let me introduce you to my date, Ritsuko Kunihiro."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Yuuki-kun," the well-mannered lady said. The younger teen assumed that she was the nurse he had been talking about. Her green and wavy hair was the longest hair Natsuno had ever seen. Suddenly his own hair didn't seem so bad.
Ritsuko's dress had a lovely sakura print. The bodice had a graceful neckline, and short puffed sleeves gathered into lace-edged cuffs. The bottom edge of the bodice stretched into a "V". She wore an adorable three-panelled overskirt to accompany the dress and a matching train. She was very pretty but the one everyone in line was staring at was the man by whom she was being escorted. Tohru wore a white vest beneath a black dress-coat. He wore a black set of dancing gloves and a matching necktie. A simple yet classic outfit. His hair looked as if it had only been lazily combed, but it still kept the proper form. He managed to look even more attractive than before without making an effort. Who would have thought that he could get even more gorgeous?
"Wait, did I actually just think that?" Natsuno shook his head. He couldn't look at the older teen as the couple got closer.
"Your hair is in a ponytail, that's unusual!" Tohru noticed and chuckled. "It looks cute."
"W-what?" Natsuno stuttered and the green-haired lady giggled at the blushing doorman.
"Did he seriously say that? It's like he read my mind and is now mocking me." Natsuno studied the man as he gave him a card. There was some oddness to the small curve on his lips; they looked as if there were something terribly funny that only he knew about. Natsuno shook his head; he was probably just being paranoid.
"Just pretend you don't know me until this greeting thing is over," Natsuno grunted and gave him the same bow he had been giving all the guests.
"As you wish. I'll see you around." Tohru and his date both gave Natsuno a polite bow before continuing inside.
The guest kept whelming in. He lost count after an hour of standing. He had to admit, it was quite the sight to see so many beautiful get-ups in one room. The living room had become crowded with people and the tables were full with different kinds of finger food. There were edamame beans, yakitori, tempura shrimps, sushi and cherries. The view made Natsuno's belly rumble. There was really not much to do but to listen to the music. It felt like an eternity standing there. He just wanted to go up to his room, or at least say hi to Tohru.
"You can go, Yuuki-kun."
Natsuno turned around to the girl standing to his left. The maid smiled and spoke again.
"You've been standing here long enough, you should go and enjoy yourself. I'll take care of this." She probably noticed that he had been staring at the dance floor for a long while. He nodded in reply and disappeared in the crowd.
He headed for the food table first since he had been starving ever since lunch. He immediately took a tuna nigiri and ate it in one bite. As he took some more food in his hand he sat down in the nearest chesterfield chair.
The orchestra was playing a waltz of Johann Strauss and all the pairs were strutting around joyfully. He searched the dance floor for people that he knew.
His parents were both dancing with different people. Engaged or married couples would not dance with each other at all, since it was considered a violation of etiquette. At least they were enjoying themselves.
He could see Tohru and Ritsuko dance on the other side of the dance floor. Tohru looked happy.
They took bold steps around the dance floor and made lots of turns, she smiling as he led her safely. He showed his confidence with some fast turns, making her take hold of his shoulder with her left hand.
They let go of their right hands, but Tohru still held her steady by her hip. They spun slowly, shoulder to shoulder, looking each other deeply in the eyes.
Natsuno couldn't help but to bite his lip.
Then they both lifted their left hand to touch the other above their head. Tohru really knew how to dance the waltz.
His beautiful eyes and the strong grip would make anyone want to faint, but Ritsuko kept her mature expression. They kept pacing around the floor as they did before but with their hands up. Natsuno stared at his target and accidentally made eye-contact with him. Tohru could see the teen but the dancers were blocking his view. Tohru looked back to his partner. The music slowed down, they let go of their left hands, and they went back to their promenade position.
Tohru tried looking at the spot he'd seen Natsuno but there was no one there anymore.
"What am I doing here?" Natsuno thought as he sighed. He stood by his parents and greeted the guests once again.
He had mostly stood behind them and been quiet, as no one had actually spoken to him.
"Good evening. What a wonderful party you have arranged. I'm having a lovely time!" The girl gave a polite bow to the pair before she began to speak.
"My, what a nice girl! What might your name be?" Azusa said and also greeted her with a bow.
"My name is Megumi Shimizu, madam." She ran her hand through her long curly pink hair. It was half tied at the back in a puffy way to create volume, with side swept bangs in the front.
Natsuno looked in their direction. Megumi was talking to his parents; this could only mean bad news.
"That's a beautiful name and it fits so well for such a pretty girl as yourself," the father said.
"Oh, you're Megumi-chan from next door. You look so cute today in that dress!" his mother remarked as she studied the pink-dressed girl.
"Thank you Koide-san! I made it myself,'" said Megumi and blushed.
Her salmon pink gown had a lavish lace trim and satin bows. It had pearl-beaded lace draping the off-the shoulder at the neckline and over the sleeves. The bodice had a flattering "V" shape and some beaded lace cascaded down it. The gathered overskirt was lifted into wide poufs and revealed a snow-white satin underskirt.
"You have such talent!" Yuuki commented and nudged his son. Natsuno grunted his reluctant approval.
"Sewing is one of my favourite hobbies! I also enjoy cooking and cleaning." Megumi hid behind her fan to hide her blush. She was really hinting that she was marriage material.
They kept talking about their shared interests and fashion.
"Intelligent, beautiful, crafty and funny!" Azusa commented. "If only our boy was eighteen, you two would be married in a matter of seconds!"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Natsuno had to stop himself from stomping the ground and slapping her. The three laughed and Natsuno stared at them in contempt. Was this how his future would be here?
A trumpet was heard from the far end of the room. It was the signal for the assembly to take their place on the dance floor.
"It was so nice meeting you, Koide and Yuuki-san," Megumi said as she bowed once again. "I hope that we can meet for tea someday."
"Of course, come over anytime!" Yuuki answered and bowed back.
"I have to dance with Masao now...," she muttered with disgust behind the fan. "I'll see you soon, Yuuki-kun."
She made sure that the couple weren't looking when she opened the fan as wide as she could and winked to the teen.
He raised his eyebrow, because he knew what that sign meant. What was she onto?
The fan was not only a way to keep oneself cool, but there was also a hidden fan-language. Fan open and shut quickly meant kiss me, a fan half open meats friendship and a fan shut tight meant hate. There were more signs for different situations but in this case, having the fan wide open is a sign of love.
"What was she talking about?" Natsuno asked his parents when Megumi finally left for the dance floor.
"She is such a perfect young lady. We wrote down your name on her card," his mother said and leered. "You two are dancing the next song."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No. You're having the next dance with her and you're going to enjoy it," his father said in a strict voice. "A lady has taken interest in you and you shall accept her request to dance."
"Men are not supposed to be wallflowers," his mother giggled under her fan.
"But-!" he growled as he was interrupted.
"We have no time to argue, we are playing the next song." The pair walked away without a single goodbye.
Natsuno was so frustrated by now and his pills were no help at all. He needed to rest for a while. He went back to the Chesterfield chair but someone was already in it.
Tohru was sitting down with his head on the table and a bottle in his hand. He looked gloomy.
"Did your lady-friend ditch you?" He couldn't help but to have a sarcastic voice. Tohru nodded while still resting his head on the table.
"She is dancing with Ozaki. Just because I danced with her once I'm not allowed to dance with her again." The blond sulked and drank a sip from the scotch bottle. "I hate these goddamn rules."
Natsuno nodded in agreement and sat down next to him. Natsuno knew it was inappropriate to feel happy for someone else's pain, but right now he did. He couldn't explain why.
Natsuno didn't really know how to comfort the teen. Was it now that you were supposed to pat his back and tell him that everything was alright?
"Get up," he finally said. No real comfort there.
Tohru looked up and rolled his eye. He took another sip from the bottle and sat up straight.
"How can you drink that? It's disgusting." He got the feeling of deja vu.
"How can you smoke that?" Tohru pointed at the inner pocket where Natsuno hid his cigarettes.
"Touché," Natsuno said and reached out his hand. "Give me."
"He-hey! I don't want to give you alcohol to a youngster," the blond teased as he held the bottle away from the boy's reach.
"Shut up, you're only one year older than me," Natsuno teased as he tried grabbing the bottle. "Besides, I don't wan't to be sober when I dance with the lady of the night."
"Let me guess, Megumi charmed your parents into letting you dance with her." Tohru laughed and passed him the bottle. Natsuno's silence confirmed his statement.
"That's the typical Shimizu, charming her way through everything."
"Look who's talking...," Natsuno muttered as he tried the scotch but put it away as quickly as he had brought it up. It smelled strong and icky.
"What was that?" Tohru asked. Natsuno had been acting so strangely today. He shook the feeling off and went back to his alcohol.
They sat and stared at the dance floor. There were some elders giving them dirty looks but Tohru didn't seem to mind. Natsuno's presence was all he needed to be cheered up again.
A pink-haired girl came running from across the room, almost tripping over the couples that were dancing, towards them.
"What is she doing, it's not time for the dance now," Natsuno sighed and put Tohru's bottle under the table. Women shouldn't see men drinking this heavily.
"Your parents want to see you. They said it's urgent."
Natsuno reluctantly stood up and waved to his friend.
"Don't you dare sulk when I get back."
Natsuno walked towards the orchestra where his parents were standing. They both looked very displeased.
"We just talked to Hirosawa," Yuuki began as he crossed his arms. "You're in trouble, mister."
"Oh boy..." Well, Natsuno was expecting this conversation to happen anyway...
"He said that you've been skipping school for the past week!" his father snapped. "Not to mention violating the school rules that strictly forbid swearing, being rude to teachers and other students, not paying attention in class and ruining school property." It was hard for him to whisper in a low voice while scolding his son.
"He was considering expelling you!" his mother sniffed in a handkerchief. "Do you know how embarrassing it was, convincing him to let you stay?"
Natsuno remained quiet and stared at the marble ground.
"And just now we heard some complaining from some people, they said that two young men are drinking and making a ruckus," his father continued "That scotch was for the whole table, not just you!"
"Can't you go a single minute without making a fool of yourself?!" his mother added.
It was not Natsuno who had drunken that scotch, but he remained quiet. He owed it to Tohru.
"I will treat you a lesson after this, Natsuno. So don't you dare run off again."
He had nowhere to flee anymore. Whatever he would do now, his fate was the same.
Natsuno bit his lip as a trumped called in the distance. It was time for the next dance.
"Now go dance with that nice girl." His father put his hand on his forehead. He looked as if he was in pain.
"I'm not going to." Natsuno shook his fist as he still had his eyes fixed on the ground. His anger was boiling inside of him.
"Natsuno, just go and do as you're told for once!" his mother growled and pointed on the dance floor.
"Do as I am told? It's your fault that I'm like this! It your fault for making me a social outcast, and it's your fault for making me believe that I was the weird one. Just because I did like I was told in the past."
"I don't listen to the likes of you anymore."
He looked up and stared at his mother with his haunting violet eyes. He took a big breath before speaking.
"You know what? Maybe I will." Natsuno smiled. It looked so sincere. I was almost a bit frightening.
The couple looked at each other in disbelief. Had they really convinced him this easily?
Natsuno took up the white dancing gloves from his pockets and carefully put them on.
"I'll give you a show," he mumbled as left them in shock.
They followed Natsuno with their eyes. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
He went straight through the dance floor, which was beginning to be filled with happy couples. Some ladies stood at the edge of the dance floor, waiting to be picked up by their dance partner. Her eyes filled with glee as she saw the violet-haired boy going in her direction.
Her friends gathered around her like pigeons and began rallying her up for the dance.
"This will be the highlight of the evening!" her brown-haired friend said.
"I know, but I can't believe it!" Megumi used her fan to cool herself. She was sweating like crazy.
She got ready to present her hand as the young man got closer. It was just like she had dreamed it would be. Her prince was coming for her, they would share this romantic dance and run away together after the party. Megumi closed her eyes and squealed in delight.
When she opened them the violet-haired boy was nowhere to be seen. She looked around in a panic but couldn't find him. She met her friend's equally confused face. Kaori stared at something behind the pink-haired girl. Megumi turned around and gasped at the scene.
Natsuno had walked straight past her and towards the tables. He was not planning to dance with her.
He knocked on the shoulder of the man who had his head buried in the table. As the blond lifted his head up to see what the matter when his hand was grabbed and he was pulled away from the table.
"Where are you taking me, Natsuno?" Tohru tugged at Natsuno's sleeve as he was reluctantly dragged across the floor.
"We're going to dance." There was no hint of sarcasm in his voice.
The blond began to nervously laugh and caused a few couples to look their way, not to mention Natsuno's parents, who noticed that their boy was bringing a man to the dance floor.
Natsuno stopped when they were at the center of the room. He looked in his parent's direction to make sure they were looking, and indeed they were. Their shocked expression made his adrenaline pump.
"Wait, you're serious, aren't you?" Tohru said as they stood still on the dance floor.
"Yes." The trumpets from the stair could be heard. The music was about to start. "Screw the rules."
Tohru looked around and saw that pairs were beginning to take their position. He shrugged his shoulders and turned back to Natsuno.
"Well then, let's give show these stuck ups how to dance." There was some doubt in his voice but it was too late to turn back.
A long tone ringed out from a violin. Two cellos began accompanying it with calm strokes.
All the pairs bowed to each other and so the boys did the same. They nodded their heads and made eye contact.
Tohru mouthed the pace so that they were on the same page. Natsuno did the same.
One, two, three, one, two, three. It's easy as that.
The piano began playing the main melody accompanied by the cellos and violins.
Tohru grasped the younger boy's hand and put the other on his waist. This would be such a strange waltz with two that only knew how to lead. They both stared blandly at each other, making them seem even more serious to their audience.
Tohru took a confident step away with his right foot, one; he stepped out with his left, two; then met the left foot with the right, three. They repeated the steps until Natsuno gave him a different expression than his usual blank one. Just by looking at him Tohru could read his mind: he thought this was too easy.
Tohru then took a bigger, bolder step and took more space on the dance floor as they promenaded in a square. His uncombed hair swung as they turned.
The other dancers had their eyes on them instead of their dance partners; this was indeed a weird sight.
Natsuno took the lead and promenaded a few steps, making more eyes turn their way. He did a natural turn and then began dipping the blonde into a spin. He continued spinning and turning the motion into syncopated pivots, a move that took years to perfect.
The movement made them leave the safe embrace and lean on their backs. They were still connected by their hand grasp and legs.
Tohru felt that he was getting dizzy. Natsuno smirked at the blond had a hard time keeping up. This was like a game in his head: who could be the biggest show off.
Tohru made a turn straight to the right and locked their feet into a promenade stance. He managed it to look intentional and elegant.
Tohru tried taking the lead when he let go of Natsuno's waist. He lifted his right arm as he pushed Natsuno in a outside turn, but Natsuno took Tohru's left hand with his own. He turned to Tohru sideways, so that the blond's shoulder was in front of him.
He then let go of his left hand and did a half spin to the blond's right hand and then back to the left. When Natsuno went back to the left hand Tohru lifted it up and he spun back to him, face to face. This was a fight for dominance.
Tohru grabbed beneath Natsuno's left arm and took a hold of his right arm really tightly. He spun the younger teen around so that Natsuno lifted his left leg a bit off the ground. They spun in a counter clockwise circle and Natsuno put his foot to the ground to stop the movement but still hung off Tohru. His reluctant face told his partner that this was enough. The blond lifted Natsuno up slowly, so that he was in equal height as him. They were closer to each other than they had ever been before. Their face almost touched so Natsuno leaned to his right ear and whispered.
"Spin me like that again and I'll punch you."
The blond laughed and pushed him off. He had to get the highest score for that stunt.
They promenaded across the room. Even though there were so many dancers, they felt like the only ones on the floor.
There were whispers and fingers pointing and they had the whole party's attention. This was such a shock for everyone in the old fashioned town. The boys didn't mind. They were in a state of euphoria, so it seemed.
The music was too short, or maybe it was time that had gone by too fast.
Tohru leaned closer, as the orchestra played the final verse, and whispered into his Natsuno's ear.
"Your dad looks furious."
"All according to plan," Natsuno explained. "If they make me feel miserable I'll make them feel miserable too."
"You're selfish," he commented. He didn't know how his parents really were.
"So are you," Natsuno responded.
"We're both horrible then." Tohru laughed and spun him around before the violin did its final stroke.
The music stopped.
Nobody clapped their hands or made a single sound. Natsuno looked around the room; they got stares from everywhere. He looked back at Tohru, who looked like he was going to explode from the laughter that he held inside him.
Natsuno grabbed the blonde's hand and took it up in the air as they both bowed dramatically in front of the spectators. Some older women gasped in shock.
He glanced in the directions of the orchestra. His father eyes looked as if they could set everyone in this room on fire. Natsuno blew him a kiss that made the man bang his hand on the instrument and steer attention to himself.
"Nothing to see here! I think that the boys had too much to drink, that's all," Yuuki stuttered nervously as some people began whispering to each other again. "Put on some music!"
The pair then slowly and calmly walked up the stairway, almost tripping from the dizziness. They could both breathe out as they heard music and talking downstairs.
Tohru collapsed immediately and his laughter filled the empty hallway. He began tearing up from the fit.
Natsuno began to chuckle; he couldn't keep it back. Before he knew it he was laughing uncontrollably. Natsuno felt as if he was about to drown in laughter. It left him breathless and gasping for air.
He fell next to Tohru with a thud.
They stopped and turned to each other where they were laying on the floor. As soon as they made eye contact they burst out laughing again. Kicking in the air, holding their arms to their stomachs to try and keep away the snickering.
He laughed. He actually laughed.
"The look on their faces was priceless!" began Tohru as he coughed between the giggles. "We have to do more things like this, Natsuno."
"Heh, sure..." He chuckled anxiously. His pulse was going out of control; he was nervous and his eyes were avoiding the blond. What was happening to him?
He needed to hide.
"You should go now," he said out of the blue.
"What, already? But we could hang out some more!" Tohru looked at him with his puppy eyes.
Natsuno turned, went inside his room and tried closing the door behind him. The elder teen had already put his arm in the way.
"Natsunoooo-" The flustered teen pushed the arm away so that he could close the door.
"Good night." He slammed the door shut and put his back against the door. The blond banged on the door but it was in vain as the stubborn teen remained quiet.
"Urgh... One second he is laughing and the other he is cranky again," the blond muttered as he began walking back to the party.
Natsuno glided down the door and sat down. He took off his dancing gloves and looked on his hands, which were sweaty and twitching.
He put his head against the door as it began to ache, and his chest was in pain, too.
As he opened his eyes he realised that he knew what this feeling was. A feeling he swore he would never feel again. He put his head in his hands.
"I'm such an idiot..."
Heya! Long time no see. So this chapter took me ages to write, but it's finally done! It feels so good having it off my chest, for now.
I love writing in Natsuno's POV. I've always imagined that he has tons of feelings boiling up inside of him but he never expresses them. So writing them down is really fun. The dance scene was also fun to write. I had to go through a lot of ballroom dance videos before I had a clear image, but still!
I will try to update at least every month, but I have school and a social life *cough* not. I think I will finish Cat and Mouse before writing the third chapter, since Cat and Mouse is a one-shot. Buuuuuuut who knows, I'll maybe finnish on the next chapter too!
Thank you, Takigawa Aki for beta-reading and helping me with the fiction 3 He is an awesome writer so go check his fics out! owo